Shackles? The word resonated inside my head a couple of times, going around till it became a distant echo.
They also had a piece of rope around their neck. Their hands were tied behind their back with ropes which cut into their skins, revealing the bones. The children shifted uneasily, in pain. Their clothes were also torn, their bodies revealing the wounds of the lashings they had received. Fresh blood still trickled from their luminescent skins.
How could I see this from such a distance? I was puzzled, it did not make sense. ‘They are my kutumb’, she said. Kutumb, I knew was ancient Hindi/Sanskrit, even Marathi or Konkani for ‘family’. But no one used it these days.
Why are they in shackles, I asked. Hmmmmm……..the ocean roared. The white man, she said; the ocean echoing the pain in her voice. White man?
He kills, she said, tears rolling down her pretty face now. The face suddenly turned sallow, lost its beauty, the eyes stared, the mouth opened to let out a wail………..Heeeeeeeeee……the wind also howled.
As I watched in horror, I saw the man and the children hanging by their necks at a distance. And they were not alone! Suddenly, as far as the eye could see, there were rows upon rows of bodies hanging by their necks, swaying eerily in the night breeze. But they were alive, they did not die, they wailed and they screeched and asked for food.
Other people came too, ‘white people’, and they started to drag the woman away. They dragged her by her beautiful long hair. They laughed as they ripped her clothes away, their laughter echoing through the forest and coming back at me, sending shivers down my spine. As I seethed with fear and anger and rage, impotent rage, I saw them disrobe her, then take turns at her as she lay there on the beach, helpless. After they were done, they got up and washed themselves in the pristine waters of the ocean. Then they walked back to her, laughing and joking all the time. They poured oil on her from a jerrycan they carried and set her afire.
Noooooooo……..I yelled….but no sound escaped my lips. My body and mind were paralyzed, watching the scene, not able to move, not able to talk.
Hooooooo……the wind said. Hmmmmm……….the ocean said.
As the flames licked her beautiful frame, she got up and started to run around wildly, the flames getting stronger as she ran around the beach. As the flames engulfed her, she looked at me and ran towards the porch. I watched, in horror, as she approached where I lay, at full speed, the flames bellowing in the air. The ‘white man’ watched from a distance too, as she ran towards me, stumbled on the stairs and fell on me. NOOOOO……..I yelled and got up from the chair, upsetting the adjacent table, and breaking the beer bottle with a loud crash.
The sound broke my reverie and I opened my eyes, looking at the table and the broken bottle in surprise. Then I looked out on to the beach where the contingent of soldiers had dishonored and set fire to the woman. There was no one there! I looked towards the forest, where I had seen rows of bodies hanging – nothing! What had I seen? What? I muttered to the ocean.
Hmmmmmm……..it replied, not revealing anything.
Hoooooooo…. the wind howled through the forest again, trying to tell me something, but I could not understand either the ocean or the wind anymore…………
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