My mother and I had lived in the backyard of that house for as long as I remember. I do not know how or why we came to be there, but I liked it there with my mother. I often asked my mother how we came to be there and how long would we be staying there? But she never gave any definite answer, just looked at me longingly with her big eyes, brimming with tears, batted her long eyelashes, and said, ‘ So far so good, baby. We must thank God for each day he gives us. Every day is a blessing. Don’t forget to say your prayer before you go to sleep.’ And that would be the end of discussion.
At night, I sometimes woke up to see her walking around in the dark, looking for something. She would walk the whole perimeter of the shed where we lived, looking for something, often prodding the wood at places with her nose or her small horns. On nights when she was especially restless, Saleem, our owner would come, grumbling, and would tie her to the peg and then go off to sleep. I would get scared, and huddle close to her. She would lick me to sleep.
Aside from this nagging doubt, life was good at Saleem’s. I think he really used to like Mamma, because he would take us to graze, out in the pastures and let us roam and eat the green grass to our heart’s content. He would take a long rope with him and tie Mamma to a tree or a fence and let her graze. Abu, his son, carried me in his lap, and let me loose near mother. I would jump and play and nibble at the fresh foliage and then get tired and fall asleep. I really liked Abu and, I think he loved me too. He would spend hours playing with me in the fields while mother grazed, scratch my coat, pat my head and carry me around in his lap. Yes, life was good.
Every night mother would pray to God for our well-being and would make me pray too. We ate and slept and in general enjoyed ourselves; except, sometimes, I thought Mamma was trying to hide something from me. Never mind, I thought, she would tell me when the time was right.
Then the rainy season came and the ground sprouted with fresh grass, bringing great cheer to us all, except Mamma; she seemed to grow worried by the day, and prayed more and more each night. Everyone in the house seemed happy, they had a good crop that year, the village rejoiced in the good rains and Abu and I continued playing in the small puddles that formed around our dwelling. The passing of the rains signaled the end of summer and I was happy. I liked winters.
One night, mother was especially frantic. She did not sleep the whole night. She kept rattling the wooden fencing of the shed with her horns, then kept coming back to me, licking me and then going back to pushing and hitting the fence again. I had never seen her like that. I got scared. As expected, Saleem came, woken from his sleep by mother rattling the fence, and tied her to the post. She sat down dejectedly, her eyes brimming with tears and continued to lick me. ‘Listen to me little one’, she said, ‘no matter what happens tomorrow, remember God is with us. Have courage and everything will be alright. Remember my words Son, DON’T BE AFRAID.’ I was really scared with the way she was behaving, and so snuggled up her belly and slept off.
In the morning, Saleem came in the shed with Abu. I nearly jumped with joy upon seeing Abu, but Mamma was almost hysterical. She started to jump and pull at the rope that tied her. I got scared and moved away from her and towards Abu, who gently picked me up and started to pat me on the head. His embrace felt good. Meanwhile, Saleem was talking to Abu, ‘ We celebrate this festival to commemorate the great sacrifice that Hazrat Ibrahim made. Allah asked him to sacrifice whatever he held dearest in life and he was about to sacrifice his son when Allah, the merciful, substituted the child for a ram, and thus rewarded the great sacrifice.’
While he was talking to Abu, a few others of his relatives walked into the shed. ‘Now you watch Abu, today you also have to perform the sacrifice’, Saleem said and together with the other men moved towards Mamma. She started to buck and strain at the leash on her neck. I huddled close to Abu, scared. Two men caught Mamma and picked her up and brought her to a stump of wood that was kept in the shed. Now I was really afraid, ‘what were they doing to mamma’, I looked at Abu for answers, but he looked as surprised too!!
While one person held Mamma’s head, the other person held her feet and lay her neck down on the wooden slab. She struggled and struggled so much that she emptied her bladder. As I squirmed in Abu’s embrace, Saleem came out from behind carrying a long knife and before I could react, or feel the extreme terror that I saw in Mamma’s eyes, he had quickly slit her throat with the knife and stood up, wiping his hands with a cloth. The other men also let go of Mamma, who lay there on the slab, bleeding in spurts from her neck. A gurgling sound came from her mouth, she was trying to say something to me. I saw her body go limp, her breathing ceased and her eyes turned to stone. I started sobbing, very very scared now. I think I peed a little in Abu’s clothes.
Then Saleem approached Abu and I started to fidget, afraid of Saleem now. ‘It’s your turn now, Abu’, Saleem said. I did not understand; Abu’s turn? But there was no one else there; who would Abu kill?
Before it could register on my mind, strong hands had lifted me from Abu’s lap and put me on the block after dragging Mamma’s lifeless body from there. They put my head on the block, I could see Mamma lying by my side, looking at me with her lifeless eyes, her voice echoing in my head, ‘ DON’T BE AFRAID!’ My heart beat fast, my sphincters relaxed; Abu’s face came into view. Then a glint of steel, a sharp pain in my neck and then I felt all slippery and wet. There was some liquid in my throat too, I could not breathe properly. I looked up and saw Abu standing nearby, I kept looking at him till the pain eased and the room slowly turned dark. I was not afraid Mamma, I knew I was coming to meet you.
Before the room turned completely dark, I heard Abu and Saleem saying to each other, ‘Bakrid Mubarak!”
‘The Battle of Panchavati‘ a new Amazon Bestseller by the author, now available at Amazon as paperback and ebook!