The city never sleeps – Amitava Nag, Kolkata

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The city wakes up. The Point of View of the reader finds an over-bridge. More focus. A huddle of men – aged and young. The PoV advances and we find a young boy in a pool of blood lying on the street.

A speeding bus left its trail in the morning Sun. The boy is dead.

Kamala knows that Gopal is her weakest child. But what else can she do? After her husband left her with three children, she became harsh. Mini, her daughter works as a maid in the sky scrapper. Sibu, eldest among Mini and Gopal loved to play cricket. Every day he would get up early and go to the park to see boys of his age gleam in spotless white uniform. Last winter it was foggy, the protégé of the locality hit a six which flew out of the park. Sibu knew he could catch the ball, his heart pounded. What will the instructor say? He knew it was a difficult one to take. Sibu moved back and on the edge of the pavement.

Gopal refuses to go out in the evenings. Since childhood he was a bit shaky. He won’t climb the fence of the stadium to get in. He was afraid, he may fall down. The gang of boys taunted him – ‘Are you a man?’ They will sniff. And jeer. This makes Gopal even tenser.

I don’t like darkness, Ma’ Gopal says. Kamala knows it better for so many years.

Its almost 11 in the morning when Raghu, the tea-stall boy calls Sukhbir – ‘ Chacha, don’t you have the court hearing today?’ Sukhbir gets up, he has drudged for so many years and still the stigma won’t leave him. This means today also he might have to lose half day’s job.

On flashback we find a younger Sukhbir appearing before the district judge. We come to know that Sukhbir was a Government employee who lost his job. Sukhbir did plead with the Judge but the Judge was unrelenting.

He drives a scrap collecting van since then. He doesn’t like this job. There is a nexus between the illegal constructors and the security companies of these huge apartment complexes. He takes his van late at night to the sites when a group of teenaged ruffians put scrap – iron and steel on his van. Sukhbir then drives to a deserted factory shed and unloads the van. He doesn’t know what happens after, but he guesses that this is illegal.

But does he have a choice? His case is pending in the court and he cannot leave, the police won’t allow him to go back to his family.

Gopal loves Sibu more than himself. He knows Dada also loved him more than anyone. Gopal can close his eyes even now and see dada’s stiff body. Gopal knew Dada was a die-hard cricket fan. Someone said he did catch the ball before being hit, others don’t agree. For Gopal it’s the same – he knows Dada missed the catch!

Sukhbir is not happy with the lawyer. ‘Sir, I am paying for so many days. Please tell me, don’t I have a chance?’ The lawyer has seen these cases for many years, and he knows how to milk his clients – ‘Wait for another term. Problem is, there are no eye-witnesses for you’.

Sukhbir has been hearing this same reason over and over again. He is fed up. The lawyer gives a wry smile – ‘Go to a temple. God can save you’.

Gopal doesn’t like his colleagues. They always share lewd jokes, about the girls in the colony. Ravi is the filthiest always discussing about girls’ bosom. He passed comments about Mini once. Gopal warned him. ‘What will you do, 1cent?’ Ravi said. They used to call Gopal ‘1 cent’ – of no use. The others hurled abuses which all ended up with ascertaining that Gopal is a nut.

Sukhbir doesn’t feel like going to the temple. He has been there number of times for the last 2 years. He doesn’t wish to bribe the God again. He enters the chamber of the astrologer whom Meena, Sukhbir’s paramour recommended.

Look bhai, yours case is complicated. Saturn is not in its preferred position. You need to spend a bit to get out of this state’, the man smiles scrumptiously. Sukhbir cannot afford that expense. His future is bleak, but there is something in the tone of the astrologer that he doesn’t like. There is a threat very near, he is not sure of the astrologer, can he be believed?

Kamala got some food today from the house she works in. They had a marriage ceremony; Kamala was busy with the family for the last few days. They are kind to Kamala, stood by her in her crisis. Gopal is elated, he loves mutton biriyani, and he has seen that Ma has brought aplenty.

Outside Pintu calls him – they have to reach early tonight. Saif is ill and they are less in number. ‘You have to be a receiver today’, Pintu says. ‘Me? I have never been up there? It doesn’t stand still’, Gopal reasons. ‘You and your fake cries, do as told’, their leader intervenes. ‘It moves sir, I am afraid’ Gopal is all tears. ‘You rot and your family rots. Give Mini to us, she will earn more than your shit’ Ravi shouts and others join him at laughter.

Sukhbir is distraught. He doesn’t want to get into a tangle again. As the night progresses, this fear of unknown hits him high. He gulps few shots of country liquor. The site today is lighted. He positions the van besides the scrap yard when suddenly there is sound of a bomb. He has heard that the political cadres are eyeing for a share. Is it them? He doesn’t know. At the far gate he can see a mob running towards him. Is this the threat he is trying to shy away from? ‘Flee’ someone shouts. One of those teenaged thugs? He doesn’t know. He puts on the reverse gear and accelerates; the van suddenly jerks back in a throttle and hits the rear wall. There is a loud noise and a shout.

Gopal can’t take it any more. He can see it coming up, and slowing down. He has to climb up and collect the materials thrown by others who are below. He has never ever done this but he has to prove these thugs wrong. Gopal holds on to the side rail above the wheel and he hears the sound of a bomb.

The city has gone to sleep. The fluorescent lamps have created an illusion. There are occasional screeching sounds from the brakes of some drunken truck drivers. The frame moves and holds a wall – juxtaposed with slogans of political parties and occasional sex therapy advertisements. Besides, a boy lies. The boy is dead.

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