Time and Again
It was 3 hours past midnight when Nirmala was disturbed. No sooner she opened her eyes than she saw countless turbans moving in one direction. As she followed, she was pushed from behind to get down from the train and join a queue. She had reached the Narowal district in Punjab, Pakistan.
“What is all this happening Veerji?” she asked a fellow passenger.
“This is a laen to get our passports checked Bibi,” answered the familiar stranger, zipping his yellow bag.
As Nirmala forwarded a bit, she realized the checking room was locked. As they waited for the station master to arrive, a golden beam of light was visible coming from far lands; the roosters had begun to crow to mark the beginning of the day. Now, the beads of sweat were visible on people’s foreheads. In a moment, the 80 year old Nirmala saw a glimpse of blood spilling on the course floor. The waiting room was full of severed heads and screams filled all the silenced corners of the railway station.
“Run Nirmal, run mera bacha run,” the seven year old sensed her father yelling at her.
Hardly daring to breathe, Nirmala stood still in horror as though her feet were tied to the ground. In the very moment, a sikh picked her up and hid her under a corpse. Her clothes were deliberately soaked in blood and mouth shoved with an orange piece of cloth torn away from a dead woman’s saree. Her left arm started to bleed as it scratched the coarse mud floor in a hurry.
“Find her Zakir, don’t spare her in the name of Allah,” Nirmala heard peaking through the little space between the two corpses she was hiding under.
The waiting room was full with 50 empty chairs and about 70 odd dead people, she saw. The girl waited for hours for a clear passage. As she came out from hiding, Nirmala ran seeking for help. In a moment, she felt a push from behind her and fell on the ground. Zooming into sparkling white marble, she could not spot a single drop of blood in 100 meters of distance from her nose.
“Are you okay Bibi?” The familiar stranger gasped as he held her wrist from his right hand pulling a chair for her.
“Let me help you arrange the documents,” he announced as Nirmala stared at him one eyed, keeping a tight hold of her Visa and her passport.
As the man helped her arrange the documents, drops of saline water slid down Nirmala’s cheeks. A few more stood by the corner of her eyes. The stranger pulled out a clean white square piece of cloth from his pocket and handed it over to Nirmala.
It had been five minutes since the station master had begun checking people’s passports. Waiting for her turn, Nirmala chatted with the familiar stranger noticing the bright silver paint on the chairs. Finally, they were ready to visit babaji at Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib. At last, seven decades after the partition, Nirmala was finally home, five kilometers away from her country.
- Shikha Nangru