A short story I wrote for a creative writing workshop conducted by Vikram Kapur at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. (Word Limit: 1100)
As always, Kamble was caught napping during study time; his head lolling forward, backward, sideways in a great unpredictable circle, often coming to rest with his chin settled on the chest, until disturbed by some unknown terrible dream that ensured the whole process would start again, so uncontrollable that they feared his neck would break.
WHAM! Sarawane, the prefect, caught Kamble on the back of his large head with such force that it sent his head spinning. The study room shuddered, the juniors averted their eyes, and the seniors strained their necks to spot the crook. Kamble hauled his spindly frame and sat up straight.
“Well hello there. I hope you’re feeling alert now. Go see Karandikar, he has work for you. Lavkar!” Sarawane said. Kamble got up rubbing his eyes and jogged to Karandikar.
Karandikar was sitting atop a chair perched precariously on two legs, his feet stretched out, listening to songs on a contraband walkman, his boots a Cherry black.
“You know what’s for dinner today?” he asked, looking up from a tattered Marathi smut magazine.
Kamble shook his head, his hands crossed behind the back.
“It’s shit. So much shit that..”
“You say that everytime Karandikar. What do you want me to get you? Chinese?” Kamble interrupted cheerfully.
The food was terrible that night. The menu consisted of one item. Rice and yellow sickly dal with an acidic hint of lemon that made one throw up in the mouth.
“You’re getting cheeky, kaalya. How many times have you even gotten Chinese?” he demanded, folding his arms to reveal a boxer’s physique.
“Not getting cheeky. I haven’t eaten lunch and I can’t eat the shit here tonight. I will gladly get you Chinese for the usual price. I have gone only a couple of times but it doesn’t matter since I’m taking Gaikwad with me. He knows all the shortcuts,” Kamble said.
“Yeah take him along. But ask that crook to not steal any of our food. If we catch him at it, he’s going to be nursing a sore butt,” His eyes narrowed.
“Here, get ten chicken fried rice and ten schezwan noodles. Get yourself a couple. It’s A-dorm party tonight. And remember. If anyone catches you, dare not take any names,” he said, holding Kamble by his collar and slowly pounding his knuckles into Kamble’s chest, as if to make an extra point.
Kamble nodded meekly and ran off with the cash. He caught Gaikwad’s eye and signaled him to move out of the study room. They sprinted past the faculty supervisor taking rounds into the dimly moonlit night.
They saw Patil hunched over the water tap outside the rusty hostel door filling up twenty Bisleri bottles for all the seniors in A-Dorm.
“Preparation for the party, eh Patla?” Gaikwad taunted.
“Better than dozing off and getting thumped by Sarawane,” Kamble said, massaging the back of his head. “Come with us. We need someone to carry the bags anyway. It’s a big order today,” he said, helping Patil collect the bottles.
Patil joined them. Sometimes, they carried back as many as thirty orders, black plastic bags filled with fried rice, Manchurian, chicken lollypops and triple Schezwan noodles.
They jumped over the barbed wire separating the hostels from the campus. The campus was deathly quiet, apart from the whistling wind. Kamble shivered under his blue sweater. They picked the unlit streets and made their way to the edge of campus, their white prep shirts cutting a ghostly figure in the black night.
Nobody spoke much. The woods loomed in the distance. They passed the horse stables. The horses neighed their disapproval.
“Kamba, I hope you’ve got your little torch. Can’t see a thing,” Gaikwad said.
Kamble switched the torch on and jumped up ahead onto the dirt track.
“Mike Alpha reporting to Sierra Golf. The path is a minefield of sticky condoms. Watch your step. You might end up with cum in your shoes,” Kamble warned them, pretending to be a NSG commando with a mock rifle in his bony hands.
“There! I can see one. Looks fresh,” said Patil, pointing to a used specimen hanging off one of the branches.
“Jungle mein mangal,” Gaikwad muttered. He thought about the last time he’d stumbled upon a young couple in the woods. It hadn’t been pleasant. He had unwittingly sneaked upon them on the forest floor, the girl had screamed murder and he’d to make a run for it, the Chinese packets swinging wildly in his hands as he sprinted past thorny bushes that left nasty cuts all over.
They walked for more than half an hour, entering a sugarcane field covered in half-grown stalks, carefully following the track laid onto the mud. They could see the city lights now, flickering and flirting in the distance, calling to them like sirens on the rock.
They went to the spot in the fencing where Gaikwad had clipped the barbed wire to create a boy-sized hole. Kamble was the first to squeeze out, followed by Gaikwad and Patil. They walked to the Chinese stall on the highway and placed the order. Gaikwad lit a Wills cigarette.
“I don’t usually steal food unless it’s Wagh. The motherfucker never pays up. If he can’t sponsor a hardworking junior, he doesn’t deserve honest service,” Gaikwad protested.
Tambe, the cook, threw up the hissing contents of a frying pan and collected it deftly. His minions sliced and diced furiously.
They liked to eat their share right there by the stall. Gaikwad hated taking Chinese back to the junior dorm, both the possible alternatives: the rest of the boys staring sadly or avoiding looking altogether as they gorged or the more alarming prospect of all the twenty boys attacking the three orders.
“I like to eat my food hot. Aan re lavkar Tambya,” Gaikwad said, slapping his thighs impatienty.
“Tambe why do you like to display your filthy dishes ages before getting the actual food? I’m hungry,” complained Kamble, sniffing his finger after rubbing it on the melamine plates.
“It’s still cleaner than your face, Kaala Kamble,” said Tambe, sweat pouring down his scowling face in rivulets to finally meet the fried rice.
“You learnt that from me, didn’t you Tambe?” laughed Gaikwad.
Tambe placed the fried rice on the table, engulfing them in the most appetizing steam.
“I can’t wait for the vacations. A month more and we’ll get to eat fried rice every day, maybe with some manchow soup. Imagine,” said Kamble, barely looking up from his plate.
“Just imagine,” mumbled Gaikwad in agreement, stuffing his mouth with more fried rice.