Chapter 1

Copyright© 2016 by Robert Plaque

Trapped in a circle; a maelstrom

Chaos and calm, life and death, swirling round

Trapped possibilities scream silence.

The sun beat down forcefully as he hobbled across the courtyard to the director's office. The entire compound seemed silent in anticipation, broken by rustling of leaves of the many potted plants in the shade of the crooked corridor. He had chosen to go diagonally across the courtyard, instead of around the corridor beneath the asbestos shade due to a churlish impulse. And now, halfway across, he was cursing impulses and woozy decisions and foolish children.

He had been waiting for this like an apprehensive girl waits for her first period since he had hit the washerwoman's kid over the head with his crutches. He was not to blame, of course, propelled as he was by his condescending smirk. He had controlled his urge those long weeks back, owing to the common wisdom that kids can be cruel unintentionally, but mainly, because he was sure this one will learn. After all, his mother, the washerwoman, had got pregnant, dropped out of school, married, and gave birth, all the while employed here. It certainly seemed probable that she was apt to teach her kid how to behave. But then the kid continued to smirk at him day after day, innocuously, sometimes unashamedly. He would come running breathlessly and ask him to pluck a fruit or to climb up a ladder to get some toy. Then, suddenly he would grin hideously and tell him how sorry he was that he forgot that he was a paraplegic or has he put it, langda, and then run away giggling. Moreover, to sprinkle salt on the wound, the little bastard would often taunt him, and openly so. The temerity of his actions always astonished him; he had to be educated about politeness, and general kindness. But one day, the mother saw this and just laughed it away. His belief shattered, he started dreaming about that smirk. That grin was etched in his mind's eye, he could in turn etch it on any surface he looked upon. The hurt continued to fester, and he stewed, morning and throughout the entire day. The days on which the kid didn't turn up, would not be a relief as one would hope, but a moment of respite to refresh the hate and remember cruel memories, riled up by hurt and obsession. Slowly, it grew into an unbearable grudge, nursed with care, as with any destructive device, to let go of all it is, all that work, in a singular explosion that would obliterate all trace of the enemy.

Then one day, the kid came along, and he could not take it anymore. He had waited, seething inwardly but portraying impeccable calm, for the kid to tell him about the football up on the cupboard in the sports room, then beg him to get it. He had waited for him to mention his crutches, and to start laughing. And then, in an explosion of hate-fueled joyful impulse, he had bought down his crutch on his head. The relation with the crutch had made it seem that it was his own limb that took the revenge, attacked frustration. The kid had crumpled ridiculously in slow motion, like a ragdoll whose strings had been cut, a stupefied expression on his face, as blood crawled down his skin, red as victory. He had felt an overwhelming rush of satisfaction; an enormously pleasant buzz. He was only marginally aware of the condemning, oppressing silence that had rushed up to envelop him. The cry of the washerwoman as she rushed to the kid and the shouts from the matrons had seemed to come from a long way off. The orderlies rushing towards him, like moths to light, the banging of the buckets as they fell, disturbed from their peaceful slumber by the washerwoman's anxious run, all were a minor disturbance. As the orderlies took him to his room, he had gone with a smile on his face. They had thrown him into his own room and locked it, for they didn't know what to do with him. As had lain there, he thought. He thought about half remembered shades of palm trees, ghosts of muddied brown people working in paddy fields and the phantom of a long forgotten glaring sun. He thought about the two orderlies. The one with the bloated face and eyes that threatened to disappear anytime, he named Pig. The lanky, bespectacled one, who looked like a virgin priest, was Lamb. He thought about the washerwoman's smile whenever she would see him and that he would never see that smile directed at him anymore. He tried to imagine her outraged, angry and weeping. Her face would be distorted by the force of her emotions as she would curse him and rant at him. He thought all of this with a curious detachment, looking down, a stranger in his own body, sailing on waves high enough to drown all. Then the orderlies had opened the door without a knock and told him he was to be escorted to the director. The notion of the Pig and Lamb leading him to slaughter seemed so funny that he had chuckled while both of them looked at him with an equal mix of pity and horror. He controlled his jarring amusement for the sake of the poor social animals and told them that he would walk by himself; they at least had respected that.

As he approached the brown battered door of the director's office, his eyes were drawn to the face of a kindly maternal woman smiling on him from a portrait above it. He was so surprised by that smile, he stumbled and would have bloodied his nose upon the doors of shit stained justice. But he was saved from disgrace by the steady hands of one of the orderlies. He looked up and saw that it was Pig. He mumbled a thanks and stepped inside the pit. His gaze first settled on the neat colours of the police superintendent, who was sitting there in his rotundness, with a pained face. His white shirt was obscenely damp with sweat-lines beneath his armpits. The washerwoman was surprisingly absent. The head matron was present with the matron who had been there during the 'incident'. The Director was steadily looking at him, with her chin on her clasped hands. The Director did cut a sophisticated figure here. It seemed she was poised for some monumental decision, with her lean face staring through expensive lens, and reserved streaks of white in her hair. The entire room was quiet except for the old ceiling fan which squeaked as it went round and round, waiting in silent anticipation for her pronouncement.

'Well?' the Director spoke, 'do you have anything to say?'

'I don't know', he said, 'you called me here, not the other way round'.

The superintendent clucked, shaking his head with an air of pity reserved for lost causes, as the orderlies shuffled their feet nervously.

The Director, shushed them and told him of his crime against 'society', 'morality', and 'humanity' as the superintendent let out noises and gestured correctly at the appropriate times, adding colour to the narrative. The superintendent had started looking at him like he was a deranged man, who could burst out in a flurry of violence any time. Clearly, he had not been briefed before. He let his thoughts float to some time back, when he had seen the superintendent and the Director in an intimate embrace through slightly ajar windows, remembering, just as the Director's narrative finished. He looked at the Director serenely, with no hint of disturbance, like the eye of a storm.

'Anything else, Director?'

That pricked her spot, 'Anything else!?! Are you mad? You have murdered a child in cold blood. Do you understand what you have done?'

He just looked at her, without speaking anything, letting her go on. A wisp of dignified white was disturbed and fluttered down to her face. As the Director finished her tirade, she had started sweating a little. But she calmed down enough to order him out of the office. Pig and Lamb seemed eager to escort him back and began dragging him. He heard the concerned note of the superintendent, and the soft sigh of the Director, as the rest faded away on weary winds. Lost as he was, he saw the kid's friend who always played with him, looking at him through the outline of the door, clenching and unclenching his little fists. Then the door closed and he was alone.

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