‘Do you think they’ve left’, I asked, trying to follow the trail of voices outside.
‘I guess so’, replied a metallic voice, laced with some uncertainty.
We were both perched on Pa’s low, gleaming teakwood cabinet which housed his various sets of uniform – a soldier’s most prized and venerated possession, as any military officer would aver.
‘Do you see Ma anywhere around? Wonder if she’s eaten anything, what with this steady trickle of people since morning’, I mumbled, struggling to stifle a yawn. I felt exhausted, beaten. My once shining, spotless, stiff frame appeared a tad slack and jaded. After all, I hadn’t had a chance to crown Pa’s raven mop lately….a peaked cap had no place in combat attire.
‘Which hour are you striking right now?’ I asked my delicately machined, bejewelled comrade-in-arms. ‘A beauty!’ Pa had exclaimed, admiring his Valentine’s gift from Ma, snugly fitted on to his strong, dependable wrist. Fossil….such a misnomer for this dashing, young engineering marvel, I had often mused earlier. Not any more. Like me, he too lay broken, bruised, in mourning.
‘Can’t say….my heart stopped beating that fateful morning itself. Now I’m just a lifeless dial dangling from a tattered leather strap. Not that I care anyway….’ Fossil peeled off, unable to continue.
The night air hung heavy with the fragrance of tuberose garlands, incense sticks and the ghee-lit diya. The mellow light revealed the vibrant face of a dapper armyman, joie de vivre writ large on his youthful face, now immortalised within a gilded photo frame placed beside us.
‘Fossil remember, how I would envy Pa’s camouflage headgear?’ I fondly reminisced. ‘How I yearned to feel that pride and glory of marching home victorious after trouncing the enemy files? But on hindsight, at least I was spared the anguish of seeing Pa fall, suffer…’
There were subdued voices and hushed silences outside…anxious feet tip-toeing across, as if trying to honour the dead and maintain the eerie quiet that had engulfed the house.
‘Nailed it, buddy! Right till the end, Pa kept watching me closely, issuing crisp instructions to his men…. for him, it was always service before self. Frankly, I never saw this coming….not even when the bullet whizzed past so dangerously close to Pa or when the glistening shrapnel hit my glass case. It’s only when I felt a warm, sticky moistness all around and saw Pa staring listlessly at me, did I realise what had transpired! His eyes spoke a thousand words….his lips, none’, Fossil shuddered imperceptibly.
‘And tomorrow they’ll place you inside the box with Pa….damn you, you lucky chosen one!’ I was choking on my own words now. ‘And I shall remain with Ma…. until I meet you both on the other side. Till then, take care, my friend!’
As if on cue, a young lady in white entered the room. She let out a muffled sob as she picked up Fossil and then glided out, gently merging with the shadows outside.
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