The Last Promise
By Saheli Banerji
Once upon a time in a faraway land,- no, no. I can’t begin this story like this. This is neither a fairy tale nor a tale of pirates and dragons. I don’t want the traditional laidback cliché attached to this. This is a story of two friends. Two friends whose lives revolved around each other. They were like two stars in a galaxy joined by a delicate thread of love.
Ajay and Prabhakar met in an unexpected way. One night there was a heavy downpour. Ajay, a young bespectacled lean boy of sixteen, went to the market to buy fritters. “Bhajiyas” or “bhajjis” as we call in Hindi. They are deep fried potatoes in a batter of gram flour, and are served with “ pudiney ki chatney” and tea, an ambrosiac for Indians during rains. Mmm.. My mouth is salivating simply by the thought of it. No. I can’t get distracted. So where was I? Yes. Ajay was standing under his umbrella waiting for his turn to buy “bhajjis”. Suddenly someone ran up from behind. Snatched the umbrella and started whacking a man with it. Ajay was startled. He turned around to see a boy of his age was whacking a man with his umbrella, swearing words which would make one’s ears fall off. The man was trying his best to escape, but the boy had a tight grip. Just like we dust off dirt from our clothes with a duster, the boy was literally dusting the man with the umbrella. Ajay was spell-bound.
‘Who was he? Why was he beating the shit out of the man?’, he wondered. Slowly a crowd started to form. A few burly men came up and tried to stop the boy.
‘Please leave him. He is already half dead. Just let him go..’, they tried to pull him back. Ajay’s umbrella was already in pieces. At last the man got a chance of escaping and he disappeared in the rain. The boy was still fuming in anger. He went and sat down on a bench of the fry shop. Ajay went up to him and before he could demand a compensation for breaking his umbrella, the boy spoke out,
‘ I am sorry for breaking your umbrella like that. I was angry and I didn’t realize what I was doing’
-‘ What had happened actually? Who was that man? Why were you beating him?’
-‘ He sells bidis .’
-‘ What? A tobacconist?’
Ajay couldn’t understand why the boy was beating a bidi seller all of a sudden. That’s weird!
‘ So, why were you determined to turn him into a pulp?’
-‘ He deserved that. I had ordered him some packets of Sutra Bidi, premium quality. He promised me that he would deliver them today. But from morning his shop is closed. I have been searching him throughout the day. Suddenly I saw him here buying bhajjis. I ran up , took your umbrella and bang!’
Ajay starred at him in disbelief. For a packet of bidis, who does that? What a strange boy!
‘ Its not for a packet of bidis’, the boy uttered. He seemed to read Ajay’s mind. ‘ He broke his promise. That’s what made me angry. He could have apologized. But he simply tried to flee. I hate people who break promises’.
-‘ Promises are made to be broken, my dear’
-‘ No. not for me. If we go against our own words, we are not better than animals, are we?’
His eyes were shining under the street lights. He had a character which is rarely found among people. He was brave, straightforward and honest. Ajay instantly liked him.
‘I am Ajay’.
And then it began. Their friendship. Life became an adventure for them. Seeing them together people used to idolize them as ‘ Jay and Biru of Sholay’. Prabhakar was a tall, well built boy with curly hair and a pointed nose and sharp eyes. Ajay on the other hand, was a lean meek lamb in specs.
Years passed like this. They graduated from college. Prabhakar was to shift to USA for higher studies. Ajay was to join a software company at Hyderabad. On the day of convocation, they went back to the bhajiya shop for the last time. Everything was just the way it was before. Nothing had changed, the shop, the yummy fries, the heavenly smell and the benches, except the fact that they had grown older.
‘ I would be leaving for States in a few days’, Prabhakar said, munching the fritters .
-‘I know. I am gonna miss you. But I am happy for you. Its always been your dream to do your research from US’.
-‘ Gonna miss you too. Miss this place. Miss these fries. And our college canteen’.
-‘ You are saying as if you are never gonna come back. You are going to forget me, are you?’.
-‘ That’s never gonna happen. No matter, where I be, you will always be the last man I would visit before I leave earth.
That was the last time they met. Although, they regularly kept in touch, contacted each other, but Ajay and Prabhakar couldn’t end up meeting. Even when Ajay got married, Prabhakar attended his wedding by raising a glass of champagne to the web cam. When Prabhakar met Rita, an Indian based biologist, working at his lab, he introduced her to his best buddy on video. No matter how busy they were, they always ended up calling each other and sharing their lives.
Then one day, something happened and life never became the same for two. It was raining hard. Just like the night they met. Lightening flashed the sky. A cyclone was brewing .The whole ambience looked like a monster trying to gulp down the city all at once. There was a turmoil inside Ajay’s house too. His wife had filed for divorce that morning. She was tired of staying with a man who can’t provide her children. Was it Ajay’s fault? He wasn’t sexually impotent. The doctors had recommended some therapies. But his wife has lost patience and she wanted to be free. Ajay was tired and broken. He had always been a good husband but the result of his goodness came in the form of a seven word letter. He had already finished a bottle of whiskey when Prabhakar called.
‘Hey mate! You okay?’
-‘ Yeah. Just a bit drunk. How is Rita doing? I heard the delivery date is on due’.
-‘ She is at hospital. They called. It’s a boy! Can you imagine? I m a father now. And you are uncle’.
-‘ O really! I am so happy! So where are you now?’
-‘ I am driving. I have brought some flowers for her. On my way to see my champ’.
Ajay didn’t want to spoil Prabhakar’s mood. ‘ That dude is happy. I don’t want him to worry about me now’.
-‘ Do you remember that bhajjiwala?’
-‘ Yeah. I still miss those fries,dude’.
-‘ Do you remember how we promised each other that we would meet again and have bhajji and wine?’
-‘Yeah. How can I forget? I wish you were here, blessing my child. ‘
-‘ Yeah. I wish’.
The line suddenly got disconnected. Maybe network problem. Ajay opened another bottle. He wanted to drown himself by drinking. He was so immersed in grief, so lonely. Outside wind was roaring like a tiger in a cage.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Ajay was already half asleep. Stumbling and tottering, he groped for the switches. There was no currant. Electricity had long gone home. Switching on his mobile flash, he went downstairs and opened the door.
There stood a tall man with curly hair, completely drenched in rain, grinning wildly.
‘Yey pal!’, he shouted in happiness and hugged Ajay tightly.
‘Prabhu! My buddy! You are really here?’, Ajay cried in joy. He ushered his long lost friend inside the house and gave him a towel to dry. Ajay was so drunk that he didn’t realize how would Prabhakar appear there all of a sudden. He was too much euphoric to see his friend after such a long time.
‘You know, I always keep my promise. I had to come to see you’.
‘ I was missing you Prabhu. Its been such along time’.
-‘ Ajay. Why don’t you arrange a bottle of wine and some vajjiya, just like old times sake? ‘
‘Sure. Come on’.
For Ajay it was a memorable time. In the midst of his grief, Prabhakar came as silver lining. He opened his heart before him, poured out all his pain and miseries. Prabhakar was a good listener. He consoled Ajay and urged him to move on.
‘ Ajay. You have a long journey ahead. You cant drown yourself in grief anymore. Let bygones be bygones. Promise me, you are not going to drink from now on. Promise me you will be a strong man’.
Ajay nodded. Prabhakar led him to his bedroom and tucked him in. For the first time after many years Ajay felt peace.
‘ If anything happens to me, promise me, you will take care of my son’.
‘ Yeah. Why not? But don’t worry, nothing would happen to you.’
Prabhakar smiled. Slowly Ajay fell asleep.
A loud blarring noise woke him up. The phone had been ringing for a long time. His head was reeling and his eyes were still heavy with sleep.
Some one was sobbing from the other end. He woke up in an instant.
‘Its Rita here’.
-‘ Hey Rita. Why are you crying? How is the baby?’
‘ Baby is fine. There is a bad news.’ She sobbed.
‘ What happened?’
‘ Yesterday afternoon, Prabhakar was on his way to the hospital. Suddenly a truck came from wrong side and hit the car. The car rolled over and got smashed. Prabhakar-‘
She couldn’t continue anymore. She broke down into tears.
Ajay’s blood ran cold. He looked at the table. A few pieces of bhajiyas were still there. The phone clattered on the floor and everything blacked out.