Nani once told me there are signs in the Universe that tell us what is about to happen. I didn’t believe her. I suspected she said it just to make me quiet.
“Listen?” I asked her. “Listen, to what Nani?”
“Listen to the Universe around you. She knows your story…where you’ve been and where you’ll go. If you listen carefully and watch for her signs, She’ll guide you.”
I had no time for such things. At 11years of age, who would? There were forests to explore, paper boats to float and mud-pies to be made with my little sister Chonika.
I wonder now: If I had found the time, would my path have been different?
How would I have known?
Was it in the way the cow bells rang when I took our cow to graze near the police camp? There was nothing ominous about it. There was no menacing tune, like one heard in TV dramas. Her bell chimed gently as Chonika and I skipped our way to the rubber tree forest. It was late afternoon, around 2 pm…a time when adults rested indoors and children roamed free, in between their chores.
Was it in the way the two policemen crouched behind the bushes? Chonika and I saw them from afar. They sat on their haunches, shoulders slouched, talking in a low voice, waiting.
But that signal I DID pick up from the Universe. That’s why Chonika and I silently fled from the forest and went down to the riverbed. The river didn’t warn us either. It flowed like it always did, dancing under the rays of the bright sun. We collected firewood, commenting on our remarkable luck at the amount we had found. Ma would be so pleased with us!
“Chonika, go fetch the kabang from home. We’ll be able to carry all of this in it.” I told my little sister.
“But what about those two men, Didi?” she asked, pointing at the forest.
That was the perfect time for the Universe to say something. She didn’t. We stood still but didn’t hear anything. They must have left, we thought. Relieved, Chonika raced off home while I made my way into the forest again, wanting to add to our firewood stock.
I never saw him coming. Never saw the danger until it was all over me. I felt it. Hands and legs and his hot breath. His face so rough, his fingers rougher, tearing away at me, tearing into me. Instinctively, I tried to get away. He slapped me hard. Head spinning, I fell to the ground, dropping my load of firewood. He picked one up and hit me with it. My legs and arms felt like they had caught fire and melted. I couldn’t move. My heart froze cold. What an ironic world of opposites! Ma’s surprise was my demise.
The Universe didn’t show me signs that a beast could wear a police uniform. I thought they came with bells and horns. The Universe didn’t protest when my own scarf was used to muffle my cries. The Universe flashed by in the four and half minutes it took for my world to burn down.
It wasn’t until much later that I finally started reading some of the signs correctly.
Chonika and Ma found me long after the man had fled the scene. Ma insisted we go to the police camp immediately to report the crime. When I saw the Officer-in-Charge indifferently picking at his teeth while Ma told him what had happened, I knew he didn’t have daughters. They asked me to identify the man. Heart pounding, I picked him out of the crowd that had gathered in front of the OC’s office. He was wearing a red sleeveless T-Shirt. Wearing the colour of my blood. The OC offered Ma 1000 taka and said to forgive the man “for God’s sake”. I wondered what kind of God could forgive an abomination like this. Ma furiously threw the money back onto his table, grabbed my hand and turned away. I felt confused. I looked around for a sign.
“Tell me Universe, tell me where it says my life is just a number.”
Munize Manzur is a teacher and writer. Her short stories have been published in international and Bangladeshi anthologies.
Note: The story is based on the recent incident that took place in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh.