“A peculiar goon in a typical city,” one of the many random uncles on the street had once said about this guy. The uncle had also confided that since he was only a master of the “theory of English”, he somehow always got “peculiar” and “typical” mixed up. This “goon” that he was talking about was a good-for-nothing loitering the colony and just being a pest. His mother’s bakery (which she filled with borrowed bread and cakes from another one a mile away) kept him going for most part. His only other business was playing marbles and because of his brilliant aim, he won enough daily to allow for his cigarettes.
The Goon was also an utter waste of time for us. Our elder by at least seven years, he would always break our game of cricket by snatching the bat from the striker. “6 balls only,” he’d say. He knew fully well that none of us could bowl six wide-less balls. After every wide, he’d say, “3 balls extra”. And this would go on for ten minutes. He was also just an idiot with the bat in his hand. There was not a house at mid-wicket he hadn’t sent the ball to.
Soon, his other interests would take him away, or his raging mother would come looking for him. “There is no bread, no milk, no water. I can’t go get everything myself. You are just good for nothing. Your father is a bigger idiot. He hasn’t returned for two days. Dunno which gutter he’s lying in,” and she would go on and on and on. In the bakery, in their house, where we were playing, on the road, at the bus-stop… she would go on and on. He never spoke back, but always turned his face away from her.
None of us liked him. No secrets there. Once when a walkman was found on the compound wall adjoining the bus-stop, one of us was the first to see it. We had looked around and found nobody close enough, and chic enough, to have forgotten a walkman. So we took it and began admiring its three buttons. While just getting to confirm that the Forward was faster than the Rewind , the Goon walked in.
“Where did you find it?”
“In the bus-stop.”
“Ok. I’ll take it.”
That was that. He just figured he wanted it, and he took it. He would also give us a taste of what a fresher’s life in college would be. For every cake his sister stole for him from their mother’s bakery, he would promise to do her homework. It was invariably one of us who’d do it. That guy was just atrocious and we hated him. Him, his sister’s homework… and even that walkman.
One day, around the time some of the boys were discovering the power of decision-making, the shortest amongst the lot said aloud, “we’ll teach him a lesson.” He really did say that in those many words. Those moral science classes were working alright on him. He said he had a plan and that after it was successful, he’d tell us the moral of the entire story.
So one of the evenings, cricket was on. It was a gray evening, but a brilliant colour fell on the ground. The many days of summer was about to end and the only good news was it would pour any moment. The red Bangalore soil was already smelling of rain. The heaviness in the weather was a tell-tale sign for some of the more articulate boys to look for a heavier tennis ball to play with. “The lighter balls will swing too much,” they reckoned.
While the game was one, he came. He left the walkman with the batsman and took his bat.The consolation? The walkman was in the hands of the boy who had found it on the compound wall. As he took strike, or rather just said, “bowl”, the short boy said to him. “We’ll bowl three balls at you. If you hit any one of them for a six, we pay you 50. Or, you give us the walkman.” Without thinking about it, he agreed.
Most of us thought it a fair deal. The trick was that the Goon had only one way to hit a six, straight, between the two buildings on either side. And he never, ever hit anything straight. He simply couldn’t, as a rule. He was not a learnt batsman and he used the same technique that nomads used to chop wood. So we all thought it was only a miracle that could help him. Moreover, we were going to use the lighter tennis ball which simply couldn’t catch distance.
After the bowler got a minute’s training in chaotic counseling, he sent the first ball. The Goon missed it. The pressure was on him now as the walkman had been his prime companion in recent days. He no longer turned his face away from him mother when she shouted. He just put the walkman on.
Another mini-conference later the boy bowled again. The Goon had really not worked his directions out and while his wood-chop connected well with the ball, it landed straight into a house on the building to his left. It was an unwritten rule that once it went into a house, the ball wouldn’t be returned. The house owners had always wanted to ban us from playing there. Though they wouldn’t think what their own boy would do not playing cricket.
Anyway, the ball was lost and the harder tennis ball was now out. This was the moment, we thought. Some of us were already rejoicing as the chink in his technique had been found out. There was a chance this ball too could go into somebody’s kitchen, but it was worth the risk. The conference began and ended and there were some hand shakes as well. The field changed, I can’t remember why. The boy charged down and bowled. After two seconds, the Goon reached for his walkman and left saying, “I’ll come back for my 50.”
We had been too full of ourselves and our potential victory to notice that the Goon was now facing extra-cover, or in geographical terms, he was looking at the building to his right. Which meant when he hit the ball the same way as he had done all his life, with his woodcutter’s chop, the ball still went the same way it always did, to his left. This time, it flew in the gap, over everyone for a six.
He was to become our first real hero. Someone we never liked, but someone, we wanted some part of us to be like.