THIS STORY IS SET DURING PARTITION OF INDIA
I look outside the window, not daring to poke my head out of it because it will mean death, outside world is nothing like what it used to be, all is red. Red grass, red soil, red leaves and red hands. Only thing that is straight in my life or the only thing I am thankful about right now is that my mother is with me and tomorrow at by this time father will be here too and he will take us away. After the rioters and other violence-lovers took to streets almost all the people from our little town left their homes, a little portion of them, including me and mum, are staying here n this now-abandoned school, waiting for all the bloodshed to settle down.
We keep silent and hidden from the outside world for our safety, but it is getting harder every day. Toilets are clogged and some are overflowing, full bellies are a thing of past and so is sound sleep, I feel that my father’s return will improve things a little but I know it is unlikely.
The door of the class room in which me, Ammi, my best friend Fiza and her mother are staying opens and in comes Nikhil, a boy of my age, seventeen that is, who confessed his love for me three years ago and I refused, for he is a Hindu and my family will never accept him, the Hindu and Muslim border in this refugee “camp” is now gone because a more rigid border is being set up, the border between India and what they call Pakistan, “Food is here” says Nikhil with his eyes fixed on mine, these very eyes once showed his love for me but since I refused him they have gone expressionless, maybe his eyes are expressionless because he thinks I don’t return his love but it is not true, I love him but I never told him because back then he was a “Hindu”, which now seems no big deal, and now I guess it is too late.
“Coming” Fiza says, when she notices that I am too busy looking at those expressionless eyes that I made no reply and in an instant Nikhil nods and is out of the room. I and Fiza wait for him to go farther enough so that he is not in earshot and then we leave the room, our mothers already left for they help in cooking and it is funny how Muslim women cook the food and Hindus have no problem in eating it, perhaps survival is above God and religion, perhaps such times make us human. I and Fiza go down stairs and on our way Fiza asks me,
“How do these people get food after all that is going on!”
“Do you think he still loves me?” I ask not paying any attention to whatever she said.
“I don’t know, I say, you confess, after all you guys were best friends, nothing can go wrong” she says, she is clearly not interested in talking about Nikhil, I guess because we talked a lot about him back in easier days.
“Hmm” I say, another thing such times do is showing you who really cares for you, for these five weeks we have never talked properly, it is not Fiza’s fault, both of us want to spend time with our families.
Once we are in school’s hall, where we all gather to eat, we find our mothers and sit next to them and wait for food to be served. I notice a new man sitting in a corner,
“Who is that guy Ammi?” I ask
“him?” she points at him and continues “that is Sameer, he is one poor soul, Habiba my child, he came just last night, says he shot his wife and daughter because they can get raped, he has a son with him too, look!” and she points at a sevenish years old boy sitting with other kids in our refugee
I can sense worry and fear in my mother’s voice, I know it is for Abbu, he is a lawyer in Delhi and coming here is really dangerous.
After meal we return to out room to rest, there is plenty of rest, sometimes we read some book from library but it is hard to get absorbed in it with so much sadness in atmosphere.
I sit by the window, looking at the horizon, well at least my eyes are seeing the horizon but my mind is jumping from Nikhil to my dad and then back again. After a while we discus about source of all these problems, India’s partition, how Muslims feared that once independence is given they will be oppressed in a Hindu majority country and how ALL INDIA MUSLIM LEAGUE offered to fight with the British in World War II in exchange for security after freedom and how much our savior Gandhi is supporting this, soon we start discussing about old days but all of us still know the fact that most of our Sahelis are either killed or Raped it is fortunate that we escaped the town before it was too late.
Nikhil comes in again to sit and talk with us, he has no one else to talk to for his mother and father are in Bombay, he tells us about all the things he heard in gatherings of men, about blood red rivers and carpets of corpses but I pay little attention to all that, I look for love in his eyes which still show no expression. He leaves and we prepare to sleep.
At night I curl up against a wall, Once I dreamed Nikhil was beside me but there was no one when I woke up. I fall asleep after sometime only to wake up from a loud THUD!
THUD! THUD! THUD!
Every one in the room, that is the four of us wake up
Another loud thud and door break open
I see Sameer, the new man, holding a knife in his hands and tears in his eyes, he looks drunk but he is not, he runs up to Fiza’s mother and tries to slit her throat but she pushes him.
“I am sorry, Joya my dear wife, I am sorry I must kill you so your honor lives” Sameer shouts as he raises his knife again to slit her throat but decides against it and sits down with his head bowed.
He keeps crying with occasional mention of Joya his wife and Aayesha, who must be his daughter and suddenly he stands up and raising his knife, still in tears, he says,
“I am coming my love, I am coming my daughter” and before we can do anything he stabs himself in throat and falls down, he is making weird sounds in agony and finally dies with one last painful and terrible “aah”.
All this sound and no one came up to help us, maybe no one cares anymore.
We wake up all people from rooms around us, who are of course just pretending to be asleep and they suggest discussing it in the morning.
Next morning, instead of being happy about Abbu coming to get us today, I and Ammi narrate the events of last night to men from our refugee, from breaking of door to us throwing the body from window, we narrate all of it and it is every bit as terrifying as experiencing it.
Evidently Sameer went mad and mistook Fiza’s mother for his wife, but that’s not what people are worried about right now,
Sameer’s son, little Abu, is now “parent less” and no one wants to “adopt” him, who will? With so little resources! so men decide that we shoot him so he can at least die a quick death not of hunger.
I cannot accept this decision but if they are certain that it is the best thing to do, who am I to object? I am going to north today with my father and am not a part of the refugee anymore.
Abu is taken to a corner, they did not tell him about his father’s death, and shot right between the eyebrows.
We do not get to eat anything today because we are leaving, anything we eat will be a waste. Abbu’s train is late, so the sources say, and will not arrive until midnight.
I spend rest of the day thinking about time I spent with my father, I recall that I once gave him a golden ring, that I bought myself from the money I was saving for years.
We pack whatever we have and it all fits in one carry-bag, some men will guide us to the recently formed station, the first one in PAKISTAN, and make sure we are safely taken by our father.
It is six in the evening when Fiza tells me that Nikhil will be accompanying us, not for protection but because his parents sent an official to bring him back, he will surely be safe because his father is an officer in Bombay. I am really happy about it because I can tell him about my love when he will leave for Bombay, it is easier to tell when it is certain that we will never meet again.
At ten in the night we, Nikhil and my mother and me, leave with five armed Muslim men, it is half an hour journey from the abandoned school to station but because of all the precautions we take, we reach the station at twelve, we wait for the train, I can see its silhouette but as I point it to Ammi, a guy wearing a turban and carrying an assault rifle comes to us, he says
“Nikhil, I am inspector Jagdeep singh and I am here to take you to your father and mother”
My heart skips a beat as I hear those words, I try to gather enough confidence to confess my love but I just can’t… and as if in a flash train’s horn gives me a shock and the train slowly stops in front of me. So what if I never confessed? at least my father is here! However, Nikhil and the inspector are still there and I can still tell him but I am sure that I am not brave enough, instead of facing my own cowardice, I impulsively go into the train without even thinking, maybe I wanted to avoid myself, but as I enter the train all my senses are gone!
Inside the train there are no people, no living people, just blood, dead bodies, mutilated and robbed I am terrified and hope to see my father alive, all other dead people mean nothing to me, I want my father to be alive! Of course, he is alive! He can’t die!
I run over bodies shouting “Abbu! Abbu!” but I get no reply, my screams bring my mother in too but unlike me she just falls on her knees and begins to sob.
A hand grabs me from behind, I spot on it the golden ring I gifted my father but the hand is not his, it is clutching my throat and drags me to the train’s gate, owner of the man, certainly a Hindu, looks at five men who came with us and then at Jagdeep and Nikhil, he says something and many people jump down from train’s roof and in no time shoots all the people that came to guard us and then the man leaves me, I cough and look at him, he looks back at me with disgust and to Jagdeep he says,
“You are our Hindu, brother, take the boy and don’t dare to go against us”
Jagdeep clutches Nikhil and retreats
Nikhil breaks free and shouts “Haramkhor” and jumps at the man but Jagdeep covers his mouth and forces him to a jeep
I try to jump out but the Hindu man grabs my hair, for the last time I look into Nikhil’s eyes,
His eyes are no longer expressionless, they show pain and separation, they show partition.