Curfew – A short story

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Nayeem Rather

At a time when morning breeze passing over river Jhelum found no one to rejoice it, an old man was walking alone in one of the deserted streets of Srinagar. The atmosphere was choking and nothing fluttered by the morning but the morning breeze. Old wooden houses despite of their grandiose were wearing a mournful look. The streets were desolated with no signs of life. Srinagar was silent as its speech was strangled by the monstrous looking Mr. Curfew, who had fallen in love with the city, often seen roaming on its streets.

The old man whose white beard and old wrinkled face spoke of his grief rummaged through his pockets and drew out a cigarette. He took long puffs and exhaled the blue black smoke which hung in the air like a big cloud. He was alone and only the street walls kept watching him in silence. The old man looked tired and sad. He dosed a while to kill his anxiety.

After some while he opened his eyes and looked around to find himself alone and perplexed. “Where am I?” he asked his old mind. He looked towards the sky and found it ablaze with the bright sun rays that fell on his eyes as he squinted. After much wonder he rose up and dusted away the dirt from his clothes.

His body sweated as the anxious thoughts haunting him cracked his slumber. Thinking about his missing son, he cried, “O Son, O Son!” The old man was anxious for a reason. His only son was missing.

Two days earlier, the old man took his son to Jamia Masjid for Friday prayers. It was a time of high tension and rebellion. After the prayers, people gathered outside, raising slogans and protesting. The grim looking CRPF men in response to the cry of protests fired teargas shells followed by bullets. The wanton bullets hit two boys. People ran in all directions to escape the path of the bullets. Death hung in air as a noose waiting for the condemned. The old man too ran with his terrified son, and in the disorder lost him in the swarm of people.

Soon after curfew was imposed on the whole city , nobody was allowed to move. The old man had somehow moved out of his home where his wife was morning for her missing son. Not thinking of the obvious danger of it, the old man kept looking for his son.

The old man wandered at night among ghosts for a trace and walked with drooping shoulders. Suddenly he heard the tramping of footsteps. The noise drew nearer and his old heart beat faster. He tried to retreat and hid himself behind a trolley which lay abandoned but as soon as he leapt towards it, his two dolorous eyes fell on a dark figure with a gun on his shoulders. “Come here bastard,” barked a soldier. The old man obeyed and walked towards the soldier leaving his slippers behind. “What are you doing here, you dog!” yelled the soldier. The old man’s face blushed with fear and tremblingly said, “Nothing sir.” The soldier without asking further questions hit him hard with the butt of his gun. The old man cried with pain “Mornas ha Khodaya raham kar”. The old man fell on the ground and impulsively assumed a foetal position. The soldier kept beating him until the old man whimpered and moaned with pain. He held the feet of soldier and pleaded him to stop. The soldier tired of beating left him there and shouted, “Go away you dog.” The old man in spite of aching pain ran hurriedly from the spot into another lane.

Breathing heavily he sat down on nearest shop front. He was wounded. He wiped his face with his kameez and rose up. Pain rose from his belly to his nostrils but standing up he began his walk in the arid heat of the sun. He soon felt drained and sat down on the pavement lining the street. He drew a cigarette and lit it. He slowly fell in slumber.

When the old man rose from his rather long sleep he found himself clad with darkness – darkness of a Curfewed night. The thought ran: where he was? Who he was? He remained there motionless as if he was a big boulder. He felt heavy. He would have stayed there some more time, had not the brown bitch nearby barked at him, waking him up. He came back to senses. He tried to get up but couldn’t, he fell down. Finally with a willed effort he rose up. He limped across and felt the pain in the legs unbearable.

A pack of dogs barked few yards away, near a lane beneath a not-so-lighted street lamp. The dogs were condensed in two groups and were pulling something between them, as if playing tug-of-war. They barked fiercely. The man grew curious. The fight became fiercer and the man tense. The man drew closer, half curious and half frightened. The street lamp glimmering faintly above threw a slight vision on the scene. It began appearing clearer to the old man what the dogs were fighting for was ‘some piece of meat’. Oh! A human torso with torn clothes. “Khodaya raham!! What am I seeing?,” said the old man. He could no longer look at this spot and unconsciously lifted a stone and hurled it towards dogs. The dogs did not flee. They were hungry as blood was dripping from their lips. They seemed to enjoy the meal. The man hurled another stone which hit a dog. The dogs barked back, ran away and then disappeared.

The old man drew nearer with wide curious eyes. He dragged the mutilated body out of the lane. One leg was missing and the belly was torn with bullets. The man shook with fear and mourned. He cried and placed the body in his lap turning its head to see his missing son’s face.

Author is an aspiring story teller and has recently completed graduation in English Literature.

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