by Susmita Kundu
Norbu woke up with a headache. It has been like that for the past three-four days. He looked at his watch lying on the wooden table beside the bed. His associate Yaangba would be here in half an hour. They had a long day ahead of them and Norbu wanted to make sure that everything went as per plan, no last-minute surprises.
Norbu and Yaangba had both worked hard and grown in the organization. Norbu felt happy that he was given bigger responsibilities which means that the leadership saw potential in him. He called out to Rekha and asked if he could get his morning tea. Then he started preparing for the day.
He picked up his phone. “Hello Yaangba, where are you?”
“Hello Norbu, I am just on my way to your house.”
“Yeah, listen no need to come here. I will directly meet you at the bus station. Did you check with Biresh and Pynsuk?”
“I did. Don’t’ worry boss. We have packed the apples and oranges.”
“Good. See you”.
Norbu went into the tiny kitchen and hugged Rekha from the back. Bhuti was sitting next to her on the floor and having his breakfast of doodh and muri. Rekha said, “Bhuti wants you to take him to school today and see his dance,” as she placed the cup of tea in front of Norbu.
“I can’t. I have to go to Jhorpara by noon today for work. You take him to school.”
Bhuti instantly protested. “Na na na. Baba has to take me to school today.”
Bhuti finished his breakfast, got up and came near Norbu. He hugged Norbu by the shoulder and said, “Don’t go anywhere. I will come in a minute. I want to show you something Baba”.
Norbu nodded as he started sipping his tea.
Bhuti came back and asked: “Baba, how do I look?” Norbu looked at his son. Bhuti was holding the tri-color and clad in his gamcha, he was beaming.
He continued, “Baba, did you know today is Independence Day and I am dancing in the school function. Will you come to see me?”
Norbu could not answer. His head was acting up again. He thought for a while and said, “Let me see. Like I was telling Maa, I need to go to Jhorapara for work.”
“But Baba, everyone has holiday on Independence Day. Why you don’t? Please, please, please, just this year for me.”
Norbu found himself saying, “Okay, fine, I will drop you at school and stay for one dance”. To Rekha, he said, “You bring him back”.
Yaangba, Biresh and Pynsuk met at the furniture godown and checked the goods one last time. As they set off for the bus station they messaged Norbu, “We have left with the fruit baskets.”
Norbu brought Bhuti to school and took at a seat at the auditorium. He planned to sit for just one dance and then leave for Jhorapara. He, Yaangba, Biresh and Pynsuk – all four of them – would take the 1:30 bus and get down at four different places along the route to Jhorapara.
“Arre Norbu Bhai, how are you? I have never seen you in school before. I always see Rekha picking up Bhuti”. Norbu turned back and smiled at Setrak.
“Yes, Bhuti was quite adamant that I see his dance at Independence Day function today. So I came to drop him. Won’t be able to stay for long. How have you been? Really long time.”
“Ah, yes, how time flies. Remember, how we were when we were Bhuti’s age. The other day I was talking to my mother and we were discussing about my childhood friends – who is where doing what… you know that sort of thing. She still remembers you. How has life changed?…..”
“Yes. How’s your timber business doing? I heard there were some fires in the Upper Hills.”
“Oh yes, you are right. This year has been washed out. So far have been able to go without firing laborers but not sure how long can I go like this. In fact, today I am visiting Golabari to take a stock of the situation there. Taking the 1:30 bus via Jhorapara.”
“Oh… okay….. ”, Norbu couldn’t finish his sentence.
The Independence Day function started with the Principal’s speech on the unity of the nation – “Unity in diversity” followed by Bhutis’ dance.
Norbu did not pay much attention to his son’s dance. When Bhuti ended his performance with a final “…… hamara”, Norbu quickly left the school and searched for a phone booth.
Yaangba was angry as he read out loud the headline from the following day’s newspaper:
“Metiganj police seized four bags of explosives from a Jhorapara bound bus after an anonymous tip-off ”. He continued, “I will find out this rat.”
Biresh said, “It was only our luck that we were not anywhere near the bus and were taking our final drag before boarding. Otherwise we would all have been caught.“
Pynsuk said, “Yes, thankfully Norbu was late in coming from his son’s school, otherwise we would have boarded the bus.”
Norbu said, “Yup, that damn dance performance delayed me.”
His headache was finally gone.
This story was written as part of the Short Story Writing Workshop. It has been lightly edited by Rashmi Bansal