Strangers and friends

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Tim was running away from his past, trying to make a new beginning in a new land. With no apparent success with his career in sight, it was probably time to start life anew, on a new note, and face the world with courage.

Submitted: March 15, 2007

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Submitted: March 15, 2007

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Strangers and friends
A short storyby Amit

Respected even of immortal gods is he who comes a fugitive. - Odyssey


I.

He was traveling alone in a land ruled by the military. With no documents (he had considered it unnecessay to carry them), it was only a matter of time before someone was to question and arrested Tim. In a world divided by borders and nationalities, was there a hope for human values to win, to transcend man-made borders, and assert their presence in the most turbulent of times?

Tim was running away from his past, trying to make a new beginning in a new land. With no apparent success with his career in sight, it was probably time to start life anew, on a new note, and face the world with courage. He wanted to confront reality headlong, on its face, with all the strenght he had, rather than go down, sulk, and wither away in near anonymity in his own country. It was now time for him to take full control of his life.

A long journey brought him near the border, and Tim was now prepared himself to risk all and begin a new life. Crossing the border was easy, and with some effort he finally managed to reach a small tributary that formed a natural frontier between the two countries. The sight of a religious shrine built with its unique architecture gave Tim the first impressions of a new country. He boldly set out on his mission, to reach a small city he had marked on the map before embarking on the journey.

Hitching a ride on a modified mini-van, and surpassing a couple of check points, Tim reached a small military cantonment built along a river. From here, he was to learn later, the open country began, with not much military presence to deter foreigners.The cantonment, a small town built on a raised hill on the banks of a river, was heavily patrolled, with large search lights kept on river boats that kept the area on the other side of the river under surveillance.

A number of small boats carried people to either side of the river on payment of a small sum of money.Tim took a boat that was rowed by a youth, a boy probably in his twenties who did not speak English. Uptill now, Tim had aroused no suspicion from anyone around. The local people simply ignored his presence, though he somewhat stood out from the rest with his built, dress and facial features. The boat, rowed by the teenaged boy, took him across the river, and Tim paid the fixed sum in local money for a one-way crossing.


II.


When human beings are in distress and danger, help comes from the strangest, unexpected quarters. Tim got off the boat and made his way out of the river sands. As he was leaving the boat, a young boy went past him, and passed a remark in broken english, suggesting it was time now for Tim to "hide" somewhere. It was as if the boy knew about him, and his purpose of coming to the town.Tim kept walking toward what looked like a small village settlement over a raised plateau. Looking at the people around him, he suddenly spotted the teenaged boy who had rowed the boat for him. The teenager approached Tim, but knew little English to strike a conversation. He then gestured Tim to follow him.

The sun was about to set for the day. The way to the raised platform was a short, inclined footpath. Tim trudged behind the teenager, barely able to walk. His right heel had developed a painful swelling due to long periods of walking. The teenager took him to a small hut, a dwelling that also served as a restaurant. It belonged to his friend, whom he began to speak to in low tones. From their talks, it appeared to Tim that they were discussing where to lodge him for the night. Tim overheard the word 'police' during the talks, and understood that the local police often visited the huts for inspections.

The boy who managed the restaurant walked out and returned with a girl, who happened to know English. She had been to Tim's country as a student, and was the sister of the restaurant owner. The girl inquired about Tim's purpose, to which he replied that he was a curious visitor and had come to visit a small city that lay ahead. He inquired with her the name of the river to confirm he was at the place he had marked on the map. The girl told him he could take a boat downstream and reach his destination, just as he had planned. Tim did not try to open himself up, and the girl soon left.

The two boys, the teenager and the restaurant owner, now gestured Tim to follow them. They crossed the river again, and went up the township through the market. Tim, spotting uniformed soldiers in the market, tried to maintain a distance from the two boys to avoid being seen with them. He was limping on one leg. He could barely walk, and his right foot gave him shots of pain every time he took a step ahead.

They were now inside a residential area, and stood below an old, two storey building. The teenagers called a middle-aged man down, and began talking to him in low tones. Tim tried to make sense of the outcome by observing their head gestures and expressions. The man appeared to nod his head in refusal.Soon after, the middle-aged man went upstairs. The boys stood silent for a moment, and then took leave of the place. Tim limped forward, and tried to follow them through narrow lanes and turns.

The boys were now walking rather fast, or Tim could no longer walk with sufficient pace to tag along them. As the distance between them grew, Tim tried to call them, but his soft voice hardly reached the boys who were not looking back to check for him.As the teenager and his friend took a turn, Tim was way behind them, limping as fast as he could to keep them in sight. When Tim reached the turn, the boys were not to be seen. It was a crossing, and they could have taken to the right of left, or gone forward and taken the next turn as well.

Tim was heartbroken. He tried to take one of the turns, but could not see the boys anywhere in sight. Coming back slowly to the original spot, Tim decided to wait for the boys to come back looking for him. It was taking too long. Army soldiers could be on patrol, and it was not safe to stand there.Tim had lost his saviours - his only friends in an unknown country who had tried to lodge him to safety, risking themselves to save him from being caught by the soldiers.

He limped back to the river, helped by the darkness that had now set in.Next morning, Tim's luck finally deserted him. He was spotted and handed over to the immigration authorities. He never again saw the two boys, and still does not know why they tried to save him.

Looking back in hinsight, it appears to him that the boys knew the danger he was in, and with courage had tried to save him. Though Tim lost, that day, human values triuphed over adversity. The two teenagers were young, poor, and common. Yet, they were truly human.

*****

Firstpublished on my blog at sulekha.com:

http://amitontheweb.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/03/strangers-and-friends-a-short-story.htm


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