It was a hot day in early summer and I sat in the balcony with Mr. Kent looking out into the streets where a group of shirtless boys were playing about in the dirt. A woman sat on the ground in front of her house playing sitar for reasons I could not perceive. Her face was veiled with her saree to protect herself from the heat as she played. As often as I wandered and strayed away from my conversations, this one was also drifting away from me.
"That's a lie!", Mr. Kent shook me out of my reverie back into our debate.
Getting my head back in, I retorted,"It is no lie! Some people drink for the love of the taste of alcohol."
"I'm still not convinced. Haven't you seen how Tristan squeals whenever he sips his vodka?"
"Why would I be interested in his squealing? His expression is of no concern as to why every drunkard drinks.", I tried to pretend not to picture Tristan downing pints of vodka while waves of discomfort swept across his face.
Mr. Kent smiled a disbelieving smile evoking a desire in me to shake out this strange notion, that everybody drinks for the want of getting drunk, out of his mind. The conversation was turning out to be rather futile for none of us would step down from our thrones of obstinacy and conceited ideals pertaining to why people would drink.
A child started crying out loudly in the distance and the woman had stopped playing the sitar. A gust of cool breeze blew across and Mr. Kent stood up picking his empty glass. The air was getting quite humid and the sun hung directly above the streets causing dust to rise up with every small movement.
"Well, I'm going to get some rest now.", Mr. Kent declared as though he had done some tiring job and deserved his nap. As a gesture of compliance, I stood up and picked my glass,"Yes! By all means, please do."
I followed him into the hallway where he kept his glass beside the flower vase on the table. He continued his way up the stairs to his room while I succumbed to yet another daydream evoked by the wilting roses on the vase. I stood beside the table wondering why Mary had not yet changed the flowers as she usually did. I began to imagine the possibilities and the circumstances under which she might have forgotten to change the flowers. Before I delved further into the depths o my imagination, the sitar playing woman on the street began to shout in her language which I understood not. Shaking the daydream off, I placed my glass on the table aligning it in a straight line with the vase and Kent's glass.
I went out into the balcony wondering what might have happened that led the woman to a continuous series of shouts. As I looked down, I saw another lady with a pot on her head angrily shouting back against the sitar woman. One of the shirtless boys ran towards the lady with the pot and hid himself behind her. Soon, a small crowd had gathered around them and each of them were voicing their opinions making the shouts grow louder. I became annoyed at how they were behaving towards each other but knowing not a word of what hey shouted, I retreated back into the hallway and walked towards my room.
It was quite hot in my room because it had large windows and the walls were very thin. I dropped myself onto the bed and closed my eyes trying to ignore the commotion o the street. No sooner had I drifted off, Tristan walked in.
"Come fast, Andrew fell off the chariot!", he gushed.
"Where is he?", I asked lazily raising myself up from the bed.
"The locals are carrying him home. He is unconscious."
"Oh no! I hope he has not been injured to a greater degree.", I exclaimed frowning.
"Come now! We must get him before they reach the gate. I do not fancy these locals swarming in our house. Ah! There they are!"
Noises filled the corridor as we walked into the hall. Andrew was inviting his friends in and asking them if they would like anything to drink. Tristan was very careful in maintaining a proper distance as he greeted the locals without a hint of smile on his face.
"I thought you were unconscious."
"Ah! That was just for a passing second. The buffalo turned out to be too violent and jerked me off it's back before charging my other friends here."
"A buffalo?", I was dumbfounded, "Tristan said it was a chariot."
"One of them told me it was a chariot.", justified Tristan.
"It was a chariot that brought me home my brothers.", smiled Andrew.
Before I could ask more questions, Martha rushed in with uncle Lance slowly walking behind her.
"What happened?", Martha clamoured.
"It was just a small accident.", Andrew replied trying to act nonchalant.
It was a long moment of torture as I sat there listening to Martha and her never ending questions. The bored locals being utterly ignored by Martha took offense and decided to take leave. Andrew thanked them profusely, followed them till the doorstep and refused to stop thanking until they were out of the gate and drove off in their chariot.
When Andrew walked back in, Martha hissed,"You must stop going around with those people. There are good people here, why do you keep befriending those unworthy people?"
"Martha! How can you say that?", I stood up and went into the kitchen pretending to get a glass of water to drink. I was getting tired of her constant disapproval of everything we did with our lives. I could hear Andrew trying to explain things with the never fading smile on his face while Martha tried to prove that the locals were of bad breeding and could spoil him. Tristan and Lance talked about their horses which was another thing in life I did not interest myself with. Feeling utterly bored at the monotony in their conversations, I walked past them to the stairs and to Mr. Kent's room. His afternoon nap was not yet accomplished so I walked out of the room and was just about to close the door when he asked,"What time is it now?"
I turned back and walked in again to find a swollen faced and red eyed Mr. Kent. I couldn't control myself from laughing and I told him the time while still laughing.
"What is so funny?", he asked.
"You should look in the mirror to see what is funny.", I continued laughing.
"Oh! That.", he said without the slightest bit of curiosity.
He walked towards the washbasin and washed his face, then turned to me,"Have Martha and Lance returned?"
"Yes. They are attending to a heavily injured Andrew. In fact, I came up here to tell you that.", I lied.
"What? What happened?", Mr. Kent stood straight, his face ashen and began to walk out of his room.
I followed him downstairs and when he saw a healthy Andrew, he turned to me and said with a smile on his face,"You little vermin! Why do you keep fooling people with your petty lies? It will get you into trouble someday."
I laughed ignoring the look of surprise on Martha's face. Tristan just kept looking while Lance asked,"What happened?"
"No. It's nothing.", I shook it off.
"Do tell us.", Martha asked again.
"It was just a joke.", Mr. Kent smiled.
Martha was irritated and she stood up saying,"Nobody wants to tell me anything." Then she stormed out of the house. Lance gave a shrug and followed her out of the house.
Everyone was taken aback at what happened but I couldn't care less. I just sat there as Mr. Kent began to ask Andrew questions which then turned into a conversation about the locals where Tristan joined in explaining the reasons why he didn't like them. I began to feel oddly tired so I retired to my room and lay on the bed till I fell asleep.
"Hey! Wake up!", A voice shook me out of sleep. I opened my eyes to find a well groomed Mr. Kent looking as though he were going to attend some ball. Before I could ask, he explained,"I'm leaving now."
That made me even more confused. I asked,"Where?"
"The Professor sent a letter. The chariot is waiting outside and I have to be there by tomorrow morning."
"That's a great news. I hope you're happy there", still feeling lethargic, I decided to bid farewell in my room and not walk him out. He wished me good luck, I wished him a safe journey and he was off.
I went back to sleep and when I woke up, it was already dark. Andrew and Tristan were talking about the buffalo adventure that Andrew had earlier in the day. I joined in the conversation but could not sustain myself in it for a longer time because of the short attention span I suffered from. After some time, we had dinner without Martha and Lance who were still missing.
Later in the night, sleep was hard to come so I sat in the library reading a book. Tristan and Andrew were talking about things in the hall when Martha and Lance returned to the house. Martha seemed to be in bright spirits while Lance wore his usual cool self. Much later, after everybody had gone to sleep, Martha's giggles could still be heard upstairs which made me think that they must have been at some party.
The weeks went by in a monotonous fashion with Martha's emotional rides adding unnecessary drama into our lives. Andrew continued to have adventures with the local people, Tristan participated in horse races more frequently, Martha and Lance would be out at some ball or be locked up in their room while I was getting dangerously close to infinite oblivion. I wanted to think what I wanted to do which everybody else seemed to do. I thought about Andrew, Tristan, Martha and Lance and the things they loved to do. To find out the things that kept them from going insane so I could also find mine. Then when I thought about Mr. Kent, I remembered how he once told me that he had no enthusiasm in life and with his explanations, I thought it to be quite true. Having been driven to extreme boredom and lacklustre, I chanced to sub consciously analyse what made Mr. Kent such a disconcerting person.
As my thoughts continued to go wild, I discovered new lights to perceive him. Headstrong as he was, he never chose to invade others lives with his obstinacy. He had a clear sense of judgement and never failed to be honest with himself and everyone around him no matter how painful it seemed. He knew what he had to do and was never lazy to do it. But most of all, he had a genuine zeal for keeping friends. I began to miss how we had argued together and how we thought the other was wrong and stupid. I missed how we were not in the same page but we still continued to go on without an ickle measure of contempt. For in all our times of arguments and agreements, we had always been honest to each other and to ourselves. We had always been who we were without pretence. And I missed him in times of his absence even without realizing it.
I thought back to the day we argued upon why people drank alcohol and found much truth in his ideas. While not all drink to get drunk, many drink to get drunk for various reasons. I could have been drinking to get drunk to forget my inner conflicts but I had decided and declared to Mr. Kent that I drink not to get drunk but because I like the taste. So to that shall I ever stand.