Aryan and I had been born on the same day, almost at the same hour, in the same chawl (rough equivalent of The Projects), to parents who were the thickest of friends. We played with the same toys as we grew up, went to the same school, attended the same classes, sat on the same bench, made fun of the same teachers, and got punished at the same time. And though I was too cool to be caught dead admitting it, Aryan was my best friend….and now, they wanted me to kill him!
I still blame myself for what happened that day. Aryan was hungry, and wanted to get some cake from my employer’s bakery. The only thing was, he had no money to buy it. So, he decided to steal it. What could be the harm in stealing a tiny piece of cake, he thought. If I could look into the future, I would reply- Well, it could lead to a bounty on your head! But I can’t, so I didn’t.
He asked me to come along of course. We did everything together. But I found the idea of stealing from my own employers a bit distasteful, and so, I let him go alone. I should have gone with him. Maybe things might have turned out differently then.
Aryan slipped into the bakery in the middle of the night. It was pitch dark, but this was his home turf, he could reach the cake counter with his eyes shut. Which he promptly proceeded to do.
All would have turned out fine if my employer’s five year old daughter Hemal had not woken up hungry at the same time, and decided to get some cake for herself. You can probably guess what happened next. Hemal bumped into Aryan, screamed, switched on the light, saw Aryan, screamed even louder, at which Aryan too got terrified and ran, but in his panic, bumped into her again, which initiated a fresh burst of even louder screams…Finally, after much panic, Aryan managed to escape. But not for long.
For Hemal’s shouting and screaming had brought her family down to the bakery from their home upstairs. They understood the situation from a visibly hysterical Hemal, and started discussing the next steps heatedly among themselves. It was at that moment that I came rushing in, worried about my friend’s safety.
“There you are,” said Hemal’s dad caustically, “Isn’t it your job to ensure the security of this shop? But I’m sure you were busy taking a cat-nap somewhere while my daughter was being attacked!” I listened to his tirade silently, my head bowed down, my cheeks reddening with shame. And it was then that he said those fateful words, “I want him dead…tonight!”
I was shocked beyond words. I had never even imagined that a minor mischief could lead to such catastrophic circumstances. Maybe I should have tried to reason with my boss, but I knew it was useless. He would never budge from his stance now that he had stated something publicly. His motto in life had always been- “Moochh nahin toh kuchh nahin” (Loosely translated: Respect/Image above all!) and in this case, he had given his word to his daughter. I had no choice- I had to murder my best friend!
Telling Aryan to run would be of no use, my boss’s arms were even longer than those of kaanoon (Law) and he would spend money like the water that he adulterated his milk with till Aryan was dead. But killing my best friend was also not an option, I would rather die than raise a hand on someone who was dearer to me than my own flesh and blood. It was then that I had the IDEA!
I quickly rushed to Aryan’s home and called him out. As soon as he came out, I told him everything. He started shaking with fear then, for he knew how dangerous my employers were. Tears were streaking down his eyes, and all he could say was, “I don’t want to die.”
I caught hold of his shoulders, physically stopping his shaking, and said, “No one is dying tonight, not on my watch!” Then I said, “Do you trust me?” He replied, “More than I trust myself.” I smiled grimly, and then proceeded to explain my plan to him in great detail. He appeared sceptical at first, but I told him, “I know these people, don’t worry, you just do exactly as I tell you.”
And just half an hour later, my employer and his family were sitting in the bakery, still discussing the security breach when suddenly, Hemal screamed! They all turned towards her, and saw that she was trembling all over. “What happened?” cried out her father. Frozen with fear and revulsion, Hemal couldn’t say anything. She just raised her arm and pointed towards the door….from where I had just entered, dragging Aryan’s blood-soaked body behind me!
“EWWWWWWWWW!!!!!” cried out the pure vegetarian family in one voice, utter disgust apparent on their faces. “GET THAT OUT OF HERE!” shouted Hemal’s father. I looked at him nonchalantly, and blood still dripping from Aryan’s still body, went out the same way that I had entered, leaving behind a trail of blood, and a hysterical family!
And when we were at a safe distance away, Aryan squeaked, “Can I open my eyes now?” I smiled and said, “OK, we’re safe now, but please do not go near the bakery ever again, or we’ll both be in big trouble.” Aryan replied, “I promise, I have learnt my lesson. But I’m still famished, so can I please eat this tomato ketchup at least?” So saying, he started licking up the tomato ketchup from his body, and unable to resist, I joined in!
And back at the bakery, the still shaken owner was telling his wife, “Please call Panditji (Priest) first thing tomorrow morning for a shuddhikaran havan (Purification ritual). That damn cat deserves to be beaten black and blue for bringing that dead rat into our pure vegetarian bakery!”