I always knew I would let her go away when the time came.
“Vindu!” I hissed through the hole in the wall. Mud walls in the village have holes for two purposes – one, to let the air come in (as per adults) and two, as a secret communication portal (as per the younger generation).
The scorching sun on the back matters not to us kids here. When we’ve decided to play, which happens every day without the need of much thought, we do it with all possible determination and honor. The aftermath of which later in the day results in no dinner is a different thing.
Presently Vindu sneaked out. Her mother, who Vindu shared her bed with, slept on peacefully. And her peaceful sleep for us meant a nice long play. Not that it would matter if she was to wake up some time later. Once we were out of eyesight, play wouldn’t be interrupted.
Vindu dashed towards the little canal and I followed. Beyond the canal were the fields and groves. And beyond that were the railway tracks on the horizon. It was ritualistic for us to race to the mango grove near the tracks. There were two very good reasons for this – one, this was our latest hideout which no one knew about yet and the faster we reached, the least probable would be our parents spotting us and two, mangoes.
She would not win this race. It was half heartedly that I ran and found her struggling to get across the canal, I smiled to myself. The water in the canal had risen overnight and the only ways to cross it were either to jump over it or to walk through. She could not jump over it, nor could I and she was obviously in no mood to wet her new frock which some relative had brought her recently. She stood fumbling there with a wry expression.
I walked up slowly to her, purposely making her feel that I was taking this race quite easy as long as she was stuck there. She looked at me teary eyed, I grinned.
But oh! Childhood friendship! The valor kicks in harder than mockery at this stage in life. Grinning still, I walked to the middle of the canal, turned my back to her and bent low. She leapt, landed on a feet on my back and took another leap to the other side of the canal.
Competition kicks in even harder than gratitude. While I came out of the canal, she ran toward the end line, looking back and giggling wildly at times. I smiled, she was so going to lose.
7 years later…
We sat hidden behind the tall crop. From where we sat we could see the railway track extending from the infinity on our left to the infinity on our right. Was this how life was? An infinite journey with stations along the path? But then there were track endings too…and presently I dropped this train of thought and concentrated on my present, extremely pleasant condition.
She would turn seventeen in a few days. She went on telling me about all her plans and wishes and hopes in her ever so beautiful voice while I lay with my head in her lap, looking up at her lips moving apart, pressing together and going apart again.
“Listening?” she waved a palm on my face.
Vindu had not dropped this habit amidst all the changes over the years. Maybe this was half the reason why I loved her so. She somehow knew all my likes and dislikes and made it a point there should be nothing on her which was on my list of dislikes.
Her eyes widening, she waved again, leaning closer this time.
My eyes focused onto hers, I smiled. “No. You’re beautiful!”
She rolled her eyes. Her lips thinned and speaking slowly she said, “I said I’ve to go.”
It’s like a hammer on the head for the guy when he hears his girlfriend say that. Oh yes, Vindu was my girlfriend. No, not till recently, but from the day we came to know that a boy and a girl staying together all the time, sharing every bit of their lives, not kin by birth and finding it hard to fall asleep without seeing each other at least once during the day were supposed to be a ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ (yes, we too had television-cum-mobile phones) from the movies. We felt scandalized at first. Then we realized why of late our parents had problem with us being together. And finally we realized there was no point denying it. A few more (romantic) movies later, we were flying.
“So soon? I’m sorry!” I cried.
“Not now idiot!” Was she holding back tears? “I’ve to leave this village.”
So many questions. The flood of questions left my mind numb for a while.
“Dad’s got transferred,” she completed and looked away.
“When?” was the only word I could properly push out my quivering lips.
“2-3 weeks at max.”
She was going.
I sat facing west beside that infinite to infinite track. Far away on my right was the canal and beyond it my village. And farther still was her village, barely visible as the darkness crept up the horizon.
I had not met her today. She was busy packing her things at our meeting time. Now she would be at the station, probably would have boarded her train by now and would be racing towards me. This was the track which would carry her away. And as far as I knew, this track had no ending.
She would be free. She could be the athlete she always dreamt of. We had often dreamt of a day when she would be racing against all those big names and we knew that this was not possible in this hell-hole of a village.
“The time has come for the angel to fly,” I said to the Vindu in my heart. “They say where there is a will, there is a way.” Pointing towards the east I continued, “This is yours, dear. Fly to your glory and when you look down, you will always find me here,” I kept a hand at my heart. “Right here with you.”
I paused. There was so much left unsaid. If only she had met me today, I would have given her a lecture like those in the movies.
I stood up. The silhouette of a train was visible against the red sky at the far west. Slowly it grew bigger and with it the drumming in my heart realizing this was her train. I moved away from the track as it drew nearer.
The blue engine with the driver and the coaches trailing it went past me swiftly. The earth shook and the world was filled with the clinking and striking of metal over metal. With gusts of wind it was gone.
I stood facing the east in which it sped away. There was an acute pain in the throat. It was dark, did she see me?
1 year later…
Vindu’s eighteenth birthday! I still did not get much excited by the thoughts of birthdays but the larger excitement was due to the fact that she was coming home for a week!
This time the train had come from the east and sped towards the west. I raced an imaginary Vindu from the tracks to the canal, leapt right across it (the excitement!) and kept running till I reached that hole in the wall of her house. For a year it had only been a passage for the wind.
I waited, hidden. When she would come, I would call her from this hole and like the old days, she would know where to find me. In an hour she would reach here from the station. I had waited a year, an hour was a small deal.
She came. From my hiding I could see her – a well dressed beautiful lady. Transformed, totally. From a malnourished looking village girl she had become something like you see in the movies (we watch a lot of movies in the village). She entered the house and I could peep through the hole and see her sitting nearby.
I almost called her out but stopped. Her relatives, old friends and miscellaneous acquaintances, she would be facing them all right now. There was no way she would be allowed to come out right now and further, moving in this village with jeans and top was impossible for a girl ‘of age’.
Okay, so, I would call her tomorrow. If we’re to meet after so long, it should be proper and then, patience bears sweet fruits (yes I winked to myself at this point)!
Rohit is a lucky guy. I heard you from this tiny hole yesterday. No, I was not snooping on you but was here to call on you just like the last 4 days. I guess you had forgotten about that hole, my mistake, city people have phones for communications it seems. A villager’s sorry.
I came to know you broke all records at the state level. Congratulations! We always knew you’re the best!
You jumped 3 meters! Wow! Do you remember that canal? You would never be able to cross it! I knew you would be perfect sans the water. Hydrophobia could do nothing to stop you! And since I was right about that, you can take my word I’m right about this too that you’ll never be able to defeat me at the race!
Oh! You did on the last time we raced! Sorry, I couldn’t bear not being able to see you run for one last time so I ran behind you all through that day. You were beautiful, and trust me, you’re even more now, if it was somehow possible!
Angel, fly. Fly to your glory and when you look down, you may not be able to see me but I will be right here, waving to the brightest star of my life.
Anyway, I am going. And you know where to find me!
Vindu stared at the little hole where she had found this letter stuck through. Suddenly she crumpled it into her fist and ran.
I won that last race to the railway track. It has basically two benefits – one, it can take people far away and two, it can take people really far away. I never thought she would let me go away.