Bunker

Saurav Karki

 “We are Nepali.”

“We are Nepali.”

Bimal was the first to raise his hand and walk out of the foremost entryway of the bunker. We didn’t know what was going through his head at that time. We could only guess. He was quick to surrender to the gunmen. Not as a war criminal but as a guiltless civilian. A civilian of diverse sort, not the civilian of the host country, took part straightforwardly or in a roundabout way in war, but an anonymous nonnative had nothing to do with any ordinary succulent among the participants.

How can anyone blame them? And we are definitely that kind of people. How could anyone consider us a threat?

Oh dear! How could I know?

Poor Sushmita! Being one of the victims of the most traumatic bunker war, she, too, has questions, as I have, but no answers.

Just seconds after Bimal surrendered, we heard gunshots. And he was shot dead right before our eyes. We didn’t know who the gunmen were or who to blame for his death. We were not able to explain the facts. There was only one reality that existed before our eyes, and that was the body of our friend. The rest seemed to be a complete illusion. Today, when we remember those hours, we don’t get any clues about the tragic and unnerving nightmares accompanying those figments and substances. As life goes on, it seems like nothing has changed. Space is the same. So does the air. But what is different is that our companions don’t exist. Their body and soul have vanished into the cosmos. Maybe life only exists. Nothing but life appeared.

So why do nightmares exist, why do recollections continuously come back, and why can’t we fairly disregard the trauma?

Poor Sushmita again!

Poor me as well!

**********

One after the other, three explosives hit the tunnel’s stone floor.

We had only seen grenades in the film. And we were sure that it would definitely blow up. The fear of dying was right in front of us. There was no time for prayer.

Bibek picked up a grenade and tossed it outside.

Outside, it blew up. The other two detonated inside the bunker.

How do courage and bravery go beyond fear? How is it possible for a non-military man to do those things?

“A faint hope for survival, I guess.”

Days and months have passed, and our hero is still nowhere to be found. Hope lives on, however, with sunken, weeping eyes and a lifeless skull.

When my friend Susmita and I get together these days, we talk about the war, bunker’s life, and constantly living in perpetual fear—like stuck cotton, so colorless and lifeless. We do talk, but that doesn’t mean we particularly love it; rather, it helps us cope with and move past our trauma.

Susmita, my friend, is so dear to her heart that she never forgets to remember our hero. We used to cry till our cheeks were all tickled with itchy tears. All we can do is hope that one day our tears will undoubtedly bring him back. We bleed more.

Our supervisor, Mr. Feldman, was the first to give us tremendous hope. I recall what he said.

The following day, we witnessed hundreds and hundreds of flickering fireworks-like things scattering and floating across the sky in front of our foreheads.

Our informal meetings lasted little more than a few seconds. He led the instructions, which were repeated that same day one more time.

With rapidity, he said to us, “You guys are safe if you stay in the bunker until support arrives.” In those terrifying circumstances, the only thing that stood between us and our lives was a lengthy, trench-like subterranean structure. We have no choice but to trust his words.

We trust you, sir.

We fix our gazes on one another. Those seemed so void and dead. Even in dread, they appeared to smile after Mr. Feldman’s words.

We trust you, sir.

But there were no words.

Can I trust the bunker?

I had learned somewhere that bunkers are military fortifications for defense; more or less, they are meant to protect people and valuable goods.

Does it protect us?

My heart asked for my intellect.

No answer.

I also remembered that a few days ago, with full of adventures and enthusiasm, we had visited this bunker. It was all a new experience for us.

In those moments, the time and scenario were all changed; a few moments later, this heaven was turned into hell.

I can’t help but appreciate this life-saving bunker—the one and only means of my survival.

“I can hear you breathe.”

I turned my head.

It was Deepak.

‘Please keep calm. We have done nothing wrong to them.’

He tried to calm my fear, despite being my age.

He was one of those whom I used to consider to have the most allergic personalities in our herd.

I shrouded my head on his shoulder. I can’t hate him anymore.

Over the course of hours and hours, I could not help but whisper to Deepak, “Deepak, can we make it home?

‘Yes, of course! We have done nothing wrong against them.” Deepak murmured, too.

We could hear big explosions inside the bunker. Every time a strong explosion wins every common bombardment, my heart shakes. I noticed Deepak smoothly moving his hand over my hair.

‘Deepak?’

‘Deepak?’

May be Deepak was so silent in his own half consciousness.

He didn’t listen.

‘Deepak?’

I raised my voice a little.

‘Had somebody closed the door? Will they come inside?’

I asked him.

I don’t know. But they won’t do us any harm.

How could he forget Bimal being shot to death? And how could he not remember others being killed, exploding with grenades right in front of our eyes?

I doubted his words. But I didn’t have any life to argue.

************

My trauma is most healed when I talk to Susmita. My grief and worry are weakening me these days. I need someone who is so familiar with my emotions and who could have taken a seat by my side.

Particular nights when I dream, deep within the folds of my eyes. I see a nightmare with a vivid picture of forty to fifty Thai nationals residing by the supporting wall, resembling flocks of chickens. I stand before them, desperate and helpless, like a sodden crow in the rain. A few additional beings similar to me are behind me.

Abruptly, I see military boots marching down the tunnel and positioning themselves squarely in front of us.

I cannot comprehend a single word they say. I think those aren’t the right words to express love and compassion. Or perhaps those are the words of anguish and frustration. Oh my god! Why are languages different from each other?

Swiftly, I looked with blinked eyes, terrified to look over the knees in those combat boots. With compassion, I watched those herds of Thai nationals, who had banded together like sheep to be led outside the bunker. Nobody knows where and why they are being rallied for!

Oh God, among them, there was our national hero. Bibek was one of those unfortunates among the flocks of Thai people, all so helpless and fragile.

Why did he have to set off those tiny grenades outside?

Maybe it cost him to be taken as a hostage.

I spoke to Sushmita about my feelings the day after my intense nightmares.

Try not to forget. You can doubt the extent of his deeds. Don’t you think, nevertheless, that he is the reason we are here, still standing, in our country?

I used to get assurances from my friend Sushmita.

I only gave a nod of confirmation.

*******************

She glanced me in the eyes. She was rarely looking at me, as if I were not there. Most of the time she was talking, glaring outside of the windows, staring at the moving waitress, or glancing at passing customers.

I noticed some broken monologue, trauma, and a bad, awful experience in her tone. This sweet little girl had gone through her life’s most awful reality, which she couldn’t neglect.

I don’t know if ‘please go ahead’ is the appropriate compliment for anyone to pass to show I am genuinely interested in her.

I am sorry; I had already spent a few ‘please go ahead ‘frequently in our conversation.

“You seem like a more mature girl than you were before.”

A warm, complimentary dose for her from my side.

What else can I give her?

She simply grinned with her serious smile and greeted me once more, blinking her wet eyes.

A brisk winter’s evening brought a cool breeze that kissed her scorching cheeks. Her lips were parched for winter, and her tongue found them quickly, tasting them better than the food. Thirty minutes had passed since the waitress arrived; the steaming soup was ready to cool.

“How’s your time going these days?” To change the subject, I asked her exactly.

Fine, nothing noteworthy. The same routines are accustomed to; the same demanding schedule. How about your sister?

After all her stories, I was so silly to ask her about her passage of time.

Well, she is doing well. And also, she has a best wish for you as well.

She faintly smiled.

It was getting closer to night. This is how the time of day has gone by. I apologize for not saying enough to express my compassion. What a limited time there was. With the prospect of seeing each other again some other day, we bid each other farewell. I observed changes in myself on the way home. I was more focused on the prayer, just like her. Like her heart, I assumed my own was beating with optimism all the time. It’s possible that we had similar feelings and emotions aside from chanting for world peace.