It was his first time in Karachi. The coastal city seemed to sprawl on forever, and for a little while he was concerned about getting lost there. But, fortunately he had a lot of friends accompanying him. One look at his them as they stood gathered there outside the bus station and he felt neither alone, nor afraid.
“Take one of these whistles with you!” said one of them, handing him a smooth silver whistle and moving on to the next person, handing him a whistle as well.
“What are these for?” he called to him.
“Well, since we’re dividing into small groups to explore, I thought it was a good idea for us to have a quick way to calling out to each other”
He looked back down at the whistle and then to everyone else slowly forming groups of different sizes. He was the only one travelling alone; Since he had a few relatives he wanted to meet, and a few traders he had to discuss terms with. ‘I had best get going’ he thought.
It was all a very boring affair. He wanted to finish his visits as quickly as possible so he could meet up with his friends and maybe go around the city seeing the sights. The British had left only a few years ago and the city had since become a model city for development and growth. It was called ‘the city of light’ and he wanted to see exactly why it was so.
It was already evening by the time he finished all his ‘work’. He was considering where to start looking for his friends when he was approached by a weak, aging woman.
“Could you help me carry these son, son?” she said, gesturing to a sack of rice. It looked heavy even by his standards and he was surprised the woman had actually managed to carry it at all.
“Sure gran. Where is your home, exactly?” he said, lifting the sack onto his back.
“Not far from here” she said, smiling sweetly.
There was something off about her smile but he kept following her anyway, dismissing it as his imagination.
It took him five minutes to toil to get to her house and he was grateful for it not being any farther. She offered him food as he sat on the threshold of her tiny house, trying to catch his breath. He tried to refuse, thinking he should probably be joining his friends soon, but she insisted.
“I really can’t let you go, son. You have helped this old woman. Besides, I have a real treat for you if you can do me just one more favour.” she said earnestly.
“What’s that?” he asked her, wondering if the favour was more donkey work.
“Well, you see… my son died last night”, she said, her face serious and strangely impassive. “…I am but an old woman and I do not have the strength to bathe him for the burial”
He felt shaken by the woman’s request, and a little embarrassed at wanting to get away from there. The helpless old woman was simply preparing for her son’s funeral.
“I’ll be honoured to help”, he said after a moment, resigning himself to do another good deed.
She thanked him profusely led him through a narrow corridor and into what appeared to be a rather austere lounge, seating him on a rug.
“I’ll get you some food first. You will need your strength” she said, bringing him a tray full of pilaf rice. “Let me know when you’re done” she said, and left him to go elsewhere.
He was grateful for the food. His stomach had been aching for a while now and some Pilaf was just the thing he needed. So, he dug in eagerly, searching the rice for some meat. He found a finger.
His body gave a shudder and he immediately spat out the rice he had been chewing. He held up the finger he had found to the light and realized beyond doubt that it really was a human finger. That woman was a cannibal. The horrifying realization hit him like a hammer and he dropped the finger out of shock.
And then, he realized that he had probably been lured there to be eaten.
He looked around him, searching for a way to escape. The woman was waiting outside, he knew, and he did not want to risk running through her. She could be carrying any number of weapons and he needed to be very, very careful about how he dealt with the situation from then on. One wrong move, and he could be the next guy to be made into pilaf rice.
So, the first thing he decided to do was to take all the rice he had scattered over the rug in shock, and sweep it all under the rug along with the finger. He threw some more rice under the rug to make it appear as if he’d eaten his fill and then called out to the woman, and told her that he was ready to bathe her son’s dead body.
She led him out back to a courtyard, where a dead body was indeed placed, covered by a large white sheet on a wooden bed. He wondered if that was really her son. Did she intend to eat her own son as well? Perhaps, the body was simply another one of her victims, and he was actually helping her clean him up for her next meal. The thought was chilling.
He was treading in dangerous territory he knew, so his senses became extremely alert to every single move the woman made. She was carrying an oil lantern and went over to stand by the body’s head holding up the lantern for light. He brought some water in a large steel bucket, and began to bathe the body, keeping an eye on the woman as best as he could.
The first thing he noticed was that the body was not very cold to the touch. Fresh kill, perhaps, he thought. Though a cold shiver ran through his spine, he concentrated on not letting any emotion show on his face. He required every single bit of concentration he could muster to stay in control of the situation, pouring water over the body slowly, and trying to adjust his eyes to the dark.
He quickly became aware of an advantage he had. With the woman standing at the head of the body, she cast a very sharp shadow across the walls and he could see if she moved slightly even with his back turned to her. He thought about it a bit and decided that if the woman really wanted to kill him then he might as well try to lure her into an attack.
So, he deliberately started working on the body with his back turned to her, keeping both eyes on her shadow as he worked. At any moment, he would see hand move, and would immediately counter-attack.
He saw what happened next quite clearly as shadows started to shift. The woman’s left arm slowly drew out something from within the folds of her clothes and raised it high to attack. At the same time something else happened just as slowly though. Something he had not been expecting. It felt like terror creeping up his limbs as he saw the body’s right arm move as well, drawing out something long and blunt from under the shroud.
He jumped away from them reflexively. Fortunately for him the old woman chose to strike at the same moment; her iron rod missed him by mere inches as she brought it down. Her son, who had sat up to reach him, was not so lucky. Her full-blooded swing hit him to the side of his skull and he was knocked out immediately from the hit.
He could not let her recover, either. He jumped right at her and delivered a kick straight into her chest. She was lifted clean off her feet and flew back into the wall. That was it. He did not check to see if either of them was still conscious. He ran out of the house as quickly as he could, covered in cold sweat and short of breath as he was. And as soon he reached the street, he found the whistle his friend had given him and started blowing as hard as he could.
It did not take very long for him to gather a crowd. Some of his friends arrived as well, and he quickly told them what had happened. The police arrived soon after, and began searching the house for the the woman and her son.
The search resulted in a few shocking discoveries as bones of over 50 people were found from the basement of the house. The woman, and her son were arrested. Apparently they had been luring people to the house and eating them for quite a while. Also, according to them, they were not the only ones. Not by a long shot.
This true story comes from my maternal grandfather, and has been told from his point-of-view. I have tried to keep all the details intact.
Salman Shahid Khan