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It was almost dusk. A crisp, dry wind breezed through the fields. The warm sun gleamed on the dusty, old paths, and melted on the paddy corral, which stretched for miles and miles till it met the skyline in the narrow, blue yonder. Sunil sat cross-legged by the window, looking at the spectacular scenery that opened before him. The window overlooked the backyard of the vast house. Further beyond the boundary wall was a small pond; and after that, it was all paddy. Some hovels were scattered across the vast, green plain and two-three young boys played in the vicinity.

“Hey Sunil! Aa ja! Come, let’s playguchi garam!” shouted one of the boys whom Sunil knew. He was standing on the narrow roadway just after the wall which led to the village market. Sunil had never gone to the market. His world was limited to the premises of the rambling house.

“Father is at home today. I cannot play. I will join some other day.”

Are, comena!” retorted the boy, raising his hands in desperation.

“He will beat me up. You all play.”

“Ok, baba, you do not have to play. Come, I will take you somewhere else.”

Sunil could no longer refuse. After all, Basor was his only friend in the village. He belonged to a poor, lower-caste household, unlike Sunil who belonged to a zamindari family. Yet, friendship saw no bounds. Although Basor’s family did not have any issue with his friendship with Sunil, Sunil’s father had quite clearly declared that Sunil should not maintain any connection with Basor.

But knots of friendship are difficult to untie.Sunil came down the stairs slowly, cowering near the walls and behind pillars, lest anyone should catch him and virtuously present him in front of his father. Obviously, he did not want to be beaten with the bamboo caneby his strict, harsh father. If the cook saw Sunil escaping the house, he would straightway be dragged to his father’s room.

While he was scared, his heart yearned to hold the hands of his friend and follow him where he would take him. Sunil carefully pushed the gate open, and breathed a sigh of relief as he had not seen his father anywhere on the way -- not in the courtyard, nor in the corridor, or in his own room, or on the terrace. Sunil came out of the house and saw Basor standing just near the wall.

“Come, let’s go, Basor!” Sunil said as he held his friend’s hand and went down the lane. There was still some time left before it got dark. The fields looked so magical.

“Hold my hands, Sunil,” said Basor when he saw Ram with his herd of cattle. Sunil had never seen such a sight. So many cows and bullocks walking in a disciplined manner behind a young boy.

“Where are we going, Basor?”

“To the market. See, I have got two paise from my father. We will have mithai.

They reached the marketplace. It was such a colourful, confusing sight to behold for this little boy. People rushed hither and thither in the market. Shops were surrounded by people. An old man sold bright, gaudy balloons. Another man handed ice creams to the young boys. And there in the corner was a huge pyramid of colourful sweets. Before all the sweets finished, Basor managed to get one for Sunil and one for himself.

“Here. take it, Sunil.”

As Basor held out his hand, suddenly a loud, rude blaring voice shouted, “Hey, Sunil!” The bazaar,which was so noisy and rackety, suddenly became silent. Basor’s face shrank in fear. His eyes were convulsed with terror. Sunil was yet to turn around. He was scared of the sight he would behold if he turned around. People looked at them in fear and trepidation.Basor was standing absolutely still.

Suddenly Sunil felt terrifying pain on his shoulders. It was a familiar pain, but was stronger than ever. A familiar hand held his neck tightly, and harshly swivelled the young boy. Then followed one after another smack of the familiar bamboo cane. Sunil’s pain became worse with every strike. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks. The spectators watched silently, without a word. Basor approached to save the young boy, but was held back by a man Sunil knew.

“You should die, young lad!” screamed Sunil’s father with a hostile glare. He was terrifying. His face was contorted with rage. His clothes were all wet with sweat.

“Father, I will not do it again. Father!”

Sunil was suddenly knocked to the ground. A sense of angst suddenly overtook his harsh father and the cane dropped from his fingers. Everyone was surprised by the sudden transition in the atmosphere. A crowd gathered around Sunil. Basor pushed his way through the crowd and sat down beside his friend.

“Call the doctor sahib!” shouted Basor, as he lay beside the unconscious boy. Sunil’s father stood still with cold eyes.

On summoning the doctor, it was found that Sunil had found his ultimate escape – death.

By Rehan Sheikh

South Point High School, Kolkata

Author’s Bio: Rehan Sheikh writes short stories, memoirs and articles. His work, ‘The Roaring Himalayas’, won him the Elan Middle School Writing Contest 2020. Since then, his works have appeared in various magazines and newspapers.

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