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Victoria Schofield
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The Fragrance of Tears The Fragrance of Tears, my friendship with Benazir Bhutto.

Head of Zeus, 2020.

https://headofzeus.com

Excerpt:

27 December 2007

I was on a train. The low volume buzz of other peoples' conversations filled the compartment, the voices of young and old discussing the best (and worst) part of having spent Christmas with their families. I too had been with my extended family of in-laws in Lincolnshire, and was returning alone to London to spend a couple of days with my sister. I was then planning to rejoin my husband and children for the new year: the sort of humdrum arrangements anyone might make during the holiday period. Unexpectedly my mobile phone went, a shrill sound intruding on the muted chatter around me.

'Hello', I said, thinking maybe it was one my children calling. But instead it was Rita Payne, Asia Editor of BBC World Television.

'Have you heard the news?' she asked expectantly.

'No', I responded, sudden tension gripping my voice. 'I'm on a train. What's happened?'

'There's been an explosion in Rawalpindi where Benazir was addressing an election rally; initial reports are that she's unharmed. But we're waiting to hear more. I'll let you know.'

I hung up, an uneasy sensation saturating my thoughts. Benazir Bhutto, my close friend since our days together as students at Oxford University in the 1970s, was standing in Pakistan's forthcoming general elections. If her party, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), won, she would become prime minister of Pakistan for the third time, having made history in 1988 as the first female prime minister of a Muslim nation aged just thirty-five. The stakes were high. Regardless of the mood of change sweeping the country, the president, General Pervez Musharraf, was hoping he could retain supreme authority, having just lifted a state of emergency. But, after eight years of military government, people were tiring of men in uniform in high places. Instead they wanted a return to civilian government. Opposing Benazir and the PPP was Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz faction). He too was hoping he'd become prime minister for a third time, having been ousted by Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999. Finally, the former cricketer, Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (Justice Party), had also thrown his hat into the ring, and was making news by tarring all his opponents with the same brush of corruption and nepotism. For Benazir the physical dangers were great. In October, on her return to Pakistan after eight years in exile, she had already been targeted by a suicide bomb, which killed over 150 people, although miraculously she had survived.

My phone rang again. This time it was Colin Freeman from the Sunday Telegraph.

'Hello Victoria,' he said, the tone of his voice deathly. 'I hope I am not the bearer of bad news'. Before I had time to say anything, he continued: 'I'm sorry to say that Benazir has been killed in a suicide bomb attack.'

'No, no,' I internally screamed. 'That's not right. Rita said she was unharmed.'

'Are you sure that's true?' I asked feebly, in a desperate attempt to give Colin the chance to tell me that he'd made a mistake and that she was all right.

'I'm afraid so. She was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead.' He gave me a few more details and then hung up, saying that he knew the Telegraph would want me to write something for the paper and would be in touch. Another call was already coming through. It was Rita again.

'I know, Rita,' I said, before she had time to repeat Colin's dreadful words, my voice breaking in the prelude to tears.

 

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