9th August 1998
we conclude Fragments, the thrilling serial by Manel Abhayaratne
won't bring back a life Sunday Morning
Raju was yet asleep when Devi got up the next morning. Light filtered on his tired face and Devi felt sorry for him. He was not meant for intrigues. He was too weak that was why others had been able to flatter him, feed him with imaginary hope and involve him with that arrogant foreigner. She was happy for that night, she had succeeded in easing his fears, and her body had erased his anguish. He had promised that soon they would go on a holiday to her sister living in America, and then perhaps they need never come back.
She smiled and went out to prepare the morning breakfast. She would make him the food he liked, she thought and she hoped the days would pass quickly and soon the fear and uncertainty would be only a memory. Mohan rushed in disturbing her placidity. "Look Amma, Appah is yet asleep and I've to go for the swimming trials this morning. I've a good chance to win. I just can't wake him. I am already late."
"Please Amma," he wheedled. He was young yet she thought to enjoy his school fun not really that concerned with all the talk of sacrifice and fighting for a cause. " Please Amma, it will be for only five minutes - you can drop me at school and come back. "Oh you are a wonderful Amma," he shouted as she agreed and he rushed to get his clothes. Devi with a smile thought of Raju. His dependence on her sometimes reminded her of a child. She smiled again thinking of his searching lips seeking her breast, comforted resting against her his soft manhood not even needing a release - satisfied with her warm softness. Ah Raju she thought wistfully remembering his former strength.
Mohan came carrying his bundle of clothes. He was anxious to go. She teased him as he banged the door of the car saying, "you are a show off. I am sure you won't win even a place at the trials." "Ah" he laughed. You wait and see the medals I'll bring. The shelves won't be big enough for the cups. Just you wait and see." She laughed with him an started up the car.
The sudden explosion shattered the glass. Raju jumped up from his sleep, as he heard the noise. The house seemed to rock and the glass from the windows was shattered. He rushed out, the old servant was staring aghast at the burning car. He screamed "Aiyah" when he saw that Raju was trying to reach the car. "Aiyah Aiyah don't go near the car" he shouted, trying to hold Raju back. Raju pushed him aside and rushed to the porch. He stood still too shocked to think, gazing at the smoking red hot metal, the bits of flesh and the burning blood purpled black.
A small crowd had already gathered. He suddenly pushed through and tried to run, bury himself in the burning inferno. Someone held him back. "Devi, Mohan" he screamed. He was yet struggling and screaming when the police arrived. The men spoke to him gently and one of them led him to a chair. He waited silent, unable to weep - tears could not bring back life.
Nobody saw him leave the crowd. There was too much of flesh and blood splashed on the road, too many people crowding around, too much water spraying the car. Amidst the heat and the smell of burning flesh, no one saw him leave. In the afternoon the police searched for him. They wanted to question him who could have done this terrible crime - why would his own people want to kill him. Did he know anything of importance. They searched for him and they asked the old man to see if he was in the garden.
One of the young police officers followed the man searching in the overgrown garden with the trees yet left with pieces of rope of earlier children's swings. It was the old man who saw him moving as rhythmically as the old swings, the white cloth tight round his neck "Aiyo, Aiyo" he wailed. The young inspector turned round. He was nauseated-the dead were too much for him. He bent his head against a tree and retched.
Mahinda came in the evening. He looked worried, "Nihal it was terrible. You know Raju don't you? His wife and son were killed in an explosion. The boy was alive when the car burst into the flames. It was awful and then Raju committed suicide. Naturally in a way- what is the purpose of life without his wife and child and with such a death. His eldest is abroad I think. I can't understand why they continue killing each other."
Nihal was silent and then he said "someone would have thought he knew something and that he would betray them." He felt there was more to Raju's suicide than just the unhappiness of a man at the death of his wife and child. There had been so many deaths, aimless, futile deaths and yet there had to be a link somewhere - something that connected the foreigner with all this.
He did not think that he had any idealistic motive though socialism was a good platform to air one's opinion. The young were so ready to believe anyone who came up with a solution to their strongly felt injustices. It was strange how readily social forms were accepted as one grew older but yet somewhere along the line the vicious training had begun and now, was it too late he wondered? What had started as a vision and dream had become an embittered reality to be achieved whatever the cost to themselves or to others.
He put his hand to his forehead thinking of those many of their own, who had died, been killed as informers, traitors, any label to excuse the murder, defend the fear. Suspicion and fear become the living reality of this fight for equality. He looked at the child, playing near his feet on the discoloured linoleum and wondered suddenly could he risk her life tomorrow.
Mahinda had promised the headline that would appear. He wished he could have used some other way. Suppose the man did not come tomorrow, suppose he harmed Chitra. He felt the fear building up in him and that made him restless. "Is your head hurting you?" asked Neela. "Yes" he said. "Then you should be resting not walking up and down like a cat" and then she stopped suddenly. He smiled "May be you are right in more ways than one."
"I am sure" she said with a smile "the neighbours would be shocked if they were to see you here. They might wonder what has happened to me." "If they see him" laughed Mahinda. "They might think you've gone nuts to find a wounded soldier like him. Look at him with his filthy bandage, propped up shoulder and the bruises all over his face. He looks as if a steam roller has gone berserk over him," he said smiling at Chitra who smiled back her eyes lighting up as they did when she was happy. Nihal felt again a sickening fear. Looking at the child, he hoped nothing would go wrong.
"You'll be in tomorrow morning" asked Neela. "I'll have to go early since I didn't go on Saturday else I'd have problems." Don't worry I'll be here and in the evening I'll move out." Nihal felt uneasy because he had not told her about the planned newspaper headline. Chitra glancing at the paper Mahinda had brought suddenly saw his photograph and Mahinda's appreciation of him. She pointed at the photograph and looked at him puzzled.
"Mahinda is mad," Nihal said tapping his head "he didn't know I was alive but those are nice things he says about me," he added. "I wouldn't have written that if I knew you were around to read it," said Mahinda. "But you would have known yesterday, couldn't you have had it removed from the paper. Somehow it doesn't seem right to write of someone who is alive as if he were dead," said Neela with a frown. "It was too late to remove it," Mahinda said looking at Nihal with a frown. Nihal had been insistent that it appeared in the paper for it gave a greater authenticity to his death. "I must be going Nihal," said Mahinda anxious to leave, "Good Luck."
Neela frowned watching him going. "Why did he say good luck - are you feeling very sick?" " No" he said. He felt ashamed of his secrecy. "I think I'll clean that wound on your head. It may have festered," she added. He shook his head and then let her remove the bandage, her hands were gentle and soft and Chitra held onto his hand peering at the wound as Neela cleaned it.
"It sure is festered. It's a good thing that I clean it," she added as she bandaged it again. He waited till she finished and then he took her palm and kissed it, his lips smoothing its tightness. She pulled her hand back surprised at the unaccustomed longing she felt for a man's kiss and touch. She hurriedly called Chitra and left him.
Chitra vaguely turned in her sleep as she felt Neela's lip touch her forehead. She was too lazy to get up. Neela was happy to see her so restfully asleep. She seemed much more relaxed since Nihal's arrival. He was in the kitchen clumsily stirring the coffee when Neela came in and said, "I must rush or I'll be late. You'll be in, won't you? Else I must wake Chitra and tell her to lock the door." "No don't worry I'd wait till you come" he smiled mischievously. "May be not only today eh?" She looked at him surprised and then smiling faintly left the house. Nihal waited till she went to the bus-halt and then hurried down to buy a newspaper. He had to see what Mahinda had written.
The headline screamed "Break-through in death of investigators. Young girl living in a flat.... and the story went on saying that Chitra has seen both the car and the driver. The description was such that it was easy to locate the flat. The story continued that the Police were carrying on their investigations. They would question the girl in detail that morning, and an arrest was imminent. Nihal yet reading the paper rounded the bend and saw the car. He rushed up the flight of steps terrified, he had not thought that he would come so early.
Chitra heard the door bang and assumed that Nihal had come in. She remembered vaguely that he had come into the room, and then suddenly she felt someone's hands round her throat. She struggled and opened her eyes. It could be another dream. Not the tightening hands round her throat. Her startled frightened eyes saw the foreigner, the man who had driven the car.
Was it a dream the familiar nightmare of fear? But the man's hand was hard pressing against her throat. She struggled, the breath tightened within her - if only she could get his hands away. Her thin fingers clutched his hands trying to push them away. The blood was rushing to her face. She could not breathe, her feet beat against the bed and she could feel the damp wetness of her clothes. Her eyes were blurring and the pain of suffocation was terrifying. It was not a dream. It could not be. She tried to make a sound. Pain drummed into her ears and her open mouth was gasping for breath. It was as if her face would burst with pain.
Will he not come, her gentle friend she thought in agony as pain tore through her making her soil her clothes. Nihal rushing into the room, saw the man and clutched him by the shoulder. The foreigner looked up at him and said "You!" his eyes wide with surprise. Nihal flung him away, he did not see him rushing away from the room.
He gathered the child in his arms pressing his mouth against her, forcing his breath into her agonised body and gradually watching the stillness struggle, and breath, the distorted eyes, stare at him and then the tears came down her flushed cheeks.
He held her close smoothing her throat with his long fingers trying to ease the bruises. Hating himself for the agony he had caused her. Neela came running in "I saw the paper headlines how could you do it?" she asked accusingly. "The neighbours said some people were in the flat." Then she saw the shocked child yet gasping, her head against Nihal's. "Chitra, daughter, daughter" she cried trying to draw the child into her arms but the girl clung to Nihal. He had saved her, Chitra thought. He had come and the huge man who had hurt her so much had got frightened and gone away.
Her glazed eyes had seen him moving away from the room after his startled cry when Nihal has pulled him away from her. She would be safe always with him she thought pressing her head against his shoulders and shaking her head when Neela tried to carry her. Nihal saw the hurt in Neela's eyes. She was her mother and he could understand her bitterness but the child was too frightened. She needed time to forget. He looked up at Neela standing near him confused and undecided and said gently, "let her be. She'll be alright soon and then we'll go for a long, long drive." He smiled to calm her and said softly, "you both need someone to look after you."
Mahinda smiled as he wrote the news story for the evening papers. The foreigner had been taken in for questioning. Nihal had been right - it was strange how fear could affect even the most hardened men. As he wrote the last paragraph on his story he grinned thinking it was lucky he had informed the Security Forces or the man might have escaped. Nihal had been too involved with the child. Mahinda, remembering with pleasure his editor's praise wondered whether, Nihal would now be too busy to give him any more assignments.
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