TO OPEN A WINDOW

 

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Chapter 1

Arjun pressed the doorbell of his apartment. He pressed it again after sometime. But no one answered the bell. He fished in his pockets, took out a key and then opened the lock of the apartment door. The apartment was empty. Anita, his wife, must have gone out with their seven-year-old son, Samar.

He changed into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, washed his hands and face and was thinking what to do next. He thought about spending some time on the treadmill but then decided in favour of watching TV with a cup of coffee in his hands. But he was distracted and wished Anita would come back soon.

He must have dozed off, for he woke up with a start upon the ringing of the doorbell. He walked hurriedly to the front door and opened it. There was Anita and behind her, on the bicycle, was Samar.

Samar rushed inside the house, grabbed the TV remote and started flipping through his favourite channels.

He frowned. “Samar, come back. Please take off your shoes and put on your slippers. Then go and wash your hands. And no watching TV right now. First we have to complete your homework.” He said sternly.

Samar ignored him and sat down on the sofa, his head bent forward and already absorbed in the television.

“Samar!”

The child looked up, taken aback by his anger.

Anita, meanwhile, had put the bicycle to one side and was closing the door. “You have come back early today. What is it? You look a little disturbed,” she said, quietly closing the door.

Samar had stood up and was looking confused. He had always got to watch TV at this time before doing his homework.

“It is all right Samar. You can watch TV for some time. But after that, we shall sit down to complete your homework,” Anita patted Samar on the head, saying this.

The child sat down, watching television again and was soon lost into it.

Anita was now in the kitchen, getting out the vegetables and other things and arranging them for the maid who would arrive soon to help do the cooking.

Arjun walked slowly in the kitchen and watched Anita as she worked.

“The principal of Samar’s school had called this afternoon when I was in office,” he told her.

Anita turned around and looked at him. “What did she say?” she immediately asked, with a touch of anxiety in her voice.

Arjun shook his head grimly. “The principal was saying that it is getting worse. Samar punched some kid in the face today. The other kid’s nose started bleeding and first-aid had to be given to him. She said that if Samar doesn’t improve, then they would have to remove him from the school.”

Anita was silent.

From where they stood in the kitchen, they could see Samar.

Suddenly Arjun frowned again. He walked quickly up to Samar. “How many times have I told you not to watch this channel! Please don’t make papa angry. You are not to watch this channel, understand?”

The child looked scared at the sight of the anger on his face.

“Yes papa. I won’t watch this again,” Samar answered timidly.

Arjun looked at Samar for some time and then calming himself, switched the channel. Anita was watching from the kitchen. He went back to her.

“This stuff he watches on TV is not good. Such fighting, kicking and bad language! I wonder how they allow such programs to come on TV channels for children,” he said.

Anita nodded in agreement. “I do keep an eye on him and try to see that he doesn’t watch such stuff. But it’s difficult to keep checking all the time. He goes back to watching all those violent programs whenever no one is around to check,” she replied, shaking her head sadly.

“And you are right. TV channels meant for children should not be allowed to have programs full of violence and crude language. But I’ll try to keep a better check on him.”

“Yes, I shall also help in that whenever I am at home,” Arjun said.

They were both quiet again. Anita drying some dishes and putting them in their place.

After a while, Arjun spoke again, “What about those twins in tower number one? I hope you are keeping Samar away from them. They are bad company.”

“No, he doesn’t play with them anymore. I keep Samar away from them. But that isn’t showing any results going by what happened in the school today,” Anita morosely responded.

“Yes, I don’t really know what to do. He isn’t improving. In fact, it looks as if Samar is becoming even more violent now.”

Anita pursed her lips. “There is something that I hadn’t told you. Remember, you were asking why I had stopped taking him to the society swimming pool and instead make him ride his bicycle in the evening? Well I hadn’t given you the correct explanation when you had asked. The correct answer is that he was regularly getting into fights with other children in the swimming pool. Or more correctly, he was picking up fights and hitting the younger kids just for fun.”

“Really? This is very serious,” he turned, as if to go back to Samar again.

Anita caught hold of his sleeve and stopped him. “Nothing will come out from getting angry with him again. We have been through all that before. Leave him right now,” she said quietly.

He looked at her and then nodded his head in agreement.

“I think we should take him to some child psychiatrist,” Anita said after a while.

“I have already talked to one. One of my schoolmates is doing well as a child psychiatrist. I called him up later in the afternoon and told him about Samar’s problem.” Arjun said

“What did he say?”

“He said that it’s a problem that is increasingly being seen more. And all the violent stuff shown on TV channels meant for children are largely responsible for this. But he said that sometimes the problem can get aggravated and that may have happened in Samar’s case.” Arjun replied, biting his lips.

“Did he offer any advice?”

“Yes, he said that one common cause of the aggravation of this violent behaviour in children is the company of other children with such traits and that we should take care to remove him from the company of such kids,” he answered.

“But we have already done that,” Anita said, with disappointment heavy in her voice.

“Yes, we shall have to think of something,” Arjun replied. He took a deep breath and then opened the refrigerator and took out an apple.

“By the way, I checked into the local shops for that toy washing machine he has been clamouring for. They didn’t have it. I am thinking of going to the mall tomorrow, in the first half, to check there. They have a much better collection. It should be available there,” he said, biting into the apple.

“What time would you be going,” Anita asked.

“Somewhere around eleven in the first half.”

 

Chapter 2

 

Next day was a Saturday.

Samar was playing with his toys, when he looked up, noticing Arjun dressed up to go out.

“Papa, where are you going!”

Arjun smiled. “Papa has some work to do. He will be back in a few hours. Then we’ll play together Samar.”

“Papa, I too want to come!”

Arjun was quiet, thinking it over.

“Please, please papa!”

“Why don’t you take him along?” Anita, walking up said.

“Okay, come along son. But papa first has to go to one of his friend’s place. You will have to behave there. Promise?”

“I promise papa!” Samar got up, jumping in excitement.

“I will get him ready. But to whose place are you going?” Anita asked, while leading away Samar to change his clothes.

“It is Bhanu. He was also in school with us, in the same class. He’s a bachelor and lives alone,” he replied

“Bhanu?”

“You had met him once in our school get-together. But you may not be able to place him. For it was only briefly, very briefly in fact, that you had met him.”

Anita nodded and then walked away with Samar to change his clothes.

Samar came running back with a fresh set of clothes and his shoes on.

“Let’s go papa!”

“I shall be back by lunchtime,” Arjun told Anita as he walked out the front door, holding Samar by his hand.

“Yes, don’t be late,” Anita replied and then closed the door.

Bhanu had worked for some years in a Gulf country. Right now, he wasn’t working anywhere. Returning from the Gulf, Bhanu had bought a small plot and had a simple, small, single storied house built there.

In about twenty minutes time, they had reached Bhanu’s gate. A private security guard stationed there opened the gate for them. Arjun drove inside, parked the car to one side and climbed out, picking up Samar from the seat and putting him down after closing the car gate.

The security guard had said that Bhanu was in the backyard and they would find him there.

Arjun stood and looked around for some time before moving to the backyard. Much of the space in the compound was taken up by an amazing variety of plants. There were a number of flower beds and all sizes of pots holding multitudinous greenery. Samar was skipping around excitedly touching the pots and the flowers that lay just about everywhere.

Arjun called him back and then holding his hand went to the back yard. And there was Bhanu, with his back to them, working on a flower bed. He turned around hearing them coming up and smiled when he saw Arjun and Samar.

“Wonderful, wonderful! Samar, how are you! This is the first time that we are meeting, isn’t it son?” Bhanu said walking up to them, embracing Arjun and then picking up Samar.

Samar looked at Bhanu, opening his eyes wide. For Bhanu was a big man, really big and he took care to stay in shape. Samar then seemed to have made up his mind, and he smiled back. Bhanu’s warmth had reached the child.

Bhanu continued to hold Samar as he talked to Arjun.

After a while, putting Samar down, Bhanu took out a remote bell that he had in his pocket and pressed it. From the house emerged Bhanu’s man-friday, Nandan, who had been with Bhanu for some time now.

“Nandan, get out some chairs for sahib and get us something to eat also. What will you have Arjun; tea, coffee or,” he added after a pause with a smile, “beer or gin or something else?”

Arjun laughed. “Yes, get me some beer,” he replied.

Nandan had the chairs out soon and laid out a table on which he put the plates holding various eatables like biscuits, peanuts, sweets and pastries. Samar had one pastry and then he started wandering around in the backyard. And Bhanu and Arjun talked and laughed, sitting in the chairs. This time of the year, there were a number of butterflies attracted to the greenery present in Bhanu’s place and they  fascinated Samar making him run after them laughing, giggling and turning around to ask numerous questions.

“So many butterflies papa! I’ve never seen so many! Aren’t they beautiful!”

“Yes Samar. They are beautiful son,” Arjun replied, evidently pleased.

Bhanu was watching with an interested eye.

After sometime, Bhanu started doing miscellaneous things with his plants, flowers, shrubs; watering some, pruning some other, rearranging some and digging the flower beds here and there. Arjun followed him, for this is what Bhanu invariably did most of the time and Arjun was used to it. Rather, Arjun liked that. Moving around in dreamland of a setting that this luxury of flowers and plants created; it always brought a great sense of peace and that is why he had decided, in fact, to visit Bhanu’s place today. The problem about Samar’s increasingly violent behaviour had been weighing far too much on his mind.

But Samar was looking so different now. He looked such a baby, just right for his tender years. Otherwise, he would tend to have a look far beyond his age and also act so to Arjun’s irritation. He was running on the grass lawns, peering with great interest everywhere with unending questions. In fact, Arjun was struck by the entirely different sight that Samar was presenting now; so innocent, happy and without any sign of troublesome mischief that, these days, so often marked Samar’s face.

Hours passed quickly and it was time to go back.

“Say bye to Bhanu uncle, Samar.”

“Bye Bhanu uncle!” Samar shouted from inside the car.

Bhanu waved his hands, “Come back soon son.”

Arjun waved at Bhanu, Samar waving too and then they drove off.

On the way back, they again passed by the nursery that was close to their home. Arjun slowed the car suddenly and entered the small lane which went up to the nursery. He stopped the car and got out taking out Samar with him.

An old man was there, sitting on a chair, who looked up.

“I live nearby and need some plants which are hardy, which don’t die easily,” Arjun told the old man.

The old man nodded and then got up from the chair, taking them off to one side. Arjun selected some plants which would fit in one balcony and three other plants which could go in the back balcony and a few more which could be kept outside the front door.

Samar was having a great time. “Are we taking them home papa?” he asked, looking happy.

“Yes son, we are.”

“Yippe!” Samar shouted.

Arjun arranged with the old man to have the flower pots sent quickly to their home and then drove back. Anita was waiting for them.

“Sorry, we couldn’t go to the mall. Time passed so quickly at Bhanu’s place. He has such a wonderful gathering of flowers and plants there. Samar had a grand time,” he told Anita.

Anita didn’t say anything. But after sometime, while laying out the lunch, as he helped, she said, “But do get it quickly for him, he has been asking for it for quite some time and you had promised him.”

“I promise I will get it in the coming week.”

Then he told her about the plants that he had bought, which would be getting delivered soon. She was silent. But again after sometime, as was her habit, she said, “But you will have to look after them and I want the balconies clean. Absolutely clean as they are right now.”

He nodded his head.

A tired Samar soon fell asleep and it was during this time that the flower pots he had ordered came from the nursery. He had them arranged on the balconies and outside his front door.

Arjun took Samar by hand when he got up and led him on the balcony.

Samar jumped in joy. “Papa, they are here, this was the one in uncle Bhanu’s garden, wasn’t it!” he shouted, pointing to one of the plants.

Arjun wasn’t sure. “Oh yes son, it must have been there, uncle Bhanu has so many flowers and plants there.”

That evening, Arjun worked on the plants, cleaning their pots, arranging them, watering some of them which looked to be a little dry. Samar was all the while with him watching him and trying to help. Next day, Arjun repeated the routine in the morning and again in the evening and all the while, Samar was again absorbed, asking questions and helping him as Arjun extended the activity.

Soon it became a routine with Samar to check the flowers and the plants, report the developments taking place and to help out in looking after them. “The big green plant in the corner in the front balcony has given new leaves and that one with the thorns needs some extra watering I think!” he would say.

Arjun got some smaller pots which could be placed inside the house and put appropriate plants in them. They added such an altogether different and eye-catching look to the house that Anita too soon was deeply involved in looking after them.

A month passed and then one day, in the evening upon returning from office, he told Anita, “Samar’s principal had called again today, she didn’t say anything, just asked me to come tomorrow for a meeting. I wonder what it is.”

Anita was silent, expressions of worry growing on her face.

“Do tell her to give some more time before deciding upon anything,” she said.

Arjun nodded his head, looking sombre.

 

Chapter 3

“Mr Arjun, how are you,” the principal said, getting up and shaking his hand. “Please sit down.”

Arjun sat down in the chair in front of her.

“Thank you ma’am, I am fine. I hope everything is all right with Samar,” he said, hoping for the best.

The principal, a middle-aged woman with an expressive face and dainty features said, “Oh yes Mr Arjun, sorry to trouble you, but I had to meet you! Samar has changed dramatically and so quickly! I couldn’t help but talk to you in person to know the reason behind this. For we have such problems with other children too and it would greatly help if you can share what exactly it is which has fetched such great results in such short time!”

Arjun let out his breath in a sigh of relief. He looked down at his tightly clasped fingers. Taking a deep breath then, he stood up and went to the window behind the principal, who watched curiously.

He pointed to a plant in a small flower pot which stood there and said, “This is the medicine ma’am which has cured Samar.”

The principal looked confused.

Smiling, Arjun walked back and sat down. Then he told her about how Samar was now involved in looking after the flowers and plants at their home and how he had extended it to taking him to the best parks in the town whenever he could get time and getting him to be in close ties to all manners of flowers, trees and plants that he could find. The principal listened, looking thoughtful. “You know what Mr Arjun, I shall have extra flower beds planted in the school compound and try to have as much extra-curricular activity getting the children to be as much involved with greenery as we can. Thank you very much indeed, thank you!”

They talked about a few other things and then Arjun took his leave. As he came outside the school gate, he found himself whistling. He got into his car which was parked nearby and was starting the engine when something made him stop. He came out and went to a tree standing nearby. He touched the tree lovingly and then upon an impulse, he spread his hands and embraced the tree trunk, resting his face against it.

“Thank you, dear friend, thank you for changing Samar so. Long life to you!” he whispered to the tree.

Some passers-by looked at him curiously. A couple of girls coming out from the school gate stopped and watched him. He smiled at them, still holding his face against the trunk tree. They smiled back and gaily walked away.

Singing an old song, Arjun got back into his car and drove away.

 

xxxxx

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APPARITIONS OF CRIME


Somewhere around three o’clock in the night, something woke him up. He wasn’t sure what it was.

He lay in bed for a little while; then got up and went out.

He stood under the night sky with his back to his house. The night was clear and a soft breeze was blowing. Around him, the plains stretched; bare and rolling, broken here and there by isolated clumps of trees.

He crunched up the small path leading from his house to the road in front.

The road was deserted. Nothing was in sight.

He sat down on a milestone by the side of the road; took out a cigarette and lit it.

Time passed by slowly. It was quiet and the dust under his feet moved easily.

His back was to the bare plains behind and in front lay his house looking small and shrunken under the night sky. He glanced around, liking this time of the lonely quiet road.

Some more time passed by and the cigarette was nearly finished. There was an hour still left before dawn. He thought of going back and lying down on his bed.

Just as he was getting up, he saw lights of a distant vehicle approaching from his left side. He sat down again and watched the vehicle approach.

As it came nearer, its lights piercing the dark, he could make out that it was a car. Then it passed him by as he sat by the side of the road on the milestone; its tail-lights disappearing in the dark.

He was just about getting up again when the sound of the vehicle indicated that it was slowing down.

The vehicle stopped and then started reversing towards him. He stood still.

Some twenty feet away from him, the vehicle came to a stop on one side of the road.

The driver’s door opened and a man got out.

The man closed the door and started walking slowly towards him. The man appeared to be watching him carefully as he did so.

Then suddenly the man stopped; his movement uncertain. Abruptly, the man turned around, quickly walked away, started the car and drove off.

The tail-lights of the car started dwindling and its sound faded in the night.

He got up from the milestone on which he was sitting and, shrugging his shoulders, started walking towards his house.

He had walked about ten paces when he heard a loud crash.

He turned around quickly; startled by the sound. The crash had come from the direction in which the car had gone.

Quickly, he started his pickup van and drove up the road in the direction from which the crash had come.

He scanned the road on either side as he drove.

Then he saw the car. It had missed the turn and had run down the ditch by the side of the road; climbing nearly halfway up to the other side before coming to a stop.

He stopped his van and went up to the crashed car.

The night sky, by this time, had been lighted up by the approaching dawn. He saw the man lying face down in the ditch, apparently flung from the vehicle by the impact of the crash.

He stood there, under the breaking dawn, feeling the soft breeze on his face as he looked at the immobile body.

He first went towards the car and looked inside. It appeared to be empty.

Slowly, he walked over to the immobile body and turned it over. One side of the head was covered in blood. He backed away. Then, gathering his breath, he moved forward and checked for the pulse.

The man was dead.

He stood up and looked around. The plains around him were deserted. The road was empty.

He went back to the car and started checking it. In the trunk, there was an unlocked suitcase. He opened it. There were clothes and some toilet articles inside. Nothing else. He put the suitcase back and closed the trunk.

He decided to take one last look inside the car. In the half light, he looked carefully; but couldn’t see or find anything. He turned to walk away. As he did so, something caught his eye.

He bent down and pulled out a thin briefcase from under the driver’s seat. The briefcase was locked.

He walked over to the dead body. In the left pocket of the trousers, he found the key ring. When he tried the keys; one of them fitted and the briefcase opened.

His hands froze. There were wads of currencies lying inside the open briefcase. He couldn’t take his eyes away from it.

It was just at that moment that he heard a small sound from behind him.

Slowly he turned. On the other side of the road, a man sat on a milestone looking at him. A rifle lay loosely across his knees. The man didn’t say anything. He just sat there and looked at him.

It had become much lighter now and he could see the sitting man clearly.

A silent scream rose inside him.

The man sitting by the side of the road looked exactly like him.

His breath stuck in his throat. Slowly he backed away from the car; trying to build up distance between the man sitting at the side of the road and himself.

The man on the other side of the road just kept looking at him.

He was panting now. He darted his eyes to where his pickup van lay a little behind on the road.

Suddenly he broke into a wild run towards where the van lay. Panting and shaking, nearly blinded by the sweat pouring down his face, he somehow managed to start his van and turn around in a swirl of dust and screeching tyres…..

He woke up with a start; frightened by the dream. For some time he lay in the bed; his mouth dry and the tongue swollen. Slowly he regained his composure.

It looked like he had overslept again. Strong light was filtering in from behind the blinds of his window.

He looked at the clock on the side table. Nine o’clock.

He clambered to get out of the bed; and as he did so, he stumbled over something on the floor.

A briefcase lay open on the floor with wads of currencies in it…

Small Talk

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He opened the window and leaned against it.

The night outside was quiet.

She put the glass down by the bedside and lit a cigarette.

“If you don’t mind, I like to be paid in advance.”

He took out his wallet, counted out the money and put it by her side. She checked the amount and dropped it in her purse.

She looked around the room. Her gaze lingered on the rows of books on the shelf.

“You don’t look the type,” she remarked.

He stretched his arms behind on the window sill.

“What type?” he asked.

“The type who would pay money for women”.

He smiled as he said, “looks can be deceptive.”

She continued looking around the room.

“What do you do,” she asked, flipping the ash off the cigarette.

“I am on study leave,” he answered.

She took another drag.

“Leave from what?”

He looked at her quizzically.

“Why would you want to know that?”

She shrugged.

He folded his arms across his chest and crossed his legs.

The clock ticked on the table nearby.

“I am on leave from the army,” he replied.

She looked at him closely and pursed her lip. Then she picked up her glass and drank some more. She put down the glass carefully on the side table.

“You don’t look the army type.”

He smiled.

“What type do I look?”

She considered him, stretching her legs.

She was wearing one of those knee length embroidered cotton skirts that he liked. The fabric rested on her shapely legs.

She didn’t answer.

“Why don’t you sit down,” she said, after a while.

He pulled the cane chair and sat down on it next to the bed.

She picked up the TV remote and fiddled with it. Then she sat up straighter, tucking her legs under her.

A small silence fell.

It was broken by her asking, “are you married?’

He leaned back and scratched his chin.

“I was married, but separated now.”

She was quiet.

She studied her fingernails, “mind if I ask why?”

He rubbed his face.

“May be because she was very intelligent, highly qualified. I wasn’t offering her much”.

“She is doing well now,” he added casually.

It was quiet again.

Abruptly, she swung her legs off the bed and stood up.

“Mind if I see if there is anything to eat?”

“Help yourself,” he replied with a smile.

He heard the sound of the refrigerator door being opened. After a few minutes, she came back with a plate of green salad.

He got up and switched on the night lamp; turning off the main light. Then he went out and switched off the outside lights. When he came back, he found her nibbling on a tomato slice.

“You are right,” he said sitting down again.

“Right about what?” she asked laconically, still nibbling on the tomato slice.

“Well, not fully right; – but partially right. I am not the hired woman type.”

“Then why did you bring me?”

“To talk,” he answered.

She looked up at him but didn’t say anything.

“Its been sometime since I talked to someone, specially a woman.”

She looked him up and down and then went back to eating.

“I don’t think you would find it difficult to get a woman to talk to – without paying,” she remarked after sometime.

He didn’t say anything.

“You bring in women regularly? ………For talking as you say….,” she added with a little emphasis.

He laughed.

“You are the first one for whom I have paid.”

“Well I am flattered.”

She turned to look at him, putting the plate aside.

“And may I ask what made you give me this honour. I am an ordinary looking girl, aren’t I?” She lifted her eyebrows and smiled.

He rested his face on his palm and looked at her.

“You smile a lot.”

She inclined her face and the falling strands of her hair hid her expression.

“Did it surprise you that I am ….how do you put it…yes; … that I am a woman for hire?”

“Not really,” he answered.

“I don’t have anything against hired women”.

They are often better company,” he added.

She laughed, “Well, you seem to know a lot about hired ones, given that I am your first one!”

He smiled. “I have friends who have been around.”

She looked at him – made as if to say something; but didn’t.

Then she picked up the TV remote again and switched on the TV, toning the volume down, selecting a movie

“I am not a regular,” she said as she watched the movie.

“What?”

“I said, I am not a regular.”

She was still looking at the TV.

“I have a few customers who treat me well and are nice in their way.”

He shrugged.

“As I said, I don’t have anything against the oldest profession.”

He put his legs on the bed, stretching them.

Someone was firing a gun in the movie.

“Have you ever killed anyone??” she asked suddenly

His face changed. He didn’t answer.

“Sorry! At times I say stupid things……”

“I don’t think I should have asked that,” she said after a while.

He was looking at his hands.

“Its alright – maybe even a natural question to a soldier,” he said quietly.

He looked up at her, his eyes veiled now.

He thought of the elite counter strike group that he commanded. A blur of visions and memories passed in his mind.

He then smiled, as if ruefully.

“Killing is bad business,” he said.

He watched her slender fingers working the remote.

Suddenly she slapped her palms together and said in a grave voice, “bad business”.

“Bad business,” she repeated gravely.

He lifted his eyebrows, puzzled.

“What bad business?” he asked.

“See, I killed a mosquito! Bad business!”

He laughed and nodded, “point taken ma’am”.

She got up and walked around the room barefooted, picking up things here and there.

Then she sat down again and watched TV.

He went out of the room and washed his face and hands. He came back rubbing his face with a hand towel.

“You can use the bathroom if you want,” he told her.

“Were you ever afraid?” she asked abruptly.

“What?”

“I said…. were you ever afraid?”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid of dying, – getting killed in battle.”

He got up and picked a book, turning its pages.

His face was in shadows.

He sat down again.

“Some in the army put it this way,” he said, still playing with the pages.

“There are three types. First is what we call the A types – those who feel fear but often become more careful because of it. They make good fighters”.

“Then there are what we call D types. Not many of these. They don’t know much fear – they may do extra-ordinary in battle, but can blunder also.”

He paused.

“Then there are what we call Q types”.

“What’s a Q type?” she asked.

He looked at the floor, “Q type is difficult to kill; and – finds it easy to kill”.

“Why so?”

“Can’t really say; – maybe because they rely much on instinct. Instinct often finds a solution where none appears.”

She had switched off the TV and was looking at him. Their eyes held.

“What type are you?”

He smiled, “I don’t know.”

She looked long at him and then lay down on the bed.

“I am not a nice person. I can be a real pain; especially to those whom I like,” she said slowly looking at the ceiling; – and then turned on her side to watch him.

He laughed out aloud.

“You should laugh more. You look different when you do,” she said, her fingers tracing lines on the bed.

“Different?”

“You look much younger.”

He didn’t say anything.

“And you have nice eyes,” she went on.

He got up. “I’ll get dinner for you”, he said.

“I am not hungry. Sit down. Let’s talk some more – I am liking it.”

He sat down.

“Tell me; – what would you like to do when you leave the army,” she asked, cupping her face.

“I would like to be a lawyer,” he replied.

She burst out in tinkling laughter.

“Why do you laugh,” he asked.

“A lawyer with nice eyes! The thought made me laugh!”

He grinned.

Then he got up again. “Listen, its getting late. I’ll warm some dinner for us.”

He was away for some time, – selecting things from the refrigerator and taking his time in putting together what he hoped would be a presentable dinner.

When he came back in the room; she was sleeping – breathing evenly and deeply. He stood looking at her; then put a cover over her.

He went back to the kitchen and had his meal there. Then he went to the sitting room and went to sleep in the reclining chair.

Very early in the morning, he heard suppressed, subdued sounds. He pretended to be asleep. After sometime, he heard her passing out through the door.

When she had left; he got up and went inside the room.

On the side table lay a piece of paper.

Something was written on it in bold and capital.

It read, “ALL TALK  AND  NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY!!”

Beneath it, there was something further in a neat flowing hand –  “Q types are dangerous – the money is under the pillow….”

THE BUS WHICH WENT TO THE MOUNTAINS

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The road twisted now – broken here and there. It was narrow with wide expanses of dirt and bare earth on either side. But it was well shaded with branches of densely grown trees hanging over it.

Shaded as it was, it was pleasantly cool and comforting.  He walked along, a tall lean man, his boots leaving imprints on the powdery, padded dust.

His eyes roamed the road ahead, but it was bare and devoid of any human form.

Somewhere ahead, in the distance, lay the mountains.

On either side of the road, between the trees, could be seen expanses of planted fields interspersed with thickets and lines of trees. Hidden from sight, a water pump worked; its regular monotonous sound hanging in the air.

There were squirrels on the road, nibbling and then taking quick flight as he came near.  He could hear the birds on the trees around and see them swirling over the fields on either side.

He took out his water flask and drank long and deep.

It was a moment seeping into his consciousness and he wished it to prolong.

As he walked ahead, however; suddenly, with a tinge of disappointment, he saw a human figure sitting on the right side of the road on something that looked like a big stone or boulder.  The figure was clad in white and, as he drew near, he saw that it was an old man, wearing glasses,  with a walking stick lying on the ground by his side.

The old man was looking contemplatively straight ahead towards the fields on the other side of the road and didn’t seem to be aware of his approaching presence.

Slowly he continued walking up the road.

He drew close to the old man and thought of passing him by.  Just then, the old man turned his head, looked at him and smiled.  He stopped.

“Lovely day”, he said, smiling back at the old man.

The old man nodded his head.

“Yes, especially this time of the year when the fields are planted and the weather is turning cool, it becomes quite beautiful,” the old man replied, lifting his head to look up at the sky where scattered tufts of clouds lay.

He put his hands in his pocket, looking around.

“The road perhaps could be in a better condition,” he said after a while.

The old man shifted slightly on his seat and looked up and down the road.

“Further on, it gets much worse.  Till this point, it’s still not all that bad”, the old man replied.

He stood there, not knowing what more to say and thought of moving on; when behind him, on the road, he heard the sound of an approaching vehicle.  He turned sideways, watching the road behind.

“It’s the bus.  It passes through around this time of the day.  It’s a little late today,” the old man said, bending forward to look down the road.

The bus was now in sight as it turned the bend.

As they watched, the bus reached them.

On an impulse, he lifted his hand for the bus to stop.

The bus stopped on the side of the road.

“I think it’s better to get on the bus,” he told the old man.

The old man smiled and nodded.

He walked rapidly towards the bus and climbed into it.

The bus was largely empty.  A couple of persons were sitting in the front, their back to him.

A bearded, thickset man of indefinite years, wearing something like a uniform was sitting on the back seat.  Probably the conductor, he thought; which was confirmed when the fellow took out a whistle and blew it.  The bus started forward with a jerk.

He sat down.

After sometime, he noted that the road – if it could be called a road anymore – had become much more broken. The bus lurched from side to side as it tediously negotiated the broken stretches. He bumped and swayed hard on his seat.

He tried looking out the window. The planted crops were much less now and it was more of a growing wilderness. He felt uncomfortable.

He had never come this far on the road.

As the bus bumped hard into a pothole again, he regretted getting on the bus.  For some time he sat undecided and then, finally making up his mind, stood up and walked down the bus to the conductor.

“I’m sorry, but I would like to get down.  Could you please get the driver to stop the bus,” he told the conductor, a little apologetically.

The bearded fellow looked up at him, scratched his chin and took out the whistle again – blowing it sharply.

The bus slowed down and stopped on the side of the road.

He got down and took out the water flask and drank deeply.

The bus started and moved on slowly up the road, finally disappearing from sight.

He turned around and started walking down the road towards where he had come from.

After some time, he felt he was close to the spot where he had seen the old man sitting.  He walked slowly and quietly now, trying to avoid being sighted if the old man was still there.

Then suddenly his saw the spot where he had got on the bus and – with relief – noted that the old man was no longer sitting there.

He walked rapidly down the road now, crossing the spot where he had met the old man.  It was getting on towards evening and the fields on the either side were golden with the evening sun.

As he slowly disappeared down the road; the old man, hidden by a tree, watched him going back as he himself had done many years ago; looking so much the same…….

Standing there silently, the old man wondered if he could still catch the bus – the bus which went to the mountains.

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