Mathaiamma shuffled away with a troubled mind, one foot dragging sluggishly behind her, her sari pulled across her nose and mouth to stop the choking dust she was kicking up, wisps of white hair escaping the confines of material. Her every movement was laboured now, her body weakened and battered and broken by the grinding civil war.

She had been a young woman when this government had first come to power. Young and idealistic. She had believed the rhetoric of the rebel leaders when they had proclaimed from every parapet that within a week, then a month, then a year, the government would fall to the will of the people. After the first year, and no shift in power, the rebel leaders had grown quieter with their predictions. There were no longer the bold shouts of Inquilab Zindabad! that rang out from loudspeakers of passing jeeps festooned with the propaganda of the competing parties, looking as if they were en route to a wedding. The revolution itself had descended into a grubby guerrilla war, each side claiming victories that equated to the genocide of their people.

Finally, just as Mathaiamma had begun to think that it would all end with the last two remaining people taking aim at each other, fighting to their last breath, the international community had deigned to intervene. The peacekeepers had come with their spotless blue berets, and shiny unused weaponry. They had smiled their perfect white teeth, waved their perfect manicured hands, and judged with their perfect colonialist attitudes. Still, Mathaiamma was grateful for their presence. They brought with them the promise of democracy, an opportunity to overthrow the military junta that had had a vice-like grip on her country for so long.

She stopped in her path and looked down at her dark and wizened hands, her fingers gnarled with holding a gun too long. There on the tip of her index finger, covering the white half moon on her nail, rested the repository of all her hopes. There sat the black indelible ink mark that showed that she had legitimately cast her vote in the first democratic election her country had seen in too many years. This one ink blot, one small point on the nail of an old woman, held such significance for the nation. This seemingly insignificant ink stain heralded the future. Mathaiamma allowed a slow grin to spread across her tired features, and the embers of hope to ignite in her heart.

©Asha Rajan

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