It was a common story. A campus that was under the tyrannical rule of a leading political party. Students kneeling down to conformity. A few rebellious ones that refused to obey. Aru was among this group. After the brutal murder of a fellow student was buried as an "accident," Aru decided to do something about it. So she painted a picture, completed a graffiti along with others in the dead of night - one that mocked the hierarchy, the whole corrupt system. It went viral soon after. Her identity was hidden, of course.
Not for long though, somehow it got leaked out. Fear was a powerful force, after all.
Long story short, she was beaten up in broad daylight. The assailants were clever, they targeted her dominant hand. She was lucky that they didn't chop it off. Her knack for painting tends to invite trouble, it seems.
So, here she was hiding in her native village at her mother's house.
“Fine,' you say! You were lucky that you didn't die, you FOOL!”,Nifa retorted. Aru didn't disagree. She went back to staring at the door or the cavity of it. It was funny how people tend to tolerate any atrocity as long as it didn't affect them. But what if there was a threat that affected all of them? Would they still remain divided? Or unified, no matter how short lived it was?
“What are you talking of?”
“I'm wondering what would happen when the scales finally tip,” Aru replied.
“Are you still thinking about that 'resistance' of yours? Are you suicidal?” Nifa asked bitterly.
“Probably,” Aru agreed.
“You still need to have a strong hold over the people though,” Nifa thought aloud, “I mean, a common enemy alone can't unify people.”
“True ... say, do you know anything about that uncle of ours?” Aru asked suddenly.
“What - did they beat up your head too? I thought you hated him. Why are you so curious?” Nifa asked.
“Well, the fact that we're here isn't known to everyone, right? I was wondering if they decided to interrogate him. After all, I kind of have an unannounced bounty on my head.”
“I don't think he knows that you're here though. You're very quiet and he is busy collecting quilts for his new business.”
“Winter sales, eh? A good business idea, for once!” Aru laughed.
“Yeah! It's gonna be cold this year.”
It was warm. Too warm.
The stench of smoke tickled Nifa's nostrils as she woke up with a jolt. It was supposed to be a cold night in December, but here she was waking up in the dead of night thanks to the smell of something burning.
Nifa quickly woke her family members, added a kick when it came to Aru. They searched for something that might have caught fire but there was nothing. But the smell kept increasing so they rushed out of the household. It was then noticed the flames that engulfed the portion of their home was their uncle's side.
Aru heard muffled screams and coughs coming from the fire.
What was worse was that the flames engulfed the exit, leaving no room for an escape. By then there was a crowd gathered around them, hollering each other to bring water. Aru's mother with trembling hands, called the fire brigade.
But there was a problem, by the time they get there, it might be too late..
However the fire still didn't spread to Aru's side.
“The door!” Aru whispered. “We can get them out through the place where the door was!” she suddenly yelled. Aru's mother was the first person to react. “The large hammer under the bed … we can use it!”
A few minutes later some of the people from the neighbourhood, armed with hammers dashed inside. They gathered in front of the concrete grave of the door that once united the family, encompassed by Aru's makeshift door frame. The people on the other side had already gathered behind the concrete wall. The fire had started from the entrance after all.
“HELP US OUT PLEASE,” her uncle screamed. “AT LEAST GET THE KIDS OUT!” “DAD, BREATH THROUGH THE WET TOWEL!” Aru heard Tashu's voice after many years, followed by a series of coughs.
“Uncle, Tashu, Aunty -- we'll get you out! Stay back!” Aru screamed through the wall.
Grasping the hammer tightly in her damaged hands, she swung it with all her might. The others followed suit. The hammers fell, the concrete chipped, then the bricks...
The smoke became thicker...
The siren of the fire brigade could be heard in the distance.
Dribbling sweat and screeches...
Then finally there was an opening and she thought she could see an eye through it. The opening became bigger and bigger, so did the face become more visible. They hammered away until there was a large hole in the middle of the concrete wall. With the biggest smile, Aru outstretched her bruised hand towards them.
“Come, we are waiting!”
In the middle of the ruins of the civil war, there is a strange sight in this small town. In the place where there once existed a house, among the debris and wreckage there stood a strange wall. Even though it was made of concrete, someone had painted door frames around it. Even stranger was the fact that there was this gaping hole in the middle of that wall, which didn't seem like the air raids did it.
No one will ever know that this concrete door ended up connecting a family, bringing peace in the face of death.
Tiasha Idrak is a student of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka.