Tuesday 10 August 2021

Saalam Dalwai, ShortStory 2021 Longlist

A Part of Crowd

"Ahh, shut this rasping sound off Bidya," I expressed my annoyance as the alarm rung repeatedly. "Get up Dibakar, it's already seven," answered Bidya. I wanted to sleep longer. Well, you never sleep enough on Monday mornings. Bidya had purposely opened the curtains. The bright light entered through the window which was on the left of mine. It annoyed me even more and I rolled over to my right. The light stopped hitting my eyes, but my sleep had already been disturbed. Also, it was too hot to sleep peacefully. I wished we could have afforded an AC. Well, what can be more boring than a summer Monday morning?

I got up from my bed and went to the kitchen to see Bidya. I was yawning while my eyes were hardly open, my legs became heavier with each step towards kitchen, I had a mild body pain and felt lethargic, the bottom lip was slightly ahead of the top one as to officially declare myself a sluggish morning person. I finally entered the kitchen with my apathy. She was standing near the worktop, cooking, washing, cleaning, and doing everything I could not do in my lifetime, with her back towards me. I hugged her from behind and she quickly turned towards me, moved her hand on my head while slightly pulling my hair and said, "I like this messy hair," her hand moved towards my ear and she pulled it hardly as she continued, "but you're too early." I wanted to stare at that sarcastic smile but could not afford to lose half of my salary for the day. I smiled and went back to my bedroom to get ready.

"Here is my handsome son ready for his office," exclaimed my mum while having her Radha Bollobhi. I loved that wide smile she had been giving me every morning lately. It signified satisfaction. She had been quite lonely for years as my father died in his forties. She had been quite depressed since his death and stopped socializing. She segregated herself from the people, restricted her world to me and even Bidya after my marriage. I always regret not devoting enough time to her. I had to start earning after my father's demise. Mum had lost her mental peace and was not in a state to go out and earn living for us. I stood by her side. I had to give up my education after graduating. I started working and I still am under a chartered account. I was always fond of learning. I used to visit a library in my free time and read about tax laws, audit, finance, etc. I met Bidya at the same library. She was bold, passionate, independent, and beautiful. We fell in love and married after a couple of years. Ever since she has supported me, both financially and emotionally. She encouraged me to resume my education and pursue my dream of becoming a charted accountant. It was not easy to concentrate on studies after a vast gap of seven years and work simultaneously. But my dedication and Bidya's motivation did not let me quit. She is an exceptional professor in a renowned college and has recently attained her PhD in psychology, Dr. Bidya Dibakar Ghoshal. Well, both of us could not manage enough time for mum from our busy schedules but she was happy about our work. And then finally after many years, what brought joy in her life is our 2 years old son, Bijoy.

She totally submitted herself into him. As she became involved and remained busy, happiness re-entered her life. Soon I cleared both the levels of CA intermediate and Bidya achieved her doctorate. These two years have been the happiest in our lives. But we ain't satisfied yet. I've to complete my chartered accountancy course soon and that would lessen the financial burden on Bidya and she can pursue her dream of being a professional psychologist. Right now, we do not have enough money but we're working harder each day to reach where we aim to. Well, we've a lot of dreams and goals as individuals and a couple but still I as of now I cannot afford to lose half of my salary for the day.

I stopped thinking and finished my breakfast and made Bijoy smile with my childish geatures. Bidya was in the kitchen when I shouted, "I'm leaving, see you tonight." "Wait, let me accompany you. I need to get the groceries near your office, so let us go together," she came running from the kitchen and spoke rapidly in one single breath. "Okay, okay, calm down. We'll go together." She smiled with short rapid breaths. She scolded me for not wearing my mask as soon as we stepped out. "Oh, come on, I don't like to breath with this thingy on. It feels so congested," I complained. "At least be thankful that you can breathe,” she argued while raising her eyebrows and voice. I stayed mum and wore the mask. She did not respond, verbally. But she came closer and held my hand tightly. Well, that signified a ‘good boy’ compliment. I was trying to steal a glance at her mild smile and saw a sudden change in her expressions.

We had walked straight from our house and had reached at the main road. She seemed immensely scared. I looked at the front side and I could see people running towards us from afar. As they headed towards us, we started hearing their screams. We could see a vicious mob chasing them with guns, rods, and swords. The voices became clearer, and the situation became scarier as they came closer. Bidya tightened her grip on my hand. We thought of running back to our house, but the mess had horrified. The terrifying visuals had multiplied. We could see number of violent groups chasing innocent people. Some violent groups also fought among themselves. They set shops and offices on fire. We were petrified. There was no place to run. Bidya closed her eyes and hugged me tightly as one group came in front of us. A guy wearing filthy clothes with blood stains chanted, "smash their heads with rods." We started screaming. We were more scared than ever. We did not understand a single word we uttered, we just screamed.

I covered Bidya's head with my hands. We hugged each other tighter. It took the strength of three cold-blooded brutes to separate us. One fetched her apart from me, the other fetched me. And the third bashed rods on me. The guy who had fetched Bidya shouted in pain. She bit off his hand, punched his nose and kicked him till he fell. I was so proud of her. "Run, Bidya, run," I shouted. "I won't leave you alone," she argued. “Please leave Bidya, I beg you, please run," I cried while the guys were hitting me. One of them went towards Bidya with his rod, that rose my temper and it took all the guts within me to fight back. I fetched the rod of the guy who was hitting me. I smashed him with it. I smacked it everywhere I could. He gave up and darted away from me. I ran towards the other guy who was approaching Bidya. I went from behind and smacked the rod on his head. He collapsed. I held Bidya's hand, and we started running for our lives. It was all messed up. Everyone was running, either to save their own lives or to take others' life. The road was all packed with this dreadful mess. The area was burning. We could see people lying on roads crying for help. I felt ashamed as I could not help them. As we had to save our own lives, we had no option but running. My shame rose with each step I took.

And soon I saw the guy who had ran while I was hitting him. This time he was not alone. He had 10-15 goons with him. He shouted with anger as soon as he saw us, "these are the traitors, cut them into pieces," as they ran to take our lives. We sprinted in opposite direction. But they chased us. They had rods, guns, knives, swords, fire balls and every other weapon that I had never touched in my life. I smashed the rod on the head of the first guy who approached us. "Bidya run, go, fast, leave Bid..," my voice lowered as one of the beasts stabbed me in the stomach. Bidya started screaming, "help us, please, they're murdering us, someone please help." No one could hear us as everyone else went through the same horror and pain. She even begged the goons to leave us. "We are middle class people, we don't support any party, we don't have enough knowledge about politics, please leave us for god's sake, we didn't do anything, please, we have a two-year old kid and an old mother," that was all she could say before a man played his sword on her neck. I lost all the hopes, energy, strength, and purpose of life at that one moment. I started shivering. I could see her falling on the road with blood all over her body. They had held me from all the sides, one of them stabbed me several times. I did not feel the pain. All I could feel was the pain Bidya was going through. She did not even get the time to feel the pain. She had died the second that sword hit her neck. I was covered with sweat when I saw her half-broken neck hanging & swinging like that of a slaughtered animal while she was collapsing. It was a ten second thing, but it played in slow motion in my mind. I wanted to close my eyes. I could not see it. Every organ in my body was shaking, my heart was beating faster than ever, I was not sure whether I was breathing or not, they hit bullets on my chest and ran, my legs lost the energy, I fell down in slow motion, I was ashamed that I couldn't save her, I couldn't differentiate between sweat and tears and soon everything turned red, I wished I had stopped her from accompanying me, I vomited blood, her condition was horrifying and I couldn't see lying down with blood, but also I knew it was the last time I was seeing her. I collapsed.

I was lying down on road, helpless and hopeless facing her dead body. I knew I was going to die in few minutes or seconds. I was crying aloud. I was screaming. This was clearly unfair to us. The ones who had won elections were safe, the ones who had lost were safe, but the ordinary citizens were losing lives. What was our fault? That we could not pet goons like them? Yeah, we could not fight back but that does not mean we were cowards. We never harmed any innocent and that makes us stronger than these inhumane beasts. I did not know who did this. And I did not care. All I cared about was my old mum who had struggled all her life, my cute little kid and my wife. Umm, dead wife. Her throat was cut even before she finished speaking but I am sure, the sound she made while struggling to get her last breath will be heard by the entire world. She did not even get time to think about her family, to laugh at the pending dreams, to feel the pain she went through, to cry, to accept that she was dying, to imagine our faces for one last time and to, to breathe.

I worried what would happen to my mum, how will she manage to survive, how will she raise my two-year old Bijoy, how will she manage to get money for their basic needs, who will be there for her, will she be alive till Bijoy turns young enough, if not then who will look after him, who will love him, how will he survive, his childhood would be screwed. Me and Bidya had so many plans as individuals, as a couple, for our son, for our mother, for the world. This one moment screwed our lives, our dreams, everything. What did we do to get this? I know, I was a pretty-ordinary man, but my mum, my wife, were so proud of me. And I knew the way Bijoy smiled back at me, he was proud of me too. He was too small for this but still I believe that he was proud of me. After a couple of years, he would have been young enough to play with me, to talk to me, to laugh at jokes, to cry, to understand things. I wanted to be a superhero of my son but now he would soon be an orphan as his parents were a part of crowd. Because his parents were not wealthy and powerful enough to protect themselves from something they had nothing to do with. We were punished for being a part of crowd. Not everyone earns enough fame, money, power to stand out from the crowd but does that mean that the lives of ordinary people are a part of their entertainment and a way to seek attention? Does that mean the spectators should be the victims of the evil game they do not even play?

And I wonder whether Bijoy will even remember us. Will he remember the way I used to kiss him on his cheek, how his mother took him on her lap, fed him food, bathed him, how he smiled while I returned from work and will he ever know how much we loved him? Will he ever know that his parents dreamt high? Who will tell him about our plans and future goals? Will my mum ever forgive me for not giving her enough time, for taking Bidya along with me today, for leaving this world and making her face all this all alone, for not waving her goodbye for one last time? Will she even survive this shock? I knew I did not have enough time. I had not even completed wondering about half of the things, I wanted some time before I died. I had too many questions, at least I deserved to think about those. Suddenly everything started running faster and faster, the pace of thinking intensified, my heart was beating much faster, the breaths were shorter and faster, I wanted time to imagine about the happiest moments I had with my family, oh god, let me stare at Bidya for one last time with satisfaction, let me imagine my family together, at least think about my dreams even if I couldn't fulfil those now, I wanted to do a lot of things, I wanted to breath, I wasn't still satisfied, everything felt incomplete, but, but, but...

“I dedicate this to all those who had to give up their dreams and/or lives in the recent Bengal violence, irrespective of their political opinions.”

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