And for the umpteenth time, Zafar got up to enact- without the least signs of irritation or fatigue- his goal in the dying minutes of the final; the goal which gave St. Sebastian School their first ever ‘Inter-School Championship Trophy’, elevating his status to that of a celeb. within the confines of the school.
“I looked at our striker Rohit. He was marked by several defenders and I knew then, that he had no chance of receiving any pass. So, I sneaked in at the far post, waiting for destiny to provide me a chance” he explained presently, to his mates while on the return trip home.
“Then came the cross” he indicated the same with a swift upward movement of the arm, all eyes now fixated at him. “The defenders all leapt up to head it away” half- jumping now to aid the imagination of the audience, “but realized soon that the ball had been over-hit and would sail over Rohit and all of them.”
The silence that filled the school bus was surreal, more so because the return trip of any school bus is marked by chaos and pandemonium. At one point, even the bus conductor turned around to see if the kids were all still there and he found them hooked to a tall, lean boy with a mess of a hairstyle, his cloak-like-shirt hanging almost up to his knees.
“The defenders were all smiles but as they turned around, their expressions soured in despair; for I stood at the far post, eyes shining like beads, completely unmarked. The ball was floating in perfectly towards me.” Zafar was clearly enjoying the unperturbed attention of his new-found-fans, like any 17 year-old might, prolonging the act with pauses and visual descriptions. He took a step back, the shoulders hung back, the chest puffed up, eyes squinting upwards as if sharply focused at something; the torso forming a bow, of sorts- demonstrating proudly, the perfect posture he formed to receive the cross. “The ball landed here”- pointing at the center of his chest, “and I cushioned it down. Then, a powerful volley which crashed into the top left corner” duly obliging his fans by a wild swing of his leg and raising his arms. And at once, the out-of-place, frail silence ruptured and exploded into applauses, high-fives, hooting and shouts of victory.
Five minutes later, Zafar was out of the bus, having made more friends and acquaintances today than he had in the whole duration of the last 2 years in his new school. His imagination fired up by the prospects of a merry future…. A girlfriend before winter break didn’t seem so improbable now… The usually sluggish and tiresome walk from the bus stand to home, somehow became fun and fast- paced.
It was only after he had covered half the distance that sounds of shouting brought his senses back to reality. Turning a corner to the right, he immediately saw the cause of commotion. A crowd of 10-20 people was gathered in the Shastri Park. Right in the center lay a man, face down; 4- 5 people beating him in tandem – punching, slapping, kicking and whacking with a baseball- like- bat. As Zafar approached the mob, he heard a man shout ‘A thief, a rogue…. That’s what he is… caught him red-handed, the slimy vermin…. Have no mercy!!!’
The harangue somewhat placated Zafar. Because, he reasoned out, it was probably best for others to watch him bleed so that no one else ever dare steal again. ‘I must capture this incident. It shall serve as a deterrent from indulging in dirty activities for my mates too.’ Thus, he took out his phone, even as kicks and punches and the choicest of the abuses were raining on the man in the middle. Unmoved by all this, Zafar fiddled with his phone to start the recording. Possibly, it was the crowd that gave credence to what would undoubtedly, have been a frightening incident in other circumstances.
Zooming in on the man, he noticed that the red and black checked shirt (if it could still be called so; it had been mostly reduced to shreds) looked familiar. The beat-up man was showing no signs of activity; one of the attackers went up to him, grabbed him by his hairs and pulled him up.The body turned and the brutalized face appeared up close on the mobile screen.
‘It couldn’t be…. It shouldn’t be… the poor quality video is deceptive….but what if???’ His hands and feet became numb, the mobile dropped and he didn’t even realise. Memories were stirring up, churning out images, one after another, blocking his view, deceiving and confusing his sense of reality, something was struggling with him, neither allowing him to move nor to stand. ‘I must find out…. Must make sure…’.
Pushing, elbowing and squeezing through the crowd, he was at last, in the front row. The frail and limp body was shaking uncontrollably……was it fear…. or was it shame ….. or was it a stroke… he couldn’t tell. But of one thing he was sure- even through the numerous cuts and gashes, the bulging eyes, the dust-filled disheveled hair, the highly disfigured and distorted body- he recognized the man in the middle- undeniably, it was his brother. As a bloody punch hit the man, an electric shock ripped through Zafar’s body. He cried out uncontrollably, “Let him go, you sons of a …… (somehow our hearing sense failed us at that very point!!!)… He is my brother…. Innocent!!” but only a meek, incomprehensible, barely audible voice escaped his vocal chords. The commotion around him was too powerful, covering him, strangling his vision and blurring his thought process. He had to do something but what…. Another kick landed on his brother’s shin and he rolled over, howling….
Instinctively, Zafar picked up a stone lying at his feet and threw it at the nearest attacker. Now, he had their attention… there was no turning back… he ran at the attacker, hurled a punch which was easily dodged and the returning punch dug into his stomach. The wind was sucked from his body and he knelt down, gripping his stomach. The crowd was now hooting, even as some were trying to break up the bout, but to no avail. Another man slapped Zafar’s neck, which turned a shiny red… Even as his body started falling forwards, a kick at the chest rocked him back on the knees. As his face swung back, a long bat swam in vision…. His shoulders hung back, his chest sticking out with eyes pointed upwards… a bow figure again…. ‘receive the blow’… ‘cushion it’….’all shall be well’…. An echo pounding in his head… and then, WHAMM!!! The final blow….