The Wedding Night Finally, the time had come for Vidai. It was time for Rasiya to leave the house where she had spent twenty years of her life and head to a new place where everything was going to be novel for her; even the smell of the earth and the rustle of the leaves. That will be her home from now on. She no longer belonged to her father’s house where she had learned to crawl, walk, read and write.
Rasiya heard someone calling out to the women in the house asking to bring the bride out. She saw Abdul, who had become her husband about a couple of hours back patiently waiting for her at the threshold. All the women in the family came and hugged her one after another. Every time the heavy bosomed aunts squeezed her tiny body, the sequences on her lehenga pricked her soft skin. The pink and orange lehenga was so special to her since it was bought by her brother, specially from Dilli.
While she was taken outside by someone, she searched for her mother among the sea of unfamiliar faces. Finally, she found her Ammi, standing behind someone, as if she was not a part of this ceremony. Her eyes were welled up with tears and Rasiya rushed towards her. Ammi hugged her and kissed her forehead, and both of them broke into tears. They ought to leave before midnight, someone said.
Her sister-in- law took her hand and led her towards the waiting groom. Her brother and father stood next to the groom and his party. Though her father was smiling, she noticed the glint of pain in his eyes. Yes, he was upset about his little girl leaving them. But at the same time it eased him to know that she was leaving for good. She was going to be safe at her new home where she would no longer have to wake up to the sound of firing or have army men banging at their door in the middle of the night. She would no longer need anyone to accompany her when she steps out of the house, even if it was to the adjacent street.
The groom, who was no longer the groom but her husband, runs their family restaurant in the town. The restaurant was first started by his grandfather back in the 30’s as a tiny tea-shop. Years later, as the town started to get filled with tourists, his father expanded it and today it’s one of the most sought-after eateries in town. Abdul lived with his parents in their family house which was just a stone’s throw away from their restaurant. And now, Rasiya is to live the rest of her life in that home helping her husband with his business and mother-in-law in running the house.
Her entire family walked her to the mini bus in which the groom party had come. She felt a heaviness inside her as she stepped out of the courtyard. Suddenly she felt someone taking her right hand and squeezing it. When she turned, she saw it was her husband. He smiled at her, a smile that erased all her worries just like that. Until then she hadn’t noticed that she was walking right beside her husband, as her mind was preoccupied with a million other thoughts.
As they reached the bus she went towards her family and hugged them for one last time. Her brother helped her to the bus and it was then she remembered her suitcase. It has been taken care of, whispered her sister-in-law from behind.
In the bus Rasiya wished to sit with her husband, to talk to him and get to know him before they start to live as husband and wife. They had spoken only a couple of times before. The first time was when he came to see her with his family for the first time. He’d asked her name and she shyly replied to him. The second was at a mutual family friend’s wedding. How are you Rasiya ji, he asked. She smiled in reply. When she got inside the bus she made herself comfortable on a window seat and waved goodbye to her family and friends. She could see pride in his father’s eyes as he has married off his only daughter to a good family.
When everyone got inside and Abdul was about to sit next to her, his mother, her mother-in-law told Abdul’s sister Noor to sit beside the bride. Rasiya sensed disappointment on Abdul’s face when he heard this. Noor was five months pregnant. Abdul sat a row ahead of hers on the opposite side so that he got a glimpse of her by turning to his left.
As the bus descended the hairpin road, Noor said she was feeling nauseous. They couldn’t find a plastic bag in the bus and driver pulled over the bus. Noor’s husband helped her out. After halting for five minutes they resumed the journey. Soon, everyone started to fall asleep and the bus was filled with the snoring of people. Noor also fell asleep, leaning onto Rasiya’s shoulder. She could smell vomit in Noor’s breath and the stench kept her from falling asleep. She looked towards Abdul’s seat, it was quiet and she assumed that he too had fallen asleep. Her window was slightly open and cold wind gushed inside. She tried to close it, but the glass wasn’t moving an inch. As she kept on trying, a strong hand came out from nowhere and and closed the window with ease. She turned and saw Abdul grinning at her. As he went back to his seat, she blushed in the dark.
Half an hour into the journey, Rasiya felt her eyelids closing. She tried to stay awake but somewhere on the mountains she slumbered. In her dream, she was in her wedding dress and got lost in the woods while she was searching for someone. She saw logs of wood hanging from a tree at a distance. As she went towards it, she realized that it was not wood but corpses. Dead bodies of her mother, father and brother were hanging down from a pine tree. She started to scream but no sound was coming out. Instead, heaps of snow came out of her mouth.
When she woke up from sleep, she was sweating despite the cold. The bus was quiet and by then everyone had fallen asleep. She looked outside the window trying to see if she could locate the place. But it was pitch dark outside. She felt the bus slowing down and suddenly it stopped. She saw the driver opening his side glass and talking to someone outside. Does Noor want to throw up again, asked Abdul’s uncle from the rear. But Noor was sound asleep next to Rasiya, unaware of anything. The driver went on talking to the person standing outside.
By then, one by one, people got stirred up from their slumber. Abdul’s cousin got up from his seat and went to check on the driver. He came back and told everyone that it was the paramilitary BSF troops. A curfew has been declared, he said. He took the curfew passes which they had already obtained from the local administration and went towards the driver. He returned minutes later and said that they are free to go. As the driver was about to start the vehicle, the BSF personnel opened fire on the bus using a machine gun. It took a couple of seconds for the wedding troupe to realise what was happening as most of them were still asleep. Someone called out to everyone to duck for cover.
Rasiya dragged Noor down and both of them took cover between the seats. The snoring got replaced with the cries of men and women. The bullets kept on hitting the bus with a loud thud. Glass shards fell on Rasiya’s head, some of it piercing into her scalp. Some were hit by bullets and screamed in pain. She searched for her husband. But in the darkness she could only see some undulating figures.
The firing went on incessantly for fifteen minutes. Soon the inside of the bus started to smell of blood. Rasiya felt dampness on the ground. She touched the spot and found a pool of blood next to her. Beside her, Noor whimpered hugging her knees. Slowly, the firing ceased. Only the wailing of the people and the chirping of the crickets were left.
Abdul’s cousin who had sat next to him was hit by a bullet on his arm. Blood oozed out from his arm profusely. Abdul stirred in his place and tried to get up. Suddenly the door of the bus was flung open and men in uniform barged into the bus. They flashed their torch all over the bus. Everyone sat quietly in their places without making moving. Looks like they’re coming from a wedding, one of the uniformed men said. They walked through the aisle flashing light on the frightened and wounded ones. Suddenly, one of them caught Rasiya’s hand and flung her out from the seats. As she was dragged out from the bus, she cried out for help loudly. Abdul got up and ran behind her, but he was hit hard on the head by the stock of the rifle by one of the men. Meanwhile, another man carried out Noor also. She begged him to leave her alone and told that she was pregnant, but he did not give ears to her pleads. Men left with Rasiya and Noor, locking the door of the bus behind them. Abdul banged on the door in vain calling out for help in the middle of the night. The wails of the two girls pierced the cries of the people in the bus. Abdul’s mother silently wept at the rear looking out of the bus into the dark night.
Neither the valley nor the mountains was brave enough to tell the world what had happened. No political parties spoke about the incident, no government promised the family to give a compensation. All that it got was a single column news at the left hand corner on the fifth page about the bus accident on the hills at midnight, killing five people including the bride and the groom’s sister which caught hardly any attention from the readers.