A story set in India, The Subadars head for Bombay to make a new life for themselves.
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IN May the simmering heat becomes unbearable on the flat plains of the Punjab. The sun beats down on the growing corn until the green stem wilt to one side, and the spreading weeds are all but arrested. Clouds appear and feign rain before moving along to another state, another country.
It was late in the afternoon when Veer Subadar returned to his house; it was hot with humidity to make it worse- flies buzzed around before resting on some scrap of food on the ground. The quiet smell of damp soil drifted up towards him, and the calling of birds perched high in the trees broke the eerie silence.
Alongside him was his friend Mohan, who had been released on the same day. He was slightly smaller, with a short black beard cut close to his face. They were both not yet thirty.
The old house surrounded by over green and dishevelled fields, and was boarded in part. The windows were broken, and the afternoon light could be easily seen coming through a hole in the roof into the front room. In the undergrowth small animals scurried about, and a family of mice could be seen running across the yard into the fields.
Veer stared at the house for a long time, and the sadness grew in his eyes, the bleak scene unfolding before him was not what he had expected. Slowly he moved towards the barn; it was empty. He paused at the entrance of the tool-shed, and saw that all the tools had gone; only a mess of hay-wire lay on the floor, and a broken cartwheel stood in the corner.
‘It’s all gone,’ he said, his voice betraying his emotion.
‘They might have moved to another place,’ suggested Mohan, but the words lacked conviction.
Veer shook his head. ‘No, Baba would never sell this land. He worked too hard on it, cared for it too much.’
They paused at the watering-trough, which was half full of dirty rainwater. Veer went to the well, threw down a small stone, and listened. It seemed a long time before he heard a dull clink. There’s hardly any water left, he thought. She used to be a good well.
Reluctantly he walked up to the house and climbed the three steps to the verandah, and he felt the sadness squeeze his heart. He pushed the front door open. A fine layer of dust covered the inside and a strong smell of damp and rot greeted him. The plaster on the walls had come loose, and in some places had fallen off. He stood in silence for a minute, then went through the other rooms quickly and found them all bare and empty. The loneliness was suffocating, so he went outside again.
He looked at Mohan. ‘I don’t like it,’ he said, ‘don’t like it one bit.’
The sun lowered and the evening light was on the fields, and the cotton plants threw long dark shadows on the ground. The red sun touched the horizon and spread out, and the sky above it appeared much brighter and more alive than it had been. Then he remembered a scene from eight years ago- the last time he was here, the sorrowful look of his father and mother, when the Police had come to take him away. Eight long years had passed in prison, but still that image lingered in his mind; his mother’s tears and his father’s grief. It was always going to end so, to collide with fate- to be the young man who would kill Rajnikant Seth.