‘Will you lock the door when you come? The keys are on my table’
‘Yup, I’ll be there in a minute.’
‘Be careful not to get caught by you know who’, he said with a wink.
‘I will. I’ll walk with a swagger so that no one gets to know…’
‘Are you sure that’ll work?’
‘Well, it did last time. I could be twice lucky, no?’
‘Sure, dude. See ya.’
He picked up his bag and left.
‘Oops, these assignment questions will be the death of me. I never knew copying was such a tedious job’, said Gautham.
He had joined college a few days back, a bit sad that holidays were over, yet excited at the prospect of freedom from parents (though washing his own clothes wasn’t in the least exciting) and making new friends. Gradually he’d begun to get used to hostel life- one of zero privacy; where you lived by sharing everything (except perhaps underclothes), to adjust to and love his roomie’s idiosyncrasies, to cope up with the ragging, getting a bit of studying done, playing ‘Counter Strike’ till 4 in the morning, waking up bleary-eyed and hastily stuffing some food down his throat, running to college only to hear his roll number being called, sending dozens of stupid SMSs, tearing a teacher to bits by criticizing him, laughing mindlessly over stupid jokes etc.-what constitutes anybody’s normal college life.
After the initial excitement of college life had worn out he found himself thinking longingly of home. He remembered his mom saying when he cribbed at her food, ‘All you need is a bit of hostel food, my ordinary idlis will seem better than any 5-star stuff’
‘What I wouldn’t give for some warm home-made idlis with chutney and honey’, Gautham thought wistfully. ‘And I wish Rocky was here. He’d scare away my sniggering seniors in no time.’ In his mind, he could see Rocky wagging his tail for a tit-bit. He shook his head to get rid of the memory. ‘I’ve to wait for this semester to get over to see him again…’he thought.
He yawned loud and long. ‘Counter Strike after effects’, he thought dully. He looked at his watch-‘10 minutes more… I’ll go. Oh, God, I need you now…’
As he locked his room, he heard someone call. ‘Hey, you! You’re Gautham, right?’ His feet went cold. ‘Y-es, sir.’
‘Show more respect to seniors, man. Is this the way? Chalo, didn’t your mom tell you how to greet elders? Fold your hands and say ‘Namashkaar’.
‘What did you say? I couldn’t hear it. Say it again and louder this time.’
‘With more expression.’
‘Yup, that’s more like it.’
‘Ok, then, I’m busy now. Don’t worry, we’ll meet soon.’
He managed to mumble a yes and ran at top speed, glad to have escaped unscathed.
‘May I get in, Sir?’
‘Hmm?’ the teacher looked up from the book he was holding, ‘What time does the class begin?’
‘Take your seat. You will get no attendance.’
‘What else do you think I attend your class for, Sir?’ Gautham thought viciously. He sat down in the first bench (the favourite back benches were always full) and winked at his neighbour.
‘Are you coming to the fresher party tonight?’ his bench mate whispered.
‘You bet’, said Gautham.
‘I hope Neha comes…’
‘What do you do in class, man? Study? If you don’t know Neha, the hottest girl of our class, you must be a real padhaaku.’
‘I don’t know. Where’s she sitting?’
‘Two benches behind you diagonally left.’
Gautham craned his neck to see her.
‘Hey you, first bench, what is the question I asked just now?’
‘Please, just go.’
Gautham slung his bag across his shoulder and walked out.
‘Let me go and have some food. Hopefully, the mess will provide something edible for breakfast’, he thought.
He took two sandwiches and came out. ‘Pooh, what is it made of’, he muttered to himself. He spotted a bench for travelers by the side of the road and sat down. The cool shade from the grand old tree made it an ideal place for a good read. He took out Richard Bach’s ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’, his all-time favourite book and one which was slightly worn out by many reads. He lovingly thumbed through the pages and found his favourite chapter and begun to read. The sandwiches lay uneaten on his lap. After a few minutes he got the distinct feeling that he was being watched. He looked around but could see no one. Assuming it to be a figment of his imagination he continued reading. A few more minutes passed thus. He felt something move. There was something alive near his feet! He lifted his feet above the ground at great speed only to kick the thing. ‘Yelp’, it said.
He looked down to see a pair of large brown friendly eyes gazing up at him. The light-brown coloured dog with white socks wagged its tail at him. Spotting the sandwiches that had fallen down from Gautham’s lap it began to gobble them greedily. After it had finished eating them (which didn’t take much time) it gazed expectantly at Gautham, hoping more food would fall.
‘Hey, you beg for food just the way Rocky does. Oh, you’re a she not a he. Let me call you Lassie. Hey, Lassie, shake hands’, he said and solemnly produced his hand. Lassie daintily lifted a paw and kept it on his upturned palm.
He fished in his pocket for something to eat and found a toffee, one which a shopkeeper had given him because he had no change. He kept it near Lassie’s paw and watched her lick it and prod it with her paw, laughed as the sticky toffee stuck to it and she tried to shake it off. He watched her till she had finished eating it (which didn’t take a surprising amount of time either).
‘Buzz’ said his mobile against his thigh. ‘Yup, I’ll be there in a minute’, he told his friend who had called.
‘Bye, Lassie’, he said and went off.
The evening was growing darker. From his room, Gautham could see the trees lightly moving in the wind, like they were making a final bow before the sun left. He shut the book he was reading, locked his door and came out. His roommate was nowhere to be seen. He stepped out onto the sidewalk and took a deep breath. The night air whispered comforting things in his tired ears and he whistled his favourite tune, gently.
He felt something brush against his feet. ‘Hey’, he said as Lassie bounded upto him and proceeded to lick his feet. ‘Fancy a walk?’ he asked her. The two walked; content in each other’s company. ‘Animals can be such good company sometimes. They never say a thing yet say so much…’ he thought. He looked down to see Lassie happily sniffing the ground for crumbs, chasing an imaginary creature and occasionally giving his feet a lick or two.
As days passed by, this became a routine for the two. Gautham would come with a few crumbs and they would go for a short walk. Sometimes when he studied, Lassie would sit on his feet chasing away any birds or cats that dared to disturb him. Gautham’s friends too gradually accepted Lassie into their group. Sometimes, Gautham would be teased with ‘Mary and her little lamb’ but he didn’t mind. Simply speaking, he loved Lassie.
Months had flown by and Gautham was now a complete college student, well versed in the art of bunking classes, giving proxies and the like. He still managed to find time to play with Lassie every day. In short, Lassie had become a part of his life.
One day, as usual, he was standing outside his hostel with a few bread slices waiting for Lassie to appear, wagging her tail with her tongue hanging out, which made her look like she was laughing. And sure enough, he could see her bounding from across the road. From nowhere a car flew on the road with break neck speed. Gautham watched, with his heart in his mouth as the unthinkable happened. It was all over. A squeal and a sickening yelp and there was nothing more left of Lassie. The car driver looked behind to see what he had hit and immediately thumped his foot on the accelerator and drove away.
Gautham looked at her with pain his eyes. He couldn’t bear to touch the mangled body that had once been his Lassie. Tears rolled down his cheeks and he gazed at her for a long time, not knowing how to overcome his sorrow. He crossed the road and sat down slumped, under the tree where he and Lassie used to spend time having mock fights, playing ‘run and fetch’ etc. The more he tried to blur the memories the more they seemed to come into focus. He heard a few small yelps at his feet. It was like the cliché- history repeats itself. He looked down to see two lassie-resembling puppies at his feet. Brushing his tears away, he smiled lightly. ‘So, here are her puppies. She got them to see me today I guess,’ he thought. Yet again, he fished in his pocket for food, found the slices of bread he had brought for their mother and laid them on the ground for the puppies to eat. The cloud of sorrow in his mind seemed to be clearing. ‘Now what shall I name you both? Let me see…’