Rahim signaled Amar from across the room. He yawned in gesture and expressed his desperation to get out of the room. Amar put all his fingers up and indicated, ten minutes.
The college bell rang and the professor left in more haste than the students. Before the next professor could come in, Rahim and Amar packed their bags and ran down the corridor. Instead of the front gate, which was locked and guarded by a portly gatekeeper, they headed to the college backyard. The compound wall was high but an overgrown tree allowed them to scale it easily. They tossed their sack over the wall and quickly climbed the tree. Without anyone noticing, they crossed to the other side and retained their sacks.
“Amma (Mother) will be very angry if she comes to know we bunked lectures,” Amar said as they had started walking towards the railway station.
“Forget it dear” Rahim scowled. “Classes are boring, studies don’t excite me. I like to run and jump and slide and do all kind of adventurous stunts. I want to become a Stunt Man”.
“Monkey tricks? That is not the way,” Amar mocked. “Someday you will hurt yourself.”
“Never, I am the master of stunts” Rahim said proudly. “I have learnt a new trick. Let’s get to the station. I can’t wait to show you.”
They hurried towards platform number three, irresponsibly crossing between tracks.
13:27 CST S. The indicator read.
The train slowed at a distance and began parking at platform 3.
“Should we get in?” Amar asked.
“No, that portly TC always boards this local at Wadala. Let’s take the next one.”
Afternoons were usually less crowded at railway stations. The people traveling during this time are the ones visiting their relatives or those going for job interviews. There were a third kind, the vagabonds like Rahim and Amar, who took the advantage of empty trains to perform dangerous stunts. On few occasions a TC had tried to chase them. But he was no match to the young legs. He would pant, hurl a few abuses and go away.
The two boys boarded the next train that arrived. They stood by the foot-board and waited till the crowd had lessened at the next station.
Rahim stood on the platform, parallel to the train. He walked as the train moved with a jerk. When the train began to pick up speed, Rahim too quickened his pace. Soon, he was sprinting alongside the train.
“Brother, you will miss it.” Amar warned.
Rahim paid no heed and kept his eyes on the platform which extended only a few yards away. As the platform neared its end, Rahim reached out for the compartment pole and jumped inside the train.
Amar patted Rahim’s back and said, “Few more seconds and there would have been two Rahims under the train.”Both laughed.
Upon catching his breath, Rahim stood by the footboard’s edge and performed some more moves. He would lean dangerously outside the train, pluck leaves from trees, tap the passing poles. Amar hesitated. Unknown to the two boys, a spectator standing by the door behind the boys in the same compartment had taken a keen interest in the stunt boy. He marveled at his show-off.
When the train began to pull at the next station, Rahim performed his best trick yet. Holding on to the compartment pole, he jumped out of the running train and performed a long slide alongside the slowing train. The train pulled in. Rahim bid adieu to his friend Amar and left for his home.
“See you tomorrow, coward,” Rahim teased Amar.
The spectator, a man in his early forties and sporting a long grey beard, also departed the train. Stealthily, he followed Rahim into the narrow lanes leading into the slums. As it was mid-afternoon, the lanes were occupied with less people.
Rahim took a left turn in one of the lane; he saw a glimpse of a person from corner of his eye. He halted and turned around but saw no one.
In a deserted lane, the man picked up pace and approached Rahim from behind. Before Rahim could react, he found his head covered in a black cloth. Strong arms gripped him from all sides. No amount of struggle could free him from the clutches. He tried to scream but the palm of a hand pressed against his mouth. Soon out of breath, he fell unconscious.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself surrounded by warm air. He was inside a room with no windows. His eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness in the room. Finally, he saw a man standing in the corner. He looked like the man Rahim had probably seen following him through the lanes. He had seen the man earlier today, in the same train compartment as his.
He screamed for help but the sound of his panic was restrained by a cloth stuffed deep in his throat. His hands were restrained to the chair’s arms and his feet to the chair’s legs. Tears began to flow as he trembled in fear.
The man stepped out of the dark corner and made himself visible. He had cold, grey eyes, kohl neatly sketched around the lids. His lips were red from the excess paan chewing (beetle leaves). The man leaned in front of Rahim and said, “Are you afraid, boy?”
Rahim shook his head desperately.
“You did not seem afraid when you performed those dangerous stunts,”the man recalled. He pulled out the cloth from Rahim’s mouth. This time, Rahim was at loss of words from fear. A stench had filled his nose and he realized he had pissed his pants.
“What do you want from me? Please…please let me go,”Rahim begged.
The man stared at Rahim for long and said, “Let you go? So you can board another train and show-off your dangerous stunts? What are you, poor people’s Rajnikanth?”He began to laugh so hysterically that Rahim thought he would piss his pants a second time.
He was now begging for his life. “I will never do it. I will never do it.”He kept on repeating. But the man was in no mood to be melted by a boy’s cry.
“Your life is a waste,”the man said. “You bunk your classes to perform deadly stunts. Sooner or later, you will come under a train. Your body will be cut to pieces and no one will be able to recognize you. The police will disown your body and send it for crematorium. Your parents will keep searching for you but never find you. Why give so much trouble to the poor parents? I am only helping them. I will kill you with my own hands and send your body to your house. At least your parents can see you one last time and bury you righteously.”
Rahim had now gone silent. No amount of screaming, begging or crying was going to stop this man from killing him. He closed his eyes and waited for it to happen.
Soon, he felt cold hands on his shoulders, slowly moving towards his neck. Strangely though, instead of strangling his neck, they began to shake him vigorously. He heard someone calling his name, “Rahim”. It was not the man’s voice.
Suddenly, he opened his eyes and found himself in the classroom. The college bell was ringing in the background. The lecture was over and the professor had left. He looked up to find Amar standing beside him.
“Brother, Lets go. Today we got lucky our last lecture has cancelled,” Amar said. “Looks like you got so bored that you dozed off.”
Rahim, who had just woken up from a nightmare, was unable to speak.
“Are you alright?” Amar asked. Rahim nodded. “Let’s go then. We will miss our train,”he said.
The two boys left the college through the front gate, towards the railway station.
“Let’s take a foot over bridge”, Rahim insisted Amar.
Amar nodded doubtfullyThey strolled towards platform number three
13:27 CST S. The indicator read.
He recalled his stunts, the man with grey beard, his cold eyes, and his eerie laugh. He smiled at the nightmare and then at his foolishness.
They both boarded the train. Rahim without bothering went straight inside the compartment and occupied an empty seat.
“Dear, you were going to show me the new trick today?”Amar reminded.
“No,” Rahim answered. “No more stunts from today.”
Many youngsters loose their life pursuing useless passion of performing dangerous and idiotic stunts like bike wheeling, stunts on the moving trains, crossing the road blind-folded. They do no realize that their one stupid move will be the end of the dreams and sacrifices their parents have made for them. Life should not be treated in such a cheap manner and lost in a useless passion.