He is on his knees; his shoulders are pulled back at an awkward angle. She wonders if it’s rope that binds his hands, or something else. Despite the poor lighting she can see the heavy bruises eating his face; there’s a dark patch over his left eye and a lighter one puffing up the other side of his face. His eyes are lost in the violence.
“Why risk it, Ravi? Why? We are doing okay. We don’t need the money, so why go there?”
Watching him on screen, a broken shadow, she repeats the question softly, “Why, Ravi, why?” Only, it’s not a question anymore. The statement now covers the vast distance spooling between them; she’s afraid that this one phrase will soon be all that’s left of their entire relationship. “Nothing will happen,” he had assured her after weeks of fighting. He bit down his frustration with her paranoia; she couldn’t hold off her exhaustion with his short-sightedness. When she repeated her plea, he only offered, “Nothing will happen.”
The two men flanking him are tall, broad-shouldered. Their faces are covered with chequered scarves, wrapped so that only the eyes are visible, dark and turbulent. The man on the left clutches her husband by the shoulder, forcing him into place; in his other hand is a gun that´s aimed at Ravi’s head. The second man speaks into the camera. His voice is angry; his words come out spitting and growling. He too has a gun. Both men appear to be at ease in front of the camera.
In the moment when it all went wrong, his words rang out again — nothing will happen, swelling into an all consuming, claustrophobic nightmare. She couldn’t keep her hands still, her head hurt, and her eyes felt dry even as tears poured out. There was noise all around her but she heard only a muffled din. People came by — strangers, friends and family, they spoke to her, tried to offer hope and comfort, solutions, and just as he had promised, nothing happened. Through the blur she asked, “Why, Ravi, why?”
Now that she has collected herself she begins to notice details. Like the rumbling sound in the background, and the men and their frayed scarves; each tear sits like specks of blood that can’t be washed away. The man who holds Ravi down seems younger. His frame looks young. The anger in his eyes looks raw. Through the clip he keeps shifting his weight slightly, from one leg to the other. Before each shift his hand forces down on Ravi’s shoulder, using the broken man as a crutch. His grip on the gun never relaxes, not even once.
The second man, the one who speaks, is in trouble too. His hands are prone to slight tremors, involuntary shakes that betray him ever so often. Maybe that’s the reason he doesn’t hold Ravi down, preferring to grab the cold, hard gun instead. She already knows that this man, a loyal foot soldier, hates himself as much as she hates him. She can see it in his eyes, in that slight dip his tremor causes mid speech, and the bursting hatred that comes forth thereafter. She doesn’t understand the words but she knows what they mean. They are promising to execute the Indian within the week.
Their wedding photo hangs on the wall over the TV — she wears a deep red sari, he is in a sharp black suit; both wear heavy garlands around their necks. Their smiles are young and full of promise. “Nothing will happen,” he had said. He was right in a way. She hits the red button on the remote; his grainy face disappears, the screen goes blank. It has been 45 days since the last update.
Neha Puntambekar grew up in a pile of books and for the most part preferred fiction to reality. She still does.