“I only have one friend.
He lives beside me, most of the time. But it’s difficult to talk to him too.
It’s me, not him.
I am the problem.
We live in front of what people usually call a temple.
Your god, to be honest, doesn’t seem to know what a Hindu or a Muslim is, because according to what I have observed, when the ground shakes, both
temples and mosques crumble.
This is mainly because I live there, on the road.
I am a Road Marker, or a Road Stud.
You might’ve noticed me sometime.
Maybe when your brother tripped over me whilst running.
Or maybe when you saw a man spitting his maroon pan all over my red face.
Or, oh! Maybe sometime walking down, heading home, you wondered what i was called but never bothered to look it up?
I don’t know about others but I live a jolly good life.
Ravi, my only friend, he calls me Laali because of my colour.
At sleepless nights and hungry afternoons he comes out of his makeshift tent to talk to me and to tell me about his life. Complaining, mostly.
Ravi is almost 14 and his occupation is begging during the day and by the afternoon, when the truck full of garbage arrives, he changes it to rag picking almost instantly, and rushes to the ground of treasury.
I only know all about this because Ravi tells me so. He’s my one and only source of information of the outer world. Ravi shares everything with me. His daily chores, his deep secrets and his rare happy moments.
But there’s one thing Ravi never told me, one thing that I only knew because I was there. One love story that no writer is aware of.
The Story of how Ravi found her.
One afternoon, when the roads were empty and full of crumbled leaves, Ravi was talking to me about something he found in the trash mound and then, like the first blossom of the season, uncertain but promising, she was heard, walking on the footpath.
Ravi, at first, ignored but as she stopped abruptly, standing tall beside him, his attention was instantly grabbed. When Ravi turned, I saw their eyes meeting but Ravi again turned away and looked straight at me.
She wouldn’t budge from her spot and sat right where she was, beside Ravi.
Still, he chose to ignore her constantly.
Well, maybe because that’s what everyone does.
According to what I have observed, everyone ignores stray dogs, don’t they?
She touched her wet nose to my friend’s drought struck face and his eyes glittered like it had stolen all the glitter away from the Red flag which fluttered above the temple.
From that very moment, I see the same amount of glitter in Ravi’s eyes each and every time he sees her.
Beginning from that day, while he split his scarce food with her, to the day she was gifted one of Ravi’s ragged t-shirts because he had outgrown them. The day she broke her leg and he helped her heal, till today.
It’s been 8 years since Ravi and his family, along with her, moved out from that makeshift tent to a newly developed slum nearby.
But still, Ravi seldom passes by and at times he even sits and talks to me. He says I’m an important part of his life, his childhood.
But, today, it’s different.
Today, he came running towards me and he sat down, eyes red, nose leaking, face drooping.
I had seen him that way after a really very long time.
The last time Ravi cried this bad, was when he was 4 and he lost his little toy, which he loved the most, to an accident.
After 5 minutes of crying and after reaching his exhaustion stage, Ravi talked to me about it.
It’s funny how, for humans, words fail at times like these. It’s more like they transform into the hollow limbs of the dried up tree in front of me. Of no use to anyone.
But somehow, between sobs and a leaking nose came his words.
He said she was gone.
Ravi’s beloved pet, the stray female dog whom he had given shelter for 8 long years, was gone.
Who took her?
Why would she leave him?
How would I ask him?
I can’t move. I can’t talk. I can’t lick his face. I can’t understand what he says. I can’t watch him cry.
After all, I’m just a Road Stud.
Later that day, after Ravi had stopped crying, he told me that she ‘died‘.
It was something like a connection, between Ravi and me. He knew I didn’t know what death was.
So he educated me, like he always does, and then, I realised how stupid Ravi was.
That stupid lad knew she would die someday, but, he was silly enough to love her anyway.
If I were him, I would never ever love something which I knew would leave me eventually.
I am not a stupid man.
I am not a man.
Is that why I wouldn’t?
I don’t know for sure.
Maybe she was good, better than me perhaps.
Anyway all that matters, is the fact that Ravi is back from where he started. All alone, sitting on the road, sadly talking to a road stud.
And me? I’m here, just as I was before.
In front of the Temple where fools like Ravi find solace.
I would like to go there sometime as well.
But, after all, I’m just a Road Stud.”