One Tiger To A Hill

“He raped a girl, sir. Over.”

The walkie-talkie crackled.

“Didn’t you hear me? The minister says let him go. Over.”

“He raped and killed a girl, sir. Over.”

“Just let him go. He’s the minister’s vote bank. Over and out.”

A low chuckle issued from the jail in the corner of the room.

“What did I tell you?” inquired a young voice. “Tiger Timur can’t be kept behind bars.”

The room was lit by a hurricane lamp. The corners of the room lay in darkness. The hurricane lamp illuminated the top of a table, revealing wax and ink stains. A smell of kerosene, mingled with that of sweat, hung in the air. A rifle lay across the notched surface of the table. Sub-inspector Rafik’s face was barely visible. He was seated at the table. He put the walkie-talkie down, opened a drawer and took out some papers and a pen. There hung the smell of sweat from two bodies.

They were in the middle of the Sundarban mangrove forest, at Koromjol. The forest lay silent around them, as though expecting the Royal Bengal tiger to come out at any moment. But nothing came out into the opening. The police station stood on concrete poles, as much for the beasts as the water from the labyrinthine branches of the rivers. The River Poshur flowed close by. There was no moon.

Inside, it was hot. There were only two small, barred windows at the top of the walls. Perspiration dripped from Rafik’s forehead; he loosened the collar of his khaki shirt. There were no generators here. The stench of two men’s perspiration mingled, like hatred. He began to write.

But he found it difficult to concentrate. He hadn’t been surprised by the minister’s order. The lawlessness began when Bangladesh became democratic. At first, he had welcomed the violence: it was a chance to make more money, take more bribes. He had asked to be transferred to Koromjol because there were river pirates here: he could extort money from them. Of course, he had to pay a sizable sum to purchase the post.

But now there was the girl. Her remains were found in the jungle by woodcutters. The head had remained intact, the rest had been gnawed by the local man-eater. Tiger Timur and his gang of boys let the girl loose into the forest. Which was the jungle, he wondered. The tigers and snakes seemed human compared to the beasts in the towns and villages.

“We picked her up at Morelgonj. She said she wanted to come here, to Koromjol. So we said we’d give her a ride. We tied her up inside the boat, and we had a go at her, one after another. It wasn’t all pleasure, mind you. It was part of my work. We traveled by boat, and when we came to a village, we would stop so they could hear the girl scream. They don’t call me Tiger Timur for nothing. I have to earn my reputation. If I go to a village and tell them for whom to vote, they will do exactly as they are told. Otherwise, they know that some of their boys would disappear or some of their girls wouldn’t want to get back.” He chuckled again.

A tuctoo lizard began to call: tuc-too, tuc-too....

For a few minutes there was only the sound of the lizard outside and the scratching of the pen inside. The lizard stopped. A deer barked in the distance.

A firefly floated into the room, its blue light blinking.

The pen continued to scratch across paper. His hand was damp with perspiration. His mouth tasted bitter.

“Hey, sub-inspector, why don’t you let me out of the cage? You’re going to have to let me go in the morning, anyway.”

A roar erupted through the forest.

“What’s that? It’s the tiger, isn’t it? It’s the man-eater!”

Rafik continued to write – he had heard the tiger countless times in the last few weeks. In fact, he had included the tiger in his plans this afternoon when he let the constable go on leave, even though no request was made.

Silence descended again, like a smothering blanket. The pen stopped scratching.

Rafik picked up the rifle and the keys. He unlocked the cell.

“That’s more like it, sub-inspector.”

“Get out!”

“What do you mean?”

“Get out of here. Outside.”

“You must be crazy! The minister will have your job.”

“I’ve been writing out a report about how I let you go in the morning. A boat comes at 10:00, but it didn’t pick you up.”

Rafik leveled the rifle at Tiger Timur.

“There’s a man-eater out there!”

“Open the door and get out.”

Tiger Timur unbolted the door. The odour of a strange flower greeted them. There was nothing to be seen outside. The boy descended the steps. He began to cry.

“Please! Please! I beg you, don’t send me into the jungle!”

Rafik bolted the door.

Through the silent night, he heard a female voice call to him.

“Bhaiya! Bhaiya!”

“Brother! Brother!”

He sat back, and waited for the screams.

Iftekhar Sayeed






































































































































































































































































































































































































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