Short story selected for the 2011 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
Hopes and visions of the beloved country were flying high in the form of the national flag. In that breeze, an anthem blended, an anthem that had integrated religions, states, cultures and languages into one nation. As everybody sang the national anthem, with head held high looking onto the flag, a gradual feeling of patriotism seeped inside, and forced everybody to reminisce the years of slavery, struggle, colonized occupation, battles, wars, and finally a free nation. The anthem instilled unseen tears in the eyes of the bravest of men standing there.
I never realized when tears arose in the corner of my eyes and overpowered my vision. The drops were infused with love… love for the country I was born in and love for the man I loved… my husband, an army officer who had returned from a warzone… to me. Today, he and his fellow officers were being congratulated for their courage, loyalty and dedication.
I love my husband. He is one of the bravest men I have ever seen in my life. He hails from a lineage of soldiers. His bravery attracted me. It had manifested a strange dimension of honesty into it… the same honesty with which he loved me. He is not very expressive but still, every moment I have ever spent with him, somehow he has managed to make me understand how much he loved me. I still remember that rainy dusk… It is so fresh in my memories. It was when he professed his love to me, for the first time. They still remain the most beautiful and precious words of my life. He held my hand and said “I love you and will keep loving you even if I die in battle one day…”
With time, I learnt a lot from him, but more than anything else, I had learnt how to be a soldier’s wife. I learnt the value of trivial things, a morning coffee, a sleepy Sunday together, a silly fight for nothing, holding hands, the smile on his face, every morning waking up to find him near me… But of all these, what I valued the most was the ‘goodbye prayer’. Each time he left, I prayed, “Dear God, please bring him back to me again”.
For him and his fellow men, their country was everything. I was proud of him and his world but… still deep inside… that letter niggled me.
Country… With this word, I don’t know why, that letter comes fresh to my mind.
“Five hundred miles ahead lies the land I was born. But I am not allowed to go there. There is a cruel barbed wire cutting the distance of five hundred miles. There are men laden with guns whose barrels shower bullets at every wire crossing. I am on the other side of the wire, striving to revisit the land that is laden with the springs of my childhood, the land I was born in, the land that is just five hundred miles away from where I strive to live now. Years have passed by, but still I couldn’t comprehend the partition of my country… partition of any country.
I am an old man half paralyzed with time, age, and experience. But still dreams keep wandering inside me, dreams of a new world… The world where I can live and move as freely as the white clouds over the green fields. A world bereft of the barbed wires. Each day, each night those green fields fill my dreams. The green fields that had seen me as a child, learning to walk, holding my father’s hand. Those mango trees where I had spent half of my childhood, they call me every day to the land where I was once a child, a land just five hundred miles away from me.
But I see barbed wires, which cut down my dreams. My dreams of ‘a world without barbed wires.’ My dreams of revisiting the place where I had once fallen in love. I still remember her. She was so beautiful. How I wish to spend my last days in that same yellow house, where she came dressed in red as my bride. After years of separation… I now long to be near her, in the white lily filled graveyard, nearby my house, where now she lies. Every day the same desire visits me to be buried beside her, as I die. But alas! Again my desires are cut down by the barbed wire surrounded by soldiers holding their guns.
I pray every night that these wires are cut down and the soldiers are set free to go to their childhood homes, back to their loved ones. But still, every morning I see the wires and the soldiers.
As a child I never thought green fields could be divided and restricted. I thought them all to be mine, to be everybody’s, as God made them for everyone in the world. The thought angers me, how could anybody take away what is bestowed to me by God? When I had first heard of the partition, I could not understand it and still cannot.
As days pass by, I see more soldiers filling the area around the barbed wire and I realize my dream of ‘a world with no countries’ is becoming impossible.
Now every morning I wake up and look at the direction of my far away home, five hundred miles away, and try to feel the breeze that could bring me back the smell of those green fields and the white lilies. Someday they bring me the smell and on other days I keep waiting and dreaming…”
My husband got this letter from an abandoned hut nearby the LoC (Line of Control),where he was posted for sometime.
My husband went up on the stage to receive yet another badge of bravery. I woke up from the reverie. I stood up with the pride of being his wife. I was very happy but deep down I don’t know why I remained divided between the world of my husband and the world of the letter…
Illustration by Alan Van Every
Sabiha Armin is 25-year old Indian national who is a software engineer by profession. But, deep within, she has always been a dreamer, a writer, who weaves and lives in a world of her own. Her flair for writing started at a very tender age and since then she has constantly been writing.
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