Open 2023 Stories - Divy Tripathi


By Divy Tripathi


Amit sat on the bench outside the cafeteria staring at his shoes. The forty-minute internal debate choosing between this pair and the flip-flops seemed futile now. Moments back, His friend Gayathri was proud at the muddied shoes which symbolized his don’t-give-a-damn attitude against the establishment, while her current iteration accused him of being a shabby unhygienic sloth.

The weather too played its role in amplifying his confusion. The rainy clouds gave way to sunshine, defeating the logic of shoes providing a protective cover. This made him sad to an immense extent, but the sorrow was compounded by the fact that he couldn’t tell anyone about it.

A “Hey” broke this distressing contemplation.

Amit’s reflex was to hide his feet under the bench but changed course after being confronted by the sight before him. He ran towards Gayathri. A weakened Banner was in her lap. The National Law College’s mascot dog had its left leg badly bruised.

Amit and Gayathri sat down on the bench and caressed Banner, who gave back thankful tears to his saviours. Their love and affection made them forget time and space, even each other for the next few minutes. This meditation was disrupted when her hand accidentally brushed against his on the dog’s coat. The boy acknowledged this with a tame grin, at the same time spread out his feet confidently.

“Strange, isn’t it? So many of us here: those library nerds over there, the gym bros heading for their work out sessions, that alcoholic mess heading to the bar at 4 pm… man, he needs help. Yet it feels like…like just the two of us.”

Amit hadn’t intended to stop but made the mistake of looking at Gayathri. For reasons best known to himself, Amit decided to lean towards her big, wild eyes. Suddenly the magic was lost. Their hands drew apart leaving the dog bereft of the humane touch of his benefactors, while the girl’s face gave the mixed look of surprise and discomfort. Amit swiftly moved his neck downwards towards Banner’s leg, and began inspecting it.

“…And this poor creature.” He continued, avoiding Gayathri’s eyes, “Wonder if they’ll even understand. If they’ll even get what it feels to be maimed. To be assaulted unprovoked. To be treated as if you don’t belong.”

Gayathri couldn’t quite follow where this was heading but nodded nevertheless. The boy cuddled the pained animal,

“And why would they? Imagine if this was us. I mean a HUMAN BEING! How would they react then? They’d cry out aloud. Run around like cowardly chickens, looking for medical help and whatnot. But no outrage for this poor creature. Why?

Because she doesn't look like them. So much for that word: equality. At the end that’s what it is, just a word. Filthy tokenism meant to fulfil individualist agendas.”
Gayathri’s soothing hand on his shoulder calmed down the rage. They sat in silence again, and stared at the helpless creature, which had begun wagging its tail and rolling on the floor. A smile surfaced on Amit’s face. He felt relieved at Banner’s return to normalcy.

“You didn’t go to the ball last year, did you?”

Amit shook his head, yet washit by a funny feeling. This sudden change of topic. Was it happening all too soon?

She smiled and looked downwards.

Amit wouldn’t admit it if you asked him but right now Gayathri made a perfect Dulhan in his eyes.

“Hey, Vedika!”

His fantasies were momentarily disrupted by the arrival of her best friend. Yet even she was a welcome entry into his dreams; the kind-hearted batch topper would make a good wedding guest. Her podgy frame slowly moved towards them, even as her pimpled face lit up at Banner’s sight. She got talking with Gayathri.
Amit tagged along with ‘hmms’, all the while observing the heavy bag on Sartre’s back.

Sartre. The name that attention-hungry Tretya had given the poor girl, based on her eye condition. For many, he deserved the lowest possible chamber in hell for doing this though the nickname had managed to stick.

Amit’s nodding was in autopilot even as he dreamt of his night out with Gayathri at the National Law College ball. He’d be dressed to form, and she’d be his queen. Even Vedika would be around, with that Rainbow alliance junior she was close friends with, cheering them on during the dance. A smile enveloped his face as he thought about the late night after-party with his date, which would perhaps take place on dark corners of the academic building terrace. When he overheard “NLC” and “ball” in their conversation, he swiftly jumped in to showcase his interest,

“Yeah, guys! I think it’s fun. A relaxed chilling scene with someone you’d like to be with,” he smirked after a glance at Gayathri, “Really looking forward to it!”
His cheerful face turned to Vedika, and saw her smile. Something was different. She looked as if she was more than happy to be obliged. He turned to Gayathri, whose beaming face resembled that of a successful matchmaker.

The ball? That sexist event where men force women to doll up and then take turns to ‘eye’ them!

Was what Amit’s brain told him right now, only if he’d been informed of this contradiction a few moments back. He turned his gaze away from both of them, towards the wired fences, the bushes, the construction workers beyond them and finally back to his muddied shoes. He was staring into a void.
Moments later, he got up in a hurry and proceeded to dart, only to trample Banner in the process. Rest was a haze: him turning around and mouthing “sorry” before running away, Gayathri shouting, the barking campus dogs, the confused guards, and the pillar outside the college gate.

He stood there, and sobbed inconsolably in broad daylight.


Divy Tripathi is an independent journalist and writer from India. He has worked for Wisden in the past, and has been published in MUBI's Notebook, Firstpost, The Quint among others.


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