Just as young Laila switched channels on the television, she paused to focus on one and looked intently at what they were showing.
Suddenly she shrieked, “Maa! Look!! Isn’t that brother? Look! They are showing his pictures.”
Maa thought Laila was, as usual, merely day-dreaming. And so she didn’t come out.
Laila said it louder this time, and Maa stepped out of her kitchen to cast a casual glance at what her ten-year-old insisted on showing.
True indeed! There he was. Her son.
Various pictures of him were being on a TV show. His boyhood picture, and also one as a young man in a group hug. But she wasn’t very sure which one was him although she could tell.
Maa was shocked as well as too confused. “I have not seen your brother since long. Is that him?”
Now Maa was not even listening to the voice on TV, for at this moment it all felt like a dream. “You are right Laila! Of course it is him.”
His boyhood pictures – that is how Maa had ascertained it was indeed her son. And that’s the only way Laila had recognized her brother the moment she saw him on TV.
Laila had not seen her brother in real life. Not exactly, as she was almost a baby when he left home without telling anyone. But she had grown up seeing various pictures that she often saw in her Maa’s hands. His pictures that Maa carefully kept locked in her wardrobe – a young boy flying a kite, a simple student engrossed in his books, a devout praying to the Almighty, and many more.
Admiring these pictures, so many times Laila had secretly wished she could see her brother once, and play with him. She had heard stories that her brother was a bright and sharp-minded student so she aspired to be like him.
And now…intently watching her son on TV, the dazed Maa said “Laila, that’s what he looked like when he left home. Only twelve. Still baby faced. But what is he doing there?”
Laila was not listening anymore, and not even watching TV. Soon she sneaked out and got busy playing with her friends.
Maa changed the channel but her son was on this one too.
“Hang on! What’s that?” she murmured to herself as she looked closely, for this channel showed more of his pictures. She had never seen her young boy carry a huge real gun in his hand. She suddenly remembered he was very fond of toy guns. Always.
With her hand on her open mouth, she sighed “He had a fighter in him. But God! What has he been up to?”
This time Maa paid attention to what they were saying. The female newsreader referred to him as ‘Mastermind’. He had fought with the whole world. He had taken lives. He was the vile schemer who planned it all, she heard that voice say. But how can she believe that her innocent boy can do all that?
Maa was sobbing incessantly. Her eyes glued to the TV, tears blurred her vision and she couldn’t see clearly what they showed. She began to remember his childhood even more.
As a boy he was a rebel. As a seven year old he had fought with the whole community that he won’t allow a goat to be killed in the name of sacrifice. When did he become a butcher? She wondered. At what age did he first kill a human being? 14? 17? Or later? She’ll never know, thought Maa. He also wanted to do big things; wanted to be famous. So this was the big thing he did now? He has become popular all over the world! Maa cried as she thought of all this. Now the whole day, media will broadcast his name, relay news about her 24 year old boy behind some major killings. Did she give birth to this dreaded man?
The more she thought of him, the more Maa couldn’t contain herself. Again and again she banged her head against the wall, beat her stomach that gave birth to this child, beat her breasts that nurtured him.
“The whole world knew what he was up to, only I didn’t. He has been killed and the whole world knows it. The whole world is rejoicing his death, but how can I? The whole world hates him but I can’t! I never will. How can I? But I must”
Maa broke down. But as she saw Laila coming inside, she wiped her tears and switched off the television. She also decided to not let Laila see any TV for a few days. She didn’t want Laila to hate her only brother.
Laila came in and asked innocently, “Maa! Is brother coming back?”
Maa felt like saying, “No Laila, the path he chose to walk, is only one-way. There’s no return from there.” But instead, pulling her daughter close to her by waist, she said, “I do not know, dear. Hope he does!”.
At least for now this seemed to be the right answer. Maybe sooner or later, the older Laila will find out, but by then she’ll prepare her daughter to handle the truth.
Soon Laila went to her room feeling happy. Outside the house, exhausted sun was on the last leg of its daily journey. Maa switched off the light and sat in the dark, brooding and weaving all sorts of thoughts.
At that moment somebody knocked. Maa hesitated, and then opened the door. It was police, who came to inform the obvious.
All these years she had waited for the officials to bring some news about her only son’s whereabouts. But they had no clue. Sometime back cops had come asking for him but she had no idea. Now the police as well as Maa knew it all, but the game was over.
The police went away as it came. Maa was aware it was their last visit. Police will not come back anymore. And neither will her son.
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Copyright © 2015 Alka Girdhar