He peered through the dim light, around his basement, at the four people hunched up on the floor below, as he sat on the single cot lined up by the wall.
A middle aged man with a woman and two little girls. They were huddled in the corner, with the man putting his hands protectively around the three ladies of his family.
They looked like a rather poor family from their appearances. The man wore a simple white shirt and dark trousers sporting a typical beard, popular in his community, while the woman and the girls were in a cheap looking house-dresses.
He did not know them. Infact he did not know too many people in this place and neither did most people know him. It had not even been a fortnight since he had shifted to this town and there hadn’t been time yet to make introductions.
A soft hand rested on his own making him aware of the presence of his wife sitting besides him on the cot.
He turned around startled, every now and then as the dull thudding on the door of his house continued.
“Please don’t open the door”, said the woman from her position on the floor, even as she tried to push a stray strand of hair back into the scarf covering her head as she adjusted it carefully.
He looked down at the woman as there was yet another angry thud on the door. He could see they were terrified, perhaps more than he himself was.
“Have you bolted the door properly?”, he asked his wife, who nodded slowly, the fear evident in her eyes, her eyes wider than the big blob of sindoor on her forehead.
He turned back to look down at the family of four.
He had opened the door to their incessant knocking and they had rushed into his house with pleas of mercy. He had ushered them into the basement, past the makeshift temple he had in his house, even as his wife had reluctantly closed the door behind them.
“They are going to break down the door eventually, you know that, right?”, he said, sneaking a glance at the two little girls, tears streaming down their innocent cheeks, completely clueless to why this was happening.
The girls kept looking at their Mother and Father to seek a sense of security from them, but none was forthcoming.
The man on the floor nodded. “If they break the door and enter the house, they will kill us”, he said in a shaky voice, his hands trying to squeeze his family even closer together.
The riots had started the day before. Not many people knew what was the reason for it or how they had started. The News channels were evasive, but the mayhem was real.
The News channels had reported a loss of almost 200 lives on both the sides before all the channels had been blacked out.
He had heard that the military was being called in, but they hadn’t arrived as yet.
He scratched his beard slowly trying to think to even as the rage filled screams outside demanded him to open the door.
“There is no way to escape. It is but a matter of moments before the door will break down and they will come rushing in”, he said again.
“Will they kill us too?”, his wife asked, her voice almost choking with fear.
“Probably not. They are here for these people. They wont harm us, but there is no way that these four will survive”, he answered as he patted his wife’s hand reassuringly.
The two girls burst out crying as they heard this. “Please Please Sir, please don’t let them kill us”, they cried out as a fresh set of tears started flowing through their eyes.
Someone was going to die today.
He had peeked through the window of the house, when the banging on the door had begun. He had seen their faces. The frenzy in their eyes. The blood caked swords in their hands. They knew the family was hiding in his house and they were not going to relent until they finished the job that they had come to do.
They had come with the intent to kill and they wouldn’t be going back without killing someone.
The blood caked swords reminded him of one of the sacrifices he had seen in the temple near his old town. That hadn’t seemed scary to him, this froze his blood.
He remembered the calmness on the face of the Goddess in the temple, as two animals had been sacrificed in an annual ceremony. But why wouldn’t the face be calm, it was stone, in any case.
He was a very religious man but he had never understood the concept of this sacrificial ritual. The death of a few to appease the sentiments of some and the protection of many had never made sense to him.
The insistent banging on the door was getting louder as screams of “COME OUT OR WE ARE COMING IN FOR YOU” were getting louder. He could feel the bolt on the door weakening.
They all looked at each other. No one saying a word.
There was not much time left between life and death, for the family sitting on the floor.
He looked down once again into the eyes of the four people who sat before him, all hope lost. They knew what was going to happen and there was no way to stop it. No way to change it.
He took his wife’s hand in his own and squeezed it gently as he looked into her eyes.
Holding her hand he got up and looked down at the two little girls.
“What needs to be done, needs to be done”, he said to them, his voice unusually calm.
It was almost as if an eternity had passed while the banging on the door continued. The sword wielding guys standing outside the door were getting angrier and angrier as the time went by.
They suddenly stopped banging on the door as they heard the bolt rattling, moving back a bit as the door opened.
They stared at the doorway, looking at the scraggly looking man wearing a white shirt and dark trousers, his hand absently stroking his beard. The woman standing besides him, holding his hand, wearing a cheap house-dress, her head covered with a plain looking scarf.
“What is your name?”, shouted one of the men from outside.
The man looked at the sea of angry faces and said, “My Name is Abdul”.
He closed his eyes as he did not have the will to watch the raised swords fall on him and his wife as the crowd went into a frenzy, striking blow after blow on the defenseless couple till they sank to the ground below them.
A few from the mob rushed into the house through the now door, glancing at the four people sitting in the makeshift temple, facing the idol of the Godess, their hands folded in prayer even as tears rolled down their faces.
“Who else is in the house?”, asked one of the sword weilders to the family.
“No one else, just us”, replied the woman with the big red sindoor on her forehead even as the man sitting besides her moved his hand protectively over the ladies.
“Lets go!! These are our people. Our work here is done”, said the Leader of the pack.
The men ran out of the house a look of crazed satisfaction on their faces stopping near the bodies of the man and woman they had slain a few moment before, taking turns in spitting on them as they turned around and went looking for their next target.
They did not notice the razor and the small box of sindoor which was lying on the table in the house when they had rushed in.
They did not notice the hand of the man firmly grasping the thin white thread across his chest, his eyes opening one last time to look at the calm face of his wife who lay by his side.
He saw the same calmness on her face that he had seen on the face of the Goddess in his temple and even as the last breath left his body.
The death of a few to appease the sentiments of some for the protection of many, suddenly made sense to him……..
Disclaimer: This story is not meant to show any particular community in a bad light. If you do a role reversal for the characters, the story will still remain the same. We have heard numerous stories of the horrific insane acts which take place during riots, but little is said about the acts of the saviors who history hardly ever recognizes. This story is an attempt to recognize those people who have saved lives rather than those who have taken them. This story is a tribute to all of them who restore our faith in humanity in the face of depravity. Thank you for reading. Feedback will be appreciated.