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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 29 page 06

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Rehan went home and crawled into bed. For hours he lay wide awake. The sound of the bang of the car hitting the boy resounded in his head. The image of the airborne boy was clawing at his heart. He remembered that the boy’s bicycle and books went flying too.

Rehan felt suffocated in the bedroom. He plodded up the staircase to the flat roof. For a long time he moped about the roof, smoking cigarette after cigarette.

He returned to his room and climbed into bed but sleep continued to elude him. “By now, I think, the bereaved parents would have shifted the corpse to their house,” he told himself.

Towards dawn he drifted off to sleep. He had hardly slept an hour when he was wakened by a funeral announcement blaring from the loudspeakers of a nearby mosque. His eyes were puffy and his skull was cracking from pain. He strained every nerve to catch the words of the announcement but could not understand anything about the identity of the deceased.

“It must be him. The announcer is announcing the death of the boy I killed last night. I am a murderer. I have sent him to an early grave. Had he and me not happened to be at the same place at the same time, he might be alive today. He would be taking his breakfast now.”

The factotum brought breakfast but in the shiny steel tray Rehan saw the huddled image of the boy lying in the pale ghostly light of the roadside culvert. He broke one morsel off a slice of toast but the rings of his esophagus seemed to be stuck, he had to spit out the half-chewed morsel.

The servant sailed in to clear away the breakfast things. “Sir your car has a big dent on the bumper.”

“Yes...no, I hit a...a brick fell on my car from a passing truck. No big deal, don’t worry about it.”

He wanted to take the day off, but then said to himself that this might make his colleagues at work suspect him of killing the boy, so he got dressed for the office after all. Before leaving he ordered his factotum to take the car to the repairman to get everything smoothed out.

He flagged down a taxi. On the way to his office the taxi passed the city’s only cemetery. Rehan saw a grave being dug, he asked the taxi driver to stop. He went to the gravedigger and questioned him about the intended occupant of the grave. “He was a school boy. He was killed by a car. I think the driver had a drop too much,” the gravedigger answered.

Rehan’s sleepless gaze lingered on the rectangular pit. He felt as if the flying boy would land in the pit and tell him angrily, “Since you have killed me now also bury me with your own hands, you heartless moron!”

He was startled from his dream as the taxi driver began honking impatiently.

As the taxi tooled towards the office, Rehan glanced at the posters and billboards on buildings along the way. He felt as if they all carried one message: “The forest officer killed a school boy.”

He stopped to buy two local newspapers from a newspaper boy. “Someone must have picked up on the news. They might have the registration number of my automobile,” he was thinking. He clawed through and scanned the papers but there was no mention of the road accident that happened the previous night.

He reached his office. On the glass-topped table he saw a leave application from Sonu the janitor. Rehan allowed the application without bothering to read it. Then his eyes spotted the word “died.” He picked up the application and read it carefully. “My son died in a road accident, I will not be able to attend work for one week...”

Rehan called his clerk to his office. “Where did the accident happen?” he wanted to know.

“In front of the Government College, sir. He was only fifteen, a talented and respectful boy. He was called Fida. He was Sonu’s only son.”

In the afternoon, Rehan went to Sonu’s house to offer condolence. He was shown into a dingy musty room where he sat on the threadbare plastic mat with the bereaved father. From the adjoining room Sonu’s wife’s sobs could be heard. She sat on a saggy soiled sofa. Her female relatives were trying to console her. Sonu’s younger daughter brought tea for the guest. To Rehan it smelt of blood but for the sake of his host he took some sips. His stomach heaved. He tried to focus away from death and blood but the scene whirled in his mind. Rehan felt as if the boy would fly into the room, perch on the chair and tell his father that his boss had killed him. Then his eyes wandered to the whitewashed wall where clothes hung on pegs. Among them was a school uniform while under it sat a pair of boots. “It must be his uniform and boots. Only yesterday he was wearing them.”

He pushed a bill of five thousand rupees in the bereaved father’s hand and said goodbye.

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