Bedtime thought Charles, perhaps for the last time, for this dilemma before sleep had become an apprehensive monotony for him. Six days he counted ever since his guilt had tortured him without a hint of dissipation. He contemplated on how evasively the treasured daylight had disappeared into haunt and took with it the day’s bustle. However, it was night now. A time of agitation that unfolded after the gloaming like a boiling cauldron’s lid being hoisted; night struck him like that white, blazing mist: a concoction of the tainted past and a futile penance thereafter.
He rushed to his bedroom window and ensured that it was shut rigidly, so as to not let the glacial night air touch him, for it constantly stared at him and reminded him that though he was alone, he wasn’t. He lied down, but could not ignore how the lamentations from days back were poignant and alive as ever in the dense, mysterious rustle of the night air against the trees nearby, saturating his shivering body with delirium. At last, he conceded that the window was useless in shielding him and gave in to the incessant calls of the night air. Thus, he swirled within time six days back.
It was a sweltering afternoon in Lahore and the city was drenched in its characteristic toil. Charles stood on his abode’s balcony, peering at the children in the playground nearby with enthusiasm. I wish I could play cricket with them he thought, but his father’s fiery response to this desire many a times diminished his hopes, for the entire city feared his father’s punishments, especially if the locals tried to match their colonial masters. He motioned his batting strokes with his imaginary bat and in his room bowled ample deliveries and watched them skid through to the wicket-keeper only to frustratingly realize that none of that had actually transpired. He took a plunge into the conundrum yet again: I should try once again and ask him…surely he’ll agree…but what about that man, Suresh, he had beaten up because he secretly played with me once. No, I’ll do this now, he boasts of our race all day long and if I want to play cricket, he can’t find white children and won’t let me play with the locals. Charles proceeded towards his father’s library with certitude, but could not find him there. He’ll be in that private room of his now and I can’t disturb him…let’s just see what’s happening there.
He tiptoed his way to the forbidden room that was locked as always. Charles could hear the unclear yet impassioned bellows of his father and the frail groans of a man. He rushed back to his room and shut the door behind him. At first, his thoughts scrambled in a brew of the pain the man was going through and a burning question as to why his father forbade that room for his entrance, but from nowhere stood out the scintillating idea to discreetly go out and play cricket once and for all. His mind grew further assured by the fact that his father often took hours to return whenever he paid a visit to that room.
With no reluctance whatsoever, Charles put on his shoes and sneaked out of the house whilst constantly reminding his eager body to stay composed and not make a noise. Thus, he went out into the playground, unnoticed as the servants were all asleep at this time and his father was busy in the cryptic room. He earnestly rushed to the ground only to find three boys wearing salwar kamis spontaneously paralyze in stupefaction. As he approached them, they drew back from him, scared. Charles was taken aback simultaneously and picked up the ball they had dropped when they saw him enter the field and motioned to them, as clearly as he could, that he just wanted to play.
After moments of close inspection, the three boys reciprocated Charles’ passion and from there on commenced a set of hard-hit sixes, tumbling wickets, and inspiring catches followed by joyous high-fives and local encouragements such as shabash. The cycle persisted on for an hour and then another as evening was approaching fast, but the boys’ energy was not fading, while Charles ignored any thought of his father and simply relished the desperately desired experience. As the gloaming materialized, they decided to have one last match. Charles got ready to bat first and as the ball was delivered by Zaheer it bounced up to his neck and Charles swung the bat across with his wrists, but was not able to control its shoulder from slamming into his forehead. He fell down and his forehead burned in agony as drops of deep scarlet trickled down onto the terrain and amalgamated in entwining spirals of scarlet over brown. Zaheer, Josh and Shami gathered around him when, all of a sudden, the roars of an authoritative voice echoed across the field and there he was, Charles’ father, along with three servants, charging towards the static flock of boys.
After that, Charles remembered, he succumbed to the fear of a scolding from his father and lied that the boys were beating him and that he just went out to take a stroll. Soon after, he was lying in his bedroom as the squeaks of young boys rumbled across the vicinity with a vehemence laden with the soft innocence of childhood. It was night and the air was cold and it possessed a strange scent.
Charles woke up from his seventh nightmare, similar as ever, shivering with frosty blood suffusing his body. He took deep sighs and looked towards the window…it was open and nothing could shut it close, nothing could block the path of the numbing night air from piercing his tarnished soul. The air’s smell was frighteningly familiar, yet peculiar as ever. It was the scent of betrayal.
The Scent of Betrayal