This story is one of the April Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
The sky was an odious grey. Angry clouds, pregnant with rain, held back their load, expectant, waiting. Abidah breathed in deeply. She loved a good storm, but today was different. She shut her windows and rummaged through her wardrobe, trying her best to keep calm. There was no time for mistakes. Sujoy would be waiting for her in the pantry. She pushed aside her elaborate saris of satin and silk, each one customized to her liking. What a waste. With the flick of a gold-tipped finger, her home was being ripped to shreds. Waves of new immigrants flooded in while others were being flung out to maintain imaginary lines of national identity. The stormy winds brought news of carnage sweeping over the country, with thousands of people, her people, being raped and killed as they desperately hounded for safety. Her fingers searched for the familiar groove in the wardrobe. The trapdoor fell open with a soft ‘click.’ From the depths of her wardrobe, she carefully took out a beautifully carved wooden box. In it lay a slender silver key, guileless to its environment of building discord. The cold metal pressed against her bare waist as she slid the key behind the pleats of her sari.
She veered around to see her bright-eyed servant staring at her with suspicion. Abidah’s hair now loosened, wrestled free from the garland of flowers holding them together.
“How much more time? They are waiting for you downstairs.”
“I’m ready, don’t worry! Come here and help me fix my hair, Sudha.” Abidah tried her best to level the shakiness in her voice.
Sudha’s fingers worked quickly as she unraveled Abidah’s hair and pinned them once again with a fresh garland.
“I know what you’re thinking of, but don’t do it. Please, Abidah. You’ll get yourself killed,” Sudha murmured into the bun of hair, flowers, and fresh sweat.
“My death for the life of my people. Sounds like a good bargain to me.”
Abidah stopped close to the door and grabbed onto Sudha’s wrist with a burst of silent ferocity.
“Don’t you dare tell anybody, Sudha. It will be the end of you. I mean it.”
Sudha simply stared back, her empty eyes a question of secrecy, and rushed out towards the marble-floored corridor. Abidah felt for the silver key a final time before rushing towards the pantry in search of Sujoy.
She looked around and pushed back the pantry door, locking it behind her. Sujoy swerved to face her in fright. The combination of his broad shoulders and terror-struck face, now gleaming with sweat, sent Abidah’s heart into another wave of beating anxiety.
“Sujoy.” She pulled out the key and pressed it down into his battered hands.
“There’s a trap door under this shelf. Take the stairs and use this key to open the door at the bottom. It will lead you straight to the river,” Abidah whispered hoarsely in a single breath.
Sujoy managed a small smile.
“Thank you, Abidah jii. I am forever indebted to you.”
“Go now. There is less time. I overheard my father say that the first batch of people are to be here by midday.”
Together, Sujoy and Abidah pushed the shelf aside.
“Leave the door open Sujoy, others will follow you soon.”
With a small nod, Sujoy squeezed himself through and shut the trap door leaving Abidah staring at the mud-ridden floor.
The loud banging on the pantry door yanked Abidah back to reality. She pushed back the shelf with all her might.
“ABIDAH. OPEN THIS DOOR. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?? HELPING THESE SCOUNDRELS ESCAPE?!?”
With a deep breath and a slight tap on her withering garland, she raised her head in queenly defiance and opened the pantry door.
Sujoy ran towards the river. A blood-stained scarf, caught between the branches of a lone tree, rippled in frenzy with the rising winds. Sujoy pulled on the scarf and wrapped it around himself. As promised, a small boat with a sleeping man rocked back and forth against the river edge.
Sujoy helplessly looked down at the bloodied scarf and climbed aboard.
- Sari: A traditional Indian garment worn by women from South Asia. Generally made of cotton or silk and elaborately draped around the body.
- As a result of the infamous India/ Pakistan partition, East Pakistan (modern day Bangladesh) was initially created. This forced an exodus of Hindu immigrants to leave East Pakistan while Muslims from other areas of India moved into the newly formed region.