He came running without his slippers. Zigzag way he ran and braked in front of his home. He saw his aunt chatting with his granny. Granny was very much excited explaining something to her. He went inside like a jet. He wanted to know what they were discussing. But didn’t dare to ask granny. He went inside and peeped out through the keyhole. He was able to get the gist of their conversation, ‘his uncle and family is coming.’
He is like that. Though only ten he always used to enjoy listening to elder’s talks. He was always fascinated by their knowledge on various matters, which were unknown to him. He used to sit with curiosity and study each other’s way of explaining things and their behavior. But he knew his granny is always harsh to kids.
‘Uncle is coming’, the thought itself generated enormous excitement in him. One person he loved in this world is his uncle, after his parents. He knows his uncle very little but whatever he knows about his uncle is very kind and gentle. He liked such people a lot. Uncle to him was a person who brought lots of gifts, embrace him with a warm hug one first meet, asks him about his school, join him in all games; do everything which he likes. It is the other way also.
He went to check his mother. She is taking tuition class for neighborhood kids. As soon as his brother came back from playground they grabbed their towel and headed for the river. A swim after a play was something they never compromised for. They both loved to sink deep into the depths of the river after getting their body muddy and sweat. Meanwhile sinking down the river they would open their eyes and explore the world inside. Corals, shining sand, flitting fishes; they used to enjoy them. They used to float above the water for hours and their eyes used to get red. It will be dark enough when they get out of water and back home.
“It seems you are happy today”, asked fisherman Johny. He looked at him. Did he see his smile breaking out on his face while thinking about uncle’s arrival? Might have. He did not say anything. Just passed a glee and ran mocking a motorist. He brakes screeching and took a reverse. “He will be here tomorrow, my uncle. He will be here to swim with me and play cricket”, he whispered into his ears. Raced his bike along the macadam and ran. Johny looked at him wondering how happy he was.
“Vishnu…” screamed his mom. “Come and have your dinner. Dad is going to be late today.”
He is sitting on the edge of verandah. He hasn’t combed his hair yet. Gazing towards the gate he is waiting for his dad. He wanted to tell him first about his uncle’s arrival. He heard his mom calling him. But didn’t reply.
Someone opened the gate. He got up. He couldn’t see in the dark who it was. Though he is scared of dark, being so impatient he ran towards the gate. “Dad uncle is coming…” He hollered, but only to realize that it was someone else. He ran back home and called mother out. “amma, someone is here.” He was still gazing at the gate while mother was talking to that person. It seems he had come to give her fees for his daughter’s tuition. Who cares!
“Vishnu, are you waiting for your dad?” he asked pulling his cheeks. Vishnu mocked a smile. He hates people pulling his cheeks. His cousin sisters always do that to him. They say it’s very sweet. What sweet? As if they had tasted my cheeks! He thought. That man was still pulling cheeks and talking to his mom. He felt like pulling that mans beard so hard that in one go all his beard will be pulled out and will be in his hand. Then he can shout at him it is very sour. But he remembered mother saying, “never scream at elders.”
These elder people only know to make rules. Don’t do that, don’t do this; and this cheek pulling is ok to them. God save me, he thought.
“Ok Vishnu bye, take care and study well” he bid goodbye to his mother also and went. I will take revenge. Tomorrow I will pull his daughters cheeks and shriek “how sweet”, he thought.
“Vichu come, enough of now. Come and have food. It’s getting late.” She fondly kept her palm on his cheeks. He loves it when his mother does that. He closed his eyes and placed his hand on hers. It was so chilled. He can’t say no to his mom when she calls him vichu. And he never liked others calling by that name other than his mom. Like an obedient boy he moved in with his mom.
“Vishnu”, His father’s voice. He heard gate opening sound. So excited he ran towards gate. Jumped and said “Uncle is coming tomorrow.” His father knew it already. But seeing his elated mood he pretended. “Very good” He gave the chocolates he brought. “Now no need to eat chocolates, go and have food.” Mother gave a strong reprimand. But he didn’t mind. He was so happy to pass the information to his dad.
“Papa, who did teach me how to swim” he asked abruptly while having dinner.
“Your uncle” father said. Vishnu knew that very well. Just that he wanted to hear it again from someone. The story of his uncle trying to make him swim, when scared pushing him to the water; then while gulping water holding him by stomach and teaching him how to swim. All he knew but just wanted to hear it again.
“Papa, how did he teach me cycling?” as soon as he washed his hands he jumped to the sofa and asked. His father smiled at his excitement and described everything to him. Then explained how his uncle taught him to play cricket, how he made him sleep, how he brought two kittens to home for him to play with, how they both went to the neighbours farmland to steal mangoes and many more stories. While describing all these Vishnu was listening to his dad with his eyes wide open and ears sharped.
“You don’t have to sleep or what. Otherwise you were the one who sleeps at eight. Now already its nine.” Mother screamed.
“Tomorrow is a holiday mamma. And uncle is also coming. Let me hear stories.” He pleaded.
“No dear, go and have a good sleep now. Or else you will be sleeping like a pig tomorrow morning when your uncle comes.” Father tried to convince him. Though not ready to sleep, but not willingly he went to his bedroom. Jumped on his bed and switched of the lights. Looked towards the skies through window and started thinking. Uncle will come and hug him. He will give him a big pack of toys and chocolates. He had mailed his uncle to get a cricket bat for him. With that both can play cricket from morning itself, despite granny’s tantrums. Slowly-slowly he went off to sleep.
He could hear birds chirping out. He could feel the chill of the breeze that entered through the open window. Slightly warm sunrays were peeping into his room. He opened his eyes. Got up suddenly. Checked the clock. It’s 8.30 already. Uncle was supposed to come early at five in the morning. He got angry on himself for not getting up early. He felt to shout at his mother for not waking him up early. What uncle might have thought? He became furious and got down from bed and ran towards visitors hall.
“Amma, why didn’t you call me early?” shouting at his high pitch he entered the hall. There he saw everyone. His granny is lying down on the sofa. Their maid is trying to pat her. His mom was sitting near the door looking out. Some of his relatives are there who were not at all expected. He searched for his dad and uncle. He ran out to the verandah. There he saw more crowd. Somebody is talking to his dad in front. Many others from the village are assembled over there. He ran to his dad and asked about uncle. His dad just picked him up and hugged him tightly. He saw dad’s eyes getting wet.
He heard the gates get opened. Vishnu looked back. A white vehicle is coming inside. His dad kept him down and headed towards the parked vehicle. He saw two three people getting one stretcher with a body on it. He didn’t understand anything. He could hear all women crying inside his home. He looked all around. He couldn’t find his uncle. He saw everyone with a morose face. He went inside to ask his mom, while he overheard someone say, “death comes anywhere, anytime it wants. These train accidents are very common nowadays.”
Death. Vishnu ran fast. Where is amma. He searched everywhere in between all other bereft relatives. His heartbeats rose. ‘Death.’ He knew death means end. He ran to his bedroom. Crawled down his bed. Covered his face with his sweating palms. Last time when he heard the ‘death word was when his grandfather expired. He remember very well his mom saying, “Vikku, now you cant ever meet grandfather. He is going for a long journey without us. Far away. He will never come back.” He felt his heartbeats pounding like a race horse. He closed his eyes. Darkness. Total darkness. He saw his uncle going for a long journey in his car. He screamed, “Uncle, take Vishnu also with you” His shouts didn’t reach his uncle. It got dissolved in the thick air of the darkness.