A x T: Part One

This is the first part of a fiction piecde written by Dvita Kapadia ‘22. Check out part two here.

Hamaara Bhaarat Mahan

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished -

unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
- Voltaire

Content Warning: Violence, War, Death

April 5, 2015

Anaya reached down to tie the brown shoelaces on her combat boots, looping the tattered ends of one into the other and then back again. She glanced at herself in the mirror, flipping her gray hair into a quick braid and holding it together in a bun. Her brown eyes flickered toward the door as she listened for footsteps, brows raised. Sighing with relief at the lack of activity in the ever-busy household, she sneaked out the bedroom door, gently tapping it shut in hopes she wouldn’t wake her husband. She brushed her fingers against the wall as she made her way down the stairs, careful not to lose her balance.

Once outside the door, she hid behind the patch of land near the shelter, crouched down, lit a small fire and clamped her wrinkled eyes shut. Lacing her fingers through each other, she bowed her head, old lips muttering old words. She threw a copy of Tanya’s picture into the fire, like she’d been doing for the past fifty years, and wished to Shiva to keep Tanya safe in his arms. The words wafted around her, engulfing her in a hope that had her rocking back and forth on her heels, lifting her to the stories of Krishna, Ganesha and Parvati.

“Dadi?” Dhruv tapped his grandmother on the shoulder, “What are you doing?”

Anaya halted her mantra, glancing at him through graying eyelashes, “Oh, nothing beta,” she smiled at the innocence in his eyes, “I was just asking Ganpatibapa to help Didi get good grades on her test,” she lied.

“Can I pray with you?” the boy asked, crouching down beside Anaya and folding his palms.

“Of course, baccha.” Anaya pushed her green dupata up her shoulder, tying it behind her so it wouldn’t fall.

“Heh bhagvan – Dear God,” Dhruv began, bowing his head. Anaya fingered the ends of her shoes, tracing her index over the fading marker, A x T.

April 4, 1965

“Ma!” Anaya called into the house, “Koi hai kya – is anyone here?”  Her combat boots left footprints on the dust that layered the stairs as she climbed them. “Papa?” she asked, knocking on the bedroom door. “Kaha ho - Where are you?” She stumbled into the room, tumbling on a half-empty suitcase and plummeting into a pile of dirty clothes. Clutching the clothes in her fists, she stood up, what a mess. She’d been gone to military camp for six months and her parents had already proved they couldn’t take care of themselves, what would they do when she was sent to war? Lifting the clothes, she realized that Papa’s white kurta was stained in a deep red, and Ma’s purple sari had a hole ripped through its fabric. Picking up the rest of the clothes, she decided to throw them in the laundry and then set to the market to tell her parents she’d arrived home. She ripped the last piece of fabric off the floor and revealed a young boy curled into his bones and shivering in a slight slumber.

In shock, she shook the boy’s body, waking him from his rest. “Who are you?” she spat. “Intruder!” It was probably one of those beggar-boys looking for somewhere to sleep.

“Mera naam Rahul hai – My name is Rahul,” said the boy.

“What are you doing here?” Anaya felt her voice rise in pitch.

“Didi – Sister,” he stuttered, “I live here.”

“Live here?” she exclaimed, “This is my parents’ house.”

“I’ve lived here since they day the Pakistani sooars came and took the people away,” the boy looked at his filthy hands.

“What?” Anaya’s voice shook.

“Those saale Paki’s came and stabbed the old man in the chest and choked the old lady. I took their clothes and burnt them in the back,” the boy’s voice turned raspy. “They took away my sister.”

Anaya dropped the clothes in her hands, glancing away from the lone boy. “Have you eaten?” she asked, raising her eyes to the ceiling to stop tears from drenching her cheeks.

“Nahi, ji- No, Ma’am.” Anaya threw the boy a packet of chips she’d kept in her the front pocket of her military jacket. “Kya tum police ho – Are you the police?” the boy asked.

Anaya shook her head, a pitiful smile playing across her face, “Vo saale Pakistani-” she closed her eyes in an attempt to calm her rage, “Those Pakistani pigs killed my parents.” She dropped to the floor near the boy, taking out her own packet of chips. “Where did they take your sister?”

The boy shrugged his shoulders, bones poking through the thin layer of skin protecting him from the war. “Pakistan,” he nodded, “They want all Hindustani’s.”

“What are they going to do with all of us?”

“Kill us,” he looked her in the eyes, undeterred by the idea.

“Kill us all?”

The boy nodded, tracing the lifelines across his palm. “Jai Hind,” he whispered, “Victory to India.”

+

The sun blazed off Anaya’s back as she crouched behind the truck, fingers laced between each other, head bowed, vasu de vasu tum de vam, she chanted under her hitching breath. She glanced to her right, taking in the twenty-or-so fellow Hindustani’s crowding the gateway from their motherland to the betrayers, eyes filled with an unfathomable rage.

“On my count,” began her aunt, looking Anaya in the eye. She held up one finger, wrinkles accumulating at her bruised knuckles. Anaya dropped her gaze, bowed her head and threw up another silent prayer, please, God, save Hritikbhai and chacha and Rahul’s sister from the Pakistani’s. Sliding open her eyes, Anaya glanced at her aunt as she raised a second trembling finger, lip quivering with the guilt of not being able to save her own son. She glanced down again, fingers laced, and please save all the children, they did nothing to deserve this. Her aunt’s third finger shot in the air, confident with rage and a terrifying determination to get her son back. Anaya’s eyes met hers, the sheet of tears disintegrating behind the wall of fury. “Go.” Her voice shook with strength and an undertone of immense fear: this was it, the last revenge, the last chance, the last hope.

The Hindustani’s stormed Pakistani grounds, machine guns raised, hesitant fingers trembling over triggers. The air was silent but for the rhythmic stomping of the determined group. The sun spilled over the ground, inviting the Hindustani’s back into their homes. They treaded lightly, with each step, raising the stakes higher. They had one job: get in, save the Hindustani’s, get out. Do not engage with the sooars, Do not stop when running out of Pakistani grounds, Do not start a riot, Get out.

A cloud shaded the sun as if to protect it from the impending war. Gunshots silenced the rhythmic footsteps. The Hindustani’s marched forward, breaking into a run, saving themselves from bullets falling down mountains, rushing into save the ones they loved. Anaya led the crowd, jumping over rocks, ducking away from treacherous bullets, finger resting on the trigger, not a shot fired. She made her way up the mountain, turning back a few times to check up on her fellows, muttering shloks under her breath every time she heard a shot break the sky.

The closer they got, the more their hope shattered. They had been ambushed, for every one body, the Paki’s had three. Anaya had half a mind to send everybody back to safety but she knew none of them would retreat until they found their loved ones – dead or alive.

Anaya reached the Paki’s faster than she had expected. They circled a pit of fire, faces covered with white cloths. It took a second for the smell to hit the Hindustani’s - the undeniable stench of burning bodies. As the realization dawned upon her, Anaya came to a halt, stopping all those behind her. The Pakistani laughs echoed through the mountains as she yelled, “Retreat.”  

With hopes shattered, the Hindustani’s turned on their heel, running away from the taunting bullets being shot at their ankles. Anaya followed the troop, dodging as bullets whizzed by her ears. Pain shot through her calf, throwing her to the ground. Her palms hit the rocks, stopping her from rolling forward into the crowd. She looked behind her, noticing the Paki’s closing up on them. If she attempted to call for help now, there was no way she would escape. Anaya let herself fall to the ground, clamping her eyes shut and catching her breath as heavy footsteps surrounded the ground near her. She lay still in hopes they would believe they had killed her. A foot crushed her back and she bit into the ground so the scream building up in her throat wouldn’t escape her lips. She curled her fingers around a shrub, releasing the intense pain growing down her lower back. Slowly she lost consciousness, the pain in her calf meeting the pain down her back and sending fits of angst through her body. She couldn’t hear the footsteps anymore. She couldn’t feel the grass cutting through her fingers. Her eyes were too heavy to open.

+

“Get up.” Anaya’s eyes flew open, face to face with a pair or almond shaped brown eyes and hands shaking her sides. She blinked, where was she? The girl standing on top of her took a step back. Anaya scrambled to her feet at the sight of the white cloth around the girls’ neck. She reached behind her back, searching for her gun. The girl smirked at her, flipping her ponytail over her back as she pulled a gun from her waistband. “I might be stupid enough the wake the enemy instead of kill her, but I’m not stupid enough to let her keep her gun in my territory.”

“Well, you’re still pretty stupid,” Anaya replied, reaching into her waistband to pull out her knife. The girl dropped Anaya’s knife onto the floor near her foot, her smirk growing on her face. Anaya raised her hands and dropped to her knees. “Please, don’t make my death painful.”

“Death?” The girl walked toward her, crouching onto the balls of her feet. “I’m not here to kill,” the girl spat in disgust.  “Ahimsa – Non-violence,” her voice turned soft. “I’m not a murder.”

“Then, what do you want from me?” Anaya’s voice shook.

The girl grinned, “What do you want from me?

In utter confusion, Anaya shook her head, “Nothing. I just want to get out of here.”

“Exactly.”

“You want to leave your home?” Anaya asked in surprise, sitting cross-legged on the ground and releasing the tension in her calves.

“Home?” The girl let out a laugh, “I wish.” She looked away from Anaya, “My home was burnt by the Hindustani’s.”

“The Pakistani’s killed my parents,” Anaya retorted.

The girl looked at her, eyes soft. “I’m sorry,” she muttered.

“Me too,” Anaya replied, licking her lips, “For your home, I mean. That sucks.”

“All of this sucks,” her voice was hushed but rusty, odd sounding with her soft face. “That’s why I’m getting out.”

“Wh-” Anaya gnawed her lower lip as pain shot through her calf. The girl looked down at the blood, tears prickling the sides of her eyes.

“I hate this, I hate this, I hate this,” she mumbled, ripping the white cloth off her neck and fastening it around Anaya’s wound. “Where else are you hurt?”

A smile invaded Anaya’s lips involuntarily, “I’m okay. Thank you.”

“Are you sure?” Asked the girl, rising to her feet, “I could run and get a first aid kit.”

“No,” Anaya smiled, “I’m okay.” The girl reached her hand out and Anaya took it to pull herself up.

“What’s your name?” the girl asked, eyebrows raised as she snaked her hand onto Anaya’s shoulder to help her limp away.

“Anaya.”

“That’s a pretty name,” the girl smiled. “I’m Tanya,” she nodded.

Anaya smiled, hesitantly, she asked, “Tanya, where are you going to go?”

With her arm still around Anaya’s back, she led her down the mountain. “Anywhere except here.”

“Aren’t you scared?” Anaya asked, curiosity killing the cat.

“It can’t get worse than this, can it?” A sad smile painted Tanya’s lips.

“I suppose.”

Silence fell as they reached the foot of the mountain. Tanya led Anaya toward a rock hidden between trees. “Sit,” she instructed, leaving Anaya on the rock before climbing behind it. She came back a minute later, a first aid kit curled under her fingers. “Lie down.” Anaya did as she was told. “It might sting a bit,” Tanya warned, pouring something wet onto her wound after untying the cloth. Anaya shoved her hands under her thighs to stop herself from reaching out and pushing Tanya away as she dug the bullet out of her calf. “I’m sorry,” Tanya’s voice was velvet, “but I have to do this.” She pulled out a string from the first aid kit and threaded the needle. “I’m so sorry.” Tanya pulled the string through Anaya’s flesh and Anaya bit her tongue down in pain, clamping her eyes shut so she wouldn’t cry in front of the girl. “All done,” Tanya said after a beat, tying up the loose ends of the string. “You okay?”

Anaya nodded, opening her eyes with a small smile, “Yeah.” She began to sit up but was soon pushed back down.   

   “You should rest,” Tanya said, launching herself onto the rock next to her. “Come on. It’s late. You won’t be able to go anywhere in the dark.” Anaya lay on her back, following Tanya’s lead. “And also, the snakes come out at night.”

Anaya laughed, “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from the snakes.”

“Hey, they’re real threats. They can poison you and then kill you. Very slowly. It happens!” she nodded.

Anaya shook her head with a giggle, “Of course.”

“Goodnight,” Tanya smiled.

“Goodnight.” Anaya replied, bowing her head and thanking God for sending her an angel.