Bashir was leaving home. No one in the family understood him anyway. And he was sure no one would miss him. Not his Ammi or Abbu, nor his bhaijaan Khalid. Only his dog Chand would think of him, so to save him the pain, Bashir was taking Chand along with him. In this big wide world, there must be some place where a heart broken seven year old boy and his dog could live in peace.
Emptying out his school satchel Bashir packed a pair of shorts and his best blue shirt. He and Chand would need to eat something. So he stole two pieces of fish and a boiled potato from the kitchen and stuffed them in a side pocket. Finally he added a pencil to write letters home and a half-melted candle for the night. All the pocket money he had knotted into a handkerchief.
It was the pocket money that had started all the trouble that morning. Like every Friday, Abbu had given him two rupees to spend. Now Bashir wanted to buy that fantastic racing car he’d seen at the toy shop. He’d even gone and asked the price. Now all he wanted was a loan of his pocket money for the next fourteen weeks. But Abbu wouldn’t give it to him. So Bashir was going away.
Carrying his satchel, Bashir opened the front door and stepped into the gali and began walking towards the main Chandni Chowk road. At the corner, the paanwalla Munnelal looked up from putting lime on a row of paan leaves and said, “Arrey Bashir ustad, where are you going? Isn’t it summer holidays in your school?”
“Yes.” said Bashir shortly, “I’m going somewhere else.”
“To the railway station.” sighed Bashir, tiredly dropping the satchel at his feet. “Alone?” Munnelal scratched his chin. “Are you by any chance running away from home?”
“Yes”, said Bashir bravely.
Munnelal glanced behind Bashir, gave a mysterious shake of his head and then to Bashir’s surprise said, “Good. Have a good trip.”
With his head reeling a bit, Bashir picked up his satchel. He’d always thought Munnelal was his friend but he seemed he didn’t care either. Whistling to Chand, Bashir trudged on.
A few yards down the gali, outside her door Bannobibi sat pounding masalas. As they were going past, Chand gave her a friendly bark. Bannobi looked up and with a big smile showing her paan stained teeth said, “Bashir raja, where are you going?”
“I’ve left home.”
“Oh? But why beta?”
“Nobody cares. They won’t help me buy that racing car and I want the money as a loan anyway.”
“So you’re running away”.
Bannobi looked thoughtfully down the gali behind Bashir and then touching his cheek with fingers stained yellow from the haldi said, “Khuda hafiz beta. Have a good journey”, and then she laughed.
Bashir felt his heart break. His family, even his friends in the mohalla, he didn’t know they were such hard-hearted people. Here was a sad seven year old going away forever and all they said was khuda hafiz! Suppose he got lost? Suppose he was kidnapped by robbers? Or someone stole his bag and left him to starve?
As Bashir reached the last stretch of the gali, his steps got slower and slower. Would no one ask him to think again about going away? Beg him to stay? Finally he was at the end of the lane. With his eyes blurring with tears, Bashir looked back for the last time. There was the kulfi shop and his friend Khuttan’s house above it. Goodbye! Then the kite shop where you got those beautiful marbles. Goodbye. And goodbye Munnelal and Bannobi. And Ammi and Abbu and… Bashir sniffed.
As he stood there, suddenly Chand was streaking away from him down the gali back towards their home. It looked like even his faithful Chand wasn’t interested in going with him. Bashir blinked to clear his eyes of tears. Then he blinked again. Who was that? Wasn’t that a familiar face riding Abbu’s old bicycle down the lane towards him? He and his bhaijaan Khalid had been following him all along?
With Chand doing a dance of delight around him, Khalid peddaled up to Bashir and stopped. He looked down solemnly at Bashir’s tear stained face and then asked gently, “The railway station Bashir Mia? Or the airport?”
“Home”, said Bashir, scrambling on to the front rod.
First published in National Book Trust’s Bulletin, Oct-98