Flash Fiction: A Night Knock

Riyaz ul Hassan
‘Can’t you stop coughing?’

‘What then, should I stop breathing?’

‘Can’t you hear it?’

‘I do. But we cannot stop it by stopping our breath.’

The banging on the gate was persistent, while Nafeesa was asking her husband, Ali Dar, to maintain silence; such silence as one finds in graveyards of Kashmir. It was barely ten o’clock at night. Ali Dar’s whole family had retired to their beds. He had two sons and two daughters-- all in their youth. They had dined at 9 PM, although they used to have their dinner at 8 PM every day but tonight they had been discussing political situation in Kashmir. Ali Dar used to discuss with his elder son the daily happenings in Kashmir on evenings quite often, but tonight the younger son had also joined the discussion which had pushed their dinner time to the unusual 9 PM. It was only Ali Dar’s wife who had asked them either to stop their discussion or to serve their own dinner themselves which had compelled the male faction to half-conclude their engaging discussion.

Ali Dar and his wife slept in kitchen-lobby and their two sons in the back room while their two daughters put up in a room adjacent to the kitchen. They had retired to their rooms by almost 9:30 pm. After dinner, as usual, Ali Dar had taken his Jajeer for his after-dinner tobacco dose. He was talking to her wife about the marriage proposal of their elder son; Ishfaq, when a sudden banging had started at the main gate, and they had put-off the lights in no time.

‘What will we do now? They are sure to open the gate forcibly!’ asked Nafeesa.

‘Seek Allah’s Mercy. And be silent. What else can we do?” Ali said, while consoling his wife.

‘But who can they be…banging the gate so hard!’

‘How do I know? But…’

‘But? But what?’

I don’t know but the banging… listen… this banging is so persistent. And so forceful. It seems like whosoever is doing it he is not going away anytime soon.’

Nafeesa grew apprehensive and asked her husband to get her children in the kitchen-lobby.
‘Now what are you waiting for, go and call the children here, they would be terrified.

‘Ok. You don’t worry. I will.’

Ali dar opened the door of kitchen-lobby, very silently- even a mouse would have creaked louder. Treading cautiously lest his feet make any sound, he made it to the door as if he were a blind man—guessing, expecting and feeling the walls, and finally the door of the room where his daughters were sleeping. He called his daughter in a very low voice.

‘Masrat… Masrat… are you awake… Masrat?’

‘Yes, yes Papa. We are awake.’ Both of them had heard loud banging on the gate and were very afraid.

‘Come out. Ask your sister too, but don’t make any noise. Keep calm’

And he goes to the back room, almost in same manner as earlier, feeling the walls without lighting any bulb, and finding the door.

He started to call his elder son.

‘Ishfaq… Ishfaq, are you awake?  But there was no answer; neither of his sons replied. They were heavy sleepers particularly when they have had their dinner. It was always difficult for Ali Dar to wake them up. He again calls out; a little louder this time.

Do you hear Ishfaq?

‘Yes Papa. What is the matter?’

‘Come out along with your brother, but don’t make any noise.’

‘Why? Is everything OK?’

‘You do what I tell you. Come out to the kitchen-lobby, and don’t make any noise.’

Ali Dar moves back to the kitchen-lobby where Nafeesa was telling her daughters to be careful and calm. He asked Nafeesa not to worry too much, and asked his daughters to be patient and brave. The banging on the door continued: growing louder and louder. The youngest daughter of Ali Dar; very feeble and weak-nerved, began to shiver with terror. Nafeesa consoled her daughter, and asked her not to worry, even though she was herself very much terrified.

All the family members had now gathered in the kitchen-lobby, shrunk with terror in one of its corners.

Ishfaq asked his father to let him go outside to check who it was banging hard on the gate, but his mother severely admonished him. Her apprehension bore out of the recent news from the adjoining village wherein a young boy had been picked by some armed men on a night like this.

The banging continued, and everyone in the room shivered to think about the approaching calamity. Nafeesa, who till now had been trying to cajole her daughters, gave in to the fear and began to weep. Suddenly every sort of misgiving invaded her mind. She began to imagine only the worst that could be waiting for the family at the gate. Seeing the mother losing her courage the two daughters also felt helpless and couldn’t control their sobs.

‘Keep quiet. Don’t weep. Almighty shall protect us all.’ Ali Dar rather rebuked his wife and his two daughters.

Along with persistent banging on the gate, they could now hear someone calling ‘Ali Dar…Ali Dar”

‘I think it is someone from our neighborhood, Let me see who he is.” Ishfaq told his father.

‘But…?’

“Don’t be so afraid.’

‘Don’t you know why I am afraid?’

‘I know…but we have to see who is on the gate. Otherwise we shall die out of fear.’

Ishfaq mustered up all his courage, and proceeded to open the gate to see who it was out there: knocking at the door persistently and calling out his father by his name at this ungodly hour. He grabs a solar lantern and switches it on. Although his mother and his two sisters tried hard not to allow him to go outside to open the gate, he managed to move out, saying that it could be someone else---a needy neighbor. In fact, he was himself very scared and worried but put on a brave face.

While moving out of the kitchen-lobby to open the gate, Ishfaq could hardly feel his limbs---as if they were lifeless. His whole body bathed in sweat and he could feel his heart beating fast, as if it would burst out of the rib cage. His whole body began to shiver--something which had never happened to him before.

He unbolted and opened the main door of the house, rather unwillingly. He knew that he couldn’t stand to allow his father or the younger brother to open the gate and face the calamity which might have been waiting at the gate. How could he? He loved his younger brother more than anyone else and he was so dear to him. He could have seen himself ripped apart but not let anyone harm him.
Taking small steps to reach the gate, he was ready to witness the worst on opening the gate. He reaches to the gate and somebody was still crying, ‘Ali Dar...Ali Dar’.

Ishfaq unbolted the gate, and opened it, afraid to his last breath; almost half dead. On opening the door his eyes witnessed a surprising sight; which left him shocked but relieved. He felt resurrected with courage. His heart harbored a strange vigor.

It was Ahad uncle from the neighborhood, who had come to seek Ishfaq’s help.


Bio: Mr Riyaz ul Hassan lives in Pulwama district of state Jammu & Kashmir, India. He is an educator by profession. He has done his M.Phil in English Literature and is currently working in department of school Education. He is an emerging fiction writer and poet. He likes to write fiction and some of his short stories have appeared in some online magazines. Besides, writing poetry is his passion and have written various poems, of which some stand published.

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