Thursday 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Longlist, Aftab Yusuf Shaikh


All the four girls gathered in the portico and then walked down the stairs. The college results were out. The girls were happy with the outcome of the pains they had taken preparing for the examination.

Sumaiya’s house was the farthest. One by one, all her friend left the group on the arrival of their house. The crowd of four became a trio, then duo and in the end only Sumaiya was left. She had no company from Mehtab Lane to her house in L.G. Colony.

She crossed the lane and then the highway. On the other end, the local boys were sitting at the third grade restaurant, as usual. They were seen on the spot on any given day of the year except during rains when they took shelter in the abandoned car parked next to the stall.

They were busy chatting when they saw Sumaiya coming their way and they stared at her. They kept on staring at her with hungry eyes. Sumaiya was used to this staring of theirs. Not like every day, a boy from the group got up and stood in Sumaiya’s way.

Sumaiya dodged him and moved forward. Her eyes glued to the ground. If she waited she knew the consequences. She walked taking long strides. The boy called her from behind, ‘Sumaiya! Listen! Sumaiya!’

Sumaiya turned back instantly and gestured him to have his say. He hesitated for a moment, then came closer to her and said, ‘Sumaiya I had always wanted to tell you that...’

‘That I really really love you and I can’t live without you.’
‘What do you expect from me?’
‘Nothing. Just love.’
‘Sorry. I can’t give you anything. Even love,’ saying so she left the boy with his mouth agape in astonishment.

The boy, Raju, was not expecting this. He was the only son of the area’s municipal councilor. He regularly changed his girlfriends. Sumaiya knew better about it. Actually, everyone knew about it. She never liked his character and hence, rejected his proposal with all the politeness her anger could permit. No good girl might have accepted that rich brat’s proposal. But there were many girls who danced around him because of his full pocket.

He thought Sumaiya was such a girl and therefore, was surprised at her reply.
Sumaiya, a second year B.A. student, was the most pious girl one can imagine of in today’s world. She has always been a non nonsense girl. No brat dared to buzz around her at the college. There was no chance at all of seeing her without her scarf on. 

She grew conscious of her name only at thirteen. When all the girls in her class were explaining the meaning of their names, Sumaiya had nothing to say of her name as she herself knew nothing. She became curious and the first thing she did on returning home from school was to ask her father about her name.

‘You don’t know who Sumaiya was? Come, sit. Let me tell you dear. Sumaiya was the first woman martyr of Islam. She was one of the earliest converts. Once Abu Jahl, the cruel chief of the city asked her to return back to her previous religion. She was his slave and he had tied her down on the baking sand. Her limbs spread out and tied to long pegs. He asked her to escape his wrath by returning back to her previous religion. He asked her to deny the presence of One God and the prophecy of the prophet. She denied doing so. He asked her again and again the same thing and the third time, she spat on his face in reply. 

Father gulped down half a glass of water and continued, ‘Imagine, how angry Abu Jahl have been when an ordinary woman spat on him. He- the most arrogant and feared member of his tribe. He got extremely upset. He tore her clothes to leave her unclothed in front of the whole market. He gave her a last chance and asked her to do as he said. But she was reluctant and again rejected his command. Abu Jahl’s temper spilled to the brim. In his fit of anger, he pierced his sword in her stomach nastily and eventually killed her.

‘Oh, God!’ Sumaiya exclaimed when her father ended his narration.
‘So, now you know my child what your name stands for. You have to live up to your name.’
‘Thank you, father, for giving me the name of such a brave and courageous woman.’
‘Brave, courageous, pious and beautiful. Just like you.’

‘Oh father. Don’t embarrass me,’ she blushed.
Sumaiya’s father had a lot of faith and confidence in his daughter. He had always fought with his family for her. He enrolled her in an English medium school, in spite of his parent’s disapproval. He made her study in college though his friends had advised him not to do so. 

The daughter deserved this faith. She excelled in her academics. She also wrote poetry. Recently, when her poem was published in a local daily, her father was very happy. The happiness was more this time because before this the publication of her poetry was limited to her college magazine.
‘You have once again made me proud,’ father had told her.

‘Father have you read my poem?’
‘Yes. Of course. Good that you have focused on the atrocities on women in our country. I liked it. I wish you had the company of revolutionaries like Savitribai.’
On Wednesday, as usual, Sumaiya left for her college library. She could think of no better way to spend the vacations other than reading.

Noon came and went but Sumaiya didn’t return home for lunch, neither did she come for dinner. It was already night but still there was no news of her. When her father called the librarian, he said that she had left in the afternoon for lunch and had since then not returned.

Father became restless. His worry ate up his sleep. He spent the whole night sitting reclined on the bed. His wife consoled him saying Sumaiya might have gone to meet one of her friends and due to it getting so dark, she might have opted to stay there for the night. 

‘Isn’t she supposed to call home if she was going to stay there?’
At which mother said, ‘She might have forgotten to do so. Hasn’t she done this earlier?’
The night went in consoling, arguing and worrying. Early in the morning, father’s friend, Nath, came home for help as soon as he got the information that Sumaiya was missing. 

‘You didn’t bother to tell me? Amjad told me that Sumi was missing.’
‘I thought why to trouble you.’
‘Oho. Shut up and tell me, have you registered with the police?’
‘I have filed an F.I.R.’
‘And have you inquired at her friend’s place?’
‘Yes, they say they haven’t seen her since a week.’
‘How many friends has she?’
‘Three. They all are saying the same thing.’

Father and uncle Nath, contacted all possible places but to no avail. Nobody had anything positive to give in reply.  At eleven in the morning a call came from the police station. The police had found a young female body and they wanted Sumaiya’s father to check it. They told him to reach the station as soon as possible, because the body was rotting and stinking terribly.

Father was not at all ready to go to the police station. He was sure that the body wasn’t of Sumaiya. He was sure she was alive. As a father, he couldn’t afford to think otherwise. It took a lot of consoling from uncle Nath for his agreement to check the body at the police station.

On reaching the police station, when the police unveiled the face of the corpse, the sky fell on the father. It was indeed Sumaiya. Uncle Nath gave the police a sign of approval. When father enquired further with the officer, he told him, ‘We got the body from the gutter behind the P.M.G. colony.’
Father was too discouraged to ask any more questions, uncle Nath asked the officer,’ What does the post mortem report say? How did all this happen?’

‘According to the post mortem report, she was raped. In fact, many times again and again. I guess she was later stabbed in the abdomen with, perhaps, a chopper.’
‘Do you really think she was raped?’

‘Yes, the report gives a strong proof of it. And when we got the body, it was almost naked.’
Later on investigations revealed that Sumaiya was indeed raped by Raju and his gang. They were arrested by the police and pretentions of hearings, pleadings, followed on. 
At Sumaiya’s funeral, father kissed Sumaiya’s forehead then lowered her into the grave along with the many hopes, dreams and expectations he had from his daughter. Many bottles of fragrance failed to defy the stinking of the body. It ended only when mud was shovelled into the grave and filled it till it rose to a height above the ground. A man from the crowd came forward to place some flowers on the grave. Father stopped him from doing so. 

‘These flowers will prick her like thorns, inside. The flowers which will please her will be sent by God from paradise to her grave,’ he said.

Sumaiya’s body smelled foul, due to decaying, but father knew that her soul must be smelling of a sweet perfume. He didn’t bother for what the world may say. He was relaxed that his daughter’s soul was pure and immaculate in the eyes of God and that was what really mattered. 
Sumaiya died as a martyr. She died defending her chastity. She died defending her honour and in disguise, the honour of all young women. She lived up to her name and even died up to it.

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