Bhola, the bike-mad boy, sat on a tree-stump with his legs dangling watching bikes swooshing past on the gravel. He stood up as a jeep drove past raising a cloud of dust. It took some time for the dust to settle as it did for the fascinated lad to lower himself on to his perch.
A stone’s throw on the other side of the country road stood the barn with a padlocked enclosure gate. Bhola’s father took it as a godsend when the youngest of his sons was spotted by the sprightly little malik for cleaning his bike. When in one of his father’s expansively benign moods the hefty young malik was promised a motorbike if he made it to the school certificate, the young malik also promised Bhola a peon’s job on two hundred a month as soon as the boy turned fourteen. Bhola knew that the twenty rupees his father had been getting disappeared through the slit of the toddy seller’s box. But this never bothered him for he loved to be near the bike fondling and rubbing it if not riding it all the time.
The young malik had an eye for shapely things. He sometimes called Bhola ‘the silent sala’. After dusk, after the grass-cutter lasses and peasants returned home, the brawny young malik would sometimes ride in with a girl poised on the long rod between the saddle and the handlebar of the bicycle frame. The boy enjoyed his errands to a shop or an eatery on the bike before he was let off home with a pat on his back, a small coin or a rupee note thrust into his hands.
Bhola missed his bike for a whole week: his mother didn’t allow him to go out doing everything in her power to appease the village goddess who the neighbourhood said had sent him a rash on the skin and bouts of fever. The colony in the hamlet believed in the wisdom of its elders and thought it best to let alone the evil to run out.
“What is keeping this stupid girl?” Bhola could hear his mother asking herself as if in sleep.
“You let her keep a half rupee. Sometimes the fillim is long,” replied the old man though a little groggily and turned towards the wall.
Bhola became alert. His fever seemed to have gone. Thoughts were battering at his little head. There was no time to lose. He sneaked out. Once into the moonless night, he ran towards the barn. In a frenzy he reached the gate, picked up the hidden lathi from its place of safety, waited till his breathing was a little less noisy. A shriek sent him storming into the barn kicking open the rickety door.
The stink of hooch filled the place like smoke. The wick lamp in a corner threw the shadow of a demon trying both to get up and hide his shame.
The lathi blow must have sent the form collapsing to the mud floor.
“The whore sons!” muttered Bhola and cried: “Get back home! None ever would come to our rescue!”
The dark night kept hearing helplessly the retreating whimper and the crunching feet for a long while after they had gone.