He ran. His muscles flexed, throat ached, but he wouldn’t stop. The woodpecker chirped a shrill call, snakes hissed, giraffes bleated from somewhere around and the woods held their own enigmatic silence which buzzed in his ears, but it didn’t do anything to calm him. Silence, so terrifying, yet nimble, painted a vivid picture of reality. The dense growth of the bountiful flora; the sounds of the many kinds of fauna; the solitude; by far the mystical woods, unresponsive yet sophisticated, were the only place where he felt belonged, like he was one of them, one of the mysteries that people never understood, not well enough. The more he ran towards the heart of the woods, the more he perceived what he yearned for. Crumbs of mud, tacky, wet and stubborn, held onto the sole of his shoes. He wondered why nobody did that, why nobody held onto him and taught him what was right. Why nobody had enough belief that like everyone around, there was humanity buried somewhere deep down within him, a little distant from the grasp of his conscience. But it was there, always there. His legs gave away before his ardour did and he fell down with a thud.
The wet mud splotched all over his face and clothes, it reminded him of something similar but of a red tint. Aghast and tired he pulled out a sheet of paper, a little crumbled, but that was the only sheet that he had as of now. He rested his head against the tough bark of the tree and wrote as he panted:
Mother and Father,
On this occasion I write to both of you because I always knew that no matter what I would have you both standing there to help me. I am ashamed at the kind of the person that I almost became. It all started with my classmates calling me a ‘rag’, a charity case, a disgrace to the society. That was how the thirteen year old me realised that I was poor. I realised that being smart wasn’t enough. I wanted friends, friends who I could laugh with, hang out with, make memories with. All the teasing and vexing led me to the wrong place. I started stealing, not because I wanted to be rich, but because I wanted the teasing to stop. The first time I stole from an old woman. I remember the rush of adrenaline, the nervousness. What I remember vividly is this heavy feeling, sadness that I felt, that has now grown into something huge, which has now engulfed me. I was never caught, I got away even if they caught me because all they saw in me was a child and the people I stole from were too good to hand a kid over to the police. I was lucky. I grew and so did my urge to steal. It went on for years, I was a thief. I made acquaintances with the wrong kind of people. Stealing small amounts of money changed to stealing huge amounts. With everything that I stole I lost a little bit of self-respect. I couldn’t look at myself anymore.
It wasn’t until the disturbing incident did I realise my true self. I had just turned seventeen, it was my birthday and I was hanging out with my friends, the wrong kind of people. We were all drunk. We were talking about how the world had pushed us down because we were poor. It didn’t matter if we were smart, good or not, the bottom line was that we were all poor. That was when we saw a kid, he wasn’t more than ten years old. He was laughing at a joke that his father had made and his mother looked at him like he was the apple of her eyes. They were a perfect family. It wasn’t until the father looked at us and said to the mother, “Such a disgrace. Look at them, poor and drunk”. That man had no idea what whispering was. Those words, mother, sent rage flowing through us and we charged.
We ran at the family. I ran. I ran to destroy a beautiful reality. I ran to destroy a family. We held the man by his collar and punched him. The thing is, we weren’t only hitting him, we were venting out all the anger caused to us by the world on this man. The woman was terrified and the kid just looked at us with eyes as wide as saucers. The leader of our gang pulled out a trigger, a gun. The woman was now sobbing. The kid half knew what was going on. I was losing it, losing my consciousness. I rested my body against the cold surface of a car and watched. I was angry but not angry enough to be a beast. As I sat down on the pavement, with my back against the cold surface of the car, everything was blur. The kid, not more than ten years old came to me, he sat next to me. ‘Please save them’, he sobbed. Blackness was slowly engulfing me. ‘They won’t kill you’, I muttered.
‘Save them, they are my parents. I love them. I don’t want to be an orphan. Please do something’, the boy broke into tears. His whole body trembled but I only felt the way he said ‘orphan’. The disgust, the panic. I glared at the boy, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! I am one of them, one of the murderers.” The boy wiped his tears and spoke a bunch of sophisticated words, “But you are one of us too. You are human. My father always told me that a person, no matter how angry, cold; no matter how beast-like will never be a complete beast, he will still have emotions, pity. He will still be human. You are human. Please, don’t kill my parents. I love them. Please stop your friends. I don’t want to lose them, please.”
Father, did you not tell me something as similar as the boy? That we cannot be a beast, humanity is always within us and with us, deep and hidden, but it’s always there. I cried. That was all, I was yearning for a father, for a person to look at me and tell, ‘He can be changed, he isn’t that bad, and he isn’t a beast’. I wanted somebody to have a little belief in me regardless of the circumstances and the boy, not more than ten years old saw that in me. I couldn’t let down this boy who saw a human in me, I couldn’t let down my father who taught me so much, I couldn’t disappoint them. I smiled at the boy weakly. I swear, I tried, I tried and tried to stand up. I tried to save his parents, I tried to save myself from falling apart forever, I tried saving another family from falling apart. I tried saving another boy from being led the wrong way. As I stood, everything blacked out, my body gave up on me and I fell down. I lost my consciousness, to the boy as I kept shouting, crying, yelling, “Please, help me. Please, I don’t want to be an orphan.” I felt the way he said ‘orphan’. The disgust, the panic.
The next day when I woke up, I was confused, bewildered. I looked around and saw three people lying dead around me. The man, the woman and the boy, blood soaked through their bodies. They weren’t happy anymore. They were dead, their dreams, memories, secrets were dead. I touched my face, rubbed my forehead out of frustration and when I looked at my fingers I found blood all over them. In my right hand was a gun covered with blood. They had set me up, my friends, the wrong kind of people. I did not run, I did not move. I cried, shouted and cried. I couldn’t take the pain, I lost it, mother, I lost my humanity. I hadn’t stopped shouting and wailing until I heard the police sirens. I snatched the woman’s purse and a pen from the man’s bag. I kissed the boy on his cheeks and ran with the gun in my pockets. I ran into the woods, I ran here and they couldn’t follow me, they couldn’t drive the jeep into the woods. They are waiting out there, I know, they are on a search for me. I will go back, I promise.
I first wanted to apologise to you both. I am sorry mother and father. I am sorry for letting you both down, I am sorry for disappointing you both. I was a thief, a beast but the boy reminded me that I am a human, a son. I am so sorry, I am so sorry.
Tears ran down his cheeks as he wrote. He clutched the letter and cried, whimpered. He took one last look at the letter and he ran to the place, he couldn’t forget that place, that spot. He saw the two trees standing strong, he looked at the names he had carved on the bark of the trees; he had carved his parent’s names. He fell down on his knees and dug the muddy ground just below the trees a little, when he thought that it was enough, he placed the letter in the pit that he had made and buried it. He closed his eyes and hoped that it would reach his parents somehow. He had lost them when he was not more than ten years old. He remembered burying his dead parents at this point in the woods on a torturous night along with his uncle who had disappeared after that. He remember crying, whimpering. He felt the same pain. He remember planting little saplings at the spot, he remembered visiting that place every day. “I am sorry”, he whispered one last time. He dug the gun out of his pocket and held it at the tip of his forehead. He smiled and pulled the trigger. As the bullet hit him, he remembered what the kid had told, ‘But you are one of us. You are human. A person, no matter, how angry or cold; however beast-like you are, you will always be a human. He can never be a complete beast. You are human’. The boy, not more than ten years old had told him something like that. He took his last breath and then he died. He lay there peacefully at the same place where his parents once lay dead. Maybe they were somehow reunited. The leaves trembled, the wind picked its paced and the woodpecker cackled a shrill call, snakes hissed. The policemen had heard the gunshot and were now following their instincts to reach the place. Another mystery was buried at the heart of the mystifying woods. The mystery of a boy who was called a beast.
~ Shreelakshmi U | Edited by Afreen Zeb
Image source: pixabay.com