Amna woke up screaming while her twin, Ali stood beside chuckling.
“Why do you have to scare me like this?” she hollered.
“How can you sleep silly, its our birthday.” He held her hand and dragged her out of bed.
Then using a tattered kerchief as blindfold, he led her to the other room. “Don’t open till I get your gift” he commanded.
A loud thud in the street rattled the windows. Amna’s face tensed and her hands reached out for the blindfold. But before she could, Ali reappeared.
Taking her palm, he placed a book and untied the kerchief.
Amna’s eyes sparkled at the sight. She sighed caressing the gold embossing on the cover.
“This book you had wanted to read, right. I could only afford an old copy with my pocket money.” Ali uttered feeling the frayed edges of the book as Amna flipped through the pages reverently.
Joyously she bounced ahead with outstretched arms to hug her brother, but he thrust his palm forward instead, “My gift silly.”
“Wait!” She darted towards a creaking wooden cabinet delicately supported against the chipped wall and pulled out a grey woollen scarf.
“Wow! Where did you get this?” Ali squealed rubbing his cheeks over the soft wool.
“I knitted it. So you won’t have to freeze through this winter. ” She replied lovingly stroking his flushed cheeks.
A series of gun shots in the street made Amna shudder again. But Ali still seemed oblivion to the usual noises.
“Lets go play upstairs.” He proclaimed hopping on to the staircase.
“No, Ami* has forbidden us from playing in the open.” Amna held his arm and pulled him back down.
“I am tired of being locked at home.” He howled and kicked the wall letting off some paint flakes. “What Abba** says makes no sense to me. How can Kashmir on either side of border be twins? Like you and me? Do twins engage in bloodshed like this. Its been 3 months since we have played outside, because of the constant shelling. And Abba tells us to love those across the border. They are our enemies. They even killed Abbas uncle.” Saying so, Ali wagged his head in irritation.
“If tomorrow some bad people create misunderstanding between us, would you stop loving me?” Amna asked and kissed his furrowed forehead.
He kissed her back and all of a sudden stood up.
Holding his scarf against his nape so as not to let it fall, he dashed towards the staircase, “Come if you want to.”
Amna followed screaming, begging him to stop, clutching the book tightly against her chest.
Soon both were up on the terrace, wide-eyed, open-mouthed; beholding the beauty that had revealed before them after a long time.
“The scarlet sky!’ Amna whispered.
Another round of gun shots.
And the twins were laid side-by-side, forever reminiscing the scarlet skies. Beside them were their gifts, now stained with blood.
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