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The Bicycle Ride – 2

March 8, 2009

(…contd from part-1…)

Strange how few things stay back in memory defying time. They cease to leave you. They haunt you. What I remember of the night even today is that the events happened very quickly not giving me enough time to think nor to react. But they did happen. The dark surroundings with moonlight shadows and trees rustling impatiently were only quickening my heartbeat. I wasn’t sweating but I could feel hot inside.

The college premises was spread across 20acres of land. The garden was uncared for and so there were many bushes around. The path through the college was not a pukka road. It was a mud road. It wasn’t even a road. Since this was an open land and over time when people started moving on these grounds this path found itself quite by accident. It was bumpy and in the night it was difficult to navigate. If it were a motor-cycle or someother motor vehicle I would have had headlights showing me the path. But now I was relying only on the moonlight and I had no complaints with it.

Once after the college premises end there begins a long stretch of waste land. This land is literally uninhabited. For almost a kilometer there is only bushy plain land. Big trees stand here and there. After that there were houses in BNReddy colony and once that area is reached one can atleast move freely. This stretch of land is the most difficult part of my journey back home.

I remember how with a group of my friends I would flock to this place early in the morning to take in the dewy, virgin morning. We were a handful of nuts taking nothing seriously in life. We had lost interest in education long ago. I was the only one who passed Intermediate in the group and I was ashamed of the fact. We would hit the streets as early as 4:30 AM and run like wild cats. Two of my friends were very good kung-fu fighters and we would discuss various moves to overwhelm the opponent. We would cover around 8-10 miles each day running or walking. This isolated stretch of land was our favorite spot. We would rush to embrace the wet grass and spoil our clothes. We would engage in fist-fighting and stretching. When after a gruelling session of meaningless antics we lie on our backs on the wet grass and stare at the rising sun, our eyes would close blissfully. There would be smiles on each pair of lips. We wouldnt know when we fall asleep and when one of us will have the devil take over him to jump on the unsuspecting crowd. Then the fight would resume and we would fall on the grass panting and exhausted. Occasionally when a passerby crossed us he knew better not to meddle with the crazy looking nuts. One of us had a farm in that part of the place and we would run to the farmhouse. Don’t imagine anything fanciful about the farmhouse. This was a single-roomed mud-hut with dried palm leaves for roof. There was a farm-servant who used to live with his beautiful wife and a kid. We would rush to the farm and pluck berries off it. We would walk in the farm folding our trousers till knee-high. The farm-servant looked at us like we are a bunch of no-goods. One after the other everyone would undress to their shorts and jump into the cold water in the well. I never swam well and so I would stand out and watch them play in water. Occasionally I would hit them with pebbles and they used to plot to get me into water. I would tell each time how I am more educated than them and I deserve much better treatment for that and each time, invariably, I was thrown into water with more vigour and zeal. It was like they were showing their anger over the entire education system on me. Apparently that ploy wasnt going to work. When after all this we decide to return to our homes I was so ashamed of our appearances that I would have wanted to play the Invisible-man. But no such good luck. This was the stretch of the land that we used to roam around so freely and fearlessly in the daylight, and now this was so frighteningly lonely and fearful. This land was now to me a long stretch of terrible ride. I know there is nothing sinister about this place and people occasionally move around here. That was when I saw this old lady in rags.

The old lady came in front of my cycle out of nowhere. For a moment I was so scared looking at her appearance. She was barely covered and was smiling at me. The road was very narrow and so I couldn’t even think of passing across her. She stood in the middle of the road at some distance from the cycle. I didn’t know what to do. She asked me to move away from her path. I would have quickly done so and got away with all this. I was never in such a situation before. But she surprised me by asking, ‘You come here everyday right?’ I hesitated to answer. She added, ‘I see you all everyday in the morning. You remind me of my children’. I didnt know how to react. I didnt want to talk to this old lady. I was very late already and I wanted to have nothing to do with her. She said, ‘Give me some money. I didnt eat for two days.’ Oh, was this a ploy to extract money off me? I was not going to give her any. Suddenly I was not scared of her anymore. ‘I dont have any money. Let me go’. She smiled at me knowing well that I was lying. But I wont give money to her. Why should I? She stared into my eyes directly for two seconds and sent chill down my spine. Then suddenly, as if she appraised me well enough and she now knew things, gave a peculiar nod of her head with chin pointing upward and said, ‘You have got all things very easily in your life. I know. It wont be so for long.’ I was surprised. Why was she saying this? I hardly knew this lady and I am sure she doesn’t know me either. She was a crazy vagrant woman begging money off strangers. Of course I wouldn’t take her seriously. ‘You have to be stronger to face what is going to be in store for you.’ I said, ‘I dont have money and I want to leave. Stand off the road’. She stepped aside and let me go past her. She was smelling awfully. I quickly climbed my cycle and pedaled it harder and harder. I felt she was staring at me from my behind and I didn’t turn around even once. After I reached the relative safety of houses a little away I began to ponder at the incident. What a smart way to beg money! But how did she know I would come there occasionally with my friends? I haven’t been to that place for almost a month now during my exams. And the look in her eyes when she told that I have had things very easily all my life! No, I was only giving an old beggar more thought than I should. I quickly forgot about it. Or atleast wanted to.

Three days later I was waiting for my turn at the barber’s. He was my friend and I would go only to his place wherever I am. That was a sunny afternoon and streets were empty. The hot loo was unbearable out but sitting under the ceiling fan with its speed turned on at the highest and reading a film magazine at the barber’s place was so cool. Reading or listening to gossip in a small sleepy town can be a very indulging hobby and any barbers place is the best place to catch the local gossip. He was massaging the head of one of his customers. He would take some oil in his palm and gently rub the scalp with his finger-tips making concentric circles. Then he would suddenly hit the head with his cupped palms making phat-phat noise. The customer was enjoying the massage. He must be dreaming of the cold water bath he will have immediately after. The Barber was at his usual best in giving out the latest news. That was when he told the customer about it. I was mid-way reading an article about an alleged affair of an actress when I lost interest in it suddenly. He said, ‘People found a dead body of an old lady on the short-cut road to the degree college. She was in rags. Apparently she died of hunger…’. Listlessly I placed the magazine aside and left the place.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 9, 2009 11:51 pm

    Very well written… I was able to see everything in my mind’s eye! Good Job! 🙂

    When I reached the end of the narration I felt very sorry for the old lady and very sorry for you too… You must have been buried in your guilt for quite some time after the incident… Poor thing!

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