The Conflict Zone

A short story by Charlotte Silveston

The red dot glows on the woman’s forehead.

Standing too close to her, blood throbs against my eardrums, masking clangs and thuds and the distant drone of a motor. The heat is making me feel feverish.

It’s one against many, how many I can’t tell; some are close and others are far off. The woman is stuck. She doesn’t even blink.

I can’t move either. They might come for me too. For now, it’s just her and them. Both products of the schism, but they are on one side and she on the other.

The panic in my chest beats its wings faster, almost a hum. They’re taunting her – drawing it out, making her wait. I wish – wish – I could help.

“Why won’t you get the message?” It’s the one nearest her. Still she doesn’t blink. One of the others spits on the floor and I swivel my eyes, watching the foam judder. “Muslims aren’t welcome here.”

The woman’s head snaps up, the red dot almost pulsating, and she stares at me. Has she realized I’ve been here all along? But then I can feel it. Everything is slowing. At last. Relief floods my mouth.

Finally, she blinks, and in unison we stand up: two strangers, united. The men look at one another.
We are coasting to a stop. I nod to her.

“I’m not a Muslim,” she says, “not that it makes any difference.”

The red dot appears more prominently. It always would be, her bindi, hovering in the space between her eyebrows. Empowering her. “I,” she announces, “am a Hindu. Today, I wish I was Muslim.”

Standing next to her, I nod my agreement. The men turn their eyes away from us.

The Tube doors bleep and slide open.