The smaller crime

He stood there transfixed. Wide, staring, terribly beautiful eyes fixed at the framed certificate and the hands clutching it trembled uncontrollably with mad fury. He had lost track of time, space, himself…everything. The hot air hung around him, pressing down, heavy .  The late afternoon sun played a game of shadows on the glass. He just watched, holding the only tangible thing in the room, his head throbbing and the words boasting of his elder brother’s graduation. Jealousy, inadequacy, incompetence, self-pity, bitterness, insecurity, he no longer knew what was the reason for his inner turmoil. One emotion seemed to feed another. The harder he tried to quell each feeling, the more they seemed to cling on to him. Every bit of achievement now seemed to be overshadowed by the image of his perfect brother. Agonizing conversations began to dance in front of his eyes, as proof of his every fear.

FLASH

“ I heard your elder brother graduated this month. Congratulations! He’s extremely talented. Why didn’t you choose the field of engineering?”

“My younger son is musically inclined. He is going to pursue training further,” intervened his mother.

“Oh!” A disapproving raise of the eyebrows. “My nephew plays the drums. Not many employment opportunities in that field…”

FLASH

“But, education overseas is so expensive. Well, at least your elder son is earning now. He can help with the expenses.”

He closed his eyes tightly, trying to drive them away.  He was not capable of holding it in any more. He thought his head might explode. He raised the frame above his head, clenched his teeth and

CRASH

The sound of the breaking glass was deafening in the absolute silence of the house. He listened, not daring to look at the shattered pieces. And he waited, for relief to wash over him, soothe him, satisfy him. He waited for a long time but nothing changed. His anger mounted, his breathing became heavier and his vision turned red. Frustrated, he picked up another certificate and flung it at the wall and trophies and photographs each one proudly announcing his brother’s achievements joined the broken pieces on the floor.

When the clanging of metal finally died down, he bent on one knee and looked at what remained of his parents’ prized possessions. Their faces swam before him, shocked, hurt by what he had done. He tried to look away but there was no escape.

Loud voices outside his window broke his reverie.  He looked out of his window at the scene below. A huge crowd had gathered near the door to his neighbors’ house. At the centre of it stood a skinny, young boy, trembling under the glares of the hostile crowd, holding a shiny, red toy car in one hand and clutching the skirt of his elder sister in the other. The girl, equally skinny, dressed in frayed, patched rags, stared back defiantly while she stood protectively in front of her brother.

“I’ve said it time and again, it is a mistake to trust any of them”, said an elderly woman loudly, waggling her finger at the guilty one. “They are all thieves.”

“My brother is not a thief!” the girl yelled, agitated by the accusation.

“You just leave them unattended for a few minutes and they will go ahead and steal”, piped up a stout man.

Infuriated, the girl screamed at the man, “He didn’t steal anything. I will pay the price of the toy.”

The man stepped ahead and slapped her hard across her cheek, “Don’t you dare adopt that tone with me”.

He withdrew from the window, unable to watch any longer. The fog of numbness had settled around his senses. He just sat and watched the sky change from a hazy blue to liquid, shining pink to blood red and finally inky blue. The commotion outside his window had long since subsided and the eager chirp of baby birds, welcoming their mothers home, calmed him down.

The phone rang, shrill and loud but he welcomed the sound in the empty silence.

It was his brother.

“Hey ! Remember the scholarship program I told you about for your instrument training for the summer. I think we might be able to get it for you. One of my friends…”

He let go of the receiver. He thought he was going to choke, so overwhelming was the weight of his guilt. He wished he were the little boy. He wished he had committed the smaller crime and he wished his brother would still defend him.

He picked up the phone once again.

“I’m sorry bhaiya. I’m really sorry”, he pleaded, letting  tears confess his crime.

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