FICTION – Abanti Barua Bharali
A sudden sound broke the silence, as a big stone whizzed through the air, hitting the shoulder of the officer still speaking persuasively, missing his head by inches. Undeterred by the sharp pain, Barua spoke on, talking about the tradition of amity that had always prevailed in the area. But the mob was still restive, though Barua could sense a slight difference, an easing of tension. Barua felt that his words may have had an impact. A commotion occurred just then; the small group of student leaders who had come to impose a bandh in this area came forward, maybe emboldened by Barua’s words. Quite a few of them in an injured state.
The next few moments went by in a blur. The two officers and the policemen understood that they had no time to lose. Escape and help for the injured before the mob changed its mind was absolutely necessary. The student group was quickly hustled out to the edge of the town amidst great tension – with slogan shouting on both sides. The students were rushed into their vehicles, along with the almost-unconscious injured boys. Barua heaved a sigh of relief as the two cars started on the return journey, racing along the dusty road towards what they imagined to be safety.
But dark clouds still hovered over the distant hills -- reflecting the misgivings, fear and danger on the ground. The officers sensed the danger even before they saw it. The distant shouts became a crescendo as they neared a cluster of villages. Groups of men and women wielding weapons, like bamboo lathis, daos, and sickles had gathered by the highway, blocking the path. They had heard that the injured students were being brought back. The official vehicle was forced to stop as the mob gheroed it. “Bring out the officers”, “Sarkar Murdabad!” screamed the mob. Their anger directed at the officers who were symbols of a government that had failed them.
Bhuban Barua came out of the jeep just as a young man smashed a huge bamboo stick at the jeep, narrowly missing the windscreen. Barua silently gestured Roy to remain seated inside the jeep while his faithful driver accompanied him to face the restive crowd. “Look, we have to take the injured students to the hospital; otherwise, we might be too late. Your leaders can go in a delegation to meet the D.C. I will personally help you, we all have sympathy for the cause, please help us.”
As he uttered these words, he saw a group of villagers with flaming torches and daos in their hands, rushing towards them. At that moment, Barua knew panic — of a person staring at death in the face. Would they be alive to tell the tale? This was the end, he thought. Suddenly, a few elderly women came forward, intercepting the more violent villagers, and said, “What he says is true, let them go. The boys must be taken to the hospital. This is not the time for violence.”
As if on cue, there was a sudden crash of thunder, followed by a heavy shower. To Barua, it was symbolic of divine intervention. The rush to the vehicle, and the drive back to sanity and safety, was achieved with utmost swiftness in the next few moments.
The young student leader died in hospital the next day, due to excessive blood loss. Both the officers present at the boy's bedside felt an overwhelming sense of loss.
Three days later, Bhuban Barua and Roy attended a meeting held at the Maidan field in the town to laud the heroism of the student leaders. The surging crowd rushed forward to have a glimpse of the heroes of that fateful day. The speakers on the dais mourned the death of the young student, who was then declared a ‘swahid'. They spoke about the heroism of all these volunteers who were almost killed for their cause.
Bhuban Barua and Roy looked at each other as they reminisced their shared ordeal of those moments of horror and anxiety.
The speakers at the meeting were almost concluding, when they remembered the officers and asked them to come up to the dais to be honoured. But Bhuban Barua had already left the venue with Roy, united by their experience. They were to remember forever the day when courage, duty and destiny were the champions of a cause.
Fiction entries should not exceed 1,800 words.