She

A Short Story by Shafi Ahmad

She mopped up the kitchen floor, rubbed her forehead with the back of her palm and looked towards the sky which was lit up with moonlight. The light emanating from the moon entered the room through the ventilator and spread the shadow of iron grills on the floor. Clock struck 12 in the second story room above the kitchen. She sighed and tears rolled down her cheeks as she moved her eyes towards her elder son sleeping on the floor. The boy, tired during daytime, fell asleep soon. Since the house owners used to take their dinner late in the evening she was forced to remain awake till she washed all the utensils and mopped up the kitchen floor clean.
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 safe return of her husband almost round the clock but she soon realized that people felt boredom by her repeating the episode and she was forced to stop sighing in front of any other person.

The people soon started feeling compassion fatigue because it had become a regular feature when people complained of having lost some family member, friend or neighbor. There was continuous news flow of someone getting killed, maimed or a person’s whereabouts being not known. When people became used to listening to such type of news, the news attracted very less attention from them. But as is said wearer only knowswhere the shoe pinches, she alone could feel the deep cut of her husband getting arrested and his whereabouts unknown.

It was a cold winter morning when mosque loudspeakers blared to announce the orders for assembly of the inhabitants of the locality in the local school ground. Then came the turn of identification parade. Her husband was picked up for questioning after being identified by the spotter, seated in the security vehicle. He was a middle level official in the local government department. He pleaded with the forces personnel, showed his identity card but to no avail. The forces personnel picked up few more people on the identification and left the scene.

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 jails, sub jails and what not. She went to force’s camps to enquire about her missing husband but nothing concrete materialized. The forces unit whose personnel had picked her husband in presence of many neighbors expressed ignorance. She became a wreck both financially and physically.

Her husband lived his life happily with his wife and three children. He had built a small compact house but could not afford a car. He did manage the car though a bank loan. Having got his children enrolled in a public school he would take them to the school in the car which delighted them and they would not complain against their return on foot as their father would be in the office at that time. 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. Whenever she ridiculed him with real or artificial anger he would start flattering her and call her a Jiji. Jiji give me a chocolate. Jiji I want an ice cream.

After her husband got arrested things changed. She spent lots of money going from one interrogation center to another and finally got compelled to sell her gold ornaments to bear the costs. She would not repent losing her ornaments as she loved her husband and craved for his safe return. Time elapsed and her financial position weakened .She could not liquidate the bank’scar loan which forced the bank officials to take possession of the vehicle.

She was subsequently forced by the circumstances to take up the job of a domestic help with an affluent family. The family gave her a meager amount and food for the job. She had to discontinue the studies of her children .The family gave her the option of keeping her eldest son with her .It was not mercy they felt for her, but the eldest son’s services could be utilized in the household job as an additional help for fetching items from the market. The younger children had to be kept at some place .The family head gave the idea of keeping them in the orphanage. It was like slicing her liver into pieces and keeping different pieces at different places.

What else could she do!

The younger ones were to be dumped in the orphanage and the hapless family cried, screamed and wept bitterly. The second child implored with his mother, Jiji I will not ask for anything. I will not cry for chocolates but allow me to remain with you.

A sharp razor pierced through her heart!

Don’t worry, 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 too. The elder brother tried to explain to his younger sibling.

It is matter of few days .Your father will return and we will go to our home she said.

Don’t worry .Till your father returns we will keep on meeting you every Sunday and bring your favorite chocolates. The mother consoled her children.

The child stamped his feet, pushed his knees against the ground but the youngsters were taken in forcibly by the orphanage staff. The boy pushed the orphanage staff aside and rolled down the ground. His younger sister also joined in. They kept wailing and crying. She left along with her elder son and the boy kept on imploring, Jiji, don’t leave me alone .I will not ask for anything. No chocolate, no ice cream. Jiji. Jiji.

Sundays come and go .She along with her eldest son visits the orphanage with something for the son and daughter. They have now been maintaining some calm although they still implore for the company of their mother.

Years have passed. Her husband has not returned.  Weeks pass and she continues visiting the orphanage!

Shafi Ahmadis a Kashmiri writer. He can be contacted atwani.shafi@rediffmail.com

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