Chapter – 11
Hamsa revenged his defeat three days later. He must have been scheming those three days. It was a Sunday evening. I had been to participate in a temple festival by the seashore. In those days, children loved to be in temple festivals, for they loved watching the display of adorned temple elephants and the music of drums. I went with Mani, but since he belonged to a lower cast and I to another religion, both of us had to watch the display from aloof. In fact, the temple did not belong to those of the highest castes. They were traditionally fishermen. But, Mani belonged to a still lower caste.
Elephants with golden frontlet on their forehead were a fabulous sight. Mahouts on the elephant-top swayed after the drumbeats, and the elephants flapped their huge ears. Lamps were lit in a circular row in the temple courtyard.
From the crowd, we slowly sneaked out into the vast seashore. The setting sun was orange-red. Hues of scarlet, red and orange were splashed across the western sky. The vast sea with shades of red smeared all over was relatively calm with its innumerable tiny ripples, as ever. A saltish breeze kept humming across the seashore. In great excitement, we ran to and fro the sea. Playfully, Mani pushed me into the fringes of the frolicking sea. All over wet with salty water, I got up and pushed him in return. The sun was sliding down the horizon, and the light was beginning to fade.
Mani jumped into the sea and began to swim. I sat on the shore, watching Mani floating over the waves. Then, suddenly I sensed six shadows stealthily falling on me from behind.
I felt a mighty blow on the rear of my head, and I rolled down the salty sand. Just before losing my consciousness, I heard a yell from the sea, echoing along with the waves, “Chandikunje…” It was Mani’s voice.
When I was back to my senses, it was all dark. The sea still roared around me. I lay on my chest on the wet sand. A soft voice hummed in my ears, “Chandikunje, you are okay…?” It was Mani, crouching beside me.
In the moonlight, I saw Mani’s face bruised and bleeding. I heard his quickened breath competing with the sea-breeze. The waves dashed on the shore.
“Who were they?” I asked as I struggled for breath.
“Hamsa, your classmate. I do not know others. They were six of them. They aimed you.” Mani got up and pointed his fingers towards two dark figures fallen on the seashore, and said: “Look …” In the moonlight that jeered at the darkness, I saw two boys flat on the ground, unconscious.
“I could get only two. Others escaped…” Said Mani, as I stared at him in surprise.
It was very late at night when we reached home. Mother was sitting in the verandah, panting. Her palpitations aggravated when she got tensed. She was very tensed since I hadn’t reached home. She ran to me and hugged me. When she kissed my face, she felt the bruises on my face and she yelled.
“Who did this to you? Tell me what happened…?” Her voice squeezed out of her strangled breath. She hugged me again and kissed my bruises hysterically.
I turned to Mani who was standing beside me. He understood the meaning of my look, and he told my mother: “Amma, there is nothing to worry. We were playing at seashore and we fell there and got bruised…”
It was then that mother really noticed Mani’s wounds. Her embarrassment greatened.
“You have got bruises too! Can anyone get so many wounds if one fell on the seashore?”
“There were rocks, Amma… We fell on rocks!” Mani suddenly said.
In my mind I admired Mani for his resourcefulness. He looked so innocent when he said lies. I could never do it, at least before my mother.
“Never again go to the seashore…” said Mother as she took me inside the home to wash my bruises. She invited Mani too. But, he disappeared into the night. He never cared for his wounds. He was a true warrior. A brave one.
That night, as I lay on the mat spread on the floor, I was trying to recollect the events of the night on the seashore. Mani said there were six of them. Had Mani been not with me? I felt a chill in my veins. Then I told myself. No fear. Fight like a warrior. A brave warrior.
That night when I slept, I dreamed of a fierce fight between me and Hamsa’s gang. Surprisingly, the fight took place in a seashore. But, the only difference was that I was alone. Alone fighting with an army of rogues!
by A. Fraizer