Death Speaks

-by Arjun Dev

I’ll start by apprising you about myself, which is as extraneous a task as divulging to you an information which you already know of. You haven’t met me yet, but you’ve already had instances in your lifetime when you managed to catch tiny glimpses of me. But, you haven’t seen my countenance, nor can you envisage my true embodiment, and those who have are in no condition to describe it to a second.

If I were to tell you, I would say that you live every day without a conscious thought of me, but your interior always in the process of contemplating your meeting with me, which is inevitable for every creature, whom you call a mortal. People connect me with grief, violence and hopelessness, but I actually stand for peace. I’m at the end of all convolution. Without me, there’s no end to any pandemonium that ever rose. I’m finalty. I’m all that lies at the end of the road. The conclusion is me.

I take people up in my gentle arms when they reach the ample period and relieve them of the excruciating agony with my tenderness. On some days, out of little misunderstandings between a few results in turmoil, which are days when I detest what I do when my arms are full of tender young souls who’ve seen less of the world that every person deserves to. These are the souls that are full of sorrow, at having been snatched away from all the people they had and were to encounter.

Of recently, I’ve had to have several of such souls, west of the Mediterranean in a little strip of land people call Syria. I’m going to tell you about a child, who goes by the name of Burhan.

I first saw Burhan in a crowded marketplace. Burhan’s father, Houmam owns a little grocery shop which was all his family of a wife and three kids had to rely on, to make ends meet, especially in times of such havoc. Houmam was weighing out the meagre amount of rice they’d had for a lady, whose eyes, the only part that was externally visible, looked seemingly dull and devoid of any brightness, like a majority of people occupying the area.

Burhan, the nine-year-old, on the other hand, had the sparkle of innocence and childish bliss reflecting in his deep brown pupils. Perched on the counter, he smiled gleefully as he licked at the piece of candy his father had given him.

Suddenly, there was a distant scream, followed by the loud thudding of heavy boots marching in the direction of the market. The atmosphere of the place transfigured in a second from the dull mansuetude to a hurried hustle, with terror pervading the surroundings. I moved closer to the area.

“Open your shutters, in the name of Allah, or we’ll blow up the entire place”, yelled a tall man, his pitch black billowing robes covering up his bony shoulders and a hood concealing a major part of a young face, barely out of its teens.

An old man attempted to dart into one of the shops tripped and fell into the dust. The tall soldier cursed loudly, and moved up to him and kicked out at him like a mongrel, and shouted at him to scamper.

“Azad! That’s enough”, a much bulkier man sauntered up, two rifles hanging from the back of his robes, which fitted him much better than Azad.

“In the name of Allah, let it begin”, he screamed out.

At once, a troop of similar black-robed men, all clutching rifles barged into the stores, taking whatever caught their eye. The lanky young man, Azad was the one who came into Houmam’s shop. He snatched away the bags from Houmam and started piling in all the grains in the shop. He turned to leave when his attention was caught by a little wood model of a train engine in Burhan’s hand which his elder sister, Fahima had made for him. “Here”, he held out his hand in front of the nine-year old’s eyes.

Burhan hung on to the engine. His father signalled him to hand it over. But, the kid was stubborn. As the soldier tried to snatch it out of his hands, he bit hard into his palm. Azad yelled in agony and then delivered a smack so hard on the former’s face that doubled him up. Then he grabbed Burhan by the hair and dragged him onto the middle of the street. He pushed back his robes up to reveal scrawny forearms and placed his skinny fingers on the trigger.

I was right beside Burhan, perceiving the visage, brimming with innocence, unaware of the terror people had of me when the big man placed a hand on Azad’s shoulder.

“Allah doesn’t desire slaughter of worthy young blood.”

“The brat bit me, Aimer.”, Azad screamed, flashing his palm at him.

“We need young people like him to join us.”, Aimer said, in a solemn, authoritative voice, that seemed to silence the other.

“Come with us, kid. And serve the almighty Allah.”, Aimer offered a hand to Burhan who took it, thinking Aimer to be his saviour at that point.

“NOOOOO!”, Houmam dashed to the middle of the street screaming.

“Allah hu Akbar!”, there came a loud shout from Aimer, his rifle aimed at his prey and I descended at that moment and came up carrying a broken father in my arms.

The last glimpse I got of Burhan was when he was being led away from his father’s body, tears leaking through his red eyes, which radiated along with a mountain of grief, something that unhinged me. It was fury, an unreasonable amount of it.


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