His eye-bags are noticeable, as they always have been, ever since I remember, but today on his forehead, I also see unnerving lines; the slightly bulging blue veins, almost like a linear forehead bump.
He hugs me, let’s out a silent hiccup – his eyes bawling, nose watery and hands shaky. I hug him back and rub his spine, pat it a little.
“It’s alright” I tell him.
He sobs and moistens my shoulders and my cotton stripes.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t…” I tell him, “don’t do that … let it go. It is alright!”
And even though he pretends to nod vehemently, as if saving himself an embarrassment, he isn’t entirely swayed by my words, on the contrary, I am sure he believes, that I am just an old man, who had his time and who is now trying to pacify a twenty two year old, of things that he has been and most certainly will be deprived of – forever.
I sit him down– forcefully– pushing down his shoulders, with the ample strength of what is left in my forearms.
“Did you eat anything this morning?” I ask.
He gestures a no.
“Would you like to?”
He doesn’t say anything. His head is hanging low. I lower my head too.
“No”, he says, avoiding an eye contact.
“You know,” I tell him, patting his shoulders, “they say, you’re as good as your last meal.”
He looks up from the ground and stares at me, I am smiling, and it takes him a second or two, before he deciphers the double entendre behind the word, “last” in “last-meal”.
He laughs, uncertainly, as if he shouldn’t be laughing at all in these moments. His eyebrows are twisted in surprise and I laugh with him and soon, we both are uncontrollably loud and seemingly miserable. The guards on duty outside our cell are at a loss. They hammer the cellar with wooden sticks and signal us to remain quiet.
We scoff at them and on purpose, laugh louder. And what started as a mere giggle, has now turned in to an obnoxious mockery of the miserable life that we both have lived; he for past one and a half years and I, well, I don’t remember, when was the last time I saw a lost puppy on the streets, or heard the honking of a bus or smelt the freshness of jalebis in a sweet shop. For me, most of my life has been all about staring in the blank space and living a peaceful life that only exists inside my mind.
His veins pop out again when the laughter stops. His face sags low, he is scratching the floor with his uncut finger nails, as if trying to a dig a whole to hell and bury his face in it.
“I did not do it” he says.
And although, he had told me this before a thousand times, and although, I had assumed that he was lying in the past, in this moment, I do believe him. He after all has no reason to lie – not today!
“I know,” I say, “neither did I”
“Hmm” he pauses for a second.
“Do you want to live?” he asks.
“Do I have a choice today?” I sound as trivial as the idea of a last meal of my choice.
“So”, he says, “Is it still a murder, if you murder someone who already wants you to murder him?”
“Well, honestly, I think that’s more of a redemption. At least I would call it that.”
“Hmmm” he says again. Sighs, as if contemplating something unusual.
“So, you are saying, if there is a god and let’s assume he is watching all this, he won’t punish you for such an act, will he?” he asks.
“I don’t know that, but I don’t see a reason why he will.” I tell him.
Today, I am uncertain of my own words and their connotations. I don’t know how they play in this kid’s mind. But on the other hand, the repercussions that could, and that will, come with them, wouldn’t be as ghastly as the reality in itself in comparison. So I barely have anything to lose; my heart has a tongue today.
“Hmmm” he says again, this time slightly delighted. He gets up from the ground and peeks outside, both ways, makes sure there is no one in the vicinity and comes closer to me. The guards aren’t there.
He is smiling for some reason. Something is up.
“What?” I ask him.
He pulls out two tiny knives from his pocket; slightly rusted but pointy ones.
“Where did you get these from?” I panic.
“Shushhh, that’s not important”, he says.
“One for you and one for me, in the gut, firmly, at the same time on a count to three, oh! And make sure the stab is hard and the damage is permanent.” He says.
And just like that we count backwards in unison, three … two … one …