He had no equal. Arguably. But then, he hadn’t met anyone who had wished to argue with him in that respect, not yet. Though reasonably assured of the fact, he was careful to not let it get to his round head. He knew he deserved respect from most quarters but wisely made no attempt to demand it. Whenever reverence came his way, he unabashedly received it, when it didn’t; he only made a mental note of the culprits involved. He knew it was only a matter of time on his side and realization on theirs.
He sucked on the cigarette, his last for the day, and embarked on a process of thought. Straight unflinching thought for a couple of minutes brought only the faint tinge of a crooked line on his young brow. Time on his hands, but no way to kill it. Though not established enough to wield a watch, he could nevertheless tell the time reasonably accurately. He relied on such signs as the luminous state of the lights in the opposite building, the portion of the store’s shutter that was suspended above the ground or even the hurry with which people were walking home. Now as he surveyed the area before him, he calculated roughly that he had about an hour left before the call of the domestic.
He let his arms rest on the wall before him, observing with controlled delight, that he could now look over it without much difficulty and just minor scraping of skin. He’d been genetically cheated and as a result, was short in stature. But thankfully age had done its bit. His eyes could now scale over the parapet of his terrace and at the world below him. A bird’s eye view of people and their theatrics. Letting his mind return one last time to the subject of height, he fancied he was endowed well enough to mount a reasonably high wall even. He decided that that was a satisfactory point to reach and searched for new morsels of thought.
He let his mind wander back to the events of the day. It tortured him to think of the precious hours wasted in that useless institution he was made to go to every morning, neatly dressed up and looking every bit a phony. It left him with only the portion of a day between the weather report of the 5 o’ clock news and the opening song of Surabhi, both on Doordarshan, to make forays into human nature. Hardly time enough but as gifted as he was and as eccentric the world beneath, he was learning every minute. He looked forward to the day when he would leave the domestic yoke, pick up the satchel of misadventure and head towards the uncharted territory that lies beyond, explore, experience and hopefully one day conquer.
He longed for another cigarette to chomp on, but sadly the ration for that day had ended. He knew it wasn’t all that good for him but he liked it between his fingers and absolutely loved it between his lips. He settled down for a minute of retrospection of the day’s highlights, but let it go with disdain halfway through the twentieth second. There was hardly anything of interest that had occurred and it was impractical to chew cud that had lost its flavor. He leaped up again and looked over the bustling street. The usual characters, the wiry old woman in her obsolete summer dress on the terrace diagonally opposite his, struggling to pick up and drink from cup after cup of what he believed to be sugarless tea. The lungi clad house husband in the next building, smoking his daily maal after having prepared the night’s dal, waiting for his wife, the breadwinner. As his eyes roved over the horizon, he spotted a person walking purposely on the street clutching a wad of papers.
His heart leaped at the prospect of an audience with Friend. He loved Friend like an admirer would, was in awe of the fact that he seemed to know a bit about everything and was always in total unconditional agreement with Friend’s eagerness to share that assembled knowledge. Fascinating company, just what he precisely was looking for. His delight now was no longer measured.
He waved his arms and almost immediately caught Friend’s attention. Friend waved back, asking him to join him on that bustling stage of activity, the street. He bounded down the stairs leaping over the family of kittens playing sentry to the building at the foot of the stairs and joined Friend, all ears and slightly out of breath. Friend greeted him with a broad smile and “How would you like to do something for me today, something you would never forget for life”? Keeping with tradition, Friend had him clean bowled at first strike.
Without another word, Friend started walking away, knowing only too well that he would be followed. Our hero, as curious as the kitty he jumped over just moments ago, fought hard to keep up with Friend, both in the pace of his walk and in cognizance of the adventure that lay in front. The latter led him away from the familiar street and its surroundings. As the buildings on either side lost height as they went on, the sewer lining the street looked as if it was trying to compensate for the loss, widening itself and even pouring itself out at places. The poorer, shadier part of town. But it was here that lay the school, once the pride of the city, now known mostly for its impending structure and rowdy students. Established a good century back, the school was the lone reminder of the affluence that had once abounded in that part of the city. The bricks and mortar had stood as silent spectators, as the area around it crumbled in stature while the city itself spread its wings and grew in prosperity.
They ignored the gates and instead went around the formidable moat and finally stopped near the shrubbery that lay at the eastern end of the compound. Here, it was pitch dark save for the light that streamed in from the east block of the historic structure. In keeping with his age and the innocence that comes with it, he was left marveling at its vastness which looked intimidating at night, being visible only in silhouette. As he stood gaping at the structure, he was surprised to hear voices behind him. Turning around, he could see two of Friend’s associates. The three of them were speaking earnestly and in hushed tones. He didn’t remember seeing them when they had arrived at the spot. But he didn’t think too much of it. After all, it only added to the whole mystery of the episode and he didn’t mind it at all. He stood for a few minutes alone, halfway between the old brick wall standing mute and irresolute and the three young conspirators, agitated and ambitious. What were they up to? Was he going to witness something dramatic happen? He gave a slight shudder in anticipation of what was to come.
The deserted area was illuminated by the solitary light that shone from beyond the wall. Casting eerie shadows of the four people that stood on the other side. A few minutes later, the light went out and they were enveloped in near darkness. His compatriots ceased conversation and came to stand beside him. The quartet stood in line looking at the now dormant source of light. A couple of minutes later, a faint clanking sound was heard not too far away. The elder trio waited a further minute and then a flurry of activity ensued among them. They hurried towards the wall, Friend tugging along our hero and before his hero-ship knew what was happening, they had started climbing it.