His pert black hair reflected a slight tinge of crimson when hit with the afternoon sun. Just like every school day, he walked back home on the beaten down path with his abnormally heavy sack & freshly muddled khaki half pants, who couldn’t distinguish itself in a line-up. He loved playing in the mud. His fascination for beetles emanated from an extraordinary experience in one of his friends’ garden. He always carried shiny greenish-blue ‘Alphonso’ in his left pant pocket, in a carefully reinforced matchbox with adequate holes for Alphonso to breathe. At first he didn’t know what to do with the beetle, but then he started to feed it with leaves, bugs & whatever else his tiny little imagination would allow him to feed it.
He developed a strange new bond with the bug. He had never felt like it before. It was almost like someone was at his mercy for the rest of its life, yet not a slave to him, but someone who he was responsible for. A slight fear went past him everyday, when he woke up. He always wondered if he was feeding it right, taking care of it in the way it would naturally look after itself if left in the wild. He felt sad one evening when staring at the bug, who was desperately trying to enjoy the confines of a display jar which the boy had managed to make out of a pickle jar he had stolen from under his mother’s nose. He had tied a piece of cloth tightly across the rim where the lid was supposed to be & secured it with a rubber band so that it could be removed effortlessly when the bug was to be transferred to the matchbox again. The boy was sad by looking at the bug trying to climb the slippery walls of the jar & reach the cloth. He couldn’t understand why was the bug in this desperate attempt to climb something which it knows is impossible to climb. Was it tired of just sitting around? Was it tired of just looking at the floor & wanted to see what’s up there? Why didn’t it fly when it had wings to reach the top?
The boy couldn’t figure out the notion of freedom. For him, it seemed natural to take care of a tiny little thing as this bug, who he believed, without his help would surely be eaten by some bird or those fierce red creatures that had haunted him one night when he dropped a lot of biscuit crumbs on his bed.
One morning as he woke up, he was astonished to realize his own stupidity as he hadn’t already figured out such a simple thing. He realized that the bug must have been bored of just sitting around & probably misses his toys. That whole day, in school & on his way back, he was constantly trying to imagine how a beetle’s toys would look like. Would it have a small bicycle with six paddles or would it have tiny cars which it would play with on the branches? He was completely befuddled when it dawned on him that how would someone grow up without having a reasonably large collection of cars to play with? It was unconceivable for him. So he tried to make a tradeoff. Since the pickle jar was not big enough to fit many of his tiny toys inside, he decided to go with the car & the branch theory. He put a twig inside the jar & then one of his small convertible cars which was a gift from his aunt, last diwali.
He watched with amazement as the bug was impervious to the Porsche but hung upside down to the twig. He thought of that boy from his school who had won a gold medal doing exactly the same thing with two bars at the sports meet. ‘It’s smiling’, thought the boy with delight when after an entire week of his transfer to a new home, the bug had finally opened its wings. It was incredulous for him for something so small could possess such fantastic colors under its skin. He wondered for a moment whether even he had such wonderful colors underneath him. Would he ever have wings & then spread them wide apart & show the world his true colors, in the magnificent glory of the reflecting morning sun? The purple shade on the bug captivated him & he stared for hours at a stretch observing the slight change in shade as the light played with it. He remembered that one evening at tea time, how his mother was sitting near the window with a cup of steaming hot tea reading her book & the mellowing sunlight made her eyes look brown when they were in fact, jet black like his hair.
He wondered if ever his mom would have thought about her own eyes being a different color when observed from a different direction. His mind was totally consumed by this optical illusion that nature had to offer. He also figured out the mystery of the orange ribbon on the hair of the girl who shared the desk with him at school. He couldn’t help but think about her & wanted to show her what he had been hiding in his pocket everyday. She had asked him many times to tell her what he did every now & then with his hand in his pocket? He used to throw a lie at her to make her mind her own business, but secretly wanted to tell her everything about his new friend. He wanted them to be friends too so that they can go out to play in the evening together & not have to sit in the room. The toys had become monotonous & he had lost all interest in them. His bug was his new muse towards figuring out a responsibility which his tiny mind had no need to know.
He enjoyed the feeling of not telling his parents about the bug. He hid the jar every time he heard them approaching his room. He couldn’t figure out how they would respond to having a pet animal in the house without their knowledge. So instead of facing them with the truth, he managed to live with the lie. It was agonizing at first since he had no idea what the bug might go through it left all by itself in his room. What if someone or something might break the glass jar & take Alphonso away or worse, eat him? The thought gave him shivers. In fact his parents knew about the bug long before he had decided to hide it from them, for they were amazed why their son was sleeping with a glass jar in his bed. So they used to carefully place the jar on his study desk & tuck him in bed when he was fast asleep. He never figured out how the glass jar always, every night managed to slip through his hands & reach the study table. He was so confused that he stopped figuring it out & wanted to believe that the beetle with its super strong wings made the jar fly along with him to the table so that it could stare at the night sky & the stars.
It was approximately two weeks of confinement & the bug had slowly become less & less motile every passing day. It had stopped spreading its wings wide open & the boy thought that it must be sad. The boy wondered when the bug’s birthday was & do all his friends come to his home to blow the candles on the tiny cake. What gifts did beetles give each other on that day? Do they wear clown hats & run around in the house jacked up on sugar? He wondered why the beetle did not want to go to school. Didn’t he have an orange ribbon wearing desk mate of his own? Didn’t he feel like telling her what he had been doing all this time away from her?
It was one weekend when his parents had decided to visit their vacation home just at the outskirts of the city. He was terrified since he would have to either carry the bug with him & reveal the secret & face the music or he could figure something out. He had the full day of Friday to try to figure out a way till the morning after. He paced his room frenetically thinking of ways to put it delicately to his parents. But he decided otherwise & thought that the bug would take care of itself if it had adequate supplies to last for the weekend. So he went to his garden & plucked one leaf of every kind making it a total of ten leaves which he thought that the bug might love to eat that weekend. He filled a small bottle lid with water & lowered it carefully into the jar with his tiny, agile fingers. That was to be the bug’s water supply. He shouted jovially at the bug, “Take a bath for a change you filthy little bug”. He was delighted at his genius & figuring out a way of having his cake & eating it too. He secured the lid of the jar & watched Alphonso lying there, least enthused about the sudden inflow of supplies. The boy took it for a heavy-heartedness of parting company for two whole days. He spent the better part of the evening convincing Alphonso that he would be back shortly & then they can play again together. But Alphonso’s frown couldn’t be wiped off.
Finally Saturday morning arrived & the boy kissed the glass jar & left his room & then his home for their trip. Throughout the journey the boy was sad for leaving his friend alone. He didn’t say a word & only answered when asked upon. They had a good time that day, spending time with mom & dad just like old times.
On the evening of Sunday, as the front door opened, the boy dropped his bags in the door & rushed to his room. He could not contain his shock, the visual impact made a slight concussion to his innocent mind. He started sobbing heavily but not uttering a sound until he could figure out what went wrong. The glass jar was lying on the floor, cracked open in a thousand pieces & the leaves scattered across the rug. The lid of the bottle wasn’t seen anywhere. Then his eyes searched the region around the glass pieces & found the shiny greenish blue remains of Alphonso lying belly up with his legs in the air as if trying to call for help. The boy fell to his knees, a piece of glass jabbed sharply at his tender skin making him bleed inside his pant. The pain of the shattered piece of the jar was significantly less than the loss of a dear friend. He had failed Alphonso, he thought to himself. He had failed his friend when he had promised to look after him everyday. He had failed in his duty to take care. The boy’s sobs became audible cries & then he suddenly broke out. Yelling at the top of his 8 year old voice, “I’m Sorry Alphonso, I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’m sorryyysssss”.
Heeding to her boy’s ominous yelling his mother ran to his room with a worried look on her face & saw a small pool of blood on the floor. She picked him up gently yet swiftly with an expertise of a fireman & hugged him tightly. She instantly parted with him to assess the extent of the wound & it was a small cut to his knee. She plucked out the glass shards from his pant & took him to the kitchen to give him a glass of water & first aid. His father came to the kitchen with a small furry cat in his hand, asking his wife how this little thing could have gotten into the house. The boy stopped sobbing for a moment, tears still fresh & rolling down his cheeks. He gave a grisly look at the cat, which was busy licking its own fur in his father’s hand. The cat seemed totally oblivious to his grief & was taken outside in the courtyard to be set free.
He looked down at the floor in a melancholy mood facing something his young mind wasn’t equipped to understand. His mother tried to console him, but his ears were shut off & his mind was wandering with an image of Alphonso hanging upside down to the twig like the boy from his school. He started sobbing with convulsions & hugged his mother. He whispered softly in her ears, with a deep note of acceptance & admittance.
“Mommy, He had purple wings”.