OWS Ink LLC
By Readers, For Readers
Shubham Mamgain is a literature enthusiast currently pursuing his English honors from Delhi University. He first wrote an English poem, a crude rhyme as he puts it, in 6th grade. His first short story, written in Hindi, was published in his school’s magazine when he was in 8th standard. After that he hasn’t looked back. He started penning short stories with the first legit one written in 11th standard as a classwork prompt. Deste’s Knee is one of his latest works, which is a retelling of an old folk tale his Uncle told him during a long car drive.
He loves reading, watching anime and movies, playing soccer, and of course writing. He hates boredom, plagiarists and plagiarism, and disappointing others. He aspires to be a fantastic storyteller by writing stories and adapting movies on them.
The boy woke up to the deafening sound of a morning bugle. Before he could open his eyes he felt a warm shower of light upon his face. As he clumsily struggled to rise, his hand shielding his eyes against the light, he felt a surge of cold rise within him at the same time. Now sitting upright upon the cold concrete surface, his thinly clad skin separated from cold slab’s deathly embrace by an equally thin bedsheet, he again felt a freezing arrow of Winter shooting up his body from the bed, all the way up to his neck. The golden light emanating out from a rectangular cavity on the concrete wall opposite to him, and located several feet higher than the highest he could jump, was the reason he did not wake up loony each morning; because the light was as warm as his mother’s touch. Bitt Sarla of Cell-285, two floors below him, had died loony a few mornings ago. But some people say he was loony since forever. This thought always made him laugh, which he was accustomed to share with his friend – Bill of Cell 77.
A sharp series of clanks pulled him out of his reverie. It was the Iron cane of the slippery Guard. His eyes now adjusted to light, the boy saw the slippery Guard, his face appearing ridiculous between the two Iron grills of his Cell-1010. But his cane appeared as dangerous, and painful, as ever. The slippery guard was notorious for his “servings”. “Be well-behaved or I’ll have to give you servings,” he would say, the Iron cane gently clapping his other hand twice or thrice before falling painfully upon the ”Not-well-behaved” body.
“Oy kid! Why the fuck aren’t you out yet?” he hit the Iron grill with his iron cane which resulted in another thunderous clank. “Be well-behaved and hurry the fuck up. Or I’ll have to give you servings.”
“Yes, sir, right away!” the boy hastily flung himself on to the freezing concrete floor, countless needles of Winter pricking his feet. Bill of Cell-77 was wont to tell him that one day the Guard will have to taste his own servings. But the Guard was apparently too slippery. The boy grimaced.
The slippery guard laughed, hit the grills again, and left. The boy wondered whether the servings served to the Iron grills were just as painful or not. After all, both the grills and the cane are Iron, and both are cold. Pushing his thoughts away, he donned his overcoat, undid the latch on grill-gate of Cell-1010. Then he picked his way to where the slippery guard went, passing several similar Cells along the way. At the end of this landing, a series of stairs spiraled up — to higher storeys — and down — to the lower levels, and ultimately to the workplace: Iron’s Hell. The boy had made it a habit to count the steps as he ran down them. But, almost every time, after the one-thousand-and-thirty-ninth step he would forget the count. For the thought of meeting his mother would occupy his mind in its entirety. That, and meeting his friend to hear him talk of the outside world.
As the boy approached Iron’s Hell, the sound of metal clashing upon metals and Iron rocks became audible. The boy entered the Iron gate and went for the place where his mother worked. Seeing his mother heaving a giant of an Iron tool called Hamma all the way back till her spine arched and cracked, then landing it on the Iron rocks, the sound drowning in the din, adding to its intensity — minimally in the least — he broke into a run. Noticing her fourteen year old son approaching her, the mother dropped the handle of the Hamma which was somehow stuck to the dented Iron rock — the handle falling silently and the end denting the Iron ground — and spread her hands to collect him in a warm embrace.
“Did you sleep okay?” she asked, caressing his hair.
“Yes, ma,” he vigorously nodded. Even if he didn’t sleep okay, there was no point in worrying his mother.
“Good! Now off you go or the Guard will appear,” She said, smiled, planted three kisses on his either cheeks and forehead, and was about to plant the fourth one on his lips when he broke free of the embrace.
“Ma! It is gross!” he laughed. She smiled and bent to pick up the Hamma’s handle.
The boy left her to her work and went to search for his twenty two year old friend.
Bill was also working with a similar Hamma. But it appeared heavier. Still, Bill implemented it far more lucidly and relentlessly. Seeing his little friend approaching him, the heavily built Bill stopped his exercise first time since morning, planting the Hamma headlong and resting his left elbow upon the end of its handle.
“Hey there, little fella!” Bill grinned, wiping sweat off his forehead with his right thumb.
“So, how –” Bill continued, but today the boy had come prepared with a question.
“What is light?” he asked, glee spilling from his eyes.
“Ha! That’s a difficult one there,” Bill scratched his head. “So you must have heard the old peeps saying something about Sun. Have you ever?”
The boy shook his head.
“Ah, for Freedom’s sake! Do you know about moon, sky or sea, at least?”
The boy meekly shook his head.
“Ah, for crying out loud! Then listen. Sun is the largest light bulb in the outside world. That’s what we have learned from old loons.”
The boy gasped in awe. “What’s a light bulb?”
Bill slapped his forehead. “Fuck, even I don’t know what the fuck that is!”
“Hey, Bill. You sound just like the slippery Bodyguard,” the boy said, concerned. “What does ‘fuck’ even mean?”
“The fuck I know what fuck means!” Bill managed to say in between his manly laugh, as he puts it.
“I want to see the moon, the sun, the sea. Bill, I want to see the outside world!”
Bill stopped chortling. For a moment he assumed a pensive state. Then he clapped.
“Aha! There is a window in your room right?” Bill asked, genuinely excited.
The boy nodded.
“Then all you need to do is to look out of the window, kiddo! You will find the outside world sprawled before you!” Bill grinned.
“It is impossible,” the boy pouted. “When I return to Cell after work, the window disappears in the darkness. It becomes part of the wall, black and scary. And in morning the slippery Guard doesn’t let me stay in the Cell long enough. And even if he did, the window is too high. Even you won’t be able to peek if you were to jump.”
Bill continued grinning. “But I just got an idea.”
The boy stared at him, alarmed. “What?”
“I will let you sit on my shoulders and then jump. You will be able to peek outside then.”
“But how will you come to my Cell in morning?” the boy asked, aghast.
“Tcht! Why so glum? I am not talking about morning. But fucking now!”
The boy widened his eyes. “As if the slippery guard will let you.”
“He’d rather let me unless he wants servings,” Bill winked. “And don’t worry. He is slippery all right.”
The boy led Bill up the spiral staircase. They could evade the Guards, even the slippery one, as they were enjoying a hot drink in one corner.
Never before had the boy felt so lively climbing up the stairs.
At last! He’d be able to look at the fabled ‘outside world’. The world where the old loons were born; unlike he or Bill. The world where winter was not eternal. The world where everything was possible!
The boy led Bill into the landing, desolate at the time, where his Cell-1010 was located. Then into the grill-gate of his Cell, where a golden square shone brightly on the wall opposite to the window, and both being linked by an ethereal bridge of light. It was magical.
As planned, Bill helped the boy climb on his shoulders. They practiced mock jumps to attain balance. The boy’s heart pumping wildly probably for the first time in his life. And he could feel the vibrations of Bill’s euphoric heart as well. After eight practice jumps, they were ready to make the largest leap for all mankind. All to take a glimpse outside the window.
Bill, his heart pounding, collected energy in his feet by bending a little, and in one explosive thrust, he jumped. The boy neared the window. Despite the minimal time frame, he felt time passing rather slowly. He did reach high enough to face the window. But light attacked his eyes in one intense flash, and the boy had to shut them tight.
“Bill! It is too bright. But let us try once more. I think my eyes have adjusted now,” the boy said. He felt Bill’s nod in his groin.
Again, Bill leapt in a similar fashion. And this time the boy’s eyes did not hurt. In the time span of a few moments, which appeared to stretch rather long, the boy came face to face with reality. What he saw on the window was just his face, his fear, reflecting impeccably, against a bright orb of light. Hours later an old loon told them that they must have seen a lightbulb.