“That is pretty, but why is the sun coloured green?” Maya’s father handed the painting back to her from across the desk and got back to his paperwork.
“I just thought it would be different and nice.”
Maya was just like the painting with the green sun- weirdly imaginative, unconventional, yet beautiful. Her twelve-year old self could not fathom the ways of the world, but when it came to nature, she could capture beautiful sunrises on her drawing pad or, like she once did, follow a bee for hours until it stung her and sent her crying back into mummy’s arms.
“Papa, I find your office boring. It’s so confined and there are no beautiful paintings on the walls. Can I go outside? Please?”
“You know I won’t allow that, Maya, it’s not safe.”
“Why did we have to shift here, I liked it in Jabalpur.”
Maya and her parents had shifted to Uri following the transfer order of her father, an officer in the Indian Army. Nestled in the mountains, and with the pristine Jhelum flowing through its bosom, Uri was a beautiful little town. But like every other town in Kashmir, it was scarred by terrorism. A long convoy of six to seven jeeps with armed men in uniforms accompanied them for a visit to the market just to buy groceries. The only solace was the unwavering faith that the local people had on the army. Little boys trudging along the hilly slopes smiled and saluted whenever a convoy passed. Maya made it a point to always wave back.
The door of the barrack that was her father’s office, opened.
“Jai Hind, sa’ab.” A crisp salute.
“Sir, he’s outside. The men got him, sir.” There was a note of pride in his voice.
“What all has been recovered?” her father asked him.
“The ammunition he was carrying is in the other room. This is what we found from his pockets.” He deposited a plastic bag on the desk.
“All right, I’ll be there in two minutes.” Maya’s father stood up. “Maya, stay here,” he said, grabbing her by her shoulders. “I do not want you to go running out, understood?” There was a hint of urgency in his voice.
“I won’t, papa. I promise.”
He looked deep into her eyes as if wordlessly conveying how much she meant to him. With a pat on her head, he left the room.
Maya walked up to the window and drew open the dark curtains that hung limply from steel rods. A cool breeze hit her face. She saw her father walk up to a crowd of about ten people and speak to some officers. Three soldiers firmly held a blindfolded man in place as he furiously writhed and struggled. After a few attempts, he gave up. One of the soldiers untied the cloth that covered his eyes and Maya got a full glimpse of the man as he shifted- his robust frame, the scarred face and the matted hair. His bloodshot eyes were brimming with hatred. She watched as he muttered something and spat on the soldier’s feet. The air reverberated with the echo of the slap that the soldier placed on the man’s face. Maya let out a gasp. Almost as if he had heard her, his piercing blue eyes met hers. And his expression changed. It was not the same expression of fury or vehemence but an inexplicable one. Sad? Pleading? Beseeching? She couldn’t tell. His eyes moistened.
Maya shut the drapes; her heart thumping wildly. She could not imagine what this man must have done to deserve the anguish he was going through. She made her way to the chair, her knees shaking uncontrollably, and her eyes fell on the plastic bag on the desk. A little hesitant, Maya nonetheless peered into it. Her hand instantly reached out to a small leather purse. She pulled it out and opened it. A few coins formed most of the content. But from a niche in the front, she pulled out an old piece of paper frayed at the edges. It turned out to be a photograph of a young girl with piercing blue eyes. She had her father’s face, only softer. Maya flipped the photo. In a tiny, scrawling handwriting, was etched ‘Abba, please be back soon.’Maya pocketed the photograph. She didn’t think anybody would miss it.