A Small And Frightened Thing
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
I came looking for him in the endless moment when evening hung green-flushed in the
It was the same place I had been before. The desolate muddy
track wound its way down the hillside to a wooden bridge that crossed a
weed-choked stream, while on the far side the slope rose to a ruin that might
once have been a temple, or a fortress, or a tomb. It was hard to be sure; I had
only been in this place when the light was very bad.
Perhaps the light was always poor and it was always
drizzling here. There was no way I could say.
It was very desolate and I was alone, but I wasnít afraid.
Iíd been here many times before, and no doubt Iíd be here many times again.
There was a big tree to the left of the track, bending its
branches low over the ground like a weeping willow. Someone was standing there,
almost lost in the thick shadows. When he saw me he stepped forward and stood
I raised a hand in greeting as I walked down the slope
towards him, knowing he wouldnít reciprocate the gesture. He didnít.
"Hello," I said, all the same. "I wasnít totally sure if
youíd be here today."
"I have been waiting for you," he said. It wasnít really an
answer. "Are you buying or selling?"
"Selling, of course." He asked me this each time, and the
answer was always the same. "Why do you always ask that? Iíve never bought from
you, and I am never going to."
"Never say never. The tide of time brings strange needs to
the shores of existence." Now we were standing face to face, I had to tilt my
head backwards to look up at him. His black clothes merged into the midnight
black of his skin, and from his enormous height his eyes looked down at me, two
holes in the gathered darkness. His voice was a liquid rumble. "Someday you may
need what you give away now."
"All right," I said. "You know more about these things than
I do. Perhaps someday Iíll need to buy. But today Iím selling."
"Good enough," he said indifferently. "Show me."
I reached under my shawl and retrieved the small leather
pouch that dangled between my breasts. The trembling little thing in the pouch
had grown quiescent in the warm darkness, but feeling the movement became
afraid, and shuddered and chirped. I petted the bag and murmured to it until it
grew quiet again.
"Where is it from this time?" he asked, his huge hand
cupping the bag.
So I showed him.
The darkness and the mud the green dusk and the drizzle fade
away, and weíre standing on ochre sandstone, in the middle of a square
surrounded by ochre sandstone buildings, under the glare of a steel-bright sky.
The boy is nervous. Heís young, perhaps seventeen, and the
wisp of a moustache on his upper lip is beaded with sweat. He licks his lips
and pulls at the sleeves of his white dishdasha. His eyes flick back and forth
warily at the men gathered in a circle around him.
"Youíll do fine, Murad," someone assures him. "Donít worry
at all. Itís when you worry that problems start."
"Just like his father," another man says. "Heíll be cold as
ice when the time comes, donít worry."
†"Yes, Murad, take a deep breath. Stay focussed."
Murad throws his shoulders back, glances up at the sky, and
then down at the object in his right hand. It glints long and thin, the tip of
the blade curved just so slightly. His wrist makes involuntary back and forth
The police vehicle and the yellow van draw up. Two policemen
in khaki open the door of the van and help out the figure in white. Itís
covered completely in white cloth, head to foot, so at first glance one canít
even tell if itís a man or a woman. Itís no longer really a man or a woman, not
now, at the end of its journey. Itís just a wild heartbeat and dry-mouthed
terror wrapped in cloth. The two policemen push it down on its knees, quite
gently. Its shoulders quiver.
[ Continue to page 2 ]