Viru was sitting beside Vikram, holding his hand tenderly tapping it with soft feather-like fingers. The nervousness was palpable in both the kids. After all, it was a kind of ‘life-and-death’ decision for them. Vikram’s parents have finally decided to shift to Gurugram since his father got a better opportunity and his mother expressed a desire to resume the French-tutorial classes.
Almora is Vikram’s ancestral town, they own a large estate sprawling across acres with huge Chinar and Pine trees enclosing the boundaries from all sides of the property. A massive two-floors wooden bungalow in the middle of ancient gardens with bushes, and yellow-gold flowers. A small figurine fountain in the middle of the pathway is his most favorite spot.
Many different species of birds come to take a dip or quench their thirst here. He enjoys their cacophony and loves surprising their flock, but Viru gets naughtier at times. He aims and hits them with stones, sometimes little birdies fall down, Vikram feels sad but Viru ensures to take care of the wounded ones.
Vikram was born here and so was his father, the same room he is currently sitting in with Viru, once belonged to his father. Virat Singh Shekhawat, good that their initials match, (VSS) as he still keeps getting the old hidden treasures from his father’s past with V.S.S. engraved on them.
Just a few days ago, while searching a lost compass box, he stumbled upon a loose wooden wall chip by the bedside. After scouring it, he saw a cavity in the wall, inside was kept a little box with initials VSS. Treasure! He found many such small articles from the different areas of their home and saved them as his own pride possessions.
Coming back to where we began, Vikram has to leave this home and his very best friend Viru behind. He tried to convince both his parents to not shift from Almora, but the decision was already made.
Shambhu Kaka, their cook, and caretaker of the property informed Vikram to get ready soon as sahib and memsahib have planned to travel today for booking the new house. A sudden surge of rage took over his otherwise composed behavior and he dashed towards their room and yelled to cancel everything right now, or else he will run away!
This uncalled ultimatum infuriated his father, who commanded that Vikram won’t be traveling with them to Gurugram as a penalty for his rude behavior. ‘Let him stay alone for two days, without mummy and iPad, he’ll get back to his senses back. Shambhu, no need to treat him royally. Let the lad learn to behave.’ The instructions were clear, and no one speaks when Major Virat Singh Shekhawat is talking. It’s been around two years since his dad opted for the VRS (voluntary retirement services) from the army. But the whole family and estate workers follow and live in-discipline life.
Back in his room, Vikram shared his disappointment with Viru who was quietly listening to all the commotion from the other side. He gingerly told Vikram to forget about it, we still can have a lot of fun and play games when they are gone. This uplifted Vikram’s sulking mood and he started removing all the old articles from the study closet.
This is their most favorite game, explore and search for hidden treasures from the property. Today, it’s decided to search in the barn as there will be nobody to watch over. Shambhu kaka has a habit of taking an afternoon nap, this will give them a long time to go out and explore the barn.
Vikram loves challenges, he was ready for the new mission when Viru asked him to search for a box that is made of black-iron with weird markings. Vikram was curious to know why he mentioned such specifics? ‘How do you know about the box, when we haven’t even found it yet?’
‘Arre baba, when your father was a boy, such boxes were so common. Even I had one in my home, my mother kept her clothes in that box, simple.’ Viru answered.
They began searching for a ‘mysterious’ black-iron box with weird markings. Hens started fluttering around their coop when they entered the barn. Horses looked uneasy and stressed in the stable, Vikram wondered if animals too take their afternoon nap like Shambhu Kaka or if it is going to rain today. Mother once mentioned to him, animals can sense things or phenomena we humans cannot, like rainfall, earthquake, or thunderstorm, etc.
The search continued for a few hours, both were covered in mud and dried grass in their hair, it was Rocky’s loud bark that got Vikram’s attention. ‘He is always mad at me, God knows why dad loves him so much, Viru. He is a spoiled dog!’ he glowered at Rocky while going out of the barn.
Shambhu Kaka took one long look at Vikram’s clothes and asked him to go to wash immediately and to remove the shoes before entering the veranda. Don’t want mud footprints on the wooden flooring.
Vikram obliged! He was in the bath when Kaka started yelling from the door.
He peeked out from the shower door to check what’s wrong? ‘Vikram Baba, I told you TO REMOVE your shoes before entering the veranda. Come and see what you have done. Sahib will get very angry tomorrow to see the marks on the floor polish’
Surprised Vikram came out in a towel and looked down from his room’s porch while murmuring that he removed the dirty shoes outside. But he could also see the shoe marks clearly from the top floor.
‘How is this even possible? I removed my shoes before entering, Kaka. These are not my marks!’
‘Now, you will say these are Viru’s shoe-marks! As always, all you do is put blame on him. Didn’t the last time you mention he doesn’t even wear any shoes?’ poked Shambhu Kaka.
‘Where is Viru, show me? Today, I want to see that scoundrel’s face, where is he hiding? Chalo call him… Viru, where are you? Vikram baba wants to talk to you. Come and show me your dirty shoes, nalayak ladke kahan hai tu?’
As always, he was nowhere to be seen. Whenever Vikram talks about Viru, they all snub him away saying he is your imagination, a pretend friend. No one believes him, that his best friend is real and with him all the time. Viru is like a true partner, a brother that he doesn’t have, a friend but more like his own blood and flesh.
Disappointed, Vikram returned to his room when a huge thud caught him by surprise. He dashed to see what has happened when he saw Viru standing on top of Shambhu Kaka’s lifeless body in the veranda. Engraving VSS in blood on Shambhu Kaka’s forehead with his forefinger.
Viru was smiling back at Vikram with his bloodless white eyes, while tears rolled down from Vikram’s panic-stricken eyes.
VSS – Virendra Singh Shekhawat – elder brother of his father, who drowned and died in the nearby lake when he was just 8 years old.
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