This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
‘The bell hasn’t even stopped ringing…,’ Vijayalakshmi thought with a smile on her face, watching the children sprint into the corridor with their lunch baskets.
She arranged the notebooks on her desk neatly in a stack, picked them up with some difficulty, and trudged the distance to the staff room tiredly to keep an appointment with her lunch box.
A kaleidoscope of butterflies, flitting from flower to flower in a garden, suddenly zoomed away towards the source of the cacophonous din emanating from a nearby school.
The chirping of birds, the rustling of leaves, the summer afternoon sun beating down, the hot breeze blowing across the playground – all of them paled before the relentless cacophonous din made by the children.
“What have you brought today, Nutty?” Irfan teased Natarajan Iyer.
“Idlis and coconut chutney, Irfie.”
“Again!” Irfan, Ashwini, Mariam, Virat exclaimed loudly.
“My mom says it is a very good food; it is cooked on steam, you see,” Natarajan replied sheepishly.
“Yeah, we know, dolt. We were teasing you. Come on, give me one and take this.” Mariam took one idli and offered a scoop of pastry from her box.
“Black Forest! I love it,” Natarajan exclaimed excitedly.
“My little brother’s birthday yesterday. I saved one for you.”
“Where’s my biriyani, Irfie?” Virat demanded.
“Give me your Srikand. I’ll share my mutton biriyani with you,” Irfan said, hiding his lunch box behind him.
Their lunch was noisy, friendly, loving and sharing, as usual.
Each was of a different hue, of a distinct pattern. Together, they looked like a colourful cloud languorously darting around, lost in their world of flowers and nectar, not worried about what might happen the next moment, displaying the abundant resplendence of Mother Nature.
“Hey, we saw Suriya’s ‘Anjaan’. I liked it. Wow, what dances and fights!” Mariam went on to give the gist of the movie.
“Awesome.” The others said in a chorus.
“Hey, let’s go to Shah Rukh’s latest, ‘Happy New Year’, next weekend,” Natarajan suggested.
“Yeah, I’ll get dad’s permission today,” Virat said.
“Viru, get us tickets on BookMyShow today itself. There’s heavy rush. Deepika is super in it, I believe.”
“Shameless fellows,” retorted Ashwini.
“What did we do?” Natarajan and Virat said, hiding their smiles.
In their quest for flowers and nectar, they found scores of playful children, all from different families, diverse backgrounds, but clad in similar apparel. Some butterflies hovered over the heads of some children while others flew across the playground not caring about the scorching sun.
“Mariam, mom bought a ghaghra-choli-dupata for my birthday next week. Lot of work on that – tiny mirrors, sequins.”
“Wow, you’ll look beautiful in it, Wini.”
“All of you must come. Mom and dad have invited only a few of their friends and relatives. Rest is…my friends.”
“Sure, Wini, we’ll all come.” Mariam assured Ashwini on behalf of everyone.
“Hey, Virat, what’s in that bag?”
“Irfie, Nutty…I’ve brought my football. Shall we play for a while? We still have some time before the bell rings…”
“Yeah…” They screamed.
Some butterflies perched on the grass beside two beautiful girls who were discussing something animatedly.
Mariam and Ashwini were deeply engrossed in their girly discussions while the boys set out to kick the football around.
“Mariam, see…see…those butterflies…they are so beautiful…”
“And soooo colourful, aren’t they?”
“How many colours can you see on them?”
“I can’t count. They dart so fast.” Mariam said ruefully.
“All the colours of rainbow.”
“Look at the boys kicking the poor ball around. If it had life, the ball would cry, won’t it?”
The girls laughed.
The butterflies quickly darted away from the two girls towards the boys playing football.
“See, see, see…Mariam. They have stopped and are looking at something.”
“What could it be?”
“There’s something between the bench and the tree trunk. Looks like a bag.”
“Vijayalakshmi ma’am told us not to touch anything left like that.”
“Look, Nutty is picking it up. Nutty…no, no, nooo….”
The curious butterflies flapped their wings and lazily hovered over the boys.
“What’s in it Nutty?” Virat and Irfan were curious.
Natarajan picked the carry bag from beside the bench.
“Why are the girls shouting?”
“Can’t hear clearly. So many boys and girls are shouting here.”
“There’s something heavy in it, guys. A small red light is also glowing. Hey, there is a timepiece, too”
Natarajan inserted his hand into the bag.
The explosion ripped every door and windows of the building shattering the glass panes. The slivers hit several students and staff. The effect on the students in the playground was devastating.
A lone colour pervaded everything in the playground – red, blood red. It shrouded every maimed, lifeless body on the playground. Their dreams shattered. Their fun and frolic terminated. Their search for the nectar of life cruelly ended. Their lives exterminated.
The harmony, the camaraderie, the love and affection, the sharing that presented every possible hue of life and cut across every social divide is now buried under the all-pervading red hue.
From the rain of blood rose a rainbow.
A rainbow of a single hue – red, blood red.
The butterflies vaporised as if they had never existed.
“Revenge will never create a world in which bloodshed and violence can never take our loved ones away from us” … (Alistair MacLean, “The Last Frontier”)