Voices of grief and determination in Peshawar

By Shaimaa Khalil
BBC News, Peshawar

image copyrightAFP
image captionAndaleeb Aftab, a teacher at the school, mourns her child with her husband, son and daughter

Taliban gunmen killed 141 people - most of them children - at a school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar earlier this week. There are many emotions among the bereaved and the survivors.

You didn't need to see the pools of blood in every corner of the school auditorium to know that a massacre had taken place there.

A thick smell hit you as you went in; the eerie silence of the shocked adults looking at the remnants of the children's belongings strewn around itself told a devastating story.

Almost every row of seats in this school hall bore a similar picture of horror - the blood-splattered textbooks, the school shoes left behind in a desperate attempt to escape, scattered bits of paper on which you could see the children's handwriting.

This is where the Taliban gunmen stormed in and shot more than 100 pupils at close range.

The students were in the hall learning about first aid when the attack happened. One corner of the room bears scorch marks: that's where the militants set fire to one of the teachers.

When I arrived at the Lady Reading Hospital, where many of the victims were taken, I could see a group of parents and family members gathering in front of a wall, pushing to get to the front.

A list of names had been stuck up on the wall. Names of the dead and injured.

As the day went on the list grew longer and the crowd around it grew bigger - all of them desperate to find out what had happened to their loved ones.

In the hospital's intensive care unit, I found 13-year-old Saeed lying on a bed, his family next to him.

image copyrightAFP
image captionChildren walk past a soldier after the massacre in Peshawar

He was still too shocked to talk about what had happened.

His mother Naheda is a teacher at the school.

She tells me Saeed hid under a chair and called her as the attack began.

"I heard everything," she tells me.

"My son was on the phone. He said 'I'm shot, please come and get me.' And I didn't know how to reach him. As a mother - I can't describe to you what I felt," she tells me through her tears, adding: "But Alhamdulillah, thank God, he's now here with me."

But many other parents are now having to live with the fact that their loved ones are not coming back. Like the Awan family, whose 14-year-old son Abdullah was shot in the face during the attack.

image copyrightAFP
image captionThe gates of the school soon became a shrine to the dead

At the family courtyard the female relatives gathered around the boy's body which was lying in an open coffin. His slim body was covered in flowers and I could clearly see the bullet marks on his face.

His mother sits on the floor weeping, wiping his forehead, holding his hand, still calling out his name.

This is a family gripped by grief, wailing relatives, small children looking on in disbelief.

At the local graveyard the male relatives recite verses from the Koran and pray for Abdullah before laying him to rest.

"He was a top student," his uncle tells me.

"He loved birds, he had a couple of them at home and one of them laid eggs. He was counting the days for them to hatch but now he's gone."

After the funeral I talk to the boy's father about his loss.

"He's now with Allah," the man said, "and I have to be patient. I don't feel anything now. All these people are around me, they are supporting me. But it will hit me tonight. When I'm in bed all alone."

In the days after the attack the crowds gathering at the school gate grew larger and larger.

The gates began to resemble a shrine with roses, marigolds, candles and placards.

image copyrightAFP
image captionDozens of funerals took place within hours of the massacre

There were messages of grief and solidarity. The smallest coffins are the heaviest, one sign says. My boy was my dream and my dream was shot dead, says another.

A group of teenagers from the Army Public School was gathering there.

They came dressed in their uniforms.

Aakif Azeem, one of the senior students, still had some spots of blood on his jacket. He had survived the attack but he tells me he saw many fellow students die in front of him.

"I've been going from one funeral to another," he says.

image copyrightAFP
image captionAcross Pakistan there have been demonstrations against the Taliban

"I haven't slept for two days," he adds.

So, could he face going back to school after what had happened, I wondered.

"That's why I came here today dressed in my uniform," he told me.

It's a message to those who carried out the attack. You can take my friends. You can take my teachers. But I am still here. In my uniform. And I will go back to school.

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