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Anupam Rajak



Anupam Rajak


The Enemy

The Enemy

18 mins

Nora alighted from the bike and looked around. The market was bustling with activity. Groceries, green groceries, milk shops, fish and meat shops were all open and people were hurrying for their needs from one to the other before they set out for work. A broad cart filled with vegetables blocked the entrance and people with their bags full of groceries shouted at the cart owner as they were getting delayed. Then she saw him in ill-fitting attires scanning the entire marketplace. She strutted fast across the vegetable vendors, for that was the place where the crowd was the thickest. She looked around everywhere for a perfect place to fix the IED nearby. She found a pillar just in front of the vegetable vendors. It was perfectly concealed from the road by another pillar in between. She looked both ways and struck the piece at the bottom after removing the cover of the adhesive tape. The clock started ticking as soon as she set the time. She looked around for him once and raced for the next pillar. The next pillar was not at all accessible. Bicycles, bikes, scooters, everything was placed around it. Then she saw him again. Their eyes locked. She started running immediately. Before leaving the market she removed the cover of one of the IEDs and struck it below the fuel tank of a bike. She ran for her bike but two men with hands inside their pockets were seated upon it. She turned onto the road with the remote trigger in her hand.  

She felt someone touch her left shoulder. It was now or never. She pressed the trigger. A loud bang rent the air and she found herself flying. Smoke, dust, debris, vegetables, and human body parts rained from above. Finally, she fell to the ground unconscious. Things started falling upon her and she got completely covered in the debris. When she woke up she was in a hospital, unable to move her hands and feet. She did not feel any pain anywhere in the body but experienced a numb feeling everywhere. She turned to the left and found a syringe stuck to her wrist administering a drip. Her head felt heavy. Her eyelids dropped shut once again and she drifted off to sleep.

The next time she woke up she felt the pain. Both her feet were bandaged. Her arms were bandaged too. She wondered what had happened to her. Then she remembered the explosion. Her entire self came into existence at once. She had to leave. She could not afford to let her cover get blown. She never carried any incriminating evidence with her. Only the IEDs could be traced to her but the explosion had destroyed them all. She was safe now except for the man who was following her at the marketplace. He might recognize her.

The nurse came up to her and adjusted the drip. She asked her for some water. The nurse wiped her lips with a sponge soaked in water. She could hear feeble cries of agony nearby. The sound was not clear. Then she felt something heavy in her right ear. That was most probably the reason she wasn’t able to hear clearly. She tapped at the bedside. The nurse turned to look at her. She said, “I can’t hear properly.” Her speech was too weak. But the nurse understood anyway. She came near and said, “Something entered into your ear and damaged the ear drum. There was too much blood. A gauge has been placed inside to soak it dry.”

“My God!” she thought, “I might as well have lost my hearing.” She had probably mumbled. The nurse said, “You are lucky. It could have been worse.” Presently she turned to one side. The hall she was in was an I.C.U. She could not count how many beds there were inside but guessed it could be around thirty. There were two large doors, one at each end of the hall. Gradually her hearing seemed to improve. She could hear the wails and screams of patients outside. She scanned the walls of the hall, nodded her head and again called the nurse. “What is it? Don’t talk too much,” she said. “I just want to know what time of the day it is,” Nora replied. “It is exactly ten to midnight now. You have been lying here for the last two days, completely unconscious. So, don’t tire yourself by speaking too much. If you got any relatives, give me their number. I will ask the authorities to intimate them.” She nodded her head. The nurse injected a syringe into the bottle of drip and soon she drifted off to sleep.

The next time she woke up she found no one around. She tried to turn on her side and lift herself up in her arms. Something restrained her. She tried to reach her back with the help of her left hand and felt a very thin cord tying her to the bed. She closed her eyes and gnashed her teeth in frustration. Now she felt completely distressed. Her cover was blown. It was only because she was bleeding profusely that they had stopped short of arresting her. The hospital ICU served as a prison for her, but again, that was also the last chance she had of escaping her enemies. She searched on the inside of her skirt near the waist. Finding something she had been searching for she felt somewhat relaxed. She brought it out and checked it holding it in front of her eyes. It was a very sharp blade she always tucked under her skirt in a concealed pocket on the inside. She took it in her right hand and set upon sawing the plaster on her legs off. One leg after another she sawed the plaster off and was satisfied to know that her legs had suffered no injury at all. She repeated the exercise with her bandaged hand. There was no great injury there too. Then she used her free hands to remove the large piece of bandage tied to her head. As she tried to remove it she winced in real pain. A portion of her forehead was still raw. The bandage stuck to it like adhesive tape. She put it back and tried to free herself from the cord that bound her. It was too strong to break free. Once again she put the blade to use. After sawing up for quite a long time she was finally able to free herself. The whole ICU lay fast asleep. Even the attending nurses were not in the hall.

Slowly and stealthily she crept out of the room. The guard was dozing off on his seat. She kept to the shadows so that she didn’t risk being suddenly exposed. After crossing the guard she stepped onto the corridor. The corridor wasn’t too long but it was brightly lit all the way. She stooped down to a crawling position sticking to the wall and inched her way along. With every move, she had to look back and take stock of her position. When she was halfway down the corridor she heard footsteps. She stopped her breath and waited. A man appeared at the end of the corridor. He was dressed like the guard at the other end. So, he was coming to replace him for the morning shift. Fantastic timing, she thought to herself. The guard passed her without looking. That was cool enough. She increased her pace. She couldn’t afford to get caught at this moment. A lot lay in her hand.

Just at the end of the corridor, someone marked her. The fellow had a stethoscope hanging from his neck. “Hey! Who are you? Why are you crawling like that?” he muttered. She sprinted towards him. When she slammed her fist at his jaw he fell to the ground like a log. Not an army man! There were only a few people inside the boundary wall. Practically, nobody noticed her hitting the doctor. She made a dash for the gate which lay open for the morning shifters to enter. She tip toed across the gate. Once she was outside she paced her steps slowly as it was difficult for her to walk faster without even a slipper. She heard the siren of a police patrol van from behind her. She didn’t hurry. She just walked along. The van crossed her. There were no trees or shops nearby. The road was almost empty except for a few pedestrians on a morning walk.

Suddenly she heard disturbing noises behind her. Someone shouted, “There she goes! Run after her.” Without looking back she ran. The pebbles on the road hurt like needles on her feet. The object nearest to her was a billboard around twenty meters ahead. The next one was a large banyan tree. She looked back. Around five men were running after her with sticks, shouting and cursing at her.

Then she saw them. Two men in uniform were following her on a motorbike. She looked at the ground searching for something heavy to attack them. The ground was barren. The bike was quite near now. When it was exactly behind her she made a very sharp turn. The bike was in front of her. Suddenly she stepped forward and squeezed the right side brake lever along with the rider’s fingers. The front wheel jammed and the bike skidded off knocking both of them onto the ground. She had no time to waste. Straightening the bike on the ground she swung her left leg over the seat. Then she clutched the lever on the left and the engine roared to life. Off she went releasing a cloud of smoke at those behinds.

The bike was picking up speed. She was almost near the intersection of the road she was in with the one that crossed it at right angles. Without even turning off the throttle she swerved towards the left. Something whizzed past her right ear. She twisted the throttle further. Then she heard the metallic sound of a bullet hitting the fuel tank. Petrol started leaking from one of the holes. She could see two more people in army suits following her on a bike. She zigzagged. They did the same. The traffic was quite low in the morning hours. She saw them gaining ground. A large truck carrying a huge load bound by ropes all over was coming from the opposite direction. The indicators were blinking continuously. She swerved the bike across as more bullets whizzed past her missing her by inches. The truck was almost near her and she frantically searched for an easy hold to tug at. The ropes were tied tight and nothing was hanging. As the truck was brushing past her she caught hold of a hook on the side of the truck and let the bike fall off. Clinging onto the hook with her left hand, she extended her right hand to get hold of a rope. When she finally caught hold of it, she saw her pursuer on a bike right behind her. Pulling herself up the rope she tried to reach the top of the load when a bullet ricocheted from the top. A bag or something opened up above and cascaded down its contents upon her so that she could see nothing. A bullet rang out from the front and a bike crashed against the truck. Looking down she saw the bike getting below the rear wheels. The truck picked up speed and her pursuers were left far behind. She finally climbed on top of the load and perched upon it. Right in front of her was the hole from which wheat grains had fallen upon her. She got close and shoved her hand inside when she found something hard inside that felt like wood. When she brought her hand out a known smell hit her nostrils. The smell was similar to that of sandalwood. So, the truck was carrying sandalwood. She wondered where it was heading to.

An odd whirring sound was heard, almost like that of a chopper, but she looked all around and couldn’t find one. Then she looked directly above and saw it. A drone was hovering exactly over her. She did not know whether it was armed. She was finished if it was. She pulled herself towards the back of the truck so that she could get off at the slightest opportunity. The surroundings had changed and there were lots of trees nearby to offer as much cover from above as possible. The truck was going at a steady speed and jumping off would mean serious injury for her. She was now holding the end rope at the back as her feet were dangling only about a metre above the ground. From the corner of her eye she could sense they were entering a bunch of trees as the sun got suddenly obscured by a thick canopy of leaves. The road had potholes in it and the truck had to slow down in places. She slid down the rope and left it just before her feet touched the ground. She couldn’t run bare feet and fell forward. She was bruised badly but was relaxed that the drone had been dodged.

She picked herself up and limped towards a narrow country path leading away from the road. The grass below cushioned her feet and she could now walk comfortably. She was tired and panting for breath. A severe headache pulsed through her temples. She looked all around her and saw a small earthen hut a few metres ahead. She briskly walked towards it. On reaching there she found the earthen floor so alluring for a short nap that she couldn’t resist. The hut seemed to be quite at a safe distance from the road covered from all sides by large trees. The door of the hut was open. She peeped inside. It was absolutely empty except the thick layer of dry leaves that covered the floor completely. She sat down on the floor at first and extended her legs to get into a relaxed position. The atmosphere around was so cool that it almost welcomed her to take a short nap. She lay down and closed her eyes. 

She found herself perched on a wooden raft and drifting along with the waves of an ocean. She didn’t know which ocean it was, or where she herself was. Dark Cumulonimbus clouds hovered above her. The weather was absolutely perfect for a cruise vacation. Suddenly she saw something out of the corner of her eye. A giant shark was following her. She could see its dark features below the surface of the water. She started panicking. The shark suddenly opened its mouth and lunged at her. She woke up, relieved that she was not perched upon a raft in the waters of the ocean but comfortably sleeping on the earthen floor of a hut surrounded by trees on all sides. Then she heard something and cocked her head. Her blood froze at what she saw. Around a dozen armed personnel surrounded her. She was cornered. Among them, she could recognize the nurse of the hospital ICU where she was before embarking on this escapade. But, she wasn’t in the same uniform as the others. And lo! She was handcuffed with her hands tied at her back. Her eyes frowned on seeing her.

One of them, seemingly the leader of the group, stepped toward her and said, “Can I know your name, please? It would be easier to continue the conversation then.”

He was being extremely polite for a man of his stature. She almost felt the urge to speak but restrained herself with lot of mental effort.

“Look!” he said, “I am not being rude to you. Am I? I am behaving like an honest gentleman. Why don’t you speak to me in a similar tone? You would come to no harm. I can assure you that. What is your name?”

Nora kept quiet.

“We have other methods to make you speak, but, I regret they won’t be so polite. Why not speak up now?”

She knew this was a temptation and a threat at the same time. She was completely unarmed and helpless. She was surrounded on all sides by the enemy. She had no way of escape. She had to think of a way to manipulate these officers, and she didn’t have the entire day for that. She would have to think fast.

“Nora Adams!” she replied.

“Very good! Very good!” he blurted out in encouragement. “Now, if you could please tell us your rank and the place you belong to.”

“I don’t have any rank,” she said.

“So, your country doesn’t give ranks to the persons who pledge their souls for it! That’s bad enough,” he said.

Nora kept mum.

“O.K. Now please tell us what you are here for,” he said with a mischievous smile spreading across his lips. She could see the others smiling too. She looked at every one of them including the nurse. Only the nurse wasn’t smiling. She winked. Nora was alerted. That sign meant she wasn’t an enemy. The instruction said-When you are surrounded by enemies, the one who is not an enemy is your friend. That indication only meant that she would have to run when she was still free. And free she was, at least not tied or handcuffed. Just then someone turned toward the nurse. He had most probably noticed her winking. He caught her by the hair and pushed her savagely to the ground. She fell like an animal and cried out in pain as her face absorbed the shock.

Everybody turned attention toward the nurse. The officer speaking to Nora also glanced at her and turned towards Nora saying, “Do you know her?” Nora remained silent. “Let me tell you,” he said, “She is Aliya Khatun, a Romani national hired by Krakisthan to serve as a spy in this country. You didn’t recognize her at the hospital, but she did. Do you know it was because of her that we all have been able to get you holed up here? After the splendid fireworks that you carried out at the busy market place, you were brought to the hospital where she inserted a tracking micro-chip in your head. The wound on your forehead is only because of that, otherwise, you had escaped absolutely unscathed from the explosion. She had inserted the chip so that your friends could track you after you were stripped of all tracking devices by the doctor there. She even broadcast the identity of the chip to her associates. But, what she didn’t know was, that chip was ours. So, we tracked you here even after you gave us a slip on that loaded truck today morning. Quite cleverly, you succeeded in hoodwinking the drone too. But alas! We are still here and that could be a bad luck for both of you.”

Two men brought Aliya in front of Nora. Her interrogator turned towards Aliya, caught hold of her nurse’s uniform and pulled it with such force that it tore off from her waste. Then he tore off the remaining of the dress into shreds so that she was left standing attired only in her inners. She started crying. One of them daubed her mouth with a bunch of cottons and taped it to her face. He released her from the cuffs and stripped her completely exposing her privacies in public. Nora cringed at their disgraceful sight.

The interrogator turned towards Nora. “Do you know what we are going to do with her for putting that chip in you?”

Nora nodded.

“You should! Of course, you should!” he stated matter-of-factly. “That’s a part of the job. Isn’t it?” and so saying he turned towards Aliya and started caressing her thighs. Aliya flinched as he started exploring inside. Nora tried to look away. “You must see how we treat her. Then only you will know how you will be treated. Wait! There’s a lot to do with her.”

One of the men started undressing. Nora inserted her right hand inside her skirt.

“What are you doing?” demanded the interrogator.

She didn’t answer.

“No! Never do that! Why are we all here? You want to ignore so many of us! No!” he started blabbering. She found the pocket and took it out holding it firmly between her fingers. It was a risky move, but there was no other way. She rose so suddenly that the interrogator was taken by surprise. The officer who had undressed was on top of Aliya desperately scrabbling around to topple him over but the strong man pinned her to the ground. Nora swung her right hand at the interrogator’s neck. He tried to duck but she was too fast. The blade scratched the skin of his neck.

He yelled out, “Hey! What’s that?” Nora pressed the blade against his neck and her voice was close to a whisper, “Ask him to release her, or you are dead.”

The interrogator screamed, “That won’t help you. We are way too many and stronger too. Stop trying something so foolish!”

Nora pressed the blade harder. It was so sharp that blood started trickling from the cut. “Remember, that won’t kill you so soon, but I can assure you that the death will be slow and the pain will be excruciatingly long.”

He was still hesitating. Nora deliberately pressed the edge of the blade. “No! No! Wait!” he said looking at his men, “Release her!”

The naked man released his grip on Aliya and stood up. Aliya started panting to breathe. Nora hadn’t eased her pressure on the interrogator’s neck. “Ask that scum bug hand her his clothes,” she ordered.

The naked man gave Aliya his dress.

“Now, put down the guns!” she thundered.

All ten of them obeyed.

She glared at Aliya and said, “Put on those clothes and take two guns.”

Aliya dressed up in the man’s clothes and picked up two guns from the lot surrendered.

“Throw one of those near me and kick the rest away!”

She carried out her instructions. Nora had sliced away his skin in a number of places. The interrogator was groaning in pain.

“Don’t cry like a whore!” she thundered once again.

“Now, lead us to the vehicles!” she ordered, plunging the blade into his throat.

Aliya took charge of the interrogator by thrusting the gun at his back while Nora picked up the second gun from the ground and pointed it at the others. They stayed put while the interrogator led the way to their bikes. There were six bikes parked near a bunch of trees. Nora ordered the interrogator to start one of them. He picked up a key from his pocket and started the engine of one of the bikes. Aliya perched upon the rider’s seat as Nora pointed the gun at the interrogator and pumped a bullet into the interrogator’s left shoulder. He fell back with a cry as Nora and Aliya rode off with the bike. As soon as they disappeared around the bunch of trees the officers picked up the guns and took aim. The bike was going too fast. They could not aim at them. The interrogator screamed, “Get the walkie talkie and alert the border post fast.”


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