The walls of the shack seemed almost on the verge of caving in. The mud-plaster had holes and crevices all over it. The stench of the dead rat was at its peak. Birju opened the door by a crack. Some fresh air seeped in. It felt heavenly. The draft was quite cold. He decided that it must be around midnight.
He badly wanted to take a piss. But he couldn’t risk it again. The idea of leaving his daughter alone did not seem so nice. And he couldnt piss in here. He didnt want to add to the stink. He would wait some more time for Iqbal. If Iqbal doesn’t come by the hour, he would have to risk going out.
He looked at Saroja. She was still lying in the corner. It’s been about seven hours and she hasn’t moved one bit from that fetal posture. Birju closed the door and shut it tight tying the rassi to the wooden post.
The lamp would last for another couple of hours. And after that…? Where the hell is Iqbal?
The room was getting colder by the minute. Birju searched the mud-wall for holes that were letting the night air in. He pulled back his hand suddenly in recoil. Something had stung him.
Licking his wounded finger, he sat down near Saroja. Looking at her face, he felt that his sixteen year old had aged many years in the past few hours. Her eyebrows were furrowed as if she was terribly confused of some dream she was seeing. He reluctantly let his eyes sweep over her body. He checked the wounds closely. A whimper escaped his throat.
Why did they have to use their nails and teeth?
He wiped away a quick tear with the back of his hand. He leaned back on the wall and cried out hoarsely. He cursed God. He cursed himself for being able to do nothing while, one after another, they had mounted on his daughter. He cursed them for letting him live on. He cursed Iqbal for saving him and Saroja from that burning gali. He cursed Iqbal as he was nowhere in sight and he badly wanted to piss.
Cant go out yet... The burning chadar... They may be waiting outside... Screams of Saroja... Lurking in the darkness... A boot on his face... Like shadows... A knife on his neck... Dark shadows.
Birju looked at Saroja. She was still sucking her thumb. She hadn’t done that in the past twelve years. He suddenly felt sure that they had somehow scratched at her mind too tearing apart its threads of sanity. He was sure that when she wakes up, she won’t be the same again. He just knew. But that might be a blessing. When you think about it, insanity might be welcome after all.
Iqbal had told him that the whole town was burning away. They weren’t alone. They were ravaging every gali; searching for their preys. Tomorrow the roles would change. The preys would become predators. And then the roles would change again. He didn’t care. He didnt care about anything anymore. He just wanted to piss.Outside, the crickets were chirping in chorus.
Why do they have to make such a terrible noise?
Birju closed his ears. His feet brushed on something cold. He looked closely. It was the rat. It was lying, stone still, its grey eyes staring at him. He thought of throwing it away and then thought better. Iqbal hasn’t come yet. Birju knew that hunger would slowly creep in like the night cold.
If Iqbal doesn’t come by morning.. or noon.. or night..or the day after.. and the shadows out there keep waiting their wait. Food. We would need food. No, let the rat lie there. Just in case.
He moved to the door clutching at his groin. He badly wanted to piss. He opened the door by a crack. He saw some men in the distance, walking towards the shack.Birju squinted his eyes. Thank God! Iqbal was in the lead. He eased his breathing. Well. Now he can piss. At last.
His eyes swept to the corner where Saroja lay. She was still busy sucking her thumb. On the mud-wall, a lizard sprinted across and caught a moth-fly. Birju stood mesmerized watching the sight. The predator. The prey. The fly doing a final twitch. A papery wing floating down the air. Birju sat down on the bare floor weighed down by a sudden thought.
Its Iqbal out there. Not some Ramnath or Laxmiprasad. But Iqbal...
He looked through the crack of the door.
Yes. They had her for lunch. Now they are having her for dinner.
They were now in the courtyard. Why. They have even brought a van to take her away. To do her again. And again.
He saw a couple of men wearing white. He saw the red cross painted on the white van above the glaring headlights.
Red stands for blood, right?
His sweaty hands touched the axe resting by the door.
How does blood flow? I know. It flows like piss. Hot warm piss.
He looked at Saroja. It seemed like she was begging to some monster in her dreams.
Its okay, my gudiya. Baba is going to make things right. Nothing will happen. Everything is going to be alright. But first let me have my piss. Alright my doll?
There was a knock on the door. Iqbal was calling his name. Birju raised the axe and pulled the door open halfway. His groin was wet now and yellow fluid seeped down his legs.
It felt heavenly. It felt perfect.
Through the half opened door, the first head stuck inside.