A x T: Part Two
This is the second part of a fiction piece written by Dvita Kapadia ‘22. Check out part one here.
Content Warning: Violence, War, Death
April 5, 1965
Anaya woke to pain roaring down her stiff back- sleeping on a rock did not agree with her. She lifted herself up with the help of her hands and swung her legs off the side of the rock. Groaning, she re-tied her hair into a plait and twisted it into a heavy bun. Clasping her hands into each other, she murmured her morning prayer, palms raised to the Sun. Her back prickled as she heard Tanya yawn near her.
“Morning,” Tanya’s smile hung off her face. “Feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you,” Anaya replied, lashes heavy against her cheeks as she finished up her thanks to God. She felt Tanya come sit by her as she straightened out her back. Conscious of their close proximity, she flickered open her eyes. Tanya’s hazel eyes sparkled against the sunlight, bright with excitement and uncertainty. Anaya broke the silence with a small laugh.
“What?” Tanya’s brow furrowed.
Anaya tried to keep a straight face as she picked off a red, black and yellow snake off Tanya’s shoulder. Holding it in her palms, she raised it to Tanya’s face. Tanya’s scream ripped through the sky echoed only by Anaya’s laugh. Tanya shrugged her shoulders, patting them to make sure she wasn’t bitten, eyes alert with fear.
Anaya wrapped her palm around Tanya’s mouth to stop her screaming. “Don’t worry, it isn’t venomous,” Anaya nodded, pointing to the snakes’ stripes, “Red touches black, you’re okay Jack; red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow.”
“Are you sure?” Tanya’s brows rose.
“A hundred percent,” Anaya nodded, laughing.
“Phew, I thought I was going to die,” Tanya sighed, loosening up her tense back.
“I told you I’d protect you from snakes,” Anaya nudged her through giggles, “Scaredy cat.”
Tanya pouted, “I was not scared at all, okay.”
“I was not scared at all, okay,” Anaya mimicked.
“I don’t talk like that.”
“I don’t talk like that.”
“Will you stop,” Tanya pushed Anaya’s shoulders back with a chuckle. Anaya flopped back onto the rock with laughter, pulling Tanya down with her. Tanya looked straight into Anaya’s eyes, intent hiding behind uncertainty. Silence stroked the air, falling around them, heavy with anticipation.
Tanya’s face only inches from hers, Anaya caught herself catching her breath. She shook her head, what time was it? “I should get going,” Anaya nodded, getting up and re-tying the shoelaces on her combat boots.
“Yeah,” Tanya nodded, running her fingers through her hair.
“Thank you,” Anaya smiled, squeezing Tanya’s hand before climbing off the rock, “for everything.”
“No problem,” Tanya shrugged, eyes laden with something Anaya couldn’t recognize.
“I’ll remember you,” Anaya looked to the grass.
“You better,” Tanya guffawed.
“See ya” Anaya turned to leave, shoving up the sleeves of her jacket.
“Hold on!” Tanya called behind her. Anaya faced the girl, heart pounding against her ribs, wishing she didn’t have to leave. Tanya pulled out a marker, grasped Anaya’s hand and pulled her to the floor. Ripping off the cap of the marker, Tanya scratched A x T onto the side of Anaya’s combat boots, “Now you can never forget me.”
“I never would have anyway,” Anaya whispered, “you saved my life.”
Tanya laughed, “Drama queen.”
“You did,” Anaya shrugged, getting onto her feet. Tanya rose after her, tucking the marker into her pocket. “I’ll see ya soon?” Anaya asked, searching for a little string of hope.
“Probably not,” Tanya sighed.
“Oh.” The string of hope shattered as Anaya looked to the horizon.
“Unless,” Tanya trailed off, shoving her hands into her pockets.
“Unless?” Anaya face crumpled in confusion.
“I come with you,” Tanya raised her eyebrows, asking for permission.
“Or,” Tanya laced her fingers through Anaya’s, “We could run away.”
Anaya looked at their hands, “Uh-”
Tanya laughed, “I’m just kidding,” she shook her head, “Of course to Hindustan, where else?”
The corners of Anaya’s lips rose, “Okay.”
“Okay?” Tanya jumped.
“Let’s go,” Anaya grabbed Tanya’s hand tighter, pulling her toward home.
“You sure about this?” Anaya tilted her head toward the outskirts of her town with a small shrug, the last tendrils of sunlight disappearing under the sea behind her.
Tanya nipped at her lower lip, shrugging her shoulder, “Yeah,” she nodded, “I guess.”
Anaya took Tanya’s hands in hers, lifting them up to her chest and bowing her head. “Heh baghvan – Dear God,” she began a soft prayer, murmuring the familiar syllables over.
As the Sun fell away from them and into the sea, Anaya rose her head, “Allahu-Akbar,” Tanya said, finishing Anaya’s prayer with a soft smile. “Let’s do this,” Tanya nodded, determinedly, ringing her arm around Anaya’s elbow and syncing her footsteps with Anaya’s combats.
Once inside the town, Anaya was flooded with her fellow Hindustani’s. With sullen faces and sighs of relief they welcomed her, seemingly ignoring the nervous girl hiding behind her soldier. The streets were lit with diyas in remembrance for all the lost bodies and the center of the small town was decorated with a red and white rangoli in hopes for further peace. The townsfolk, close to Anaya and her parents, clambered after her as she made her way to her house up the winding path.
“You’re alive,” Anaya’s aunt sighed, wrapping her arms tightly around Anaya’s waist.
Anaya nodded, planting a kiss onto her aunt’s cheek. “I’m sorry about Hritikbhai, he was a great cousin.”
“And a great son,” the women nodded, flashing her eyes to the locket around her neck, “A brave one.”
“Very brave,” Anaya agreed, “I’m glad you got here okay.”
“I’m glad you did too,” her aunt gleamed, hiding her pain behind a dazzling smile.
“All because of Tanya,” Anaya pointed to the girl curling into her shoulder, “She saved my life.”
“Oh,” Anaya’s aunt cupped Tanya’s cheek, “Thank you beta,” she handed Anaya a spoon, “Have some kheer,” she pointed to Tanya, “and you too darling.”
Anaya’s eyes danced with the familiarity of the sugary sweet as guzzled down the rest of the bowl. Grabbing the lota from her aunt, she drank water, quenching her parched throat, before handing it to Tanya. Awkwardly, Tanya lifted the jug to her lips, the metallic taste hitting her tongue with the elixir of life.
“Didi?” A voice called behind Anaya, breaking at the end.
Anaya turned to the young boy, kneeling to stand at his height. She looked at her hands, “Maaf kardo – I’m sorry,” her voice tore.
“Did you see her?” the boy asked, digging his toe into the soil.
Anaya nodded, “They were burning the bodies.”
The boy fell to his knees, tears slipping off his face and onto the soil. Anaya wrapped her arms around his weak shoulders tenderly, “I’m so sorry.”
“I-It’s not your fault,” the boy stuttered through sobs, “It’s those sooars.” He rose to his feet, tugging at his hair. “It’s those traitors,” he screamed, “they killed my sister, those porks, they killed my only family.” The boy screeched, pacing circles around Anaya, eyes wild with rage. “They murdered my sister, and what, on our land,” his fingers shook with rage, “Those traitors, murderers – vo saale-” The boy stopped his pacing as he faced Tanya. His brows furrowed in rage as he charged toward her, pulling the Pakistani necklace off her neck. “Pakistani!” He yelped. “You’re a Paki!” He turned his rage to Anaya, “You brought a sooar into our land,” the boy hollered, “Traitor!”
Anaya’s aunt stepped forward, face painted in horror, “Is this true, Anaya?”
Anaya glanced at Tanya, fear growing from the pit of her stomach.
“Traitor!” The boy cried, “Kill her, kill them both!”
The crowd began to lurch forward but halted as Anaya’s aunt held up her palm, “How can you think of brining a Pakistani into Hindustani grounds? Did she manipulate you? Have you lost your senses?”
Anaya shook her head, “She’s not here to do any harm-”
“It doesn’t matter,” the women wailed, “We must kill her before she tries to kill more of us.”
“No,” Anaya howled, “She’s not like that, please, please.”
“Kill them both!” Rahul cried, “She’s a traitor too.”
Anaya’s aunt stood in front of her, calm with false confidence “Kill the girl only. Anaya is not a traitor, she has simply lost herself.”
“Really?” the boy raised a brow at Anaya. “Prove it.” He handed her a pistol from the waistband of his shorts. “Prove you are not a traitor.”
Anaya’s aunt pressed the cold gun against Anaya’s palm. “Please, please,” Anaya cried, eyes fixated on Tanya as they tied ropes around her wrists. They pushed the girl to face Anaya, crowd intent on the gunshot and ready to attack if they didn’t hear it.
“Do it,” Anaya’s aunt commanded, “Come on,” she encouraged, “Be a true Hindustani, stand up for your country, for your people, for Hritikbhai, for your parents.”
Anaya lifted the gun, pointing it at Tanya’s chest, eyes filling with tears. “Come on,” her aunt muttered, “Before they kill you too.”
Her finger lingered on the trigger, hazel eyes staring back at her, strong with a slight nod as if to say do it, you have to, I forgive you. Tears sliding down Anaya’s face, she flashed her eyes shut, threw up a silent prayer and pushed down on the trigger.
The bullet hit Tanya square in the chest. Blood poured down her front as she doubled over and, as if in slow motion, fell to the ground. Anaya’s scream ripped through the sky as she ran to the fallen body, holding the girl in her arms.
“Victory to India,” the boy cried, echoed by the crowd. Anaya’s tears smudged the rangoli below Tanya’s body and she rocked back and forth, the heat of the trigger still lingering against her index. The wind blew with a mighty gust, dying out all the diyas on the street. Anaya whispered prayers to keep Tanya safe, I’ll see you soon, she repeated, a silent mantra thrown at the silent corpse.
The crowd behind her stomped their feet in unison and cried, “Jai Hind.”
April 5th 2015
The fire roared louder behind the shelter. Dhruv had been sent inside to brush his teeth and get ready for school. A picture of Tanya lay near the fire, burnt at the edges. Anaya’s hair tie was set atop the photo to prevent it from flying away. The combat boots stood near the picture, A x T alight with the light of the fire. Anaya stood barefoot on the soil, head bent in prayer, repeating her incessant mantra, I’ll see you soon, I’ll see you soon, I’ll see you soon. Anaya leaped into the fire, bringing with her the Indian flag.
Jai Hind, she guffawed at her burning skin, burning flag, Victory to India.