“Your son is not back from school. Why don’t you pick him up from school when you return than letting him come by school bus?” His mom started.
“And I am his mother.”
Silence! Quarrels and arguments have become so habitual to Ajay’s parents that they fix it with the only solution they had. Silence! Cold war had always been in the waking.
Ajay felt proud to be walking alone along the main road much like Ishaan of Taare Zameen Par. He knew he could do this even though he hadn’t come class first. His dad had warned him last time, “Do not enter the house without topping the class!” He opened his progress report, saw the “II Rank” against his Half-Yearly exams, scribbled by his class teacher who often criticized his hand-writing and felt justified about his decision. He was always an obedient boy and he wasn’t going to digress now. The sun was winding up its job on Ajay’s side of the world and a semi-transparent moon in the twilight sky followed him as he walked on.
The clock struck sharp seven times and the acoustics of the house amplified it in spite of the chaotic household.
“Are you sure he didn’t play cricket with you this evening?”
“No mas-ter…uhm …uncle. He left school at 3 O’clock. I called him to the canteen to share my pepsi cola but he said he was not thirsty. Ajay loves Pepsi cola, particularly orange flavor. I like pineapple; still I offered to get orange as he seemed very upset. He didn’t want it. He only wanted to leave. I really don’t know where he is, God Promise!” The child who was Ajay’s dearest friend started rattling, scared to be questioned by his teacher about his son.
“Don’t worry sir! He must have gone to another friend’s house. We’ll check out. He’ll be back.” Neighbors who got a sniff of the story came to Ajay’s residence in curiosity. To make the reason seem less obvious, they wrapped it with the excuse of providing comforting words.
“How long are you going to keep talking? I need my son. Do something. Get him back to me!” The weaker sex isn’t so weak when it comes to expressing distress. Ajay’s mom was wailing.
Ajay was beginning to get afraid when his legs started hurting. He had been walking for a long time. The night was getting eerie as the traffic settled down. He had gone to his grandparents’ house many times with his mom and dad but never in the dark and never by walk. Why hasn’t he reached his grandparents’ place yet? Tiny drops of tears rolled down his little cheek as he remembered that he hadn’t eaten anything since that morning and was very very hungry. He wanted to eat, he wanted to sleep, mummy…he wanted to go home. He was blinded momentarily by the bright light spilled by a lorry behind him and turned around. Maybe, he should ask for lift from the lorry uncle? Maybe….
“Who are you boy? Where are you going? Whats your name?” There was no need for Ajay to ask the lorry uncle for the uncle stopped the lorry and took the boy in by himself.
“I…I… I am Ajay. I am going home from school.”
“Home from school? At this hour? Which school?” The driver took a notebook out of Ajay’s bag and saw that the school from which Ajay was going home from was at least 16km away in the town. They were now in a high way.
“And where do you say your home is?”
“It’s near only. If I go straight, there will be a mango tree. Take a left from there and go straight straight and straight till Lallu’s sweet shop. Two streets from there is my house.” Ajay was carefully giving his assumed directions to his grandparents’ house.
The lorry driver raised his brows, hearing Ajay leading him to the neighboring town. This boy was surely upto something. “Now boy! Where are you going? Tell me the truth or I take you to the police. NOW!”
Increase in decibels in the driver’s tone broke all the confidence and pretence in Ajay that he started crying.
“No uncle, Don’t take me to the police. I am a good boy! My daddy…my daddy told me not to come to my house if I don’t come class first.” Ajay’s voice broke as he spoke” I studied really hard but that fat miss cut two marks for my lack of neatness in the answer sheet and I lost first rank. I don’t know where to go…so I am going to my grandpa-grandma’s house. Granny is so good. She will not scold me.”
The innocent confession coming from a tired little boy must have touched the driver’s soul for he changed his mind about abducting him and claiming a ransom. Before temptation could convince his morality, he stopped by a chai-shop and stuffed a glass of tea and bun in little Ajay’s hand. The shopkeeper took a good look at Ajay and repeated the interrogation, “Who are you boy?”
Ajay was just about to begin his woeful plight in between his breaks from munching the bun when the driver saved him the trouble by filling in the shop-keeper. As the shop-keeper and the lorry driver together ransacked Ajay’s school bag for his address and schemed ways to take the boy home to safety, Ajay had had enough of his adventure and looked longingly at the chocolate tins at the shop-keeper’s display.
“Alright! Alright! I have waited enough. I am going to the police.” Ajay’s dad was partly angry and partly anxious. He, accompanied by his brother walked towards the police station when they saw him. Ajay was hiding behind the shopkeeper and was tagging along reluctantly like a wounded puppy as he was being led towards his house.
“Sir, Is this your son?”
“Yes! Who are you? What happened?”
“And boy, is he your dad?”
“Yes uncle! Dad…dad…I didn’t come class first. You said….”
The shop-keeper stopped Ajay and narrated the episode to his dad. As a compliment, he prescribed a little kindness to him. “Poor child! Do not ask him anything, atleast today. He is scared!”
Ajay was handed over to his father’s custody once again and Ajay feared the look in his dad’s eyes. He was taken home silently, along the street that was lined up with muttering neighbors. He felt like a yuvaraj being led to his guillotine.
Ajay’s mom rushed to him. “Oh Ajay! My dear…I was so worried. Where were you?
“Shhh! Don’t ask him anything!”
Ajay was taken in and left by himself as his parents started discussing in low volume. Ajay entered his room and was waiting to drift off to slumbers. But Alas! He just remembered! His absconding plans included a day-off from school and escape from homework. Now that he was back, he would have to face his eagle-spectacled Maths teacher the next day. Like a good boy, as he thought he was still one, he opened his homework notebook and started writing the multiplication tables…two ones are two…two twos are four…two threes are six…