Short Story 2018 Longlist, Biswadeep Ghosh

The ‘Devil’ In Disguise

“Here try this”, he stretched out his arm, which held a small, white, roundish pill. I was apprehensive, hesitating even to take the pill from him. “Oh, come on! You have to take it and pop it into your mouth. And put this as well,” he scrambled all over his pocket and with great difficulty managed to draw a candy. “The pill tastes bitter, like poison, you know.” He explained. “Not that I’ve ever had poison” Rishikesh scratched his head, befuddled.

Rishikesh was a senior of mine in graduate school or college, as the majority would call it. Our homes were close and we went to the same tuition teacher. I managed to get into a decent college thanks to my not-so-good rank and my parents’ unbridled patience. It was never hard to find somebody in the college with the right amount of determination, depending upon the priority of the task coupled with the popularity of the person to be looked; anybody can be found. To top everything, ours was a residential college, it was impossible to evade and hide a situation.

For the first week, my first-year mates and I were busy with the orientation and initiation programmes. The atmosphere was electric, and we were subject to abject humiliation and pain by seniors. Rishikesh would at times protect me, though I could not deny times when I desperately needed his intervention to stop matters from getting worse, instead, he chose the back seat and presumably enjoyed seeing me bashed by his friends.

“I would never forgive him” I swore an oath to myself.

Shanku was a good friend of mine; being an introvert and quite a bit of a recluse I barely had friends, though I was on good terms with everybody. He was an ardent fan and follower of Antariksh, Rishi’s roommate.

Shanku: Hey buddy, let’s visit Antariksh da, he asked me to come to meet him.

We had to address our seniors irrespective of their years as ‘da’ or ‘Dada’, which was meant to show respect, though in the back of our minds we did not have any for them.

Me: Why? More assignments for us to do? I wonder why we keep on doing these assignments for them.

Shanku [with a tinge of sarcasm]: Duh! Yes, they are our seniors; they have the right to own us!

Me: I cannot wait for us to be in the second year, it would mean we would gain exclusive rights to the first year students.

We share a cheeky laugh and set off.

“Hello? Anybody home?” Rishikesh tapped my head with his bony fingers, thereby fazing me out of my flashback. “Ouch!” I let out a small cry. I looked around the small room once again. Our college had a golden rule, every year was allotted their own hostels- although Rishikesh’s and my hostels were located at the two extremities of the campus, still, the size of the rooms was amazingly more or less the same; covered in foot-long soot hanging from the ceiling. This setting was in perfect alignment with the floor covered in ashes and ends from cigarettes and even ‘bidis’. The whole scenario was a claustrophobic one. I gulped once and looked at my ‘dear’ senior.

It was hard to say no, with Rishi forcing me to take the ‘miracle’ pill and his roommate Antariksh rummaging about the room, inebriate, searching for a glass to pour his whiskey. With dazed steps, he stood close to me asking his year mate what the matter was. Shanku had already gone outside the room in search of a glass for his beloved senior. The situation was pressing hard on me, and finally, Rishikesh suddenly became animated; with one hand, he cupped my cheeks forming a small opening and with his other hand, thrust his fingers in my mouth forcing me to ingest the pill.

“Tsk tsk tsk” he made a sad sound. “Too bad you had to swallow the pill, if you’d have listened to us and kept it within your mouth, the effects would’ve been far more prolonged.” I was in a state of shock, surprise, awe, and disdain. “What will happen to me?” I ask him clearly worried. “Nothing, just sit back and relax for a bit.” Saying this he suddenly disappeared without leaving me the slightest hint. Antariksh was engaged in a confabbing chat on his phone cussing every now and all of a sudden started crying. My gut feeling told me these preternatural scenes would somehow be very much acceptable in our future stay at the college and my gut also duly made me deduce the fact that Antariksh was talking to his ‘crush’ or someone falling in the same category.

As the time grew on, I felt disgruntled, uneasy. The drug was invariably making its way through my esophagus and in my system. The intoxication proliferating within me by the minutes, I tried to get up but could not. Something coerced me to sit down, with a thud. Suddenly Rishikesh entered the room with an entourage of seniors followed by the ever-subservient Shanku. I shook my head well enough to make the effects of the pill wear off, but in vain. The room, which a jiffy ago was more or less empty, was incredulously packed up with several seniors of varying physiques.

My world was literally spinning now, more than ever.

Suddenly somebody shouted out, “The third and fourth years have attacked our hostel, they are rallying up against us outside our gate.” At the sound of this, I heard several of them scream at the top of their lungs which was rallied by voices from outside the room cumulating from the sum total of the hostel rooms. At this point, I do not feel very well; I do not feel myself at all but involuntarily I give in to the screams. I shout, I shout with all my might. I charge with them to battle, my year mates become my comrades. I have completely changed now, with the pill controlling my actions and me.

The next morning, I woke up battered and bruised. I’ve never been so alive before.

*One year later*

“Here try this”, I said to the frightened junior before me stretching out my arm, holding a small, white, roundish pill.

 

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