Arijit stood in line at the US Consulate. The sun was beating down with all its intensity. The new cotton shirt stuck to his skin. But Arijit was oblivious to the heat. He felt as light as a bird. As the sound track rose to a crescendo on his mp3 player, Poltu, as Arijit’s friends preferred to call him, tapped his shoes on the pavement ever so slightly.
It was a hot Saturday afternoon as Arijit skipped across Shakespeare Sarani. His dreams were about to be realized.
The hard cricket ball thudded into his pads. Arijit cursed under his breath. Swarnendu Sir would beat the hell out of him if he would see him cursing when he was on the cricket field or during practice. The bat swing wasn’t proper. It just didn’t feel right. The under edge thankfully crashed onto his left pad, or else it was curtains for him during the net practice. Arijit took his stance again, the next ball was short again and as he pivoted on his right leg and brought his bat down in the arc that he had shadow practiced for hours, the ball kissed the top edge of his bat and flew to where fine leg would have been.
Swarnendu sir shook his head, visibly angry with Poltu’s feeble attempt at the pull, he asked him to take of his protective head gear so that he can get the balance right. The trick worked momentarily till tragedy struck. Relatively comfortable without the helmet, Poltu struck the ball neatly in the direction of mid-on perfectly in position while playing the shot, his head completely still. But he just felt that his left shoulder should move more towards square leg. Rahul’s next ball was in the slot of the pull through mid-on, but Arijit’s swivel ensured he missed the line of the ball and the red cherry struck him above his right ear, cutting his ear and thudding into his skull.
Swarnendu sir froze as Poltu slumped to the floor, by the time he was beside Poltu’s still body, Poltu’s split ear was bleeding profusely. The ambulance arrived at the Deshbandhu cricket academy within fifteen minutes. Poltu was rushed to ESI hospital. The CAT scan showed a hairline skull fracture.
The blow to Poltu’s head caused more damage than Poltu had realized. His cricketing career was cut short at the insistence of his parents and relatives. Swarnendu sir came to visit him once during his stay at the hospital ruffled Poltu’s hair, eked out a meek smile before leaving. Poltu had never seen sir emotional but that afternoon in the ICU of ESI hospital the middle aged cricket coach had indeed shed a tear. He had lost a prospective India cap to the Bengali middle-class grind and a freak accident.
The crowd at Kolkata international airport was thin in the wee hours of the morning. Arijit flipped through the pages of a cricket magazine. He looked at the full size picture of Rahul and an article on the newest fast bowling sensation of Indian cricket. Arijit felt his stomach churn a little, he recollected those sessions where he would knock Rahul all over the park at Swarnendu sir’s cricket nets after school.
Arijit looked at his luggage fondly; his life had taken a different turn after that fateful blow five years ago. Arijit hit his books with a vengeance once he was discharged from hospital, bringing all his competitive spirit into his academic career. He managed to get into one the most reputed engineering colleges. After which he just felt that he needed to do more. God had benevolent thought Arijit. He had never imagined that master’s from an US university was an achievable dream, but there he was, waiting for his flight which would take him across seven seas to a land where cricket was an unknown game. Arijit chuckled to himself as he contemplated taking interest in baseball. He could never give up his second love, cricket, the first being Ria.
Arijit saw her for the first time when he had gone to Swarnendu sir’s home to tell him about his admission to Jadavpur University. Arijit had seen Ria when she was a kid, but she had blossomed into a very pretty young girl. She brought out Arijit’s cup of tea as he sat talking to Swarnendu sir, Swarnendu sir was talking about Rahul’s magic ball to Sachin during the Ranji semi-final at Eden Gardens. Sir was sure that that ball was Rahul’s ticket for a call up to the under nineteen team scheduled to tour Australia during the summer. Ria kept the tray on the table in front of Arijit and looked up to him. His heart skipped a beat. He had never seen someone as beautiful as her in his life. Quickly he turned his face away, conscious that sir might notice.
As he was about leave, Ria came up and rushed up to sir and whispered something into his ear. Sir laughed and asked Arijit if he could manage to get Ria some passes to the fest at Jadavpur University’s up coming fest, her favorite local band was slated to perform at the event. Arijit promised to do the same.
The next time Arijit saw her was at the fest, swaying to the music of her favorite band at the fest. She had worn an orange salwar kameez; her hair was tucked behind her ears. Arijit stood close to her in the crowd. He could her smell her perfume. His senses clogged.
Ria liked Arijit the first day she saw him and the liking soon turned to a lot more. Especially after Arijit wanted to drop her home the day she went to his college for the fest.
This was his first time on an aircraft. Arijit got on to the American Airlines flight looked at the air hostess. They did look like those pictures he had just seen in one of the magazines. Keeping his luggage inside the overhead luggage cabin, Arijit sat down. Now he could read it. Ria had given him a letter and had instructed him to read it only when he had boarded the flight. There were seven pages on that letter, Arijit smiled, it was just like her. He noticed the last two pages just had “I Love You” written on it with a note at the bottom saying – “For all those times when I thought about it and didn’t tell you”.
Arijit unwittingly said “I love you too” aloud and then realized what he had done. Conscious of his mistake he looked at his neighbor on the flight. The bearded gentleman was looking at him suspiciously. Arijit mumbled something about his girlfriend’s letter but the gentleman didn’t seem interested and turned his face away.
Arijit went back to his letter. Ria had gone on and on about how she would miss him and how she wanted him to come back during his winter breaks. She wanted him to speak to Swarnendu sir that winter. Arijit closed his eyes, Ria really did love him. “U lucky bastard”, thought Arijit as he closed his eyes.
The blood was oozing out of his left wrist. He was curled up next to the restroom door. He couldn’t believe that this was happening to him. His co-passenger along with some other equally burly men was shouting in an Arabic dialect at the passengers and the crew, hurling them to one end of the aircraft. Arijit looked all around him. The passengers and the crew were in shock. It had hardly been thirty minutes since the flight had taken off. Arijit had stumbled over one of the passengers in the mini-stampede and stumbled on one of the hijackers which had prompted him to strike at Arijit with his knife.
The passengers were being boarded of the hijacked aircraft. The television reporter managed to get her hands on one of the airline carrier’s officials. This was the biggest story in a while and the correspondent didn’t want to miss out on the chance to cash in. The correspondent started quizzing the official on the turn of events inside the flight, the attempted hijack and the crew and passengers over-powering the hijackers.
Swarnendu sir switched on his television set. The news of the hijack flashed on all the news channels. The cup of tea in his hand fell as he heard an airlines official talk about the brave young man who had attacked one of the hijackers with an iron rod that he had snatched from another hijacker. The airlines official described how the crew had told him that the young Indian gentleman had swiveled on his left leg and crunched the rod into the skull of the hijacker.
Arijit had hit the perfect pull shot, but this time a bullet had gotten the better of him.