F I C T I O N
It is the darkest night in years; a bad omen—says the women in the neighbourhood. Devil doesn’t care: those who speak of omens are old and weak. He knows: his own birth—on a night as dark as tonight—was a bad omen to many. His Amma has told him all the stories.
“He is the Devil’s seed,” whispered his grandmother, “Look at his face! Look at it, Nazma!”
People started to gather outside their little hut, and more would walk for miles to get a glimpse of the Devil’s son.
“Am I?” Devil interrupted his Amma’s tale many years later, “Is the Devil indeed my father?”
“No, son. God himself has sent you to me. He is your father,” Amma said, kissing his four-year-old forehead.
The story went on.
“Let me bury it. Give it to me.” Grandmother had wanted to snatch him away from his Amma’s arms, “This is not your son, Nazma. Listen to your mother.”
One night—it was chilly, must have been winter—a mad man found Grandmother in the paddy field. He shouted off the dogs, and then shouted at a crowd of human spectators. Grandmother was dead for hours. On the tip of her twisted neck, her ugly face gaped at the moonless sky.
They said the child had crept into the old woman’s house in the dark, drank her blood, and threw her body in the field. The wise old men were saying the only way to save the village was to drown the child in the river.
But even Devil’s mother was a mother, who fled with the suckling into the twilight. No one saw her leave. No one knew where she left. Devil escaped, hiding his little face in his mother’s chest. That year, cholera claimed half the village.
A grown man now, Devil chose the darkest nights to hunt. On either side of the rail tracks, beggars and hookers take a peek at the handsome man with pale skin. Devil doesn’t stop. Half a mile ahead, there’s an abandoned bogie. A cripple begs in front of it.
Devil tosses a coin to the cripple. “Good things may happen to you, Shaheb,” the cripple blesses him. Behind them, inside the abandoned bogie, two humans moan.
“She is good,” the cripple cracks out a laugh, “With a little more cash, she can bless your brains out.” A fly sits on the cripple’s leg, on some kind of wound which he has put on display.
Devil goes near the bogie. Around it, wild plants and mosquitoes have found a home. Crickets chirp. A dog sleeps afar. He touches the rusty metal body of the bogie. The touch is cold.
“Wait for your turn, pretty boy. Been a busy night this one,” the cripple says.
Train. Rail tracks. Amma was on a train once. She was going to flee the war.
“The train was going to take us to a safe place.”
“Where?” Devil asked, making his eyes big. He loved to hear these stories over and over again. Amma loved to tell them; she had nothing but her stories, and her little Devil.
“I didn’t know, I was little. All I knew was that I was with my family and the train was taking us far from the war.”
“No. It took us right in the middle of it.”
The bogie has gone quiet. Inside, a minute later, a girl’s voice asks for cash. A man zips. Coughs. Coughs again. Gets out of the bogie with his head down. A middle-aged man, middle class, bald, and ashamed of himself—Devil imagines. He is going to go home and tell his kids they can watch TV with him tonight. And later he’ll take his wife into his arms, and whisper words of love into her ears. Next week, he’ll unzip again inside the bogie.
The girl comes out: four feet ten, twelve years of age. Her oiled hair shines under the sodium lights. Standing on her left leg, her head resting on the metal door frame, she seems indifferent to the universe around her.
The cripple shakes his little pot, and the coins collide for Devil’s attention. Devil looks at the cripple calm as a ghost. “How much?” Devil asks.
“As you wish. I don’t bargain with a fine-looking man like you. You’ll pay good money for my little girl, sir. I can tell you are a fine man.”
“What happened next, Amma?” Devil asked impatiently.
“The train stopped,” Amma’s eyes started to glitter, “We got down and stood in a long line. The men in uniforms fired shots. People fell on the ground like birds. Like birds, dear!”
Devil listened. In his Amma’s lap, his little hand made a fist. Amma pulled him closer to her.
“They took my brother—your uncle—and shot him in the head. His brain flew all over the place, and his blood got into my eyes and mouth.”
“Yes, I never lie to you,” she smiles. “Don’t you want to know what it tasted like?”
“It tasted like raw meat and salt,” she lifted her hand and touched the side of her head with her index finger, “We all have salt in our brains.”
Devil crosses the rail tracks and stands in front of the girl. On her face, lit by the sodium lights, he wants to see pain. The pain he has wanted to understand all his life. The girl looks back with practised poise. Her tired eyes give nothing away.
“Your grandmother carried me in her arms for a month, because they hurt me so badly I couldn’t move. I don’t know why she took that pain. Because she never loved me again after that day. She never loved you either.”
“She was a mean woman, wasn’t she?”
“Son! Don’t talk like that about your grandmother!” Amma shouted.
Devil brings down the hammer on the cripple’s head. The brute force cracks the bastard’s skull in half. The girl watches in horror, her world is a scream of silence.
“Amma, who killed grandmother?” Devil asked his mother many years ago.
“Dogs ate her. Don’t you remember?” Amma said.
A northbound train ran over the cripple half an hour ago. Three dogs are circling the mess of flesh and bones with suspicion. One of them moves towards the body. Sniffs at it, just in case. He approves. Others follow.
Two miles south, a girl of twelve is running along the tracks. This is the only path she has ever known.
Nayeem Ehtesham loves to read and believes his degree in computer science has helped him write funny stories using his computer.