It was soon after the war, when we returned to that smell of blood trapped in the air, we realized, that everybody dies in war, no survivors.
Our blood didn’t spill on the ground, the bullet didn’t steal our flesh away, but we died too. We became new persons, strange persons, living in our former bodies. People with extra pair of eyes. We saw ghost showing us their shattered skulls, and their broken femurs- like a piece of stick broken into two.
We returned on a sunny afternoon, at a time the sun was sticking out its eyes right above our skulls. Paa sent a message to mother that it was over, that it was now safe.
When we stepped out from the boat and put our feet on the ground, I held Toma tightly with my right hand and held the only bag we ran away with in my left hand, then partially closed my eyes because Maa asked us to.
Everything about the town, beginning from the river bank to the front of Paa’s house, made me feel it wasn’t safe, not yet. The flies were fat and many, too many, and the smell was nothing I had perceived. Paa told me later that day, that it was the smell of blood, too many blood sunned and trapped in the air. When he told me, I spat and spat and spat, and then I said nothing. Because I saw the men packing the dead bodies, many dead bodies; I saw them picking skulls, skulls separated from bodies, and coiled bloody things that looked like ropes, ropes made of flesh and colored with blood.
When we got into the house, I dropped the bag and walked to the toilet. Not long after, Maa started screaming my name like I was lost. ‘Motana! Motana!’ she was calling it the third time when I screamed back, ‘Maaaa! I am here o!’
‘Where?’ ‘Inside toilet’ ‘when did you get there?’ she asked, still, like everything now matters, like every second has to be accounted for.
‘Go to the kitchen’ she said when I came out, lurching hot eyes at me. She had that bit of love and fear making her act like I was still a baby. It was simply collateral damage. It happen in all wars.
I eyed Toma and walked to the kitchen. I knew what she wanted me to do.
Inside the kitchen was an annoying clutter of utensils. Everything existed in two form- broken and whole. I stood akimbo for quite a while. I lost sense of order. I also lost me, my consciousness, in that small kitchen, made of wooden walls, a zinc roof, and an old wooden door that was now falling face down on the floor. Plates and cups and pots fell apart gracefully.
Toma surfaced. He stood beside me. ‘Who did this?’ he asked, peeping into my face, like the answer to his question was printed on my cheeks or forehead. ‘Let’s start working’ I said and bent into the muddle.
It was later that night it started. Paa had been out since. May be packing remains with the other men, and maybe pouring kerosene on the ground to wash the town off the death, or doing some other things he liked doing.
Maa lighted the kerosene lamp. She kept it in front of the house. So we all sat down there with her, looking out the street, waiting for Paa to return.
The night was only moderately dark. The moon appeared in half and got partly hidden by restless clouds.
Then Maa left. ‘I am coming’ She said and walked into the house.
Toma tapped me and pointed towards the kitchen, at a white tall figure. The kitchen was standing away from the house- a small hurt on its own. It was only five yards away from the main house.
‘Is that Paa?’ he asked, standing to his feet.
The tall figure whistled. I knew it wasn’t Paa. He didn’t go out wearing white. The figure walked into our kitchen and started humming melancholic strains.
‘Paa’ Toma called out.
‘Shush’ I pressed my fingers against my lips.
We followed, curiously, but on tiptoes. ‘Stay behind me’. I said to Toma
When we got to the entrance of the kitchen, we stood like little objects pinned to the ground. My head grew heavier and fuller, and my skin suddenly became doors, so that an eerie cold poured in.
A man was humming and pitching our utensils, like he lost something inside those pots and plates, yet, we could see no man, only the spooky presence of a man, a ghost man.
And then, there was that sudden breeze. It slapped my ear and pushed into the open.
‘Motana!’ Maa screamed my name heavily and with severe passion, like I just destroyed her most cherished belonging, like setting her kitchen in flames.
I turned with fear. For a moment I was just a thing, maybe a tree that had little, little breathe within.
Then there was that horrid scream from my little brother.
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