East Bengal, 1971
by Mehreen Ahmed
It was lunch time in Madhupur. Taramon, a motherless farmer’s daughter of 24, was just getting ready to sit down with her four siblings for lunch. Their father had left for the field early in the morning. The farmer didn’t join them for lunch. A mat had been rolled out on the mud floor. Taramon brought out the food in three small bowls of rice, daal and curried fish. Stooping over, she put them down on the mat. The cuckoo bird’s intermittent whistles in the breezy, bamboo bush serenaded this heavy afternoon of quietness.
Then, the sounds came. Oh! It was awful. Sounds blasted through the skies. A gun shot. Gun shot which shook them to the core. Birds took off in anxious flights, wings like inverted flying buttresses. They hadn’t even sat down on the mat, when a boy ran into the front yard. Taramon knew him. He was the neighbour’s son, Shuvo. She shot a quick glance at him and asked.
“What’s this sound?”
Her question perplexed him.
“Don’t you know?”
“That the enemy is here?”
The Enemy? Already?”
“Yes, already! And people are fleeing like crazy,” he said.
“Why are you still here then?”
“I was in the field when I saw a gun boat up the river. I ran. I ran as fast as I could, I ran home to my parents. They were gone by then.”
“Gone? Where to?”
“I don’t know.”
The boy broke down in tears. Taramon didn’t wait. She rushed out of the hut. Shuvo and her siblings followed her right behind. They ran through the tranquil bush by their mud hut. On the way, they found others, their hapless friends, Shuvo’s parents and her own father in frenzy. Some carried crying babies. Others carried elderly parents, but racing toward the Indian border. In the midst, one young mother turned around and began to push her way through back to the village. Taramon stood in her way. The mother looked at Taramon and tried to get past her howling, like the wild monsoon winds over the swollen, serpentine river.
“Don’t.” she said. “Don’t. My, my baby. She was asleep. I had to leave her by herself to go to work. She, in the house. I was in the field, when they chased me out. I panicked. Oh! I left her in the house. She sleeps, my baby. My baby will now burn to a cinder.”
Taramon would not let her go. She embraced the mother tight and turned her around. Others helped Taramon guide her back into the panic-stricken procession. The woman was petrified. She looked at nothing. Silent, like a broken clock that had stopped ticking. A black smoke rose over the horizon. A crimson sky loomed.
Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning, internationally published and critically acclaimed author. One of her flash fiction was winner of the Waterloo Festival Writing Competition, 2020. She also received Reader Ready Awards, 2019, Silver and bronze medal for her books, The Pacifist, The Blotted Line and Moirae. You can find her on Facebook at mehreen.ahmed.3551 and on Twitter @Ahmed2Mehreen.
Cuckoo photograph courtesy of the National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh, revised Second Edition (2012).