5 years, 2 months and 19 days ago – 7:30 PM.
Pankaj was trying to close shop as fast as possible. The skies were overcast. He’d decided to leave this town too. He wasn’t sure how safe it was for Tara now. The residents were getting suspicious. Tara was his daughter. He’d lost her mother to a witch hunt three years ago. He was afraid of Tara’s fate too. She was nine but her thoughts hadn’t progressed accordingly. Just like her mother’s. The ‘doctors’ said she was mad. He didn’t believe them. But he didn’t tell anyone about his daughter either.
He made the last sale of the day and hurriedly cycled down to his place. He couldn’t figure out why he was a nervous wreck. He felt something ominous would happen. He shut the door behind him.
Tara’s voice was drifting from the floor above. She often spoke to her toys. “Tara, I am home,” he called out.
She didn’t answer. He walked into the bedroom, onto her toys strewn all over the place.
He could see his daughter hiding behind the bedpost. Walking towards her, he kept asking, “Where is Tara today?” She giggled. He happened to glance outside the window to see a group of people walking towards his house.
Picking her up gently, tickling her so she didn’t protest, he explained to her slowly, “Daddy and you will play a little game now. I’ll hide you and you will keep quiet for five minutes. Okay?”
The bell rang.
“Did Tara understand?” he asked hurriedly.
“Yes, Daddy,” she answered softly.
The bell rang again.
Hoping she had actually understood, he put her down behind the bed again.
Now they were banging on the door.
He hurried down.
There were some kids hiding behind the men. Questions rained down on him. “What have you done to the house? The children say they hear voices from the house. The house throws stones at us, they say. Our children are afraid to come to this part of the town.”
“No, there’s no one in here except me. I am sure your kids must be mistaken!” He sounded confident but didn’t look the least.
Just then, he faintly heard Tara’s voice. He hoped the others hadn’t! To douse it out, he began, “Now if you’re done, excuse me, I have to make my dinner.”
But they had. “Wait. What’s that?” He prayed, she would remember he’d asked her to be quiet! But as fate would have it, she spoke again. This time louder. It spooked out the men. The children ran away to a distance.
“That’s nothing. Just the skies perhaps.” He tried shutting the door, but they were quicker. They barged in. Two men pinned him to the door.
“There’s nothing to fear. Please leave me alone,” he pleaded. He looked at the children standing a few feet away. They looked frightened – of the house or the brutality, he wouldn’t know.
The men split up to search the house. Some took out knives, some had hand-held pistols. Hearing all the commotion downstairs, Tara peeked out of the room. The little child thought they were playing hide and seek with her! She ran to another room laughing!
The laughter spooked them. The men rushed upstairs, each scared but none admitting. The peals of thunder and flashes of lightning were not helping!
“If only Tara would sit quietly in one place,” Pankaj thought. But as soon as she saw a pair of feet coming up the stairs, she braced herself to scare her father. Giggling, blissfully unaware of the danger looming on her and her father, she jumped out of her hiding place, peals of her joyous laughter pulsating through the house! She wanted to scare the man whose feet she’d seen, but death scared her instead.
Screams were followed by thunders outside and cocked guns inside! One of those bullets hit the child and it was the last time laughter was heard in that house.
Until… 5 years, 2 months and 19 days later when…