Rahila’s scream pierced the corridors as she ran into every room looking for young girls. She chased them into the backyard where, someone would guide them into the swamps. This became a routine for the girls. They were scared to death, yet amused at the profanities, a lady like Rahila could come up with when she was upset.
-“She would probably scare off the Pakistani soldiers, anyway.”,joked one of the girls.
They were aware, but did not realise the extent of the horrors outside the four secured (or so they thought) walls of the house, yet. But they obediently followed the elders advice to run into the backyard and remain dipped into the swamp.
-“Rashid Bhai, I’ll come over once all the girls are safe in the swamp. Those immature little good-for-nothings will giggle in that swamp and give us away.”, Rahila exclaimed in a huff.
-“Is this necessary, boo? ” Rashid asked his older sister.
-“I don’t want to take any chances. Haven’t you heard what happened to the girls two doors down?”
He said nothing more.
-“Have you heard anything from Khalishpur?”, she asked in a broken voice.
-“The telephones lines are not working anymore.”
He put a hand on her shoulder, “Bhaishaheb is a member of the Police, they are safe.”
Even as he said it, Rashid felt he was lying. Rashid’s brother-in-law, was the Deputy Super Intendant of Khalishpur Industrial Area , Abdul Hafiz. Despite his position with the Pakistani Police Force, his loyalty remained on the side of humanity; he assisted freedom fighters behind closed doors providing them food and shelter, whenever needed. Rather than arresting freedom fighters, he helped them runaway, putting up a poker face to his senior Pakistani Officials. Despite fighting at the Burma front at World War II, Hafiz was not a man of violence and guns. In fact, he never carried one with bullets. His first religion was humanity and forgiveness. Rashid always felt, this nature would one day put him in grave danger, and he had no idea how correct he was.
Hafiz knew from the heavy knocks, this time, it won’t be easy getaway. He sent his son, Omor away earlier. There was no certainty to the troubles he foresaw. Last night, Hafiz helped a Bengali man, who was being chased by Rajakars, (Anti-Bengali Informants) with knives and swords. Hafiz had to blow his cover and threat them openly with his (empty) gun to chase them away.
He knew, this incident would confirm the suspicions of his Senior officials; it would be the perfect opportunity for them to target him. So far, he’d been safe because he was helping freedom fighters under cover.
As the Senior officials entered, Hafiz was torn away from his thoughts.
The Pakistani Police as per military orders put allegations on the Super Intendant, Abdul Hafiz that he had shot civilians the night before. The Officials knew it was a lie. There were no bullets or victims. The gun-expert confirmed the pistol hadn’t been fired, no smell of burnt cartridge or gunpowder either. However war zone heeds no one. The lies of a “civilian”,(one of the Rajakars) was enough to confirm the allegations. Abdul Hafiz saw a clear eye-exchange between the Officials.
Pakistani Police Super Intendant, Khalishpur Industrial Area, Khulna Abdul Hafiz was pushed and charged with rifle butts. Sharp blows from military boots resulted in two broken ribs and ruptured lungs. However, his biggest worry at that moment was Omor: had he reached home safe? No one ever enquired the incident at the Super Intendant’s house. After at, it was a war zone.
1971, From Khalishpur to Khulna Main City
Villages burnt on either side of Jessore Road. Pakistani Army were taking positions. Omor sat staring at the victims in the ambulance. There was a man blinking numerous times – his hand missing. A dead body lay on the ambulance floor. Another bloody body – but alive. The thirteen year old was numb with fear. Someone sitting next to the driver spoke Urdu. He demanded to take a detour into the Pakistani Army Camp. Omor later realised the reason for the detour. Word spread that the son of the Super Intendant fled and needs to be captured. Once reaching the Camp, the Urdu-speaking men jumped off the ambulance. While they were busy conversing, what can be done with the boy, the ambulance driver drove off with full speed.
Once reaching the hospital, the driver slowed down and screamed at Omor.
-“Jump out! We won’t meet again!”
The young Omor jumped out of the running ambulance. As he rolled on the pavement, he took a glimpse around to see if his little jump attracted attention. People at the hospital grounds were too engulfed in saving lives to note incidents. He slowly stood up, hiding his face in rubble and walked inside the dirty marble walls. He hid himself behind an ajar door. A number of years later he realised it was a make shift operation theatre. For the next three hours, the thirteen year old boy stood – trying to be motionless – with an unfortunate view of the Rupsha River, carrying bloated dead bodies – their features unrecognizable, burnt and bloody. He heard military and medical people in their busy bodies and did not dared to reveal himself.
Suddenly, a dark, skinny man, bare body, wearing only a lungi, barked at him.
-“Hey! Where do you have to go!”
-“To Khan Jahan Ali Road”, the boy whimpered.
-“Hop in”, he indicated his rickshaw.
Present day, Dhaka
“You need a rickshaw, Shaheb ?”, a fresh looking rickshaw puller called after him.
“Azimpur Gorosthan.”, he asked with a smile. He wanted to visit the cemetery.
“Hop in.”, the rickshaw-puller smiled at his first customer.
As the rickshaw sped its way to the Azimpur cemetery, Omor thought of Bony. Bony was a fourteen year old freedom fighter. When Bony left for training, he promised to send for Omor, so that he could fight too. Little did Omor know, Bony being his best friend had no such intention. The marked day in Omor’s life in 1971, two angels – the ambulance driver and the rickshaw puller saved his life. He wished Bony had an angel too.
© Tasnim Hafiz 2012