The classroom was in chaos when I entered. It looked like a mini battlefield of little soldiers bombarding each other with paper balls and paper planes. Before I could get a grip on the situation blackness seemed to engulf the scene before me, revealing another scene, hazy, like a dusty video film taking me to a different world where no colours existed except shades of grey; a classroom with empty first rows, far off, images of children yelling and flying airplanes… A wave of sadness crept in, a feeling of hollowness. Amid this chaos? Wasn’t it strange? Were these the same children who had forced their way into my thoughts when I was in the park? Were these known faces? Before I could become a part of the unreal the clamour faded as a strict commanding voice pierced through the din.
“Yes ma’m,” I said.
The scene dissolved and I found Simin staring at me in disbelief. “What happened?” she asked with a puzzled expression.
My head was spinning.
“Nothing, I thought you called me.” I said.
“I called Pranil. But what happened to you? You stood with your eyes shut. You ok?”
Oh, so that was her voice. Then why did I hear another voice, something from a distant, hazy corner of my mind? Or was it solely my imagination? Or a moment when imagination collided with reality?
“Yeah, am absolutely fine.” I said, looking away, not meeting her eyes.
“Pranil, I need to talk to you. Please come to my cabin after your prayers are over.” Simin said.
“Yes, ma’m.” The voice came from the last bench, from a boy with dishevelled hair, dark brown eyes and a dark complexion.
The dizziness made me uneasy and I couldn’t contribute much to the class that day. I walked to Simin’s cabin after the session.
I was not sure how I would collect the information. I wasn’t even sure what information I wanted. As soon as Simin saw me she started discussing a few things she wanted me to do.
“Noel, will you be able to go to… she paused. “You look disturbed. Are you ok?”
“You can tell me if anything is bothering you.”
“The boy you wanted to meet in the morning.” Not sure what was stopping me from speaking out his name.
“Yes.” I paused. “Pranil.” I tried hard to keep my voice steady.
“What about him?”
“Can you tell me something about him?”
“Like what?” She disconnected her phone that had just started ringing.
“Like…like…how old is he? Since when has he been here? Why did his parents leave him? Anything.”
“Anything. Hmmm.” She thought for a while. “Pranil is about 10 years old, he has been here since the last four years. His father died and his mother, who was a house maid, wanted to re-marry. The man she wanted to marry was not ready to accept responsibility of a son, therefore she left him here. But why are you asking all this?” She again silenced her beeping phone.
“I think I know him. Or someone by that name… or… or…” I didn’t know how to explain something I was still struggling to understand. I didn’t want her to disconnect her phone for the third time for my silly questions so I left the room leaving her gaping at me.
Later in the day I met Pranil. He was painting something when I reached him.
“Hello Pranil, can I sit here?”
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“I am drawing a house.” He showed me the few scribbled lines in his notebook.
“Wow! This is a very good drawing.”
He smiled shyly.
I expected some connection to my foggy feelings as I talked to him. But no snapshots, no voices, no images followed. As if he was not the Pranil who played in my mind, the Pranil in my mysterious imagination was someone else, someone close to me yet far away, someone known to me yet a stranger. Something in my own self was unknown to me, an enigma and it was a terribly uncomfortable feeling. I just wanted to drag out the stranger from me but every time I tried the stranger gripped me tighter as if slowly becoming an inseparable part of me like my blood and my veins.