Crimson Sun

2007-12-15__lit011.jpgIt was not the drip-drip-drip of water from the leaves of the mango trees that awoke him, nor was it the gnawing pain in his side that caused him to open his bloodshot eyes to the impenetrable darkness. Rather, it was the realisation of what had passed before, those terrible events of what could not have been more than mere hours ago, and yet seemed to him an eternity, another lifetime. Chandrapaul Ghosh started as he awoke, the dampness that seeped through his lungi bringing with it waves of painful awareness that flowed like contraband liquor through his veins, from the soles of his feet, over the leathery skin of his scabbed knees, through his emaciated torso and into that space where it was rumoured that some men were said to have a heart. He did not feel he had a heart just then, only a dull, throbbing, juddering piece of flesh within the confines of his ribcage that screamed “Bachao-Bachao!” incessantly with every beat. Chandra was no stranger to prejudice; he was not unacquainted with mindless hatred. He had known his time had come ever since that first burst of gunfire and the bloodshed had begun. What hope for him when the very men that prostrated themselves before the Great Creator and professed allegiance towards their “brotherhood” had themselves drawn swords upon each other?
Now, lying miserably within that clump of mango trees, Chandra had precious little energy to think about the complexities of human nature, and yet thoughts continued to float around in his head like the Aaleya that flittered and hovered above the paddy-fields. He winced with the effort of raising his body to an upright position, the pain searing through his torn, ragged side and noticed that the girl was still with him. He had stumbled upon her in his fierce dash from the village, stumbled upon her diminutive form cowering in the shade of the trees as he ran through the night. For an instant, he had thought it was a trap, that she had been laid out as bait and yet, a small voice inside his head had told him otherwise. She was a slip of a girl, not a day past fifteen and Chandra, in his old age, could not help but think of that day — long, long ago — that he too had taken his bride. She, too, had been fifteen. She, too, had cried. But it had not been for the cruelty of soldiers for which she had shed her tears. Her grief had been that of the unwanted, the untouchable, of crippling poverty and the bloody legacy of this impossible partition. He remembered the day they walked seven times around the fire as clearly as he could remember the seven rounds of bullets that had smashed into their home just hours before. He thought of his wife and the penultimate image of her that would remain forever etched into memory. Her sweet form, sublime, supine on their shanty bed; the vermilion mark on her forehead trickling down, down, further down as her still-warm blood traced in rivers across the contours of her face.
Chandra looked at the girl. Her eyes open, impassive as before. Had she even registered the fact that he had been asleep? Her face twitched convulsively in what appeared to be a semblance of some terrible precognition, and yet Chandra could not be sure. He knew that she did not have long to go, that the pain in her body and her tormented mind would subside in time as surely as the receding tides as the blood congealed within her open wounds. Looking into those glazed Hilsa-eyes, Chandra could not help but feel a pang of envy, a feeling only to be overcome by immense grief as he watched her drift slowly on towards blessed release. No, it would not be long now and, with her parting, Chandra knew that then he would experience the suffocating, hollow emptiness that was reserved solely for one who was truly alone.
They cringed as they clung against one another, Hindu and Muslim, old and young, man and girl united in their fear. Together, they flinched with each burst of gunfire that peppered the stillness, every shower of sparks that erupted across the night skies as if in obscene parody of a Celebration of Light. But there was no longer any light in this Godforsaken land. All that remained was the darkness of bitter hatred that oozed like coal-tar through the hearts and minds of men. Chandra did not have a heart anymore; he barely had his mind. They had taken those along with his possessions, his livelihood and every reason he could ever have had for being.
Now, all he felt was an overwhelming tiredness. The Aaleya continued their spectral dance and filled his mind with visions of deep, green fields, with images of a land tilled with his bare hands and that of his father’s before him. Bullocks pulled carts through dusty fields as a lone kite billowed in the sky. Chandra gazed up at his namesake; the full, cold moon slung low in the sky and wept like a child for the life he had left behind. The eastern horizon reddened with the sanguine glow of approaching dawn as his attention drifted back to the girl. She appeared to be trying to say something, her quivering lips forming silent shapes in the half-light, but he could not make out the words. Taking her hands gently in his own, Chandra shuffled closer until he could feel the moist dew of her fevered breath against his cheek. “Say…” she murmured as her frail body heaved with a sharp intake of breath, “Say: I seek Refuge in the Lord of the Daybreak” she whispered. They were the first words she had spoken that night; they were to be her last.
Her breathing came in ragged gasps as she convulsed and strained rigid against the trunk of a mango tree and Chandra began to whimper with the realisation that her time was near. But even as her eyes closed, her head sinking gently onto her bosom as if in prayer, he himself began to feel a release that was at once communal and still entirely his own. Soaring alongside the newly-departed soul, soaring high, higher into the skies, his mind describing lazy circles like the mighty cheel in the vast expanse of nothingness around him, looked down detachedly upon the scene below — the glowing embers of the fire that had been his home, the prone body of his dead wife, the violated body of the girl. It was of no consequence now; it didn’t matter anymore. Staggering painfully to his feet, he was vaguely aware of the sound of approaching gunfire as he made his way towards a clearing at the edge of the trees. They would be upon him soon. But nothing mattered anymore. Hobbling on towards redemption, Chandra discarded everything that he had ever held dear: his morality, his sins, even those few minor virtues. Discarded them ruthlessly, one by one, like the filthy rags that they had become; nothing mattered anymore. Arms outstretched in a Krishna pose, Chandrapaul Ghosh limped out into the line of fire as the crimson sun rose slowly over fields of green.

Ditio Syed-Haq is a Bangladeshi living and working in London. He is currently at work on a novel.


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