“You may forget your childhood, but your childhood does not forget you” – – Michael Didbin.
The tyres of the BMW came to a screeching halt. As he killed the engine and stepped down, a blast of cool breeze lashed at his face. He took few steps and crossed the lane. As he stood at the gates, he lifted his eyes and read the huge sign-board: Lutheran English Medium High School.
He pushed opened the gate and stepped inside. An eerie silence met him. He didn’t know which way to go. He took the right direction and walked nervously.
It’s been years since he set his foot on this soil. Nothing prevented him from visiting here. He visited Guntur many times. A cousin’s wedding, a Thanksgiving, a gathering of friends and a death. But, these numerous visits never gave him ‘enough time’ to visit the school. He has been ‘busy’ … He always tells himself.
As he walked slowly, step by step, the gravel under his boots crunched and broke the silence. A rabbit came from a nearby shrub with it’s mouthful and glanced at him once. It stood there a moment, as if examining him and lept back into it’s world and vanished. He moved forward, stepping back in time. It’s as if he’s time-travelling and memories from the past whipped past his brain with lightning-speed. Images and voices began to dash past him.
He reached the fountain and peered inside … No water … Empty … Just like his heart … His heart is devoid of all feelings … He had become insensitive … His heart which has seen this beautiful terrain had become stone-cold and hardened over the years. It had become impenetrable for emotions and empathy.
He looked towards the sky … Empty … Save for a lonely cloud … Like the cloud, he wandererd aimlessly through the school.
Pacing through the school had bought back memories from his childhood. Certain spots had evoked strong emotions in him. Emotions … He was surprised he still have feelings. The school is bringing one by one back … His heart seems to be melting. Did he have a heart at all ? He always wonder, whenever he made a ‘Life-Changing’ decision.
The stage … He climbed the stairs and turned around. During his school days, he remembered standing at this point which gave him a panoramic view of the place. But, now not much as a view. The stage appeared of less height than it used to be. The stairs are less in number than they used to be. He climbed down and examined the bottom … He took a nearby twig and dig into the soil. With his shoes, he sweeped the sand. Yes … There it is … A trace of bricks buried into earth. All these years … Soil erosion … He got it. The same must have happened to the fountain … To the huge boulder lying all these years undisturbed in front of the Elementary Office.
And, even to the Bell … He tried to climb it with great effort during his VIth grade … Only to be mocked by his Seniors.
All these years … 15 years … Eroded … Just like his life … Eroded.
A sense of shame and guilt filled him like the winter fog. He had reached the periphery of his life. All these years, life had sucked away all the happiness from him like the Dementors in the Harry Potter. He felt wasted and decided to take the extreme step by committing suicide. So, before dying he wanted to know what had caused this mess. He want answers … He wanted to go back to his childhood. He wanted to go, where it had all started … One last time, he wanted to visit this place … So, here he was … All the way from New Hampshire … To LEM !
The trails of life had taken a toll on him.
“Akbar … Hey …”
Had he taken this decision years back, he would have prevented these misfortunes.
The sudden utterance of his name jolted him back to the present. Who in the world would call him by name in this place.
He turned back to see … A girl stood there … Wearing a complete Western wear, she had a grace which is seen in people who’re in great sorrow. Grief brings you an inner glory.
“Did you remember me?”
Remember you ? … How can he forget her … Emily … Studied with him till Xth standard. As soon as the exit from LEM, they parted ways … They lived lives apart … Time had passed and here they are … LEM had unified them again.
He waved at her and smiled. Smiled … He was surprised at how he felt now !
They sat on the ground. She was looking at his suit, as if it might get spoilt with the dirt.
“Never mind … We used to play here, staining and wetting our clothes” He reminded her.
She laughed, a girlish laugh like a tinkling of a Christmas bell.
They exchanged niceties, whereabouts … Akbar suddenly broke and began sobbing like a child. Emily placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t know Em … Why all this disaster … Everyday, I see myself sinking deep, while everyone around me is breathing. Everyday, I grope in darkness, while all around me is nothing but day-light. Each and every moment, I saw my poor soul craving for food, while all the others around me are having thier mouthfull”
She didn’t know what to do except giving him words and touch. He seems to be neck-deep in life’s odds. She sat beside him helplessly, as he uncontrollably cried like a kid. Akbar is showing no signs of stopping. Time is running on it’s race. As she’s about wonder what to do, a sudden sound from behind made both of them look back.
A man with a huge broomstick is sweeping the leaves and cleaning. As they both looked at him, he smiled and waved back at her.
“Nageswar Rao … The care-taker and night watchman … Not many kids know about him, as his duty begins starting twilight. All these years … Still sticking to school … Loyalty”
She explained to Akbar. She went on to tell, how her family visited the school last spring and met him.
Hmm … The man cleared his throat. They both looked at him puzzling.
“If I’m not mistaken, I overhead you … ” Shouted the man above the ruffling of the leaves.
Akbar and Emily looked at eachother, as if he had uttered a blasphemy.
“Well, now that’s not even a problem you see … ” He placed his hands on the broomstick and rested it on the ground like a pedestal.
“I want to tell you kids a nice story ” Continued the care-taker, after deciding for himself that overhearing conversations isnot even a problem.
“Many years ago, before this school was built, there used to be a pond … There … ” He pointed towards the direction of the spot, which now houses an inner practise ring for cricketers.
“There used to be many fish in the waters … Fish of different colours and all sizes. They used to live as one despite thier differences. Due to thier diverse colours, when they swam and jump above the waters in the sunset, the lake looked vibrant and offered a visual treat to the eyes of people passing by. Until, one day trouble came in the form of a Crane with a big beak as long as the wand of Lord Voldemort”
Both Akbar and Emily laughed.
“And, this big Crane bird starting eating a fish a day, until one day, the pond got completely emptied of the fish. The colours of the pond vanished and along with them the joy and warmth it spread. As the big evil Crane loosed interest in the pond and began to migrate to another place, one last glane towards the water of the pond, it gave and caught sight of a small frog. And, this frog is the smartest animal you could ever encounter. It is both Einstein and Stephen Hawking combined. Combo pack”
Emily and Akbar began to laugh heartily.
“So, this snobby-gabble fat Sauron like Crane bird caught this Incy Wincy Frogy thingy with it’s Voldy-beak and began to fly. Little did this Jerkish Crane know that it’s end will be in the hands of the tiny little frog. The frog is caught up in it’s beak and with it’s tiny hands, it want to give it a last try. It tightened it’s fists around the neck of the evil Vampire Crane like a noose. As the Crane stopped flying and realised what the heck is going on, it tried heard to shake off the frogy dude but in vain. The more he tried, the more this Hawking brained frog tightens his grip and presses hard. Alas … At last, this baddy Crane let go off the frog and flew without looking back”
The two were so engrossed in the story at the time, they completely forgot that they were sitting on the sand for so much of time.
“So … End of the story, catch ya later. But, before you leave, there’s an underlying message in the story: No matter how many trails you get into, even to the last minute, fight back and … Never Give Up !”
The last word strike right at Akbar and made a tremendous impact. The wind around him seemed to have halted. The leaves of the nearby Peepal tree seemed to be swaying. Utter silence dominated the area. He is oblivious to his surroundings, so much that he didn’t even notice both Emily and the care-taker leave. The words began to sink deep into his mind.
He stood up. He is suprised to see the force with which he stood up and the amount of energy his body received. He felt like he’s on steroids.
As stepped outside the gates of LEM, he once again looked back at the school. This place has something magical … It had uplifted his spirit and removed the filth within. As his BMW moved past the lane, he once again looked back from his side-view mirror. The automobile began to gain momentum, the reflection in the mirror began to appear small until only a tiny part remained. He pressed the brake-pedals and the vehicle came to an abrupt halt. The motorcyclist behind loosed balance and stopped next to the window.
“Atleast, give a signal … You moron”
The biker throwed considerable amount of insults and drove away. Akbar didn’t even cared to listen. He is engrossed in thought and looking at the stall before him. The triangular intersection of the road had one corner occupied by a stall which sells red-meat. He didn’t even care, when the vehicles behind him honked. He now knew what to do. He depressed the clutch, raised the accelator and raced past.
One year later …
Listerdale, New Hampshire
2:30 PM …
Emily walked past the “Unite The Right” poster. These days the sheer madness of the knuckle-heads had reached alarming levels. Perhaps Charlottesville is only a sample. God knows what else are in store for the Americans after the Loose Canon took office !
She stopped walking and searched for the address. After a quick glance at the neighborhood, she found it: A Enterprises.
After waiting for her turn, she entered the interview-room.
“This will be your last interview B***h !” Her husband gave her an ultimatum.
The A*****e wants me to stay at home and wash dishes, I’ll piss him off with this job once this interview is over — Thought Emily.
As she opened the door and sat on her chair, both fear and anger filled her simultaneously – The two feelings never to be experienced during interviews.
She lifted her eyes to see the interviewer, she dropped opened her mouth in utter shock.
“Yes Em … I am the one who gives you job”
Akbar got up from his chair and stood with his back towards her. As Emily got up and stood next to him, the plexiglass before them is like a canvas spread wide by an artist.
From this point, the city before them appeared like a landscape reaching to the ends of the earth.
“Can’t you see Em ? A Enterprises … A … Akbar … Akbar Enterprises. Not many Indians are successful on this side of the American map. It’s been an year since I met you. During this year, my life had experienced remarkable change. The change is so remarkable that skeptics around me questioned my success. How can a man who works hard from 9-5 and strives hard to pay bills and rents see such a rise as this”
He streched out his hands to emphasize. No need to stress hard, thought Emily.
When you have power, it shows.
This grand-scale building, the high-end cars parked below, staff with expensive clothing … The people … The money … Power … It shows !
“Conspiracy theories ranged from me bribing Senator level officials, lobbying at White House and even to ‘Victim Card’ played by the Indian-Americans. So, who is right Em … They or me?”
Akbar asked with a smile on his face. A smile so pleasant and natural. Now, she can see an inner grace in him.
“Well … Time answered everything. You worked hard … Day and night … ” She smiled back.
“But, I want to know what exactly happened” She asserted.
“This happened” With that he produced a smartphone from his suit and gave it to her.
She looked at the pic on the screen. Two people sticking close … Akbar and Emily … Behind them a man stood with his broomstick smiling back.
It is the Selfie they had taken an year back at the LEM.
“I left that shitty job, bade goodbye to my fat boss, sold all my flat and furniture, stayed all these days on rented ones, avoided leisure and pleasure. The moment I set foot on LEM, the light shattered the darkness within me. I learnt to fight back with life … But what exactly happened is … One word struck me … ”
He paused and looked at her, as if to give her time to recall.
“Never Give Up ” She said with tears in her eyes.
“Before revisiting LEM, I thought thst this is the end of the road. But, now I know that this is not the end. Instead, this road takes me into the right destination. So, Emily I qualify you in this interview with my authority as the CEO of A Enterprises. You entered this room applying for a receptionist, but now you are leaving it as one of the Administrator in this firm” He said finishing a quick letter on his laptop, signing and gave it to her. I give you this job not on the basis of our relationship as class-mates, but you are eligible for this. You studied in our great school. Now, you may leave”
The leaves of the Siberian Elm are swaying and lending a gentle breeze to the kids playing below. They paused to give way for a Ford Anglia to pass through. The blue compact car halted before a White Spruce tree. Emily got down and started walking towards her house.
She caught sight of the silhouette of her ‘Loving’ husband yelling on phone. As usual … Shouting at his subordinates … Bossing around … For him, work and home are one – Yelling and arguments over silly things.
She looked at the letter Akbar gave. Now, she enters her house not as a B***h, but as an Administrator in one of the reputed organization in New Hampshire. Her pissband a.k.a husband earns just US $ 15,000/-. But, now she earns almost thrice than that. She looked at his outline on the window-pane and walked straight ahead, head held high.
I’m coming for you J**k !
Though she felt brave, a tiny space inside her heart showed fear. But, one word rang her eyes like a trumpet: Never Give Up !