“Hurry up son, or you’ll be late.” My mother shouted from the kitchen as I gobbled up remaining toast.
Thanks to the party previous night, I slept way past my bedtime and got up 30 minutes late. I knew I’d have to run like there’s no tomorrow to be in time for my school bus.
My bus stop was deserted as soon as I reached there. I knew that fellow bus mates were either absent, or I missed the bus.
“Arrey teri bus nikal gayi, ja ghar ja.” (Hey your bus has left, go back home.) Said a hawker. Disappointed, I started walking back. There was no way I could have reached school on time which was 18 Kms from my town. Going by a private bus would have required me to walk 3 Kms including a patch of jungle which was once the part of Corbett Park.
“Hey, are you from Army School?” A car stopped next to me and a guy with a smile on his face asked.
“I just saw your school bus down the road; I guess you’ve missed it. Hop in I’ll give you a ride to the school. I’m also going there only.” He spoke.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah come in.” He said while opening the door.
The guy looked like 26-27 years old, anyway I was busy thanking god for the help, or I would have had missed an important practical that day.
“My name is Avinash Sharma. What’s yours?” He spoke breaking the silence that has crept in since I stepped into his car.
“Getting bored, right? Sorry my music player isn’t working. Hey, by the way, I am an ex-student of your school; I studied there for 10 years.” He said as we sped right past the early-morning joggers. As early morning sun is rising higher, making the mercury rise as well. I rolled down the window letting the air embrace my face and ruffle my hair.
“So why are you going to school today?” I asked.
“It’s a long story.” He replied.
“You can tell me if you want, we have 30 minutes until we reach school.”
10 years ago in 1994, I was in 11th standard. I used to be the most disciplined guy in the class, never talked much or bunked classes. It was only because I was scared, I have a strict dad and was always afraid that if anyone from school complained to him, then he’d beat the hell out of me. Everyone in the class made fun of me, including girls. They all said I didn’t have any guts, but I guess anyone with a dad as strict as mine would be like that only.
It was somewhere around Children’s Day that year when we planned to bunk the school, we had a group of eight students. We decided that we would leave by the train which usually arrived during the recess, since the station was just next to the school. We all had planned, and even though everyone was sceptical about my presence, I assured them that I wouldn’t chicken out.
Our seniors also did the same, and they called it the graduating ceremony. It meant we’re finally independent and do whatever our heart says. It was a special moment, since the school used to be pretty strict that time and had two army men at the school gate. Few had the guts to graduate.
“Hey Avi, we’re meeting near the water cooler at 12:30 PM sharp.” One of my classmates whispered. It was the D-Day, and we were busy drawing a map with all the instructions on a paper.
“Hey Avi, you are sure that you’re going to do it?” One of them asked. And even though I was a little nervous, I nodded. I guess we were all nervous.
At 12:15 PM, our recess bell rang. We all had synced our watches, and made sure that we were away from teacher’s eyes. We had already informed our classmates about this, as they made sure to take care of everything in our absence.
At 12:30 PM, we all were near the water cooler. We knew only 5 minutes were left before the train arrived, and the train had only 3 minutes stoppages at the station. There were at max 10 minutes in our hands. After spending last 15 minutes hiding our bags near the fence from where we had to get out, we finally kicked off our plan.
Our classmates had decided to cheer us up as well as update us about the situation from our class window. A major part of the school as well as railway station was available from our class’ window.
“Avi, that’s the point.” One of the fellow graduate-rs said while pointing towards a big gap in the barbed wire that covered the school boundary.
“Avi, there’s still time. Are you sure that you want to come with us?”
“Yes.” I replied determined to prove my worth in front of class students. I looked towards my left side; the train was slowing down as it slowly arrived at the railway station.
We proceeded towards the barbed wire; the coast was clear and one of us went through the hole. That guy collected our bags as I communicated with classmates who were at the window through hand signals. And then suddenly they signaled that guards had spotted us.
“Guards are coming.” I panicked. The train had almost come to a halt.
“Don’t worry; they won’t be able to catch or recognize us. Just run Avi, none of the classmates will tell them who ran away.” One of them said as the other seven guys crawled through the hole.
I don’t know, for some reason, I just remained frozen to my ground until those guards came and caught me. I looked towards the station; other seven guys were standing at the train’s compartment’s door as the train slowly left the station.
“Avinash, I think we need to call you father.” The principal said as they took me to the principal office.
I was trembling with fear. My father knowing about this was the last thing I wanted, and thus, I gave the names of all the other seven guys. In return, the principal never told about this to my father.
“And then what happened.” I asked, as we drove past the lush green fields, 10 minutes were still left for us to reach the school.
Avinash smiled and continued.
For next two months I was ridiculed and despised by everyone in the class, as expected. Because of me, those guys were suspended for a week. The news about the incident never reached until my father’s ears, but in return, I had lost all my friends and respect for my classmates. I was being branded as a coward, until January 1995.
It had been two months since the incident, and along with the students, even teachers ridiculed me at times. It was a horrible situation, and I wanted to get out of it, even I wanted to be respected by everyone but most importantly I wanted to earn my own respect. I knew how scared I was of my father, and I hated the situation. Whenever I wanted to do something that required guts, all I remembered was my father’s leather belt, except on that chilly January morning.
“Hey I’ll be leaving by train during the recess, if anyone wants he/she can join me.” I announced in the class, and the response was laughter as well as few abuses. They all knew I wouldn’t be able to do it again and thus no one wanted to tag along with me.
However, I was determined and during the recess I was near the barbed-wire along with my bag.
“Avi” Someone tapped on my shoulder. Two of my classmates who always ridiculed me were standing there with their own bags; they came to accompany me. I looked towards the class window, and everyone was there, cheering me up. Suddenly, we saw the guards came running towards us.
“Did you chicken out again?” I asked Avinash.
“No this time I didn’t.” He laughed and took the last turn towards the school.
“I still remember; I crossed the barbed wire but not before guards recognized me. They ran after us, but luckily, the train was too fast for them to catch once they arrived at the station. I was standing at the train compartment’s door as my classmates hugged me. There was a smile on my face as I saw some of my classmates clapping through the class window, they were obviously celebrating. I was overjoyed; I had finally graduated and gained everyone’s respect. The air of freedom blew away all my fears as well. That day after getting down at our town railway station, we did one more thing. I saw my first adult movie with my classmates in the theater; we were free. And I wanted to take full advantage of the situation, before my dad came to know about this.” Avinash continued as I gazed at him with open mouth. I was sitting next to a legend.
I remembered hearing about someone in the school who ran away to watch an adult movie, never knew he was the one driving the car.
“And what happened afterwards?”
“Nothing, I was suspended for two weeks and sported the scars from my father’s leather belt for the next two months. However, it was all worth it. Everyone respected me once I came back; they all behaved as if I was their best friend. Teachers still ridiculed me, but this time no one dared to call me a coward.” Avinash answered. His was face was full of joy as if he was narrating something that happened a day before.
“So, that was my story.” He said as we arrived at the front gate of the school.
We got off the car; I saw that I just reached before assembly and ran towards the assembly ground after thanking him. However, as soon as the assembly got over, I remembered that there’s something I had forgotten.
“Hey it’s you again.” Avinash exclaimed as I greeted him outside the principal’s office after the assembly.
“I guess we have forgotten something.” I spoke.
“And what is it?”
“You didn’t tell me the reason why you’re here.”
“Well, principal called me up last night. She wanted to talk to me about my younger brother.” Avinash revealed and continued with a smile on his face.
“He graduated yesterday.”