Episode 4: You know everything, na?
“In school, they can’t talk to me, na? It’s just awkward. I don’t talk much to others. So, they pinged me. But I didn’t reply.”
We were sitting in the cyber cafe that Naren used for all his internet activity. He had a monthly pass for the place that gave him one hour of access a day. Naren was telling me about how the other kids in class reacted to the incident.
The photo of him curled up on the floor in a pool of his own urine had not gathered any real interaction in the Facebook group. Except, of course, for the three boys who had actually been there to support the act. They had all liked the post and commented heavily. Asterisked words abounded in those comments.
Even in class, people were silent. They just averted their eyes when they saw Naren. Some five or six of his classmates had tried to start a conversation by sending him private messages on Facebook, but he said he hadn’t replied.
“What did they say in those messages?” I asked.
Naren showed me his messenger. The conversations typically followed this pattern:
Classmate: Hey, are you okay? He shouldn’t have done that. He is like that only. Why do you challenge him? Just ignore him. You should hang out with us during recess. He picks on you because you sit by yourself.
<End of conversation>
“Why don’t you reply to them, kiddo?”
“Because I don’t want to hang out with them, na. I don’t like the groups.”
“They are trying to help, you know?”
“I don’t want their help, na.”
“But you are letting me help you. Why not them too? I won’t be here beyond a few days. But they will be here with you.”
“You are not a group, na? I don’t mind talking to one person. And you are also not stupid.”
“Stupid? You think the kids in your class are stupid?”
“No wonder, then. You remind me of how I was back in school. I wasn’t very popular either. But I still had two-three friends. And I was lucky to have them.”
“So…you don’t have any friends at all?”
“No, no. I have two friends. But they don’t study at my school. They go to the convent school. The one we saw on our way to the lake. Remember, na?”
“Yeah, I remember. And they aren’t stupid?”
“No, na. They are both in ninth class. I am in sixth.”
“Umm…Okay. So, you think the other people in your class are not up to your intellectual level?”
“Yeah…I easily come first. By a lot of margin.”
“And that is why they are stupid?”
I hadn’t realised when exactly I had started raising my voice little by little. But I had caught myself just now. I could see a familiar fear in Naren’s eyes — a fear that would shut him up, if I didn’t change my tack soon.
“We have ten minutes here,” Naren said looking at the time in the corner of the screen.
“What shall we do with these ten minutes? You want to reply to your friends?”
He didn’t look at me. He just opened up a new browser.
“No. I want to play some games. You don’t mind waiting, na?”
I realised I had lost this round. I had shut him up again.
“No, I don’t mind, kiddo. I will wait outside.”
When he didn’t say anything, I got up from the wooden bench we were sitting on. He had logged into some website that had a gun-slinging game. A first person shooter, as they are known.
I waited to see a glimpse of how he played.
He chose an assault rifle — a gun suited for quick, precise shots when on the run. But Naren was in no mood for precision or running. He walked into the middle of an open ground and kept ruthlessly clicking the mouse button that served as the trigger. Most of his bullets were missing the targets and he kept dying while reloading.
“Maybe you should wait, take aim and then shoot?” I offered in a friendly voice over his shoulder. “You can get more kills that way. You are losing too much ammo.”
I hadn’t anticipated what happened next.
Naren slammed the escape button. The game paused.
“Woah, kiddo. Easy.”
He just looked at me — anger, fear, helplessness in his eyes. He was breathing hard and clenching his fists.
I was sure he would hit me.
“This is why I don’t like talking,” he cried out. “Everyone seems to know what I should be doing. You know everything, na?”
The other people in the cafe were looking at us now. But Naren didn’t pay any attention to that. The cafe owner walked up to me and asked me what was wrong.
“I will wait outside, Naren,” I said walking out. I sidestepped the owner and walked towards the exit.
Behind me I could hear the owner asking Naren if I was bothering him.
“No,” he said quietly.
“You shouldn’t talk to strangers like him, you know?” the owner mumbled.
And that was it.
The kid shouted at him too. And before I could even reach the door, he ran past me.
“Wait, Naren.” I called out as I ran after. But he was already a long way gone.
Great! I had blown this one too.
I sat down on the bench that lay just outside the cafe, my head in my hands.
What was I going to do now? I didn’t even know where his house was. And I wasn’t planning on getting his mother involved at this point. It would only complicate things further.
But I couldn’t just let him be. There’s no saying what he would do. And all that would be my fault. Shit! I had just made everything worse than I started with.
“He will come back for his bag,” said a voice inside me.
I stood up and looked around. The bag was still on the rack with the number tag on it. I fished out the twin tag from my hip pocket and picked up the bag.
I walked back to the bench, held the bag close to my chest, and waited. I realised I hadn’t slept in 76 hours now. And my eyes were shutting down.
I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. And so I did the one thing I wasn’t planning on doing.
I started praying.
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An evening under the stars can reveal so much about how we look at people.medium.com
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