Short Story: They showed partition
I look outside the dreary window, not daring to poke my head out of it because it would only evoke pain. Outside, the world is nothing like what it used to be, it 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 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 few of them, including me and my ammi, took refuge in 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. Nikhil was one or two Hindus who like us were caught in the riots and were waiting for them to subside. Once things settled he would go from Amritsar to Bombay and we to Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
“Do you think he still loves me?” I ask not paying any attention to whatever she had just said.
“I don’t know,” I say, “you confess, after all you have been friends since childhood, your parents never believed in religious differences.” I sighed, Fiza sounds so incredibly naïve. 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 he 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 to death himself because they could have got raped. He’s got his son with him, look!” And she points at a six or seven-year-old boy sitting with other kids staring pointlessly at the roof. The child looked as if he was a walking dead.
I can sense the worry and fear in my mother’s voice, I know it is for Abbu, he is a lawyer in Delhi and he is coming here to accompany us to our new ‘home’ in Rawalpindi, new home, new nation, new identity…and we would be carrying memories of rupture and loss.
After our meal was over I returned to our room to rest; there was plenty of time to rest, but rest and peace eluded me. Sometimes I would borrow a book from the library but it was hard to get absorbed in it with so much sadness all around.
I sat by the window, looking at the horizon, well at least my eyes were fixated on the horizon but my mind was full of thoughts of Nikhil. Encumbered by grief I thought of how many of my sahelis had got abducted and how I was fortunate to escape the town before it was too late.
Nikhil came in again to sit and talk with us, he had no one else to talk to for his mother and father were in Bombay, he told us about all the things he heard in gatherings of men, about blood-red rivers and carpets of corpses but I paid little attention to all that, I looked for love in his eyes which still showed no expression. He left and we started preparing to sleep.
At night I often curled up against a wall, it gave me a false sense of security. Often, I used to dream that Nikhil was beside me but I always woke up to the sense of an engulfing void. That night as I fell off to a restless sleep I woke up from a loud THUD!
THUD! THUD! THUD!
Every one in the room had woken up in alarm. Another loud thud and the door broke open. Sameer, the new man, was standing there holding a knife in his hands, his eyes full of tears. He seemed to be drunk but wasn’t, it was his pain that had driven him mad. Sameer suddenly rushed up to Fiza’s mother and tried to slit her throat but she managed to push him away. We watched aghast. All this while Sameer kept shouting, “I am sorry, Joya my dear wife, I am sorry I must kill you or else you will be dishonored.” Sameer raised the knife again threatening to slit Fiza’s mother’s throat but suddenly crumpled down to the floor.
He kept crying speaking of Joya his wife and Aayesha, his daughter until suddenly he stood up and stabbed himself mercilessly with his waning strength. Amidst so many screams and harrowing cries, people kept on sleeping, maybe no one cares anymore.
Next morning, I and Ammi narrated the events to men from our refugee camp reliving the horror over and over again. In this sad turn of events the worst victim was Sameer’s son. No one wanted to adopt him, so the men decided to shoot him; that way he could be sure of a quick death rather than being starved to death.
I could not bring myself to accept this decision but who was I to object? I was a mute spectator of the world going horrific. I saw the bewildered child being shot to death and return to my daily chores…accepting it.
We packed whatever we had and it all fit in one carry-bag, some men would guide us to the recently formed station, the first one in PAKISTAN, and make sure we were safely taken to our father.
It was six in the evening when Fiza told me that Nikhil would be accompanying us, not for protection but because he would be travelling elsewhere. I was happy for a moment thinking of how I would tell him about my love. I felt it was easier to tell as it was certain that we would never meet again.
At ten in the night Nikhil, I and my mother left with five armed Muslim men for the station. It was a journey of half an hour from the abandoned school to station but because of all the precautions we had to take our progress was slow and we could reach the station only by twelve. While travelling to the station we felt that we would be waylaid but we managed to reach. It seemed to me that we would survive this nightmare, scars would remain but we would see Pakistan. We waited for the train, I could see its silhouette and as I pointed it out to Ammi, a Sikh wearing a turban and carrying an assault rifle came towards us. He said, “Nikhil, I am inspector Jagdeep Singh and I am here to take you to your father and mother.”
My heart skipped a beat as I heard those words, I tried to confess my love but I just couldn’t… It was as if I was in a trance until the train’s horn brought me back to reality. So what if I had not spoken of my love? At least I was safe and soon to be with my father! I could not stop saying praises of Allah. I ran inside the train but as I entered it I was stunned. Inside the train there were no people, no living people, just blood, dead bodies, mutilated, and robbed.
I ran over the bodies shouting, “Abbu! Abbu!” but I got no reply, my screams brought my mother in too but unlike me she just fell on her knees and began to sob.
A hand grabbed me from behind, clutching my throat he dragged me to the train’s gate. The man looked at the five Muslim men who had come with us and then at Jagdeep and Nikhil. He said something and many people jumped down from the train’s roof and in no time shot all of ‘our’ men. The man looked at me with disgust and then said to Jagdeep, “You are our Hindu, brother, take the boy and don’t dare to go against us.”
Jagdeep clutched Nikhil and retreated. Nikhil broke free and shouted abuses as he jumped at that man but Jagdeep covered his mouth and forced him to a jeep.
I tried to jump out from the train but the Hindu men grabbed my hair, for the last time I looked into Nikhil’s eyes, his eyes were no longer expressionless, they showed pain and separation, they showed partition.
Shivesh is pursuing graduate course in English Literature and has a profound interest in creative writing.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.