The Shepard

As restricted to night phone calls after 8 pm for various reasons, I was a little weary when my mobile rang that night. Well! On the other end, it was none other than my eldest sister from my homestead.

” Oh, are you asleep?” my sister asked. 

“Ah.” I couldn’t resist showing my indifference to disrupting my sleep. “Why this late-night call? Anything urgent?” I inquired. 

“That shepherd boy passed away,” she told me as if telling something dreadful in a lower voice. 

Now I was in a dazed mind. The sleep that was twittering in my eyes was no more present. Instead, I was between reality and a dream phase that took me into an era of black and white where the reels unwound vigorously and stuck me in a pool of haunted memories.

Everyone agrees that we have fond memories of our cherished ones. Memories, we keep safe in the vault of our hearts. Whenever we want, we can unlock it and enjoy those catches. But now, I found another chest in our mind. A chest of unpleasant and weary memories we love to look back on safely fastened in a double barrel, but it came out like a citadel. There was space for the adorable as well as the haunting memories. Yes undoubtedly.

It was drizzling but not raining hard. I went down to the water’s edge of the small stream. I found a small rock on which one could sit dangling one’s feet in the cold water watching the little fishes swim. I spat on the water, and so many slimy fishes flashed to swallow my saliva. The sight was exciting while watching and oozing the bubbling water beneath my feet. The sun was scrambling to say bye to the earth. I felt some scary sounds nearby. I wanted to rush to my home, but my eyes were smarting the scene behind me. 

A boy and a sheep were there, the sheep was chewing continuously, and the foam started flowing from its mouth. He holds a rope in his hand with which he tied the sheep; his looks are blank, emotionless. I became aware that I was alone and scared.

“Hey, what’s this”? I asked, crying. 

Suddenly the reply came “goat” in a husky voice. Within no time, I got up and ran like some wild animals chased me. 

I just wanted to catch fish to keep them as my pet in the glass jar I hid in my bag. That was my secret plan. Unfortunately, he and his goat ruined my plans. My glass jar fell and broke while running, which I collected after much effort. I was disappointed and angry while seeing the boy at a safe distance, like a weird painting somebody brushed on the canvas of the setting sun.

The sky was dark with clouds. I had to rush home before the spell of rain. Black hair streamed across my face, and my heart started pumping, vigorously making a thud. Suddenly, it began raining in a swift hiss as water began trickling to my head and face and streaming toward my body, but I was oblivious. It was getting darker, and I had to go furthermore to reach my home, and I was all alone. Then, he and his sheep began moving toward me in the opposite direction. It was a narrow lane, and there was little space available. I closed my eyes but felt him and his sheep in my body.

That night I couldn’t sleep properly. I wished to share this with somebody, but scared, so I kept it a secret. I hid the urge to open up due to my incapacity to find a trustworthy companion my age. I need shelter under the peepul tree, the sacred tree that splitters were eagerly fanning me from the hot summer inside me in my dream. I wished the holy tree would ward off the evil eye of the tricky boy, the abode of the evil spirit, I thought.

I spotted the boy here and there driving his goat on my way like they were devoted companions. Sometimes he followed me behind to some distance; whenever I saw him. So I started running and hurt myself by tumbling upon the stones, drenched and soiled my clothes by the puddle of water in the paddy field on my way home.

As days went by, even though I was shoddy at Mathematics, I was not interested in further following the tuition classes. However, my paternal aunt was the one who recommended my father and convinced him to enlist in the tuition, as I had to attend and return only after twilight. So one day, I approached her, who was living nearby. She made ornamental ‘rentas’ using coloured thread with steel knitting needles conformed to women’s undergarments. She was a master craftsman who lost her husband at a young age. When I noticed she was in a good mood, I tiptoed and sat beside her. I watched her skilled hands knitting beautiful ‘rentas,’ which I wished to master myself but was refused by her because I should give more importance to study.

“Aunty, I think I should stop attending tuition classes,” I said in a low voice. 

“Ahha… Why?” She was curious to know the reason as I was the one who insisted on going. I narrated my woes to my aunt. She heard me and grumbled and agreed to come and confront the boy. 

She asked me what he looked like, and I said: “had two horns, a tail, the colour… white with dark spots”. Upon hearing my narration, my aunt’s jaw dropped, and with a suspicious look, she asked, “is it an animal?” 

“Yes,” I affirmed, “he and his goat.” 

“Aha…now tell me something about the boy, his name, house,” my aunt asked.

I told her I did not know anything. Yes, I revealed my ignorance. Who wanted to know the details of a dirtbag, and how would I have enquired about something I was ashamed of to somebody? As days passed, it was a holiday and a festivity day too. I was attending the marriage ceremony of a close relative. Although there was usually a small crowd, I spotted the boy to my dismay. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Embarrassed, I ran toward my aunt. She was chatting with her relatives. Restless and panting heavily, I held her hands and showed the boy. “Aunty, that is the devil.” “Ghe”  she made an unusual sound while hurrying towards him. I was waiting for something to happen, at least some cuss words to the gawking stupid while watching anxiously in the distance.

The sight was heartbreaking. Now my aunt was laughing and talking to the older man with the boy. I saw her hugging him and patting his head lovingly. Oh, that was unbelievable and unbearable, a cold chill started spreading over my body, and I could not stand upright. Tears started flowing, a state where everything was silent or simply absent, a position ready to be missing in the crowd, more than a raindrop in the drizzling wind.

Now a funeral pyre was lifting like fires everywhere, half hidden by the smoke, but I couldn’t draw a picture-perfect of my one-time nameless enemy. A farewell necessarily brought up tears and those memories popped even if the contact was once irritating and shameful. So I am here watching the fire engulfing thousands of adolescent whims and fancies perishing in the flame. Like the mellow rays of the departing sun, it falls tenderly yet sadly on the heart. I couldn’t validate my thoughts like a true friend doing lots of self-care, an enemy who brought trauma and pain, and now the news of his demise would also feel upsetting and a cause of heartache, which felt like making a vacuum in the mind that I didn’t want to fill.

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