The blow hit him on his right thigh.
This time the right calf was at the receiving end.
It wasn’t until the second blow that he managed to free himself from the entangling web of limbs surrounding him. The protesters were dispersing in a hurry, trying to avoid the lathis being hurled upon them.
He ran like he never had, like his life depended on it (technically, it did), fearful of being at the receiving end of yet another painful blow. Nothing else mattered at the moment. The friends that he had come along with, the neighbors that he had been standing with, the comrades with whom he had been shouting slogans, none of them seemed to matter now. What mattered the most was his survival and the only emotion that he was capable of feeling at this moment was fear. It was fear that made him run. Run away from the lathi-wielding, armored policemen. Run into one of the many serpentine lanes that engulfed the hilly town.
It was only after a few minutes, once his run had slowed down to a jog, that he dared to turn around, to face the demons that had rained down blows upon blows on his brethren.
Relief swept across his body as the sight of a deserted lane met his eyes. The armed personnel had given up the chase. Only the protesters remained. This led him to let out a sigh of relief. As his mind settled down, his senses were exposed to the surrounding environment. The calm enveloping his mind was suddenly shattered. It was then that the noises came pouring in.
There were screams of pain, shouts of anguish and murmurings of revenge floating in the atmosphere, finding their way into his ear canal.
It was precisely at this moment that he felt a searing pain originating from his right leg. He let out a gasp, for the pain rendered him speechless, and collapsed right where he stood, his body refusing to support him any longer. As he collapsed, all he could notice was limbs flailing about him. Everyone around him was running for their life, protecting their own existence, just as he was moments ago. He wanted to shout out for help. To scream. To vent out the pain. But all that he could manage to let out was a tiny, inaudible gasp. Left utterly helpless, all he could think of was giving up. The cool concrete felt real good against his body. It seemed to be inviting him to embrace it. To lie down upon it and wait. Wait for the impending doom. His eye lids felt heavy. Keeping them open was proving to be too big a task, too big a hassle.
Hardly had he closed his eyes for a few fleeting seconds than he was jolted awake by a loud bang somewhere in the distant background. His eyelids flew wide open, his ears perked up. There was no mistaking that sound. It was that of a .22 being fired.
This was followed by a volley of shots being fired. It gave the impression of a thunder rumbling in the not too distant background. What followed next chilled his bones to the core. Blood curling screams reverberated through the atmosphere. These were screams not of men, but of beasts. Beasts that were being butchered.
He was vaguely aware of a loud commotion growing around him. People were questioning one another. Deep down, they knew what had transpired, but they didn’t wish to validate their deepest fears. Fear and doubt began sowing their seeds among the masses. In the confusion that followed, many started running away from the scene. They headed for the doors that were still open. Some took to the bushes. Some into smaller lanes. However, a group of protesters, mostly teenagers, took off in the direction from whence the initial commotion had arisen.
Before he could process much of what was going around, another volley of shots rang through the atmosphere. This time, it seemed to be much closer. Within moments, it dawned on him that the shots were fired right behind him. Horror and fear struck deep within his heart. With a humongous effort, he managed to turn his head around. The tiny lane was filled with bodies, some dead, some dying. A limb or a finger twitched now and then. Out of the corner of his eye, he could witness a figure standing still with clenched fists, facing the brave and mighty armed personnel. He started turning his head towards this courageous figure. The figure took a step forward, staggered, and then collapsed. As the body hit the ground, the clamped fist gave way and out rolled a stone, no bigger than a child’s fist, with blood having marked its signature on it.