May 2, 2008 at 8:52 am (Shiladitya Sarkar, Short Story)


It was a cold evening, and the city lights were all blurry in the mist. My mother dressed me well, with pullovers and mufflers. She said we were going to a strange place and I was to keep silent, not to trouble her. We boarded a blue bus with curtains on the windows. The bus sped through a meandering track, flanked by sugarcanes and grape farms. A song was playing on the audio system. A young girl, her hair tied with a ribbon, was taping the backrest of the seat in front of Ma’s. I wanted to pull at her plait … stick a chewing gum on her dress. I wanted to tickle her. I pictured her getting mad at me. Then I fell asleep.


When I followed Ma down the steps of the bus, I couldn’t make out where we were. It was tar dark. She lit her torch, moving the torchlight, here, there everywhere, as if frightened. A night bird kept calling out in a scratchy voice. I grew afraid in Ma’s presence as the torchlight kept illuminating the objects round us for split seconds: a tall tree, unnamed in my consciousness, a church spire, a lean path bordered with small plants. A squat building seemed to run in a continuous line till the horizon. The light caught its roof in patches, which was tiled. The light also hit the sides of a broken truck at the far end of the building, its wheels flattened to the ground. The broken handle of a tubewell sparkled as the light brushed over it. A wind picked up from no where. The leaves rustled. An insect buzzed past the shaft of light.


Ma elbowed me. I followed her along the thin concrete strip. I wished I had my toy gun. Its rattling sounds would have driven the fears away now crouching around me. Somewhere in the distance, I saw lights behind a window with frosted glass. I heard voices, faint and disturbing. The concrete track gave away to soggy mud. In the torchlight I saw iron grills ahead of us, beyond which ran a hallway.


“Don’t tell anyone what we intend to do this winter. Don’t tell anyone why we have come or where we will go. Now keep walking, or else, you won’t get anymore toys.”


She tripped against a raised plinth. She lost the grip on the torch and it fell with a thud. The light formed a yellow pool around a marble slab imprinted with a name and two dates, hyphenated.


“Where are we? I asked.


Ma’s fingers, cold and  firm, led me away. 


– Shiladitya Sarkar.


1 Comment

  1. Bhaskar said,

    This is a really good short story!

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