“No, you can’t see my answers. Write your own. Or I’ll tell teacher,” I instructed Kamlesh.
“Hey, please! Show me. I don’t know any answer. Or teacher will punish me,” he replied.
We were in 4th standard. Kamlesh was my bench-mate. We were not good friends. But, we have to sit on the same bench as per seating arrangements made by teacher. He was an average student, thin, scraggly hair, fair, and had scrawl handwriting. He used to speak in Jalgaon Marathi accent, which was so irritating to me. Honestly, I never liked him. He was untidy and used to mutter something to himself often. I never wanted bench-mate like him.
I didn’t show him answers and teacher did not come to our bench. So, he got away this time again. And, I hated the fact that he used to get away every time. The day finished as usual. I used to always hope for a miracle at the end of the day. I always wished that teacher’s mind would have changed because of some miracle or anything. Something should happen on the next day and I get another bench-mate. I could not tolerate him for another day.
* * * *
Next day, my neighbor aunt rushed to our home with a newspaper in hand. She looked horrified. My mother asked her what happened and why was she rushing.
She said pointing to news, “A boy from Camp Education School died yesterday evening in bus accident.”
That was my school.
She continued, “He was in 4th standard. He jerked his hand from mother’s hand, ran across the street, and collided to bus. He died on the spot.”
My mother was shocked and took newspaper from her. She informed that the name of boy was Kamlesh Chaudhary. She asked me whether he was from my class as we had two divisions for each standard.
“Yes, he is my bench-mate,” I replied immediately without knowing the sobriety of news.
“He died yesterday in bus accident,” she informed again.
I had no reaction. I didn’t believe it. Tearful and misty-eyed face of neighbor aunt was telling me that it was a serious news. But, the news was difficult to digest. It was hard to understand the meaning of ‘died’ at that age. I could not believe that he was gone. Dying meant that he was not coming back to class again. My mother was reading the entire news and aunt was silent. I didn’t know how to react. I could not imagine he was not coming to class on that day.
* * * *
The news shattered everyone in school. The tribute was paid in general assembly session. Teachers were grieving. Classmates was looking at me or at my bench in my class. Some of them were advising me to not to keep my hand on his place. There might be his ghost, they warned me. Teachers used to come in class and ask me how I was feeling. I replied ‘bad’ to everyone. I was wondering why every teacher was asking me. He was not my good friend. I replied same to everyone, because I had a belief that people feel bad when someone dies. I was not feeling anything at that moment. I did not know the seriousness of situation.
* * * *
When I think about this incident now, I feel ashamed of myself. I felt nothing. How can I be so cold? The life is too small to hate someone. Everything changes in a blink of an eye. I cannot imaging how his parents felt at that time? Was his mother able to recover from this tragedy? She wouldn’t have slept for countless nights. When her mind rests from daily activities, those miserable moments would have been flashing in her mind. She might still be having imaginary conversations with her son about which dish he would like to have for dinner? She would have been turning pages of his notebook and caressing words on those pages. Screaming out her lungs to remind him of finishing his homework. I never know, she would have been packing his school bag for next few days. His father would have been missing the face that blossoms when he enters home after having a long day at work. He would never have a moment when he sees his sandals fitting perfectly into his son’s feet and realize his son has been grown up. No one could imagine what his parents were going through at that point of time.
Today, I don’t know how they are. Are they able to recover? Parents would suffer and recover from any tragedy. But, no mother would want to see the god calling her son in front of her eyes. And I felt nothing at that time. How heartless, spineless, and cold I was! I feel guilty that I didn’t try to understand him, spent every minute disdaining him. I have always been judgmental. In the end, all I did was, give a robotic response of feeling bad for the loss. I never wanted a miracle to happen in this way.
The crazy fact is, I wished for a miracle, but tragedy happened.
(Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)