These entries from February's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "February Writing Challenge."
Abbas stared blankly at the screen, reeling from the shock that had hit him. The television screen blurred before his eyes while his wife’s voice calling him for dinner became as vague and distorted as the scene he had just witnessed. Cold sweat trickled from his pores, beads resting on his stressed forehead. Struggling for breath, he managed to call out, “Marziyah!” before retching in the pot of a nearby succulent. He was on all fours, gasping, while his beloved entered the room with an air of concern. Abbas weakly pointed at the television screen. She opened her mouth as if to scream in horror, but a sound failed to emerge. Nonetheless, it was a scream. A scream of hatred, fear, and dread.
It had been three days since the news had arrived. The young couple sat in the unkempt yard of their home, still unaware about what to do. Their country had changed. They had changed. They no longer lived in India, but possibly in Pakistan. But again, they were unaware, unaware of where they were, where to go. Over the past three days, the fire of communalism had been ignited everywhere. It had seeped into the most peaceful of places, threatening to tear families and communities apart, with Abbas and Marziyah being only two of the victims burning from the flames of this virtual inferno.
“At least we have neighbours who are the same as us,” Marziyah whispered, hoping to find some ray of light to relieve the longest night she had ever known. As Abbas plucked at the weeds surrounding him, Marziyah thought of her family, dwelling somewhere in what was now Pakistan. Her two younger sisters were now married, possibly in the same situation as she was. Her parents still had her brothers, careless, irresponsible young men addicted to gambling and opium, but loving nonetheless. Tears forced her way through her lashes as she thought of them, but somehow, a smile also played on her lips, holding on to the hope that they were alive and well.
As she turned to look at Abbas, she felt as if he was her reflection, with the same smile lighting up his face while tears streamed down relentlessly. His parents had died soon after his eldest brother’s marriage, but their absence was not known. He had four sisters, with a niece from each, and a nephew from two. After marrying Marziyah, leaving them had made him distraught, but not for long. However, he now felt that their bliss would not last much longer. A staunchly religious Muslim, he was not afraid of his neighbours, who were similar to him. But rather, he knew that Hindus and Sikhs from the other side would not hesitate to arrive in the dark of the night. When they would finish their business and leave at daybreak, one would see only one colour: red. On the streets, inside homes, even in the grimy water of sewages and canals. During the past three days, this was all he had seen in his dreams.
At once, Abbas stood up, with a permanent resolution in his mind. Turning to Marziyah, he placed his hands on her shoulders, and announced his decision. “Pakistan,” he told her, but it did not have the intended effect.
She whimpered, her lips quivering with dismay. He could see his crestfallen face in her widened eyes, as she whispered back, “India.”
The couple stood like that for a while, each trying to understand each other but failing to do so. When they realised they were still holding each other, they struggled to choose whether to clutch the other with an even tighter grip or to let go. In the end, however, the latter prevailed. As much as they hated it, they had changed, and the change around them had not fulfilled its purpose. It was supposed to bring them together, not tear them apart. But they knew there was nothing they could do. They were much too divided, and their differences meant that their love had no hope of staying alive. And possibly, neither did they.
Boxes were sealed, suitcases were zipped, and doors were locked. They both were leaving not just each other but their dwelling as well. A dwelling that had been more than a home, but rather, a haven, for the past four years. Both stood awkwardly at the porch, unsure of how to leave their love. It was not until Abbas opened the gate for Marziyah that they decided that it was time to go their separate ways. They looked at each other lingeringly, and when they walked away in opposite directions, they fought the urge to look back at each other, but instead, entered into fires as dark and unknown as fate itself.
Her pursuers were catching up, but she was fast. Jo, seeing them coming up behind her, suddenly put on a bolt of speed. Looking over her shoulder, she said, “They’re catching up, I’m going to need some backup to keep them off.”
“We’re on it!” he responded. Soon enough a rusty old truck came speeding around the corner and stopped right in front of her. “Get in!” Logan yelled. As soon as Jo was in the truck, Logan slammed on the accelerator and turned the corner in an attempt to lose their pursuers.
But just their luck, one driver was fast. He managed to turn just in time and, as a result, was still on their tail. “Can’t we just drive back to the camp? He won’t be able to get past security!” exclaimed Jo.
“If we did that, we’d give away our hiding spot. Now, one truck may not be able to get through, but the military vehicles they’ll send if they find us will!” Logan responded.
The truck behind them was getting closer and closer. If it got any closer, they would be in shooting range! “Hold on!” said Logan. Logan turned the truck around and started hurdling towards a wall.
“What are you doing!” yelled Jo. “You’re going to get us both killed!”
“Don’t worry,” he responded. “I have a plan.”
With Jo screaming in the seat next to him, Logan managed to swerve at the last second and go up a ramp, sending them flying over the wall and their pursuer crashing into it. Safe for now, they drove the truck back to their camp.
“Good job out there, Jo!” exclaimed Sapphire, the group’s leader. “You too, Logan. Good save at the end there. You’ll have to show me some of your tricks!” Jo and Logan smiled. “See ya at the party tonight!” she called.
Every time the prime minister made an announcement, there was a party. Sapphire always said you should try to gain something from every experience, whether it’s good or bad. So while the prime minister’s announcements were almost never a cause for celebration, there was always a HUGE party! If there’s nothing to gain already, you’ve got to make the experience yourself. Jo usually tried not to think too much about what was going on outside those gates. It would only make things worse. The best way to get through life is to focus on the positive.
Later that night, the prime minister’s announcement was made and was again a disappointment. It was quite clear that Mr. Prime Minister had no intention to try to save our country. The announcement had just been to tell us that his return to Canada had again been delayed and that he didn’t know when he would be back. However, for most, that didn’t change a thing. A good number of them have no memories of home before the wars started. They were too young. So, they have low expectations for how life should be. But for those who still remember what life was like, and have relatives and friends in hiding elsewhere, it’s not as easy to accept that this is the new norm.
Later that night, at the party, Jo was sitting on her back steps with a drink. Disappointed by her leader yet again, she was beginning to lose faith that Canada could ever be the same again. Logan came to join her.
“What happened?” she said. “I used to think that Canada was the perfect country. I never thought it would turn on itself like this!”
“It didn’t turn on itself,” Logan said. “It turned on us. When people have nothing else to blame for their troubles, then they blame those who are weak and can’t fight back.” Logan responded.
Jo took a sip from her drink. “I mean, it’s not like life was a dream before the war; we didn’t have a lot of money, and we had to work hard and long every day to earn our keep,” said Jo. “But nowadays those problems don’t seem so big. Now my biggest concern is staying alive until the next day. And hoping that if my sister is still alive, I will find her.”
“When the war is over, and we’re no longer a divided nation, you could do anything!” he responded.
Jo smiled. “One day,” she said. “One day.”