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 I 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!
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