25 June 2022
#WeekendReads

Short Story: A Little Boy’s Harmonica

A 9-year-old boy is witness to rows of coffins from his mountain house window. Through his innovative Blues, short dirges straight from the heart, he pines for his soldier father caught in the crossfire of Russia-Ukraine conflict, and pays tribute to the lives lost in the theatre of war

Credits: Shutterstock
Credits: Shutterstock

Standing still atop the Crimean Mountains, the only movement in the little boy’s body that can be felt is in his hands and mouth. With a 12-hole harmonica in his hands, he pays tribute to every passing coffin that he sees. The thundering noise of bombs and fighter jets often scares him, but the boy’s adept hands always go up to play this harmonica every time he pays tribute to the lives lost in the war.

As far as his hooded eyes can see, it’s black smoke billowing out from almost all corners. Yet from afar, he can figure out the number of coffins that keep passing his sight. Weary undertakers carrying the corpses, sometimes even unidentified mutilated remains, make this daily war drudgery. These have been the darkest of nights that ever befell Ukrainians. 

Every morning, this 9-year-old boy throws open far and wide the fringed curtains of the white velvet which had otherwise enveloped the entire war scene in itself. It’s the smashed traffic light, deserted roads, and bloodstained surroundings that his brave eyes absorb as the everyday scene from this mountain house window.

Nevertheless, the young fellow is incognizant of the war’s intensity as only a few are able to get coffins for the cremation of the dead ones. Little did he know that many corpses perished in the open. The glory of the enemy (Moscow) is devouring their peace, with each passing day their high renown outweighs the target country’s future.

He seems to have forgotten about his own identity, family and everything that was ever his. Every time the little boy sees a coffin, he strikes the Blues notes with as much effort as his small lips can afford on this harmonica. On the opposite side of the window, one of J.M.W. Turner’s marine paintings often throws a blurry reflection. But the little boy’s conscience was as clear as his sight. Each passing day, the pain and suffering end up overwhelming all his senses.

These Blues notes he evidently plays for his family too; his father is a soldier serving in the war. This 12-hole harmonica that he learned from his father is the only memento that he sleeps with.

The boy innovates new Blues, the short dirges come right from the heart — pining for his father. Adjusting his embouchure with a puckered face the boy’s dedication towards all these war heroes is exemplary. Among other tangible changes, the birds that sang to him in their small garden are no longer singing; one of the wooden table drawers has Russian Nesting Dolls but he no longer touches them. A calendar that hangs just above the wooden table has a picture of the white stork — Ukraine’s national bird that ironically symbolises peace. But this bird never attacks the dolls, then why did they attack our homes? What made us their enemy? The boy would often wonder and resign himself to sleep with harmonica every night, to meet his soldier father in the dreams. 

(Hina Fatima Khan is an Independent multimedia journalist based in Aligarh.)