Rahul was paralyzed by that cry. It was horrible and frightened. He was shocked not by the cry itself but by the lack of reason behind it. Sure, Naveen had always been a bit cowardly and a little frightened cry would not have been surprising but this was much more, so much more.He moved a little closer to Naveen saying, “Hey, hey, shush! It’s me, it’s me, Rahul! Hey!”
But the closer he got, the more Naveen moved back, swiping his arms left and right, just like he was shooing away an irritating mosquito. Rahul could not understand this.
“First got to stop him to shout,” thought Rahul and moved one step closer still. At this movement, Naveen got even more frightened and with one final shout, his eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed.
“What the- he actually fainted” Rahul ran to Naveen’s unconscious body and lifted his head up. He called his name and tried to wake him up but thought better of it. He looked around for help but there was no one near. He looked for security but did not see him coming running up at the scream.
It was at this moment that his eyes caught a flash of light from a car. It was a car parked in the visitor’s area and looking closely he saw that there were two people sitting inside it. He could not see their faces because the top half of the glass was slightly tinted but he could feel them looking at him.
“They’ve got to see what just happened! Why aren’t they coming here?” he thought and started to raise his hand to call out to them when he heard the sound of footsteps coming from the stairs. They were hurried and approaching at a great speed.
It was Charan. He rushed down from the stairs with a look of half panic and half anger. Rahul barely had time to think, “Oh shi-“ when Charan was upon him.
“WHAT-“Charan shouted and then lowered his voice. “What were you thinking?” he hissed.
“But I just wanted to meet him! It’s been a year already but he started screaming when I said hi and-“
“Shut up. You shut up. Now you’ll go straight up the stairs and into your room and you will not come out again until I come home. Understand?”
“I understand,” Rahul said quietly. He left Naveen in the hands of Charan and started walking towards the stairs. He saw that the people in the car were still watching him. He must seem strange to them and dangerous even. What kind of a kid makes another faint by just making him look at his face?
At the bottom of the stairs, he turned back once last time. Charan was cradling now a half awake Naveen and saying something to him. He turned away and went up.
It was 15 minutes later that Charan turned up at the flat. The slam of the front door indicated that he was still angry.
Rahul had spent these 15 minutes trying to find the reason why Naveen was afraid of him now. Hadn’t they separated on friendly terms? What about those 6 years of them playing together? But thinking back on it now, he couldn’t exactly remember how they parted. Strange. That should have been the clearest memory he had. All those tearful goodbyes he must have had with the flat members and his friends, but now, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember a single goodbye.
He clutched his head with both hands and sat with his elbows on his knees.
“Remember, damn it!” he thought and concentrated on the last day of his stay here. The last time he saw Naveen. It took him 5 minutes but he finally remembered. He was sitting in the sofa and Naveen was standing outside the door. He had tears in his eyes.
“He cried while I was leaving! But now he faints on seeing me!”
But as he concentrated more, he saw the eyes which shed those tears were not the eyes which had sadness. They were frightened. They were frightened as he was frightened when he saw him today.
“What the hell?”
But he was spared from further introspection by the slamming of the door. Charan’s voice came floating through the door.
“Rahul! Come out!” There was only anger in the voice now. No panic.
Rahul slowly came out from his room.
“What did I tell you? WHAT did I TELL you?” Charan shouted.
“I just wanted to SEE him! Who’d know he would faint like that?” Rahul shouted back.
“You were going to see him! In fact, if you had just STAYED in your room like I told you, you would have met him this evening! And none of this would have happened! But no! You just had to sneak out!”
“Why could I not have met him when I wanted to?” Rahul shot back, now a little confused.
“Because I did not talk to him yet and told him that you were back!” Charan shouted back and realizing what he had just said, he shut up and turned away.
Rahul was now utterly confused. “Why would you have to let him know that I came back?” he asked.
Charan did not say anything. He started to pace himself around the room.
“I said, why would you need to tell him that I came back?” Rahul asked, a little angrily this time.
Charan still remained silent and did not speak.
“I think I remember a little now,” Rahul said quietly.
Charan perked upon hearing this. “What do you remember?” he asked tentatively and it seemed, a little nervously.
“I remember seeing Naveen the last time I was here. He was crying. And it was not because I was leaving. He seemed to be afraid of me.” Rahul said, his voice still low and subdued, like he could not believe what he was saying.
“And…?” Charan probed.
“Nothing. That’s all I remember.”
“Rahul-“Charan began hut he was cut short by a piercing scream. It seemed to come from the flats above.
They waited but it did not come again.
“Goddamn domestic violence! They should have put that bastard in prison way back.”
Another piece of memory came back to Rahul. The person above their flat beat his children. The children, two sons were rarely seen outside but as the beatings had so much gap in between and because the father and mother both proclaimed that the 2 kids were very naughty, the neighbors did not officially complain about it. Personally, Rahul believed that the father regularly beat them and the mother covered for him. As a child, though terrified and angry, he thought that adults must have their own reasons. But thinking about it now, he believed nothing should justify the beating that produced that level of painful cries.
He suddenly realized that the beating was the exact reason why no one came out when Naveen started screaming. Upon this realization, he felt a momentary gladness and in the next second, he hated himself for feeling that.
He sighed and turned back to go to his room.
“We’re not done talking,” Charan called behind him.
“Yes we are,” Rahul replied back. “Unless you tell me what that memory meant. You must know why he was frightened like that. Don’t think that I did not notice how nervous you were all this time.”
Charan looked at Rahul as if debating whether to say something or not. He was saved from this dilemma when there came a knock on the door. It was rhythmic and purposeful.
They both did not move for a moment. When the knock became more insistent, Charan finally turned and opened the door.
“Good morning, Sir! My name is Bharadwaj and I am selling some encyclopedias. Will you give me a minute?” said a young man who looked like he was in his early 20s. He had a sparse beard growing on his face and he carried a bag, which looked very heavy.
“I’m sorry,” Charan replied. “We don’t have any need for those.”
“Don’t say that, sir. Just hear what these encyclopedias have got. They’ve got biology, geography, chemistry,phy-”
“No, thank you,” Charan cut him off and started to close the door.
“Sir, sir, wait! Let the young sir take a look at these first,” Bharadwaj said, pointing to Rahul who was standing in the hallway looking at them. “These are very informative and I’m sure he would find them useful.”
At this Charan looked at Rahul and Rahul turned away and started going to his room.
“See, he’s not inter-“
Rahul heard a dull thud behind him and turned back to see Charan falling on the floor. He could not comprehend what was going on. He watched as Charan’s body hit the floor in a single smooth arc and stared in horror as blood started flowing from his head onto the white floor.
In the silence that followed, he heard a click and saw that the salesman Bharadwaj had come into the house and locked the door. Rahul tried to scream but he could not find his voice. He tried again and only a tiny squeak escaped out.
Bharadwaj looked at Charan’s motionless body and then back to Rahul and said, “You killed him.”
Rahul did not understand what he was saying. “But it was you who hit him, you crazy bastard!” he tried to shout out. But again, his voice failed him.
“And now I’m going to kill you.”
Rahul watched with terror as Bharadwaj pulled out a big knife. He looked into Bharadwaj’s eyes and saw nothing but murder in them.
“I’m going to kill you,” Bharadwaj repeated and with the knife in hand, lunged at Rahul.