The little child had been covered with a scarf over his head. Two shoes slightly larger than his tiny legs had been fixed on his feet. He clutched his hurrying mother’s hand and literally ran along with her to keep pace with her. Last night he had been beaten. By his father. His father who had no outlet to vent all his anger at the injustices of life had chosen the child’s tiny body as his battleground. The little child could not defend himself from the pain, the fear, the ruthlessness or the scars that would remain forever in his memory. That day the child learnt to fear this big man in the house.
The child sat on the ledge watching the sunset. He dangled his legs swinging them to and fro. He watched the evening lights come alive and silhouettes of young women through their windows. He smiled a happy smile. It was sheer innocence. Some bashfulness and curiosity. He thought of father who lived far away who would come home with presents. Like the father in the movie he had seen the previous day. His father would be bigger than all the other men in the household and kinder. Like a big warm bear. He liked this thought.
Father walked down the dirt road towards his house. The child saw his father for the first time after he had been left in his grandfather’s house. There was a slight trepidation in his heart and warm excitement. Could he open the bag his father carried and look into it for presents? Could he climb on his father’s legs and hang around his neck? He wanted to. Though he would have vigorously shook his head to deny it had someone asked him if he thought this way. He remembered mother. Her secure lap and her soft clothing that smelled of kitchen dampness. Father had come closer. Now the child looked up at this big man. It hurt his neck to see someone high up there. He wanted to be picked up. Yet father seemed to be talking to someone else. And laughing loudly. His voice was powerful. The child looked up to this man he had waited for while watching sunsets. The man walked away..even as a fragile dream fell to the floor breaking to a thousand pieces.
Rain was bad. He thought rain was bad. His mother forced him into a body hugging sweater, a rain coat, two big shoes, a woollen cap that almost choked him and gave him a kerchief to wipe his runny nose. She tied his shoe laces for him. Father sat in the other room reading the newspaper. He seemed to have an enormous omnipresence. Of fear. Rain also meant fear. Fear of catching colds. He wiped his runny nose. Colds made his nose red. He could not breathe with them. All the big people called him funny names because of his frequent colds. He did not exactly like it.. or them.
The ant seemed quite comfortable in there. Until it began writhing. Here he had started one more of his experiments. Ants-in-boats experiments. He had made a flimsy boat and attached a motor to it. He had put a small film roll box on top of the boat and put an ant in it. “The ant would be alright” he thought. He put the whole setup in the small tank in the bathroom. Watched the ant travelling in the boat. “Is the ant feeling like Vasco Da Gama?” he imagined. until the boat began to sink. It was no titanic to sink slowly and for hours. It just went down. He stared at the ant. It was writhing. He did not understand. He watched it moving inside the box. Then it became motionless. He took the soaked boat out and patted the film roll box against his palm and brought the wet ant out. He blew on it. Tried wiping it with his fingers. Death by water. On the phone he told her, “The ant lived. I saw it coming back to life after I blew on it.” He believed his own tale and felt good. “Water is bad” he thought but did not tell her.
The repeated nightmare did him no good. She stood watching by the gate of his house. He rode his bike into the wall and woke up perspiring. Every time. At least she could have been real even after he woke up. She was only a shadow. Shadow. He enjoyed crashing. Not into the wall. He liked crashing windows. The window of his neighbour. He broke the windows twice. His little puppy had been his best friend. He played cricket with them. The puppy seemed to understand better than her. Better than his father. Until the neighbour threw scalding water on him. There was none quite like the puppy. There is none quite like him. Water is bad.
The soft paws were on his face again. Someone licking his hair meticulously early mornings. He picked his cat up and played with it till his chest was full of cat fluff. He stood in the distance and saw them carry the little brown body away. His sister wept. He did not. He had died already.
She laid her head on his lap. This was a dream. His throat was dry. He could not speak. He did not move lest he disturb her head. They were star-gazing. Then she left the stars behind for him.
It was raining. The heavens poured themselves forth. He shut his windows and sought shelter underneath his blanket. He remembered the oversized shoes, stars, cat fluff, newspapers. Remembered every hour he had spent alone trying to understand. Remembered how he had shied away from them. The sorrow they gave him. He bought umbrellas. Many many of them.
He pored over his books for the exams. Hours and hours and hours of studying. His brain began to think like the books. He went for the exam. Hours and hours of machine like writing. He looked at the trees outside the window. It had begun to drizzle. He thought for a long time. Left his papers on the desk. Walked out of the hall and into the rain. H e l e t t h e r a i n s o a k h i m t o t h e b o n e s. He died.
A little child walked out of the campus that day water droplets dripping from his hair. Untainted.