“Left Right Left. Left Right Left. Left Right Left. About Turn. Stand at ease. Attention.”
The scorching sun made it hard to be at ease or pay much attention. But we marched on. Half a thousand girls, at the command of our Chief. Our morning session was truly the most gruelling. Wake up at five and get ready for the march under two minutes; yes it always comes off as an exaggeration to an outsider— it did to me when I was one. On the first day, I, along with a select few others, was asked to stand outside our barracks all day long. We were twenty seconds late the next day. Then again, we stood outside all day long. On our heads. Without any clothes. Everyone decided not to sleep beyond four, then on.
If anything is wrong the first time, you are warned. The second time, you served as a warning for others. The same was held for our ideologies too. The world belonged to us, and just us. The Others, who chanced to live upon our sacred Mother Earth, were just waiting out their good luck till we reached them. We lived by all that was taught to us, and though it was not explicit, we never questioned.
The training was tough. Tough is an understatement, but the Chief kept mentioning tough. She wanted us to be ready. To be prepared when the crusade begins. I am more than ready I think. The other day, I was called for our quarterly test. This isn’t as hard as the training, but… I’ll leave you to be the judge. I was walked into a dimly lit room in the basement, and Chief was waiting by the door. She is a strong buxom lady of middle age. Her scarred face was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. She led me in, and asked me to sing out our anthem— which I did, all loud and clear, like she loved. I was congratulated and asked to sit.
“Have you ever had any others as your friends?”
“I have had those, but only when I was young, Chief. I have not talked to them for a long time, Chief”
“Do you remember their names, the time you spent with them, or anything at all about them?”
“No, Chief. I do not.”
“Why are you here?”
“To let our race stay where it belongs, Chief. For we, the rightful heirs, are the true essence of our Mother Earth and we shall reign supreme”
“Are you ready to do anything for your objectives?”
“Would you die for me, at my command, for my bid?”
“With joy and pride, Chief”
“Will you kill Niyati?” I don’t remember being hit, but the red from my torn lips was salty and painful. Shouldn’t have lied about not being aware of my old friend’s name. But it wasn’t because I knew, I was punished because I hesitated to answer. I hesitated to pledge myself to the cause. To my cause.
I have always wondered about my stand on the whole issue. But I have never had the will to confront myself. I have had issues in believing what they told to believe. I was thinking about this when I missed my shot during target practice and ran for two hours in the scorching heat. Running for two hours straight drove such disturbing thoughts out of your head.
That day at the bunks, I asked my neighbour what she thought about the whole training camp. She told me that she had refused to think about it on her own, but had always feared that we were doing the wrong thing. I grew excited and began talking animatedly. We told each other our untold fears, and it was a relief to find someone who shared my thoughts. By the end of that hour we were convinced that something had to be done. We decided to wake up the next day and educate our camp members. The others weren’t a bad lot, they were just different from us. We had to stop mistreating them. We felt happy and content, glad to have found a purpose and a calling. I started scribbling something on my bed post and fell asleep.
I was rudely shaken awake the next morning.
“Are we late?” I asked her, scared to death.
“No, but we have to march. It’s the Crusade.” She was packing up her gun and vests.
“What do you mean it’s the Crusade?”
“The Others. We have intelligence about a new possible hideout. A few thousands at the very least”
“Hurry up! Everybody is out almost. Do you want to be on guard duty- butt-naked, or do you want to kill a bunch of them animals?”
I quickly grabbed my own weapon and headed out. My friends were all waiting, with visible a glee on their faces.
I couldn’t remember what I was thinking about, last night. Something strange surely.
As I walked out the door, I noticed an N scratched on my bed post.
An N? Strange.
Sketch By: Aurnaub Bose