Night of Furies | Teen Ink

Night of Furies MAG

May 11, 2018
By Talea BRONZE, SOUTH WINDSOR, Connecticut
Talea BRONZE, SOUTH WINDSOR, Connecticut
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Bihar, India, 1946. I saw blood. Dark red drops of it dripped on my hands. I looked down startled and confused. There was more blood and now it was all over my arms and clothes. I glanced up to see that I was surrounded by people. All of them covered in blood, shouting, screaming. A loud shriek escaped my throat. The next second I was in my bed. I blinked several times, realizing I had been dreaming. Sighing in relief, I got off my four poster bed. Tying my hair back, I walked out into the open foyer. It was an eerily quiet morning, there was no wind and the sun was hidden behind dark blue clouds. I peered inside one of the rooms on the far left side of the foyer. My parents sat on the large bed in the middle of the room accompanied by my uncle and aunty, as well as my older brother and grandmother. I tried to listen to what they were discussing but I was too far to hear. I tried reading their faces. I wasn’t pleased; all of them wore expressions of worry and sadness. I slowly walked closer. My mother looked over at me as I entered the room and smiled faintly. I now stood beside the bed, contemplating what to say.

“Assalamu-Alaikum,” is all I said.

My mother nodded, “Walaikum-Assalam. Have a seat, Maryam.”

Sitting down, I asked, “What is it?”

My mother looked sideways at my father, who cleared his throat. “News has come in of riots in Calcutta between the Muslims and Hindus.”

I sighed, “Well, that’s nothing new. Wasn’t there a riot in Rawalpindi just five months ago?”

“No … this was different. Worse. There is news that four thousand people died, Hindus and Muslims in equal numbers. And I’ve heard stories all morning … it was bad.”

He paused and looked at my horrified but confused expression. “Now, we don’t mean to worry you by telling you this. I understand that you’re very young. But at 13 you’re old enough to know and understand reality.”  All I could manage was to continue staring at him, silently pleading for him to continue. My father, who had begun his now flourishing business from scratch 20 years ago, who had worked tirelessly day and night to establish this life for his family, now looked at me with defeat in his eyes.

“We’re going to move to West Punjab tomorrow morning. One of my cousins lives there with his family and we can stay with them for a while. If the All-India Muslim League manages to succeed with its proposition for a separate Muslim country to the west then it won’t be long till we’re forced out of our homes. Better to leave before it comes to that. I’ve already gotten tickets for six a.m. tomorrow. Pack only what is necessary.”

He said the last part looking at the wall behind me as if looking directly at me would reveal something he didn’t want me to see. Then he stood up from the bed and exited the room. I looked at the rest of my family, but they, too, avoided my searching eyes. At the time, I believed that they were trying to hide their helplessness in the situation. But it wasn’t until a few years later that I came to understand what they were really hiding behind their eyes. What they were shielding me from. Fear. The fear of not knowing if any of us were going to survive.

• • •

That night, I woke to the sound of screams. My mother came into my room and hastily tugged me off the bed. She pressed her finger to her lips, signaling me to be silent. We tip-toed up the long stairs located outside my room, which led to the roof of our house. I could still hear screams coming from below. I was terrified. Was this another nightmare? Please be another nightmare, I told myself.

Reaching the roof, I saw my grandmother already there, standing quietly in a dark corner. I looked around the rest of the roof to find it empty. There was no sign of my brother, father, uncle, or his wife. My heart began to sink. What was happening? There was a large opening on the roof which permitted vision of the bottom floors. My mother held me back from looking down. But, being the stubborn, naive girl that I was, I slowly inched my way closer to the opening so that I could see the faintest bit of activity down on the bottom floor. I felt relief wash over me as I saw my father and uncle: they were okay. Then my heart clenched as I took in the rest of the scene, they were fighting with a gang of Sikh men with swords and knives in their hands. I stood, holding my breath, as one of the Sikh men thrust a long blade into my uncle’s stomach. Blood slowly spread over his shirt. The man, who still held the blade, took it out and plunged it back in with swift movement. I heard my mother quietly shriek beside me, holding her hands to her mouth. I wanted to get down there and defend my family. I wanted to scream and cry.

My eyes roamed the bloody floor and stopped on a still body. It was my aunty, her face stained with blood, her hand at her belly where I could see the back end of a blade. I closed my hands over my mouth, stopping myself from screaming. She had been seven months pregnant. I remembered the smile she had on her face when she’d told us the news. And now she was dead. And her baby …. I took a step back, horrified by the scene but not before I caught a glimpse of my father, who had managed to kill one of the Sikh men and was now clashing against the last two standing. He was outnumbered. He swung his knife toward one of the men just as the other took him by the neck. Tears began to run down my face. Father struggled against the man’s grasp and the blade he was holding fell from his hands. The man threw my father to the ground and he tried reaching for his knife. Just then the other man charged at him with a long spear and drove it through his chest. Blood spattered from my father’s mouth and more of it spread over the floor. My breath came in hitched gasps and I fell to my knees.

I knew my mother and grandmother had witnessed the whole scene as my mother had sunk to the floor against the wall, tears running down her face. Grandmother just looked to the floor, eyes wide open and brimming with tears. I turned back to look below and saw that the men had left, leaving behind blood and bodies. There was not a single inch of the white floor visible below. I wasn’t dreaming. This was real.

• • •

Lahore, Pakistan, 14th August, 2017.

“Rizwan! Sarah!” Alia, their mother, called for them. The children sighed, finally giving in to their mother’s calls, and stood up.

“We'll be right back, Grandma. You have to tell us the rest of the story,” said Rizwan as the two left the room.

I smile at them, nodding in approval. For them, this is only a story. For me, it was a horrific phase of my life. Of course I hadn’t told them every bit of what occurred during that time in 1946. They are too young to know that such brutality exists. I did not tell them how me, grandmother, and mother barely reached the train station that morning. And the horrors we witnessed on our way.

I had thought that my brother died in the violence that had erupted the previous night, but by some stroke of luck, he found us at the station. The four of us had shared a small moment of relief before we had boarded the train. It had been crowded with people, mostly Muslims migrating to the west. Fortunately, we safely reached West Punjab. During the year that followed, we heard countless stories of the non-stop violence that had worsened once we left. Stories of people, just like us, crowding on trains in desperate measures to escape the horrors, only to be attacked midway. Stories about the arrival of those trains, blood seeping out of their doors. The news had been filled with images of brutality. Men, women, children, Hindus, Muslims, bodies, blood.

More than 70 years had passed, but I still couldn’t understand why our communities had broken into riots. We, Hindus and Muslims, had managed to coexist for generations and then had suddenly become so hostile toward each other. I wish our separation had occurred in a more peaceful manner. Then, maybe, the relationship between India and Pakistan today wouldn’t be so unstable.

Freedom, I had come to learn, never comes at a small price. Millions of people died during that year, at the end of which Pakistan came to be. I still heard news of the turmoil in Indian occupied Kashmir, where the Muslim majority were still fighting for their religious freedom. I know the luxury that is freedom. Today is Independence Day. And I wonder if the people celebrating out on the streets realize the price that was paid for this day to exist. I hear people complain often about the state of our country; they forget that nothing exists with complete perfection. This country, our home, has its faults, but we can say that it is ours.

I turn in my armchair to face the open window. Light wind blows through and caresses my face. It is peaceful. And for all that the world has come to, I can only wish for this to last. 

The author's comments:

I was inspired to write this peice due to the current state of our world. Today's world is too violent, unaccepting, and cruel. We need to stop the violence and focus on promoting peace. After reading this I want the readers to see how such brutality can change people's lives and how important it is to avoid such extremes and peacefully coexist with the people around us. Additionally, through this story I wanted to highlight what people go through for freedom and how important it is for our society.

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Hb786 said...
on May. 24 2018 at 9:15 pm
Very good job Talea !! Keep up the good work!!