Vasant (Spring) 2020 Short Stories - Rana Preet Gill


The Hangman

By Rana Preet Gill


I have not received the call again. Not yet? It was so close that day. I received a call from the authorities to reach the jail premises the other day when the news was confirmed but later on told to wait. The man, the criminal had been finally charged with the death penalty. After a dilly-dally of years the judgment has come like a relief to the abused citizens of the country. How far can this go?


The little girl was mutilated badly before being raped. Such were the details narrated on the pages of newspapers that the words spread themselves like tentacles around me trapping my miniscule world around them left gasping for breath.


I would have killed him with my bare hands had I been given a chance. But there was no need for such desperate measures. I am the hangman, I would be given the legitimate rights to tighten that noose around his neck and that would be my chance to whisper the last words of choicest condemnation for him. I would scare him with my eyes, make his heads swirl with agony and his hearts throb with pain before it is numbed by this feeling.


I would be unkind to him when I would push that lever down murmuring no prayers of comfort for him which I have always done. His soul would find no peace and this would be my ultimate penance.


Sara had been twiddling her thumbs, choking on words, circling around me all evening. She knew I was going. She is too young to know what I do for a living. We have to make up excuses and more of them each time I am called for an execution.


- I work in a faraway office.


- I am not called to work every day.


-I only go for very few meetings.


- Your father is an important man, Sara. Aren’t you happy with the kind of lifestyle we have. You have everything you need. Just tell me what you want this time?

I am fed up with the reasoning and the constant lies I have to conceive to win little Sara’s heart and trust every time I go away.


“But parents of my other classmates go for work daily. They go in the morning and come back in the evening.” She looks at me inquisitively as she pushes the crayons on the picture of a little girl, giving it the final touch while I look defeated.


This last hanging, I tell myself. This last one, and then I will be done. I will resign. I will look for work elsewhere. The kind of work where people leave home in the mornings and come back in the evenings. That will help little Sara co-ordinate her life. Her thoughts run amuck in my absence. Perhaps there are kids in her class who continuously taunt her about a father who stays at home. Perhaps it’s the teachers who whisper among themselves of this anomaly.


A father who does not work might be a bad influence on a young child. A father who brings in the money without any work might be having deviant ways to earn them. A smuggler! A drug trafficker!


My heart wrenches with all these self-created explanations. Sara must know the truth. Though no one in the locality knows about my profession and there would be no leak from the state I am scared for people have their resources. Someone might find out some day that I am the killer. The official killer of all those people who will anyways be killed by the state in one way or other for they have erred.


Their errors were not frivolous. They have caused grievous hurt, injuries, destroyed lives, people, identities for which there is no punishment less than capital punishment.


“You start working?” I tell my wife that day.


“I work!” she said with a nonchalant shrug. “I manage the house!”


“Did you ever let it slip that I…” Even to admit the nature of job seemed to scare me. I let the words hang in the air while she looked at me in confusion.


“Never!” she looked at me with an annoyance for having this conversation.


We had decided long ago that no one in the locality and family should know what my nature of work entails. It’s only me and her. She had made peace with this piece of dangerous knowledge while I was still suffering, disassociated and discontented and with Sara bombarding me with questions that restlessness has surfaced once again.


-Should we let her know?


-She is too young. She can wait.


-But she asks too many questions?


-She is a child. Let her. Evade her questions.


-If you find a job we can say that the money comes from your work. I can be a stay at home father. I will only have to go on those days. You know what I mean!


- That will disturb the equation more than you think. A stay at home father will be abhorred more than a father whose job is a mystery.


- I want to leave the job.


- You can’t. How will we run the home? The salary is so good. And you are only doing what you are being told to do. After all these years? You have too much of blood on your hands. Let it be!


And that was the end of a late-night conversation with my wife. While I mulled over the options of leaving the job she was comfortably settled in a routine of easy money, as she often scoffed, that kept pouring on the household needs. But the money was far from being easy?


I looked at my hands while the faint silhouette of moonlight poured through the half open window. I caught a tinge of red on them. I rushed to the bathroom and switched on the light only to find nothing on them. They were clean yet I washed them again to get off any traces of blood.


My mind was playing games with me. I spent the rest of the night giving a shape to my future. I had spent the last ten years of my life in a profession only we both knew about. I have faint recollection of how I got the job. I was ambitious, hardworking, devoted and yet the promise of a job would allude me for a long time.


A desperate need for money led me to this job. A prompt offer from an acquaintance because there was an execution to be made and the regular man died under mysterious circumstances. Why did it happen? Was it the guilt that wore him down? I never tried to find it out.


But now I feel I should have! But then all those people who are hanged are the rarest of the criminals. People who are found to be devoid of any mercy. And people are not hanged every day. It was done in a very democratic and efficient manner. Why was I fraught with guilt when it was the law that dictated the punishment?


A bright Sunday morning fills me up with hope after a night of disillusionment. I have decided to go for this one last execution before I start looking for another job. It will not be easy when I will be asked about the last ten years but I have made up my mind.


I am not old yet, strong enough to do a laborious kind of job but will Sara accept her father as a daily wager. Did I want freedom from my own thoughts or her caricature of a father? My evening train was booked. I would be received by the prison officials and taken to the site. The execution was stationed for a Monday morning.


Sara insisted that I take her to a park before I go. After a heavy afternoon lunch, I make my way to the nearby park while she sashays towards the swing and calls me to rock it gently. I stand tall over her and look at her affectionately. My little five-year-old means the world to me. She is the most precious thing to me. I would never let her lose her identity if the world comes to know about mine. I am not scared for myself but she is in my thoughts always.


Her father, a hangman should not become a source of embarrassment for her. In this part of the world, I would be ostracized for my work but to me it was still my job which I though not loved but still owed it as a duty.


The time to go is coming near. I place my hands-on Sara affectionately indicating that we needed to leave. The TV frames on the nearby shop catch my attention. The news about the execution is being aired. One shot had caught the tear soaked face of the mother who had lost her girl, as young as Sara to a grievous, inhuman crime. I stop momentarily to look in her eyes. I see in her eyes a gleam of victory.


The people gathered in the shop are looking for hope and succor and they find it in the eyes of this mother who had fought a lonely battle in the courts for the past many years. She is the pride of modern India. I wish I could meet her. Will she be in front of the jail premises waiting for the culprits to meet their fate. But even if I do meet her I would never be able to disclose my identity.


And now the news reporter starts babbling about the hangman who would be assigned this high-profile job? I pull Sasha away from the crowd that is building outside the TV shop not before she hears what they were saying.


“Who is a hangman?” She asks while we hurry up home.


I wait for her inquisitiveness to pass with bated breath. I mumble something incoherent not meeting her eye, not ready to deposit another lie in her fold.


“I know something happened to a girl and they will hang the killers. They talk about it in school, in class, in the playground. I am happy that people who did badly to her will be punished.”


I stop in my tracks and kneel down in front of her amidst a busy road. I clutch to my daughter hugging her tight while a few drops of relief cover my eyes. My little one is growing big while I was caught unawares.


That train journey was easy on me. Sara knows, understands and is trying to figure out the world around on her own. Perhaps someday when she grows up she will know that what I did was no wrong. I did not have blood on my hands. It was a job like any other job. I must tell Sara. How long will I shield myself from her innocent queries?


Next morning when I pushed the lever down bringing curtains down on someone’s life I was not gathered with guilt. I was away from the hoopla that went with the death penalty. I was ushered out and packed back to the station. The emoluments will be submitted in my account.


I walked back home feeling light and emboldened only to realize that I did not bring a present for my little one.


I see my wife sitting on the front door with a worry etched on her person.


“Sara walked to the park and did not return. I have searched everywhere. I could not find her.”


I ran towards the park. Towards the TV shop still airing the news of the execution. I call her name again and again but there is nothing but an eerie silence.


“Sara, I am the one!” I shout. “I am ready to tell all, come back.” I fall on the ground but there is no voice, there is only an emptiness inside and outside.


Rana Preet Gill is a Veterinary Officer with the government of Punjab, India. Her articles and short stories have been published in The Tribune, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Statesman, The New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, The Hitavada, Daily Post, Women’s era, Spillwords press, Setu Bilingual and Indian Ruminations. She has compiled some of her published pieces into a book titled Finding Julia. She has also written two novels – Those College Years and The Misadventures of a Vet




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