About the Book
In 1971, as a civil war rages in Pakistan, two girls are born in the city of Lahore; Nadira to a Sunni family, and Hameeda to a Shia family. At age six, an outspoken, lively Nadira and her beautiful, shy classmate, Hameeda, are drawn to each other, and they become the closest of friends. In the beginning, their religious differences mean very little. But as the years pass and their society fragments, their lives and their relationship are torn apart by a horrific, sectarian tragedy. Separated, they must experience their sorrows, hardships and joys without the support and companionship they once provided each other. Years later when fate brings them back together again, they have to choose whether they will let the past keep them apart, or reclaim their dreams and the friendship they once cherished.
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Fear bound her tighter than the rope encircling her wrists and ankles; like a python’s coils it constricted her chest, and made each breath difficult. Her body was a constant reminder she was not trapped in some horrible dream, her cheeks pinched by the tape across her mouth, the inside of her throat dry and sore. Beads of sweat rolled down her forehead and left a maddening itch behind as they dripped off the tip of her nose onto the front of her kameez, darkening the fabric like blood from a wound. And if that was not reminder enough, there was the gunman right in front of her, all too real. Every time his eyes swept over her, she felt naked under his scrutiny. If only she could tunnel into her mind and hide in a snug burrow of her creation. But her discomfort fixed her in reality.
At first, she kept her head up, eyes staring straight ahead, the only show of defiance possible, but it forced her to look into the dark tunnel of an automatic weapon barrel which frightened her even more. She redirected her gaze downward, her view limited to her legs and feet, the roped extremities of her family who sat on either side of her and the floor. She noticed a worn spot near the edge of the antique, Bokhara rug and a gap in its white fringed border where several pieces of cotton warp had broken off just below the knot. Crumbs had escaped from someone’s plate during their afternoon tea and sullied the carpet’s surface, a reminder normality had existed just a short while ago. Time inched along at a sloth’s pace. In the absence of conversation, sounds amplified, the whir of the fan above her head, the distant clap, clap of leather sandals against stone, the squeal of wooden furniture being dragged across the floor, cupboard doors opening and closing, and the occasional bark of an order to the men scavenging in the other rooms of the house.
She considered their situation. Escape was impossible and the likelihood of rescue seemed remote. The walls that surrounded the house for protection and privacy provided the same advantages to the criminals who had breached them. In her helplessness, the only thing she could do was pray to Allah to keep them safe, each silent prayer slipping between her lips like prayer beads through her fingers. But, her petitions failed to push away the thought that fate had caught up with her and this was how her life would end.
As this sense of doom held her in its grasp and all hope fled, she struggled to conjure up pleasant memories to provide some comfort and instead was ambushed by her regrets. If only she could go back to the beginning, back to when anything was possible, back before her missteps had sacrificed the life she’d dreamed of and distanced people she loved.
Susan Harrison Rashid was born in the United States and lived an unremarkable life until she met and fell in love with a young man from Pakistan. They were married in 1980 in Lahore, Pakistan. Annual visits to Lahore and life as a member of a Pakistani family introduced her to a very different culture and country. Always a reader, Ms. Rashid started writing stories when she was ten years old but never imagined she could support herself with her tales. Instead, she practiced law for twenty-four years before retiring to follow her dream and begin her writing career. Beneath a Shooting Star is her first novel.