I had stopped to catch a breath. My cousin Dawood needed to breathe. Big name for a six year old, Dawood. Mud houses on either sides, grazing my shoulders. Wet mud ditches in the crackling hard kachcha road, warm and frothing. Splish Splash. Probably cow piss. Must be cow piss. I could smell cow shit nearby; lots of it.
I steal a quick glimpse at Dawood’s hands, sizing them up against mine in my head.
I would get a nightmare in those days. An army of a thousand, thousand-legged sheep, hovering all over me.
When you’re being chased, your throat dries ten times as fast. Your legs lose half their blood, and you get dizzy. You are crying but there are no tears. It is like being in one of those dreams where you are naked to the bare butt, and you cannot run. Thousand-legged sheep.
I look down at my legs and curse them; curse them for not being as they had promised to be. I curse my mother for letting me leave. I look at the little hand in mine, and curse that face, for slowing me down.
I stop at a corner, look back, bite some nails, and suddenly break into a sprint. What if they find us here? I break into another.
I run into a cowshed. Little Dawood is hesitant at the doorstep. He is scared of the darkness inside. Poor little cows. Poor little Dawood. I grab his arm, and run to the farthest corner, the darkest one. I feel my way through the darkness; my hands making my way.
I had touched a big wet nostril.
I turn my fingers towards myself.
Was I being chased?
“Kahan bhaag gaye ye chote harami?” I heard an echo.
I was being chased.
We were being chased.
I hit a wall.
Is there more to this corner? I push myself into it. It’s dark. I sit on my haunches, the little boy on my side, on his littl-er haunches.
Tick Tock, my heart knocks at my ribs.
My eyes adjust to the darkness. Not so dark, after all. I look down at Dawood’s face. Blue eyes, and blonde hair. Kachur Shaitaan, (Blonde Satan) they used to call him. He was beautiful. He was scared. Looking into my eyes, ready for the next sprint. I take his hands in mine, measure my thumb against his.
Big enough for a vote in this part of the world, I fear.
I am afraid. What if they find us? They are going to find us, with their big ol’ guns and their one-tons that go hssss.
We had started out as a group of seven. I can’t find my friends. I am afraid the armed men got them. I am happy I am knee deep in cow shit.
I curse myself for ever leaving my room. I promise myself. I will never leave my room again.
Dawood breaks into a piercing shrill cry. My heart stops.
Have they found us?
He shows me his hand. A bee sting. He starts crying. I cover his mouth with my palm. Warm tears trickling down my fingers, tongue pushing against my palm. He is in pain.
What if they find us.
My grip gets stronger. I can feel his jaw, almost cracking.
What if they find us.
Do uniformed men from concrete cities with shining guns and shining stars, on shining clothes, enter cowsheds? Or do they scout the walls, sniff a few corners, and walk away?
It was election day. I was ten, and my thumb could vote.
All images are representational.