A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
- Walter Winchell
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Bijay was frying Kachoris and Jalebis in his road side stall in Arjunpur, a small town, in the eastern part of India. December was nearing, winter was about to flow in. Diwali had just passed by. Aroma of half burnt crackers had filled the air. The first few drops of dew were slowly making their way in to the grass fields. The woolen half sweaters were still not in full display, blankets were about to be taken out, though the much beloved Mohun Bagan Uncle of Arjunpur had already started to wear his trademark monkey cap.
“Bijay, you make my Sunday’s special. What wonderful Kachoris”, exclaimed Mohun Bagan Uncle munching on a hot Kachori, when all of a sudden, an argument came to his ears. Turning back, he saw the boys playing cricket in the ground adjacent to Bijay’s stall had started fighting. Bijay, who was doubling up as a referee intervened. "Ahh Bappa! Please don't waste your time fighting. Let’s finish this match quickly. It’s getting dark" - said Bijay.
Sunday's had a fixed routine for most of the boys of Arjunpur, Lunch comprising of hot and spicy mutton curry, accompanied by a plate of smoke filled rice, followed by a game cricket in the evening. Today was no exception. There was a tense match going on between Bappa's team and Biltu's team. Bappa's team had scored one hundred and thirty eight batting first, replying to which Biltu's team was cruising towards the target when suddenly out of nowhere they lost their prime batsman Aftab and wickets started falling quickly. Ramu, came to the rescue by playing some fine strokes and the equation reduced to sixteen of one over. Spectators to this thrilling spectacle were Bijay, Mohun Bagan Uncle, Sukhen, the Ice-Cream seller and a pack of stray dogs. Sukhen as always was providing live commentary with an ice-cream cone as his mike. Daylight was decreasing and the sound of mosquitoes was increasing with every passing second. Kaltu, the trusted warrior of Bappa’s team, whose name sent shivers to many a famous batsman in Arjunpur, had the ball in his hand. He was to bowl the last over. Ramu, the batsman on strike was standing like an ancient warrior with a sword, ready to fight a battle. Sukhen, sitting in his vehicle was ready to continue his commentary.
Kaltu touches the ground, prays to god and starts to bowl the first delivery of the over.
Kaltu to Ramu: Ramu edges the ball towards Biltu at third man, sprints for a single and runs back for a second run.
Now the equation to win is fourteen of five.
Kaltu to Ramu: Ramu tries to play a big stroke but misses the ball completely and goes in the hands of the keeper Dipu.
The equation remains the same.
Ramu is taking a deep breath and so is Kaltu.
Kaltu to Ramu: Ramu swings the bat and sends the ball to the other side of the ground right into Dutta's dense, long ignored garden.
Now this was a big problem. Once a ball goes into Dutta's garden, recovering it is as easy as teaching History to a crow. With its wild bushes and tall trees, Dutta's garden had quite an eerie feeling in the evening. Many balls were lost in Dutta’s garden forever. On the other hand Rhiju was not in his best frame of mind. His mathematics teacher had scolded him for not doing his homework, his favorite eraser was missing from his pencil box and now here he was, yet to get a chance to bat in the whole match. With the ball lost in Dutta's garden and darkness increasing, his chance of getting to bat seemed bleak. Just then Bappa came and shouted towards Rhiju,
"Rhiju, why are you still sitting ideal? Go fetch the ball. Quick!"
"But Bappa, the garden is quite scary. I won't be able to find the ball there. I won't go there alone"- replied Rhiju in a feeble voice.
"What! So you are afraid? “- said Bappa and started laughing along with others.
"Okay. If you don't fetch the ball today, don't come to play with us from tomorrow" - said Bappa in a stern voice.
"But Bappa...Please" - Rhiju tried to say something but was interrupted in between by Kaltu, "What! You are arguing with Bappa? Go fetch the ball right away!"
Rhiju tried to protest but in vain. So he slowly started walking towards the shabby walls of Dutta's garden. This day was going from bad to worse for him. Whose face did he see while waking up today? Climbing the walls of Dutta's garden was one hell of a task for someone as fat as Rhiju. After three failed attempts, luck finally smiled upon him and he was able to climb the walls of Dutta's garden. But this was just the start of the book, searching the ball in Dutta's garden was a different chapter altogether.
Rhiju, fighting mosquito bites started searching for the ball among the bushes and at the same time heard the title song of a show from a neighboring house.
"Yesterday, Tomorrow, this day
Shall go away like any day!
Rain will flow like sunshine,
Moon will shine on a sunny day!" went on the song.
"OH No! That show has started. Mother had told me to return back before the show ended. I have to return back home quickly. O God, Please help me search the ball. Please God" - murmured Rhiju while continuing his search operation.
Just then I was going by Dutta's garden. Rhiju saw me and called "Uncle. O Uncle! Can you please help me find a green plastic ball? Please". Hearing the word uncle infuriated me to no ends. I turned back to throw some cheap slangs towards the boy but got surprised instead.
"Wait. This boy seems known to me. Where have I seen this boy? That mole below his nose, that pair of glasses, that bottle green half pant, that yellow checked T-Shirt, where have I seen this before?" - thinking of this I started walking towards the boy, when suddenly someone patted on my shoulder and said.
"Hey Man! Can you please avoid sleeping on my shoulder? You are spitting on my shoulder man. Yikes. Disgusting...”
I opened my eyes to see myself in a bustling, overcrowded bus in a hot and humid day. My co-passenger was frowning on me for sleeping on his shoulder. The rest of the bus though looked disinterested in his actions. Why was I in a bus? Where was I going? Everything seemed unknown to me. While cleaning the spits coming out from my mouth, I remembered that I was going to Samshergunj for some work today and I had boarded the bus for the same. I turned and apologized to my fellow co-passenger but the man didn't seem much happy. Right at that moment the conductor of the bus shouted "Arjunpur. Arjunpur. Arjunpur has come". Looking outside of the window, I was lost in a different world altogether. but a familiar voice regained my consciousness. I saw Kanu talking on his phones while getting down from the bus. "Shall I call him?” I said to myself. "Will he remember? It's been so many years! Shall I get down from the bus?" The green pond, the old temple, Glen's corridor, Bijay's food stall were all calling me. I was about to get down from the bus but something stopped me from doing so.
Slowly the bus started moving past Arjunpur. Something within me said "The great green pond has been turned into a housing complex; the school building has been turned into political party office. Bijay's tea stall is now closed, Glen's corridor is now a bar cum restaurant but if you head south of Glen's, then you will still find a dense garden covered with wild bushes and tall trees, where a boy is still searching a lost ball”. The bus started moving at a high speed, crossing various fields, streets and human beings. I closed my eyes and found myself in Dutta's garden searching the ball. After searching back and forth, I finally found it hiding among a bush. The green ball had turned pale. Where was that boy who was searching for the ball? He was nowhere to be seen. “Where did he go?” It was getting dark. I took out my mobile phone for checking the time. As soon the display screen of my mobile phone lit up, the image of that boy appeared on the screen.
That same boy who had to return home before the evening show ended, who had a mole below his nose, still waiting for his chance to bat.
We, just like trains, in the journey of life arrive at various stations and depart. Every station is inhabited by a pool of Memories. These memories may turn pale, hidden among the bushes of anxieties in life, but they remain forever. Rubbing the mole below my nose I said “A chance to bat might be awaiting and who doesn’t like batting in a tense match on a Sunday evening”?