I had been accused of paranoia by my close friends, but they couldn’t deny that I had a knack for feeling out bad situations.
That morning, I woke up with a sour taste in my mouth. The world seemed a little off its axis to me, but that was impossible. My mother woke us up, as usual, father came out smelling off aftershave, my brother was nowhere to be seen, nothing out of the ordinary, and yet…
Something seemed off-kilter about the whole thing. As if someone had turned on a switch in my head; when some new sensation or feeling is experienced, people find themselves at a loss in regards to proceeding further. I felt the same. Zooming in and out of anything that could hint at what was to come, hackles raised by suspicion, but nothing came of it.
I could easily put it off as another bout of paranoia, but there’s something so easy about denial. So, the feeling gnawed at me the entire day, and I battled with it, it rose and fell, and I tired myself out with the constant mental exertion. Even my friends noticed that I wasn’t in the classroom, but somewhere else entirely. The day passed without any rare happenings, and I almost gave in to the relief of being wrong.
The very same frigid night, they came for us all.
I was on the brink of sleep, drifting almost entirely toward the unconscious when loud bangs echoed in the distance. There was some flurry of motion outside, loud noises and voices thrown into the mix that caused me to slip off my bed. For privacy, and because I was a sucker for my aesthetics, I slept in the attic converted bedroom. There was a round window, with thick glass paneling that I could stare out of, but I hesitated. It’d be easier to go to sleep since I was already drowsy, and it was cold. Whatever was happening outside could be handled by the adults and no one required my intrusion. Still, curiosity won out, and I took a peek outside.
I’ve never been able to forget what I saw.
My town had been thrown into utter chaos and confusion by them, the men we were afraid of. The men who haunted our nightmares, the boogeymen underneath our beds who’d come get us if we didn’t finish off the vegetables.
I couldn’t even begin to count their numbers, there were so many. The infiltrated the streets, pulled people out of their houses and ransacked the lovely homes I had grown up around. I watched, horrified, as my neighbors’ houses were torn apart by those men. The widow and her children stood shivering in the cold outside being interrogated by a large man. He was one of them, and he was hurting one of mine. It was always us and them, and they were destroying my town like they’d done once before.
A loud bang resounded through my house too, and there were soldiers demanding we step outside for a mandatory search. I had watched Law and Order, and a silly part of me wanted to ask them for the warrant required to search the house. That would have been foolish, the men dangerous, and my father would have strangled me afterward.
I gingerly stepped down from the stairs that opened up into a dead end of the house. If one didn’t look up to the ceiling of that particular hallway, they wouldn’t notice the mostly concealed trapdoor which when opened would reveal a ladder that still down. It was a handy trick that didn’t allow people up into my room without permission. It was what saved my life.
My feet had barely touched the floor when I saw my mother’s panicked face running toward me.
“Go back upstairs,” she harshly whispered, “go back, and don’t come down until I say so.”
Dumbstruck, I prepared a rebuttal for how I would not scurry away like a little mouse at the slightest hint of danger but she wasn’t having any of it.
“Go!” she ushered me back upstairs.
I did as told and then listened for any sounds. I tried to budge open the trapdoor but to no avail; mother had locked me in. It was only after a few hours into the next morning that I was let down and learned what had happened.
The men in boots had barricaded the entire town located some distance away from the bigger cities, not that our town, nestled between large mountains was a small place, to begin with. No one was allowed in, no one was allowed out. We had been accused of harboring terrorists and rebelling against the state.
They successfully infiltrated every inch of our brilliant, glowing, city and turned it into a site for mourners. They’d threatened, injured, and taken many of our people, arresting them under suspicion.
My father and brother weren’t spared either; my father, for being a respected voice in the community, and my brother…for being an outspoken, left-wing liberal, who had once demanded the constitution cater to our rights just as much as the rights of say, Punjab.
I never saw them again.
It reminded me of the messengers on horses, screaming about the arrival of the British.
One male, probably in his early twenties, hadn’t been able to take his parents being beaten and taken away.
He now clings to his mailbox, repeating the same thing:
The men in boots are coming; the men in boots are coming!”