This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
Tom woke up clutching his head. He didn’t need to wonder long why his head hurt. He had a fleeting glimpse of the broom before it struck him on his head.
“Get out of the bed now” his mother screamed. Well not exactly his mother. She was the latest woman in that household whom he had to call mother. He couldn’t clearly remember how many he had before. “Dishes, sweeping and swabbing within this hour”,she snarled.
A colonel was clutching his chest and wheezing. Not that it was doing much good but that was the best his brain could instruct him to do to restrain the bleeding. He was also running short of time. Enemy soldiers were approaching nearer to his shelter,a boulder. But that was none of his concern.
Tom finished his job just within an hour. Taking care to avoid that horrible ‘temporary’ woman in his life he swiftly grabbed a satchel ,three four crumpled pages and jumped out of the window. He headed towards school, not that he liked going there but someone had told him that was the only path out of the slums, literally and figuratively.
The colonel had to reach his outpost and radio his chief that the enemy had sneaked through the border and would reach a national highway quickly. After that they couldn’t be traced. In the meanwhile he also had to chalk out of a plan to take his fallen comrades to safety. They were all injured together when the grenade blew. The only solace he had was that the enemy soldiers had thrown multiple grenades in various directions so in the resulting chaos there was no way that they could know that they were hit.
School was over. Not that he could understand much there. Tom was as usual spanked for asking questions to the teacher which were way beyond her low I.Q and knowledge but the worst was yet to come. The second he lost sight of the school building he was cornered. The ugly face of the bully loomed up. They seemed to be in a hurry that day. They did not taunt him as usual. Kicks to his stomach and punches to his head that was all. Once it was over Tom got up brushed his clothes. His ex step mother would take offence to the dust on his clothes with no concern whatsoever for his bleeding face and swollen abdomen.
Slowly the colonel dragged himself to his men. He sighed when he saw that out of three, two were not breathing. The survivor was surprisingly fine. Fine meant that he was bleeding from many places but none very serious and most importantly he retained perfect motion of his hands and legs. “Listen Sam, these men will soon reach the highway, before that I want you to get to your feet and alert the centre via radio. Tell them to bring full reinforcements”.
“I can’t Sir”, Sam said sheepishly. “There is no cover. I will be shot like a dog”.
“Who asked you to think. That’s my job. Do I need to remind you which one of us has more number of stars. Just get your ass to the outpost.”Sam stared hard at the colonel and left.
“What are you doing”, the step mother whose name Tom didn’t care to register barked.
“Nothing, I was only going through my Dad’s accounts. He asked me to look at them”. That was the only advantage Tom had with this woman. She was illiterate and couldn’t differentiate between his maths exam preparation and his father’s accounts. With others he hadn’t been so lucky.
“I need you to wash all the clothes tomorrow.” Tom groaned inwardly. He would have to finish his exam within an hour.That is if the examiner allowed him to enter two hours late.
The colonel was tempted to shoot two soldiers who were directly in sight. But he stopped himself as doing so would compromise his location and wouldn’t give Sam enough time to escape. Escape, that word meant so much to him in his short life. He threw a grenade into the woods thus distracting the person closest to his boulder. Then taking immense care to conceal himself he shoot the person who was farthest to the location where he was hiding. The enemy immediately crowded around the fallen and started scanning the valley. The colonel had succeeded in making them change their direction. The colonel now only had to wait.
Tom pleaded with the examiner. He had finished the washing super fast and was only an hour and a half late. The examiner eventually lost his temper. Tom was kicked out.
The colonel checked his watch. Only 10 minutes more and Sam would have reached the outpost. The colonel was so intent on concentrating his watch that he didn’t notice the cold barrel of the gun until it touched the back of his head. The enemy had smart elements too. They dragged him to their make shift base. But the colonel was relieved. He could hear the sound of the choppers. Sam had been quicker than he had ever expected. It would be over soon.
After the awards ceremony the colonel said “Sam, you deserve this.You did great.”.
“But,sir you were the hero.”.
The colonel wrinkled his brow,”Sam, I am a war hardened being. But Sam how did you hope to reach the outpost with the enemy at your heels. You believed and took orders from a near dead old man. I would never had done that.”.
Tom smiled and replied,”Sir, from where I come there is no hope or expectations. There is only a mission. ”