The Replacement – a short story

By the time I reached the village, it was dark. The bus dropped me at a dilapidated bus stop and speeded away. I was not expecting a warm welcome, but a familiar face would have been reassuring. Maybe, that was too much to expect. After all, I was but a humble postman.
I looked around but could not find any street signs or landmarks. Thick clouds covered the sky. I knew I had to hurry and find some shelter before the heavens opened. The village was famous for its heavy downpours. No one came there voluntarily. The previous postman, the man I was replacing, had disappeared. One fine morning, he stopped returning calls from the head office. They waited for a month and then sent me.
‘Do not go near the old graveyard,’ said my friend, ‘It has stories around it – bad stories.’
He told me tales about the village, which I had laughed away. The stories had passed hands the day my ex-colleague gave me a send-off. All that seemed a lifetime away.
In the distance, I saw a dim light and started walking towards it. The ground was slushy. I assumed it was from the previous day’s rains. Luckily I always travelled light. A suitcase and a holdall. One change of clothes and a lot of books. My entire life, packed in those two pieces of luggage!
As I neared the light source, I saw it came from inside a hut made of bamboo and mud. Rusted corrugated sheets pretended to be the roof on top. Big drops of rain started hitting me. I jumped inside the hut without waiting for an invitation. It seemed a wise move at the time as the sound of the raindrops drumming on the iron sheets on the roof began to increase. The light came from a hurricane lamp sitting precariously on a rotting wooden table. The glass on the lamp was covered in soot and was desperately in need of some cleaning.
“Sorry, it is a mess, but you have all the time in the world to clean it up.” The voice from behind made me jump. I dropped my things and turned around. It was a silver-haired man sitting cross-legged in a corner. I estimated him to be about seventy, but he could have been older. I had not seen him while entering.
“Is… is… this your house?” I said.
The man laughed. The laugh echoed around the room and seemed to come back from all corners. I thought that strange. An echo in such a small room? I did not have the time to follow up on my thoughts as my eye caught something written on the walls.
A sign on the wall spelt out “Post Office” in faded red and white.
“You must be joking! Is this the post office?”
Getting no response from the man, I turned around. There was no one in the corner. I looked around the room and found that I was alone. A nameless fear gripped me. I grabbed my bags and rushed towards the exit. Suddenly a gust of wind blew the door shut. I dropped my bags, grabbed the door handle and pulled with all my strength. The handle came clean out of the wooden frame. Another gust of wind blew the lamp out. The last thing I remember as I stood there in the pitch darkness was the sound of the man’s laughter echoing in the room.

A new student – a short story

“Now repeat after me, A for Apple, ” said the teacher. The children repeated after him. Some were half asleep, others not exactly sure why they were parroting whatever their teacher said. The teacher’s eyes swept across his students. He had already checked the roll call for the day. All the students were present. Thirty students in a class. Six benches in all, each with five students.
“B for ball,” he said, and this time his students needed no prompting. As he walked to the back of the class, his eyes gazed at the fields at a distance. For a second. he remembered his childhood. He remembered how he had worked in the paddy fields during the day. He had completed his education by attending night school.
As he reached closer to the window, he said,” C for ?” He looked all around, but not a single child in the class responded.
“Cat. ” he heard a faint voice from outside the class. Surprised, he poked his head outside the window. He saw the school bus driver seated below his window, legs folded, a notebook in his lap and writing the alphabets.
“What are you doing there?” said the teacher.
The driver got up and apologized.
“I wanted to learn how to read and write.”
“What for?” said the teacher,” You already have a job.”
“Some of the traffic signs are in English….”
The teacher thought about it and then said.
“Ok, join the class. Sit on the last bench. I do not want you obstructing the view of the children.”
The driver smiled.
The teacher continued,” This does not mean you get to skip your day job. and you will also have to appear for the exams.”
The bus driver came in and occupied the last seat in the class. The children began laughing as they saw the tall bus driver adjust himself on the bench. He joined them in the laughter.
“D for ?” the teacher continued.

Stars in the night sky

The boy looked up at the sky, and the stars spread all over. Memories flooded back of days when he would spend hours with his mother on the terrace as she told him all about the tiny bright dots in the night sky.
“That is the great bear.” his mother said, tracing a jagged line in the sky.
“That does not look like a bear,” he protested.
His mother laughed. “I knew you would say that,” she said, “that is why I came prepared.”
She opened her office bag and pulled out a plastic sheet with ‘Big Bear’ written on it. I had the image of a bear, and she held the sheet against the night sky. The stars aligned neatly against the points on the sheet.
“It looks like a curved dagger to me,” the boy said, hoping to put up a fight. His mother had laughed, and he laughed with her.
The sound of her laughter was all he had in his memory. He looked at the crumpled newspaper in his hand. The headlines in bold letters declared, ‘Brilliant astronomer dies in a tragic accident.’ The boy kicked the newspaper away, tears rolling down his cheeks.
He looked up and saw all the stars his mother had shown him. He saw the belt of Orion, Taurus, Gemini. They were all there in the same spot, all looking at him.
The boy stared for a long time and then wiped his tears.
“I will become an astronomer like mother,” he said and began connecting the dots in the sky.