The iron wheel screech as it halts at his last station. Zeenat and Mehak were having a hard time, to match their tiny steps with their father. The station smell like a rotten egg. People with sweaty armpits, the cow dung smell on their hands. People were pushing Zeenat on the way to board the leaving train. She couldn't see her father. Mehak was also not in sight.
Her voice got suppressed in the crowd. A hand pulled her away, she looked up it was her sister.
"Walk faster. Why are you looking here and there?" Mehak said pulling her hand.
"I didn't want to come here. I want to go back," Zeenat said.
"Stop wailing like a child. You are going to be 10 soon," Mehak said.
Soon they reached their ancestral house. Seeing Mehak after so many years her grandmother decided it is the best time to wed her to a young man.
To a soldier, or businessman, or a boy with good family background. Mehak was shy and timid in front of her family. Mehak had a dream, ambition. A desire to become something.
The stars were ruling the sky in the absence of the moon. Mehak tiptoed out from her house walking near the rice field. A hand pulled her, covering her mouth.
"You have no idea, how much I was dying to see you?" Sukhbir said releasing his palm.
Mehak lowered her eyes as her cheeks turned rosy pink. "All the days I was wondering whether you had missed me. Do you even think about me? Do you love me?" Sukhbir said leaning toward Mehak.
Mehak facepalm herself hearing love from him. He had told his feeling on the day Mehak was gone for Bombay. She didn't reply back to him. There was not a single day she hadn't missed his muscular arms, his broad chest, his warmth, his soft eyes teasing her.
She finally confessed her feelings toward him. Sukhbir was on cloud nine hearing it. He was a young Punjabi farmer son. He assured Mehak soon he will come with his family at her house. After marriage, she can continue her studies, work if she wants. This was her freedom.
Mehak managed to reach back into the house. No one catches her.
The god was not on her side. In the afternoon a group of young Sikh men led by Manpreet stormed at her house.
"You are using women now," Manpreet said.
"What rubbish you are talking about? I will not hear a word against our women," Mehak's father said.
"You don't even know what you are daughter is doing? Stay away from our men," Manpreet said.
Mehak's father had a hard time to believe the accusation. He had brought up his daughters with good moral values. He had showered them with both mother and father love.
Mehak was not allowed to move out of the house. It is a small village. Word spread like a fire. All the bright future she had seen yesterday shattered into a million pieces.
The communal riots between Hindu and Muslim started at Calcutta killing. Soon its effects reached Punjab also. People make sour faces at other religious groups. Blood started to shred for small land disputes.
Mehak's father decided it will be best for them to move back to Bombay. There is nothing left here. They have no land and the Hindu was threatening them.
He packed the bag for both of his daughters and for her mother. His mother didn't agree to move with them. All the life she had lived here. How could anyone abandon her birthplace?
Mehak and Zeenat walked behind her father. Mehak holds back her tears. She couldn't even have the time to say goodbye to Sukhbir. The train was late for 2 hour. Someone said it is because of the riots.
Mehak excused herself for the loo. She hurried toward the near stall, a huge line was there for the phone booth. Tap on her shoulder startled her. She couldn't recognize his face. Sukhbir left eye was swollen, he can't be seeing a thing out of that and he won't for a while yet. His face still bears congealed blood and his clothes are an utter mess.
"We will go from here together," Sukhbir said clutching her hand.
Mehak didn't look back once. She didn't question him. She had a feeling he had planned everything for them. A life he had promised to her.
They cross the track and stand on the opposite platform waiting for the train. Mehak's heart was pounding. As if something bad is going to happen. She had disrespected her father. Will god forgive her? Will, he punished her for disobedience?
A group of angry Sikh men with the sword in their hand ran in the railway tracks. People started shouting and screaming as they walked around running for their life. Mehak had not returned yet.
"Go toward the bridge and come back here," Mehak's father said to Zeenat as he walked another side looking for Mehak.
The hand comforting Mehak was cold now. The clanking of the metals, screaming voices, people ran around was too fast for her to digest. Sukhbir's body was lying lifeless on the floor.
"Traitor." It was Manpreet.
He drags Mehak by her hair. "It was because of you people, our brothers got killed."
He takes her into a deserted corner. Blood droplets were still on his face as he pushed her in front of him.
"You are so desperate. Let me fulfill your desire today," Manpreet said dropping the sword as he opened up the buttons.
He pinned her, holding her in one place as he tore her dress. Mehak was sobbing, struggling under his grip. Her voice got choked up in her throat.
He falls over her, the weight was too heavy against her petite body. He is not moving. Zeenat was standing with a sword. Mehak pushed his body down.
She takes the sword from Zeenat's hand, throwing it away. They ran back where her father told to come back. The station was now soaked in the blood. The train arrived, people were walking over the dead body to board inside the train.
Her father was not there. He is nearby, Mehak chanted under her breath. After 5 minutes, the thought of her father lying lifeless in one of the corners lingers in her mind. It is all because of her.
"Mehak, Zeenat," her father voiced echoed behind their back.
They turned around, their father was standing there, the suitcase was gone. Blood was oozing out from his forehead.
"Board the train," he said rushing inside the train.
People were boarding on the rooftops of the train. With great struggle, they managed to land inside. People were pushing each other in all directions. The hand on the ear couldn't stop the scream of the people.
The train started, Mehak heard her father's voice from the opposite compartment. Mehak clutches her father's hand, reciting the prayer all the journey.