Thursday 1 September 2016

Short Story 2016 Shortlist, Arti Pandey


My Baba is missing from the past few months and whenever I cry, Maa assures me that he will be back soon. I remember the last time I spoke to Baba when we have moved to this place, he said, "My little girl, one day I wish to see you as a highly educated lady. And then I want you to marry a prince who treats you like his angel. You will make me proud one day I know". Why he said so, I don't know but Maa has gone quiet these days. Neither has she talked anything about Baba. Probably she knows where he is or she has forgotten him. She keeps herself busy and always asks me to study but I do not like anything.  It's not that I don't like books, but not my new school arrangement. It's an old and ugly home transformed into a school with poor teachers.  They don't teach high but ask us to bring new things for them after every class. Even my mates are oddly different and they all surround and question as if I know everything. My old school was fun and I loved to study with my friends and took part in all the programs and sports. There was a small swimming pool and a cute play area enough for all of us. It was the best in the town we had been living before. It's completely different now and even I have to walk here barefoot for over a kilometer.  They even don't have a cafeteria and Maa just pack 2 bread loafs for me. I want to move out of this place and run away but Ma ignores my conversations. Earlier at-least Baba would listen to my issues but Maa hitherto, she walks away.

This place is so stingy; it seems like a different world stretched within few km as boundary unlike the old colony where we lived. There are small trees all around, a tiny river and dust-filled white homes that contrasts more like Igloos with few hundred people as habitants. People are here are mixes of all races that I have studied in my school before, so unique yet dismantle. Maa says this place is located at the end of world and there is nothing beyond this place. Few bad people had an ugly fight one day and that broke into devastation for rest of the population. So people burnt crackers and ate each other's lives and the entire land including my school, clothes and our little house. The whole country vanished in fumes and now we are left with nothing. This place is only hope for food, water and shelter in the longer run. If I ask her whether we will go back to our place someday, she replies there are no roads left to go back. That doesn't sound convincing for me and we are definitely not going to stay here forever! Yet I'm aware that things have drastically changed. And thus she puts me no excuse for the old clothes, books, pencils and toys she lends me from others; I have to adjust. We have no TV, fridge or cooler here, no power supply; may be just an hour and that too Maa uses it for the important things. So the last time I watched a Disney show was 3 weeks back on an old smartphone and shockingly that was working. But as I secretly tried Baba's mobile it didn't worked!

Today I saw some new faces in the town and they looked very strange. They weren't people don't crying as my parents and other people initially did when we landed here. Neither their faces reflected any fear or remorse. They were dressed differently from us in a uniform green shirts, black pants and boots; looked like soldiers but they are not like them. They didn't talk with anyone but with the head of our town. I also heard what Maa was talking to the other Women; she said these new people will help us if we fulfil their demands. I don't understand anything but yes they have started their abode and cooked the food that I haven't tasted in years: chicken soup and noodles; they had plenty of stock in their truck but they didn't offer us even a pack of it. So mean!! I remember when I was small, even we had limited means but there was never a scarcity. Baba used to work in a rubber factory while Maa managed home as well as her small catering business. With their hard work and lesser money they used to get, we still comfortably led a happy and satisfactory life. I never had to look upon anything with greed and today it feels like my entire past was a dream. Earlier money was necessary to buy things and today money can’t buy anything. My piggy bank savings remained in the old shelter and what we have at present is all scrap. Why the God has chosen us to suffer like this? Till when do we have to like this and watch new people joining this ghastly town? May be Baba was right, I should study hard, that is the only chance of our survival here, Maa can’t bear everything on her shoulders till long. Tomorrow onwards I will be more serious in class, I will not disappoint Maa further. I will fulfill Baba’s dreams. Once I will grow up I will open a poultry farm and Maggi plant of my own.  There are just 1-2 shops in this town located very far away and no shopping mall. Maa walks there alone and bring necessary things for home; she never took me along-with her. I will work hard and earn plenty of money to open food shops here. One day we will have big trucks here that will bring all sorts of food, toys, books and clothes for everyone. There will never be scarcity of any necessity, no more covetous eyes.

My old memories have entirely vanished. We the sufferers of War are left with nothing but pieces today. Pieces of food, water, hope and breathe. I have matured since the day Maa told me truth about Baba.  Every day our life feels like a mercy upon us. We are a bunch of people completely dependent on each other. Here we have tiny barren fields for farming, limited fresh water to be carried from a mile's distance. Every fortnight duties of people are changed and Maa is one such member, she has to obey what is told by others to do. Every week proceedings are discussed about ration, work and the issues we have to face yet I don't find any change except the fact that things are worsening here with every passage day.

Earlier all people seemed equal but here too when we are in middle of loss; supreme group has been formed. So they have decided that only families will stay in the main town and anyone left alone will have to serve those soldiers. They are now called Saviors by the local people and they live in isolation from the rest of folks towards the outer part of this town. They don't bear any families and stay in small bunkers tagged with serial numbers. Few towns have been recently discovered to be alive and here people fear they might come and stole our things and will turn us into their slaves or might kill us too. So these Saviors will protect us from any inevitable risk. Their own families have either died or they are orphans and possess no family responsibilities.. Some of them look as young as my age while few resemble me of Baba. They have a leader in their camps and they train them regularly. I wonder what life we all live and till can live like this. I miss my Baba so much. Had he been here, I would have nothing to be scared about. I can't lose my Maa; she has been protecting me like a shield despite her illness and pains. Last week she insisted an old man to let his son marry me so that we can join their family and safeguard us. She even offered herself in exchange of this ally and to serve all the male members of the family.  That was horrific news for me to hear from my friend's mother. I hugged Maa tightly that night and nothing could stop my sob but just her warmth. God was never so disappointed with us. The dream my parents had for my life is nowhere in existence today. The only school in the town has closed, there is no scope of studies and my aging appearance has already thumped vulture eyes here. I can't hear any words except the known verdict of this place- "those who don't have any family will be donated to these Saviors as free assistants and they might have to live with them". These things scares and complexes me and I don't know what Maa will do now.

Our eyes only see what we want to see and our mind keep us alive till the end of our fate. So I closed my eyes when my mother died. Nothing could help my mother when my father left us and I was no exception.  My parents laid foundation for my better life but in pursuit of a better world, they lost everything. And when harsh waves came to swallow me, I surrendered. They rather laughed upon me and circled my soul from the every corner that they could. My penniless education couldn’t help me either. In this lone world I did everything to survive. I was tossed from the one hand to another, by someone of my age and often of my father’s. I performed duties that I had never heard before. I was married thrice, had to change my religion. I never got even a glimpse of the two children I had. My tears swelled in my lips yet I had to continue pleasing others for my survival; for that tiny piece of loaf, a broken shelter and that little breathe. Today I'm a 30 year old Woman and my journey from the beautiful haven to a dislocated bunker has landed me in the soils of this foreign land that I don't wish to name. These people say that they have saved us and look at me brightly. My story sounds appealing to them, they say it’s a better world and will be a new beginning for me. I have been named as a social volunteer who can inspire other’s life. I can share my story and the wounds that I have suffered with every passage of time but is there anyone who can heal them?? You just read my story but it may have sound a normal write-up to you, something that you found every day in the newspapers, over the magazine. What’s so special about my story then, it may not sound appealing to you. There should have been more rapes, assault, and brutality with me and then only it will sound noted in this world of agony. But as I have been told I will still voice out my story. I don’t wish to be named or earn your sympathy. At this juncture if you really want to do something, then just send me back to my little town and let me life with my parents again, if there is anything still left for me...

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