Sahib dropped Akshay and me at my uncle’s place. Upon ringing the door bell we were greeted by my sister. She sprang her arms around me. Pecked me on the cheeks and shrieked, “I knew this would work out.” All my attention was sidetracked from the pain and the accident. She was the most benign member of my extended family. My sweet little sister (we are of the same age, but it’s always the brother who feels bigger and conscientious.) Her dark brown hair waved with a gush of air that freed my tensed nerves. The freckles on her face were not a result of age, but a sign of fret and relief on holding her dearest brother tightly after such a long time. Her eyes, a shade darker than mine, were shut. She only opened those almond contoured eyes to look at Akshay. We had never had any sibling rivalry. We owed this to the fact that my uncle treated me as the son he always wanted and my cousin was overwhelmed by the distinction of being the only girl in the whole of Dehradoon who could address me as “Brother”, without offending me.
Akshay: Yeah, yes hmm… Then she gave me an ointment and said it is very effective and will heal the wounds quickly. Anyways there is something more important that we need to discuss (he came closer, Sahib stopped the car.)
Kalsh we must, all four of us, sign a covenant right here right now. See, our trip was a secret. The place where we were camping was out of bounds. We had no idea that the area was frequented by animals. We lied to you, but all three of us knew about the clandestine nature of our outing. The forest official has asked me not to mention this incident ever. He has been recently posted in this district and a mishap like this would reflect poorly on his record. Moreover we don’t want negative publicity for our town, our school or the animals that are already endangered. Brothers (he raised his right fist to touch the roof of the car) we all must sign a covenant here. What we survived this weekend must go to the grave with us. If my parents come to know about it, I will be eternally grounded. If Sahib’s dad learns about it he would never get a car for any road trip ever. If Keshav’s mother hears of what he has been through they will ask him to leave the hostel. And Kalsh nobody can imagine the havoc that your brother would rake once he finds out. Surely the whole school would learn about it, the forest officer would lose the job and you will not know what privacy is for the rest of your teenage. So all four of us present here must enter this covenant of muteness, which we shall call…err… help me out here.
Our foremost priority was to get you treated so we made our way to the forest inspector’s hut. There I had to lift you on my shoulders all the way to the emergency room.
Kalsh: Ah… that explains the blood stains on your shirt.
Akshay: Yes right, now shut up and listen. Although the ranger was nowhere to be found but luckily there was a nurse in the hut. She cleaned your wounds. A kindhearted lady who made sure that you did not die of septic.
“We cannot thank her enough.” Keshav and Sahib chimed in unison.There were tears in their eyes. Akshay ignored them and continued:
But you see she was not a specialist doctor. Her stitching skills were not perfect. Although she tried her level best but she couldn’t stop the bleeding. We tried ice, water, and bandage but to no avail. So to cut the long story short, you bled for one whole night. She also contacted the ranger.
Sahib: He wanted to interview all of us but I made sure that he did not disturb your sleep.
Akshya: Will you two stop interrupting. (Sahib pretended he was looking at the road.) So where was I?
Kalsh: The forest official…
Akshay: Yeah, yes hmm…
I pushed an iron rod into the bear’s mouth. The beast couldn’t withstand my power and backtracked. The jeep jolted to a start and these two were probably going to run away (he gave Keshav and Sahib a disenchanted glance) without you. It could have been unintentional also. Perhaps, Keshav pressed the gas incidentally with his trembling foot. I was going to pounce at him from the trunk itself but somehow you managed to hold on to the hind bar of the boot and he (Akshay pointed at Keshav) dragged you along for some distance. In fact he dragged you till you actually became unconscious and let go off the jeep. He stopped only when I screamed at him from the last bunk.
Now back to the kick. This was not Italy and definitely not an Italian goalkeeper facing me. So I missed. The ball touched the top right corner and then it occurred to me- A’ Del Piero was left footed!! And I wasn’t.
The ball bounced, everyone pounced and the tallest man on the field, Keshav, made contact with the ball. Not his feet, neither the head, it wasn’t a hand or an elbow, no footballer thighs but a part so intimate that I can hardly mention, but yet he could hardly ignore. He squeaked like a pig whose tail had been squashed!
But this was not the worse part. Incidentally the ball was now moving towards me and everyone towards him. I had the choice to help the boy get up and forget the kick. I had to make my first unregimented decision and I decided to go with my heart and forget the last eighty eight seconds of fame.
I extruded a shot so fierce that not even a wall would have stopped it. I scored the goal that got us the title of ‘Champions of Dehradoon’. The goalkeeper was with his defender (Keshav) and the ball inside the net.
I was not on the field anymore. As the referee whistled my teammates made a gesture I can never forget. They lifted me six feet in the air and Anurag, the captain standing in front of me gifted me my dream. Like an elder brother hands down the prodigy of a family. I received a piece of rubber cut like a ring. I might be the only prince to be crowned with a ring and not a crown. I was now wearing on my right arm Anurag’s band, the captain’s band, it was now my band.
That day I was unofficially declared the captain of the school football team. This chapter is full of terms like ‘Me’, ‘I’, ‘Mine’ and the likes. At this point of time in my life I was at the apogee of my epilogue. Peak in academics, peak in sports, peak in relationships and I feel a compulsion to start this book from the peak. This is the beginning of a long journey. It is the pinnacle of ego where the most interesting revelations occur and here I stooped down below.