Monday, August 20, 2007

Ramesh and the night of the storm (Part 2)


Ramesh and his friend are spending their school holidays at an uncle's house by the sea. The boys overhear two men planning a mysterious night out at sea. Ramesh is keen to come down to the beach that night to spy on the men. His friend opposes this potentially dangerous activity - what if the men are smugglers?


For a few seconds I lay on my bed in the darkness of the bedroom, not knowing what had woken me up. Then I felt the strong breeze against my face and, raising my eyes, noticed that the window was half open. It took about half a minute for the full significance of that half-open window to strike me. Then, in one simultaneous movement, I sat up in my bed, switched on the bed-side lamp and stared unblinkingly at Ramesh’s bed a couple of feet away.

It was empty.

I have never been one of the world’s fast thinkers. Ramesh would tell you that I am not even an average thinker. But this time, I had no difficulty in arriving at the truth. Before going to sleep, I remembered having securely fastened the window in anticipation of the storm. Now, the window was open, Ramesh’s bed was empty and, a quick glance at the bed-side clock told me, it was a quarter to twelve. There could be only one explanation: my friend had gone alone to spy on those men we had overheard in the evening. The fool!

For a moment I debated about what to do and then gave up the pretence. I had no alternative but to follow Ramesh – I couldn’t let my friend, no matter how stupid he was, walk into danger alone.

I quickly changed my clothes, scribbled a brief note to my uncle and left it on the bed-side table, grabbed my torch and clambered out of the window.

As I made my way to the beach below the big house I felt the breeze strengthen, displaying all the signs of growing into a gale in the near future. In the distance, sounds of thunder could be heard and in the sky the stars were covered by clouds. I soon reached the beach. The big house itself was some distance away and screened off by a row of trees.

I found Ramesh peering over a larger boulder, his back towards me. “Ramesh!” I called out in a low whisper, not wishing to frighten the chap too much.

At first Ramesh did not hear me. He seemed intent on something happening on the beach.

“Ramesh!” I called out again, this time more loudly.

My bespectacled friend whirled around to face me and the amazement written on his face was clearly visible to me, even in the darkness. He stood rigid, gazing with open mouth. He might have been posing for a statue of Young Boy Startled By Snake In Path.

He finally found voice. “What-what-what are YOU doing here?”

“That,” I told Ramesh, tapping him on the chest with my forefingers, “is what I was intending to ask YOU.”

Ramesh was silent for few seconds. Then: “I just had to find out what was going on.”

I sighed. “Well then, I’ll have to come along with you now – to see that you don’t do anything stupid, if not anything else.” I fancied I saw a look of relief on Ramesh’s face, but it was quite dark and perhaps I was mistaken.

My friend grabbed my arm and pulled me close to the rock. “Look over there – at the far end of the beach,” he whispered into my ear. “They’ve come.”

He was right. In the distance, I could see three dim figures huddled together on the beach. Beyond them, a few yards out in to the sea, was a small fishing boat which, even in the darkness, I recognized as one of the fleet used by the fishermen of the village. A small light was glowing on the boat. As I watched, the three figures, carrying something bulky between them, moved to the edge of the beach and then started wading through the water to the boat. The darkness covered what happened next but they must have boarded the boat since, a few minutes later, it started drawing away from the beach. I watched the light on the boat for a few more minutes as it went further and further out into the sea until the darkness had swallowed both boat and light.

Beside me, Ramesh stirred. “I wonder what they were carrying,” he muttered, half to himself. He turned to me. “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens when they come back.”

I was about to protest but then realized the futility of it all. Ramesh had the eager look of a greyhound pursuing an electric hare in his eyes. Whatever I said would not prevent him from seeing this adventure to its end. Muttering dark things under my breath, I waited with an anxiety that weighed upon my spirits like a mountain.

How long we stood behind that boulder, I do not know. It seemed like a lifetime. The earlier breeze had, by now, definitely grown into a gale, and the distant thunder was not sounding all that distant anymore. Finally, when I had almost given up hope of anything happening, Ramesh nudged me excitedly.

“There they are!” he exclaimed. “They’re heading towards this beach!” He pointed excitedly at the sea. As if Ramesh’s raised arm had been a signal, the mutter of distant thunder stopped abruptly. The whole world was quiet, listening, shivering with anticipation.

Following Ramesh’s pointing finger, I started out to the sea. Yes, I could definitely see a speck of light in the distance – light, moreover, which seemed to growing larger.

“Yes,” I said. “I...”

At that moment, a number of things happened in quick succession – so fast that they created a sort of blur, like telegraph poles seen from an express train. First the sky was lit up by a jagged streak of lightening which seemed to tear the heavens into two for an instant. This was followed by a tremendous clap of thunder that sounded so loud that, for a moment, I thought the cliff had collapsed behind us. Then, the sky started pelting water at us, with such force and intensity that, for a few seconds, I could not breathe with the shock. The storm had arrived. In front of us, the sea erupted into violent motion. The distant light zigzagged crazily, suddenly disappeared, and then reappeared again a split second later. Suddenly, we heard a shout from somewhere immediately to our left. We turned to see the dark figure of a man running towards us. Then, before Ramesh and I knew what was happening, my uncle was standing before us. His face red, his eyes wild, his hair disheveled, my uncle furiously waved the note, which I had left on the bed-side table, in front of us. “What,” he shouted above the roar of the storm, “is the meaning of this?”

Things were happening too fast for me. Helplessly, I turned to Ramesh for support. Ramesh, too, seemed to have been caught off-balance by my uncle’s sudden appearance. But he immediately recovered. Grabbing my uncle’s arm, he pointed to the light in the sea. “There are smugglers out there!” he announced dramatically.

My uncle stared at the light and then at Ramesh. “Is this a joke?”

Ramesh looked at uncle, his face flushed with excitement. “No, sir,” he said, “no joke. It’s like this...” And then, while we stood in the middle of that desolate, windswept beach, the rain pouring down in torrents all around us, the sky set ablaze by frequent flashes of lightening and huge, foam-flecked waves crashing to the ground barely a few yards away from us, Ramesh explained how we came to be there. After he had finished, my uncle once more stared at the light in the sea.

“Well,” he said, “you…” and then he suddenly stiffened. “That light!” he exclaimed. “It’s heading straight for some dangerous rocks! If they don’t change course immediately, they’ll crash!” He stared at the light for a few seconds and then exclaimed. “They seem to have lost their bearings!” He suddenly raised his right hand and there was a torch in it. He pointed it at the distant boat and began to flash it on and off.