The Walnut Orchard

Khalid Fayaz

Javed slept after finishing the dawn prayers during the Ramadan of 2003. No sooner than an hour or so of that autumn morning sleep, his newly bought phone rang. He woke up just when the ringing was about to die. Half asleep, Javed said gruffly ‘Hello!’ The unknown caller, without greeting Javed or telling him who he was, blurted out, “kyahaz tchankha bi yim duin tael?” (Shall I gather the walnuts?). So as not to get perturbed anymore by the entanglements of misunderstanding and of clarifications, Javed replied calmly, “Gass tchaanukh.” (Go ahead!) Unknown caller hung up and Javed closed his mouth and turned other side to regain his sleep.

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On one afternoon of winters of 1996, after returning from school, Javed lazily started taking off his uniform. He had to fight a battle of two minutes to get himself out of infinite layers of clothing and finally to hang them on the backside of his door, looking not unlike a Tandoori chicken. He felt dead tired. His hands still on the buckle of his belt, a light breeze coming from the window gave him goose-bumps. He went to shut the window.

The serene yellow fields stretched to the horizon of the naked poplar and willow trees and the lush green mountain range in the background made him forget his underdressed body. He regretted his reluctance of his father’s decision of building this home on the periphery of village Kamad. He was still too tired to take off his trousers or at least let the window shut. Before he could start any of the tasks, his sight caught an overdressed figure with a cricket bat like thing in his hand running through the tree line leading straight to the alley which runs adjacent to Javed’s home. Javed, briskly but discreetly, climbed upstairs. Now he had a better view.

It was a lone and adrift gunman coming towards the village. “Hato khodaya!” Javed panicked after seeing the uniformed forces chasing the guy. Javed quickly put on his brother’s blue sweat-shirt and discreetly ran down stairs towards the alley. Within a few minutes, gunman came exasperating. Between his heavy breaths “Hey meh bachao”, (Save Me) was all he could say. Nervousness emanated out of ignorance of landscape and fear of being caught or getting killed in an encounter made him forget that he was fighting to liberate his countrymen. All the gunman was concerned about was liberating himself from the entanglement.  Javed had already figured it all out. Even before the gunman could say anything else, Javed said, “Follow me.” A kid of merely sixteen years old, Javed said that even if he were not a gunman, he could still have saved his life. Javed took the advantage of siesta of villagers, and took him straight to the other side of the village which connects the same tree line in the south east. He escorted him to the walnut orchard through which he could reach back from where army was chasing him, hence leaving little doubt that a person could hide in the same place he had ran away from. While watching the Indian forces cordoning off the whole area from the walnut orchard, the gunman thanked Javed. He was so impressed with Javed that he suggested him if he wanted something in return. After telling him to supplicate for him only, Javed gave him some instructions and left.

On the way, Javed heard the Village-head’s voice on loudspeaker that army has besieged the village and every male person is summoned in the village school building. He went straight  there. He was well aware of his mismatched dress of school trousers and blue sweat-shirt. So, when an army man asked him where he was, Javed confidently said that it was a games day at his school in another village –nearly two kilometers from Kamad. Men were frisked and humiliated with abuse; guests lashed before hosts pledged about their relationship; and women had assembled themselves in different compounds in their neighbourhoods. After failing to find the gunman, Indian forces unleashed their anger on villagers. After the siege was over, some men walked back home limping; women narrated abuse from the forces and also the theft of some jewellery and lingerie during house searching.

Back home, Javed was scolded for absconding and showing the stoicism. He was lost in the memories about the gunman’s whereabouts. He ate his dinner and went straight to bed. He straightened a pillow against the wall and sat with his legs stretched forward on Kangir. He was feeling ecstatic for saving a human life. Content with his own wisdom, he thought if he hadn’t done so he along with his whole friend-circle would have been probably praying another funeral prayer. His village would have been in a devastated state. Who knows who else would have been killed by the army if they would have suffered some loss? With so much to think about and subsequently the pride in what he had done, he couldn’t fall asleep. He wanted to narrate this act of valor to his friends. He was feeling a bulging weight in his heart. Loneliness had blocked the idea of happiness. He wanted to share it but forgot when the sleep engulfed him after midnight. Next morning, he abandoned the idea of sharing and sacrificed his happiness on account of exposing the gunman for who knows if he was still in the neighbouring village.

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 Javed woke up at noontime on the Ramadan day. He decided to go for a bath in the nearby spring and pray the afternoon prayers in the grassland nearby. On the other side of the grassland, River Bringi ran modestly only to be assimilated into calm Jehlum a few miles away. Walking lazily with a towel hung on his right shoulder, and his left hand carrying soap bar and shampoo sachet, Javed was chewing over his miswak from the right corner of his mouth. He had no idea where he was leading to. Before he could reach the spring, where some of his friends had finished their swimming, loud speaker announced the news of a ‘crackdown.’Javed could only wash his mouth and return back his home. He was stopped at the gate and ordered to show his identity card. Javed told them that it was inside the house yet he received a slap. Finally he was allowed to go inside and fetch his identity card. Due to living a bit away from the rest of the village, his house was among the first ones to be searched.

Meanwhile an Ikhwaen or renegade asked Javed if militants come in this area. Javed said that he didn’t know as he used to go college early in the morning and return only at dusk. Before he could finish, Ikhwaen kicked Javed right in his belly, abused him for lying. Javed fell on the ground, oblivious about his crime. Ikhwaen told him, “Aren’t you the same guy who rescued me that day and kept me in that walnut orchard?” He pointed towards the south east side. Javed arched his eyebrows towards Ikhwaen’s face. Shamelessly, he looked right in the eyes of Javed. Javed’s wit never betrayed him, thus he replied, “Do you think it was right to hand you over to them?” Ikhwaen had raised the gun butt towards Javed, but stopped after a guy interrupted in between. He looked like a battalion commander. He ordered his men to tie Javed with the tube well in Javed’s backyard. Ikhwaen was shoved away but his conscience vexed him with Javed’s annoying reply. Notwithstanding that he was fasting, Javed remained tied up till the whole village was searched. It was only when the crackdown was over in the late afternoon, and when his family showed all his preserved prescriptions, that Javed was released.

Phone rang again and the screen showed an unknown number. Javed picked up the phone casually. Someone was abusing like anything. Javed tried to talk but the man was unstoppably babbling the words, “Dallih sind Dallah,” “Hehri sind Hehrah” and all such like old fashioned slang phrases. Javed tried to enquire about what was going on, but the man was too lost in abuse to heed. Finally he spoke himself, “How could you allow me to harvest the walnuts when those were not yours?” For a second Javed couldn’t conceive what the man was talking about. After revisiting the attics of his memory, Javed understood that it was the unknown caller of the morning. ‘Such a bad day it was for me’ he was thinking. Already humiliated by the day’s incidents, Javed questioned angrily, “How could I stop you when walnuts were not mine?” Overwhelmed with the ironic answer, the caller handed over the phone to the real owner of the walnut trees. Owner had called police, and had had laborers arrested who were gathering walnuts and forced the ones on the trees not to come down in order to accentuate his ownership. The caller and his men had picked almost three fourth of the walnuts of the orchard. The owner asked the same questions and Javed replied with the same counterintuitive question that he asked the unknown caller. Before the owner hung-up Javed heard the police men laughing and talking that he (Javed) might be a paranoid and were suggesting the owner that this matter could be resolved easily. Javed laughed it all out. His family and friends still unaware like the day he couldn’t express his happiness when he saved the gunman turned Ikhwaen. However, Javed was wondering that if it was the same walnut orchard where he had hid the gunman and received day’s punishment for.

Khalid Fayaz is a writer and training to be an economist.

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