Moushumi Ray posted under Short Stories Staccato on 2022-07-31

The coast was at last clear!  “Quick! This is our only chance! Oye, hit the accelerator!” “Dauda gadi ko!” “Speed up! Come on, chalo! Chalo!”  “Chalo! Bahut khoon beh raha hai!” “Hai kaun yeh khooni?” “ Who is he? A terrorist? Tell me! Tell me, please! Yeah! hope so! Sweat trickled down, Rupinder’s brow. His heart pounded as loud as that of others. Every second mattered. The assailant was catching on. None knew what was happening and why it was happening. A rock fell from above hitting the roof of the bus, making a noise strong enough to announce the forthcoming calamity. Before anyone could take notice of the first one, more rocks falling off the mountain, came down, Thud! Thud! Crash! The sounds were unmistakable. What had started as a pitter patter was now, good heavens, a full-fledged catastrophe! It was a landslide! No! please God! Not now! He had no other option, as he saw a burst of dust, debris and smoke descend a few yards in front his speeding tourist bus, but to swerve to the right. It was a nose dive straight into the treacherous valley!  Clang! Swoosh! Agonising screams filled the interior of his only prized possession.  The bus had plunged into the valley! Straight down and down! *** Simran Simran was a born beauty. There was a queue at her father’s door since she came of age. Her looks, her books and hooks were the talk of her town. Oh Yes, they were! “Please complete my order as fast as you can, please do!” People demanded her products, much to her happiness. She made wooden magnetic hooks that were famous in her town. Passionate about crafts from childhood, her hooks had taken the town by storm. Her parents never had to worry about her growing years. She had immersed herself in reading and doing craftwork. She was a local icon. Children sought her library collection. Parents wanted their children to be like her. “She was easily the best! Undoubtedly!” People said, making her parents smile in pride. “Our child is a gem, yes a rare one! We are truly blessed! Her marriage was a quick one. A businessman won the race and took his bride away. Their marriage blossomed just like the roses. Little by little emanating fragrance. And then it began to wilt just as roses do! His psychotic temper saw her book collection turn to ashes. Yes, that treasure collected over the years, charred, one by one! She had to tell everyone that a forgotten candle was the devil.  Tear drops, began to flow in abundance. Roll and wipe! Roll and wipe! What was the issue? None! He was just being himself! A mad man he was!  The ruthless Thakur and she, his married slave woman were enemies under the same roof. One day, he used her hook to scratch her cheeks! She managed to duck. “Get out of my way, Bastard! Or else I’ll kill myself!” “Let me help you,” He gave sound to his most evil laughter! She knew he meant business. As he lunged, she bent, picked up a chair and hit him! Ahgh! He groaned, “You bitch, I’ll kill you! Just wait, you wait, till I get my hands on you! She ran out of the house. She escaped! Fast! Fast! She pleaded with herself. She ran aimlessly. Wherever her legs took her, she went, leaving behind every moment of that cursed life. “Phone! Shhh ! Have left my phone. Oh! Why did I leave it behind?” She would call the police and have him arrested.  She wouldn’t spare him. She knew not that in the valley, in their town, the police have little time to address domestic issues. Their hands are already full.  And domestic violence had no place on their table as compared to terror violence! It was trivial when compared to national security. She managed to reach the police chowki but he had beat her to the spot. There was no plea in his voice, Wo yeh shahar chhod na paye!”   Janab, bilkul fiqr na karen, unhe hum izzat se aapke ghar le aayenge! Itni himmat phir nahi dohrayengi” Her blood froze! She could feel the crackling in her veins! Simran hid behind the book stall and watched her husband leave.  She crept away and reached the bus stop wondering  about her next move. This is what life had given her but now she wasn’t going to tolerate it anymore. She hopped onto a crowded bus. As the bus moved to the next stop, more than half the crowd alighted. A family of three got in. The bus had only five people. She could be easily spotted. She began to have uneasy feelings.  She was right. *** Rupinder An orphan at the mercy of his uncle’s brother in law since childhood, Rupinder had been subjected to horrific abuse. He had grown up into an exploited and humiliated young man for whom sex was the most gross act. He found peace in driving buses. Honk! Honk! The turns and twists of Zojila were beauty personified unlike his life. The snow, sometimes melting, at other times solidified covered dark secrets, exposing parts of it only to be blanketed all over again. The snow clad peaks hid his pain when outside of what is known as a shelter or a house. He was never meant to have a home or someone to go to. His thoughts clouded as he turned the bus.  He loved being away from anything that had tiled roofs and a bed. For years he had faced people who were demons in disguise. Those blank stares at the tiles above  and tears trickling down one after the other, tip!tip!tip! He slept on the floor, curled up into a sack, covered himself up to the head. Those days, nights and afternoons were awful. He didn’t want to think of them but they seemed to be pasted on his skin. He failed to peel them off! “Chal aaja……….! Aayega ki main aayoon? Scoundrel, you dare show moods. I have paid for you! Oh yeah ! I have, notes and coins! The beast pulled the boy’s leg and scratched his name on it as a sign of warning.  “Aaah! Crying out in pain was not acceptable because he was told some uncles get disturbed by sounds. They like no moans or groans! His uncle didn’t think it was wrong! After all his dead parents or living Chacha weren’t going to pay for his lodging and boarding. He would have to. Since he was a small boy, his uncle decided to extract it out of him in this way. He had better plans for him after he grew up. Men, smelly, dirty, terrible and drunken would violate him as and when they needed. The lady who came in to give him first aid for the first time later turned in charge of who would get to take him away for weekends after handing over hefty sums. Money, money, sweeter than honey was his daily fee for being graciously taken care of by an unrelated by blood, relative. He tried seeking help by telling people only to get thrashed, followed by rape, then thrashes again. “This or that? Which situation is better?”  His Uncle growled. Life was horrible and he grew up to be a mentally stable but emotionally damaged young man.  The bus was his safe haven and the roads, his paradise. Today he had to go and meet his aging caretaker, who no longer dared to touch him fearing his young age, muscles and that insane look in those grey eyes. He had to meet the old bastard and expose him in the village. He had already warned the rogue of what was to come! There wasn’t much traffic on the road  today, surprisingly.  Crash! A bullet hit the bus window causing immediate concern!  Swoosh came the next one straight and hit the conductor’s hand who had tried to look outside.  He screamed, his middle finger ripped off his body and a blood fountain taking its place! A bloody sight! And a fearful one! ***   Santosh Santosh the new husband was submerged in love. “Come closer to me, come!” And she would shrink away in shyness… And this is what he loved the most, her innocence, her  shyness. She was coy, respectful and beautiful.  His mother was very happy. “She is very good; I am proud of your choice!” Santosh was triumphant. His family approved of his bride. After spotting her in the bus some months ago, he had enquired about her address. As luck showers upon a few, Panna’s father agreed to the alliance with all his mother’s needs taken care of. She turned out to be a good girl. He could have spent hours with her, had they been living separately. But work and elders are priority! Without any questions, they were! He disliked being away from her. But whenever they crossed the Zojila Pass, it had to be a separation of two nights. “I want bangles and toe rings for her, you better not forget. And don’t tell her anything,” his mother had requested. “But these will be my gifts to her, I can bring her something else on your behalf,” he chuckled. She smiled, “Badmash, Chal ja, le aana jo bhi mun kare.” But do  tell her she should return from her friend’s house soon whenever she visits them. I don’t want to do so because she shouldn’t feel that I am trying to control her. She is such a sweetheart. “Friend’s house? Which friend?” “Oh, it is Shanno, her school friend, married here, she was surprised to meet her at the market the other day.” “Ajeeb baat! She didn’t mention it to me!” His mother pulled his ears lovingly and said that is because you never allow her to talk, only you go yapping. It was true. They had been married for four months, yet it was a dreamy feeling to be in his wife’s arms. He would talk to her endlessly about her beauty, his dreams, the mountains and his love. He was going on longer routes now to earn more money as his family would be growing. He whistled his favourite song, adjusting the sweater and Rupinder smiled at him. Santosh had often wondered why his driver refused to enjoy stories of his conjugal life. He found him to deviate the discussion immediately.  “Ajeeb baat! He is of my age and should be anxious about getting himself a girl!” He smiled at the thought of his beautiful wife. He wondered what she must be doing. In her room, Panna shed tears fearing his return. She never had found the opportunity to tell her parents that she was in love with Sham Singh, Shanno and wanted to be his bride. Her parents would have never gone against her wishes, had they the slightest idea. Before Panna knew, she was pledged to Santosh Kumar in the presence of village elders. Cheer, celebrations, music and dance followed into the house, all huddled in together. Shanno, her lover would not allow it. She pleaded with him saying it was too late. But he wouldn’t hear of it. He decided to shift to the same town and do odd jobs till he could finalise his plan. He would meet her whenever possible. She was his, and he would make arrangements to have her back! ‘Bangles and toe rings, mother said ….” Santosh saw the screen crush. He screamed!  He looked out of the door. And saw a jeep with two men. Yes, they were two, and one was firing at the bus! His finger was ripped off! *** The Banerjis They were planning on their summer vacation up in the Northern Himalayas ever since their son had expressed his desire to see them after reading a chapter in his Social Studies textbook. It had been years since they had gone on a long holiday. Barun demanded every bit of their attention. A hyper child diagnosed with many academic issues meant they gave him full attention all the time. Outwardly and inwardly they were a happy family. The couple knew that God had given them this child because they alone were best equipped to handle him. Bani and her husband Bidyut were college mates and both completed their post graduation together to make sure that they spend every moment with each other during the day. Having been suitably placed professionally, they got married and were parents within a year. “I am going to be a daddy!” He called up the entire town while Bani sat giggling. All was as smooth as silk. Life was exciting with long wake up shifts at night. As he began school, complaints from the teacher set off alarm bells. “He throws books and pencils at other children. Things go flying here and there.” “He is destructive! “Barun is distracted all the time, His hands are all over the place breaking other children’s property.” “He needs to be dealt with firmly!” Some healing sentences were there too. “His handwriting is amazing for his age! Neat, clean and legible” “His memory is remarkable! He remembers the names of all the pictures shown with Y” Life climbed from one class to another with more bricks and fewer bouquets. The Banerjees decided to concentrate on the petals.  They got a hold over themselves. No one accused the other.  We are not going to feel guilty! Neither will we be going through a mode of self-denial! Barun was their boat and they were not going to let him sink. They would bring it to the shores with love, advice and timely intervention.  Barun was brilliant and at the same time always fidgety, looking for next set of questions before the first ones were heard properly. Yet he absorbed everything.  “If he sits to do his work, he does it in a flash! But the question is, is he willing to sit?” His mathematics teacher would say this during every PTM. They knew they would get to hear this often. After all the teacher had thirty-five of them to look after.  The doctors had counselled them, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, where the child has difficulty controlling impulsive behaviour or is overly active. It may or may not fizzle out with age. Their son was normal and he should be treated just as any other kid. On his tenth birthday, Barun expressed his desire to see the Zojila pass. And his parents were definitely going to take him there.  Of late their son had started complaining of a ringing sound in his ears which needed to be shown before the trip. Trrring! Trrring! Trrring! He would hear it three times before it would stop. All audiometry tests and appointments with the ENT specialist showed no new concern. Things were as good as they could be! Yes indeed! It was! Excitement was at its peak as the summer vacations started. Barun had boasted that he would pick up snow, melt, put it in a bottle and bring it to school to show them. The Srinagar airport has seen many tourists and here was a child who was more excited than a thousand tourists put together. The dream holiday had started. Their hotel vehicle was there to receive them and the driver was delighted to meet this chirpy lad. “I am in Zojila!Zojila,Zojila!” “Not yet,” said his father, and he laughed. Dal lake to Gulmarg, Pahalgaon to Sonmarg was done in a relaxed manner. The weather, like the scenery were heavenly. Barun was a typical Bengali who enjoyed the trout fries just as much as his parents did. Their next stop would be Leh. The plan was to travel by road  which would make them cross the Zojila pass. “Why are we not reaching soon?” Why don’t we get trouts at home? “Where are the apples, that I have read about?” Barun chattered nonstop. “Show me the tree once again which makes cricket bats!” “I want to stop here and touch the water!Stop!Stop!” “Hey ! I want to play with the sheep!Stop! Please stop!” The driver laughed and said, “My vehicle needs no music, It’s coming from this lad!” “I want to hear FM! Start!Start! The radio!” This is how the family was enjoying their holiday till their vehicle broke down. The driver Hukum Pratap, an elderly man was embarrassed. He called the hotel for another vehicle. The family got down to enjoy the spot. The little fellow was excited with this breakdown. He wanted to help with the engine. Just then a bus came in and many Amarnath Yatris got down. June being the month, saw a lot of pilgrimage. I want to travel by bus, Barun screamed. Bani said, “No! You will not!” I want to, Please Daddy, please Daddy, please please Daddy! His father said, “Why not Bani? What is the harm? Let’s go a little further and we shall be picked up by Hukum.   “Yes Sahib, you can get down near the bridge, I’ll pick you up in half an hour. The other vehicle should be here by then. “But I don’t feel right, let’s not…..”  Bani was cut short by Barun, “Ma please come,na,ma! She could never refuse her jewel. She would do anything for him including giving up her life. Yes! She would. And this was only a harmless bus ride. Hukum spoke with Rupinder, the bus driver, who was more than happy to see the smile on a little boy’s face.  There were only five of them in the bus. Such buses are not a target for any terrorist outfit. “So who could the assailant be? The jeep followed the bus with a vengeance. Rupinder pressed the accelerator hoping to reach the police chowki. There was a dangerous turn ahead. The bullets were coming; the passengers were screaming! Santosh was in crying in pain.  He had ordered everyone to duck. At this time, the first stone fell. He attributed it to the bullets hitting the rocks as the assailant lost speed the passengers came out hysterically pleading and questioning him, “Who is that”? Come on drive fast! Yes, the coast is clear! “Wow! this is like a movie! Yes, the villain is chasing …!” “Shut up Barun!” “Daddy I want to see the villain’s face!” “ Dauda gadi,” screamed Santosh. Simran  was mortified! Bani was crying helplessly. Dust, smoke and debris blocked their vision, the sounds of rocks falling on the roof of the bus increased.  And Rupinder swerved to the right! The world rolled as each person shrieked falling out of their places onto different parts of the bus. Bani missed holding the seat. Simran crashed onto Barun. Santosh went flying out of the bus. His last hope was the door which was almost severed from the bus. Rupinder’s eyes saw water clouding till he could no longer see, hear or feel anything. Bidyut had every bone crushed.  People inside their cars screamed ! From the top they saw a mangled bus dangling in two parts from a precipice, Travelers on the lower roads saw a bus cracked open and could anytime plunge into lower depths.  The TV crew were reporting nonstop on this horrific accident. No one knew how many people were stuck in there or if at all anyone was alive. The Indian Air Force was trying its best to reach the site and comprehend how to get a count of the survivors. Anyone attempting to stand on the bus would ensure it went crashing down. One heart beat inside under the pile of bodies. A strange trrring trrring trrring was going inside the ears! Glossary  Dauda gadi ko: speed up Oye: Hey Chalo: move Bahut khoon beh raha hai: there is lot of blood loss Hai kaun yeh khooni: Who is this murderer Wo yeh shahar chhod na paye: she shouldn’t be allowed to leave the city Janab, bilkul fiqr na karen, unhe hum izzat se aapke ghar le aayenge! Itni himmat phir nahi dohrayengi:      Don’t you worry Sir, we will bringher back safely to your house. She won’t be repeating this mistake  Chal aaja: move, come here  Aayega ki main aayoon: Will you come or should I come there? Badmash, Chal ja, le aana jo bhi mun kare: Naughty, go one, bring what you want to. Ajeeb baat: This is weird.   Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!