Even if I could sneak away, I'm as worried about what Sameer will think of mewhat he might say about meas I am about getting hurt in some brawling.
This is no time to let loyalties be suspected.
Some of the men with bats in their hands have taken to beating the tips against the ground in time with the chant. Zin-da-bad. Pa-ki-stan.
The lane widens, empties into a little cuanka. Across the way, moving in from the other street, another mob is moving in. Bigger than ours.
My grip tightens, and I realize that this is it. I'm going to have to go through with this, just to survive.
But instead of clashing with the other mob, they take up our chant and we merge together, angling south across the square, which is empty now.
Zin-da-bad. Pa-ki-stan. Some fifty voices chant together.
We are heading for the Gurdwara, I realize.
The Sikh temple is not the only one in Jalandhar. It is not the biggest or grandest either. A single small dome squats in the center of the roof, topped with the gilt khanda, the crossed swords are glinting in the morning light. It is nothing fancy compared to the dozens of gurdwaras in town.
But it is the only one that has no outer wall to protect it.
There are still people inside. I can hear the prayers spilling out the windows.
No . . . no . . . I can't do this.
I can't . . .
"Ready?" Sameer presses close and asks me.
No. I don't want to be here. I can't be here.
But I manage to nod, even though I know I look as scared as I feel.
Sameer leans around, forces me to look at him as we slow up. He lifts an eyebrow, shakes his head. The same shake he used to give me when we were kids and I wouldn't take him up on a dare.
But he doesn't have time to say anything. The mob abandons the chant and rushes at the whitewashed sides of the building, screaming.
And it begins.
The building is burning before I even see that some of the men have been carrying cans of petrol. But there are people still in there! Maybe kids. Maybe women.
It all happens too fast.
Rocks sail through the windows, glass shatters inward. Rags soaked in oil and set alight find their way through the holes. But the people inside--
It's a nightmare come to life.
I don't know what to do.
Sameer is gone, joining the attack. I should run now.
Sikh men begin to pour from the building, chased out by the smoke. But as soon as they step outside, someone is there to make sure they don't get far.
The bodies begin to pile up at the entrance without even making it to the street.
There's nothing I can do to stop it. I don't know how to begin to stop it.
The only thing I can do is run before I have to do anything to hurt any of them.
I don't see Sameer. If I go now, he'd never know.
But I've barely taken a step when movement to my right catches my eye. A man, his white dastar already black with smoke, launches himself from one of the broken windows on the ground floor. The fight is centered toward the front of the building. No one is there to meet him when he comes out.
But then he sees me. Me, standing there with a cricket bat outside his temple.
He screams, brandishing a kirpan, the little sword flashing silver in the sunlight.
He rushes at me, the knife tracking straight for my chest. I freeze, but I have to move. Move! Maybe I could knock it from his hand, knock him off balance, give myself time to get away. But what if I miss? What if my timing is off? But I have to try. So I lunge forward, swinging the bat like I have a thousand times before in matches. I swing as hard as I can for his arm. But to my horror, I realize he's moving too fast . . . I'm going to miss his hand . . . and I can't stop.
Excerpted from A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury. Copyright © 2013 by Jennifer Bradbury. Excerpted by permission of Atheneum Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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