HOSPUR

 

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HOSPUR Author TITO

                                

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                                                  PROLOGUE

HE could stand everything in life. But not the cold, not this kind of heart-freezing, bone-rattling cold! Thank-God! For the jeans he was wearing and the jacket to go along with it. He breathed hard, his chest heaving, the exercise brought to his body lots of sweat, he was glad for the sweat, for the flush of warmness it brought to his body. He struck his chest repeatedly lightly, trying to warm up, trying to circulate the blood faster. Damn, this cold!

The headlights pierced the foggy darkness through a distance. He could see a vehicle approaching, he was lighted up, as the coming vehicle swerved and the headlights fell on him. Rakesh rose to his feet, trying to see the coming vehicle.

Thank-God! For the approaching vehicle, car or truck or whatever it was. Rakesh wanted a lift, he was tired, his feet ached from the whole day, and he had spent walking. A lift to the next town will suit him just fine. Rakesh said a quick prayer, that the coming vehicle’s driver wasn’t one of them who would say him no.

The vehicle came into sight. A huge lumbering truck! A TATA truck! Rakesh waved his hand, signalling the truck to stop. There was a screeching sound and the truck rumbled to stop. The engine growling in the cold dark night!

Quickly Rakesh run over to the driver’s side. A turbaned face peered out at him. Rakesh smiled.

“Sadarji can you give me a lift?”

“Where you heading bacha”

Rakesh shrugged. “Till the next town will be okay with me”

The Sardar thought for a while, and then said. “The next town is Hospur, you want to go there?”

Rakesh shrugged again. “Fine with me, Can I come in?”

“Sure, climb in.”

Rakesh ran over to the other side, yanked open the door, threw in his rucksack and climbed in. The Sardar smiled broadly.

Rakesh noted with the help of the cabin light that one of the Sardar’s front teeth was missing.

“No need to thank me, it’s such a bloody cold night, in fact I am glad for the company. At least I can talk to someone.” Then the Sardar added. “You know this town Hospur”

“No, I will be seeing it for the first time. I am from Bombay and I am hiking my way cross country.” Rakesh said. He saw that the Sardar was puzzled, so he explained. “You know Sadarji, hiking? It’s just like Padyatra”

“Aha, Padyatra, so you are doing a Padyatra”

Rakesh nodded.

“Good, good.” The Sardar said.

They rode on in silence for a while. Rakesh looked out of the window. There was little he could see in the penetrating darkness, but the wind felt cool on his face and he continued to look out.

“You know son, driving a truck is a very lonely life.” Sardar said.

Rakesh turned to him, nodding his head, as if he understood.

“I have a National permit and I can drive all over India, still it’s a lonely life!”

“How can it be, it must be so exciting, seeing different places.” Rakesh said.

The Sardar laughed. “When I started driving, I was your age and I too use to think the same way. What fun it will be to visit different places and so on. But after thirty years of driving, everything looks the same and that’s when you start to feel lonely for home, for a more quiet life.”

“Yes, Sardarji, you are right, it’s true.”

“It is bacha, it is.” The Sardar replied and started singing softly.

“I long for my home

For the home-cooked meals

For the green fields and sweet wind

I long for my home.”

Then abruptly he swore under his breath. Rakesh turned to him, concern crossing his face. “What is it Sardarji?”

“There’s been an accident in front of us.”

“How can you say? I can’t see anything.”

Rakesh said, fidgeting in his seat, trying to see what the Sardar had seen.

“You cannot see, but you can always smell it on. Can’t you smell the petrol in the air? It means only one thing. An accident” The Sardar said, slowly down the truck. Rakesh sniffled and drew a blank. He couldn’t smell anything. The Sardar braked suddenly, throwing Rakesh forward in his seat. Rakesh blanched and looked up. There a few meters away, caught in the glare of the truck’s headlights was an over-turned car, near a tree. The crash must have been so powerful that it had snapped the tree in two. The upper portion flung a few feet away.

“My God it looks terrible.” The Sardar exclaimed.

Rakesh looked at him, not sure whether he was referring to the car or the truck.

Silently both of them got down. Rakesh rummaged in his rucksack and came out with a torch. Flashing it! They approached the car. Pieces of glass crunched underfoot as they walked.

“My God” The Sardar muttered again, then in a louder tone said. “Be careful.”

“Yeah” Rakesh said, flashed his torch inside the car and cried out involuntarily.

The Sardar ran over to him. “What is it? Why did you cry out?”

With a trembling finger Rakesh pointed at the front seat of the car. The Sardar looked and a cry escaped his lips too!”

A man was huddled in the driver’s seat, his body flopped forward against the steering wheel, the shaft of the wheel had broken and pierced into the man’s chest. The impact must have been terrible. The man’s head was thrown back, the neck broken in many places, and holding it dangled to the body with the help of a few tendons. Blood covered everything and it glistened as the torch beam flashed over it.

“Don’t look, if you don’t want to. Go back to the truck.” The Sardar said.

Rakesh shook his head. “No, I’m okay now” He wanted to see it all. The accident was going to be one of the experiences of his life.

Together they walked to the other side of the car and froze to a stop. A man lay sprawled on the ground, on his back, the mouth open in a terrible silent scream.

Rakesh flashed the torch over him and they both gasped!

Huge chunks of the man’s flesh had been torn away, ripped, gashes and streaks covered him.

“What is it?” Rakesh murmured. He felt a sinking rumbled in his stomach.

“Animals, Looks like a wild animal attacked this man or maybe wild animals. There are many in these parts.” The Sardar declared and look around as if one would appear there and then.

Rakesh turned away. “It’s horrible. I can’t bear to see.”

The Sardar threw an arm around Rakesh’s shoulder in an understanding manner. “Let’s go back, well, tell the Police in Hospur about this.” The Sardar said.

Rakesh opened his mouth to say something and then close it. A terrifying roar came from somewhere near!

“What is that?” What is it?” Rakesh cried out, flashing his torch around in panic.

Before they could do anything, something came out of the dark and launched itself on the Sardar.

“AARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH” The Sardar screamed and went down, thrashing.

Rakesh screamed in terror. He looked round for some weapon.

“YEEEAARRRRRRHH” HELP! This thing is biting me.” The Sardar screamed.

Rakesh heard a ripping, tearing sound and then a gurgling. He turned round and the torch beam fell on the animal.

“OH MY GOD No, it can’t be, it can’t be.” Rakesh whispered. He started to turn, to flee. When the THING jumped on him!

Rakesh screamed and screamed, his voice sounding far and wide in the dark old night

But no one heard him. No one!

                                                          ●

 

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CHAPTER 1

“You know Jaddish, I hate this place, I hate this town and I hate my father too.” The boy said, flicking his half smoked cigarette out of the veranda.

The afternoon sun blazed down on the ground, from somewhere Crickets called out to each other. There was hardly any breeze, humidity huge in the air like a blanket.

The boy named Jagdish started laughing, his thin moustache bouncing up and down as he laughed. He shook his head with mirth.

“That’s so funny eh? You think what I said is funny eh?”

Jagdish shook his head, still laughing. The he stifled it’s gazing at the boy. “C’mon, you don’t mean what you say, Raghu.”

“But I mean it, I really do. Look at this shitty place, this heat, it’s so unbearable.”

“C’mon, stop your belly-aching; all I have seen you do is cry. So you hate this place, then what about Bella?”

Raghu smiled on hearing her name. Yeah! Bella, now she could be once reason he was still sticking in this town. She and his father’s promise, that he will make him an Inspector by the time this year are out.

Jagdish slapped his thigh, breaking Raghu’s day-dreaming. “So what about Bella”

Raghu looked at him. Jagdish Rekkar, Jaggy to all his friends. One of Raghu’s closest friends! There were no secrets between him and Jagdish, only he knew about Bella and how close was he to her. The Pandits eldest daughter! Some girl she was. God must have made her while HE had nothing else to do. That face, those lips, the mischievous sparkling eyes, the long legs. Once, only once, Raghu wished Bella would open her dress to him. Once the tease!

“Hey! If you want to day-dream! I’ve better be on my way.” Jagdish said, pretending to be angry.

“Sorry Jaggy, I was just lost in thoughts.”

Jagdish gave a small laugh. “I know it is what, someone just has to say Bella and you go into raptures.”

Raghu grinned sheepishly.

“Met her recently you lucky bastard?”

Raghu shrugged. “Yeah, in fact we met yesterday night.”

“Yesterday night eh you devil. Then how was it?” Jagdish asked winking.

Raghu looked at him. If only they knew his relation with Bella was just like a cat and mouse game. She never did let him touch her very closely. Only once he had managed to kiss her and was punished for it. She had refused to see him for a whole week. After that incident, Raghu sighed. If only he could make her understand. Perhaps someday, but till then he had to keep up his game. Show the other’s what a man he was. They must not know anything else. Raghu shrugged again. “You know Jaggy, the usual. We met, kissed and like always she wanted to do it! You know do it? The real thing”

Raghu saw Jagdish’s breathing had subsided a lot, as he paid attention to every word Raghu uttered, his eyes locked into Raghu’s face.

“But, I told her, it wasn’t right till we were married and all that.”

“Raghu, you are letting a golden chance get out of your hand. You fool, oh, how I wish I was in your place.”

Raghu snorted. “C’mon, Raghu is a man enough; he has lot of other things to do; besides a girl must be taught her right place.” God! How he was lying, if only it was the other way round.

There was silence, as each one lost in thoughts, looking out of the room.

Hospur a small town, hardly two thousand people in all. Nearly everyone knew the next, and in the evening, the town’s pond, the sweeping garden surrounding. It became a truly open gossip hall. People descended there after finishing their day long chores. They strolled and sat in the grass, slept in it or smoked and gossiped about everything under the sun.

Hospur had a small hospital, a smaller post office and a daily newspaper, managed by locals. It had a small police station. Where Raghu’s father Ramnath Kulkarni was the Inspector! The Government had issued to Raghu’s father a jeep and two rifles. There was hardly any crime in Hospur, hardly anything to be reported to Headquarters in Bombay. If you don’t count the usual drunks or the weekly family squabbles! Something that even Raghu could handle. But then there was that incident. Last Saturday. Incident! You fool, it was a death! A murder in fact!

 

Raghu remembered his father was sitting out there on the veranda, his feet against the wall, his chair tilted back a little, lecturing Raghu about what one should do with his Sunday’s. While Raghu had been leaning against the door! Half listening to his father, half dreams about Bella, whom he was going to see the next day! Perhaps this time she will let him. Don’t Raghu, don’t even think about it, every time you do that and you meet failure.

Dusk was falling rapidly across the skies. When suddenly his father stopped talking! Raghu looked at him and then followed his eyes to the path, leading to the station. Three men were walking towards them; they carried axes in their hands. Raghu straightened up, out of the corner of his eyes, he saw his father rise to his feet and touch his revolver holster. A reflex action, his father was used to whenever he thought or sighted danger.

One after the other, the three men came up to the station steps and folded their hands in a gesture of greeting. Raghu relaxed, these people were okay, and they were wood-cutters, living just outside the town. His father recognized one of them and called out to him.

“Ram, Ram, Jinshu, is anything the matter?”

“Ram, Ram, Inspector Sahib Jinshu replied, then looking at his two companions, he turned and said. “Sahib, we have found a dead man in the woods.”

“Where”? Ramnath Kulkarni asked, fully alert!

“Over there, beyond those trees.” Jinshu replied, pointing in the distance.

So the five of them left in the jeep and sure enough there was a man lying in the woods, lying on his back, his eyes and mouth open. Something about him stated that he must have died in a shock. Leaves had drifted over his body, many of them sticking to his body, where it was wet with blood. Warning Raghu to stand near the jeep, Ramnath Kulkarni had gone ahead for a clear look, yet Raghu had managed to see many things and even today it send shivering down his spine, when he remembered, when his father had brisket away some of the leaves from the man’s body. A gasp had gone up.

The whole portion of the man’s stomach had been ripped open, his intestines and other things had spilled out and in the jeep’s headlights. Raghu saw thousands of things crawling in and out of the man’s stomach. Maggots, many of them! Uncountable!

One of the wood-cutter made a gurgling sound and threw up, he vomited again and again, till he was empty from whiten. Raghu turned away from the ghastly scene. Why? What animal must have done that? He thought, he noticed that even his father looked a little sick, when he came back to the jeep.

“No one, not one of you will speak about this to anyone, understand.” Ramnath Kulkarni had warned and the four of them had nodded their heads solemnly.

Yes, that was the first big thing to happen in Hospur.

Raghu shivered as he remembers. “Hey, Jaggy, got another cigarette?” Raghu asked.

Jagdish wiggled one out of the pack, lighted it and passed it to Raghu. “Any plans for today?” He asked.

Raghu drew on the cigarette deeply, feeling better. If father catches me smoking, than I have had it. Raghu thought and immediately anger rose whiten him, that’s why he hated his father. Always interfering, can’t he understand that I am a grown up boy now. Wish I could run away to Bombay or some place.

“Hey! Hero! I asked you something.”

“Sorry Jaggy, I was thinking about something. Today evening you say? I don’t know, depends on my father, if he comes back soon and has nothing for me, than I guess I’m free.”

“Well, if he gives you no chores, than why don’t you come over to Prakash’s place, we’ll be having drinks and fish fried.”

“Don’t tell me, when did you guys plan this and who’s coming?” Raghu asked excited.

Jagdish chuckled. “It was my idea, since Prakesh’s parents are out of town. We thought well hold the party there. There’s me and Prakesh, Abdul and his brother Karim and Anil. A small bunch! A small party! Think you can make it?”

“Maybe, I can, but how come no one told me about it?” Raghu said accusingly.

“Now look who’s talking. You are so busy with your Bella. This Bella, that Bella, the other guys thought, you’ll hardly have time for us.”

Raghu punched Jagdish on the arm. “C’mon on Jaggy, be fair, you guys know I have got all the time for you guys, besides Bella’s okay. You guys maybe mad about her, salivating every time you see her, but for me.” Raghu shrugged. “She’s nothing!”

“Looks like your father’s back. OK! Big guy, if you are free. Remember to-night, Prakesh’s place.”

Raghu nodded and got up as the jeep came into view. His father driving and smoking! Raghu run down the steps, running over to the other side and getting besides his father. His father waved to Jagdish, who waved back.

“Bye Jaggy.” Raghu called out as they reversed.

Jagdish waved and watched till the jeep was out of sight, and then he pulled out a cigarette and lighted up. Raghu Kulkarni, the biggest asshole this town ever produce! Thinking he’s got a think going with Bella, trying to fool us. Some slob he is, still couldn’t help it, he was a friend. How stupid or bad. Jagdish turned to go back into his house, got to make the preparation for to-night’s party. It had been a hot day, will have lots of Beers, chilled Beer with the fried fishes. Some evening it’s going to be. Absolutely wonderful!

 

Raghu glanced at his father, as he drove. He wasn’t saying much today, lost in his own thoughts and smoking.

“Something is the matter father?”

“Eh, what, oh, no nothing”

“Then where were you the whole afternoon?” Raghu asked.

“There was an accident on the highway, yesterday night. I had gone there.” His father replied, turning left into Samuel Street. The Samuel Street Church came up and his father took another left from there. Two more streets and they’ll be at their house. Raghu loved his house. A quaint little house with his own bedroom on the first floor!

“Highway? But father that’s the Highway Police’s department”

“Yeah, I know that Raghu. I thought I’ll just go over and take a look. Remember if you are a good Policeman, then you learn new things every day.”

Raghu nodded his head. He looked at his father again. The white hair with a touch of brown, the same type of moustache, the hooked nose and those sharp eyes, which always caught you if you are lying! Raghu liked his father in a way.

After his mother had died, after a prolonged five years period of sickness! Many people had urged his father to remarry, which he refused to do. Raghu was glad about this; he would have hated a step-mother. It must be a miracle to have a good step-mother. But thanks to his father firmness! Raghu never got a chance to find out. The two of them and their servant Tanya lived well in their house and Raghu wanted it that way.

“Raghu, tomorrow’s Sunday, what are you doing?” His father asked.

Raghu looked at him warily, and then said. “Nothing much, you got any work for me?”

“Yes. I want you to be around. I plan to make a trip to Bombay. I’ll be gone in the morning and back by tomorrow night or Monday morning. So you handle anything over here. Understood”

“Yes, father, err father, since you are going to Bombay tomorrow. Can I go out to-night, we have a small party.” Raghu said quickly.

“Party”

“Yes, father, just some friends, Jaggy and others. Can I go?”

“OK! But see that the boy’s don’t get into any mischief.”

“Yes, father and father can I take your jeep?”

“No! I may need it. Take your cycle and be back by mid-night.”

“Yes, father.” Raghu sighed.

They screeched to a halt in front of their house. Raghu jumped out, while his father reversed to park the jeep, his thoughts on Raghu. The boy was growing up well, learning to shoulder his responsibilities. If only he’ll give up these parties and other things and take some interest in his work, maybe he’ll make a fine Inspector one day.

Ramnath Kulkarni parked his jeep and stepped out. A month back he had been a happy man, content with his life, no complaints, a good job, and respect in town, a nice house and a behaving son. What else could a man ask for? Yes of course, he did miss Meera, his wife. But the pain he had seen her in, had made him some times pray to Vithoba to give her death. An early death! Mukti!

And the end had come five years later. Meera’s body ravaged with blood cancer and had been finally laid to rest. Ramnath Kulkarni carried on bravely, his love for her stopped him for remarrying, instead he immersed himself in his work and he drank with a few chosen friends. Two years had passed after Meera’s dead and for Ramnath Kulkarni and Hospur. Life went on, till last month.

First there had been a couple of bad accident, in another accident. A Farmer had cut himself badly while working in his field. It was nothing major, but Ramnath had taken a lot of it, then last week the dead man in the woods, attacked and killed by the wild animals and then yesterday night, that bizarre accident on the highway. Four men had died, all four had their stomachs ripped open, there and then Ramnath had decided to go to Bombay and get some help, and these things were getting out of hand. Five deaths whiten a space of a month. All of them attacked viciously by a wild animal, they had to find and kill the animal.

Ramnath Kulkarni looked at his house, before walking in, tomorrow morning he’ll get help from Bombay and by Vithoba’s grace, and things will get back to normal.

                                                                ●

 

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CHAPTER 2

“Yaar, that Rekha, I’ll tell you, she’s really something. I just love her yaar. I just love her.” Thirty years old Karim said sipping Beer.

Jagdish winked at the others as he poured more Beer in to their glasses.

“Yaar Karim. We know you love her, just like last time you loved Hema Malini.” Prakash taunted.

The other’s burst into laughter.

“No, no, yaar this time I’m serious.” Karim protested.

Raghu laughed with the others. He was glad he was here among friends, there was Prakash. They had been in school together. Tall spectacled Prakash! Always ready to lend a helping hand to others. Then there was Anil Marathe. It was believed that Anil’s fore-fathers had served under the Great Maratha King Shivaji and like his fore-fathers. Anil was strong, and sturdy. He had a firm mind and a great sense of humour. Raghu looked at him; he was bent over the fire, frying fishes.

“Hey! Raghu! You drink too slowly, something on your mind?” Abdul said, throwing an arm across Raghu’s shoulders.

Raghu smiled at him. Abdul and Karim, the two brothers, while it was Karim who was the elder of the two! It was Abdul who had a sharp and clever mind. Their family owned the only press in town, and their father Jafferbhai, printed, published and edited the only paper Hospur had. ‘THE HOSPUR TIMES’ Karim and Abdul helped their father with the paper. Abdul even wrote articles in it, which were well received by the inhabitants of Hospur.

“No, Abdul. I don’t know, I think this Beer isn’t my kind of brand.” Raghu said.

“Then what is your brand Bella? Is it something called Bella?” Jagdish said.

Raghu laughed along with the others, but Abdul punched Jaggy on the shoulder. “Hey Jaggy, you…..no such jokes” Abdul said.

“Hey Anil, Are the fishes coming?” Prakash called out.

“Hey guys, did you heard that?” When are the fishes coming?” Karim said guffawing. The others laughed along with him.

“Nothings funny guys, I am feeling damn hungry.” Prakash complained.

“Prakash, they’re all almost done, be over in a minute.” Anil stated, as he removed yet one more fish from the fire and placed it on a plate.

They were all sitting outside Prakash’s house in the courtyard. It was a full moon night and after the day’s hotness. A cool breeze was blowing; they sat in a circle with only Karim sprawled on the ground. Anil had his fire going in one corner and all around them was the smell of fried fishes.

“Nice night. You enjoying” Jagdish asked sliding next to Raghu.

“Yeah, and thanks for inviting me.”

“C’mon, you say that again and I am really going to bash you up. Damn you’re always invited.

Raghu smiled at Jagdish and they clicked glasses.

Karim started singing an old Raj Kapoor song and the rest joined in as chorus. Prakash popped open two more Beer bottles. “That’s it Prakash, open them up and give me one.” Karim called out.

“Karim, I think you have had enough.” Abdul said.

“Shut-up Abdul, I know how much I’m drinking.”

Prakash looked at Abdul, signalling him not to pour any more Beer to Karim. But Karim just snatched the Beer bottle out of Prakash’s hand and poured himself, hooting with laughter.

Prakash looked at Abdul helplessly.

“Hey, Anil, What happened to the fishes?” Jagdish called out.

“Yeah, Anil, are the fishes still swimming.” Karim said, laughing at his own joke.

“C’mon guys they are ready.” Anil called out.

They shuffled over to Anil. While he set down plates around the blazing fire.

“Hmm, this smells good.” Raghu said.

Anil smiled. “Try them, they are river fish, best when fried and eaten hot.”

They all tucked into the fishes, sipping Beer between bites. Whiten the minutes the fishes disappeared. Raghu flopped back on the ground. ” Aha! This is life, not a care in the world.”

Jagdish and Prakash lighted up cigarettes.

“Congrats Anil, the fishes were very good.” Abdul praised.

Anil smiled and winked, then said. “Hey, what about you all, Did you like it?”

There was a chorus of yeah and yes.

Satisfied! Anil lighted up a bidi. He knew this one habit of his annoyed his friends no end. “C’mon Anil, smoking bidi in this age like a Dahati” They use to chide him. Anil had tried a cigarette on their saying, but thrown it away after two puffs. He couldn’t help it, if he didn’t like it.

“Guys, A man must never forget his roots.” He uses to tell the others. But today they won’t mind his smoking a bidi. Anil thought as he watched the others. Raghu and Jagdish were in deep conversation, those two were always up to something. Prakash was laughing at a joke said by Abdul and Karim was lying in the grass, maybe dozing off. Anil gulped his Beer, making a wry face. He never got used to Beer; give him the rice wine any time.

Karim turned over and said aloud. “Shit! I got to take a leak. Hey Prakash, your home is open?”

“Piss in the woods Karim, go on.” Abdul told his brother.

Wobbly Karim got to his feet. “Anyone wants to come along?” He asked.

“Let’s go Karim. I’ll take a leak too.” Anil said rising.

The two of them thrashed through the under-bush for the woods.

“Don’t go far.” Abdul called out after them.

“We know, don’t worry, we are not little Red Riding Hoods.” Anil called back and Karim hooted with laughter.

“You know Anil, life is funny.” Karim said. As they stood in the woods, emptying their bladder! Karim aiming at a tree trunk, while Anil stood a few feet away in the darkness.

“Why do you say that Karim” Anil’s voice came back through the dark.

“I don’t know I just feel that way.” Karim said, and then added. “It’s so dark here I can hardly see you.”

“Yeah, even I can’t see you. A man can get lost in these woods in the night.” Anil said.

Karim shook his head, his bladder was so full. God! Some Beer he had drunk today, look at the quantity pouring out.

Thank- God! By the time they reach home. Both Abbu and Ammi would be fast asleep; they’ll slip into their rooms quickly, tomorrow being a Sunday. It will be a holiday at the press. One day of a week, when the people of Hospur had to do without THE HOSPUR TIMES.

After all even the presses need a break and the people who worked on it. But people didn’t mind, after all Sunday is Sunday. Lots of other things to do!

Karim slipped up his pant and whistled softly. He was feeling much better. “Hey! Anil, you done” He called out again.

There was still no reply from Anil. I got it; he is trying to scare me. What does he takes me for, a kid or something? Well, I’ll show him. Thinking Karim leaned back against the tree trunk, whistling under his breath. Let the idiot sweat it out, when he’ll know I’m not biting, he’ll come out of his hiding place.

There was another rustle in the under-bush. This time closer! Karim peered in that direction, the moon was out, yet he could see nothing. Karim waited, time passed, he grew impatient. “Come on Anil, enough of your jokes, the others must be waiting for us.” Karim called out in the dark.

Fingers touched his arm and he whirled round. “You thought I’ll get scared, why you….” The words stuck into Karim’s throat as the moon passed out again from behind a cloud and threw its silvery light through the trees on the ground.

“You’re not Anil!” Karim whispered. Then without realizing he screamed, pulling his arm away.

The other man lunged forward again, trying to grasp at Karim. Karim pulled and then ran back through the woods, screaming loudly. When he came out, the others were waiting for him. Abdul ran forward and caught his trembling brother. The others gathered round. “Karim, Karim what’s it?” Abdul asked, shaking his brother.

“Back there in the woods. Something came at me and caught me.” Karim gasped. He was trembling violently.

“Steady Karim. We are all here, steady.” Prakash said throwing his arm around Karim.

“No, you don’t understand.” Karim said brushing off Prakash’s arm. “There’s something in the woods. A wild man, his face is all bu-burned up.” Karim said.

“You are drunk and I am taking you home.” Abdul retorted.

“Hey! Where is Anil?” Raghu said, suddenly looking round.

Sure enough, there was no sign of Anil.

Where was he?

“There he is.” Jagdish said pointing. Anil was coming out of the woods, waving a long thin stick in one hand. He saw Karim and came over in a hurry.

“Where were you Karim? I searched for you in the woods.” Anil said angrily.

“Karim says he’s seen something in the woods.” Prakash said.

“Seen something? What something?” Anil said.

Prakash shrugged.

“OK! Let’s forget it, and head for home.” Jagdish said. Then turned to Prakash,

“Prakash, you still coming over to my place like we decided earlier”

“Yeah, I’m coming.” Prakash said. Looking at Karim, who was arguing softly with his brother?

“Let’s go Karim, let’s go home.” Abdul said.

“But Abdul, why don’t you understand. I’m not drunk. I saw something….”

“OK! You are not drunk. Now let’s go home.” Abdul said, cutting his brother in between

They broke up. Karim and Abdul and Raghu heading for the west side of the town. Raghu walked along with the two brothers, wheeling his cycle by his side.

While Prakash, Jagdish and Anil headed north. Anil telling the two boys how he and Karim had gone into the woods, and after he was finished and waiting for Karim, he had sighted a Hare and chased it. “What was he saying about seeing something?” Anil asked again.

“Nothing, if you ask me, Karim was pretty drunk today and started imagining things.” Jagdish said.

“Yeah, talking about someone with a burned face and all that” The guy can really drink.” Prakash said.

They went talking and discussing. Behind them the moon went back behind the clouds.

                                                       ●

 

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Author's Note

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