US

Violet vipers

US
By Saniyah Eman
Fri, 02, 20

The three jeeps were parked in a line in Gali Number Sola, he saw, cutting off Makan Taintees’s front door from either side to form a metal driveway for anybody who would open the door....

COVER STORY

Chapter 7

Two Silver Statues

I mam Deen heard the three jeeps driving past his house when he woke up for a drink of water. His curiosity getting the better of him, he had parted the blinds just enough to be able to see where the jeeps went.

Behind him, his wife was snoring and above the whirring of the fan overhead, he could hear nothing but the faint purr of the engines like three large cats. That purr, too, died after a few minutes.

Gathering his courage, Imam Deen leaned out of the upper storey window of his bedroom to see where they had stopped.

The three jeeps were parked in a line in Gali Number Sola, he saw, cutting off Makan Taintees’s front door from either side to form a metal driveway for anybody who would open the door.

Out of one of the jeeps stepped the hulking form of Doctor Taheer, his shoulders hunched, his steps short and nervous. The doctor was followed by the straight, unmistakable forms of uniformed Indian soldiers holding rifles and batons.

A shudder ran through Imam Deen and he quickly closed the window, his heart clenching inside his chest.

“Should’ve told Yusuf Sahib about the eyes. Could’ve helped him in time.” He said to himself and his wife stirred.

“What?”

“Nothing, nothing.” He cooed soothingly, returning to bed without drinking the water he had left it for.

The fan was still whirring loudly above him, but he heard the sharp knock on the front door of Makan Taintees anyway. For years afterwards, Imam Deen would debate with himself over it, never understand whether that knock and the wail of fear that followed it had been real or if he had imagined it.

***************

Jaleelah had slipped into Yusuf’s room at some point in the night, wanting to wake him. I can’t sleep, she’d planned to tell him. Let’s go to the terrace.

She didn’t wake him, though. Instead, she sat on the wicker stool beside his bed, looking at him in the light of the moon. Asleep, his face was calm, the muscles of his jaw relaxed, the corners of his lips slackened. His face, as pale as hers was dark, seemed neither ghostly nor divine in the white light. It looked very human, the dark brown hair that he generally combed away from his face falling onto the forehead that was creased perpetually in waking, plain as paper just then.

She wondered what he was dreaming about, wished she could wake him. Never did.

When the knock sounded on the door, she had gone to sleep on the wicker stool, her head on his bed, barely half an inch away from his arm. She had opened her eyes drowsily, then closed them again, knowing it was probably her father whom her mother would let in.

Somewhere below, her mother had thrown open the windows of her bedroom to see who had knocked on the door. She had seen the three jeeps, the men, and her husband’s hunched shoulders.

Her mask of worry had intensified and she had asked her husband a wordless question. He had answered, in a voice that was the voice of a beggar in Badgam Bazar, begging for understanding and pity and mercy, “For Yusuf.”

She had looked disbelievingly at him, then at Major Khatri, who was standing behind him, the shadow of a hated memory that had slithered its way into her life 10 years ago to never leave.

A wail had torn its way out of her throat and flung itself into the chilly night air. Her eyes, unable to look anymore at the bent form of the man she called her husband, had closed, her legs had caved beneath her and she had fallen onto the floor of her bedroom, her face wet with tears.

It was Yusuf who woke up first. Jumping out of bed he nearly collided with Jaleelah’s sleeping form.

“Jaleelah!” he seized her shoulders in sheer panic. “Chachi Jaan!”

The two had flown down the stairs and into her parents’ bedroom. Through the window they saw Chacha Jaan’s face, pale against the darkness around him.

“Open the door.” He ordered. Jaleelah rushed to her mother, still huddled on the floor, weeping noiselessly. Yusuf quickly poured her a glass of water from the water jug on the nightstand. Handing it to Jaleelah, he beckoned to Chacha Jaan to come around to the front door.

It was only when Yusuf had left the room to open the front door that Jaleelah looked up and saw her father’s eerily vacant face still at the bedroom window.

“Andar aa jaayein. (Come inside)” She told him as she tried to make her mother take a sip of water. “Yusuf’s unlocking the front door.”

“Let him unlock it,” her father’s voice was an odd amalgam of traces of pain and chilling white streak of anger. Jaleelah’s hand, that was holding the glass to her mother’s lips, shook. From where she was sitting, she couldn’t see the army jeeps or the soldiers, but when you’re a Kashmiri, you don’t need to see these things to know they are there.

“What have you done?” She asked him, words coming out laboriously, as if hindered by splinters of bone. He didn’t answer.

“Abba, what have you done?”

She walked out into the hall so fast her heels barely touched the floor. Yusuf was in the entrance hall, struggling with the lock on the front door.

“Yaar,” he saw her and shook his head helplessly. “Jaleelah, help me open this. I think it’s stuck.”

“Yusuf, don’t open that door.” She ordered, her fingers closing around his arms in a vice-like grip.

He touched her cheek. “Let me open it, I promise I can manage him.” He tucked a stray lock of black curls behind her ear. “We have to re-forge these relationships, Jaleelah. We can’t give up as easily as our parents did.”

“No,” she shook her head, her voice breaking. “Yusuf, we can’t open this door.”

A heavy hand banged on the door from the other side.

“Yusuf Sahib,” Amit Khatri’s familiar voice rang through the entrance hall, pushing Makan Taintees back a good 10 years into the past. “It’s time to pay your dues, janab!”

Yusuf’s hand, lingering on her cheek, froze. His breath caught in his chest. He turned to the wide-open bedroom door. Chacha Jaan was still standing there, unblinking. Chachi Jaan was still on the floor, turned away from him, her body shaking with silent sobs.

Beside him, Jaleelah was as still as himself, her eyes dry, her lips drier.

“Jaleelah,” Yusuf said and his voice sounded like it was coming from deep inside a well. “I need you to go upstairs.”

She shook her head, tried to say something, couldn’t.

“Please.” He grabbed her hand. “Go upstairs. And - tell my father before he books my ticket for the flight back.”

Pushing her towards the staircase, he opened the lock. Oddly enough, it slid open smooth as oil this time. The door creaked open. Yusuf stepped out onto the doorstep, the moon bathing his form in silver white moonlight.

He closed the door behind himself.

“Salam arz, Major Sahib.” He said, and there was a frank grin on his face.

To be continued...