The Goat Boy

He was always there.
Around the block, on my mind, somewhere in my heart.
And then one day, he just left,

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1. The Goat Boy

-BASED ON A TRUE STORY-

I wasn't very old when it happened. I would be seven, or maybe eight at most.

I didn't understand then, what it meant, all those people arriving, the scent of flowers hanging in the whole house, and the teary eyed hugs.

All I knew was what my mother had told me. And that made it seem like he had just gone to a vacation. To a very pretty place, like Kashmir, or Murree, and he was going to be very, very happy.

But as my mother told me so, I remember looking up at her and asking,

"Then why is everyone else so sad?"

She just gave me a sad smile, and carried me to bed, singing me a lullaby till I went to sleep.

And if i strain my memory enough, I can still remember the faint smell of those red roses, mixed with the scent of wet mud. And I can still hear the splashing sound of hurrying feet through the puddles made by that summer rain. And I could still hear the sobs. 

Oh, the sobs.

****************

When I was three, I heard my mom talking to my dad about how a boy who lived at the corner of our street, Rehan, had lost his goat.

She went on to complain about the increased theft rates in our colony over the past year, but all I could think about, was that goat.

Because at that age, the very idea of something getting lost and never returning seemed absolutely absurd to me. Me being a three year old whose entire world was her 1 kanal home, where a lost toy would reappear a couple of days later, from behind a creak in the cabinet, or from some dark corner under a bed.

I made a mental note to tell Rehan to look under his bed for the goat, the next time I saw him.

I had, actually, rarely ever spoke to him before. Our only 'meetings' being just a silent exchange of glaces. What our moms called 'child telepathy', but no, it had just been blank staredowns while I laid out wheat grains on the ground for the hens his mother kept, making an "aa! aa!" sound for ushering them towards me.

But whatever the case was, I felt genuine empathy. I couldn't imagine my cat getting lost forever. No, that was too horrid an idea to even think about.

The next day, as per usual, I was sitting on the balcony of my home. Looking down at the street. For me, the street was a whole other world that only the bravest dared enter. With all the huge dogs with scary teeth, the tall, tough looking older kids, and the car and bicycles whizzing by every two minutes, it was a whole other territory. Besides, I was an only child, my parents would hardly ever let me out of their sight.

Anyways, that was when I saw him get out of his house. Dark black hair, with even darker eyes. A tan skin, as most of the people living where we did had. And so petite it was almost unhealthy. He was no more than two years older, or six inches taller than me.

As he was walking over, passing from the front of my house, a list of groceries and a basket in his hand, I called out,

"Rehan! Did you find your goat?"

He looked around for a moment, searching for the source of the voice he had heard, until his eyes landed on me. My face pressed through one of the holes in the balcony grills, while i stood on my tippy toes.

"No."

He replied. One word. Two alphabets. A single syllable.

That was the only word I would hear from him in the next four years when we spoke.

The first two of which I would ask him the same six worded question, in the same sing-song voice and he would answer with the same one word, monotonous.

The third year, he would sometimes cough, or wheeze slightly while answering, his volume a little lower than before, and his voice, slightly coarse.

At that time, we both knew that I was now old enough to understand the fact that the goat might never be coming back. That it had been feasted upon, digested, and excreted by then, it's remains scattered all across the Indian Ocean. But I still continued to ask that question, and he continued to answer. No more out of curiosity, but more out of a habit.

During the fourth year, he didn't get out of the house much. His grocery shopping schedule irregular, and his gait tedious. But his answer, the same.

And somewhere during the beginning of the fifth year, he just stopped coming. Nor did I see him while my weekly activity of feeding the hens. I sometimes thought of asking his mother about it, whose eye bags were getting darker, and her smile was becoming fainter day by day. But I never had the courage to ask her. So I never did 

How I wish I had.

And then, one day, my mother received a call on our landline. Her expressions dropped, she said some words in a tone that I didn't like. It scared me.

Everybody dressed up in white, and we went to the house where Rehan had lived. Battered, small, beaten up by poverty, and singing gospels of the hardships that him and his single mother had been through.

The next thing I remember is my dad, and three other men lifting up a metallic bed, chaarpai, each person heaving one single leg over their shoulder, and carrying it away. It had something on it, the bed, covered by a white cloth. After they were gone, the shrilling pleads of some women could still be heard,

"Don't. Let him stay. With us. Don't."

Cancer had eaten him up, one tumor at a time. It was the usual story; stage IV, late diagnosis, lack of resources for treatment.

And death.

****************

Sometimes I wonder if he had known what was coming. Was he promised a dream vacation in a beautiful land? Or was he told how he was going to leave the world of everyone he loved shattered into pieces? Or was he told nothing at all, and one night, after going to bed, thinking of all that he would do tomorrow, he never woke up?

I wonder what had he thought of me? And what was it that I had been able to infer from his monotonous voice pronouncing a single syllable over and over for four years? His shy voice, that would never see puberty. His dark hair that would never have a chance to turn grey. 

Maybe he thought of me as this posh, spoiled child who thought life was all sunshine and rainbows. Or as this stubborn only child who wouldn't stop asking a question until she heard a 'yes'. Or this weird kid who never played with others, and only stayed at home with her cat. Or maybe as caring, empathetic. 

Or perhaps, he never even thought much about it. Just like I hadn't.

Until after his death.

What had I thought of him though? From the little I had known him over the vast course of four years. He was introverted, I had never see  him play with any other kids either, or laugh, like they did. There was a glint of maturity hooded behind his dark, innocent eyes, something that came naturally with being at the lower region of the food chain in the society, and the only male of the family. He was also an only child, and without doubt, the apple of his mother's eye. 

But that was about it.

Did he dislike vegetables like most kids? Did he have any good friends? What were his hobbies? Which one of his hens was his favorite? How was the sound of his laugh? What was that one childhood memory of his, that his mother would always remember, even years later, tears brimming in her ageing eyes? What did he want to become when he grew up?

What was his life before death stole it oh-so-cruelly?

The answer to those questions, and so much more. I would never know. 

But one thing I would always have with me is the exact same sentence in which my mother explained to my eight year old self that he was gone,

"Honey", she said, "he's with his goat now. In a much better, prettier place."

I had always wanted him to find his goat, right?

He had found his goat.

But we had lost him.

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