Viman sat down on the chair and pressed his head between his palms as the flashes of memory slid through his mind.
That day after reviving the puppy, his brother had sat down near one of the fields and watched the girl play with it. When it was time to go, he had run to the girl and asked her name but she had angrily shoved him off and ran away.
Dejected he had returned home with them. The next day he hadn’t even waited for him and Amar. By the time they reached there, they had seen him sitting on the embankment of one of the tanks in the fields just watching that girl play.
Viman had noticed the strangest thing that day.
Every time the girl smiled or laughed with joy, a happy smile would spread on his brother’s face.
Days passed while his brother just watched and suddenly it was time for them to go back to school. The day before they were supposed to leave, his brother came back home dejected in the evening. When asked, he got to know that the girl hadn’t come to play today.
He still remembered the way his brother was pacing his room when he had come in. He was about to ask him what the matter was when Ram barged in their room panting.
“Did you find out?” Rudra aka Shanker aka Veera had asked agitatedly.
Ram just nodded and then spilt the bins.
Apparently, the girl belonged to the Raijdas family and her name was Ishani. The moment Ram had uttered these details; he had seen his brother jump out of the window and climb down the tree nearby.
“But you can’t go there and you shouldn’t,” he had reminded him.
But there was nothing that could stop his brother. He was already bounding off the numerous pathways behind their house. And they had also followed him. But by the time they had reached the police check post, fear of someone finding out had gripped them. However, they hadn’t been able to stop Rudra. He had veered towards the forest adjoining the Raijdas house and had somehow entered it unnoticed.
He had stopped near the wall and looked above trying to figure out which of the rooms belonged to her.
His brother’s whispered call had actually been like a shot in the silence and they had almost jumped with fear.
“Tell me the room!” Rudra had commanded once they had reached him.
When Ram had pointed to the one near the tree, he had seen his brother starting to climb it and he had clasped his arm with panic.
“Don’t tell me you are going in there!?”
“Why do you think I’d asked Ram to find out about her?!” Rudra had said with a mischievous smile on his face.
And then he had done the strangest thing. He had grabbed Viman’s and Ram’s hand and dragged them towards the tree.
“And you guys are coming with me.”
“So that you guys can also get beaten if anyone finds out.”
Saying this he started to climb the tree followed by them. Just as they reached an upper branch, he stopped and stood still. Viman who was right behind him was about to collide but somehow had steadied himself.
“Veera!” Viman whispered trying to reprimand him but his brother was too transfixed with the sight in front.
Viman craned his neck and saw what his brother was looking at.
The girl was sleeping on the bed and an old woman was applying a wet cloth on her forehead.
“She’s not well,” he heard his brother whisper.
His brother kept on staring inside and the moment the old woman left, he climbed a branch nearer to the window and jumped inside.
Viman and Ram were about to pull him back but he was gone before they could lay hands on him.
Shanker neared the bed and knelt on the floor. Then he touched her forehead gently. But the minute he did that, the girl blinked her eyes open.
That one blink of the eye and her shy smile had been the beginning of a friendship that had culminated into a strong bond.
However, one night had burned that bond into ashes.
The strangled call from Rudra woke Viman from his thoughts and he rushed inside the room. His brother was already tossing and turning violently on the bed. Viman placed his hand on Rudra’s forehead trying to calm him but nothing happened.
Amar rushed inside and one look on the bed told him that he needed to act fast. Quickly he pulled out a syringe from his bag and filled the drugging liquid in it.
Just as he pushed the injection in Rudra’s hand, he shivered a little and then slumped off to sleep.
But his mind did not.
As it had already started its own game plan, which included conjuring up images of the past and engulfing him in a vortex of memories that he had wanted to forget.
He was back in the village sitting on the hill waiting for Ishani to come and chat with him. He knew it was time for him to go but he still waited knowing she would never break her promise. And suddenly his eyes lit up as he saw her bounding up to him in excited energy.
“You are late, Ishi,” he said with an angry pout just as she reached him.
She stopped in her tracks and looked up at him. His angry face was enough to trigger the emotions in her.
But the moment her lower lip wobbled and a sob escaped her; Veera stood up and pulled her to him.
“I was kidding. Stop crying, please,” he pleaded, brushing her tears off.
Within seconds the smile he cherished so much was back on her lips. She sat down next to him and twined her arm in his.
“When does your school start?” he asked handing her the guava he had got for her.
“In another week. Why?” she asked taking a bite.
As the silence stretched between them, his young mind tried to sort out the emotions running through him.
“Will you forget me when you make new friends in school?”
She stood up just as she heard him. Then she grabbed his hand and smiled.
“Why would I forget you? You are my best friend.”
Hearing her, he clasped her hand and dragged her down the hill and then started running off to their favourite playing spot.