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Blue Bike

2006-07-13 21:32

  It was the most beautiful bike and it belonged to Ranjan‘s Uncle. A magic, kingfisher-blue with a matching pannier and two smart rear-view mirrors. A real beauty of bike and the first of its kind in the neighborhood. Overnight, Ranjan had become a prince among us boys.

  We clustered around him in class the next day, eager for details.

  “Eighty kilometers to a litre and rides like a dream,” said Ranjan, swinging his lanky legs over the back of his chair. “Vrooooom… Such power Friend.

  Ranjan‘s uncle had come down from Bombay, riding the new motorbike. He was staying for three weeks. Three glorious weeks, and every afternoon when he slept, we could ogle at the blue wonder to our hearts content. Sometimes Ranjan managed to sneak out his uncle’s red helmet. We would wear it in turn and sit on the bike, hands itching to turn on the ignition and be off. In the evenings, we watch Ranjan go out for a spin with his uncle and our stomachs churned with envy.

  Ranjan had always been a stylist, now he began to walk around like the world‘s greatest. When we cycled home from school, he would crouch over the handlebars, squinting his eyes and you knew he dreamed of the blue bike.

  One Monday morning I was struggling with the map of Australia when Ranjan whispered in my ear, “I am learning to ride it, friend.”

  “Hah!” I scoffed. “Your Uncle‘s not such a mutton head that he will trust you with his bike.”

  “Want to bet?” Ranjan challenged, leaning across the desk. “I will show you on Sunday. You watch.”

  Ranjan, like the rest of us, knew everything about the bike. Every screw and nut and pin. Butt to ride it, actually ride it, was another story. Like all grown-ups, his uncle had this belief that fourteen-year olds could not handle things like motorbikes. It is unfair really. They make you feel very small.

  Ranjan could daydream all he wanted just like the rest of us. But ride the bike-never.

  Come Sunday and after lunch I remembered Ranjan‘s bragging. Having nothing special to do all afternoon, I decided to go and needle him about the bike. I gave my famous thumb and iindex finger ’ring‘ whistle outside his window. His head bobbed out and he held up the keys, grinning. Then he disappeared, to appear at the gate seconds later, wearing the red helmet and his yellow leather jerkin, although it was a warm afternoon.

  Noiselessly, he wheeled the bike out of the gate. He looked around warily, turning with his whole body because his neck was stiff with the weight of the helmet. He pushed it down the road, three houses away. He swung onto the seat, inserted the key, turned on the ignition and the petrol tap. He kicked the starter and the engine throbbed to life. He turned around stiffly and signalledme to get on. I felt a daredevil flutter of excitement as I climbed onto the pillion but still could not believe that he would ride it.

  “Ready?” Ranjan yelled over the roar of the engine.

  “Yeah. What are you waiting for?”

  We were off. The road was nearly empty and after a wobbly start, the bike steadied and we were moving smoothly. We reached the corner house and swerved right onto Crescent Road. I leaned forward, hand on my knee and peered at the speedometer-30 kmph, 40, 60. Super!

  We neared the traffic lights which had changed to yellow but Ranjan was in no mood to slow down. The light had already changed to red when he cleared the crossing. I heard a shrill police whistle but was too scared to turn around and look. We sped on full speed and I heard Ranjan laugh aloud.

  Ranjan raced down the Crescent Road, and turned at the corner. He saw, seconds too late, the old woman in his  path. He stepped on the brakes and bike screeched to a halt. In a daze I saw the old woman sprawled on the road, her bag of onions, potatoes and tomatoes scattered about.

  Ranjan panicked. He opened the throttle and in seconds we were speeding along. It took me a few minutes to realize what was happening.

  “Hey, Ranjan, stop!” I yelled, gripping his shoulders.

  He shrugged off my hands. “Don‘t be a mutt,” he said. “I don’t want to end up in jail.”

  “But the lady…。”

  “She is all right. She wasn‘t badly hurt or anything.”

  I was furious. “We have got to stop and help,” I said angrily. “It was a lousy thing to do, to hit and run.”

  But Ranjan raced on regardless. I was getting angrier. We were a good two kilometers away from the scene of the accident when I forced him to stop.

  “I am going back,” I said, getting off the bike. I was angry, frightened, and feeling guilty.

  “Suit yourself, but don‘t drag me into it,” Ranjan said sourly.

  “You are lousy coward,” I cried out to him. Then turning around, I sprinted across the road to the bus stop.

  I was the last to get on to the waiting bus. When the conductor finally reached me, I felt in my pockets and realized I had no money.

  “I am sorry, I will pay you tomorrow,” I said. “It is really urgent that I go to Crescent Road.”

  “Out!” said the conductor sharply. He rapped the roof of the bus and it jerked to halt. “You have some cheek getting on without money for the ticket. OUT!”

  “Please. There has been an accident,” I explained. “I have got to get there…。”

  “Shut up and get out.”

  I felt helpless. If I did not get out, he would throw me out.

  That was when an elderly lady came to my rescue. “Don‘t drive him out, I will pay for the ticket,” she said, opening her purse. “He is worried about something.”

  “Thank you” I said gratefully, shame flaming my cheeks.

  It seemed ages before we reached Crescent Road. A crowd had gathered at the scene. A young man had bandaged the old lady‘s wrist and was helping her into an autorickshaw.

  “A blue bike,” I heard someone say. “Two young boys.”

  “The rogues. They should be whipped,” the police officer said. “Anyone noted the number?” he asked above the din.

  I stepped forward. “Sir I can explain. You see, I was the pillion rider…。”

  “Vroooom…。” I whirled around and saw the blue bike drive up and halt near the crowd. Ranjan got off the bike. He looked me squarely in the eye, and then walked up to the police officer. “I will explain,” he said. “It was all my fault…。”

  I took a deep breath and went and stood by his side.

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