Thanks to Dilip for the idea of this story.
bhOndOO was walking back towards his room, angry. I did not take bath the day before yesterday, because I had taken bath the day before that. I did not take bath yesterday because I had to rush to meet Shami. It was so important for me to take bath today, but there is no water! Even if I apply the deodorant, my body will stink. New Hostel Block is the worst place in IISc.
bhOndOO had managed to get one mug of water from the tap, which he thought of carrying to the room for emergency purpose. The mug was kept inside the bucket he was holding. How will I take bath with one mug of water!
While he was muttering to himself, walking down the corridor, he saw a foreign student standing outside a room. He was wearing shorts and sleeveless T-shirt. bhOndOO noticed that the foreigner looked frightened.
bhOndOO started walking towards him, cautiously, as his mind stepped over several thoughts.
- Perhaps, the foreigner is stealing something from the room?
- He has seen a snake in the room.
- He has seen a dead body in the room.
- He has killed someone!
bhOndOO forgot about his bath and reached where the foreigner was standing. Absence of anyone else in the corridor made the scene more frightening. The foreigner’s back was facing bhOndOO and he did not notice that bhOndOO was bent over to see inside the room from the foreigner’s back.
The foreigner shouted to see someone so close without notice and bhOndOO shouted to listen to his shout without notice.
“Man! You freaked me out.”, the foreigner said.
“I freaked you out? You freaked me out. Why did you shout so loudly? And why do you look so frightened?”.
“… No, no… I didn’t do anything.”.
bhOndOO was trying to get his increased pulse rate to normal, but the last sentence by the foreigner made him lose a pulse. He looked suspiciously into the eyes of the foreigner. And what he saw was terror.
bhOndOO tried to decipher the terror. His mind went back to the thoughts of stealing, snake, dead body and killing, and as he gauged the terror in the foreigner’s eyes, he dismissed the first two options: Either there is a dead body inside or he has killed someone.
bhOndOO tried to peep in the room. The foreigner tried to prevent him by standing in his view of the room. bhOndOO’s suspicion furthered. With his strong hands holding his bucket, he tried to push the foreigner aside. The foreigner was perhaps a regular visitor of the gym and bhOndOO could not move him. Newton being a foreigner, his Third Law of Motion came to the rescue of the foreigner, bhOndOO got a push in the opposite direction. Since bhOndOO was leaning and his one hand was holding the bucket, he could not hold his balance and fell down. The bucket fell on ground, and above that was our bhOndOO. bhOndOO’s falling legs gave a push to the foreigner’s legs and he came down upon bhOndOO.
bhOndOO moaned, not in pain, but because he had lost the last mug of water. He got furious with the heavy load that was trying to get up.
“Stupid!”, bhOndOO vent out his anger on this free falling way of introducing each other.
“Am sorry! But I didn’t do anything. It was already dead.”.
bhOndOO forgot about his pain. He stood up and looked in. He found no one on the bed. He looked at the study table and it contained nothing but books. He got surprised to see the book written by his advisor Prof Krishnamurthy. He looked on the floor and there were slippers.
bhOndOO gave a look as if the foreigner had lost his mind. He leaned closer without taking off his eyes from the other person’s and whispered, “Where is the body?”.
“There…”, the foreigner whispered and pointed at the floor.
bhOndOO, standing at the door, looked at the floor inside and found nothing much. He adjusted his spects and with his eyes still searching asked, “Where?”.
“There…”, the foreigned raised his eye-brows, “But I swear, I didn’t do anything.”.
bhOndOO stepped in a little and had a closer look. His face became stiff, he held his jaws firm, turned around, and without slapping the foreigner, “Do you mean this? This cockroach?”.
“Of course. But God promise, I didn’t do it.”.
bhOndOO kept looking at him. The foreigner had falsified bhOndOO’s thoughts of experiencing a drama, and spilled his only mug of water. bhOndOO had all the reasons to get angry with him. But bhOndOO did not want to leave him just by abusing in local language (beating was out of questions because of their strength differences). bhOndOO thought of doing something else.
“Then who did it?”, bhOndOO managed to frown.
“I don’t know. I saw it dying though. I had gone to take bath. When I returned, I saw the cockroach sipping from my open Pepsi can! Just within seconds, it started running around. Finally it fell on the ground and died.”.
bhOndOO tried whole-heartedly with his expressions to make the foreigner believe that he was responsible for the death of an innocent creature. The cockroach lay there on its back with its legs in air. bhOndOO then thought of using his slippers to throw away the dead body out of the room. His thoughts were interrupted by the foreigner, who suddenly looked more thoughtful than worried.
“I think we should bury him.”.
“What?”, bhOndOO gasped.
“I think we should bury him.”.
Are you mad? In India, nobody buries cockroaches, bhOndOO thought. But he wanted to make the foreigner believe that it was a serious business. He rushed to his room and returned with a matchbox. bhOndOO showed an expression of successful strategy, but the foreigner raised his eyebrows and looked terrified.
“Don’t do it.”, the foreigner sighed.
“Why? You only said…”, bhOndOO’s expression reversed.
“No, no. Don’t burn the cockroach. It is… it is not a Hindu… It is… it is a… Christian!”.
“What the hell! Did it travel with you from US? How do you know it has a religion?”.
“Before dying, the cockroach moved its hands in zig-zag motion.”.
“So what?”, bhOndOO was not sure where this was going.
“The zig-zag motion of hands looked exactly like a cross!”.
And the foreigner moved his right arm to touch his forehead, then his chest, then right shoulder, and then his left shoulder to show the cross.
“You mean… the cockroach did this?”.
“And… you think it is a Christian?”.
“You got it.”.
“And you want to bury it?”.
“So, I have brought this empty matchbox as a coffin.”, bhOndOO clarified showing that the matchbox did not contain any ignition sticks.
“Aaah!”, and the foreigner looked impressed for the first time.
bhOndOO smiled and got back to work. He half-opened the matchbox, held it in left hand, picked up his advisor’s book with the right hand, leaned closer to the dead body and pushed the cockroach into the matchbox using the book, and closed it.
As he looked up in triumph, he saw the foreigner in a non-appreciative expression looking at the book. bhOndOO wanted to explain to him the emergency situation for making such use of the book, but his attention got diverted by two bigger living bodies in the room: BenJi and Gullu. Seeing bhOndOO with the foreigner, they both had entered.
“What’s up bhOndOO?”.
“We have a casualty. His Christian friend is dead and we are arranging for its cremation.”, bhOndOO pointed at the foreigner and the coffin successively, without exposing his laughter.
BenJi and Gullu looked at each other, then at the foreigner, then at bhOndOO who winked, then at the matchbox, then again at one another and their eyes spoke to each other: Don’t laugh.
They waited for two seconds and then BenJi suddenly got into action, “I will sing the funeral song.”.
Gullu got excited, “I will dig the ground.”.
Gullu came back in minutes after creating the smallest cremation site in the world, at the open ground just outside the foreigner’s room beyond the corridor. “All ready!”, he declared enthusiastically.
I dumped you again
I don’t understand
It’s happened before
Can’t take it no more
Their morcha marched from the foreigner’s room to the 3-feet away crematorium. BenJi continued:
I died in my dreams
What’s that supposed to mean?
Got lost in the fire
I died in my dreams
Reaching out for your hand
My fatal desire
When they reached the cremation site, the foreigner started sobbing. bhOndOO held him at his shoulder and comforted him. He then looked up at BenJi and Gullu, and winked.
bhOndOO leaned closer to the ground and was about to put the coffin into the digged soil, when the foreigner burst out.
“I will never drink Pepsi…”.
The other three shared a look.
“I am sorry. I should not have kept my Pepsi open. Jesus! Forgive me.”, and he started crying heavily.
This time, the three of them comforted him, suppressing their laughs.
The foreigner wiped off his tears and nose with his arms and requested, “I want to see its face once.”.
bhOndOO, BenJi and Gullu again looked at each other, each one of them thinking about writing the experience into the next issue of Voices.
“No problem.”, bhOndOO showed his understanding.
He opened the matchbox. The cockroach jumped and ran away.