It was late. And the play wasn't anything to write home about. And in any case, Damu (Damodar) had gone there to please Suchi (Suchitra), who'd pestered him to buy the damn tickets.
"Please, Damu. For me?" She'd implored, with those beseeching eyes he'd fallen in love with silently, over the years.
"Please Damu. It's for the eye-camp."
A beat..."Eye-camp?" She'd repeated, looking him in the eyes.
He'd handed out the hundred bucks in silent resignation. Money-mindedness was the last thing he wanted her to guage him with.
Now he walked across the dark street (no street-light as usual, he noticed), and reached the main road that connected the grid-separator and the alley towards his home. Suchi had decided to stay back to help her friends change. She was one of the organizers anyway, so well..it made sense.
They were through with college a few years back, and still lived in the same neighborhood, but he couldn't muster enough courage to convey his feelings to her.
"Loser," Amit, his pal since first year, had hissed, as Damu silently watched Pritam whisk her away from under his nose. He hurried his steps as the memories bobbed up and down his head. Pritam had joined a year late, but was more popular and had even won the affections of Suchi. I mean, it was almost like those 'good-boy-loses-girl-to-smart-hero' movies he'd seen so many times. And here he was, his life an almost identical replica of...
He turned his head. Fine time to burst crackers.
Behind him. He turned and saw some commotion on the main road. A wail. Some shouting. He was in the alley now and hastened, his heart beating faster. Then he heard someone running into the alley. Behind him. And then a car turned into the alley, following the runner.
Bang. This time it deafened him and he lunged to the ground. He thought he'd been shot at. But no, it wasn't him. He looked up and right behind him, the runner was lying on the ground. Two guys stepped out of the car and pumped two more bullets into him and hurried into the car.
"hey, who's that?" A voice inside the car demanded. Then a command to shoot him also.
Damu started running. A bullet whizzed past his ears and entered a tree. His mouth all dried up, his first thought was - I'm dead.
He turned into a cross road. A voice inside his head commanded him to head into the construction site on the side; without thinking he ran inside and ducked behind a pillar. A few seconds later, the car stopped outside. A few muffled voices. "...probably hasn't seen us. Cannot identify us.." were the all-important words he heard. Oh please, make them go away, he prayed. Then the engine died, sending a wave of panic again. The doors opened and slammed shut. He quietly hid behind sacks in the inner room of the house.
"Come out, you rat," they were speaking in the local language. He wondered how many of them were there, in all? Probably four. Maybe he should just talk his way out. Then another voice in his head, "don't be a fool. They are here to kill you, and they'll do it anyways. Talk or no talk. So just be quiet."
Scuffled footsteps entered the room.
"You think he's here?"
"Let's find out. But first, ask these guys to move. We don't want cops welcoming us outside."
The other guy left and a moment later Damu heard the car come to life and drive away.
Just then the caretaker of the site walked in, sleepy. "Who?"
"Your in-laws, just shut up." It was obvious the caretaker had seen the gun, for he didn't speak after that. The second guy walked in again.
"Find him," commanded the first guy.
"Who...who's here, sir?" The caretaker squeaked.
"None of your business."
Damu couldn't believe he was watching a harmless play only an hour back, only to be facing his death now.
A hand moved the sacks.
"Just pump a bullet or two into all the sacks. That's how you kill rats."
Damu offered a silent prayer, thanked his mom and dad for everything, expressed his love for them...and thought about Suchi. "I love you, Suchi," he said in his mind. There. He'd said it at last. And having said that, he suddenly wanted to live. He didn't want to die like this. He'd been a loser all his life. He couldn't die without first proclaiming his love for her. Maybe things could indeed be worked out by a cordial talk. He stood up.
"Ah..there you are, you rodent" smiled one of the guys. He couldn't see them clearly but they looked like they meant business.
"Look..please leave me. I..I didn't see anything."
"Oh yeah? You think we're fools."
Come to think of it, they were..wondered Damu. All they had to do was do their job and scoot. Why the hell did they have to come after him? And now he'd really seen them. And he had to die for that. Drat.
"Look, you could've just gone away. I was shit scared anyway..Please.."
This made them think. Just then, two loud 'thungs' like a tuner fork rang in the air..and the two guys were lying on the floor. The caretaker was standing behind the gangsters, with a flat iron rod.
"Quick sir, go call the police. I'll tie them up."
"Yeah...ok..uh..hey, that was quick thinking. Thanks. But...are they..dead?"
They bent down and checked. They were alive. Damu sighed with relief and ran out.
"Construction worker helps nab two dreaded gangsters. Saves possible victim's life."
Damu read the detailed report, his name and all...folded the paper and leaned back in the sofa..closing his eyes, with gratitude, and some guilt. He was sure Suchi would've read the report. He sighed again. Maybe he should've taken those bullets after all...