Wake up, Ajay! If you’re not up in a minute, I shall have to come in and drag you out of bed!” Mrs. Anu Rao shouted to her son from the drawing room. “And where is Sandy,” she continued, “I can’t believe that any dog can sleep for so many hours. Oh God, the way these two sleep!”
Her husband, Mr. Vinod Rao, looked up from his newspaper and said, “Let Ajay sleep at least during the holidays.”
“He wakes up at 9 a.m. and misses his milk. He bathes at 11 a.m. and then misses breakfast because he’s already stuffed himself with biscuits. And then he disappears for the rest of the day with Sandy,” she moaned, clearly tired of her son and his dog.
From his bedroom, ten year old Ajay heard his mother ranting and so did Sandy. Not that it bothered Sandy, he just stretched lazily and pushed his nose next to Ajay’s mouth.
Ajay looked at the clock, it was only eight o’clock, “Oh God! Why all the fuss?” he wondered.
“Ajay!” His mother screamed, this time she sounded really angry. Ajay jumped out of bed along with his blanket.
PLONK! Sandy fell to the floor and yelped.
“Oh, sorry boy, Mama gave me a fright,” he apologised and patted the Golden Retriever’s silky head.
“And YOU frightened me,” thought Sandy, stretching and shaking himself.
After a wash, Ajay strolled into the dining room. There, his father, Mr. Rao, a senior officer with the Indian Police Service, sat at the table in his smart uniform.
“Good morning Dad and Mama,” he wished his parents and sat next to his father. “When will you come home tonight, Dad?”
“Why, the usual time,” his father replied.
“Dad, your ‘usual time’ is late at night,” groaned Ajay.
“Now, don’t make a fuss, Ajay. You know I’m a police officer and have to be on duty almost all the time,” Mr. Rao explained patiently. Just then the phone rang. Mr. Rao answered. “Hello! Yes, it’s me…Oh, no really? I’ll be there in a minute.” He slammed down the phone and called for his wife. “I’m leaving. There’s been an emergency. I don’t know when I’ll be back. Bye, Ajay,” he waved to his son and rushed out.
Ajay ran behind him. “What’s happened, Dad?” Ajay loved Dad’s job. It was so adventurous and there always seemed to be something interesting going on. “Dad, what’s going on?” Ajay insisted.
Mr. Rao replied as he got into his jeep, “A little boy like you can’t do anything about it – now, be good and stay out of trouble.” Mr. Rao started the jeep’s engine and sped away.
Ajay walked back to the house feeling quite upset.
“Mama, why was Dad in such a hurry?”
“He’s always in a hurry, you know how it is with your father’s job.”
Ajay sat at the dining table, still glum.
“Have your breakfast, Ajay, and here’s your meal, Sandy.” Mrs. Rao placed Sandy’s bowl on the floor.
It was certainly Ajay’s favourite breakfast, ‘aalu paratha’ with pickle. Yummy. But Ajay’s mind was on the phone call that had just come. Sandy’s paw on his leg brought Ajay back to his senses.
“What is it, Sandy? Oh, now I know, you glutton! You want my breakfast too!” Ajay laughed as he broke off a piece of his paratha and offered it to Sandy who wagged his tail.
“I should find out why Dad was in such a hurry,” Ajay thought and quickly gobbled down his paratha.
“What’s the hurry?” Ajay’s mother pointed a finger at him and threatened, “You are not going anywhere, Ajay. Especially not to the football ground — you always get into trouble because of Sandy. Besides, Dad has ordered you to stay at home.”
“But, Mama, it’s not Sandy’s fault. He just thinks that the others are trying to snatch the ball away from me and he wants me to have the ball, that’s why he chases everyone away!” Ajay laughed as Sandy looked up innocently at Mrs. Rao.
Despite his mother’s warnings Ajay and Sandy disappeared. Ajay on his red bicycle and Sandy trotting alongside toward the football ground…
The playground was crowded with kids on swings and slides, but the football field was empty. It will be fun, Ajay thought to himself, to dribble the ball for a while without anyone disturbing him. He parked his bicycle near the changing room.
The watchman was nowhere to be seen but the door to the storeroom was open. Ajay wanted a ball from the storeroom so he stepped in. Meanwhile, Sandy busied himself outside, digging up a small patch of ground. Even though Ajay called his name many times, Sandy continued to dig away.
Just then a gruff voice shouted out, “What’s going on here?” Ajay nearly jumped out of his skin! A short, stocky man with a beard came out of the storeroom.
This was not Somu, the watchman! “Hey! Who are you? Where’s Somu, the watchman?” Ajay asked.
“He went to his village. Now I am the watchman, till Somu returns.”
Ajay did not like the way this man looked. He was most unlike Somu who was always friendly and let the boys’ practice whenever they wanted to.
“Can I have a ball?” Ajay asked hesitantly.
“No, come back in the evening.” The man bellowed.
Sandy turned away from digging and began growling and barking at the man, woof-woof-woof! The man froze out of fear. “Take your dog away! Leave at once!” he said.
Ajay called for Sandy but the dog would not stop barking. When Ajay tried to pull him away, Sandy refused to move away from the patch he had dug up. The unfriendly man came towards them, swinging a stick in the air, “Are you going to leave or not, kid,” he screamed.
“RUN, Sandy!” Ajay screamed and they charged off toward the playground. They waited for a while after which Ajay’s curiosity got the better of him and they crept back to the football field. All was quiet now. Sandy returned excitedly to the same spot he had been digging. Ajay crawled toward the window of the changing room and peeped in. The room was full of loaded gunny bags that Ajay had never seen earlier. Sandy was still digging away at the same spot. Ajay crawled back to Sandy’s side and now both of them clawed at the earth. They dug for some more time when suddenly Ajay felt something hard. He yanked it out.
He had just started to open the odd-looking box when he heard several voices. Quickly he picked up the box and hid behind the bushes. Sandy followed. He saw the stocky man who called himself the new watchman and with him were two other men. They spoke to each other in serious whispers. Ajay and Sandy slipped away when the men disappeared inside the changing room.
When Ajay reached home, his mother was waiting for him. “Where have you been? Now come on, wash up and eat your lunch.”
Half way through lunch Ajay remembered that he had forgotten the box in the bushes! Oh, no! He groaned. He decided to go out later to fetch it. He was packed off to his room for an afternoon nap and when he finally woke up it was already 6:30 p.m.! He had to pick up the box! He waited till his mother settled down in front of the TV. He knew that once his mother’s favourite shows started, nothing would make her leave her seat!
Stealthily, the duo slipped out. Once they reached the football field, Ajay saw lights in the changing room. Without making the slightest sound Sandy and Ajay crept over the bushes to recover the box. Hey! Where’s the box? Where IS the BOX? Ajay and Sandy searched desperately, but it was NOWHERE!
Ajay heard the door open and all three men came out carrying huge bags on their shoulders. They were heading towards the Municipal Water Tank that happened to be the only source of water for Ajay’s town that was called Nirmal in the district of Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh.
Ajay and Sandy followed them. The three men stopped just near the tank and one of them began digging. Ajay could not make out clearly what was going on since it was very dark. When he heard Sandy growl, he turned his head. Just then he felt a cold, heavy hand on his shoulder.
“Just what do you think you are doing?” The man sounded furious. Ajay jumped out of his skin! He tried to wriggle free, but the man’s grip was like a pair of tongs! Sandy saw his master in distress and jumped at the man. He let out a loud scream and let go of Ajay.
Ajay and Sandy ran towards the bicycle that was parked in the football field and then Ajay rode as fast as he could to his father’s police station.
Mr. Rao was in a meeting but Ajay just barged in. “Dad! There’s something going on near the Municipal Water Tank,” he screamed, out of breath.
His father stood up and stroked his head, “Calm down Ajay, and tell me what you are doing here at this time of night?”
“Dad! You don’t understand! Those men are digging near the tank, one of them tried to catch me, but Sandy attacked him and saved me. You have to find out who they are,” he explained, gasping.
When he heard this, Mr. Rao turned to the other officers and said, “I think these are the same men. Okay fellows, be on the lookout and follow me. Ajay and Sandy will come with me in the jeep; the rest of you follow in the other vehicle.”
During the drive, Ajay described the entire adventure to his father. But the fear and excitement had been too much for Ajay to bear and by the time they reached the tank, Ajay was fast asleep. Mr. Rao instructed his driver to take the boy and his dog home while he himself raced towards the Municipal Water Tank.
The next morning Ajay awoke, moaning, “Mama, why didn’t you wake me earlier. I wanted to talk to Dad about last night.”
“Well, why don’t you,” his mother replied, smiling.
Dad and his colleagues were downstairs drinking tea and discussing last night’s events.
“What happened last night, Dad?” Ajay jumped on to his father’s lap, while Sandy barked excitedly.
“Well, you were a brave boy, Ajay. You did a wonderful job,” Mr. Rao said and all his colleagues also joined in.
Ajay grew more curious, “But Dad, tell me the whole story…”
“Well, the men you helped us catch were militants. The box Sandy dug up was actually a device to blast the football field. When they saw that you had discovered the box they changed their venue to the water tank. They decided to destroy the tank because they knew that is the only source of drinking water for our town. You and Sandy helped us nab them. Congratulations!” Mr. Rao bent down and shook Sandy’s paw and then ruffled Ajay’s hair.
Mr. Rao’s colleagues chipped in with, “You both certainly deserve the Sanjay Chopra award or the President’s Medal for bravery. Bravo, Ajay and Sandy!”