The men of the caravan

Winds blew harsh against her face. Her knees grew weak and she strolled harder, determined. Sun was partially visible through the sparse blanket of sands which rose in excitement and tried gradually to swallow her whole before the day falls, would she decide to stop moving. Her view was limited by the sands, to small slits in her eyelids. In her hands lay the corpse of a five-year old, totally dried in his tongue and acid, thick in his stomach. Sun would not stay up for long, and she prayed desperately. Prayed that the Sun would soon fall down to throw darkness over her and that the winds would not cease, ever. She would die soon in these sands if the winds won’t recede now. Cold would kill her that comes with darkness if not the rising sands, or would do the venomous reptiles that lurk within them, too glad to kill their prey – the strangers who lost their way. She had seen a few of them in those past few days and she wished such fate over anything that she left behind. By the curses the men threw at her which grew paler in her ears with the wind, she knew that she was moving away, and in the correct direction.

Two weeks ago the men of the caravan lost their route and delved into the uncharted territory. A group of ten they were, all grown men but for Hasina and her child. All were friendly and competed to share their food with the woman and thus the child. All but for that one, the ‘man in black’ who hardly spoke. Most generous one was the ‘sweet old man’ as her boy called him, who offered them the pieces of his bread, even when they were not yet hungry. She didn’t resist prying eyes over her. She knew what most men want no matter how old they get, and she was happy that they were being fed. “Nearest village couldn’t be more than a day’s walk and I shall take good care of you both” smiled the ‘sweet old man’ on the second day they went astray. It took a week and his smile grew silent, as the food grew lesser, and the men of the caravan lost interest in the woman and thus her child.

“Sleep now my dear, home would be soon” she talked her son to sleep, the same words that she repeated many times since the past few days. First, when he was afraid of the night, then when he was in tears last week, swallowing the food the ‘man in black’ gave him, after the ‘sweet old man’ slapped him in the face for taking pieces of his remaining bread. And then, the night when hunger made him cry the horrific cry, and then again the night when he could no longer cry. It was that day when his breath stopped in her arms, and the same day the men of the caravan began to fight over the little food left.

“Let’s use everything we could to survive” blurted the ‘sweet old man’ looking at the corpse of the five-year old. The ‘man in black’ who hardly spoke was the only one who spoke hard and shouted “No”. He fought when she was more in shock that moment than hunger, and kept fighting when tears of terror brought pain to her eyes. It was then that she prayed hard and the winds rose, and with them the sands in which she vanished away with her son. Away from the men of the caravan, fighting the man in black and about to start casting votes over selection of the first to devour the little corpse, and she vanished away from the ‘man in black’ who was busy fighting them. The only man in the caravan who never spoke with her and the only man she met in her life, who spoke for her.

“Let no one touch my boy” prayed Hasina to the skies as she fell in the night to the winds that won’t stop. In her arms lay her little boy and she whispered in his ear “Sleep now my dear, home would be soon.” Her whispers were lost in the winds and the sands consumed the mother and her child. The men couldn’t find them after the wind was gone. Anger in the men grew with the night and the ‘man in black’ lay dead over the sands, the following morning. The men choked him to death and the ‘sweet old man’ was the first to devour his flesh.

They fell silent by the evening, as they walked through the day and reached a village. The silence grew and it haunted them from within, as the ‘sweet old man’ started to laugh. In shame that consumed them in the silence of blood that rushed through their veins, the men of the caravan hanged themselves in the days that came, one by one, yet all but one, and thus remained the ‘sweet old man’. He was the only one to remain among the living who witnessed the shame that killed the men of the caravan, and the only one who witnessed the honour that killed the only man who fought for it, the ‘man in black’ who hardly spoke, whose name no one knew nor where he came from. But the ‘sweet old man’ tried and failed over and again to forget his face all through his life which he so preciously held.

-Avinash Kumar

Writings Eighteen


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