Fiction: Mother Of March

- Mehreen Ahmed

A cuckoo bird’s intermittent whistle on this silent afternoon sounded off a telltale sign. Taramon wouldn’t bet on it. But this quietude made her restive. Through the breezy bamboo bush, she heard the bird whisper a trepidation. The trepidation eluded her; but she was still inclined to have lunch with her siblings, as it was lunch time in Madhupur.
A heaviness in the air, her family of four siblings sat down around a mat rolled out in the middle of their thatched mud floor, like an island. Taramon brought the food out. She served it in clay pots. The clay pots grooved around the rim of the red bowls: rice, daal and curried fish. Except for her, the rest of the family helped themselves to scoops of this delightful meal. Taramon looked at them. She was jittery; they must hurry; time was in a scurry; the bird’s signal, a kind of lurry.
Hush! Hush! Then it came, this reverberating sound. A grave, and almost guttural, it blasted through the skies. There was a gunshot. Gunshot which shook them to the core. Aves took off. Flights of sweeping wings inverted like flying buttresses. The bird chirruped on the fence. A boy ran in, amok. Taramon stood up, and looked at this befuddled boy, as did her siblings. She, a motherless farmer’s daughter, just hit 24.
“What’s this sound?” Taramon asked.
Her question perplexed the boy.
“Don’t you know?” he asked.
“Know what?”
“That the army has just marched into our village.”
“The enemy is here already?” she asked.
“Yes, and rounding up every girl and woman, killing husbands, fathers, mothers and children. People, fleeing like crazy.”
“Why are you still here, then?” she asked.
“Because, I’ve lost them. I was in the field when I saw a gunboat upstream. I ran as fast as I could, to come home to my parents.They were gone by then.”
“Gone? Where to?”
“I don’t know.”
The boy broke down in tears; the bird launched into a piercing trill; a moth hovered over them. Taramon, looked at her siblings and the boy and told them to follow her. They ran out of the house. On the road, they saw denizens of the fields and the forests; a mad rush of adrenaline; the mud huts fell into decrepit pits; the bird piped in. Taramon found their hapless neighbours, her own father and friends in frenzy. All hell descended on them. Some people carried crying babies. Others carried elderly parents. Overnight turned into refugees, this nightmare, too real to encapsulate. They were headed for the border. In the midst of all this, one young mother stalled, not because she was tired. But because of something else, something on her mind, she took a step backwards to return to the village. Taramon stood in her way. She howled crazy, like the monsoon wild winds over the swollen, serpentine river stream.
She said, “Don’t. Don’t. My … Mm little baby… there… She was fast asleep. She, in the house. I … in the field, when they chased me out. Bewildered. I ran. I didn’t know where I was going. I just did … I left her. Oh! I left her in the house. She sleeps alone. My baby will burn to a cinder now. I must return. Let me go … Let me go ….
Taramon would not let her go. No way. She embraced her tight. Others helped Taramon to get the woman back in this panic-stricken procession line. Petrified. She looked at nothing. Silent like a broken clock, she stopped ticking. They lifted her up like a rag doll, a body bag. This woman, a wreck, frightened the hell out of them.
Then they approached the border, the safe haven. Taramon was placid. She made up her mind to fight, to be a freedom fighter. The enemy who had come to take their land but hadn’t seen the ferocity of a tiger. That was her resolve. In a turning point, Taramon stood in the forefront of a winning line. A guerrilla fight ensued. Regardless of storms, rains and floods, on rickety boats, the fighters battled a formidable army. Harder and harder, each step became, they kept coming back and on to them. The green blades of grass, now the soil soaked up much of the scarlet blood; unmarked in death, foe or friend.
Young Taramon never gave up. She defended her land as valiantly as ever. In the cover of darkness, she took her rifle over, hidden under her clothes and set off across the border. At the checkpoint, she lay low under the barbed wires to drag herself through, away from the guards. She was an invisible speck in a coal spattered night. She chose this spot cleverly where security was slack. For the guards were drunk in the whorehouse; this shit-hole of a shack. This was her ruse. Once across, she hid herself amongst the heap of carcass, covered in filth, dirt and blood. Then when she spotted one or two uniformed soldiers, they were dead meat before her gun’s crosshair.
However, one day something happened just a week before the independence, Taramon was out on one of her errands. She was under the barbed wire, when she felt someone’s breath right over her head. She was compromised. But not caught out; tweeted the bird to her loud. That moment, laying flat on the ground, she pointed her gun at no assailant. She soon realised it was the young mother from the precession.
“You?” Taramon cried. “ Do you know how dangerous this is?”
“All missions are dangerous,” she said. “I want to be your bodyguard, Taramon.”
“Are you sure? I thought you were too fragile.”
And she was. Sure enough, she took a bullet for Taramon one Sunday, when the duo walked straight into an ambush to pounce on a prey. Freedom was gained, Taramon lived. Perched on the fence the bird’s tweets told the mother’s unsung feat; no hearsay, glad tidings, warranted legacy, another spring day.

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