The Indomitable Soldier

3 min


Fifty. Fifty-One. Fifty-Two. The shopkeeper was counting the number in the queue. People have flocked in quite early to collect their ‘essential items’. COVID – 19 has turned them away from leading a normal life. No one dared to come out in public. Every day the infection was transmitting a little faster than before.  Far away in the queue was standing a kid. His slender neck and lean body stood on very thin legs. He was Kunal. Unlike others, he did not pile up groceries in his house after lockdown had been imposed. He knew the govt would draw measure to come in support of them. He was also a little worried. When people would find comfort in their cozy home, Kunal would be walking across in his colony to collect the garbage. For him, it was really difficult to decide which one is the bigger challenge – to look after his ailing father or to save the society from a deadly virus.

Finally, when he came back home with the list he had been sent to the market, his father was desperate to go out in public.

“You don’t teach me disease. I know all of it.”

“Baba, I’m fed up with you. Why are you being so obstinate? Can you not understand why they’re so much vocal about the infection? Please, for god’s sake, do not hammer my head. Stay home. I’ve to go out to clean up the shit  the whole colony left for me. Nobody, just nobody cares what I’d do for them. If I die, no one will come to your rescue.

Kunal piled the ration up in his kitchen and stormed out. The price of the ration he had to fetch at was well above the usual market rate. Whatever little he had been able to save for his father was, now, gone. A cardiac patient, his father, Bidhan was too weak to go out with his e-rickshaw. But every day Bidhan would try to convince his son into allowing him going out. 

Kunal was upset. He knew how much his father wanted to help him and how dangerous his help could turn out to be. His unkept hair and bearded jawline narrated his trouble. 

A little away from his house was a cart leaning onto the corporation building.  Kunal took his companion and set out for his day. With a mask, shrouding his nose and mouth, and gloved hands, he started to beat a small drum as soon as he was in the bylane. The mask would not allow him to call out the neighbor to dump garbage in his cart. This was his only resort to announce him in the colony.

“Madam, how many times did I tell not to litter your street? Please don’t risk your hygiene. Dump it in my cart.” Kunal tried to alert the 5th house of their colony. The wife in that house did not have the sense to use the cart. She would always fling garbage from her terrace and litter the street.

Why, despite so educated, do they not understand to keep a little clean? How much effort does it take for them to drop it in my cart?

He would always tell them to keep their colony clean.  

On the thirteenth day of the lockdown, his father, had a massive cardiac attack. He was out to clean his colony when the news jolted him. Bidhan was taken to the hospital immediately after his neighbors found him unconscious. The last thing that Kunal could have expected now was to begin a battle for his father. The possibility of having him infected with Corona in the hospital ran a chill down his spine. 

After 5 days, Kunal ran out of cash. The hospital bills shot up. Alone, in the hospital lobby, Kunal sat by the wooden bench. His face was lined with deep trench and dark patches. Soft, tired hands held the file of hospital expenses. In bold letters the amount he had to submit to the hospital, torn him apart. Slowly, he stood up on his weak legs. It was time for him to give up. He could no longer fight for his father.

He came infront of the cash counter. A beautiful lady greeted him with a beautiful smile.

“Ma’am, I’m not able to pay such exorbitant fee. I’m just a housekeeper of my colony. Whatever I had saved till now, I paid on his treatment. The value of our life is not too much. I did what I could do to walk this far. Now it is over. It is all over.”

Kunal looked exhausted.

“You know ma’am, when my father would be no more tomorrow, you could still find me there in the lane, cleaning up my colony. A dying city has to depend so much on us, to live, to breathe, to remain safe. But how much does the world value us? Someday, there will be no one left if we all come to earth with an expiry that money decides, not our destiny.”

The lady immediately stood up and smiled again.

“Kunal, you have no pending bill. All your expenses have been settled. Your father is also better now.  Go home.”

A bolt came out of the blue. Who paid at hospital? How did this happen? He could not find any answer. The dark corner of his room sheltered a low bench in which his father used to rest after lunch. He slouched on it and looked out in distance. 

Someone knocked on his door and called out his name. Atul, his neighbor, walked in and held out a letter. 

“The whole colony contributed to pay off your hospital expenses. You have been battling against a bigger enemy. What we did today is nothing compared to how massive your contribution is in saving the whole community.  Thank you.” 

With moist eyes, Kunal hugged him tightly and leaned onto his shoulder. He had a bigger battle to win. 

***

Photo by: Rinaldi Akbar

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