The boy was always swift footed: like a deer. However, just as the deer chose to kick and leap and not to kick and maul so too did the boy chose to run not towards but against.
For the briefest of times, he had lived in a colonial bungalow that sits, even now, among lotus ponds and pebbles, neatly mowed lawns and meticulously manicured bushes. For the briefest of times he had a home nestled between stolid trees and the cooing of peacocks.
It was here, where white families of white colonels had long since vacated for brown families of brown ones such as the boy’s father, that the Indian army of Baroda lived, evanescently, in and between sempiternal enclaves of happy solitude. The coo, the rustle and the croak an ephermal reward — then for white and now for brown colonels alike — for a peace they’ve guarded, a war they may fight and a battle they might die in.
During ‘the briefest of times’ (of which there are more than a handful in a hearty lifetime) and betwixt horribly sultry afternoons and tolerably sultry evenings a boy of nine would scamper into a little grove outside his father’s bungalow where, unchecked, he would scrutinize a colony of ants. And would, for hours on end, takes notes on the million ways in which they scurried: in a single file, climbing and descending their knoll under the benign shade of a guava tree and often carrying the crumbling remains of a dragonfly. On some days, nice days, the boy would lie down with his prepubescent belly hugging the ground and a single eye shut: to become one of them. On other nice (or okay) days he would be treated to the sight of a contingent of soldier ants intersecting a cohort of workers steadfast on their worn path. Always these sessions would end with (an observer’s effect) his cheek leaving a gentle concavity near the anthill. And ants, with their feelers, would greet each other at the concavity’s edge, rerouting, to tread the fringe instead of the headings that ran straight across. The rest of the formicary was left as it was, pristine and unsullied. On nice and okay days, that is.
On a very different day and a fatefully hateful afternoon, however, his callous hands are destined to drop a garden hose next to the ant hill, creating lively rivulets that, in his mind’s eye, turn into angry ravines even as a couple more ravines roll down his cheeks in an earnest and unflinching acknowledgment of his newfound hostility.
Because he will be old enough to see patterns gradually: In the hierarchies of men and beasts, and in the unspeakable laws that govern them. He will see patterns among the hurts perpetuated by other hurts and he will notice how they magnify. Because he shall have killed a hundred for only a single slap across the cheek, for only a dozen people pointing and laughing as he reddened with a shame and a smart.
This is how it comes to pass:
A little while ago he was running with wild abandon, like the wind, like, in fact, a deer. He ran circles around a melee of kids playing football, a very calculated circle, described by a unique equilibrium between the opposing tugs of reticence (his own) and the reticence of his extraversion.
A lesser while ago the ball swooped towards him in an arc and the rarer of the two predilections (having won the internal tug of war) sprang out of his bony frame like a jack in the box. He kicked the ball, timidly (yet tenaciously, like a deer) setting it on a flip, shooting it past the goal and past the stands too.
The ball was soon to vanish behind the boundary of his school – And an ominously slow clap soon to echo afterwards, in the field, in the wake of a dead silence that was to follow, emanating from the hands of a tall woman who was to walk towards him, menacingly.
And the least while ago, he’d been struck squarely above his jaw by a PT teacher with a penchant for sarcasm.
Tomorrow, dejected, he will return to pay respects to the victims of his hecatomb. Only to witness a thin gathering of fresh spherules whose contours would seem vaguely, inexplicably, ineffably: familiar.
For what graces his eyes will be an unsafe haven for many a foolhardy ant but even so, an ode to their resilient march; a modest, evanescent knoll and a towering monument to ants that guarded a peace, fought a war and died in a battle…