A short story by Shafi Ahmed
She mopped up the kitchen floor, rubbed her forehead with the back of her palm and looked towards the moonlit sky. The light emanating from the moon entered the room through the ventilator and clock struck 12 in the second storey room, above the kitchen. She sighed and tears rolled down her cheeks as she saw her elder son sleeping on the floor. The boy had a tiring day and fell asleep fast. The house owners ate dinner late which forced her to remain awake till she washed all the dishes and mopped the kitchen floor.
She again looked up the heavens and asked for the safe and early return of her husband. This had become her routine whenever she was alone. Tears would roll down her cheeks and she would sigh and ask the Almighty for safety of her husband. Earlier she used to ask the heavens for the return of her husband almost round the clock but soon she realized the people felt boredom by her repeating the episode and she was forced to stop sighs in front of any other person.
The people felt what someone called “compassion fatigue” because it had become a regular feature when people complained of having lost some family member, friend or a neighbor. There was continuous news flow of someone getting killed, maimed or disappearance. As people got used to listening to such news daily, it got less attention.
The wearer only knows where the shoe pinches and she alone could know and feel the deep cut of her husband getting arrested and his whereabouts not known .
It was a cold winter morning when the mosque loud speakers blared to announce the orders for assembly of the inhabitants of the locality in the local school ground. Then came the turn of the identification parade. Her husband was picked up for questioning after being identified by the spotter seated in the police vehicle. He was a middle class officer in the local government department and he pleaded with the soldiers showing his identity card but of no avail. The soldiers picked up few more people from the identification parade and left the scene.
Thus, the ordeal began for her. She went from police station to police station. She verified at the interrogation centers. She asked for the details from the jails, sub jails and what not. The regiment which had picked her husband in the presence of their neighbors expressed ignorance at his disappearance. She became a wreck both physically and financially.
Her husband had lived his life happily with her and their three children. He had built a small house but was not in a position to buy a car which he later bought after getting a bank loan. To the delight of kids, he would take them to school in the car. They never complained about returning on foot again. She had a brother who would call her Jiji .And because of this her children also called her Jiji. The second child was a naughty one and continued asking for one or the other thing from her .Whenever she ridiculed him with real or artificial anger he would start flattering and call her a long Jee . Jeej give me chocolate, Jeej give me fruit, Jeej I want ice cream.
After her husband got arrested, things changed for the family. She spent lot of money roaming from one interrogation center to another and finally got compelled to sell her gold ornaments to bear the costs. She did not regret losing the ornaments because she loved her husband and wanted his safe return. As times passed, her financial position weakened .She could not liquidate the bank’s car loan which forced the bank to take the possession of the vehicle.
She was forced by circumstances to opt for a job as a domestic help for an affluent family. The family gave her a meager amount and food in lieu of her service. She could bear the cost of educating her children. Her employer family allowed her elder son to live her in their house. It was more to use him as a help for odd jobs and not as a gesture of kindness. The family did not allow the younger children to live with her and suggested they be kept in an orphanage. She felt like her liver was being sliced into pieces; and then keeping the divided pieces at different places.
What else she could do!
The younger ones were to be dumped at the orphanage. The poor hapless family of a disappeared father cried, screamed, wept .The second child implored with the mother, “Jeej I will not ask for anything. I will never cry for chocolate but allow me to remain with you.”
A sharp razor pierced through her heart!
“Don’t weep, my brother .We will come to you every Sunday with chocolates and fruits. Take care of your younger sister also. If you remain here she will also keep mum.” The elder brother tried to explain to his younger brother.
But the shrieks continued, “Jeej, I want to remain with you.”
“It is a matter of few days .Your father will return and we will all go to our home “, she said.
“But he does not return!” He said wailing and trying to catch her by fluttering portion of her frock.
“Don’t worry, till your father returns we will keep on meeting you every Sunday and bring your favorite chocolates for both of you,” she tried to convince them.
He stamped his feet, pushed his knees against the ground. The duo was taken forcibly by the orphanage staff. Her son pushed the staff members aside and rolled down on the ground. His younger sister also joined in .They kept wailing and crying. She left along with her elder son. The younger son kept on imploring ,”Jeej, don’t leave me alone. I will not ask for anything .No chocolate, no ice cream……….please Jeej !”
Weeks passed. She along with her elder son visited the orphanage every Sunday with something for the son and daughter. They maintain some calm but they still implore their mother to take them with her. ***
Years have passed.
Her husband has not returned.
Shafi Ahmed is based in Kashmir. He is the author of The Half Widow a novel published in 2012.