The Central railway station is a decrepit but elegant colonial building. I’m the first reporter there. There’s a pool of blood on the pavement and I can hear the glass from the blown out windows of a nearby building crunch under my shoes. A cop sees me walking around gingerly and tells me to step right up. I realize I am tainting the crime scene but it’s hard to tell where the scene is. The police appear to have run out of tape to cordon it off.
‘I saw it happen! I did!’ a twenty-something guy who runs a mobile phone shop nearby excitedly tells me.
‘Basically this guy was on a motorcycle and…’
I’m taking notes and nodding encouragingly at him when Ali strolls in. The sight of Ali, smarmy reporter unextraordinaire for News 365, the country’s largest news network, makes me want to hurl. His entire career is built on quid pro quo favours for politicians. According to Zara, who quite possibly hates Ali more than I do, he helped a provincial minister’s son get out of a drunk driving charge by pulling strings with his uncle, who was then head of the police. It would be fine if he was just arrogant, but he’s also incredibly rude and one of these days I’m going to find a way to crush his soul.
The cops wave at him like he’s a long lost friend. He slaps one on the shoulder, hugs another. He clocks me and the eyewitness instantly, and the eyewitness unfortunately recognizes him too. My heart sinks. There goes my exclusive. Please make Ali go away, I start praying fervently.
Ali’s green-and-yellow mic has the same effect on interviewees that Ryan Gosling has on women. He trains the mic on the witness who subsequently forgets about me and my notebook. Twenty other reporters suddenly descend, cameramen in tow, following Ali like he’s the Pied Piper of journalism. Someone steps on my foot. Ali’s cameraman shoves me with his tripod. I shove him back with my handbag. The eyewitness is saying something fascinating, I can tell from the look on Ali’s face. I try to lean in and listen but Ali’s cameraman starts screaming at the eyewitness to step into the sunlight.
‘What’s this guy’s name again?’ Ali’s cameraman asks me, even as he continues to try to edge me out of the way with the camera. I glare at him. ‘Uff ho, attituuuude,’ he says, in a singsong tone.
I walk away and see another guy standing there, who with any luck might be another witness. ‘Were you here when this happened?’
‘No,’ the guy replies. ‘Wait, don’t you write for that blog?’ he says, looking at my Daily News badge.
My newspaper runs a wildly popular comment section filled with posts such as ‘why I hate my hairstylist’ or ‘I was discriminated against at a job interview because my family is wealthy’ and ‘I left my air-conditioned room to join the protest for your son’s murder case’. It has nothing to do with journalism, but now everyone assumes it’s what all of us do.
‘No I work for the paper,’ I say.
‘There’s a newspaper?’
I hate my life.
I speak to four other people at the site, who all tell me the same story of having seen a van go up in flames. One claims he heard gunshots. Another claims that ‘Blackwater did this’. The other two are 10-year-old kids who are collecting pieces of twisted metal and glass. They speak in monosyllables.
Did you see this happen? ‘No.’
What are you doing? ‘This.’
Why? ‘I’ll sell it.’
To who? The kid shrugs, and then dances off in a different direction. The other one runs up to me, smacks my butt, and scampers off singing Munni Badnaam Hui.
I walk up to the police van on the site and hide behind it to light a cigarette. Ali’s cameraman has a penchant for filming footage of women smoking, and showing it to everyone in the News 365 office. Clearly women smoking passes for pornography these days.
A cop pokes his head out of the van. ‘Can I have one too?’
We smoke, and he looks at me again. ‘You seem like a nice girl. Why do you smoke?’
Even though I’ve been smoking for years, the question always sends me into spasms of guilt. I think of my father, who disapproves of the fact that I smoke but is glad I’m not doing drugs instead. I want to tell the cop off for asking me this when every other man on the site is also smoking but I don’t want to piss him off. In twenty years, he’ll be giving press conferences and I’ll still be here, clutching a notebook and scribbling down answers that I can never make sense of afterwards. ‘I don’t know, I got into the habit and it’s so hard to quit you know,’ I gabble. ‘And we never get any food when reporting or water and you know what I mean, right?’
He’s already bored of my explanation. In the distance, I see Ali interviewing the head of the Karachi police. I should really go over and listen but the cop is saying something.
‘Can I have the lighter?’
‘Sure. What are you doing here?’ I ask. Every other cop on the scene is gathered around the Karachi police head hoping they’ll be noticed and fast tracked for a promotion.
‘I’m guarding this,’ he says, pointing to a bundle of sheets.
‘What is that?’ I ask, moving towards it hoping to get a look inside.
‘It’s all we recovered of the bomber’, he says. I step back hurriedly. Suddenly, my job doesn’t seem so awful.
Karachi, You're Killing Me! is published by Random House India, Rs 299.