“Rest in peace Khalid Sherdil. You are loved beyond measure, and we will miss you terribly.”
They say things happen for a reason. There wasn’t a reason why on Friday, May 22, I felt the need to check if Khalid had reached Karachi. Strange that my phone buzzed in my hand the exact moment I wanted to check his whereabouts. I had received a text message from a friend that something was not quite right; Khalid’s plane had bumped on the runaway a few times and taken off again. In those few moments, I knew something was wrong.
Moments later, flight PK-8303 crashed. My first thought: this is not happening. The plane was too close to the runway. Khalid will be okay. He had to be okay. You can’t joke with a person the night before their flight and not have them be alright. It didn’t work that way.
The day worked its way, getting ready to deliver the knockout punch that Khalid was gone. People gathered, wept and stayed with us. I remember the quiet, the horrid gut-wrenching silence when people run out of words.
Strangely no one from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) ever came. Everyone who was anyone in the bureaucratic machinery reached out to help us, to somehow get Khalid’s body back to us. For days we didn’t even know if there was a body. Would we get one back? If we did, would it be Khalid’s? Worst still, what if someone had mistakenly claimed his body? These questions, nauseatingly real and unimaginable, simultaneously ate through my family.
“Khalid was all around us and yet I knew that the Almighty had played His final hand and he was gone. We were awash with grief, the kind that gnaws inside bones and never leaves.”
For days we didn’t have Khalid’s body and yet we had so much of him around us. I sat every day in his room, looking at the feature stone wall which he had put up with so much love. He had sent photos of the tiles to everyone in the family to see if we approved. Outside his giant, floor to ceiling window lay the sprawling lawn where he played endless hours of soccer with my children. If it wasn’t soccer, it would be chess or games that Khalid invented with their own hilarious rules. Even the house cat had some role to play in his playtime with the children. I was waiting for the moment that Khalid would walk in, chapstick in hand and start some silly game.
Khalid was in a hurry to get someplace all the time. He had boundless energy and the soul of an adventurer. He loved his bold and beautiful belts, his colourful sunglasses and chocolate. I’ve never met a kinder soul than his, his smile always saying more than his words. Khalid was kind, magnanimous, spirited and gentle beyond belief. He helped others without ever thinking about it. Khalid even helped me find a new home for my dog because he knew I just couldn’t give it away to anybody. You’d never think a man in that dark suit would know how to love so much.
Khalid was all around us and yet I knew that the Almighty had played His final hand and he was gone. We were awash with grief, the kind that gnaws inside bones and never leaves.
Grief, as it so happens, at least according to the Kubler-Ross Cycle, has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Thanks to PIA, which incidentally offered no assistance to locate Khalid’s body or help in the least in any humane way, my husband’s grief cycle jumped straight to acceptance. There was no room for denial or anger as he got down to the business of getting his brother home.
“I can only hope for the best but somehow I’m reminded of a famous quote at the conclusion of The Shawshank Redemption, where Andy Dufresne says to his friend, ‘Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.'”
It wasn’t easy. Four days later, Khalid’s DNA matched and he was on his way home. PIA was still absent, behaving like a child who throws away a toy after it’s broken.
As an on-again-off-again writer, I like to get to the bottom of things. I wanted to distill all the information in my wrecked brain and re-create what happened that day. PIA didn’t even bother to have a press briefing as to what may have happened to flight PK-8303. A grieving mind will settle for any information that provides closure. I watched video after video on YouTube to make sense of what might have happened. And still, silence from the airline that could make sense of it all.
They say the smallest coffins are the heaviest. After receiving Khalid’s coffin draped in our national flag, it could not have been heavier. Khalid loved wearing the Pakistani national flag lapel pin on his suit collar, and as fate would have it, he was buried with our flag. Khalid was a true patriot and he loved his country. His friends, fellow Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) officers and family helped bring him home. An airline bearing our national flag perished with 97 souls on board and all the PIA could offer was a compensation cheque after everything was done. Keep your money PIA; don’t use it as a means to absolve yourself of guilt.
As days pass by, my friends and family offer words of comfort. I can only hope for the best but somehow I’m reminded of a famous quote at the conclusion of The Shawshank Redemption, where Andy Dufresne says to his friend, “Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Something pure and good died on flight PK-8303.
Rest in peace Khalid Sherdil. You are loved beyond measure, and we will miss you terribly.