It took only a few days for them to bond. Though Amir wouldn’t have said it out loud that he liked Raj, his heart beat faster if Raj hadn’t made it on time to their talking spot. Raj, on the other hand, being the youngest of the two, loved Amir like his own brother.
It had become a routine for the two kids, waiting for their fathers to leave them alone for the day so that they could meet one another.
Raj would complete his assignments for the day to shut his father up and then would run to the border to meet his best and only friend. Amir would lie to other guys that he was going away for some peace and distraction free area to practice his gun shots.
By the end of the day, both had fond and warm memories within those borders while their parents fought each other.
“You know, Jayavrindh people were the one who had killed my mother.” Amir blurted out one time when they sat opposite to each other in the snow.
“Why?” Raj asked, tilting his head to one side, which always made Amir want to reach out and pinch his cheeks.
But the question Raj was asking was something to which he didn’t have any answers. The elders had said that those men were bad and he agreed to it.
Not having anyone to talk about it made Amir believe that it was the truth. Now, with Raj’s question twirling in his head, he couldn’t tell the exact reason why.
He could only shrug. “My dad says those men are bad.”
“My side people?” Raj asked, eyebrows raised. “They are the best people.”
Raj couldn’t believe that his father and his friends were bad for even a second. Last week, the one who cooked food for everyone made Raj a bracelet out of little coloured stones. He said that he had found them far away under the mountains.
“This side men are not bad either.” Amir said, pointing his finger at his back.
Then what was the need for this border? For this twisted line to exist between them? For this secrecy that they were meeting each other? For all the lies that were being fed to them?
“Come on, I want to race you.” Raj said changing the topic.
That was what he did most of the time when he noticed that Amir was falling into the abyss of agony thinking of ways to change things between them.
“You are going to come last as usual.” Amir said patting his buttocks as he got up.
Both of them stood on an imaginary line and said a jumbled ‘go’ and soon they were running parallel to each other. Taking in the cold air, they ran and it was the only time they actually felt free.
At the tenth board that warned them, they halted gasping for air. Even with the cold, Amir was sweating and his spirits had uplifted. As he bent over, holding his knee, from the corner of his eyes, he saw Raj get closer to the border line.
“Hey, look!” Raj beamed. “There’s a way!”
Before Amir could inspect and say it was all fine, Raj had crawled beneath the border, having a narrow escape from the electric cables.
“I did it! I did it!” He beamed and he ran towards Amir, hugging him.
“Hey!” Amir said, but he couldn’t push Raj away. He hugged him back, holding him against his chest, close to his heart. “You made it, didn’t you? How did you see that?”
Raj turned around to tell him elaborately how he had actually found the mishap before Amir could make fun of him. “I’m smart, you know?”
Amir laughed at that, disheveling his hair. Raj was two inches smaller than Amir and it felt good to have someone by his side, someone other than his people.
“Oh, stop that.” Amir said. “I’m much more smarter than you.”
Raj opened his mouth to retort, but a loud voice bet him to it.
“Amir, stay away!”
Before anyone could understand what was happening, a bullet buzzed though the air and had shot Raj straight in the heart.
Everything went into slow motion as Amir rushed to hold the boy in his arms. Blood was gushing out, his breathing was ragged and his eyes were closed. Amir was in the verge of tears.
“Raj.” Amir’s voice was low, almost as a whisper.
How they had spent laughing and talking only a few minutes ago? How tightly Raj had hugged him? How he had said that he was smart?
The bracelet he had shown only a few minutes ago fell on the snow as Raj drew his final breath. Amir pulled him to his arms, crying.
What had he done to get killed? He was only trying to cheer him up. He had smartly veered Amir’s troubles and had found way to his.
Amir could shout at his men for killing, he could kill his men, but what would it change? It would only take another bullet to shut him up for good. And the killing would continue.
What was there to fight here? Were they fighting for the land? Or were they fighting for the status?
If they fought for the land, what was so majestic in this land that was worth a fight that killed innocent lives? Throughout the year, it snowed and the people here had hardly seen any sun.
If they fought for the status, why were only those people fighting? Why not the one who wanted status?
Questions swirled in his head over the years, yet he hadn’t found any answers. There was only one regret in knowing Raj.
The only thing that haunted Amir all his life was that his friend had given up his life for him. And he knew he didn’t deserve it.
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