The sound of rubber sandals on cemented floor echoed off the red brick walls of the long college corridor. A pigeon craned its neck to the sound that broke the silent summer afternoon. A figure in white jumped down the stairs and stumbled past the locked doors of the department labs. Sweat streamed down his face and the back of his shirt. His left hand tightly clenched the loose folds of his ‘mundu’ at his midriff. His feet slipped on the grease of warm blood and dirt that had formed on his slippers.
As he jumped down the last flight and ran into the courtyard, he saw them, the faces that he knew all too well. Their backs to the main gate, their hands tied behind, and their weapons barely concealed they stood waiting for him. A faint curse escaped his lips as his eyes searched for the way out that he knew did not exist.
Thomas was relieving himself and getting ready for his afternoon meal when he heard the sounds. Exams had finished the day before and the few staff and students who had turned up at the college gates that morning had also left. He cursed the heat as he made his way to catch the miscreants who he thought they were. He despised the long summer breaks, the times when it was just him, the voices in head and the mute red walls.
As he reached the edge of the courtyard, a scream shot through the muggy afternoon air.
Thomas saw the three boys with clubs and chains in their hands towering over the sprawled figure on the ground. His clothes were dirty with blood and sweat, and his face filled with fear, the boy was trying to scamper away. Instantly Thomas knew what was happening. It was not uncommon for the student political factions to settle a score or two when they got the chance. They were either venting the frustration of some lost election, or giving back what had been meted to one of their kin, or just reacting to a passing comment. It always amused him how the young confident faces transformed themselves when faced with the imminent threat.
Experience had taught Thomas that the best way to deal with these situations was silence and inaction from his part. He would turn a blind eye, and the victim would leave with a few bruises, boasting rights and an updated score.
So, as was routine, he slipped into the shadows and watched the events of that afternoon unfold. In the days to come Thomas would blame a bad stomach for his absence from the corridors that afternoon.
As he watched, one of the attackers raised his club and swung it with all his might. It caught the head on the left temple, opening up a gash that covered the face with dark red blood. With a stifled cry the body slumped on the ground.
A chill ran down Thomas’ spine and he felt his fingers tighten around his ‘lathi’.
Without exchanging so much as a word, the boys lifted the moaning body. As they half carried and half dragged the boy up the stairs an unknown fear gripped Thomas. He was sick in his stomach and felt a tear run down his cheek.
His heart was thumping against his chest when he saw the boys appear on the open roof of the east block. For a second they seemed to hesitate, and then, as a wail got stuck in the parched throat of Thomas, they flung the bundle of white over the edge into the courtyard.
Years went by, but Thomas grumbled about the summer breaks no more. Those two months of sweltering heat and loneliness had become an essential part of his life.
On certain days, when the sun was particularly hot and the air filled with a peculiar chill, he would hear those footsteps in the corridors of the East block. He kept the main gates open, and his trembling self hidden in the shadows, hoping, he didn’t hear the scream that followed, ever again.