TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains instances of extreme violence associated with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, reader discretion is advised.

Life can come out as different things at different instances but of all, it is extremely unpredictable. One can only hope for everything to end well but can never be assured of it. In hindsight, if you wish things happened in a different way you may still consider yourself fortunate for having made it to this point in your life. There was this one day in my life which I wish had never come. If only I could go back in time and change everything that happened that day.

I pretended to be asleep while I could hear mom, dad and Ayra shushing each other, sneaking into my room with my birthday cake. Being the actor that I am, I’m pretty sure they were convinced that I was actually surprised. Nevertheless, I blew out the candles, made a wish, and cut the cake and just then dad gave me my best birthday gift ever. He promised me my birthday dinner at my favourite hotel (which I had been fantasizing about all my life) – the Taj. I had been dreaming about it since forever. Call it an obsession, madness, or whatever but ever since my frenemy Ria bragged about her birthday dinner at the Taj, that was all I wanted for my birthday as well.

I don’t know why mom wakes me up early on my birthday too. Do I not get to sleep a little longer even on my birthday? After all, it is my day. Anyway, how can I sleep on my birthday with all the butterflies in my tummy? I jumped out of the bed, got dressed up real quick, and packed candies for all of my friends and teachers, had all of my favourite dishes that mom made for me, and rushed to school. The entire day I couldn’t stop bragging about my birthday plans to my friends. I couldn’t wait for school to end, run back home, and head straight to the Taj.

When I returned home I saw none of them was ready. I pushed them into getting ready and got myself ready too. I put on the new dress that I got for my birthday and was ready in a jiffy. I had it planned as to when to start, how long it’d take to reach, and how to spend the longest time over there. Throughout the way, I couldn’t stop thinking about how my birthday was going exactly how I planned it to be and how it was going to be my best birthday ever.

Right from the moment I stepped out of the car, I had a feeling that it was going to be a great evening. I had goosebumps walking down those beautiful hallways. Mom and Dad were so happy looking at that bright smile on my face. We followed the chaperone to our table and got seated. I was so ecstatic that I couldn’t stop smiling. I knew it was going to be an unforgettable evening. Dad gave me sovereign rights to order whatever I wanted as it was my birthday. Ayra resisted at first but eventually gave in.

The food was great and delectable as I expected but I couldn’t have much as my stomach was filled to the brink with excitement. After having the dessert, mom said it was time to leave but I insisted on staying a little longer as I couldn’t get enough of the place. Amidst all the laughter and music we started hearing some strange noises. We were as confused as everyone else and wondered where they could have been from. The noises grew louder and a sense of panic filled the air. Now we could hear people screaming and tell those noises were from firing. Within no time chaos spread around and led to a stampede.

We were evacuated into the kitchen by the hotel staff and were assured safety but the situation felt quite opposite. We could hear the firing coming closer and couldn’t help but panic. We were under attack. The only thing on each of our minds was to get out of there safe. But that seemed almost impossible as we were surrounded. I don’t remember for how long we had hidden there but every passing second felt like an eternity.

The room was filled with silence. We were too scared to be making any sounds. Cutting through the silence the huge metal door of the kitchen came flying towards us with a blaring noise and landed right in front of us. Three men entered the room with huge guns and started to fire. People started screaming in fear and within seconds the room turned into a graveyard. I was hiding behind the kitchen platform when they entered and saw them spare none. I saw dad being shot, blood gushing out of his chest, and collapsing. My body went numb and I couldn’t move even if I wanted to. I couldn’t utter a word nor yell and the next thing I saw was mom and Ayra falling onto the ground in a pool of their own blood. My body turned cold, could sense nothing and I soon fainted. I can’t recollect anything after that until I found myself on a hospital bed a couple of days later. I had no physical injury but the trauma was worse.

I’m not sure as to why they didn’t shoot me that day but I wish they did. I wish I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life without my family. I wish I didn’t insist on staying longer and left when mom wanted us to. I wish we hadn’t been to that place on that day. I wish we never stepped out that day. I wish I didn’t have to relive those moments again and again in my head. I was just being my thirteen-year-old self wanting to have a fun birthday with my family. Little did I know my life would never be the same again.

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