My friend, Taniya, loved it every time she saw me on the ring. She told me that finding me floor my opponents thrilled her. Both of us were from poor families that barely managed to live a hand to mouth kind of existence. We were classmates and the best of friends. While I was the hefty one, Tan, that's what I called her, was lean and thin. She's good in studies, decent, full of the joy of life. Tan also wanted to help her widowed father, who worked as a labourer.
By the time we were in class XI, I was earning by taking part in the small tourneys. I was known for my lethal jabs and punches. Then I got selected for the Inter-College Boxing Championship. All my friends except Tan had learnt to keep a distance from me as I's beginning to make a name for myself as a street-fighter. I had to go to Pathwala and Tan came to see me off at the Howrah station. She looked tensed up and worried at that time. I asked her if something was bothering her. She kept quiet and told me at my persistent request that Dwipan Babu, their landlord was making life difficult for her.
Tan had turned out to be a beautiful lady by then and the landlord, for I knew his type, was a shark and a pimp. I hugged her and asked her to be careful. People like Dwipan Babu had all the political backing and pots of money. Our very survival in the society depended on their generosity and approval.
I lost the semi-final match by points against a more fancied opponent, who was the eventual winner of middle-weight category. But I's happy to have served my purpose of coming to Patiwala. The National selectors were impressed with my performance. Some 15 years back, we didn't have the mobiles like people do these days. So, I couldn't share my hour of glory with Tan when I's selected for the Nationals.
I was back in Konnagar, my hometown, six days after the tournament. I got into my jeans and T-shirt and rushed to Tan's place. I met her father on the way. He looked perturbed and told me that Tan was hospitalised in a critical condition the day before having taken a number of his sleeping tabs. The doctor had kept her under observation for 48 hours. I ran like the wind to the government hospital some half a kilometer towards the north of our locality without any more words. It was 5.45 in the evening and there was still 15 minutes for the visiting hours to be over.
As I hurried up the stairs to the ICU, some people coming down the stairs made way for me. The hospital lights were coming to life. Tan was still unconscious when I entered the room. She was tucked under a white sheet of cloth. On a closer look, I could make out the storm she, my best mate, had gone through in my absence. She had scratches and bruishes all over her face and hands. Standing near her bed, I uttered a silent prayer:
"God, please don't take away my best friend. PLEASE..."
As if in answer to my prayer, Tan opened her eyes, looked hazily into mine and slurred something like ' Give the.... Devl. ..Dwi...pan..his......due." And then she was gone. It was as if she had kept her last breath for my arrival only.
Tan's absence created a hole in my life. I was restless, revengeful and full of frustrated fury. It's the day after her last rites in the local crematorium that I bumped into Dwipan, the Devil. He was standing near their dingy house talking to her father. The man was totally oblivious of the devilish designs of his landlord. As he directed one of those lecherous looks at me, all on a sudden I could find out the answers to the questions bothering me from the time Tan breathed her last. I smiled back at him provocatively, and started heading like a model towards the rail lines not taking my eyes off him for a second. The Devil took the bait and left Tan's father. He was coming after me all right. I knew that I'd to be careful. People like Dwipan had all the wealth, backing and power. I stopped behind the trunk of the oak a couple of feet away on this side of the deserted railway tracks. He'd in the meantime come up stealthily behind me. Finding the lost look that I had put on my face effortlessly, he took my chin in both hands.
"I know how you must be feeling in Taniya's absence, Romania. ( Did I detect a tremor in his voice or was it all my imagination?) You're close friends, right?" His face was inches away from mine. I could smell the alcohol in his breath. Just then as I had expected the whistle could be heard from the distance. The Satan, in the meanwhile, was forgetting all sobriety and losing his control.
The headlights of the train could be seen now behind his back from where I's standing. 12 or 13 feet away from us. Any other time, I'd have been worried sick. The man's hands were getting shameless and desperate. The headlights were like the firey balls of a two-eyed monster, some 4 or 5 feet away. The image of Tan with the corners of her lips bruished flashed across my eyes. The hungry wolf had tasted blood again and was desperate to devour me up. I looked at my left hand. Everything is fair for a girl committed to keeping a pledge and protecting her chastity. A light jab across his cheek near his left ear did the job for me... He didn't even know what had hit him as his body was flung under the demonic wheels. Nothing will be left of him other than ... I turned back with tears streaming down my cheeks.
There was a brief report in a corner of the local paper next morning about the mutilated body of a prominent local businessman found some miles ahead. It was also reported that all evidences pointed the accident to be a suicide case.
( by: Rathin Bhattacharjee )