by Kumaar Pradhan
Freddy went upstairs and carelessly pulled the sheet over Victor’s body. Victor was wearing just a home-made, soiled brief. No banyan, no shorts and fast asleep on his belly. His left leg was folded up and his head had slipped down the dirty, tarnished cushion. He was sleeping with his right arm under his head. You could hear his rhythmic, gentle breath. A blissfully sound slumber!
Victor was Vic to all the members of the family and schoolmates. His elder brother Freddy did not care to pat him gently and wake him out of his deep sleep. Instead, Freddy seized Vic by his upper arms and with a quick, cruel jerk, brought him to his feet.
Vic, still drowsy, dropped down on the bed again. Freddy, who had just finished his bath and was wrapped in a towel, yanked Vic again to his feet with the same cruelty and more force.
Vic peered at Freddy through half-opened eyes. Then Freddy screamed in his deadly voice, “Come downstairs right away and go to the railway station to buy me my season ticket!”
Vic’s brothers, sister and mother had already descended to the ground floor. His mother, whom all the children called Momutly, had already resumed her kitchen activities because Freddy and, later, George would leave for their duties. Vic’s younger brother and sister must have been already on their way to school. Vic had to be at school by noon.
Vic’s house had three rooms: one behind the other on the ground floor and two rooms on the first floor. The first floor rooms were used for daytime resting and nocturnal retiring. Vic’s family did not have any cot. The beds used to be made on the floor.
In the first room, three beds used to be spread, one touching the other, on which the Vic, his younger brother, sister and Momutly used to sleep. In the second room, Vic’s father and elder brothers, George and Freddy, used to retire. Only about six months before, Vic’s father had died of a heart stroke. So, thereafter, only George and Freddy had been using that bedroom.
After the father’s untimely demise, the responsibility of the whole household had rested on the two elder brothers’ shoulders. Both had completed their college education and were employed.
George was that way cool and understanding type. He had displayed utmost love and care towards Vic and his younger brother and sister. The children had started looking at him as their savior.
Freddy, on the other hand, was a peppery sort. He was already conceited and then had emerged a tyrant. Momutly had sympathy for the whole family against the tyranny of Freddy, especially since Momutly’s husband had departed. However, none of the children was aware of it.
When he was forced awake by his demonic elder brother Freddy, Vic stumbled his way downstairs and turned to the kitchen through which one could reach the anteroom. An anteroom on the ground floor had a manual copper water heater and a couple of aluminum buckets. Tap water was a far cry then. Well water was used by all the households in the vicinity. Vic’s late father had created an adequate storage facility for well water.
While passing through the kitchen, Vic could sense the presence of Momutly with a rag around her waist over her clothing, leaning over the vessel on the stove. Just as he reached the third step down the kitchen towards the anteroom, Freddy ruthlessly pounced and seized him by his upper arm from behind and dragged him towards the front room. On a stool, an expired season ticket and the money needed for a new one were kept. Freddy pointed to that and berated Vic to take the money and go at once.
Vic grumbled whiningly, “Let me wash my eyes” and glanced expectantly at his mother with the rag still around her waist. She had scurried to the scene and was watching the drama silently and helplessly. Since her husband’s departure, she had become eloquent only by her silence. Freddy thundered, “Wash them when you return.”
Rubbing his dirty eyes with the back of his palm, Vic turned to his short trousers which were hung to a wooden hook. The wicked Freddy again pulled Vic towards the front door and reprimanded him: “Don’t waste time. Go as you are. Quick.” And he pushed him out of the front door.
Vic started briskly towards the station, almost naked but for his soiled, home-made brief, with the money and the season ticket held tightly in his right hand.
The ticket house was a small, tiled structure. It had only one window. Those days there used to be no rush, unlike modern days. Someone was purchasing a ticket. The next number was Vic’s. When he approached the window, which was too high for him, Vic had to raise himself on his toes. He handed the old season ticket and the money to an uncle who was the ticket vending clerk.
Vic did not utter a single word. Probably the clerk understood. He gave Vic a renewed season ticket and some change. The matter was finished in just two minutes. Vic held the season ticket and the change in his right hand and hung around. The demon Freddy was to rush there and collect it before going to the platform. Vic waited for some time and got bored. There was no alternative but to stay put there because the demon might come by any road.
Everyone who came to the window to buy a ticket threw an amused and weird glance at scantily dressed Vic. Vic was dying with shame because in the up-to-date office-going traffic he was conspicuous by his bare body. He could not hide himself, either, because if the demon did not find him, he would give him a hard slap there and then the first thing when he was found.
At the station, there was a shade supported by square poles. Vic rested, leaning his back against one of the poles. He waited in that position a bit too long for his age. Then folding his legs at the knees, he started sliding down. Ultimately, he squatted there resting against the pole.
There were many things that would attract a lad of his age. A hound came to him, wagging its tail. He stroked it with his left hand. He wanted to put his mouth near the hound’s, but he suddenly remembered that he had neither washed his eyes nor cleaned his teeth.
Then the demon Freddy arrived. Seeing Vic in the company of the street dog, Freddy muttered a remark like “Dirty pig!”
Vic was in no mood to know what Freddy had said. He handed over the cash and season ticket to Freddy and took to his heels.
Vic slowed only near the mouth of their lane. In the lane, he started walking slowly. All the residents of the one-story bungalows alongside the lane were familiar to him. On many occasions, he had hung around in the lane without his shirt on. And by now he was almost oblivious to his bareness. So, he started loitering through his lane.
On the way, he saw a big swollen, green toad. He observed it with bewildered curiosity for a moment. He wanted to see it leap, so he picked up a stone and threw it at the toad. The toad leapt into a nearby gutter.
Vic then sprinted to their compound. He saw Momutly in the entrance door with her right hand on the door-frame and her left palm on her forehead like a pulled up visor. She was standing on tiptoes and was watching the lane. The rag was no longer there.
Vic never realized that she was watching to see if he was returning home. As he approached her, she pulled him close and hugged him. He felt the warmth of her body, and the love and care of her arms in his hair. The next moment, Vic pleaded her to let go of him.
“Momutly, let me go to the anteroom. I have to wash my eyes and teeth.” He got himself released and ran to the anteroom. On the way, he saw a drop of warm water on his forearm. He paused and observed it carefully. That was Momutly’s tear. He thought how he had abandoned the waterfall of affection and was going where? To the stored water!
Vic kept on staring at the tear.
Copyright © 2011 by Kumaar Pradhan