Let the Darkness Come
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
Not today, though. Today, my instincts had failed, and at
the worst possible time.
Furqan had tried to warn me, to stop me from coming. "I have
a very bad feeling about this," he’d said. "We can leave it this time,
President, sir. Please don’t go in there today."
"I’m no longer the president," I’d told him for the
"You’ll always be my president," Furqan had replied,
also for the hundredth time. "The traitors won’t hold on for much longer. They
can’t. Even those who backed them at the start are wavering now. Another six
months and we’ll be on the way back, mark my words."
"I know," I’d replied, smiling at him affectionately.
Furqan, who looked so much like the young Fidel Castro, tall and broad
shouldered with his curly beard. Even though he no longer wore his peaked cap
and green uniform, nobody who saw him would mistake him for anything but what
he was – a warrior through and through, though one touched by compassion and a
sense of decency that never went away, not even in the worst times. If I’d ever
married, if I’d had a son, I’d have wanted him to be like Furqan. "But it won’t
happen by itself. We have to make it happen. And this is an important meeting;
the opportunity won’t come easily again."
"Then let me come with you," Furqan had said, his huge hands
clenching and unclenching in agitation. "At least I can do my best to keep you
safe, if something happens."
"If something happens," I’d pointed out, "you, all by
yourself, won’t be able to do a thing for me. I’ll be able to sneak in and out
of town if I’m alone, anyway. A single person attracts less attention."
He’d given in reluctantly, and stood watching as I’d driven
away in the old, dusty red car we’d been using for the last week. The car had
been lent me by the owner of a house in which we’d spent two nights after I’d
hurt my foot and hadn’t been able to walk for a while; I’d promised him that
we’d return it before the month was out.
Now he’ll never get that car back. I hope that at least he has the good sense
to get out while he still can, before they trace it back to him. Unless,
of course, it was he who had tipped them off about me, once I was safely
far enough away. If they pay him at least a part of the reward they’d
offered, instead of killing him and keeping it all to themselves, he can afford
to buy another car, after all.
They’d known what to look out for. I had changed drastically
from the night I’d fled my presidential residence, crouched down in the back
seat of an old SUV. I’d grown a beard, been burnt deep brown by the sun, and
lost weight. Besides, I’d had false papers, showing me to be a small time
businessman, living in the city. None of it had helped.
They’d got me at the first checkpoint. I should have been
more alert, knew to park the vehicle in an alley and walk on. But my mind had
been elsewhere, on the upcoming meeting with the arms dealer, and the promise
of weapons which we needed if we were ever to overthrow them and take
the country back. Now, I wonder if the arms dealer had even been there, or if
that had been a trap, too.
The checkpoint had been deceptively sloppy to look at,
little more than a few oil drums scattered on both sides of the street, the
gaps between them stuffed with sandbags, and a pole laid across the space in
the middle. The buildings on both sides were still streaked with soot and
marked with bullets, the result of the fighting earlier in the year. They
had promised "freedom" but hadn’t even got round to cleaning up before falling
on each other over the spoils. I’d had those buildings constructed, and people,
at last, were beginning to remember that. Too late, perhaps, but then is
something ever too late? Really?
I’d safely negotiated a hundred checkpoints like this, so
I’d braked automatically to a stop while reaching for the fake driver’s licence
and registration papers in the glove compartment. My mind had still been on the
meeting with the arms dealer, what he might have to offer, what I could get,
and how I could arrange to pay. Only when the pickup truck had rushed up behind
me, armed men spilling out of it even before it skidded to a slantwise stop
across the street to block my retreat, did I know what was happening.
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