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Friends play a vital role in our life. This story is about a young girl, Ria. And her first friend. They share a special bond. A bond which Ria will forever cherish.
‘But Kaku I don’t want to study!’
‘One mustn’t stop learning, Ria beta.’
‘But what’s the point?’
‘Look at your father. He is one of the biggest businessmen. Don’t you want to follow his steps? Don’t you wish to live the rest of your life in this same comfort?’
‘My father did not study! And that’s the point. He is only 12th pass!’ Ria argued.
‘Now, now, don’t say that. He went to college. I, myself, went to pay his fees.’
‘He was expelled for being too notorious and never attending the college.’
‘That was because he was into this business idea. He used to work day and night. Little boy, did deserve to have some fun.’ Kaku laughed, recalling the mischief her father did back then.
You studied. You completed college. My father didn’t. You’re a care taker. First his, now mine, while he is a businessman. What good happened to you? Ria wanted to say it but knew she shouldn’t. Kaku was the only person in the whole house who listened to her, understood her. And the only person, to could convince her father for anything. She wouldn’t want to hurt him.
‘Yeah, okay. Let’s go to play now. My friends will be waiting.’
Even though Ria was only 12 years old. Kaku could see every bit of Ria’s father in her. He brought up both of them, since they were mere infants. She behaved so much like him, he thought.
Sitting and watching Ria play with her friends in garden, Kaku recalled his childhood days. One would expect that at his age, he would have problem with his memory. But Kaku seemed to have none, whatsoever. He clearly remembered those open fields, long wheat crops and paddy water till his chest. How he and his brothers used to run naked in the fields, underneath the burning sun. Kaku wasn’t as tanned as he is now. He was once a wheatish complexion boy. But those games underneath the sun of 12:00 o’clock tanned all of them. They couldn’t help; it was the only hour in the day that father allowed them to play. The rest of the time they had to work with him in the farms. He remembered how being the youngest, he was always appointed easier task like watering the crops or transporting tools from house to farm. He felt understated. He always wished to work like his eldest brother. He wished to drive the tractor, harvest, get pesticides. But was never allowed to.
‘It isn’t so much fun when you actually do it.’ His elder brother used to say.
‘You don’t take your medicines regularly. Do you, dada?’ Ria’s father asked, bringing tablets and water.
‘What’s there to take medicines now? What’s done is done. I don’t want pity days.’
‘Just like her.’
‘And she is just like you,’ Kaku spoke with a smile.
Ria could see how day by day Kaku lost his strength and will. It killed her, to see him struggle for words. She never showed her worry in front of him. She knew it would only make him sadder. She used to watch from a distance, with tear in her eyes.
‘It’s okay. He is just unwell. He will be fine.’ Her father spoke. Standing behind her.
‘Do you lie to yourself too, baba?’ She spoke coldly.
‘Then why lie to me?’
‘He was the best part of my childhood, you know. Your grandfather employed him when I was only 2.’ He added, ‘He wasn’t always my care taker. He just happened to become that. He helped me with studies a bit. Actually, more than a bit.’
‘Why did he become a care taker, then? He could have done anything.’ Ria complained. This thought had always bothered Ria. If he was educated enough, why become a nanny?
‘He left his home when he was 16. Someone told him, he could go to city and study for free, if he proves he is worthy. And so he did. He only wanted to show he was worthy. To his father, his brothers and everyone who undermined him. He went back after 6 years but found no one. The neighborhood people wanted to send him the news but couldn’t. They did not know how to write and neither knew where he was. His father and eldest brother died due to heatstroke. And soon his family went into too much debt.’
Ria saw her father wipe a tear.
‘Their land was taken over by zaamindars. He did not wish to fight in vain. So, he collected himself and came back.
Father found him out of his factory and offered him to work. He accepted. He worked until I turned 6. Then he started devoting his time to me. I was like a little brother to him. So, father asked him to do few household works then. Like buying groceries, taking me to school, actually mainly looking after me. He was happy. Father said he was happier than he had ever seen him.’
‘He enjoyed it.’
‘Yes but more than that…He felt like he had a family again.’
He saw Ria tear up. She always thought Kaku lived his life in vain. She saw him and wondered what studies gave him. Today she had her answer. It gave him life. He could have died, had he not wished to study. Along with his father and brother, it could have been him too or maybe later with rest of his family. He could have never gotten the job, had he not have the knowledge. She understood why he valued studies so much.
‘Why doesn’t he wish to see good doctors, baba?’
‘He has accepted that his time has come. You are too young to understand this, Ria. You shouldn’t worry too much. Enjoy the left days with him and make him happy.’
Ria could sense pain in his father’s voice. He knew there was no point in hiding anything from Ria. It would only crush her more later.
Over the next few weeks Ria did everything she could to make him happy. She did her homework, studied for her tests. She even played chess with him, even though she did not like that game at all. Everything was fine until that day. He was sitting in the garden, like any other day. But only if Ria knew it wasn’t like any other day. After that moment, everything was vague in her mind. She remembered seeing ambulance, doctors around, her father running and Kaku, lying there lifeless. The next thing she remembered was seeing fire and smoke and her father crying. He cried like a baby. She had always seen him putting a brave front until that day.
She sat outside the house, on the pavement, leaning on the pillar. Her father’s hand on her shoulders. They both suffered a huge loss. Her father lost his brother, while she lost her first friend, her guardian.