by Abha Iyengar
Abha Iyengar was first published online by Pure Slush in September 2011, and has been a regular online contributor ever since. She was also the Pure Slush Featured Author in April 2012, which saw the first appearance of her character Reena Rajan. The delight experienced in reading about Reena and her life in New Delhi led to Abha being asked to write more stories about Reena ... and the result was the October 2014 paperback publication of the novel Many Fish to Fry.
“The dust scattered in all four directions,” said Hussain, sitting under the shade of the old neem tree. He drew long on his beedi as he spoke. The ember glowed red, redder than the colour of his straggly beard.
Mir sat on his haunches, his eyes brown and wide as he listened to his grandfather.
The old man coughed. He leaned back against the bark of the tree.
Mir continued to stare at him. “What are the four direc...uh…what you said just now, Baba?”
“Directions,” said Hussain.
Mir lay on the mud on his stomach. It burnt hotter through the holes in his shirt, but he did not mind it. He was used to the heat. His legs up in the air behind him, he cupped his chin in his hands. He was ready to know about direc…the word was difficult.
Hussain sucked on his beedi again and picked up a crooked brown twig. It merged with the colour and shape of his fingers. He tried to draw a vertical line on the mud. It was so tightly packed that he barely managed a scratch. He tried to cut across it with a horizontal line and gave up, dropping the twig.
“No matter,” he said.
He stood up slowly, nodding at Mir to stand up too. “You remember the way we came from, running into this place? Your father carrying you on his back?”
Mir rubbed his eyes. This was no longer interesting. “Baba, let's go to work. It's late as it is.” His stomach rumbled with hunger.
Hussain placed rough hands on Mir’s thin shoulders and twisted him around to face east. “That is one direction. Our home from where we fled.”
He pulled Mir around fully again, this time to the west. “This is from where the bullets came, telling us to turn back.”
He then turned Mir to midway between the two sides, facing north. “And this is the direction in which you fell, as your parents faced the bullets.” His grandfather had picked him up in his arms and run that day, Mir had but a faded memory.
Hussain turned Mir fully again. He now faced the other side from where he had fallen off his father’s back. Hussain pointed towards their hut. “And this is where we hide ourselves from the sorrow of the other three directions. This is the fourth direction. The fourth sorrow, of not belonging.”
Mir hung his head. This was not a story anymore. This was his life. The other boys had pelted him just yesterday with stones. “Go home, you don’t belong here,” they had said.
Hussain noticed a line of red ants scurrying across the mud. He bent and picked the twig and ran it through the line of red ants. “Look…this is how we ran…from our home, our land.”
“Baba, this is our home now. We will not run from here,” Mir said with finality. Ants scurried around his feet. He lifted his foot and stamped down hard.
published 31 January 2015