Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Uses Of A Convenient Refugee Crisis


Refugees are big business these days, in more ways than one, as will readily become apparent. In fact, if you’re a self-respecting part of the corporate-political nexus, a Refugee Crisis is not convenient, it’s essential.

But refugees don’t appear out of thin air just like that. People have an inconsiderate habit of preferring to live in their own homes, in their own countries, among their own friends and relatives, and have to be forced out into a migration if you’re going to have the refugee crisis you need.

So how do you go about creating it?

There are some simple steps.

Stage 1: Create a socioeconomic breakdown or arrange a war.

A war is preferable to a mere socioeconomic breakdown, because the threat of being blown to pieces is a greater motivational force than reduced income and the possibility of being mugged in the streets. Also, wars involve the creation and consumption of weaponry, and the creators of those weapons obviously stand to make a handsome profit on them. Also, nations tend to have the distressing habit of throwing out governments responsible for socioeconomic crises and replacing them with more nationalistic rulers with far greater suspicions about foreign capital.

So, if at all possible, arrange a war. It should not be all that difficult. You have, at your disposal, funds enough to buy “activists” and arm and train mercenaries. You also have full control of the media, while pretending that it is free and independent. This will come in handy later, when you need to direct public opinion.

Begin by planting stories in said media that the “regime” you target is a brutal, vicious tyranny. These stories should call out for war in the name of saving people, because, you understand, you need to set the stage for a refugee crisis. You can’t do that if you demonise the entire population and demand they be exterminated.

Once those stories have taken hold, push them through reliable liberal puppets, especially celebrities with a large following. The average liberal has no such thing as a mind; all it wants is to feel good about itself, and to that end it will slavishly and mindlessly ape whatever its peer group says and does. If you can get that peer group to openly endorse and demand war, your job is half done.

Stage Two: Intensify the War.

Now your average war using modern weaponry is a fairly expensive thing, and one of its drawbacks is that it tends to send your own troops – poverty draftees though they may be – home in coffins or missing limbs. This is not good for public relations, and tends to cool off that selfsame liberal hankering for infliction of bloodshed you are trying your best to foster. Therefore, if the country you’re targeting is capable of shooting back at you, you’re far better off unleashing hordes of proxies – “rebels”, jihadis, Nazis, whatever fits the situation – on it. These vermin are expendable as far as you’re concerned, and, besides, they have one tremendous advantage. Unlike your troops, who may possibly be unenthusiastic about taking part in what is clearly a war of choice, these terrorists are often highly committed, and with the arms and training, money and diplomatic support you provide, can inflict massive and sustained damage.

Also, the liberals I talked about will embrace them as freedom fighters, while, if you send your troops off to some country they can’t find on a map on the other side of the planet, they may start having questions about your motives once the coffins start coming home.

Now look at all the other advantages of using, say, jihadi proxies. These are psychopaths you can readily recruit, manipulate, and send off to kill and die, which will, in the short term, reduce some of the dangers they might pose at home. A disaffected petty criminal or thug who in the normal course of events would be occupying a jail cell and eating food at taxpayers’ expense can instead be turned into a weapon and sent off to do your bidding, which he will in the belief that he’s actually obeying divine orders, and be far more effective at it.

Unless the target nation is truly incompetent, in which case your puppet “activists” should be enough to bring the government down in a stage managed “colour revolution”, it will react to the attacks by your proxies by cracking down, hard. This is the point at which you must double down on the media war. You must accuse the enemy of all kinds of atrocities, and arrange for your puppet jihadis to create appropriate atrocities to blame on them. The liberals will now not only support your arming and training these precious “freedom fighters”, they will go further and demand military intervention to “save the children”.

[Source]

With more weapons and funds than ever before, your jihadis can then take the war into the civilian territory of cities. Unlike the classic guerrilla wars of the twentieth century, today’s guerrilla wars are fought largely in cities, and will continue to be so fought. Attacked from within the mazes of streets and warrens of residential buildings of the average modern city, the target government will have no option but to strike back, causing huge civilian casualties. This will kill two birds with one CIA-supplied bullet.

[Source]

First, it will give you further propaganda ammunition for your media to use, and the demands for war “to save the children” coming from your brainwashed liberals will grow so shrill that – unless someone else, like say Russia, stops you – you will feel entitled and empowered to start said war. By this time the target nation will be fairly weakened, and you may be able to wage it without too many casualties, especially if you confine your activities to air strikes and (except for “advisers” and disguised special forces) allow your terrorists to do the fighting on the ground. Even if you do take casualties, you can pass them off as deaths and injuries suffered in the war against tyranny and despotism.

Secondly, it will create a tidal wave of refugees, who will swamp services in the territory the government still controls and spill over into neighbouring nations. These refugees, of course, are a resource, and we will now discuss how.

Stage Three: Using the Refugees.

In the course of this article, I have assumed, probably legitimately, that any country that intends to use this tactic will be a late-stage capitalist economy. Such an economy has some characteristic features.

First, the market is saturated. There are only so many cars, washing machines, television sets and other goodies each individual can own. The population is typically nearly static, and even if it is not actually falling, there is never quite enough demand to consume all that is manufactured.

As a consequence, competition becomes cut-throat. Richer, larger companies can afford to undercut smaller firms, which go out of business. But the end result is that the market is sliced up between a few competing enterprises, which are almost equally powerful. Unless they begin cooperating openly to fix prices, which in turn is likely to run afoul of monopoly laws, the result is smaller and smaller profit margins.

What do you do about this?

You take the step that leads to the third feature of a late-stage capitalist society. You try and maximise profit by any means possible. You fire your local workers and outsource all your production, if possible, to South East Asian sweatshops using de facto slave labour. But that also leaves you with a public relations problem (and in a late-stage capitalist economy, appearance and public relations are far more important than substance). So your other option is to replace your own workers with others.

Can you see one use of the refugees now?

First, they are desperate for work, and will do anything for a fraction of the pay you would be expected to give native workers.

Secondly, you can pose as a humanitarian benefactor, who is giving these poor people the chance nobody else is.

Third, not all the refugees are going to be semi-skilled car mechanics or masons. In fact, it is far more likely that the majority of them will be the educated middle class – doctors, teachers, media professionals. These can easily, with only a modicum of retraining or none at all, be integrated into your own hospitals and universities. They are people unused to hardship, who have left behind a lifetime of comfort, and will be desperate to work at something they know how to do, even at a fraction of their former salaries. And what do your own doctors, media professionals, and teachers do then?

Faced with competition from people who are willing to work at a tenth of what they themselves earn, what can they do but accept pay cuts themselves? What alternative do they have?

And, fourth, if your war keeps festering, these refugee camps serve as excellent recruitment pools of more angry, despairing young men to arm and train and send off to do your bidding for you.

[Source]

So many birds killed with one more CIA-supplied bullet!

But, wait, I’m not through yet.

Stage Four: The Refugees’ Revenge.

It’s more than obvious to anyone who spends more than ten seconds thinking about it (that is, anyone who isn’t a liberal), that not all the refugees flooding your shores will be harmless civilians. A lot of them will, inevitably, be petty criminals, thugs, malcontents and sociopaths, who would be petty criminals, thugs, malcontents and sociopaths anywhere. They won’t stop being such only because you let them into your country. Soon enough, they will resume their criminal activities. At first these will be among their fellow refugees, but this can’t go far, because the other refugees will have nothing left to steal or extort. So, inevitably, these criminals will turn on their host societies...that is, on you.

And if your war goes sour, then what happens to those terrorists you armed and trained? Not all of them will be willing to give their lives in glorious last stands. A lot, if not a majority, will look for somewhere to run. One obvious place to run will be along with the refugee flood, where they have an extremely high chance of getting to safety by using the genuine refugees as camouflage. In a tide of fleeing humanity, where everyone is running for their lives, who will ever know who they are?

But, of course, just because they’ve been defeated and sent fleeing doesn’t mean they will necessarily accept their defeats and settle down. Far more likely, they will turn their anger on the same society around them (that is, on you, again).  The reasons are not difficult to understand.

Remember how you recruited them and indoctrinated them with religious fervour to give their lives for jihad? Well, to do that, you’d have had to convince them to hate every sign of female emancipation, personal freedom, and tolerance – the same features that are also hallmarks of your own society. You failed to get them to cram the women of the target country into niqabs and shut down nightclubs...and so, when they look around and see your nude beaches and your nightclubs, what do you think they’ll do?

Secondly, don’t think they’re just automatons. They’re human beings. They have the same resentments and urges to vengeance as the rest of us. You promised them a quick victory, and sent them off to get slaughtered. Now they’re back, having seen their friends get slaughtered, while you did nothing that could actually help them win. Do you think they’ll forgive and forget?

Thirdly, when you arranged for your proxy war, you couldn’t possibly have operated in a vacuum. You will have had to work in conjunction with someone; some outfit that provided an ideological framework and leadership for these people. This outfit might have many names – let us call it, here, al Jihada. You think al Jihada is your tool, to use when you want and discard when necessary.

What, precisely, makes you imagine al Jihada does not think of you in exactly the same way?

The high command of al Jihada is also as intelligent as you, and as amoral as you, and thinks of the average jihadi foot soldier in exactly the same way as you: a disposable pawn. However, its own image of the future is radically different from yours.

All you want is slave labour for your farms and your factories, and a captive market in the conquered and destroyed target country for your corporations to exploit. For al Jihada, that is a stepping stone, only. What does it want in the long term?

For an answer...just look around you.

Stage Five: The Backlash.

These, then, are the effects of the refugees on the host country:

First, rising unemployment among the natives as they are replaced with refugees. If they are not laid off they can expect a substantial fall in income.

Secondly, rising crime levels owing to the crooks among the refugees. Since these criminals are not known to the police and their modus operandi are unknown, they will at least at first enjoy a fair amount of success. And this success in turn will bring them into both conflict and cooperation with local gangs, which will in any case further increase the crime rate.

Thirdly, terrorist attacks from vengeful returned jihadis and from al Jihada sleeper cells among the refugees.

Quite naturally this will all lead to increased tensions among the locals, and will be exploited by right wing elements, who will cite demographic and cultural threats from the refugees, blaming them all for it. The refugees, and non-refugees of the same broad ethnicity, will come under increasing attack from right wing gangs and political parties, both verbally and physically.

Don’t panic! Never let a good crisis go to waste. This is only a further opportunity. All you have to do is use this to...

Stage Six: The Police State.

Citing the increased terrorist attacks (from both sides; you want to keep the liberals happy), you say the needs of security demands increased public and private surveillance. You put up CCTV cameras on every street corner, making sure they are able to fail mysteriously when you need to do something you don’t want on public record. You tap phone conversations, monitor emails, and in fact do everything to ensure no real threat rises against your rule and system, ever again.

Meanwhile, your war has ended in disaster, has it? Never mind. Public memory, aided by your slavish media, is so short as to be nonexistent.

Stage Seven: Pick a fresh target country. The new refugees will serve to undercut the old.


[Source]

Rinse, lather, repeat.


You’re welcome.

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Family Across The Hall



There was a new family across the hall. That would be bad enough in any case. But this time it was the worst.

Gudi waited as long as she could that evening before breaking the news to her husband. “And they’re Wamai,” she finished.

Her husband, Tayra, had been sitting as usual, semi-somnolent before the television after dinner, but at her words his eyes snapped open and he came bolt upright in the chair. “What? What did you say?”

“They’re Wamai,” Gudi repeated. “The family across the hall.”

“How the hell?” Tayra yelled. “How can the Council let bugs move in here? This is a human town!”

“I don’t know, and please don’t shout at me. It’s not my fault.”

Tayra didn’t seem to hear. “Stinking damned bugs! How can this be allowed? I’m not going to stand for it!”

“They aren’t stinking,” Gudi ventured to protest. “I saw them moving in. There wasn’t really any smell at all.”

Tayra turned bloodshot eyes towards her. “Don’t be ridiculous, woman. Bugs are always stinking. I know.”

Gudi shrugged. “Well, what can we do about it anyway?”

“It was bad enough that we weren’t allotted that flat,” Tayra shouted, “but to have it handed over to bugs – that’s too damned much. I’ll have them thrown out. See if I don’t.”

“How? If they got the flat they have permission. And if they’ve got permission, there’s not much we can do.”

“We’ll see about that,” Tayra shouted. “First thing in the morning I’m going down to the Council office.”

And early in the morning he did go. Gudi stood at the window and watched him march down the street. His back was stiff with anger, and he hadn’t even had breakfast. Except for a murderous glare at the closed door across the hall, he hadn’t mentioned the new family at all.

Gudi sighed. This was a complication she hadn’t wanted. With the baby coming and all, peace and quiet, not to speak of a larger flat, would have been nice. But they hadn’t got the larger flat, and it seemed that peace and quiet wouldn’t be forthcoming, either.

Automatically, she reached out and ran her fingers down the window, as though to remind herself that the wall of glass was there. The morning sun was shining on the domes of the factory district, glittering with solar panels. Tayra’s shift started in an hour.

He was so angry, Gudi thought. So angry, and it would probably be so futile. But he wouldn’t stop, even when the Council turned him away. It wasn’t like him to ever give up.

All she’d wanted, Gudi thought, was to have some peace and quiet to have her baby. And that was just what she would be denied.

Her fingers rubbed, mechanically, up and down, up and down, the glass.

**************************************************

It was just the next day that Gudi met the Wamaina for the first time. They both happened to emerge from their respective flats at the exact same instant. If Gudi had looked at the security camera first she would’ve waited, but it was too late. She hesitated, poised on the verge of ducking back inside.

The Wamaina showed no such reaction. SheThey inclined HerTheir heavy black headshield over joined minor forelimbs in polite greeting. Gudi managed to stretch her features into a smile.

“Er, good morning,” she said. It was the first time she’d ever been so close to an alien of any kind, let alone a Wamaina. The huge creature seemed to fill all the available space. HerTheir spiny tail waved back and forth.  “I believe you’re our new neighbours.”

“That is correct,” the Wamaina said, in impeccable English. HerTheir voice was surprisingly musical, the enunciation perfect. Gudi had anticipated something like an insect’s buzzing. “IWe am very pleased to meet you.”

“Er,” Gudi replied, inadequately, “yes.” She introduced herself. “My husband’s called Tayra.”

“IWe am KaRaha.” The Wamaina’s heavy head shield was still politely down, and Gudi realised that the alien was probably being submissive. HerTheir enormous physical size – Gudi’s head barely reached the creature’s spiky shoulders – made this strictly a matter of interpretation. “Your husband is known to us. He’s been to the Council office to have us evicted.”

Gudi blushed instinctively. “I’m so sorry. He’s, well, he thinks, he thinks this is a human-only space, and...”

KaRaha waved a minor forelimb. “It does not matter, really. We have permission to be here. It is only that it would be more, ah, comfortable if he were better disposed towards us.”

“Well, you know.” Gudi shuffled her feet. “I really can’t...I can’t change how he behaves.”

“It does not matter,” KaRaha repeated, firmly. “IWe merely meant it would make it easier to serve you. You are, after all, our lords.”

Gudi winced. “I’ve got to go,” she mumbled. “Where do you work?”

She knew with a sinking feeling what the answer would be even before it came.

**************************************************

The damned things are in the factory,” Tayra shouted. His voice bounced off the walls and assaulted Gudi from all directions. His eyes were bloodshot and bulging with fury. “They’re on the factory floors!”

“Calm down,” Gudi begged, with no expectation of success. She wasn’t disappointed.

“Calm down?” Tayra screamed. He slammed his hand down hard enough on the dining table to make the vase jump. “Is this why I served in the war, and fought the bugs, so that I’d have to work in the same place as them?”

“Surely it isn’t that bad,” Gudi said. “I mean, they aren’t taking over your job, are they?” She decided not to point out the fact that Tayra had been a mechanic on a maintenance crew, and hadn’t come close to any actual combat.

“No, they’re down on the factory floor, servicing the robots and doing repair work. But so what? They’re here, and we didn’t fight them so they could come over to Earth. We fought them to take their planet, not give them ours.”

“It isn’t exactly giving them our planet if they’re doing bottom level work,” Gudi said mildly. Tayra glared at her for a moment, and then suddenly remembered something.

“Muna is supposed to give a speech tonight,” he said, turning on the television set. Gudi always kept it off when she was alone at home. She hated television. “Let’s see what he says about this.”

Muna was a politician whom Tayra admired intensely. He had been a senior officer in the war, and had resigned his commission in protest at the peace treaty which had ended the conflict short of the genocide of the Wamai. Tayra had voted for him in every election since then.

“He’ll be sure to suggest laws to put the bugs in their place,” Tayra said, as Muna appeared on the screen. His high cheekbones and deep-sunken eyes had always reminded Gudi of an animal barricading itself among a pile of rocks.

He’d already started his speech. “...and about the recent decision to import Wamai to serve in our mines and factories – ”

“This will be good,” Tayra said.

It wasn’t good. Gudi, watching her husband’s purpling face, soon realised that it wasn’t good. It was so far from good that she quietly took the remote control and switched off the television before the speech ended. Tayra sat staring at the blank screen for a moment before he exploded.

“The bastard.” He began quite softly, just above a whisper. “The bastard, he’s sold out.”

“Now, Tayra – ”

“What the hell do you mean, now, Tayra? Did you hear what he said? “We have to recognise that the war is over, and we need to work together for mutual benefit. Mutual benefit!” Tayra’s huge fists opened and closed. “Is it mutual benefit that we didn’t get the flat across the hall, though you need it with the baby coming? That’s mutual benefit, isn’t it, when the bugs are crawling over our factory floor?”

Gudi tuned out for a while. She realised with a start that Tayra had put on his shoes and was pulling on his jacket. “Where are you going?”

“I told you, didn’t I? I have to talk to someone about this.”

“Someone, who?”

“Someone who can help.” He didn’t say help in what way. “Don’t wait up, I’ll probably be late.”

The door slammed behind him. Gudi didn’t stand at the window to watch him go.

**************************************************

The morning came and Tayra was still not back. Gudi tried to call him and discovered that he’d left his phone at home. Feeling restless and worried, she put on her coat and decided to go looking for him. She’d probably not find him, but it was better than sitting at home waiting.

There was a Wamain coming up the stairs. HeThey moved aside quickly at the sight of the woman, and bent his little head shield almost to the floor. “Good morning, ma’am.”

Gudi smiled wanly. “And you are...?”

The Wamain’s nictitating plates flicked over HisTheir black eyes. “Ma’am? IWe do not understand.”

“HeThey doesn’t have a name,” KaRaha’s voice came from behind Gudi. “Wamains don’t, you know. They’re only an adjunct of Wamainas, really.”

Gudi glanced from HerThem to the Wamain. HeThey was diminutive compared to KaRaha, only slightly bigger than Gudi herself. “How many of you are there?” she asked.

It was KaRaha who answered. “Only four of us, in our flat. IWe and three Wamain.”

Half-remembered tales came to Gudi’s mind. “That’s not a large Wamai family unit, is it? I heard you usually have about ten or eleven.”

“That’s right, but...” KaRaha gestured, and the Wamain, pressing HimThemself deferentially to the wall, squeezed past Gudi and into the flat. “That’s right,” the Wamaina resumed. “But that’s only true for the top orders. And IWe are bottom level worker caste.”

“You are?” Gudi blinked. “I didn’t know that.”

“Why do you think IWe were sent here to your world to work for you? The top orders do not do such things, ever.” The Wamaina’s voice sounded faintly mocking to Gudi. “But are you going somewhere? Am IWe keeping you?”

“I was going out to look for Tayra. He...went out and, well, he should have been back earlier.”

“IWe hope you will find him soon,” the Wamaina said politely. HerTheir major forelimbs touched Gudi’s shoulders gently. “Come and visit whenever you want,” SheThey said.

“Yes, er...” A movement in the corner of Gudi’s eye caught her attention. It was down the stairs. Peering down past the railings, she saw Tayra coming up, the top of his head and his familiar jacket. “There he is,” she said, in relief. “I’d better get back inside quickly. If he saw me with you...” She caught herself quickly, but there was no need.

KaRaha had disappeared.

Tayra looked exhausted but triumphant. “We’ve made a start,” he said. “We’re organising.”

“Organising what?”

“Never you mind. You look after yourself and the baby, and let me worry about this.”

Gudi watched him move heavily about the flat. “Did you eat at all?”

“Yes, don’t worry about that.” He waved a dismissive hand. “I’ll be late coming back this evening. There’s a meeting after work.”

“You’ll come back, though, right? You’re not going to leave me alone, again?”

“Of course I’ll come back. Now sit down, you’ll upset the baby. I’ve got to get to work.”

But it wasn’t Tayra who came that night, it was a black-clad squad of the Security Police. Gudi had just come out of the bath when they opened the door with their master key and entered, without attempting to knock. They could do that, of course. The Security Police didn’t need warrants for anything. She just had time to wrap a towel, however inadequately, round her expanded girth.

 “Where is he?” the squad chief demanded. From the voice it was a woman, though, of course, Gudi couldn’t see anyone’s face through the mirror visors of their helmets. “Where is your husband?”

“He must be at work,” Gudi said.

“Don’t play games with us, woman. You know as well as I do that he did not go to work today. If he had, we’d have picked him up there.”

Gudi stared at her, open-mouthed. “He didn’t go to work? But...”

The squad leader made a disgusted noise. “Search the place,” she told the others. “Strip it bare. And you, don’t you move.”

Gudi was trembling by the time they finished, and only a little was from the water crawling down her body. They didn’t find anything, of course. She’d no idea what they’d been looking for.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“You know quite well. Your husband is plotting to start a civil war.”

“Civil war?” Gudi yelped. “What on earth are you talking about? He...” she stopped abruptly.

“He, what?”

“Nothing. I don’t know anything about it.”

“No, you probably don’t,” the squad leader answered. “I don’t think your husband would be stupid enough to tell you. You’ll find out, though. You wouldn’t be human if you don’t, now.”

“And suppose I do?” Gudi felt reckless, the blood rushing to her head. “Do you suppose I’d tell you?”

“Oh, you would, if I decided to get it out of you. The only reason I’m not arresting you right away is that.” The squad leader pointed at the bulge of her belly. “Don’t push your luck.”

Gudi shivered, clutching the towel around her. The leader watched her crew leave one by one.

“We’ll be back,” she said over her shoulder. “We’ll be back, much sooner than you think.”

They didn’t even bother to close the door behind them.


**************************************************

Gudi didn’t bother to straighten up the place. There wasn’t any point; they’d probably be back in an hour or two and toss everything around again.

She dressed quickly. She needed to go out. The flat had suddenly become intolerable. The walls seemed to be closing in on her like a fist.

The streets were dark and empty already, and silent except for the familiar grinding and clattering of a police half-track. But the vehicle was several streets away, and she did not see it at all.

She didn’t know exactly where she was going. She’d never gone out with Tayra, and didn’t know who his friends were. But she had to look for him somewhere, however futile the exercise was.

Walking past the deserted local school, she had an idea. Once, she’d seen him with a man he’d introduced as Mit. She’d never really met Mit again, but she’d seen him several times, usually near the market that catered to the factory workers. She’d noted, almost by accident, where he probably lived.

It was one of the oldest buildings in the city, of dark yellow stone and green paint on the door. When she pressed on the bell, nothing happened for a long time, so she rang it again. Then the door slid open enough for an eye to look at her.

“Go away.” It was Mit. She couldn’t see more than the one eye, but his voice was terrified. “Go away, and don’t come back again.”

“Wait, I’m...”

“I know who you are. Please don’t create trouble for me. I’m not involved in this.”

“In this? What is this?” Gudi snapped. “My home was raided by the Security Police, my husband has vanished, and you won’t talk to me. How would I create any trouble when I don’t even know what this is about?”

Mit stared at her and then, reluctantly, opened the door a crack more. “I suppose you’d better come in.”

Gudi squeezed inside. It was a dimly lit room with too much furniture. Mit pointed to a chair and locked the door quickly. “I take it that he didn’t tell you anything?”

“About what? It’s not illegal to demonstrate against the Wamai, is it?”

“Demonstrate?” Mit blinked. “Where did you get the idea that he was going to demonstrate?”

There was a long silence.

“You poor woman,” Mit said at last. “So you really don’t know what this is about.”

**************************************************

Go out the back way,” Mit said. “They might be watching the front.”

Gudi was still feeling dizzy from what she’d just been told. She didn’t have to ask who they might be, though. “They don’t know I’m here,” she objected.

“You might have been followed. It’s not safe.”

“Nothing’s safe,” Gudi said bitterly, as she went through the tiny kitchen. The back door opened on to a tiny walled garden with a narrow lane beyond. Mit ducked back inside and shut the door without a word more.

The last thing she could do now was go home. She looked up and down the lane quickly, almost expecting hulking figures everywhere, but the shadows were dark and still. Was it too silent for this time of night?

“Stop it,” she muttered to herself, hurrying down the lane. “Don’t get paranoid, now.”

The lane opened on to a side street, lined on one side by the canal and on the other by a row of storage warehouses for the factories. Even in the daytime this was a fairly dismal place. At night, it was not a place anyone would want to be.

She was half way along the street when she saw the glow. It was only a flicker at first, among the factory buildings, a flash of yellow. A moment later, it erupted in a white-hot fireball rising over the domes like a blossoming flower. It was so bright that she cried out involuntarily, holding her forearm up over her face.

There were noises, a snap and crackle and a distant roar. When she could open her eyes again, the main factory was wreathed in red and yellow flames. The heat was intense enough to make her flinch.

Little figures were already rushing about in the distance, arcs of water rising up towards the fire from pumps set up beside the canal. She could hear shouts. Something exploded with a hollow bang, and another fireball shot up, even brighter than the first.

Burning debris began raining down. Something large bounced on the pavement beside her and disappeared into the canal with a hiss and puff of steam. It was only after that that she realised her own throat was hoarse with screaming.

Turning, she began to hurry back towards Mit’s house.

She saw them in the lane just in time, four or five in the uniforms and helmets. If it hadn’t been for the flames lighting up the sky behind her she wouldn’t have seen them at all. Mit was with them, looking tiny and scared. He pointed vaguely, in the wrong direction. The Security Police didn’t seem impressed.

Her heart thudding painfully, Gudi pressed herself into a slice of shadow thrown by a tree on the wall. Behind her, the fire was now a tower of light licking at the stars.

Something caught her by the shoulder and pulled. A hand clapped over her mouth, stifling her scream.

“What the hell are you doing out here?” Tayra hissed in her ear.


**************************************************

They...they’re looking for you,” Gudi stammered. “Mit said you’re planning an armed rebellion.”

“Did he?” Tayra had dragged her to a warehouse set apart from the section that was burning. He’d pulled her to a room that was little bigger than a closet and thrust her down on a wooden bench. “What would he know about it?”

“What is this place?” Gudi asked. Neither Tayra nor the other two men in the room, neither of whom she had ever seen before, answered. One of them was peering into a large bag, doing something inside. The other one had earphones on and no expression on his face. “Tayra?”

“We’re the ones planning an armed rebellion?” Tayra shouted suddenly. He pointed towards the tiny skylight, through which the fire could be seen, still soaring skyward. “What do you call that?”

“But...” Gudi licked her lips. “Wasn’t it your group that set the fire, then?”

“Us? Why would we want to burn down the factories? We want it for ourselves, without the bugs. Does it make any sense that we’d set it?”

“Who did, then?”

“I have no idea. Whoever did, though, they’ve started something bigger than anyone can control.” Tayra grinned. “Maybe it’s your friends the bugs who began it. They’re certainly stupid enough, to set fire to something they were supposed to be given on a platter.”

“What if it’s...an accident?”

“Listen to that.” Tayra laughed harshly as an explosion sounded from the direction of the fire. “You think that started by itself? An armed rebellion, did you say? It’s going to be a lot bigger than any armed rebellion, now.”

Gudi changed tack. “Where have you been all day, then? Didn’t you care what I’d be going through?”

“You’d have been all right as long as you stayed at home. The police didn’t hurt you, did they?”

“No, but...” Gudi felt pulled in multiple directions. “How could you expect me to stay waiting without news?”

“Don’t you understand? There are more important things going on than you.”

There was an immense flash of light and something heavy crashed down outside. The man rummaging in the bag looked up calmly. “Fire’s spreading, Tayra. We’ve got to get out.”

“Come on, then.” Tayra pulled at Gudi’s arm, dragging her to the door. Outside it was bright as day, and so hot that she thought her hair and eyelashes might shrivel. The other two men were close behind.

“Where do we go now?” the third man, wearing his headphones around his neck, asked. His voice was soft and had the unmistakable accent of the farm country to the south. “Site B’s already been found and...”

The half-track erupted out of the flame and smoke like a shark parting the sea, its tyres smoking on the concrete. Sparks flew from debris as its churning tracks crushed them down. The gun mounts swivelled like fingers searching for something to point at.

For a moment everyone seemed frozen with shock, and then Tayra reacted. He thrust Gudi away so hard she went staggering. “Run,” he shouted, his voice almost lost in the noise of the fire and the half-track’s engine. “Get out of here!”

Gudi managed to stop herself falling and turned. The other two men had already disappeared. She caught a glimpse of Tayra, looking over his shoulder at her. He mouthed something at her and disappeared behind a pall of smoke.

Gudi straightened, her breath harsh in her throat. The half-track was hesitating, as though confused about which way to go. Its gun muzzles swivelled, aimlessly, and then, as though making up their minds, turned towards her as one.

There was no way she could run, with her belly, even if the air hadn’t been fire in her throat. She stood there and waited as they climbed out of the half-track and came to her.

“So you didn’t know where he was?” the Security Police officer said. “Just how much of a fool do you take me for?”

**************************************************

The inside of the half-track was cramped and smelt of oil, but the air conditioning kept the heat of the fire at bay. They’d pushed Gudi down to the floor, where she crouched between their boots. Over the noise of the half-track’s engine she could hear explosions. She had no idea what they were.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked once.

“Shut up.” A boot prodded her, not too kindly. “I’m not going to tell you again.”

Gudi subsided. The terror she’d held at bay all day now came over her in waves, threatening to overpower her. She’d heard tales of what happened to those taken by the Security Police. That she was pregnant might have postponed her arrest once, but it would not save her again.

“If only you hadn’t been wasting time,” she heard someone say bitterly over the noise of the engine, “we could have got them all. Instead, we just have the woman, and you could have got her anyway.”

“Shut up,” the squad leader snapped. “If you hadn’t lost the signal from the tracker, we’d never have had to...”

It was as though a buried giant had woken and smashed up a fist through the earth into the floor. It threw Gudi into the air. For a moment the half track spun around her, filled with screams and flying equipment. And then something slammed into her head and she was knocked out.

When she regained consciousness, she was outside. Someone had her under the armpits and was dragging her along the street. A short distance away, the half-track sagged, tilted over almost on its side, broken metal links scattered around a crater in the ground. The gun ports swivelled, muzzles flashing, firing aimlessly, their noise merging with that of the explosions and the fire.

“Can you walk?” a voice shouted in her ear. “We need to move quickly.”

“Yes,” she managed to gasp. She did not know who the man was. There was another one with him. They pushed her along, down an alley and into a narrow space between buildings which were still untouched by the fire.

“Please,” she managed to gasp. “I can’t go any further...my breath.”

“Well, you’ll have to.” The man’s fingers dug into her arm. “The commander asked us to get you, specifically. Why do you think we’ve been looking for you all night? Why do you suppose we hit that half-track, for fun?”

“The commander?” Gudi blinked in confusion. “But Tayra was with me just before . He told me to run.”

It was now the man’s turn to peer into her face. “Tayra? What are you on about? I’m talking about the commander. Muna.”

All of a sudden some things became clear to Gudi. “Oh, god. He’s the one who planned the rebellion. And he wants me to use as a hostage, against Tayra. Isn’t that so?”

“What does it matter why he wants you?” the man grunted. “Now are you going to walk, or should we carry you?”

 “Carry her,” the other man snapped. “We can’t dawdle like this.”

“No, I’ll walk.” She wouldn’t let them carry her, wouldn’t sacrifice that much of whatever little dignity was left. How many factions were there, and what was she to them except a tool? To the police she was a source of information about Tayra. To Muna she was a hostage to control Tayra. And to Tayra she was...what, exactly?

“Almost safe,” the man who’d wanted to carry her grunted. They’d come out into a small square. The buildings around were dark and silent. “They’ll never find us here.”

“Just a moment.” Gudi pulled at her captors’ sleeves. “Just one moment, let me breathe.”

The world exploded.

When Gudi could hear and see again she was lying on her back next to a wall. She caught a momentary glimpse of it then – the bat-winged shape of a drone overhead, just visible from the reflection of the fire. Smoke and dust from its missiles was still rising into the air in slow motion.

Dazedly, she sat up. There was no sign of the men. They’d probably run away and left her for dead. If it hadn’t been for her last minute plea for a rest the three of them would have been blown apart.

Gudi had stopped thinking. She no longer had much idea what she was doing. She let her legs carry her whichever way they wanted. No way was better than any other.

After some time she realised she was on familiar territory, the street but one behind her own building. Obediently, as though drawn by an invisible signal, she turned towards it.

Limbs strong as steel came out of the shadows behind her and picked her up like a child. She felt herself held close to an armour-plated chest.

“You aren’t looking very well, ma’am,” KaRaha’s familiar voice said. “IWe think you need help. Am IWe mistaken?”

“No,” Gudi whispered, and the word repeated itself like an endless echo. “Nonononono.”

**********************************

Here,” the Wamaina said. SheThey eased Gudi onto the van’s padded bench, steadying her against the swaying and lurching of the speeding vehicle. “It’s lucky IWe saw you before we left.”

“Where are you going?” Gudi mumbled. The Wamaina filled the interior of the little vehicle almost to overflowing. One of the Wamain was in the front, behind the wheel. The other two were nowhere to be seen.

“Out of the city. It’s not healthy here, as you can see for yourself.” There might have been irony in the Wamaina’s voice. SheThey gestured with a minor forelimb at the fire climbing over the factories. “Now take off your clothes.”

“What?” Gudi asked.

“Take off your clothes,” the alien repeated patiently. “We – IWe and you – don’t want to be traced. You’ll see.”

They found one tracker in the seam of her jacket’s collar, clinging on with tiny mechanical legs. Another, like a little worm, was dug into the heel of her shoe. KaRaha pitched both out of the window. “Let them try and find you now,” SheThey said.

Mechanically, Gudi dressed again. “That’s how they knew where I was,” she muttered. “They must have seeded all my clothes with trackers while searching the flat.”

The Wamaina blanked the van’s windows. “Now we only have to get out of town before someone puts up roadblocks,” SheThey said. “We only need a little luck. Not that it matters, of course, in the long run.”

“How do you mean?” Gudi asked.

“There’s no way we Wamain can get back home. All Wamain here are trapped. Sooner or later, we’ll probably be hunted down. But not for now.”

“I’m sorry,” Gudi whispered.

“Sorry?”

“For everything. It’s not your fault you’re here, caught in our troubles.” Gudi winced as something very loud exploded not too far away. “It’s not your fault you’re here and can’t go home.” She had a thought. “Where are your other two Wamain? Are they in another vehicle?”

“They will not be joining us.” KaRaha’s nictitating plates slid back and forth over HerTheir eyes. “They have stayed behind to do what they have to.”

“What?” Gudi struggled to sit up, but the Wamaina easily and gently pushed her down again. “They’ll be killed!”

“Of course, but that does not matter. Wamain are not really independent thinking creatures. And in any case it is a sacrifice in a worthy cause. As will MyOurs be, when it comes. After all, I’m only a tiny part of the great Wamai Hive, a very small and expendable one.”

“Worthy cause? What worthy cause?”

There was no mistaking the satisfaction in the alien’s voice. “Our liberation,” SheThey said. “It starts tonight.”

Gudi lay back silently, waiting.

“You humans,” KaRaha went on, “wanted to enslave us, and thought you’d succeeded. And then you thought we would be paid off with petty little jobs in your factories and farms. But just because you thought it would be that way doesn’t necessarily mean anything to us. Do you understand?”

Gudi’s lips moved. “The factory fire...”

“One of MyOur Wamain set it. Very successfully, IWe might add.” KaRaha gestured with a minor forelimb. “We Wamai have been studying you, ever since the surrender. We’ve seen your internal splits and fissures, your tribal resentments and social divisions. All it takes is a hard blow in the right place to break it all apart. And it’s not just this one factory complex, of course. All over your world, mines and farms and factories, power stations and communications centres, everything Wamai have access to, everything is going up in flames right now.”

“Civil war,” Gudi said.

“As you say, civil war. It would have come sooner or later, but now is the time when it will cause the maximum chaos and destruction.” KaRaha’s head shield slid back and forth as another blast shook the van. “How many factions do you suppose are going to be at each other’s throats by this time next week?”

“And I?” Gudi cried out. “Why did you save me? Why did you bring me along?”

“This city will be destroyed, and more likely than not everyone in it.”  The Wamaina touched the woman’s face. “You deserve to have a chance at life elsewhere, you and your baby. After all, we don’t mean genocide. We aren’t monsters.”

There was a long silence, except for the van’s engine and distant explosions, before KaRaha spoke again.

“We’re just the family across the hall,” SheThey said. “And all we want is freedom.

“Is that so very wrong?”



Copyright B Purkayastha 2017


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

And I Woke And Found Me Here

Oh, Jegal, Jegal. My heart sings your name. Jegal, my love, I can hardly bear to be a moment away from you.

I know it isn’t really far away. If I turn to look down the slope, I can see our cottage, down below. Not so long ago, it would have been my cottage, mine alone – and now it’s ours. And if you would only accept it, it would be yours, all yours. No, it is not far away, but even a moment away from you pulls at my heart as though with claws. The only thing that makes my work here bearable is the anticipation of being with you again.

My hands scrabble among the bushes, gathering berries with unwonted clumsiness. Once, they’d have flickered from twig to twig, deftly avoiding the thorns; but now my haste makes me clumsy, and the red of crushed berries on my skin mixes with the smeared red of my blood.

No matter, my love. A few drops of blood are nothing compared to the torrents that gush through my veins, singing of you, only you.

I know it isn’t much of a cottage. It never was much of a cottage, even when my silly and clumsy hands weren’t all that were trying to keep it in some kind of repair, as it is now. Oh, I know what you would say – that my hands were beautiful and wonderful – but I know the truth. I have tried my best with them, and the result shows clearly in the cottage now.

It was my father who built it, when we fled from our home in the city – that city which is now cinder and stone. I have been told the tale often enough to have almost seen it with my own eyes. We fled, my parents and I, leaving everything we’d owned behind, as howling mobs stormed through the streets and the flames rose in the sky. We had fled until we could flee no more, until my mother collapsed in spasms of agony that threatened to tear her apart, until I pushed my way into the world from between her bloodstained thighs.

My father, that gentle teacher and poet who had never even put up a shelf in his life, had to make a shelter for us, for clearly we could go no further until my mother was able to travel. And so he piled stone on stone, and pushed mud in between them, as he’d read; and for a roof he gathered wood and leaves and grass, and made a thatch. It did not then matter, for it was only a temporary shelter, until my mother could travel again.

But time passed, and the year grew from spring to summer towards winter, and my mother was no better. And so my father had to build up the walls thicker, and get more wood, and thatch, and make it a proper place to winter a sick woman and a baby. And so the winter passed, and the next year, and he built up the crude shelter, learning from his mistakes. It never was a great cottage, but by the second winter it was a cottage, and not just a hovel and shelter from the howling winter winds.

And the year after that my mother died.

I could show you her grave, my love, but I think it would distress you, and I would tear out my own heart rather than give you a moment of sorrow. My mother died, and with her something died, I think, in my father. I don’t, of course, remember anything from that time, but as I grew older I never saw him without a shadow in his eyes. Even as he sat on that rock there, watching me run through the grass, he would never laugh. The most I could ever coax out of him was a moment’s smile.

Of course we went no further. You can well understand, can’t you, that my father did not wish to leave the spot where his wife had died? Besides, it is a good spot, my love; safe and protected, as you yourself have found. No enemies will ever follow us here.

Oh, my father did not intend that we should stay here forever. When I was old enough, he told me often, when my feet itched to walk to new lands, we would move on. We would go where it was safe and there was no war or turmoil. And sometimes he would lead me by the hand and we would climb to the tops of these peaks, and look out on to the plain. And sometimes we would see the smoke of burning towns in the distance; and after a while my father would sigh deeply, and lead me back down again.

And so the years passed, and I grew towards womanhood. And as I did, my father, imperceptibly, grew old too, though neither of us spoke of it. For all he and I acknowledged, every day we spent here would be the last; tomorrow, things would be better, and we’d leave in the morning.

And one day, quite simply and without a fuss, he died.

His grave is here, too, beside that of my mother. It is not so well dug, for though I did the best I could I could not even equal my father’s efforts, and in these few years it has almost merged back into the soil again. I could show it to you, but I will not, for fear that those lovely dark eyes of yours would brim over with sorrow. As I have told you so many times, I wish you no sorrow.

After my father died, I stayed here. I had no wish to go further. This valley, these hills, were all I knew, and from what my father had told me I understood that the world outside was ugly as the pillars of smoke rising from the dun-brown plains. I would spend my life alone here, reading the few books my father had salvaged, I decided; and I would only need my own company, which was fine with me, because I was the only one I had left.

I hadn’t met you then; I had no idea then of the stupendous power of love.

I still remember the instant when I first laid eyes on you; I will always remember it. The previous night the sky over the plain had glowed red where it showed above the mountains, and when I went out in the morning, I saw smoke drifting over the peaks. So, for the first time after my father died, I had drawn on my thick boots and clambered up the rocky slopes towards the peaks, from where I might look down on the plain.

I never got there.

I remember hearing you before I saw you. You were gasping, exhausted, drawing in air like a wounded animal chased by hunters. And you were wounded and chased by hunters, though I did not know it yet.

I saw the hunters first; early morning sunlight glittering on spear blades and helmets. I did not know who they were, and I did not need to know. My father had told me enough about spears and helmets to make sure I would stay away from them both.

So I crouched behind a rock, hoping they would not look up and see me, hoping they would not come further and find the cottage, hoping your gasping for air would not carry to them. Oh, my love, I hated and feared your gasping for breath then! I wished it would be silenced, so I would not have to listen to it anymore.

It was when they’d turned away that I saw you. You were pulling yourself along the slope, your blood painting the rock, dripping from your poor abraded fingers. I waited where I was, watching you crawl closer, until I found that you had no spear or helmet and thus might be safe to approach. It was only when I came up to you that I realised that the blood was not only from your fingers, and only later did I find the wound in your side.

By then, though, I’d already fallen hopelessly, endlessly in love.

My darling, Jegal. Do you realise, can you ever realise, how I had been until I met you? I had never even seen a man but my father; and not a human being except him and my mother, who had died before I was old enough to remember. And here you were, helpless and hurt, for me to take care of; how could I not have fallen in love?
You know as well as I do how I carried you back home, and how I nursed you; day and night I sat beside you, tending your wound, feeding you, putting wet cloths on your head as you burned with fever. It was in your fevered muttering that I first learnt your name, and I repeated it to myself a hundred times, a thousand.

And slowly, my love, slowly, the fever went, the wound stopped bleeding, and one day you were healed at last. And we both knew then – you did not have to tell me – that you were with me to stay, that you would never leave.

My heart stopped when you looked at me. Even now, when your eyes fall on me, the breath catches in my throat and my heart misses a beat.

By that time it was winter and the stones were splitting with the cold, and I held you through the long nights. I had, of course, never touched a man that way before. I had hardly known the touch of another human being at all; my father could barely bring himself to touch me when I was sick; I reminded him too much of my mother. By the time spring came around at last, my love, I could barely let you out of my sight, even for a moment. I grudged the hours of sleep that took me from you.

I spoke to you and you listened. I had to teach myself to speak again, almost; but you did not mind. You were not like my father; no matter how much I chattered to you, no matter what I talked about, not once did you tell me to be silent. Not once, for a single moment, did you refuse to listen to me.

And through all the winter you smiled. You were not a moment without smiling. I would wake up in the morning and you were smiling at me; your smile was the last thing I would see before the dark tides of sleep bore me away every night.

And so the days grew longer and warmer, and for the first time in all the years since my father’s death I felt free to laugh and chatter to you, and glory in your smile. I told myself it would never end, and I was almost right. But one day they came.

They came looking for you, the men with the spears and the shining helmets. It was you they wanted, though I do not know why. They had spent the long and weary winter searching for you, but they hadn’t found you anywhere they looked. So they were looking for you where they hadn’t looked before.

I persuaded them that they would have to look elsewhere. They were not happy, but they were in a hurry, and they did not tarry long; besides, they seemed frightened for some reason. Perhaps they thought I was a witch; perhaps they had something else to be afraid of. I stood on the slope, here, watching them leave. By the time I saw the last of them, they were almost fleeing.  And then I went down to you, and held you in my arms, and murmured words of comfort to you.

The berries are gathered. It is getting cold again; the days are getting shorter. I think I will get some wood now, before going down to the cottage, so that we can have a fire tonight. I would like to have a fire as I sit by you.

In a while now, I will go down to the cottage, where you wait for me, with your never ending smile. I shall put the berries in your mouth, so the juice dribbles down your jaw; and I shall draw the blankets around your shoulders, so that your poor bones don’t catch a chill.

And I shall sit beside you on the bed while the fire burns, holding you to me and chattering of the day; and if I should look towards you, I know I will see your smile.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2017


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Anamika's Curse



Put this on the girl.” The astrologer held out a small copper tube on a black string. “Then she’ll be all right.”

Anamika’s mum snatched the tube as though it were a life raft in the middle of the ocean. “You’re sure she’ll be all right?” she asked, her thin face filled with desperate eagerness.

“Didn’t I say so?” The astrologer held out his hand for the money. “I’ve checked her horoscope. It’s just a malign influence of the planets.”

Anamika’s mum nodded, fumbling in her handbag. “But the doctors in the hospital said…”

“What do the doctors know?” The astrologer’s oily face shone with sweat despite the small-bladed ceiling fan stirring the air in the room. He had two lower missing front teeth. When he grinned, as he did while taking the roll of pink two thousand rupee notes, the remaining teeth looked like yellow-brown pegs stuck in his mouth. “Doctors know nothing except what their foreign books tell them. It’s just a matter of correcting astral influences.”

“Yes, well…” Anamika’s mum still looked anxious. “How long will it be before she’s fully healed? I mean, she’s been fainting and we’re scared of what might happen at school, and…”

Anamika wished they didn’t talk about her as though she weren’t right there, perched on the chair whose sharp edge was digging into her thighs. She didn’t want to be there anyway. It wasn’t she who’d wanted to come.   

“Didn’t I tell you she’d be all right?” The astrologer peered over their shoulders at the door, already waiting for his next client. The waiting room outside was so crowded that people were spilling into the street. “If you don’t have faith, it won’t work anyway, and…”

“No, no, I didn’t mean anything.” Anamika’s mum jumped up quickly, as though the astrologer would take the amulet back. “Come on, Anu.”

Anamika hated being called Anu. She climbed off the chair slowly, trying not to let it scrape her skin any more than it had already. The soles of her bare feet flinched from the grit in the thin carpet. It was a very dirty room, with dust on the shelves and streaking the one window. Even the astrologer looked dirty.

“Why doesn’t he make himself look better if he knows so much?” she asked as she and her mum put on their shoes outside. “At least he could use his astrology to lose some weight and fix his teeth.”

 Her mum glared at her. “Don’t say such things about these people,” she snapped. “They’re so good that they never do anything for themselves. Don’t you want to get well?”

“Yes, but…” Anamika tried to find words to adequately express what she was thinking. “What I mean is, if it’s so easy, why do people go to doctors? Shouldn’t they – ”

“Shh,” Anamika’s mum snapped, with a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure that nobody was listening. “Do you think all these people are fools? Don’t they want to get well too?”

Someone had been listening. It was a fat woman with a thick bun of hair. “He’s a very good astrologer,” she said severely. “He gave my Rahul an amulet, and he got a job interview call in only a few weeks. It wasn’t his fault that the board was biased and didn’t give Rahul the post.”

There was nothing Anamika had to say to that.

“Whatever he says comes true,” the woman said.

“Come along,” her mum said, mollified. “I’ll get you an ice cream.”

***********************************************

 Of course Anamika didn’t get better.

“I can’t understand it,” her mum said. “She fainted again in school today. And she’s growing thinner by the day, you can see it. The astrologer promised that his amulet would cure her. Should I take her back to him tomorrow? Maybe if he gave her a stronger amulet, or a ring with a power gem...”

“Don’t be stupid,” Anamika’s father snapped. “The amulet is useless. The astrologer is a fraud. I could have told you...”

“You could, could you?” her mother yelled back. “Then why didn’t you? Why didn’t you once tell me to not take her there? And now what do you want me to do?”

They leaned across the dining table at each other like snarling animals. Clapping her hands over her ears, Anamika went to her room. But her room didn’t have a door, just a curtain, and she could still hear them.

“Just tell me,” her father was raging, “why you never told me that this bad blood was in your family.”

“My family? My family?” her mum screeched in reply. “Nobody in my family had this in their lives. It must be your family.”

“Don’t lie,” her dad shouted back. “It’s not as though I even wanted a daughter. If we’d had a son...”

There was a shocked silence, which was at last broken by Anamika’s mother.

“All right,” she said. “So maybe someone cursed us. Maybe it’s our punishment for something.”

“Punishment? Curse? Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Maybe it’s something she did in a past life, then.” Her mother sounded weary. “The question is, what do we do now?”

“Take her to the doctors again,” her father replied bitterly. “What else?”

“You know what they said. She’ll need medicine, injections every day, her whole life long. You think we can keep that secret?”

“And so?”

“And so? And so? How stupid are you?” Anamika’s mother hissed. “Who’s going to marry her, with her problem? Tell me that.”

“Is that all you think about? Getting her married? She’s just a girl.”

“Just a girl,” her mother repeated. “And just now you were telling me that you hadn’t wanted a daughter. And don’t you think we should think about it? Even if we’d had another child, who’d have married him, with the bad blood in the family?”

Anamika had thrown herself down on the bed and pulled the pillow over her head, but she still couldn’t drown out their voices. “Do what you want,” her father said at last. “Drag the girl off to some witch doctor if you want. I couldn’t care less.” There was a brief silence, and the front door slammed.

Anamika’s mother came into her room. “Anu?”

Anamika tried to pretend she was sleeping, but the tears catching in her throat made her breathing ragged and uneven, so her mum knew. “Anu, don’t bother about this, all right? We’ll fix this.”

“How?” Anamika asked, her head still buried under the pillow. Her breath, reflected off the mattress, was furnace-hot on her face. She wished she could stop breathing.

“I’ll find something...I’ll ask around. There must be a cure of some sort. Don’t worry.”

Without waiting for an answer, she turned and left, the curtain swishing shut behind her.

***********************************************

Make a sacrifice at the temple,” Auntie Geeta said. “The goddess answers all prayers, if the sacrifice is big enough.”

“What kind of sacrifice?” Anamika’s mother asked.

Auntie Geeta gestured vaguely. “Gold? The goddess usually wants sacrifices of gold.”

“Gold.” Anamika’s mother busied herself pouring tea. “You mean bribe the goddess?” she asked.

Auntie Geeta made a gesture of exaggerated shock. “How can you say that! I thought you were a good Hindu. You know you can’t get something for nothing.”

Anamika’s mother shrugged. “But it is that, isn’t it? And, anyway, how many people do you know whose prayers the goddess has actually answered?”

“I heard that the jeweller’s wife’s sister had many stillbirths and miscarriages until she...”

“No, no, Geeta,” Anamika’s mother said. “How many people do you, yourself, know whose prayers the goddess has answered?”

“Well, I...” Geeta’s thick-lipped mouth opened and closed, more like that of a fish than ever. “I...”

Auntie Shyama had been watching the whole thing with quiet enjoyment. She spoke up now. “Well, I might know someone...she does amazing things.”

“Amazing things?”

“Yes, with magnets and things. It’s really great.” She patted her thick thigh for emphasis. “She took away my rheumatism pain almost completely. I’ll give you the address.”

Unhappy at being upstaged, Auntie Geeta was about to say something cutting when Anamika came back from school. All three ladies turned towards her. “Anu,” her mother said, “say Namaste to your aunts.”

Anamika bent her head and joined her palms together, knowing it wasn’t enough to please her mother, but unable to do anything more. “Ah, mum...” she began.

“What are you feeding her, Amita?” Auntie Geeta sang out. “She’s as thin as a rake!”

“I do believe the poor child has flu,” Auntie Shyama said. “Come here, Anu, let me feel your forehead.”

“Mum,” Anamika repeated with increased desperation. She felt sweat stream down her face. Aunt Shyama’s huge face began to pulsate, flashing grey and white and grey. “Mum...” she wailed one more time, and fell forwards on to the tea cups.

It was the greatest entertainment Geeta and Shyama had had in weeks.

***********************************************

The hospital room smelt of disinfectant, and Anamika’s hand felt stiff where the needle was stuck in it and held in place with tape. The other hand was swollen and blue where the blood had leaked out from a punctured vein. Her throat hurt, too, when she tried to swallow.

She could hear voices from the doorway, and her name.

“How could you do this to her?” It was the doctor who had examined her this morning, who had embarrassed her by lifting up her gown to look at her all over. Her voice was hard and cold. “The child almost died!”

“You don’t understand.” It was Anamika’s mother. “It’s hard bringing up a daughter, and...”

“In any case, it’s our business,” Anamika’s father snapped. “This isn’t America or England that you can tell us what to do with our own child. This is...”

“This will be murder, if you don’t listen,” the doctor said. “Your daughter is very sick. It is not her fault that she’s sick, and she does not deserve to suffer.”

“Well, then, give us a solution,” her father said. “If you can do that, then, fine.”

“I’ve been telling you,” the doctor said. “Your previous doctors also told you. She’s going to need insulin injections and daily blood glucose checks, and with that she can...”

Anamika stopped listening. The words flowed round and over her, like a river, and stopped having any meaning. She felt as though she was drowning in them, as though they were filling her ears and nose and eyes. She tried to struggle to the surface, to try and breathe.

“All right,” she heard, from a very long way away. It was probably her father, but she couldn’t be sure. With the words clogging her ears, she couldn’t be sure of anything. “We’ll do as you say.”

“Yes, we’ll...” a voice that might have been her mother’s added, from a distance that was as great as that to the stars. “We’ll...”

Suddenly it was very important for Anamika to hear what the voice was saying, but it was from impossibly far away, and though she strained, she could hear less and less. The river closed in and took her under.

Then there was nothing at all.

***********************************************

When Anamika got back from school, Auntie Geeta and Auntie Shyama were slurping tea. They both turned to look at her.

“Anu,” her mum said. “Say Namaste to your aunties.”

“Namaste,” Anamika said dutifully. There was a gecko on the wall, and she watched it crawl up towards the corner. The gecko was small and ugly, but at least it didn’t have to be stared at by Aunties Geeta and Shyama.

“She’s looking good,” Auntie Geeta said eventually.

“Yes,” Auntie Shyama agreed reluctantly. “She’s looking good.”

“Go and change, Anu,” her mum ordered. And, just to make sure the aunties didn’t forget who was in charge here, she added, “Don’t forget to take your injection after washing your hands and feet.”

Relieved, Anamika went to her room. Through the curtain she could hear the women talking.

“We’re taking the best care of her,” her mum began proudly. “She just won’t listen, of course, these girls never listen to anything, but we make sure she gets her injections, and blood tests, and...”

“Injections, what injections,” Auntie Geeta said. “If you’d gone to the temple – ”

“If you’d gone to the woman I told you, the one with the magnets – ” Auntie Shyama said at the exact same moment.

And it was at that point that Anamika threw herself down on the bed and began to laugh.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2017



[This story is for my friend Deaglan and his daughter Niamh, who at the age of eight is successfully coping with Type I diabetes, including injecting herself with insulin, monitoring her own blood sugar, and all the other things she will have to do for the rest of her life.

It is also for every single child sick of diseases that are treatable but go neglected due to ignorance and superstition.]