Rahul woke up from his dream to a harsh jerk, a reaction from the car to the poor excuse of haphazardly raised ground they called a speed-breaker. He groggily looked out from the window into the fading light. The digital clock in the car read 5.43.
“Ah, you’re awake, son,” said a voice from behind the wheel.
“How long till we reach home?” Rahul asked Charan, who was busy maneuvering the car in the bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“10 more minutes maybe. We’re almost there,” replied Charan and they both lapsed into silence for the remainder of the journey.
Rahul was remembering the last time he was here, in the city.
It had been nearly a year since he left the city for the countryside and he was already missing the view. From his window in the countryside house room, he could see long stretches of gardens and trees and fields. But now, all he could see was the monstrous traffic and hazy air. He loved the peace of his house, which was starkly opposite to this incessant honking. He replayed the dinner they had the previous night once more.
“We’re going to go to the house in the city for a while,” Charan had said abruptly.
Rahul choked a little on the dal and chapati he was chewing but managed not to cough.
“City? But why?”
“I’ve got to take care of a job there. Besides, we’ve been too long away from the city, son. It’s good to be in the fresh air and all but it’s also necessary to be around people sometimes.”
It was true that Rahul did not meet a lot of people in the countryside. Usually, it was just him, Charan and a few of Charan’s friends. Occasionally when he would stroll in their garden, he would see some farmers and their wives. He always greeted them and they greeted in return but none of them stayed to chat. They always seemed to be in a hurry to do their jobs. There were very few people around his age in the countryside and though the view was excellent and the air clean, he could not completely say that he did not miss being around friends. So he reluctantly said,
“But I love it here. It’s quiet and beautiful and clean…”
“…all things a city is not, I know,” Charan interrupted. “But as I said it’s only for a week and if I complete my job earlier, we could return sooner. Now complete your dinner.”
The discussion ended there. This morning he started packing his stuff, which was not much. He liked to keep his things to a minimum. His room was an example to that. Unlike a typical teenager’s room, apart from his bed, a few books and clothes, there was nothing else of note. He tossed in few pieces of his clothing and a novel he was reading into a backpack, along with a new novel in case the return was delayed.
He was buoyed and eager to go, just like a village boy going to see the city for the first time, though he lived in the city for almost all his life. It was suddenly decided last year that his mom would go on a trip and that he would move into the countryside house. He did not understand the motive for this, but he remembered being eager to leave their city house and go see the countryside, just like he was now rearing to go see the city.
“Is mom going to come to the city?” he had asked when Charan had come out with his things packed.
“Mom?… When did she call you last?” Charan asked without looking at Rahul and opening the backdoor of the car to thrown in the meagre luggage.
“It’s been two weeks now I guess. Mom’s mean. She did not even say good-bye the last time and I don’t know when she’ll call again.”
Charan actually knew the last time Rahul was on the telephone. There was only one telephone in the house and it was in his room. Rahul only came to his room when he needed the telephone and he always knew when someone had entered his room. He had actually walked in on Rahul when he was speaking on the phone, two weeks ago. Rahul told him that mother was on the phone and was on the verge of handing the phone over to him when he said the call got cut.
Rahul knew that Charan purposely avoided his question on whether his mom would be in the city or not, and took that as a sign of a possible planned surprise to him. He became more enthusiastic to board the car and be off.
But now that he was in the city, he did not feel that enthusiasm anymore. There were no conspiratorial glances from Charan, no knowing smiles, nothing to indicate that there was going to be a surprise. He knew it to be true when they finally came in view of the apartments and there was still no sign of expectation from Charan.
So it was with a sombre mood that he finally alighted from the car and slung his backpack onto his shoulder. The apartment which once felt so familiar now seemed foreign. He had spent nearly 7 years here and knew every nook and cranny of the building. It was the most comfortable place for him back then.
They boarded the elevator to the house which was on the 4th storey. Charan was silent now and it was not a silence which was comfortable and at peace, but it was the type of silence which came before something happened. Rahul could tell this because Charan’s fingers kept tapping his suitcase constantly and there was a distinctly distracted look on his face.
Rahul felt that way too. As he neared the house, he felt that he should not be near it. It was dangerous. And he felt it with certainty and clarity when he finally stood in front of the door and all the alarms in his head rang,
“Something bad is going to happen.”
This novella of mine was originally published in Cell Novels and it is still available there. So if you are the type who can’t wait for a day or two to find out what happens next, you can go to Cell Novels and read it there.