11 Characters

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As I sat and waited for the question we were being dictated to complete, an idea struck me. You see I was being lazy, and sleepy too, as is the general feeling on Sunday. But I didn’t want to yawn and stretch so I was just slipping down in the seat and looking at people’s shoes. People’s shoes. What a study. What a great great study. For me, they gave an idea of a story. Actually 11 stories. For each of the 11 pairs of story-clad feet that shared the room with me.

“Imagine you are-” I scribbled furiously. I always scribble furiously. Because if you scribble slowly, how are scribbling at all, aren’t you writing then? So I scribbled the first part of the question, furiously, and while I waited, I saw a beautiful blue slipper lying before me. It was such a rich blue, that instantly I thought of a few drops of Prussian blue poster paint mixed with the clearest of Caribbean waters. And hence came the first story.

One.

As Ankur sat near the harbour, and gazed into the indefinite sea beyond, he wondered just how many years it would take to absorb every single drop in there. He bet he could do it within five minutes. All he needed was a trip to the future to get the technology.

As he watched, a dolphin broke out of the surface and jumped high in the air. Ankur was startled. That close to the shore?! He had never seen a dolphin near the harbour before.

In a minute, the dolphin was attracted a huge crowd and the people were gazing awe-eyed. It seemed to enjoy itself, as it danced happily among the waves. Ankur smiled at her.

Ankur wasn’t afraid of animals. He loved the water. On top of it, it was hot that day. All of a sudden, Ankur got up, kicked off his deep blue slippers and dived smoothly into the sea, much to the glee of the little children who clapped. When he came up for breath, the dolphin was no where to be seen. He looked around him, when suddenly it came up beneath him and knocked him off high in the sky. Cheerful cries broke out among all who watched. Soon, the dolphin and Ankur were giving them a little show of their own. And that’s how the sun set, sliding off a playful boy in the sea with his deep blue slippers lying in wait on the dock.

Two, Three, Four, Five and Six.

The boys fell down on the ground, hard. Each was tired, and even the rocky dusty surface under them was welcome as long as they could rest on it. They had been running for twelve hours, crouching and hiding, and trying desperately to disguise their peculiar garb. One look at the grey flannel they were dressed completely in, and the similar dark grey sandals on their feet, and anyone would know that these were the boys who had ran out of the boarding school yesterday. And indeed they were.

Rishabh was the first to catch his breath. Running that last mile had been the toughest for all of them, for they were hungry and a policeman was recognised them. Fortunately, it was Lomesh’s quick thinking that had saved them all. He had stood in the middle of the road as a car approached, and ran off at the last minute. He was fast, which he had been relying on, but the commotion he caused helped the boys escape. Now that they could sit and think about it, Vedant pat Lomesh, with a silent understanding of the risk he had taken. Achintya was speechless, stunned by the bravery of the boy he had never completely trusted. And while everyone sat and counted their blessings, Jaskrit was using his brain again, formulating their next move. And that was food.

He looked down at his grey sandals. Desolate, dreary grey. Just what that school made him feel. But at least they gave him three meals a day. The hunger was killing him.

Frustrated and frankly losing his head, Jaskrit admitted he was coming to no solution. Everyone else was looking up to him, he had been leading them from the start. But now it was too much.

The grey sandals on his feet had chained him to the school, and Jaskrit feared of never seeing hope.

Seven.

Yashika yawned at the dressing table. This was her fifth show in the week, and she was tired. The experts had successfully hidden the patchy skin and sleepy eyes she had brought on her, but they couldn’t make the lethargy go away. She needed a break.

Yashika didn’t know where she got the energy from, but she went walked the ramp without accident, stood by the designer faithfully as he walked his showstopper, and just as the show got over, she was the first to change out and run.

She kicked off the painfully steep heels the designer had wanted, and slipped into her usual black chappals. The soft rubber sole, and the thin straps that held on to her foot ever so lightly were such a break from the heels that bound her feet in coils! Yashika felt relieved already.

She drove back home, in her chappals, and in the peace of her room, sat and drank coffee.

Eight, Nine, Ten and Eleven.

As Arpit walked around the temple, offering flowers and water to the idols, he frowned on the accident that morning. He had bumped into someone’s car and since he was in a hurry, he couldn’t stop to sort the matter out. It was his first irresponsible act, and he was vexed.

Devashish was frowning too, but he was angry at his sister who was just not coming out of the temple. His instructions were clear. Take her to the temple and bring her back. Be with her at all times. Sometimes Devashish wished he didn’t have such a cowardly sibling. And now was one of those times.

Sudhanshu watched her as she whispered her prayers to Lord Shiv and bowed her head. She reminded him of his own sister, who he had lost last year that very day. Today was her death anniversary, only no one was celebrating.

Yuvam was the only person in the temple who was not praying. He was grumbling about his car, which someone had hit and run in the morning. He was going to a meeting that day and now he had to get the car repaired. On top of it, his family was insistent he come with them to the temple.

Arpit came out of the temple. As was the custom in a Hindu temple, he had left his shoes outside with everyone else’s. He was still thinking about the car when he strapped on his shoes and walked off. Suddenly, he was stopped by a shout. “Wait! Stop! Thief!” Arpit looked at his feet. He had, by mistake, strapped on someone else’s shoes and left his own behind. He apologised sincerely, explaining the same. Inwards, he criticized himself. Two in a day!

Yuvam didn’t know whether to believe this man who said he had worn his shoes by mistake. “This city is full of robbers! Some just hit your vehicle and run! Some steal your shoes!” he grunted. Surprisingly, the man who was apologising drew open his eyes. He said, “I am really sorry bother. And to prove that to you, I am more then willing to get your car fixed.” It was now Yuvam’s turn to be surprised.

Devashish had been looking at all that commotion when his sister finally came out. But she was not alone. A tall man was walking alongside her, talking to her. Devashish went over instantly.

“Thank you. You are too generous. I wish God fulfill whatever you asked for.” and Sudhanshu picked his slipshoes and walked away. Devashish asked his sister what that was all about. As she handed him his sport shoes and pulled her own on, she said, “That man lost his sister last year. He just wanted to know if I thought she would go to heaven, since I prayed to God regularly.” With a smile on her face, and Devashish tagging silently behind, the girl walked back home.

 

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