(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
This contribution is part of a series:-
1. The Most Frightening Thing In The World (15-Dec-2010)
2. Fun And Games (10-Jan-2011)
| ||Given the right circumstances, love can be the most frightening thing of all.|
3. Malaka (13-Feb-2011)
| ||Why are children the best soldiers one can imagine? This is Part Two of the Bisaria Quartet, and follows 'The Most Frightening Thing In The World.'|
4. The General (15-May-2011)
| ||A girl wanders alone through a land ravaged by civil war.|
| ||The General made a mistake when he spared the woman, and a worse mistake when he let her bear his child. This is the concluding part of the Bisaria Quartet.|
day before her fourteenth birthday, Malaka’s mother called her aside.
Malaka had a kind of vacation, because the school had closed
down a week ago when the one remaining teacher had finally fled. She had been
out on the red earth playground of the school, playing football with a few of
her friends, when her mother had come and taken her home. She went under
protest, bitterly arguing, her shorts and oversized T shirt flapping around her
bony limbs as she gesticulated. But her mother had not even turned her head
until they were both back home. She had even made Malaka change from her
mud-stained clothes into a clean dress and wash her hands and feet properly.
Then she had suddenly broken down.
"Listen," she said urgently, that gracious lady, kneeling on
the floor before her daughter, tears in her eyes. "Listen," she repeated.
"Tomorrow, we’re sending you to live with Aunt Koral in Keke."
"Why?" asked Malaka, astonished. "Tomorrow is my birthday.
Why do I have to go to Aunt Koral? I don’t even like Keke."
"Don’t argue, baby, please." Her mother only called her
"baby" when in the grip of powerful emotion. "It’s not safe for you here."
"Why? Is it the war?" The war had been coming closer for weeks,
and the people were frightened and worried. Some of them spoke in hushed
whispers about the atrocities the dreaded Karibu rebels were inflicting on the
civilians they captured. Others had scoffed and said nothing like that ever
happened. Everyone waited, unhappy and uncertain, for the fighting to reach
Her mother nodded, now. "Yes, the war. You don’t have to
worry about it. You’ll be all right with Aunt Koral."
"But...what about you and father?"
"Well, we’ll be coming, just as soon as he can arrange leave
from his job." Malaka’s father was an overseer at the tin mine near the town.
It was an excellent job. Malaka’s mother had been told many times over by
various people how lucky she was to be the wife of a man with a job like that.
It was not a job that could be lightly abandoned, even with the war. Besides,
the victors – whoever they might be – would want the mine and would need people
who knew how to run it. Malaka’s father had explained this to her mother in
great detail, over and over, during the last months.
"It’s just that your father can’t get leave right away,"
Malaka’s mother told her. "But we’ll be coming soon enough, don’t worry. Or if
things settle down here, we’ll just fetch you back."
"I don’t want to leave you!" And for all her fourteen years
and the maturity that came with being a teenager, Malaka burst into tears.
"I know, baby," her mother said unhappily. "I know."
bus to Keke was overcrowded. It was always overcrowded, even at the best of
times, but now it was so full that there were people riding on the roof and
hanging on to the window bars. It was an old bus, for all that it was brightly
coloured in green and blue with a yellow hood, and its ancient engine wheezed
and groaned and made a grating pained noise when the driver changed gear.
Inside, Malaka sat on one of the hard wooden benches between a fat old woman
carrying a box in her lap and a thin man with a grizzled beard who coughed
continuously into a grubby blue handkerchief. The driver was sharing his own
small seat with a passenger and had to lean over between the man’s legs to
reach the gear lever.
Malaka’s mother had put her on the bus. Her father was on a
double shift at the mine, so she had not seen him since the previous day. Her
mother had given her a small bundle, containing her good new dress and the
football shorts and T shirt she played in, and a little food. She had also
given Malaka some money, enough to pay the driver for her trip to Keke. Malaka
had thrust the tattered orange and brown Bisarian shillings into her socks to
keep them safe.
The crowd at the bus was so great there wasn’t a chance to
say goodbye. Malaka’s mother had thrust her through the door and was instantly
pushed away by more people frantic to climb on. Malaka had caught a glimpse of
her mother over her shoulder, looking lost in the crowd for all her height and
majestic carriage, and then she was inside the bus and lucky to find a little
space to sit.
[ Continue to page 2 ]