by Baby Kattackal
Kang and his family lived in one of the many small huts, on the banks of the famous river Hoang Ho. His family consisted of his wife Huan, only daughter Jiavo and Kang’s sister Dongmayee. Kang and his wife were factory workers. General discontentment prevailed among the workers over the inadequate wages they could earn despite their hard work. But they were afraid of sharing their such woes with others or vent their grouses. There was genuine reasons for their such fears. Of the three people whom the workers met in everyday life, two were the secret agents of the Communist regime whose duty was to mix with the unsuspecting common people, feigning friendship and extract from them, their secret thoughts and moves against the Communist regime, and secretly inform the communist regime of such matters. And within days the communist military would forcefully apprehend such anti-Communist people and then nothing will be heard of them any more..This kind of cruel inhuman acts of the Communist regime roused in the common man doubts and apprehensions that one day they too would be meted out with such punishments, in case they don’t behave. And this situation cautioned them to take care. No one could believe the other. Everyone entertained doubts about the other. Mutual trust was a far cry. People lived on under the shadow of fear and doubt.
Kang and his wife worked in the same factory. They rose early in the morning for a hasty morning ablutions before rushing for work who reached home after work, only very late in the night. Should a worker be late for his work, he would have to face inhuman punishment at the hands of his merciless superior. Many such workers had to give up their ghosts due to such unbearable punishment.
Kang’s sister Dongmayee was the care taker of his daughter Jiova. She was a teacher in the school where Jiova was a student.
Many of the teachers were secret agents of the Communist regime. They knew the tactics to win over the innocent minds of the children and make them pour out their minds about the goings on in their houses to find out if there was any anti communist talk or any secret move or campaign among the people against the Communist regime. And they secretly, passed such information to the communist authorities so that such move or campaign could be nipped in the bud itself.
As Dongmayee took care of Jiavo, it was a great relief for Kang and Huvan. And for that matter, after toiling and moiling all day long where was the time for them to spare for their daughter? Reaching home late in the night, exhausted, they were capable of nothing else but to fall on to the bed, soon to be asleep.
But Kang’s body responded to his exhaustion in a different way unlike Huvan’s who fell into deep sleep in moments, totally lost to the world. But sleep visited Kang like an unwilling guest. He spent his night between sleep and wakefulness. Jiova liked to sleep with her aunt Dongmayee and they slept in another room.
It was a winter day. The whistling winter winds added to the intensity of the freezing cold weather. Everyone was fast asleep. Kang too had a bout of sleep at that moment. The time was mid-night. Suddenly a sound was heard which woke up Kang. It was not usual to hear such sounds, at that time of the night, except the rustle of the rushing waters and the “Glum,glum” sound of the falling oars of country canoes that occasionally sailed through river Hoang Ho to its distant destination.
“The sound must be seemingly a false feeling of my timid, drowsy mind swinging between sleep and wakefulness. And for that matter who would come a visiting my house in the dead of the night?”, Kang reasoned.
After some time, the same sound was heard and more clearly. Kang realized that the sound he believed, he had seemingly heard was not a false one of his dozy mind but real. A visitor , at that time roused apprehensions in his mind. He was overwhelmed with a kind of mortal fear.
The sound , a second time provoked the neighbour’s Alsation dog. It started barking, non stop. The continuous barking of the dog confirmed the feeling of Kang of the presence of some unwelcome men outside, in the dead of night. His mind could not contain the surging waves of fear. He started shivering with uncontrollable fear. He was sure that the strangers were never thieves. If that were so they would have taken to their heels hearing the continuous barking of the dog.
No time to think . No time to waste. Something should be done immediately. But what to do at this midnight hour and that too in the biting cold? Kang felt he was in a gross, helpless condition.
Time passed by. Then that strange sound was no more to be heard. “The strangers must have left thinking that no body was inside”. Kang thought at the slightly longer interval between the knocking sounds.
His mind was coming back to normal. His heart beat too came down to normal though the situation-the sound and the silence, alternatively- was ominous.Time ticked away uneventfully as if for the better.
Again that sound. Kang’s mind rose to the dizzy heights of anxiety once again. The very high emotional stress made him feel that he would swoon down. They were moments when fear had conquered his body,enervated with extreme fright and apprehensions which seemed to fight a losing battle against the odds of death.
He looked at Huvan. She was sleeping totally lost to the world. Jivoa and Dongmayee in the next room. He alone was awake.
Kang slowly moved to Huvan and gently woke her up. She was told of the strange, fearsome situation. To her drowsy half asleep mind nothing was receptive, then. “These are the false feelings of your own apprehensive mind. And mind you, if you don’t get your damned sleep, it’s your own worry and don’t disturb me prattling inanities, in this fashion”, Huvan said irritably.
As she was about to get under the sheet that covered her body, for a comfortable sleep her own mind whispered to her”If it’s not for the presence of some strangers in front of your house why the neighbour’s dog barking non-stop?”. A sudden bout of fear burst in her mind too. She paused as if thinking of something. And a lightening flashed in her mind. An incident happened a few months earlier came tearing down into her mind. She reminded Kang too, of it.
Once, Kang and Huvan reached home tired after work. He told Huvan that the workers work hard all day long and get a paltry sum as wages which was scanty for their sustenance. If this situation is to persist, sooner or later there would be a mass uprisal against the communist regime. And then people would forget everything and courageously face the bullets of the communist regime like peanuts. This casual , inadvertent talk was overheard by the innocent Jiavo, who revealed the talk to her teacher when the teacher fondly asked her, not knowing the serious consequences of her such revelations. The blood of Kang and Huvan seemed to have curdled with fear..
The husband and wife took turns to look out through the keyhole. In the faint light of the street lamps they saw the horror evoking sight. A set of armed soldiers was standing in front of their house. And it was the sound of the stamping and grating of their foot -steps that provoked the neighbour’s dog. The soldiers seemed to be readying for something momentous.
Kang and Huan realized that there was no way for them to escape. Then a soldier knocked at the front door. Kang was in a quandary that he could not abstain from opening the door. Thinking “come what may” he decided to open the door. But before that another soldier kicked at the door shouting abuses. Kang opened the door.
” You bastard! Why was the delay in opening the door”, the soldier shouted.
Then another soldier’s riffle- butt came down heavily on kang’s chest. And he fell unconscious. At this juncture another soldier caught hold of Huan. In her effort to escape she slipped and fell on the floor. A soldier stamped his booted foot upon Huan’s face and four teeth of her front row got uprooted and blood oozed out of her mouth and she fell unconscious. She was unaware of what had happened to her thereafter.
When Kang came back to consciousness, he knew he was in a military camp. “Where is my Huan?. What had happened to her “, Kang was screaming like a mad man.
“Now your Huan is not only yours but also ours”, another soldier commented derisively.
“Your Huan is lying on the premises of your own house as a discarded waste. And for that matter why you want to know about her when You’re not going to see this world anymore?” ,another continued his ridicule.
When Huvan regained her consciousness, she was lying on the patio of her house. Her clothes were disorderly and mislaid. The realization that she had lost her chastity made her a wilted vegetable . She felt her own mind had berated her body. She sobbed like a fallen angel from the alter of chastity. Her mind urged her to seek pardon from her beloved for what had happened to her unwilling body, not knowing that her beloved would never come back to her…
She then moved with staggering, unsure steps to her beloved daughter, sleeping in the next room with her aunt Dongmayee. But frightened, Dongmayee had bolted the door from inside. Hearing the voice of Huan, she opened the door. She slowly moved to Jiavo who was still asleep. Seeing her child, her maternal love for her child got a stir breaking all barriers. Then she gently touched her which woke her up. Not knowing that her innocent revelations to her teacher at school some time ago was the reason for the change in her mother’s countenance, she looked at her mother fearfully. Huan smiled at the child showing her bleeding ,toothless gum. She bent and planted kiss of warm motherly love on the tender cheek of her child. As she rose two drops of blood from her bleeding , toothless gum fell on the cheek of the child and spattered, as if an immaculate ,pure glassware had fallen asunder.
About the Author: Baby Kattackal is a poet and author from Kerala, India.