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19th July 1998

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Part 4 of Fragments, Manel Abhayaratne's thrilling serial

Struggle for liberty

"No surely what do you take me for? I'll never let anyone harm either of you."

She went to the room and searched for Chitra's drawing. She came back and said, "Chitra drew the accident and the men, but I can't find the paper. I hope she has not destroyed it. I was short with her that day and she was upset." Nihal saw the disappointment in her eyes, "would you mind," he asked diffidently. "If I stay here awhile. If I go out someone may recognise me." "No you stay," she said. "Shall I clean the wound." She asked. "Oh' no" he said "It'll hurt like hell." "I think you should see a doctor," she said. "Tomorrow perhaps" he said. She brought him a pillow. He heard her moving in the next room. It was strange to be so much at ease in an unknown room he thought before he drifted off to sleep.

Neela went to bed relieved that she had been able to talk of all her suppressed fears. Talking to Nihal she had realised that the tension of being with the child was too much sometimes. What would be the future for Chitra, for she often felt that Chitra thought herself a burden.

As she grows older would she want to do something desperate. Was she not foolishly believing that the child would be cured to hide her own fears and guilt. Had Anil been right in suggesting that she go to a special institution but could one leave a little child, terrified of her own shadow among strangers, especially when she lacked the confidence even in her own parents.

It was only recently that she allowed Neela to hug her and kiss her. Earlier she was stiff, not wanting to show her feelings. Could they leave her alone in a world where she would not be able to communicate with people to whom she did not even belong to. She sighed. It was a sad life to be alone with no man to help her.

Raju phoned the foreigner "I think the girl in the flats has seen the car. One of my boys has spoken to her. She has not said anything but he guesses she has seen the car." "Can you ask the boy to check up and let me know to-night or early tomorrow morning."

The foreigner was worried. He sat drumming the table and wondering how quickly he could get the information. The bespectacled young man saw the stranger going up to the flat and was suddenly worried. Had the old man reported him to the Police. Would they come searching for him and if they caught him, he had too many secrets and he had seen friends of his who had been released by the Police after questioning. No he had better not wait in the flats, whatever Raju wanted let him find it out himself. Why bother about an accident when the boys were not involved. He quickly went to the little attic room he shared with his recent friend. "Anton a friend of mine has offered me a room for it's difficult for you my being here. I'll see you tomorrow in the morning - Right."

His young friend looked up at him surprised. Edward was peculiar he thought. He was secretive and suspicious as if he was carrying the burden of great secrets. "Why the rush you can go in the morning" he said politely, though he was glad. His mother would be happy when Edward left. Somehow she did not think he was a good friend. "I'd have liked to wait but my friend is anxious I come now. He might get annoyed and give the room to someone else. So I'll see you, thanks a lot for the trouble you took. I'll come for the clothes later." He left the room in such a rush that Anton was bewildered.

The phone continued to ring. Raju wondered, "Where was that boy Edward?" At last, a sleepy voice asked angrily "Yes?" 'Can I speak to Edward,' he asked softly "Edward" the voice queried, then he heard a shout "Anton that boy who was here, your friend, was he Edward? - Somebody wants to know where he is. Do you know where he has gone to? "No" the voice answered the phone, "That boy called Edward has left. How would I know where he is gone to. He's just a friend my son met at the University and as he had no place to stay he was here for a while - look Mr. I am not a lost persons bureau. If you are so concerned about your friend ask the Police."

Devi looked curiously as Raju moved away. His head was throbbing. Mohan said "Appah you look worried what's the problem? I thought that last Thursday's blowing up of the Police Station was superb. I wish I was there.

Appah can I go to the Camp like Aiyah?" Raju stood near the door looking out into the darkness. Where could Edward be, why had he gone so soon? Was someone searching for him. Devi touched his shoulder and said "Raju come let's sleep. It is late and you are worried. I don't know, but something seems to be upsetting you. Those days you used to talk to me, tell me of the things you feared or were worried about - now you clamp up everytime I ask you a question."

"Devi you'll never understand if I tell you what I feel. You think I am a fool, but a man has to have a dream and to me it is so important that we are free, have our own land, our own laws and not be under someone else's rules and regulations.

"But it has not worked out that way. We are always suppressed, forgotten," he added bitterly. "That's not really true is it Raju - if that were so you would not be what you are now - perhaps there have been times when things have been difficult, but by what is happening now how is it going to be any better?" "That is why I said you'll never understand" his voice was sad and lost. She longed to comfort him as she had done on earlier occasions when he had come unhappy, feeling slighted but she said, "I don't know Raju may be it is because I am a woman that I think this way.

"I want to see my sons grow up and live, not die and be buried in some forgotten grave. I don't want dead heroes. I want my husband and children alive. What is this life we are leading now? We are frightened of our own-selves suspecting even those who come to visit us, hushing the voice of a child before he can say who came or who was on the phone. For what are we doing all this I cannot understand."

"I know Devi" he said "may be I've failed in everything I wanted to do but yet however much you may disagree with me - I need you and I will never let anyone harm you". Devi was saddened. Raju was so gentle, he who shrank from violence hated even to speak harshly now seemed so isolated. She sighed. "Let's go to sleep" she said. "Talking is no point now, may be I too should be persuaded to become a violent activist". Raju smiled gently "Oh no Devi. I would not like that, you are not meant for such things." She held him close to her and thought "Neither are you Raju."

Saturday Morning

Neela got up with a start when she heard the shuffling sound of movement from the kitchen. Her wandering thoughts took time to adjust, and then suddenly aware of Nihal's presence in the house, she hurriedly dressed, glanced with relief at the restful sleeping Chitra and went into the kitchen. "I am sorry I should have prepared the tea. I overslept.

"I am too late now to go to office." She mumbled awkwardly, anxious to hide her sudden shyness with trite conversation. The morning gave an embarrassment to the conversation of the night. Nihal turned smiling, trying to lessen her shyness with commonplace conversation. "I was trying to imagine which tin had coffee in it" he said "Oh I am so careless. I don't label them. I mean to, but it never gets done.

How is your head?" she asked "It hurts a lot." "I am sure you should see a doctor." He laughed. "You sound concerned."

He was amused at her embarrassment. It gave her a warmth and femininity which she tried to suppress in cold jerky sentences "But" and then she stopped, to hide her embarrassment she poured out the coffee.

He watched her and then he felt a quick movement brushing past him, a little body pushed him aside and rushed in. He looked at the child sleepy eyed gazing at him in wondering surprise. He smiled and called her. She stood still watching him. He called her again stretching his hand out. Shyly she put her hand in his and smiled. He was the man who had saved her in her dream. She frowned, she could hear his voice saying "Remember, child."

She looked up, her head to a side and frowned slightly again and then with her hand she asked him to bend down. Neela watched her, surprised. She was never friendly with anyone after her illness. Nihal sat on his haunches. She touched his head gently and then she pointed at the window. He nodded.

She beckoned him, holding his hand she took him to her room and sitting on the bed pulled out from the pillow case - the trusted hiding place undiscovered by her mother as yet, a piece of paper. She stretched it out on the bed smoothing out the wrinkles.

Nihal looked at it and gasped in surprise. She looked up at him frowning, worried at his startled exclamation. He touched the picture and said "You are marvelous, that is me," he said pointing to himself in the drawing. "My friend who died and this?" he pointed to the sketch of the driver. "Can you draw him again?"

She nodded smiling, and then taking a piece of paper she sketched quickly, the foreigner with the ring on his little finger and his cold wide spaced eyes, his thick eyebrows and the thin lips. Excitement built up within Nihal. This was the proof he wanted. He knew now for sure, but his aching mind wondered how could he get the man to commit himself. - To be continued

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