Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The King

He descended down the staircase, the crown steady on his head. He shaded his eyes with his hand and looked at the vast expanse of land in front of him. “It’s all mine.” Determined, he moved forward, slowly, inspecting everything carefully. His eyes sparkled as his firm feet moved over his territory, his cloak touching the ground as he walked. Timothy, his lifelong companion and friend, followed him closely, alert, looking out for any kind of danger. He wagged his tail as his master stopped to pat his head and gave him one of those little treats he would keep giving him from time to time.

“We need to keep moving Timothy. We have to accomplish the task today in order to save our kingdom. Our family is in danger. Now, are you with me?” He smiled as he saw his faithful dog letting out a yelp. They still had to walk miles before they’d reach their destination and the terrain was becoming difficult to tread. The sun was beating down hard but he knew he couldn’t afford to stop. His people counted on him. His empire was in trouble and his soldiers were incapacitated and everything lay on his shoulders.

He thought of the time when everything was good. When he was the king, when there was joy and prosperity and abundance. When the sun used to shine and flowers used to bloom and the birds sang. When he had the freedom to do what he wanted. He was the leader, and he ruled the people’s hearts and souls. But things had changed. He saw this as a test, a challenge rather than a time of despair; he had to prove his mettle and was not ready to give up.

Finally, weary and thirsty, he reached the spot. And there he saw them. Gleaming in the sunlight. Huge, yellow machines, taller than most buildings. He ran towards them, as he saw some other rivals approaching them fast. He sprinted faster than his legs could carry him, and lunged into the piles. He scrambled, with Timothy by his side; he looked all over, dug deeper and deeper. Nothing. He had to find something.

Something, anything. Absolutely anything. He looked around desperately; in a frantic struggle to find the things he was looking for before the others did. Finally, he saw something. He lurched towards it. Yes! It was a piece of bread, hard and crusty at the sides, but eatable. He hurriedly kept it in an old plastic box he found somewhere nearby and moved ahead. One by one, he filled his bag with valuable commodities his family was in dire need of. An old apple, plastic bottles, a half-eaten samosa, a handful of potato wafers in plastic bags, a rotten banana, corn, a pair of different old slippers...

 He wiped the sweat off his forehead with his little hands and removed the tin foil he was wearing over his head. He removed the old rag around his neck as it began to itch. He looked at the other kids as they fought over a packet of sealed biscuits somebody had found in the huge dump yard. Timothy looked at him with sadly hopeful eyes, and then began to scratch the fleas off his skeletal body. “Later, boy. I promise you won’t sleep hungry tonight.” He reached the first aid camp, and went to his ailing mother in one of the tents. Flies hovered over her red, infected stump. She had lost her leg due to the earthquake and though it had been days since it happened, she was still screaming. More with terror and grief than with pain.

They had their baby brother and their house since the natural calamity struck. He could not find his best friends and there was destruction all around. Broken houses, broken roads, broken limbs and broken hearts. Not to mention the diseases and the fierce scarcity of food and medical aid. For the first time in his life he knew what starvation meant. His entire body would convulse with pain as the hunger pangs and exhaustion would take over.  But even that took a backseat when he saw his mother. And the other people all around him who were dying at an alarming rate. He was becoming numb to it now.

He went up to her side and said “Mom, I have food for us tonight.” He took his baby brother in his arms and watched him as he devoured the bread in one second. He just looked as his bag was snatched away from him and the contents were wolfed down instantly. “One day it will be over. All of this, all of this will be over. And things will be normal again.” False hope or unbelievable optimism? He looked out into the space with a distant expression on his face. He was going to be the king again. Some day. And as sick people cried around him, a smile spread across his face. He was far away. 


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