ONLY A PIECE OF PEACE

  • BY SAJIDAH MASALLI
  • Publish Date: Sep 10 2018 3:13AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Sep 10 2018 3:13AM
ONLY A PIECE OF PEACERepresentational Pic

The boy stood stock-still. His eyes were closed and his hands were tightened around his ears, oblivious that the book he was holding had fell to the ground. Everything around him slowly became hazy. He turned numb. Only one voice echoed in his head - that of his mother’s, saying repetitively one word, “Death”. “The angel of death says Hi to me every night, it will soon come to visit me, and you.” 

An hour ago when the blue color of the sky had started to dwindle and the stillness of the night was preparing to approach, a small feet still there raised up and down to find its way back home. He walked a few steps ahead but then stopped in middle for the fifth time to recap the morning scene carefully in mind when he ran the silent streets alone to borrow the book from his teacher, for he could not wait another day to know what happened to Greg at the end.                             

A sudden jolt on his hand made him realize where he was. As he opened his eyes, a man in uniform at a distance was aiming something sharp and long at him. A gun, precisely pointing at him. Before he could understand what exactly was happening someone grasped his hand and ran. The boy had no conception of where and with whom was he running but his legs didn’t rest and he fixed his eyes to the ground. He only knew he had to run, not to live for he had not yet experienced life in its fullest but to escape death. He wanted to refute his mother. Death could not visit him now. Not now, not before he is done reading ‘The Diary of a Wimpy kid.’

The running came to a halt. The boy explored the place, it was a bake-house. There was a large traditional oven in the middle - the tandoor. He had been there before with his mother, it evoked the memory of how he loved the aroma of girda, telvor, katlam and lavaasa. He tried to inhale it now but the smell of ashes, pellets and blood had subdued it. He eye-balled the man who had earlier held his hand, the man was closing the door vehemently. He seemed to the boy like his father, much the same age. A coughing sound disturbed the boy’s past vision of his father. He gazed back to see an old man panting furiously. “He appears to be of same epoch as my late grandfather’s”, the boy thought. He then brushed his thoughts aside and wondered why he was relating them to his blood kinships, when he had neither met them before nor did they know who he was. Sometimes we try to envision in others the affiliations we no longer have or are not satisfied with.  

The three settled down anxiously. Still silent, trying to weigh down what had just happened. Suddenly a thunderous sound startled them. It was of a bullet which was fired up and the boy cried out, he had never heard such a dreadful sound so close to ears. The old man hastily signed to get in the Tandoor,           

“We have to hide in here.” 

“But, why? We didn’t do anything. We’re not with them”, the young man protested to which the old man whispered,                                                   

“Yes, we’re not but they don’t know this. They might misapprehend us”. The tandoor which once resuscitated LalDed from her own nakedness, saved the three that night from the world’s inhumaneness. The once burning and heated tandoor where every day hot baked breads were made and sold, that night became a source of refuge for them. 

The old man recollected how in the cold winter mornings, people would gather there to eat and converse on various issues from nationalism to individual identity, from plebiscite to demilitarization. Some would say that to live without discrimination and not be denied the daily aspirations of life is freedom, others suggested that ‘revenge’ is ‘freedom’. Clash of ideas and opinions. A life was built around that tandoor though an imperfect one. 

The boy was scared but quiet. He thought about his mother. He had been out the entire day. He knew she would have lost her sanity by now. She often lost it. She would do everything in an impulsive manner. Sometimes while cooking, she would pause and then as if reminiscing something would grab the utensil and hove the freshly prepared food in the backyard, “let the crows have it, we can do better”, she would mutter. Then she would walk straight to her room and bolt it. After that the boy could only hear some strange noises, of things falling, breaking and ripping. He could not comprehend that it was not the things but she- that was wrenching and breaking. It all happened in a minute, just the way everything else did. Most nights she woke up in a fretful way with an earsplitting cry and then she herself tried to calm her nerves and sinews down by burying her face in the pillow and letting it soak every drop of the salty water in her enclosed boundaries and the ‘Cries’ she let them be imprisoned within the four walls only, for if they were freed they might lose direction and may wander around but she couldn’t afford them to lose ground. So she let them be where she had always kept them, without altering their place, she chose to alter her own. Occasionally she would stop in mid-sentence to take back the name she was about to utter and without her knowledge something wet touched her cheeks. She wanted them to stop. She terribly wanted these irksome tears to stop. It had been five years after all. She could not let herself break but she had no control over this and the vice versa was ensuing, it had begun to gain power over her. She had developed fear, a deep fear of her fears turning real. She was afraid of a few things which counted for everything. She would not let her son go out. A teacher was appointed to tutor him at home. Books were the only friends he had. The boy time and again wondered what had happened that turned his mother into an aggravating and gloomy person, who once used to be so cheerful and amusing. He just knew that it all happened after his father went away. Where? He did not know. He did not know this either that when at times she threw the food it was because it jogged in her the memory of his father. The vociferous cries was due to the nightmares that haunted her- in the night and every so often in daylight too. It is said that with time pain is healed but sometimes time enhances them even more. How will the abrasion mend if one keeps touching it? 

“I think they left. We can leave now,” the young man said and stepped out of the tandoor. The old man and the boy followed respectively.             

“No. It’s not safe yet”, the old man retorted.                                                              

“No, no, I can’t stay any longer. I have to go now”, the young man replied worriedly. The old man lost his temper,                                                                       

“Are you insane? They are firing guns and pellets out there. Do you crave to be blind or maimed? We have to stay here until it all stops. Either you have a death wish or you don’t prize your life. What is so important right now than your own dear life?”                                                                                                                                                         

“You don’t understand, my wife is alone in the labor room. She was admitted this morning, I went back to village to get the belongings ready. The doctors said it is our child’s due date today. Sofia is waiting. She must be terrified by now.”           

“Oh! Don’t worry. Everything will be alright. Just wait until the chaos is over. I understand your urgency but please I advise you to stay” the old man tried to comfort him. The boy sat stealthily between them. He felt somewhat shielded there. The young man studied the boy and asked, “Why did you come out kid? Don’t you know it’s dangerous outside? You were so close, so close. 

I can’t imagine what could have happened had I not pulled you”. The boy hesitantly asked, “So close to what?” “Death”, came the answer.  The boy’s breathing stopped for seconds, he thought why everyone and everything reminded him of death today. “Where have you been?” inquired the young man to the old.                                      

“I had went to drop my granddaughter to her house. Stone pelting is a weekly norm here. How can we stop our daily activities because of it and for how long should we?” he paused for a while and then continued gravely “but today somehow the matter seems to have worsened. It is not only stones and tear gas, but bullets.”

They felt a burning sensation in their throat and eyes. The boy started rubbing his eyes rashly. “Close your eyes. It’s tear gas,” the old man said. It activated their pain-sensing nerves. The physical was evident yet the mental was greater. They remained in silence for an hour with eyes closed and hands tightened around knees with fear. 

“Is it your first?” asked the old man.  “What? First time being struck in a confrontation?” the young man questioned. 

“No. Your child? Is it your first child?”                                                                          

 “Oh! Yes.” After a pause he said.

“I’m afraid.”

“Of death? Don’t be, here it’s as normal as anything else,” the old man retorted sluggishly.

“No. Of another life,” the young man added more to himself than to the old man.

His thoughts drifted to the vast land. Small feet. Big hands. He thought of the childhood that awaited and the one he never had. One could tell that he was not scared of being a father but yes, somewhere in that vast land of his mind. He was afraid of being like his father.

“Have you thought of the names?” the old man asked, breaking the chain of his thoughts.                                                

The young man smiled, that sweet smile when something good strikes your heart. 

“If it’s a girl, Sofia and I have decided to name her after my mother - Halima.”          

The old man couldn’t keep his curiosity                                                                      

“And what if it’s a boy?”                                                                                                  

The young man chuckled lightly and answered.                                                                

“To that, Sofia and I have argued a lot but haven’t come to any conclusion yet”. The old man smiled too, “Oh!”  

“How many children do you have?” asked the young man.                                 

“I had four. Now I have three. Three daughters,” old man replied.                                      

“I’m sorry. What happened?”  

The old man after hearing that question stayed still for about ten minutes as if not even breathing and then revealed, “He was killed. My only son. He was shot nine years earlier on a day like today. He was only 19 then.” The young man and the boy, who was listening to all the conversation felt a deep lump in their throats. The young man felt remorseful.                                                                           

“What was his name?” asked the boy, participating in the dialogue.    

“Mohammad. He was such a bright child,” responded the old man glancing at the boy and further added,                                                                                                        

“What is yours, my dear?”                                                                                                    

The boy faltered a bit and did not answer at first, he remembered his mother advising him not to disclose his name to strangers. But the old man did not seem to the boy as a stranger and he gathered courage to utter his name,                         

“Haa…Harris. My name is Harris.”                                                                          

“What is your father’s name Harris? I will take you home safely to your parents,” reassured the old man.

“My father, ahh….he…I….I don’t know but my mother, she is called Saba Rani by everyone”.                                                                                                             

Acknowledgement descended on the old man,                                                     

“So you are Harris Abbas?” he confirmed more to himself.                                         

“I knew your father” said the old man,                                                                           

“He was a brave man”.                                                                                                                            

It was the first time someone was talking to the boy about his father, even his mother never divulged anything about him. He couldn’t keep his inquisitiveness, “How do you know he was brave?” asked the boy.                                                          

“He had a gun. Only brave men can carry arms and fight”.                                       

This took him by surprise. Gun. He could not visualize his father with a gun. A gun that brings blood. A gun that causes death. Death.  

The young man argued to this,                                                                                                               

“I don’t mean to be insolent but I have a different say on this subject. Some indeed had their reasons, convinced to them which compelled them to raise arms but radicalism or extremism is not and never will be a device for revolution or political reform”. The old man couldn’t harmonize with this statement.                                            

“You don’t know anything son. It is because you have not lost anyone by their hands. Don’t you see how much the life of ordinary people here, others have been taken granted for? These days another death in our society is barely another name in the list of those passed before. An obituary, a political commiseration, few left over stones and a hum of cry is alone left in the air. We fail to entirely understand the deep value of the deceased soul. It takes only a bullet to end but it demands time to fold and unfold, build and rebuild, shape and reshape a person, his experiences and memories which completes a man. Who bears the responsibility at the end? None.”                                                                                                                

The young man understood his grief, he said,                                                                       

“You know what I realized?”                                                                                               

“What?”                                                                                                                                  

“I realized this with utter despair that nations, legislators and politicians in conceit of power, dominance and supremacy can mince the lives of innocent citizens to dust. It has now become a war of honor for the two. Both intend control, none assure amity.”                                                                                                                         

The young man recalled how he was eyed with wariness every time he told others that he resided here, “so you live in a constant sadistic battlefield” they would state. He stayed quiet then, but something in him so badly wanted to answer them now that he lived in a land of courage and will power which even after having underwent callousness and viciousness for years prolonged, nevertheless possess the power to live beyond the pain and turmoil, the people of which still with hope and determination everyday fight and long for the peace and sanctity which once prevailed here.                                                                                                            

“I fathom, you must so badly desire this land to be free. You must hate the men in uniform? And you are justified in doing so…hmm, may I ask what do you really desire for this land and for yourself?” He wished to insert more, he wished to express that violence perhaps was not the answer to violence, if it was wouldn’t we had gained what we wanted by now but looking back hasn’t ours journey only been of devastation and loss but he didn’t vent out his views. He was afraid of hurting the old man’s sentiments. In the end, he was just a father who lost his only son. 

All three remained in silence. This silence was not awkward. It had some familiarity in it as if there individual silences knew each other. The old man, the young man and the boy. Past, present and future caught in one room, stuck in the tandoor like the baked bread, gradually roasting from the inside by the fiery heat of the fire and the outside moulding into solid. Can one ever imagine the state of their souls who are left in the middle of a conflict breakdown? People who are victimized in the hands of men in uniform or men with beards, whose hearts have been crushed again and again and ‘pain’ is a small word which fails to completely illustrate the sufferings their heart has withstand for it can never be put on paper with mere words. 

The old man cleared his position,                                                                                       “I don’t hate them. I can’t. They are just doing their job. I comprehend perhaps we failed to convey our message in heaved stones, perhaps we combined the idealism of “freedom” with that of vexation of unemployment and perhaps the world misjudged our voice of protest. Perhaps! I can only anticipate. What else can a common man do? Can he state facts and justify? Will the world pay heed to his validation?” 

Only three hours had passed but it seemed like a lifetime.  

“I think they have left. The noises have come to a halt. I better leave fast” declared the young man. He stood up and prepared to leave.                             

“I’m afraid it is not safe yet. They might be around. Just stay covered a bit longer,” said the old man with concern. The young man had already started heading to the entrance.                                                                                                                                     

“No. I can’t anymore. She needs me”.  He walked two steps then as if to bid farewell turned back, smiled and said, “If God bestows us a boy. I will name him Mohammad.”                                     

“You asked what I want?” said the old man, “I just want one normal day.” “And I just want to finish” said the boy shyly, “One book after another”.                                                

Sometimes the simple things in life becomes so much of a longing that it seems almost a sin to even yearn for them. One death leads to another and it follows. Someone has to stop the circle. 

After a few minutes they heard a sound of a gunshot from a distance. The boy trembled and concealed behind the old man. The boy tentatively stared in the eyes of the old man and said “I want to be brave when I grow up but I don’t like guns.” 

The boy reached in his pocket and fetched out a pen. “It doesn’t seem much of a thing when placed next to that. My teacher is wrong. This ink is of no use here. What possibly can I do with this? Can I save my mother? Can I be brave?” 

“It is the greatest of all weapons, my dear,” replied the old man. 

“Abbu, you know someone was shot last night?”  said the old man’s daughter, fumbling through the newspaper.    

“Who?” The old man dreaded the question as he asked it.                                     

“A young man of nearly twenty-eight. It says - his wife was hospitalized yesterday. 

And she gave birth to a baby boy last night”.                                                                                

“Who could it be? Such an unfortunate lad,” she said, shuffling to other news.                              

It was mere part of a news. A part. Written, read and forgotten. 

“He could have been that ‘boy’. He could have been ‘me’. He could have been ‘Anyone’. After all it is the contemporary world’s paradise we live in.”            

 

(Sajid ah Masalli is Tibetan by ethnicity, born and raised in Kashmir, the place she humbly calls 'home'. She has studied creative writing and this piece was originally well received and got a commendable mention by Delhi Poetry Slam in their National Wingword Short Story competition 2017. Though the narrative of the story is entirely fictional but it has been drawn from real human experiences. She is currently majoring in psychology and hopes to be a proponent in the field of education and children's mental health especially in Kashmir through teaching and writing. She can be reached at sajidah080aa@gmail.com)