Samit was ecstatic. Whistling softly, a spring in his step, he strolled down the dark, and somewhat dingy, street. All he could think of was how beautiful the night was. The stars were out in plenty, and clouds were anyway an impossibility: it was peak summer, and the twilight was as usual unbearably hot. Yet, Samit was ecstatic. He loved the stoic stillness of the bushes, the drab quiet of the evening, the shimmering pearls of simmering sweat forming on his arms and inner thighs. It was all perfect. He thanked the lord for the non-existent cool breeze he felt on his face. That he felt because he kept jumping up and down too much. He thanked him for keeping everyone else inside their homes, so he could revel in solitude. No one came out at that time because it was too darned hot.
But Samit was ecstatic, and he didn’t give a hoot tonight.
He made his way gaily down the apparently deserted street.
Love was in the air!
The sick sonofabitch will pay, thought Kalan. He could feel the cold muzzle of his .22 Glock against his crotch. The plan was simple: break into Mahadev’s house, stick the gun in his mouth, spit on his face, and fire like there’s no tomorrow. His mind was an inferno, fueled by a fury Mahadev had set aflame. Not that he needed a plan anyway. Mahadev had always a pushover. No wonder he came to my house with twenty AK-47 carrying terrorists. Fuck, like I had an anti-terror squad protecting our family. Coward! And the mask, ha! He thought I wouldn’t recognize him? I’ve known those eyes for 19 years now. Kalan was sure it was Mahadev who finally pulled the trigger.
Two blocks straight ahead, then turn left, first house on the right, he kept reminding himself with every step he took.
He made his way furtively down the apparently deserted street.
Revenge was in the air.
Samit had never expected Madhu to accept. Call it his own way of protecting himself from heart-break. He knew she loved him as much as he loved her, but in heartland suburan Jharkhand it was never a good idea for a Muslim to fall in love with a Hindu, even in this day and age. He had gone over this morning, meeting as usual around the bend just beyond her colony. 10 o’clock sharp. He had a simple red-rose with him, he bent down on one knee, and sang ‘Kaho Na Pyaar Hai’, followed by ‘Mujhse Shaadi Karogi’. The singers of both songs turned in their graves before they had even died, but Madhu was enamored. Love is tone-deaf, of course. She accepted without singing, and the realm of music breathed a sigh of relief. They were both ecstatic. They quickly agreed their parents would never consent. And they didn’t give a hoot. The rose now rested on her study table, between her History and Political science textbooks, waiting to be taken out for the last time when they would flee Ranchi to start a new life, immediately after last day of Madhu’s college.
So he dreamt of the coming Friday like a child, and kept walking down the street unaware that someone else had wanted to be alone tonight, on the same street, but for a very different reason.
He was headed straight for Kalan.
Kalan was proud of his father, always had been. Mr. Kumar was a well-respected man, often the subject of long discussions in many-a-conversation around town. He was the bravest voice against the Naxaliite menace, and also the loudest.
Last week though, he went from “implying” he was against the Naxals, to “saying” so. That perhaps was too much to digest for the extremists. The local Naxal leader ordered twenty men to his house in broad daylight, each armed to the hilt. They had barged in while he was reading the news and sipping his morning tea. Kalan was right there, still holding his toast, and he could do nothing as his father slowly rose off his chair, took off his spectacles and stood erect facing the gang of murderers, resplendent in his white kurta and pyjama. Almost too quickly, one of the men stepped forward, took aim, hesitated for 3 to 4 seconds, and emptied 20 rounds into the chest of the 55-year old unarmed man. Mr Kumar said nothing as he slumped to the ground. Mercifully, he was dead before his head hit the floor.
In the fleeting moments of retreat, the shooter turned round and looked straight into the weeping eyes of Kalan. The eye-contact was momentary, but enough. Both knew who the other was, and there was no doubt. Classmates for 15 years, and college-mates for another 4, they couldn’t forget each other even though they wanted to. Mahadev left unchallenged, and left Kalan orphaned, his mother widowed, and the family in shatters. Mr Kumar died at 10 o’clock, on Wednesday morning, though no one in the family could testify to that.
Kalan had to seek retribution. His eyes were still red and wet, in sharp contrast to his pale, almost blue skin. He was looking forward to looking into Mahadev’s eyes again, and kept walking down the street unaware that someone else had wanted to be alone tonight, on the same street, but for a very different reason.
He was headed straight for Samit.
Samit was barely three houses away from Kalan now, and still hadn’t noticed him. He hadn’t noticed much at all in the past hour actually. He looked up, down, both sides, did a Michael Jackson spin, another one, looked everywhere but straight ahead.
Kalan’s eyes were glued to the ground in front of him. He saw nothing but Mahadev’s face swirling in his head, he felt nothing but the grip of his Glock in his right hand, he knew nothing but to kill the man who had no right to devastate his life, but had done so without remorse.
Five steps each, and they were just ten feet away. Headed straight for each other, one oblivious to the world, one on a homicidal mission.
Another two steps each, and the separation was just 6 feet. Kalan’s height apart.
Samit’s eyes had rested upon Kalan already, but he had not yet absorbed the fact that Kalan was walking straight into him.
Kalan just kept walking straight, unlooking, speed increasing with each stride.
Two feet apart now, and in the dead silence of the night they should have heard each other breathing. Did not happen.
There was no one to witness the collision to come.
The last step that they both took was simultaneous. Samit finally realized he was walking into Kalan in the instant after his brain had already dispatched the signal to take the next step. Kalan’s brain, on the other hand, was no longer monitoring his movements. He was all heart, and his goal required him to take that next step regardless of anything.
Samit’s right shoulder hit Kalan’s left, and in that moment, from inside Kalan’s pants the Glock’s nose was pointed directly at Samit’s left foot. Kalan’s hand was still grasped around the gun, finger on the trigger.
Samit stumbled to his left caught by surprise. Kalan hardly reacted.
“Sorry!”, said Samit with a clumsy smile.
Kalan did not look up. He never even registered Samit’s face.
So they collided, exactly halfway into their night-time excursions.
Mahadev wasn’t home that Wednesday.
He was found dead two days later in his home’s backyard. The police pegged the time of death to be between 0945 and 1015 hours. Madhu and Samit ran away from home, after Madhu’s final paper ended at 10 AM.