Read the previous part here
After handing over my answer sheet for the last exam, I sighed in relief. The questions were easy, unlike in Carmel where the difficulty level of the question paper marked the worthiness of a teacher. The exams were not very tightly monitored either. And for the first time in my life, I had cheated. No, I did not copy from anyone or anywhere for that matter. But I had dutifully passed over my answer sheets to Girish, who had generously distributed it to anyone who cared to ask.

My hands shook the first time I did it.It was on the day of the Maths exam. I was engrossed in a particular problem when I felt something hit my back. I turned and saw that Girish had thrown his eraser at me.When he rolled his eyes and extended his hands, I swear I did not understand why.I raised my eyebrows,confused.He then gritted his teeth and pointed towards his answer sheet. When I finally registered what he wanted me to do, I froze. Yeah, quite a chicken I am. But then I didn’t let fear get the better of me. I managed to hand him over my sheet when the supervisor turned his back. After that it became a ritual.
“I wish I was in the same room as Gautham, this is not fair”, Sreedhar complained later that afternoon, as Girish and Jamshed grinned shamelessly.

“As if you didn’t copy, I saw you take the text book to the exam hall”, Ravi accused.
“Yeah, I did. But if I knew where to look for the answers, do you think I would be slogging in the same grade for two years?”, Sreedhar exclaimed.

“How do you do this Gautham?”, Girish asked me. We were all sitting on the steps of the huge school water tank. “How do you know all those answers?”

I shrugged noncommittally and continued to suck my popsicle. The vacation began the next day and the school premises were almost empty, save for a few of us.

“I told you, he is a nerd”, Sreedhar added with a dash of accusal in his tone. “Good for us”, said Jamshed as her threw his head back in laughter. I smiled, but did not offer any explanation.

Still pissed off, Sreedhar opened up his back pack and pulled out an old pencil box. I knew excatly what was in it. It was in that box that he kept his stash of cigarrattes. Sreedhar often smoked. The others sometimes took a puff or two while he was at it, but he was the only regular-smoker in the group. I had once let on that I used to steal my Papa’s left over cigarette butts and smoked them secretly afterwards. But my lie was debunked a few weeks earlier , when Sreedhar offered me a puff while he smoked. I had bravely given it a try and had coughed my inside out, much to the amusement of others. Though they were kind enough not confront to me, I knew that they had caught me red handed.

Sreedhar took a few deep puffs and blew away the smoke as he lay flat on the cement floor beneath the water tank.” I am going to fail again”, he muttered under his breath. Suddenly he sat upright, threw away the burning cigarette and announced.”I am going to run away to Bombay if I fail again this year”.

“And then what?”, Ravi asked. “I will find a job, won’t your father help me? I can’t have Appa beat me to death.”

An uncomfortable silence followed.”Let’s talk about that when the final results come out, there is a long way to go before that”, Jamshed intervened. “What are the plans for the vacation?”, he tactically changed the subject.

I was going to visit Papa at the Hospital in Vellore. Since no one knew that my Papa was sick, I kept mum and let others talk. “Let’s go to the river side and play cricket”, said Girish after a while.All of us nodded in agreement. As we were walking towards the gate, Ravi stopped and sniffed. “What’s burning?”, he asked.

All the five of us turned back to see bright amber flames dancing it’s way towards the motor shed besides the school water tank.”Oh..Sh*t…” Sreedhar muttered as he realized how the fire had started.

Read the next part here

I am participating in the  A to Z challenge this April. This is my post in the series – for the letter F


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