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Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Warrior

A blood curdling scream pierced the silent night.

Aafiya sat up on her bed, her heart ramming against her chest. Was it Shonaya? Or Mumtaz?  It could be anyone of the neighbours, she thought.

Parting the curtain just a few millimetres, Aafiya looked out through the only window in the house.

In the pale moon light, she saw some dark figures dragging a body from Shonaya’s house.

The masked men were back.

Like the whimpering of a lamb right before it was sacrificed for the greater good, Aafiya heard a sound from her best friend.

Shonaya..Shonaya had been taken. Tomorrow they will come for me, she realised.

This had been going on ever since the neighbouring nation had proclaimed war on Aafiya’s home land. Torturing the villagers had become a source of pleasure and entertainment for the enemy men.
The women had to walk in groups of ten or twenty to the village well to fetch water. Even then, the ones on the periphery of the group were harassed. Their dupattas were tossed into the air. They were exposed. Their men were killed in the open air. Their children were kidnapped and sold as slaves.  And at night it was the woman’s turn to succumb to the will of the masked men. Once their lust was quenched, a gunshot. Only broken bangles remained to prove of the existence of countless helpless women.

Aafiya thought of her children, sleeping, unaware of a world that was falling apart.

Reminiscence, she realised, was like the mellow rays of the setting sun. They fall tenderly, yet sadly, on hearts.

Aafiya felt like her heart might explode with joy. Motherhood had transformed her. The moment she had felt a life pulse in her womb, things had changed. Suddenly, her existence had acquired a deeper meaning.
Aamir  was overjoyed when the girls were born. “Twins, Aafiya, two little princesses..”, he had exclaimed, stroking Aafiya’s hair. That day, in his strong arms, she had experienced contentment.

Alas, the sun had set. The golden glow had given way to darkness.
But Aafiya had fought the darkness with every ounce of her remaining strength. Slowly, she had learned to weave beautiful tapestries out of the rag her life had become. She had held on, for the sake of her children. She would sacrifice herself without a second thought, if it would help her little girls to have a better life.
But no, the string had been cut. Now the kite was fluttering away, out of reach.

A copper wrist band, that was all the villagers could find. It was covered in blood,  caked with dust.
A single word was etched on it – Aamir.
Maybe they saw a threat in his unfaltering gaze. Or maybe it was just their idea of fun.
Aamir was never coming back, that's all Aafiya knew.

Somewhere deep within her mind, fire broke the ice. Suddenly, the fire was everywhere. Scorching her insides, stinging her eyes.

Aafiya – she who is untouched by grief.

The irony was like a slap on her face.

She had to escape. She had to protect her children. She had to save them from a childhood of gunshots and severed limbs on the streets. She had to wash away the blood stains from their minds.

Grabbing the little money she had hidden in her pillow case, with a make-shift baby-carrier slung around her shoulders, Aafiya stepped into the night. A kitchen knife would be her weapon of survival.

Aafiya walked on, her pace quickening with every step.

With her heart beating in her throat, she reached the outskirts of the village.

She could see the highway. There, protected by high walls, she could see the monastery.

The monastery would be her sanctuary. The enemy men were worshippers, they always left the monastery alone.

She looked around. The absence of pursuers bothered her. Surely, they wouldn’t leave the borders unguarded.

Jaan, thought you could fool mighty men?”, a voice called from behind.

Aafiya felt a hand grip her shoulder. “The night is cold. Want to step in somewhere warm with me?”, the man laughed with glee.

Aafiya strained her ears for more sounds. No, there weren’t any others. Just one man. The others would catch up soon. She didnt have much time.

Her hand tightened around the knife handle.

With the element of surprise to help her and  just reminiscence to fuel her, Aafiya turned the stuck the knife into the man’s eye.  No, she would not kill to save her life. Aafiya valued intergrity, not vengeance.

The man fell to the ground, writhing in agony.

And Aafiya ran.

She ran for her life. She ran for a better future for her kids. She ran for freedom.

Like innumerable others spread across the pages of history, on a starry night in a dark alleyway, fighting for survival, Aafiya became a warrior. A warrior who will never receive garlands and words of praise, but never-the-less, a warrior.

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