I screamed…. I screamed at the top of my voice. My screams got lost in the cries of help that were originating from everywhere. “Oh God! What have I done to go through this torture?”, I was shouting at the top of my voice. People who were trapped were moaning in pain. Apart from some bruises, a sore neck and the tangle my legs had got into, I had managed to come out unscathed.
I wanted to get out of this dust and rubble this instant. I was struggling for fresh air. It was suffocating. My white uniform no more seemed white. It was eerily brown. “My class teacher would give me a sound scolding if I will reach school like this on a Republic day. Aiyoo! She will make me stand on top of the bench. Please don’t keep me trapped in this place. I will get a sound beating from my mother for going out of sight for too long. She won’t even know that I am trapped down here. Please help me god! I promise not do any sort of mischief in future. I have learnt my lesson. Now please get me out of this mess. Pleaseeeeeeeeeee!”, I pleaded to the almighty. All my prayers seemed to be falling on deaf ears as of now. I could not remember for how long I kept pleading for help. It had drained me of all my energy and I soon fell asleep. I don’t know for how many hours I slept. The screams that were so strong hours ago now seemed muffled and feeble. It seemed hope had started draining out of their bodies. All the escape routes seemed to be cut, but a dust-choked pocket of air kept me going.
I tried to look around for some help. I saw an elderly male trapped till neck trying to wriggle out of the mess he had got into. His efforts were reducing in intensity with every attempt which indicated that he was in this act for long. He had a thick moustache which was as dark as his complexion. It was the only thing that added some years to his erstwhile boyish looks. I could bet that he had grown them to give the same impression. He had trimmed the hair on his head really short but they could not hide the curl in them. He could have easily come across as a dark skinned foreign national with his looks. He had dust smeared all over. He seemed to be muscular fellow, which I assumed from his square jaws and the way the nerves of his neck stood out and seemed to bulge out every time he tried to push down the beam that he was trapped under. Though very dark, there was something in him that would capture your attention. Suddenly he looked in my direction and our eyes met. He gave me a reassuring smile. I noticed his stained teeth. He had to be a tobacco addict like my uncle. These stains were so similar. Thinking I was scared by his looks, his smile grew wider. I saw two perfect dimples form on both his cheeks. I tried to smile back. It was here that I realized that to maintain a smile in the face of extremity is the toughest thing to do. I could not even force a smile back. All that I could manage was a few tears that were now streaming continuously from my eyes.
The man started speaking in a choked voice, “This is Stephen here…..You….ehhhh…You can call me…aaahhhh…Ste…Ste…Stephen uncle. I hope you are not…not…scared of….me. Ha ha ha…aaahhh..I never thought smiling would cause me so much pain…ouch! Yaa…I was just hoping….God..aaaahhh..just hoping that you don’t start crying as well looking at me. All the kids who catch a glimpse of mine start crying. They can’t stand my…my…aaaaaahhhh…….appearance. They slip into…depression..he he he…ohhh..but you seem to be a…aaaahhhh…brave lil girl. I had this nickname back in college..ha ha ha…aaaaahhh….My batchmates used to call me Stephen IAS. Ohh..you are a kid. You wont know what an IAS stands for. It is the acronym for Indian Administrative Services(IAS). Not that I was academically brilliant and a surety for civil services…. IAS stood for Invisible After Sunset…ha ha ha..ouchhh!! You have some pretty smart guys good with such acronyms….ha ha ha…just imagine…IAS! Who could come out with such…such…ouchhh…such gem? I just grew in height…just like that….ha ha..nothing else changed…the same boyish looks….but this complexion and the curly hairs on top scare the kids away. I don’t intend to make them cry, but…aaaaaaaahhh….I see that you are not scared looking at me…Great…Don’t be scared of this hell we have got into either child….eeehhhhh…..Its not long before the rescue team arrives and pulls us out of this hell. Just relax and don’t cry. The tears would dehydrate you quickly. Even if you want to cry very badly, don’t.” That words registered like God’s command in my ears and I made an attempt to stop this flow of tears.
A resounding cry of a baby made me strain my neck towards my right. My heart leapt at the sight. I could not believe my eyes.
To be continued...