Action Crime Drama
Snowflakes slowly fell down from the sky onto her bleeding nose and melted. She was sitting on the front yard steps, her head tilted up, trying to clot her nosebleed. She opened her mouth, stretching her tongue out, tasting the falling snowflakes. “Grandpa is a coward”, she whispered to herself “I wonder if he really was a freedom fighter. Maybe he is just boasting. He might have walked in the middle of the last row of hundreds.
I never saw him working out, his skin is loose, muscles flabby, he can barely walk without a stick, how could he have fought the strong muscular British men. He can’t even beat these bullies at my school who punched on my nose”. The wooden door a couple of steps behind her opened. A stick came out first, tapping the floor followed by the dragging steps of an old man. His hair all turned white. He wore a cheap brown sweater that extended to his knees. He sat beside the 9 year old Akanksha with cotton in his hand. He plugged the cotton in the bleeding side of her nose. She didn’t look at him, instead, she kept staring away at horizon. The falling snow made a thick white blanket all over the place. Few pedestrians walked around and children played with snow, nearby them. A dog sat near them, looking at both of them.
“I know you are angry at me”, he said.
“I hate you grandpa”, she whined, still staring away.
He took a deep breath. Silence for a moment. Then he spoke.
“I was in the first row. I was the first to take the blow. I made them bleed. I shed blood. But that was long back. Now I’m old. Now, I can’t fight that way. My knees got arthritis. My muscles turned flabby. My skin wrinkled. My heart got lazy. Girl, but don’t think that your grandpa gave up fighting. I’m a freedom fighter back then. I’m still a fighter now. It’s just the way I fight that changed.”
He is still speaking but she stood up and walked away towards a group of children and started playing with them. He sighed a deep disappointment and looked at the dog who is looking back at him. He nodded his head. Dog waggled his tail and ran to him. He took the dog into his arms and went inside shouting “It’s getting cold. Don’t play for too long. Come back before the sunset”.
“Uncle Sam!”, Akanksha shouted jumping two feet off the ground with happiness. An old man with a tall and strong stature stepped into the house. “You surprised me, Sam” said Akanksha’s grandpa, grabbing a seat for Sam at the table. Sam smiled gladly and sat. They exchanged wishes and made a chatter. Lilly finished her supper sitting on the lap of Sam and then went to sleep in bedroom. But the two old friends kept talking and sipping the wine. Sam looked around the house. A little mud pot at the glass window, the twines running from its plant spread over the window hangers. Outside the window, snow kept falling relentlessly as if it took an oath to fill the place with snow up to the rooftops. The fire place kept blazing, keeping the room warm. Few framed photos of ‘Akanksha’ were hanging on the walls. And two big photo frames with garlands of Lilly’s dead parents.
“The government gave you a nice place, pal.”, said Sam.
“Yeah, a very nice place in the corner of Srinagar with ice falling all the day and all the night. A very nice place to live in. Isn’t it.?”
Sam looked at his old friend. He seems to be aged beyond his actual age. His voice is shaky, his steps are shivering. His grip, loose. But his eyes seems to be still gleaming with the same shine they had when they fought against the British together.
“You have become old, my friend”, said Sam.
“Time does many nasty tricks to us. The nastier among them is aging. Yeah, you are right. I think I can’t ask the girls for a date, anymore.” said the old man, winking and sipping wine.
They both laughed. But Sam finished his laughter first. He said “why didn’t you tell me?”
“Both of us know what. Every day they call you, they threaten you. And you just kept watching it all. Do you think we all are dead? What are you afraid of? Those little young brats?”, asked Sam.
“I’m not afraid of anyone.”, the old man said.
“Then why don’t you do something about the problem? I heard that they broke your furniture when you were away, that they put gun on your head. What surprised me is that I heard you didn’t do anything. What happened to you man? Where’s all that fighter spirit in you. Why don’t you fightback.”
The oldman kept caressing the half-finished wine glass in his hands. “I’m not dead yet, neither the fighter in me. And I’m not afraid too.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Why should I?”, he said a little louder than Sam.
“Because we can help you.”
“How long?”, shouted the old man and settling his anger he came back to normal volume. “How long can you help me? Five years or less you will die, I will die, too. Then who will help Akanksha?”
Sam remained silent. He doesn’t know the answer. The old man continued, “God blessed you well. You are turning eighty and still strong. But I’m not like that. Age is eating life out of me. And that’s frightening me. You know the first thought in my mind after my son and daughter in law died in the car crash? - To protect my granddaughter. I’m no millionaire. I don’t have big family that looks after me. All I’m left with is she and all she has is me. But my body is dying. The bones are thinning. I know I can hardly live few more years. I don’t want to leave her to depend on people all her life.”
“What does that have to do with not asking us to help?”, asked Sam.
“The first thing I did when I decided to move to here is I purchased this bull mastiff”, old man said looking at the dog that is sleeping on the carpet near the door, “then I purchased the train tickets and I jumped into train with a girl and a dog.”
Not understanding what he is trying to say, Sam remained silent and kept listening.
“And after coming here, these little rascals came to my door asking for my house. They got this political back up and all and they think they can threaten me. And yes they did. Sam, you can be strongest man in the world but eventually the age makes you weak. I wanted to slap them right there. But my hands are shaky. I want kick them out of my house when they broke my furniture. But I could barely stand without my stick. I want to show them how I made the British men kneel and salute to our flag when I was in my teenage. But when he put the gun on my head, for the first time, I felt fear. Not of death. But of what happens after I die. Who will look after Akanksha? Now I will take your help but who will help her when we both are gone?”
“Then, what are you going to do?” asked Sam.
“I may became weak. But I still fight. Fighting isn’t always about strength. If that is true, Indians could never beat the British. There’s something more. An ‘X’ factor that multiplies your strength beyond the enemy’s. I believe in that. I’m still a fighter. I’m still fighting. But, in a different way.”
Sam smiled. The man is old but the spark in his eyes is still in its adolescences, he thought.
Sam took the last sip from his glass “we got independence. Sixty years or so passed. The struggle is over, they say. But you know what I think. I think the war never ends. Sometimes it happens on the grounds, guns to guns, fist to fist, man to man. But the rest of the time it happens inside us. Like a perpetual machine, it keeps churning our heart.” After a pause he added “but don’t forget my friend. You are not alone in this fight.” He said patting on the old man’s back. They both went to sleep after finishing the wine bottle. The next day morning, Sam left.
This is no ordinary dog.
This is bull mastiff.
You know what bull mastiff is?
“Good boy, Talos.”
It’s a dangerously aggressive dog.
But if guided properly, it uses all his strength to protect his owner.
“Good boy, Talos”
To guard him from anyone and anything.
The words her grandpa told about the dog repeated in her mind while she sat faraway and watched her grandpa train the great bullmastiff. She looked at the dog. He’s muscular. Not an ounce of fat seems to be there under his skin coat. He is two years and two months old. About one and half feet tall when he stands on his all four legs. The skin on his face is folded into many wrinkles and Akanksha doesn’t like it. He drools all the time. Akanksha hates it. His body is almost all black except for a spot on his chest near his front legs, the spot is white and roughly shaped like a diamond.
These dogs with this diamond patch is rare. Her grandpa told her when they are on train to Srinagar.
“Good boy, Talos”.
‘They better be rare. I don’t want to see such ugly faced dogs in every street I walk into’ thought Akanksha.
“Talos, sit” said the Old man. But Talos didn’t sit this time.
The snow is falling calmly. She and her grandpa are wearing long thick coats. The dog is naked.
“Talos, sit”, the old man repeated. But Talos didn’t mind.
It’s nearly impossible feat for a human being to stay naked for that long in that place.
“Talos, sit” the Oldman shouted. The dog didn’t care.
But the dog seems to accomplish the feat with ease. Tough doggy, though Akanksha.
The old man was trying to make the dog listen to his command by luring it with food. But the doggy didn’t move nor sit. It kept looking at the old man’s face as if it is wondering whether the old man had gone crazy and kept shouting the same words again and again.
While Akanksha zoned out into thinking of talking monkeys and fairy lands, and the old man trying to teach manners to a stubborn dog, three bikes roared into the place and halted around the old man.
Talos, the dog, jumped right in front of the old man the moment he saw bikers come. The three men came and stood there with the dog between the old man and them. They are young, around in 20’s age, with tattoos on their hands and neck. They wore fancy jeans and bikers jacket. The biker in the middle put his hand in pocket and drew out his fist holding a knuckle buster. The old man didn’t flinch. They looked the old man in eye. Not a slight sign of fear in him. The man with the knuckle buster punched the old man on the right cheek. The imprint of the knuckle buster on the old man’s cheek, red and bleeding. His eyes blurred. His stick’s bottom tip slipped. He trembled.
The dog barked and jumped onto the guy in middle.
“Talos, no. Wait”, warned the old man, stumbling. But Talos didn’t listen.
The one standing left to the guy hit the dog with a baseball bat and it fell down. It stood back up and jumped onto the man with the baseball bat. He tried shaking it off. But Talos kept coming after him. He fell down, Talos jumped onto him and started biting him.
In a moment the old man regained his posture. He dug the ground with his cane’s tip and stood straight, looking in the eye of the middle man, the one who just punched him. Still no fear in the old man.
“Talos, stop. Comeback.”, shouted the Oldman, but Talos didn’t listen to his commands.
“Take your crap and get out. We are taking the house”, said the man in middle, sniffing some kind of white powder he took on his palm, drugs.
The man on ground, whom the Talos is biting, started screaming in pain.
“You ain’t taking anything. You better leave before the trouble begins.” Said the old man with a stern voice, still looking him in the eye.
The man got irritated. The drug ran through his veins. He raised his hand punched the old man again. And again. And again. On the same cheek. On the same place. On the same wound. The old man fell down. Seeing his grandpa fall down, Akanksha ran towards him. Oldman shouted at her saying not to come. But she came to him, running. Tears storming her eyes. “Grandpa, grandpa”, she cried.
The man on the ground took the baseball bat and hit the dog. This time Talos didn’t stand up.
The man on the right was about to reach for Akanksha to grab her off of the old man, to beat him more. But Akanksha shouted and held her grandpa’s hand. He got hit so hard that he couldn’t do anything still the old man grabbed her granddaughter behind and managing to get on to his knees he said “Don’t touch her. I will give the house. Don’t touch her. We will leave.” The man in the middle laughed and spat on the old man then left. The old man’s fist clenched in reflex. His eyes turned red in anger. He wanted to bash into those bastards. To beat them right and left. At that moment of time, in such anger, with all that rushing adrenaline in his blood vessels, he can do that. He can lift them up and throw them down. But two small hands hugged him from behind. Akanksha cried with her head against the back of the old man. He resisted all his rage behind his grit teeth. Talos regained the senses and stood back up. The old man stood up. Holding the wounded Talos under his one arm, he walked away from the house, with the cane in the other hand. The little girl, Akanksha followed him from behind, holding the edge of his sweater. The three bikers ran into the house shouting and laughing and breaking the old man’s things in the house. The oldman’s face is still bleeding, the red drops of blood dribbling from his chin. He left the house.
One day Akanksha came with a bruised eye. Sam went to her school and gave a complaint.
Other day she came with cracked lip.
Next day, Sam went to school and stayed outside the school till afternoon. No one troubled her. So he returned home.
She came home with a nosebleed.
Then she stopped going to school. Sam tried to convince her but couldn’t. He asked why they are bullying her. "Every time they comment on me I beat them and then they beat me", she said. "Why don’t you just ignore and walk away when they comment", Sam asked.
“Why should I?”, she answered, pressing cotton on her nosebleed.
‘Like grandpa, like granddaughter’ thought Sam.
After leaving house, Akanksha and her grandpa took a motel for seven days. Sam came to know about all this and came to help them take back their house. But the old man refused. Sam stayed with them. When Sam asked his friend, the old man, "why motel?" "Why only for seven days? Why not rent another house?", the old man smiled and remained silent. He didn’t talk much from the day he left the house. On mornings he goes to police station to inquire about what they are doing to his complaint regarding his house. By noon he will be back to the motel and spend most of the time training the dog in one room while Sam and Akanksha are in the other. Three days passed. The police did nothing. Those three guys who bate him are still inside the old man’s house, drinking beer in the old man’s coffee mug, throwing cigarette ash into old man’s mud pot, drawing obscene things on the old man’s windows. That very thought is making the old man relentlessly angry. But all he does is complaining the police and training the dog. He doesn’t care that his granddaughter is being bullied. He doesn’t care that he is running out of money to stay on motel for longer. He doesn’t care that his granddaughter thinks he is useless. All he cares is if his dog, Talos, will jump or not when he says jump.
On fifth day they ran out of money. Sam purchased the groceries for them. Akanksha is still not going to school. Instead she sat on the floor near her grandpa’s room’s door and listened.
“Good boy, Talos!”
On sixth day the old man asked Sam to lend him some money. When Sam asked him why, he said “Talos’s food is finished. I have to buy him food. He needs good food to train well.” His whole life is falling apart and all he cares is about his dog’s food, thought Sam. He got irritated but he doesn’t want to hurt his already hurt friend. So he gave the money the old man asked for, without a word.
“Why he likes the dog so much?”, one day Akanksha asked Uncle Sam. She is getting jealous about it, about her grandpa taking care of the dog so much than he takes care of her.
During the days of freedom struggle, Uncle Sam said, a British officer captured our mob and kept us inside a small room. The doors were locked and there used to be a mean looking dog at the door. It was a Pitbull. It was so aggressive that even if you try to go near the door it bites you till you bleed. They said that it bite the head off of a person before. None of us dared to even approach it. Except your grandpa. He likes dogs. He knows how to deal with them. Even the ones that are meanest. In a couple of days that Pitbull became his friend. One day when the British officer came into the room and started beating us. When he bate your grandpa, that Pitbull started barking at him aggressively. The British officer got terrified and stopped beating us but the dog pounded on him and started biting him. Meanwhile we all escaped. Your grandpa took that Pitbull along with him, after few years the dog grew old and died. After that he never tamed another dog until now. Maybe training Talos making him feel better, making him remember his past days. Maybe that’s why he likes him so much.
Akanksha nodded all the time and slept by the time Uncle Sam finished saying.
Today also, Akanksha didn’t go to school. In spite of all the motivation the Uncle Sam gave her, she still stayed back at motel. She was walking around the room when she heard it. She heard her grandpa shout from the other room.
“Attack, Talos” he said.
A moment later he said “Talos, chase”
The room shuddered. Sounds like things falling to ground came from behind the closed door. Akanksha went closer to the door and listened.
“Talos, bite”, her grandpa said.
She heard the growl of dog and a shout of his grandpa immediately. Frightened she banged the door repeatedly shouting “Grandpa are you fine? Are you okay?”.
After a quarter minute, the door opened, Talos and her grandpa stood side by side. The room is messy with all things scattered all over. The pillow is torn and the cotton inside is spread around. The flower vase is broken. There is a blanket rolled thick around his grandpa’s left arm.
“What happened, grandpa? Did he bite you? Is that why you spun that blanket around your hand. Are you hurt grandpa?”, she asked hurrying at his hand. He said he is fine and closed the door on her face. She then listened the same words coming from the room. “Attack, Talos!”. “Talos, chase!”. “Talos, bite!”. “Talos, stop!”. “Goodboy, talos”.
On seventh day the Oldman didn’t came out of the room all day. They heard him train the dog all the day. Akanksha and Uncle Sam waited till evening and then they grew out of patience. Uncle Sam banged on door continuously. After 5 minutes the old man opened the door. To Akanksha’s surprise the old man’s room is clean. The broken pieces and torn pillows are dumped into a dustbin. The sheets are arranged neatly on the bed. Everything’s in place.
“Doesn’t an old man deserve a descent sleep?”, asked her grandpa opening the door.
“It’s six in the evening. You didn’t eat anything.”, said Uncle Sam seriously.
“Alright, I’m coming.”, he said and walked towards the table. They had dinner together.
She noticed something has changed about her grandpa. He is not tensed or pressurized. His words are cool and humorous just like they used to be before all this mess happened.
“Do you remember that today is the last day as per your booking of the rooms?”, said Sam, chewing.
“Yeah, I do”, said the old man, casually.
“I’ve asked them to extend booking for more seven days.”, said Uncle Sam.
“Why?”, asked the Oldman, finishing his plate.
“You don’t have money to go anywhere. I paid them for more seven days. We will figure out something by that time”, said Uncle Sam.
“Cancel the extension.”, said her grandpa and stood up from the chair. “Pack your things Akanksha darling, we are leaving the motel”.
Akanksha made a puzzled face and remained silent.
“Leaving to where?”, asked Sam.
“Where else? To my house”, said the old man and went into his room to pack things.
Uncle Sam and Akanksha looked at each other’s faces, bewildered.
It was night and snowfall is heavy. Even after wearing the thick sweaters under the regular wear and the undergarments, they still shiver. Akanksha, Uncle Sam, the old man and his dog stood in front of their house which now is occupied by a gang of youngsters. Rock music is coming from the closed doors of the house. From the window the old man saw people partying, kissing, and screaming inside. Upon the old man’s words, Sam went to bang on the door. After a minute of banging, the door opened. A young man opened the door and sniffed the white powder on his palm. He then asked what Sam needs. Before Sam say anything, the old man came and hit the young man with his cane. The young man dropped to the floor, screaming. Other men around him started screaming along. The music stopped. The same guy who punched the old man before, came out. He dragged the old man by the collar to the front yard. The dog was sitting there all the time and watching everything. It didn’t move. It didn’t flinch.
The guy slapped the old man. The old man trembled two steps back and stood straight. Everyone in the house came out and started laughing at the old man. Two other friends of the guy came to beat the old man. The old man kicked them in the groin with his stick. They shouted in pain, fell down. The people around laughed too. Akanksha laughed loudly. It pissed off the guy who punched the old man. He and his friends marched toward Akanksha, to beat her. The dog, the bullmastiff, the Talos that the Oldman trained all these days is watching everything not moving from the place where he is sitting. As if it is a movie for dogs. A fun show. They reached Akanksha and shouted some nasty things. Akanksha slapped the guy who shouted. He raised his fist to beat her. Uncle Sam came in middle of the guy and Akanksha. The punch landed on Uncle Sam’s face and he fell down. When the old man came to stop the guy from punching his granddaughter, few boys grabbed him aside and started beating him. Akanksha is terrified and closed her eyes in fear. Everything went blank to her. She heard people laugh. People scream. People calling her ‘bitch’.
But then, amidst the chaos, she heard her grandpa’s shout.
“Attaaack…Talossss!” he said. The next second the great bullmastiff pounced over the guy who is about to hit akanksha. Talos ripped the flesh out of his arm that he raised to beat Akanksha. Red blood flooded over the white snow. The laughing people turned silent in horror.
The boys who were beating the old man got terrified and started running.
“Chase, Talos!”, said the old man.
The dog chased them down, one by one.
“Bite, Talos”, said the old man.
The dog bit them until their flesh is torn and the blood oozed out, unstoppable.
The dog bit the guy who punched and spat on the old man’s face. He ran around screaming in pain, with blood tracing his path. The old man gave a hand to Sam to stand up. Sam, Akanksha and the old man stood there while the dog chased the boys one after the other as per the old man’s commands. After a half hour of bloodshed the guy that spat on the old man crawled to the old man’s feet and begged for his life. The bullmastiff is biting his leg, blood leaking from his saphenous vein. The old man's said “Talos, stop”.
The dog stopped biting.
Old man said, “Talos, come here”.
The dog went to stand beside the old man.
The dog sat beside him.
“I’m giving you 10 minutes time. I want my house clean and neat, just the way I left it.” Said the Oldman and went to sit on the steps in the front of the house. The dog went and sat beside him followed by Sam and Akanksha. People watched them, in both surprise and terror. They started whispering about the dog, about the old man and about how brave things he did as a freedom fighter. The people in the surrounding houses also gathered around. The bullies that punched Akanksha at school also came there. They gulped in fear as they watched the dog pounce on the guy who tried to beat Akanksha.
In 10 minutes they all left the house, the guy with a leak in the saphenous vein came to the old man, limping. He gave the keys to old man and said sorry. The room is clean. No obscene stuff on windows. No cigarette ash in mud pot. No beer smell in his coffee cups. The boy and his friends. The crowd dispersed. That night, Akanksha slept hugging her grandpa.
The morning after, Akanksha said she wants to go to school. When uncle sam offered to come along with her, she refused. Before leaving, she gave a piece of her breakfast to Talos, the dog. And the dog followed her as she walked on the road to her school. A couple of strides away are the bullies who troubles her at the school. They are also walking to the school. They saw her. They got frightened and stopped walking. She walked past them and the bullmastiff followed her. The sight of the dog itself made them piss their pants. They went to Akanksha and said sorry to her, they said that they won’t trouble her again.
Akanksha smiled, took the dog into her arms, caressed over its head and whispered “thank you, grandpa”.