For Rukhsana the only woman who loved me for who I was and who through my naivety I let down badly, and to my best friend Steve who’s now passed away but stood by me through thick and thin.
We can never truly imagine what the ripple effects of a brief conversation can have on our life just such a conversation took place between me and my ex brother in law and best mate. Steve worked as a senior salesman in a company I ran as General Sales Manager, Steve was a bit of a lad and well known for his gallivanting and womanising, but he was always there with a joke even in the worst of times. It was on such a day that he sat I my office and as usual instead of getting down to business he turned to the glass partition and looked out into the sales office which was manned by several good looking young girls and asked me “IF you had a pick of any of the girls which one would you pick”. Typical of Steve to try and detract from the fact that his sales figures weren’t exactly setting the world on fire, but I took the bait. Hmm I looked out at all these young things who all flaunted their sexuality and looked at a shy and reserved British born Pakistani girl and said I think Rukhsana. Quick as a flash he laughed and said, “no chance”.
And that’s where this truly life changing, and tragic story began. The year was 1991. I was 40 and Rukhsana was only 20 and was very carefully handled by her family being brought to work and picked up at the end of the working day. This should have been a warning about the excesses of Islam that would take me to the deprivation of the Punjab within a few miles of the place where in 2011 many years later the US military caught and executed Osama Bin Laden in a place called Abbottabad just 600km from where I spent a sad 2 weeks. I left broken hearted, but I get ahead of myself. This involved the British Special branch, my local MP, the red cross, the foreign office and just about every agency I could involve in what has become the nightmare I’ve lived with for 28 years (so far).
So Steve asked the question which would you pick, he laughed when I said Rukhsana I couldn’t blame him R was a quiet conservatively dressed shy Pakistani she could hardly look me in the eye when she had to speak to me, besides I was twice her age and the likelihood of even getting a chance to get any private time alone with her seemed too unlikely for words. This was Walsall near Birmingham and a hub for Islamic Pakistanis. I completely forgot about this incidental conversation between “lads” lads talk of course was usually just talk. R was a beautiful girl but never ever wore a dress or skirt and never wore makeup like the other girls, besides every night she was out at 5pm and was met by one of her three brothers and escorted home. It was the night of the Christmas break and everyone was in good spirits making their way to Christmas parties and what not. I looked out at my sales office and surprisingly saw Rukhsana still packing up to leave, I was about to leave for my long trek back to Hampshire where I lived but was away each week staying at a local hotel. I was on my way out and asked R why she wasn’t with her brothers, oh they’re at the Christmas parties tonight so I’m making my own way home. Let me give you a lift I’m going your way, she looked so shy and smiled saying well OK. We drove towards her house a few miles away and she asked me to stop down the road “in case anyone saw her with me”. OK no problem but you know Rocky it’s Christmas and at least I should get a Christmas kiss, she blushed and gave me a quick kiss and I was smitten. We said goodbye and off we went until the New Year. I convinced myself this was nothing more than a brief flirtation and nothing could come of it, but I was proven wrong.
I returned home to Hampshire where my wife simply looked at me as I walked into the house and said, “oh your home are you”. This was about par for the course, my wife was 17 years older than me and had 6 kids when I met her, (age has never been important to me as far as relationships go) besides by this time we’d grown apart for many reasons mostly my fault and our relationship had become quite cold. In truth the only thing that kept us together was our daughter who was of course the light of my life. Christmas and New Year came and went, and I returned to start the New Year and the challenges of trying to save a company that was in a mess, that was the reason they hired me. I’d missed seeing R and her innocent beautiful good looks. But we formed what was at the time a perfectly innocent (no sex) friendship. We started seeing each other and grew close. Eventually the company we worked for overextended itself and went into receivership. But before then having got myself a job in Huddersfield she asked if she could come and live with me. Now I’m no angel I’ve been around the block many times, but R was so different from anyone I’d ever met before, I moved with my job and rented a small cottage in Denby Dale. She came to me, which was a very risky situation, we lived together and were both really happy (I know she was because of her diary which much later I found). I was offered another job in Wilmslow Cheshire I rented a house in Goostrey near Jodrell Bank. We’d been keeping a low profile as R was worried her family might find her, I knew she missed her family and felt she was overreacting to their intentions, so I got in touch with her father and explained the R was quite happy and safe. They asked if they could come and see us (they didn’t know where we were), we discussed it and R reluctantly agreed.
The day came when we expected her mother and father to arrive, we set everything up for her father putting a prayer mat in a spare room so he could do his daily worship. They arrived with her two brothers; I talked her father he said it’s OK for you to marry our daughter, (I was still married but he said in Islam you can have more than one wife!). I said we would get married once I had my divorce. They asked if R could go home for just the weekend as relatives were coming from Pakistan to visit. Rukhsana was nervous I told her I will keep your British passport so no-one can take you away. So, they all left in their car, and that was the last time I ever saw her, to this day I don’t know if she’s alive and happy.
At the end of the weekend I’d heard nothing, so I rang her parents. Her brother Iqbal answered the phone and said forget her she’s in Pakistan, I was desperate I said but what if she’s pregnant, we “tested” her he said and she’s not. Unbeknown to us they had obtained a Pakistani passport from the consul in Manchester, they took her to Pakistan, Father Mother and three brothers. In those days’ airport security wasn’t like it is today and I befriended a guy in Emirates airlines who found the flight and when they were due to return. I knew from R where they would go, Multan in the Punjab so I booked a flight and sent a message to her father via relatives in the UK asking to meet him there. I arrived in Karachi and stayed in a hotel which was guarded by soldiers with machine guns, I flew to Lahore stayed a few days met a friend of a friend and booked a flight to Multan. I arrived and was surrounded by people wanting to help me with my bags, I very well-spoken Pakistani came to me and asked would I like a taxi, yes I said to the hotel Sinbad. On the way there I asked Jamil how much it would cost to hire his taxi for the day, we agreed a very low price so I asked him to drive around the city. What I saw there was a nightmare but I trusted Jamil and decided to tell him my story. “These sort of people are bastards” he said come and stay at my house. I went to his modest house met his wife daughter and son. I moved into his son’s room and the next day we went looking for the compound that Rs family were living but it was impossible. I got in touch with her cousins in the UK and asked them to ask her father to meet me at the mosque, they said if you are here we will kill you. I went but he never turned up. I put an advert in the local paper saying John from England is in Multan and would like to meet his friends, nothing.
After 2 weeks I decided to return to the UK, Jamil asked if I would like to marry his daughter Jamila, I said no of course but we remained friends. I returned to the UK but still determined to find R, I knew the flight they were due back on. Steve came with me to Heathrow to meet the returning group, I still expected R to be with them, Steve watched a photographed what happened next, the mother and father came out first, I walked to the father and put my hand on his shoulder and said “now can we talk” the brothers came out of arrivals and a scuffle started, airport security got involved everyone went their separate ways and I went home to Goostrey. The father got in touch and asked for her passport I went to their house and we talked he said R was married now, I didn’t believe him so he showed me a photo of her in red and gold, I said that proves nothing, he showed me a letter from R I read the letter it was heart-breaking. She was asking her dad to bring her home and her “husband” had told her she must stop crying. I realised the only way she could get back was with her UK passport so gave it them. I harassed them, followed them went to the police saw special branch (they said I was a fool trusting them as this sort of thing happened all of the time). I learnt from mutual friends that they drugged her and took her on the flight.
It didn’t stop there of course I spent 5 years looking for her, eventually I accepted the inevitable but hoped she was safe and well. IF you are out there Rukhsana just let me know you are OK. IF I know for sure I won’t disturb you and the “life” you have now. Namaste.