Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

El Diablo

“Thank you Nitin sir. Thanks a lot.” Jamal said his hands folded in front of Nitin and tears in eyes. Nitin looked at him with a tired face and smiled faintly. He kept his hand on Nighat’s forehead to check her temperature once more.

“Her temperature is normal now. The injuries are also gone. Take care of her, ok. And don’t believe in those pesky traditions like Jukar. They would have gotten her killed.” Nitin told scolding Jamal.

Ever since Nitin had come to the village on the hill in search of shelter and food, he was appalled to see the traditions of the village. Jukar was one tradition that he hated the most. In Jukar, they would keep the child in front of an animal or bird for two minutes and then let the animal decide the fate of the child. The stature of the child in the society was determined by the animal. Nitin had seen children put in front of every possible animal present around — dogs, cats, chicken, bulls, monkeys and even tigers and crocodiles. Most children in front of domestic children survived but got low positions in the society. In fact, the leader of the village usually was the child who survived a carnivore. The current village head — Ramesh — was put in front of a wolf. The tale says that the wolf had almost jumped on the child but a howling from afar distracted the animal and he survived. Nevertheless, he was destined to become the leader from that day on, despite being born of people who were poor. His father was dog-bred and his mother was chicken-bred. Nitin secretly felt that perhaps that is why they put their child to such risks. Akbar had done the same, just in front of an alligator. Nitin didn’t even know how did she survive but she did — barely.

“We can’t leave our traditions behind Nitinji. Besides, what is to worry when you are here.” Jamal said unapologetically and touched Nitin’s feet. Nitin moved away and hugged Jamal instead.

Nitin looked at Nighat and shuddered at how he had seen her when Akbar had brought her. She had been mauled by the alligator completely. Her arm was half detached and dangling and blood was pouring like from a tap. Even Nitin wasn’t sure that he could save her. Yet, he was able to save her after a week-long effort. He cried almost everyday at Nighat’s situation.

“You are a great person. It was an auspicious day for us when you came to our village.” Jamal said hugging Nitin back. Nitin closed his eyes and tears started to build in his eyes reminiscing the cost at which this greatness was achieved.

“Thanks. I hope that it all ends well.” Nitin whispered, more to himself than Akbar.

Once Akbar was gone, Nitin started to pack his bags to go to the bottom of the valley. It was called the dark dungeons by the village folks. The place started as a prison for criminals from across the area who had been punished with eternal imprisonment or death. However, slowly, a community started to build in that place and today, it was a thriving place, albeit, still a place for criminals or their families. The children of these criminals weren’t allowed to participate in Jukar. They were allowed to leave the valley though if they vowed to never come back — a vow that was religiously enforced.

Nitin was the only one who went to that valley. He was also the only one who was allowed back on the hill after that. Since the day he had come, Nitin had gained great love from the village, primarily because of his abilities of healing. When he said that he wants to go to the bottom of the valley, he was allowed. People thought he was going to help the convicts. Nitin just wanted to see the damage he had done.

“Nitin. Thank God you are here. We were hoping that you would come.” A woman came crying to Nitin. She held in her arms a boy of around eight years. “Please. Save him.”

Nitin immediately got to work. He dabbed the wounds with the medicine he had brought with him. He checked the arm that had twisted itself and was now useless.

“He won’t be able to use it.” Nitin said sombrely. The woman nodded understanding.

“I just want him to live.” The woman said her breathing heavily.

“How long since?” Nitin asked casually. His mouth turned dry and he couldn’t complete the sentence.

“One week ago. He was playing with his friends when suddenly, el diablo struck. He writhed and cried and he turned like this. I have been trying to keep him alive hoping you would come.” The woman said her eyes brimming with tears. She looked at Nitin with hope and complete surrender. Nitin hated that look. He was not a saviour.

“He will survive. If he would have been younger, it would have been impossible. Also, you took good care of him. However, his body wouldn’t work as well as before and he won’t be able to do much manual work.” Nitin said without meeting the mother’s eyes.

She nodded understanding the consequences. In the valley, if you can’t pull your own weight, you don’t survive for long.

“Curse el diablo.” She muttered. “I rue the day when he decided to punish us for our sins. And punish us if you want, but why our children. What have they done wrong?” She said unable to control herself.

Nitin looked at her without saying anything. He remembered the first time he had come to the village. A child had been thrown in front of a python and it had almost swallowed the baby. Luckily, the baby stabbed the python’s eye and survived. Nitin was horrified looking at the atrocity but attempted to save the baby. The usual ways failed and he used his most potent way — Transference.

The injury was thrown from the kid’s body outside and Nitin pushed it in the valley. He was told only hardened criminals lived in the valley so Nitin didn’t feel much guilt using transference. It was only when he went to the valley, he found out the horror that he had created. The valley was the same as the village — people trying to survive. Some may have been criminals but their desire to live in harmony was the same as the village. If anything, their customs were less barbaric.

Unfortunately, the transference was set and he couldn’t change it. Any injury from the village will be transferred to the valley if he cures it. Since then, he has come to the valley to try to cure people once he had used transference. It alleviated his guilt a little.

Sometimes, he would think of leaving this place but the villagers considered him a god and fed him and took care of him. He didn’t want to wander back in the world. Perhaps, he was el diablo.

Nitin thought and closed his eyes.