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Wednesday 2 November 2016

The Red Schoolbag

The little pebble had stayed with him a long way from school as he kicked it along with unerring accuracy. Once in a while he crushed a dried leaf under his shoes with a satisfying crunch. 
Ajay longingly eyed the numerous bottles of syrup in myriad hues flatteringly displayed on the rickety old handcart belonging to the gola-walla. Slipping his fingers into his pant-pocket, he fiddled around and came up with nothing. 
He could imagine aai waiting for him, to whip up a piping hot lunch with his favorite lentil and vegetables. She had promised him that treat, if he did well in the results today. But as luck would have it, he had fared miserably in all the subjects and his report card had more red lines than anyone else; he had failed disastrously! 
He moved ahead, dawdling and biding his time to get home from school right away as he usually did. Baba would thrash the sh!@ out of him and hear no excuses. Aai would try to protect him but he was sure she would get thrashed too. Mukta tai would hopefully stay away from the furor since she was bound to maintain her appearance for the sake of her job as a bar-dancer at the Natraj Heaven. 
This was the second time in a row that he was failing in class VI. The last time’s thrashing took two months to heal completely, though even now, nearly a year later, his fractured ribs gave him trouble from time to time, as if reminding him of the horror. No! He could not even bear to think of going through the pain again. 
So lost in his miserable thoughts, Ajay had failed to notice where he was going. Suddenly he spied a bright blue bird fluttering on a tree nearby. What a lovely bird! And how come the tree’s leaves were all yellow? He went closer to examine. The tree had golden leaves! The street looked so clean. It was the same street through which he made his way every day across the railway tracks to his home; it was familiar and yet so different! 
There were no mounds of un-cleared garbage, open stinking sewers, wet clothes hanging haphazardly on over-burdened clothing-lines. 
Instead pretty white-washed homes with large windows, dainty curtains and bountiful flower-boxes lined the streets. He could hear the distant hum of the railway line, so he knew he was on the right street. No one seemed to be about. Where had the perpetual gully-cricket team of wastrels vanished? The air was filled with a beautiful fragrance….umm, he sniffed lingeringly. He recognized the fragrance! It smelt of the chaafa flower that his aai tucked into her hair sometimes. He could also smell the tantalizing aroma of bread baking that wafted whenever he passed near the laadi-pav manufacturing godown in Sakir gully. But how come he could smell it here? His stomach rumbled in protest and he drifted towards the aroma, wonderingly gazing at the tiny shrubs with colorful flowers dotting the street where usually garbage lay. 
He reached the source of the aroma. It was a large shop with a beautiful glass-front displaying the most amazing array of the choicest buns, cakes and what-nots! Strangely, the shop seemed abandoned like the rest of the street. With no one manning this delectable haven, Ajay stole into the shop to have a closer look. Just to be sure, he called out...but no one replied. Trays upon trays of mouth-watering treats lay unattended. 
He could bear it no longer. He stealthily plunged his hands into a moundful of buns and shoved four buns into his school bag and hurried out. 
He decided he must have taken a wrong route after crossing the tracks, lost in his thoughts. He went back the way he had entered the street, his heart thumping loudly at his indiscretion. But he felt glad as well, he would have something to savor after baba’s thrashing. He would share his loot with aai and tai, not his vile, old drunk baba
He was soon back at the tracks but a huge crowd was now assembled there. Slinking through the throng he moved closer to the center of the scene to see for himself what was so interesting. He froze when he saw his aai and tai sobbing bitterly over what looked like the mangled body of a young boy on the tracks while Laxmi kaku and Rekha maushi were trying to soothe them. 
He called out desperately to both of them but no one heard him. The unrelenting mob around the scene wouldn't let him get close to them. Tears streamed down his cheeks seeing them so heart-broken and inconsolable. 
The crowd let up a little and Ajay edged closer to his dear ones. 
Dazedly he observed that the body had his frayed school uniform and tai was hugging close to her the red schoolbag that she had bought him just last month.
He was trembling all over as realization dawned on him. Mutely watching the misery in front of him, he desperately wished he could do something to alleviate it.
Tai's tear-drenched face changed to one of confused surprise as she smelt something from the bag she was holding. She reached in and her fingers clasped something warm and soft and she peered in to gaze at four beautiful buns. 
Ajay smiled contentedly and walked towards the dazzling new street that beckoned him, far from the woes of this world.

Note: I penned this short story for the TataLitLive MyStory Contest 2016. The story didn't make it through the jury selection but I am thankful to all those who generously voted for it.

This story has been published on Tell-A-Tale!

­­Copyright © 2016 KALA RAVI