Saturday 15 August 2020

Azam Khan, Short Story 2020, Featured Writer

The Stained Soul

"It's been five years now Ali! Everyone moves on you and so you. I can't see you like this all the time, your family can't see you like this. We want our Ali back, just like he was."

"Husna if you were in my place what would you have done, instead of feeling guilty," I demanded.

"I don't know what would I have done if I were at your place. But you need to stop thinking about that incident. Get ready, I am going to make breakfast." Her tone reflected how badly she wanted him to be fine.

"Husna, see people answer like this when they don't want to tell the truth upfront. You also know that what I did was wrong!" I fought back.

The back of our mind is a genius in playing tricks. It often takes us back to the times we don't want to visit. And there I was, remembering those few days which led to my guilt because of my deeds were done there.

I had been posted at the Karimganj Army Base Camp. Located just on the Bangladesh border with the river Kushiara flowing in between, it lies in the state of Assam. War has been declared between Bangladesh and India at that time.

Next day, after morning assembly attendance was taken by one of the Subedars, I heard a name similar to that of my childhood friend, Rohit Kumar. All my childhood memories started playing at the back of my mind, of us playing in the park, fighting for who will bat first in cricket, calling him on Eid and him, inviting me on Diwali, Holi in-spite of our cultural issues. We used to celebrate all the festivals together. That following day after dinner, I was walking on the running track and I saw someone coming towards me. He called out my name 'Ali'. I was amazed, it was him, my childhood friend Rohit. Tears rolled down my eyes. It had been a long time since we last met, almost 10 years. We hugged each other and talked about our childhood. In the situation of war, everyone was tensed and here we were, laughing and cherishing every moment. Time flew and came the day of the war, everyone was calling their family, some of them were writing letters which are supposed to be sent to the family of Martyr by the Indian Army. I went to Rohit and surprisingly he was writing that letter. I asked him, "Don't you have faith in yourself?" To that, he smiled and said nothing.

The sky was as black as a casket. Hands frozen, clamped around steel as my eyes grazed the horizon. War commenced and soldiers tore through enemy soldier's bodies with bullets. Crys of agony, lust for blood, explosions and the rips and dismembering of bodies were more than audible. It was all one could hear. Yet the rest of the world was oblivious and seemed oblivious under this sunlit. I was breathing heavily. Rohit came hurtling towards me and exclaimed that we are going to win this war. The enemy has already lost 15 thousand men and will barely hold for another hour. As we were covering ourselves I realised that I was low on ammunition. We were heading towards West, killing more enemies. We felt the Earth rumble like an earthquake was approaching. The Subedar shouted at us to run into an open space. We started running with 60 pounds of gear on our back. But we were struck by something unforeseen. We saw 30,000 soldiers marching towards us, with their footsteps reverberating. Not only me but the whole troop was shaken as if the ground was slipping from beneath our feet. Inside our hearts, we had decided that we will be called "Heroes of the War" but this dream was about to end as we were flanked on both sides by enemy troops.

The soldiers were losing hope; doubts were creeping into their minds. But between our murmur I heard someone saying out loud "Come on you morons, I will crush you all under my feet". It was Rohit who shouted this. With fire in his eyes, he was advancing towards the enemy. We didn't have anything to cover ourselves. So, we removed our bags from the back and piled them to make a temporary wall, to shield us from the direct impact of bullets. I don't know how it worked, maybe it was God who was there to help us. As the enemy was busy in attacking, we sent our 5000 men to the East as well as West to flank them in a counter attack. Suddenly, the tables turned, we started regaining our grip on the battle. That one sentence helped us build our energy and confidence. Rohit was to my right, doing his best, like all the soldiers.

Blood was splashing out from our open wounds. And suddenly Rohit pushed me away and a bullet hit him.

Thud! I saw him fall.

Tears rolling down his cheeks, he was screaming and screeching. I took him into my arms and then he said something in his trembling voice that he wrote that letter because he knew that he was going to die.

I told him, "You're going to be fine, medical assistance is on their way. You're a hero Rohit and heroes don't die."

"Ali, all I want is that the man who tried to kill you should die. Promise me you will kill him." Little did I know that those were his last words!

"I promise Rohit.", I said in a shaky voice.

He then closed his eyes. I called out his name "Rohit!" he didn't budge. This time a little louder "Rohit!!". To which he replied, "not so early idiot, I am just resting." Four of our men took him on the stretcher. Later, we took control over the enemies.

They surrendered to us. Everyone was happy, except me, I had failed to keep my promise. I rushed towards our base camp to see Rohit, but he had left us.

Something unexpected happened after two years. As I was sitting in my basecamp, our Subedar called us to tell that we are going to war with China and Bangladesh will be our ally.

Next day we were marching towards the war field with Bangladeshi soldiers. The war began, mud and blood covered the ground along with dead bodies. Then I saw something familiar, a familiar face. It struck me, it was none other than the guy who killed Rohit. Suddenly a bullet passed through my ear. I was filled with rage and agony seeing that guy. I started firing towards the enemy, started running over them. Then I heard a voice shouting at me "Fall back, fall back it's a trap." I didn't listen to it and started walking again. I saw that guy running towards me, the one who had killed Rohit. He pulled me towards him and he shouted: " There are mines beyond this zone".

He was still midway in his sentence when I took my knife out and stabbed him in his stomach without realising what he just said. My hands started trembling, and a certain darkness crept over me. I took him on my shoulder and cried for help, but amidst the deafening sounds of war, my voice drowned. After that incident, I didn't know what I did was right or wrong. That day I had fulfilled my promise but did something wrong which had permanently stained my soul, and it couldn't be undone.

"The worst feeling is the feeling of being guilty, they say. It kills you on a daily basis. When you see someone doing good to others for others, you feel guilty. Whether you have done that act which you are feeling guilty about knowingly or unknowingly, people make their choices and I made mine, and still, I am paying for it "

Maybe that's how our choices always define us!

- Musannif

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