Mandira Pattnaik ~ Rubble

I  lost my good mood at the store tonight. That was after I lost my job at the hair­dressers, where I hadn’t  lost my good mood because it was not unex­pect­ed that Sheryl, the girl with the pout, would replace me (she was faster and sassier). And that was also after I lost my boyfriend Danish to my best friend but that hadn’t affect­ed me either because I was hap­py for my best friend (who had held up a minia­ture dra­ma on the sub­ject of her absent part­ner and Danish had cho­sen to lend him­self). Or maybe I was  hap­py for myself  (I was solo again!). I felt like scream­ing, a cat­er­waul per­haps, but I hadn’t let out as much as a whim­per when I found out about Jahangir last night. With a cyclone warn­ing to boot, the shelves at the store were emp­ty; a bunch of wilt­ed spinach and tins of expired baby food that mums around here would still use. Mehr, the sales­girl I knew by name, offered me a couldn’t‑care-less look (peo­ple do that so often to me these days), busy stuff­ing some long bread in her tote bag, prepar­ing to leave. I picked up some beer, left cash on the counter, revved up the engine of my car and whished past the last remain­ing mono­liths of con­crete, those that had escaped mind­less gnaw­ing away by acts of bar­barism and vio­lent riot­ing. They were still standing—like stunned ghouls.

By the time I pulled up at the far end of the town I’ve always lived in, just before the sand­bank, the winds had picked up. The flag masts at the beach were flut­ter­ing, implor­ing to be released, and the flush lights illu­mi­nat­ed a spray rem­i­nis­cent of water can­nons we had often braved protest­ing the clam­p­down.

Like a ban­shee in a tun­nel, the winds played; scored win­ning points over the thun­der­ous rup­tures above. The few shanties that sold conch shells and fake pearls peeped from behind the cov­er of trees–palms and coconuts. The dri­ve I’d come up by was now heav­ing as the dust rolled, ris­ing in cir­cles before falling back on itself.

I scanned the stretch of shore; not a soul in sight except for the form of a man hud­dling like a much-hunt­ed wound­ed ani­mal against the sea­wall; beneath lay­ers of cloth­ing. His weary hand pulled at a patched-up Afghan shawl. Jahangir! There he was, always up to his promise.

I tread­ed cau­tious­ly; thought of the man as the Jahangir knew—the boy from our class who led us right up to the occupier’s base camp. We demon­stra­tors, our num­bers swelling each day, against atroc­i­ties, against the numb­ing of our voic­es, peace­ful­ly rais­ing slo­gans, just ask­ing to be heard; and then, one per­fect­ly cloud­less morn­ing, between sixth Avenue and the Free School we were met by a wall of armed uni­formed men. Jahangir shout­ed,

Now is your time to make a rip­ple!

One of the sol­diers retal­i­at­ed, point­ing out Jahangir,

Be sure to get him!

Another cried,

We’ll get them all.

Get us? We were forty or fifty, in our jeans and tees that we went to col­lege in—unarmed stu­dents! Jahangir tight­ened his fist, and stood ground. So did we; nev­er appre­hend­ing what would short­ly unfold. Someone com­mand­ed the men to open fire!

Jahangir took a shot in his eye, hurtling our world as much as his into a dark bot­tom­less pit.

That man, demol­ished now, plead­ing for refuge in a safe house, on the run for years, cough­ing too much to talk coher­ent­ly to me last night, spoke with one good eye too tired to keep lids apart.

Half-filled details of his smudged life poured out like essen­tial jot­tings in a note­book.

I hand­ed him a drink, watched him guz­zle it down sor­ry we had noth­ing to eat. He looked grate­ful. Was I in awe of him then, per­haps even in love? Adore him now, this moment?

As I gath­ered him so he’d stand, prop­ping a body ruth­less­ly dis­man­tled, only bones hold­ing up the scaf­fold­ing of his life, he man­aged a frac­tion of a smile.

We walked to the car con­tent let­ting insis­tent rain prick our dried out selves.

~

Mandira Pattnaik’s work has appeared or is short­ly due in Watershed Review, Splonk, Citron Review, Gasher, Heavy Feather, Lunate, Spelk, FlashFlood, Night&Sparrow and Star 82, among oth­ers. She was recent­ly Shortlisted at NFFD NZ 2020 and RetreatWest Microfiction Contest. Her tweets are @MandiraPattnaik