He stood at the very edge looking at his toes, wiggling them slightly. The earth felt damp under his feet. He was standing on the wall of the irrigation channel that his father had built along with the other farmers. Five feet deep, he had heard them say, and three feet across to the other side. Usually there would be at least a foot and a half between the surface of the water and the top of the channel. Not today though. Today the waters had swollen and lapped gently on the top of the wall as it flowed down the channel. And it was flowing quite rapidly too. A paper boat would be out of sight in less than a minute, he estimated as he stood there following the man-made stream with his eyes.
Although it looked like half past six in the evening, it was only two in the afternoon. There had been warning of a thunderstorm and they had let all the children go home before the rain started. He’d come home, happy that he’d get to eat a warm lunch at home with his parents. As always, he’d changed out of his uniform and into a pair of shorts and a vest, washed his hands, feet and face and gone into the kitchen to eat. His father was already at the table set up on one side of the kitchen, along with his sister. His mother was serving rice in all their plates. He sat down quietly in his seat, and waited for her to serve him the morukootan and vegetable, and sit down to her own plate. Once she started eating, he started his meal. He was the first one to finish. As he was washing up, his father asked him to check on the cowshed and the coop to make sure all the animals were fine. “Come straight back in after that,” his mother warned him. He nodded dutifully and went out the back to first check the coop.
The cows were his friends. And now there was a little calf too. He talked to them, and patted their backs. Just as he was refilling the hay for them, the calf licked the back of his neck. A big wet sloppy kiss. He laughed loudly and playfully smacked the calf on his head. As he stepped out of the shed to head back to the house, he glanced to the fields. They were at a lower level, and from where he was stood near the shed, the paddy looked like the waves of a rocky sea. The channel snaked through the fields, dark and glistening, even as the clouds gathered overhead. “Just a few minutes,” he thought to himself.
And that’s how he ended up here – standing at the very edge of the channel, following the path of an imaginary paper boat. “Hari!!” His mother’s voice broke through the wind and his thoughts. “Hari!” She sounded worried, he thought. “Amma!” he called back. “Come back…..” The wind took away the rest of her words. “Coming, amma! Just one minute!” He looked up at the sky. It had become really overcast now. It didn’t worry him though. It was the monsoons, and he didn’t understand all this fuss about the rains.
He looked beyond the channel, beyond, as far as his eyes could see – where the paddy fields ended and the coconut groves began. The leaves were swaying wildly the in wind. It looked like some of the trees were bending all the way towards the ground. The clouds were in conversation, in their deep rumbling voices. CLAP! He saw a streak of silver strike the ground beyond the trees. The rain was starting towards him now. In that instant, he decided he would stay ahead of it and reach the house before it. He turned around – it was a good 200 meters to the slope that led to the cowshed. But the rain was still in the coconut grove, he had enough time.
He ran. As fast as he could. He knew the bunds well, knew the slippery parts, the portions where the mud was squishy wet, and jumped over them. When he reached the slope, he glanced back towards the rain. It was approaching quicker than he thought. He scrambled up the slope, using his hands to pull himself up faster. Once on top, he started running again, and didn’t stop till he reached the steps at the back door. His mother looked up from washing the dishes from lunch, and took in the panting, the grazed bleeding knee, the cuts on his hands, the soaking wet clothes, and the triumphant look on his face. “What kept you?” she asked.
“I ran ahead of the rain!” he said, grinning. CLAP! This time it sounded closer home, and the sharp drizzle turned into pouring rain. Mother and son looked out, and up at the sky.
“Go, wash up, and put on some dry clothes,” she told him, turning back to the dishes.
“Yes, amma,” he said, and walked towards the bathroom.