As the train pulled away from the station, Shireen sat near the window filled with trepidation of what might happen if the rioters accost their train. Her heart went out for both the Muslim and the Hindu families, they had all lost everything, people and possession. What had come over them she couldn’t comprehend, what made friends thirsty for each other’s blood, what is in us that made us worse than animals!
Shireen, had lost too. Her entire family was lynched by Riyaaz and his gang. Riyaaz was such a good friend of her brother. The thought infuriated and filled her with murderous rage but no matter what she felt she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she could kill Riyaaz. She should feel like that, he after all executed her family, but surprisingly she didn’t.
Madhav had coaxed her into joining his party ‘vishwa hindu seva’, where they mostly hunted out the Muslim families and tortured and killed them, the very same way the Muslims were pillaging on Hindu properties and mercilessly butchering them. Each worse than the other. Shireen could not go ahead with the plan. She just couldn’t put the dagger into Riyaaz. She wanted to, she meant to, but she couldn’t, memories of their childhood, their friendship came fleeting past and she stopped short, she missed the opportunity.
Madhav and his followers of men and women scorned her. She had betrayed her clan; she was a traitor and punishment for treason is either life or excommunication. Shireen had run that day. She had no family and no friends left anymore. Riyaaz and Madhav both were after her blood.
Her reverie was broken as the train came to a halt. She heard someone say, “bhaijaan she must be here!”
Shereen pulled down the burqua over her face. She was trembling inside. Silently praying to that unseen spirit who has not been helping any of the mere mortals thus far.
The train started again. She could hear Riyaaz’s voice calling out to the others. A chill ran down her spine. In fact Riyaaz had sent his men to different compartments to search her out while he himself scoured the one she was in. He whipped out a photograph and was showing everyone. The women shied away, some men swore at the photo. He then moved briskly towards the berth she was in, a beautiful photograph of Shireen in hand.
She had looked through burqua to see his eyes. They were bloodshot and hungry. She looked down again at the photograph. It was a black and white group photo of Nusrat, Riyaaz, shivani, madhav, some others, and herself. As her eyes moistened, the brilliant smile each one had became blurrier. A tear trickled down. How could Riyaaz forget those mirthful, footloose and fancy free days. Those days of utter bliss when they held each others hands and strolled through the mustard fields. The day he took her face in his hands and kissed those full red lips. How could he forget they were friends, more than friends. That day when she went to end Riyaaz, all she could remember was the kiss amidst the yellow flowers and how she trembled at his touch. She couldn’t go through with it.
As we all shook our heads, Riyaaz spat in disgust. He warned the group about the girl, who if spotted in the train should be immediately handed over to his men. She was armed and dangerous and could cause havoc. Shireen sat numb listening to the lies and the venom he spewed against her.
As Riyaaz stomped away, a hand came from next to her offering an apple. A crimson red, shinny, gleaming apple, reflecting the face of the lady offering. She looked bewildered at her. She had her veil off her face and Shireen could see the beaming eyes and the radiant smile. It was Nusrat. She whispered “Shh, everything will be fine, Shireen.”