In the mirror, he could see the calendar hanging on the wall behind him. He could even see the hole beside the calendar. He changed his angle of vision and now he could see the corner of the room- bare and pale. He kept on changing angles till he saw almost everything that was in the room except for one thing: the only one thing that he was trying to see in the mirror- himself.
He looked down at where he should have seen his feet or legs or belly but all he could see was the floor of the room.
Had he disappeared?
He waved his arm before the mirror. At least that is what he thought he was doing but he could not tell.
He had disappeared!
Of course, people here disappear all the time. No big deal. But he was not sure if this was how it happened- the disappearance.
Before he could give his disappearance any more thought, an amplified voice barged in shrieking, “Attention. All the male residents of Hush-mush-pora are appealed to assemble in the yard of Government High School. This is a crackdown. I repeat this is a crackdown. All males- young, adult, old- assemble in the school.” It was Kabir Muqdam on the loudspeaker of the mosque.
For once, he thought, they could come and search his house and he- an adult male- could still be inside his home. He could stay in his house even in a crack down!
Or could he?- What if they could see him still; you know with the metal detectors and x-ray gadgets and night vision goggles, they might just see him somehow. Or what if he suddenly reappears while they are searching his room? Imagine that- he, a young adult male in his room in a crackdown while they are searching it. They would be well within their rights to shoot him dead, then and there. And even he would not blame them for it.
They also bring the dogs sometimes, don’t they? Dogs sniffing room after room- beds, pillows, toys, underwear- what if the dogs sniff him out? Could they sniff whether he was a male or a female? Even if the dogs couldn’t sniff the sexes apart, won’t it be impractical on their part to let him go merely because they were not sure whether he was a male or female? Were not they trained not to take such a risk? Better safe than sorry, that is how it worked for them. Didn’t it?
It would have to be better-safe-than-sorry for him as well. He could not take the risk; the stakes were too high. So he went out of his house and started to walk towards the school; as all others- males; young, adult and old- were doing. Each one of them, hysteric about his own safety, could not dare to look at others. So he could not confirm it whether he had disappeared or whether he was just one among them.
Eyes in front of their feet, all of them walked in a single file.
In the schoolyard, he could not dare to sit huddled with the others. What if they sense his invisible presence; fear-bound they would have to report him. So he walked over to the walnut tree and sat under it. Far from him, near the school building, a burly man in military fatigues sat in a chair wrested from the headmaster’s office. He was the one in charge, one could presume. He had a couple of men in fatigues and jackboots surrounding him. The men in fatigues and jackboots with alert guns in their hands also stood at all the vital positions in the yard and school; at the entrance, over the wall, in the second storey of the school building. A good number of them tended to the sheep-assembled men- young, adult and old. They, though none within the schoolyard could see, were outside as well. And they were also going from house to house, searching. Houses frisked from end to end. Houses with their entrails opened.
Houses devoid of males- young, adult and old.
An hour into the crackdown and Rashid Shouda walks into the schoolyard.
Rashid Shouda, at some point in time in his life, had discovered that the world around him as it was, was not worth living in. So one day he grabs a handful of cannabis buds growing near the graveyard, rubs them into his palm and puts the resin into the chillum. The smoke takes him to another world. He was no longer Rashid now but Rashid Shouda and ever since he continued to live in his smoky world.
No sooner had Rashid Shouda stepped into the schoolyard than he was grabbed by the men in fatigues and dragged to the officer in charge sitting in the headmaster’s chair. “You!” growled the officer, “Is this your mother’s marriage that you should come as you please. You were appealed to assemble here an hour ago. Where were you?”
Rashid Shouda scratched his chin and thought for a moment before he answered, “Kya karenga. Idhar ka tang udhar jata hai. Udhar ka tang idhar jata hai. Dono pata nahi kaha jata hai. (what is to be done. This leg goes there and that leg goes here. And God knows where both the legs go)”
The officer let his nostrils flare. “Trying to be smart! You son of a bitch. What kind of an answer is that! What exactly are you trying to say?”
The officer rose from his chair and cried, “Show me your identity card.”
Rashid Shouda from some mysterious fold of his Pheran, fished out a neat laminated piece of paper. “Here it is Jinab.” And handed it over to the officer.
“Four Square! What is this?” the bewildered officer cried as he slapped Rashid Shouda. “You whoreson! Is this your identity card?- a cut-out of a cigarette pack?”
“But it is laminated Jinab” Rashid shouda replied, fighting back tears, “and has a seal as well.”
The officer could take it no longer. He kicked Rashid Shouda wildly between his legs and with ugly howls, Rashid Shouda fell on to the ground.
Amongst the assembled crowd young Muzzafar, who was the cousin of Rashid Shouda, stood up abruptly and said in a barely controlled voice, “Sir he is a Shouda. An addict. He does not know what he is saying or doing. Leave him.”
Behind Muzzafar a young lithesome man in fatigues and jackboots came quickly rushing in and hitting Muzzafar with his gun butt, cried, “And who are you?- His brother-in-law?”
The impact sent Muzzafar reeling into the crowd. The commotion spread. Men began to stand up. Fists were raised. Buoyed, Muzzafar stood up again and cried, “Hum kya chahtay.”
The men in fatigues assumed their positions, cocked their guns and stood electrified.
Meanwhile, Rashid Shouda tried to get back on his feet. For a moment he succeeded but then his legs trembled and he came crashing down. On his way down, trying to break his fall, his outstretched hand grabbed at the only thing that was in reach; the sleek gun slung over the shoulder of the officer. As a result, the officer too came tumbling down. Immediately the fallen officer cried, “HE IS SNATCHING MY GUN.”
That was it- the war cry.
The electrified men sizzled and bullets flew all around; quick as lightning and deadly as serpents. The assembled men fell down. Some because of the bullets and some to avoid them.
The bullets flew under and across the walnut tree as well. Sitting under the walnut tree, may be, a bullet or two hit him as well. He was not sure. He felt life leaving him in spurts. Nevertheless, there was no way to tell.
But as the world started to dim before his eyes, he wondered whether he would reappear if he died.
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