It wasn’t his fault after all. He had done nothing wrong. Atleast he didn’t intend to. As he walked past rows of freshly planted jasmines, all sorts of thoughts kept bombarding in his mind. The sun, like the government servants, had called it a day even before half-past four. Even during the day, it remained hidden under the clouds, leaving the city already clad in a thick blanket of fog, shivering. He had said that he was going to play cricket with his friends in the park. Cricket was more than a passion for him. His entire life appeared to revolve around this seemingly innocuous game. He reached school at 7 in the morning and played cricket till it was time for the morning assembly. He finished his lunch in the fourth period itself so that he could play cricket in the recess. Any free period, games period, the time while waiting for the bus in the afternoon, all was spent in one and only one thing. CRICKET. CRICKET. CRICKET. He had turned eight the last month. The new cricket bat in his hand was a present from his parents. He had asked them to buy him one the last month but his father had said that he was too young for that. It seemed a lame excuse but how could his father explain to a seven year old that they could not afford it. He had cried the entire day. At night, before sleeping, his mother had tried to placate him, “Rajat, Daady is looking for a job. We can’t buy you a cricket bat now. You are mumma’s good boy and you can use the old bat for some more time. I would take you to the sports shop and get you a new grip on that bat. And I will buy you a new one on your birthday. Okay. Now, stop crying. Daddy is already very tense.” He kissed her on the cheek and wiping tears from his eyes, said, “Okay mumma, I will play with the old bat. I love you.”
As soon as his Dad had given him the bat on his birthday, he had run out with it. He had shown it to everyone with great pride. All of a sudden, he was the happiest child on earth and his parents the best. He would not allow anyone to play with it unless they made him the captain of the team and his team batted first. But now absent-mindedly swaying the bat, as late evening walkers strolled past him, his parents’ voices kept echoing around him. “Why did you buy him a bat? Sumit, I would have convinced him. You didn’t have to waste money on it”. ” Seema, you know how much he loves cricket. Let him enjoy. After all he is the one for whom we earn. And I can buy new shoes next month. I got the hole patched up by the cobbler”. The new bat had made him a local hero overnight. Even in the school, he always got the chance to bat first. He would sleep with the bat alongside him, eat his food with the bat in his hand. As he completed his homework, he would imagine his teacher bowling to him and smash them beyond imaginary boundary lines. The English teacher had been called by the Principal. The first graders, as expected, were creating an explosion, in her absence. Pankaj suggested why don’t they play cricket in the class in the meanwhile. They would bowl slowly underarm. Rajat who was already contemplating along the lines, said, “pehle meri batting”. So, they started playing in the space between the rows. Rajat played his balls with quite some ease and was not getting out. Pankaj suddenly bowled a fast one which bounced a little, Rajat tried to defend it but…..
It wasn’t his fault after all. He had nothing wrong. Atleast, he didn’t intend to. He would put the entire blame on Pankaj if the teacher asked him. However, contrary to his fears, Rashmi mam didn’t beat him, she simply wrote a note in both their diaries, “Your ward has broken the window pane in the class. Please send Rs. 200 tomorrow for the same. Also, ask him to be a little more careful in future.” He didn’t tell anyone about the note. The next day Rashmi mam scolded him and wrote another note in his diary. He didn’t know how to tell his mother. He didn’t join the children playing in the park. What if his parents never allowed him to take his bat to school ever again? What if they took away the bat from him? There was some money he had seen in his mother’s purse. But she would get to know when she saw his diary. Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t realize it was seven and pretty dark already. The park, which was bustling till half an hour ago, was as still as a graveyard.
Seema was getting extremely anxious. She asked all the neighbourhood children if they had seen Rajat. But, they said he had come to the park but not played with them. She went to the park along with two of them to find him, but they couldn’t see him in the dark. Almost on verge of tears, she waited for Sumit with bated breaths. As soon as he came, she again went to the park with him. They shouted like mad but no response came. Seema was all in tears by now. Sumit said, they shoud go to the police station. He gave her a hand and started walking back when suddenly they heard a loud thud. They ran in the direction of the sound. Rajat’s bat had fallen off the bench on which he was sleeping, shivering in the chill. Seema took him in her embrace and started kissing him like crazy. Small drops of tears appeared from nowhere on Rajat’s face. The next day at school, he was again scolded for not bringing the money, this time a little sternly. In the recess, he asked Pankaj if he could give him the money. Pankaj refused. He decided he would tell his parents today, no matter what happened. He would somehow convince his Mom not to take away his bat. Then, feeling that his mother won’t agree, he said, “Okay, I won’t take the bat to school anymore, but please don’t take it from me.” Pankaj had to shake him to bring him back from his reverie. “I can give you the money on one condition”.
It was Sunday, next day. Sumit woke him up, saying, “Come on champ, get up. Let’s go out and play. Let me show you that your father also knows how to play cricket. Okay, Okay, you get to bat first.” Rajat got up and picked up his old bat which had fallen down from his bed at night. Washing his face, his eye fell on the calendar in the mirror. His birthday was still a month away…..