It was already 5 PM when I woke up. Surprisingly, the tingling fire ants over my arm did not scare me enough to jump and actually get bitten. I just shed them off lightly. They were following each other in a trail up to the lowermost branch of the peepal tree. For a while, I observed them taking minuscule food parcels to wherever they had built their colony, patiently following each other like a well-behaved traffic.

The smell of wild flowers had made the air a little heady. One would think they smell divine. Not necessarily, as I found out. I sat, looking at my watch and cupping wisps of wild sugarcane cotton blown by the wind. I looked up to find where it had come from. A few yards away, an uncultivated piece of land was growing wild with it. The steady wind of the quiet afternoon had gained its evening momentum, sweeping the unkempt grass into discipline.

I was relaxed. Who would have thought! I rested my head on the tree I reclined on and closed my eyes again. The breeze kissed my eyelids, making them heavy. Waiting had its rewards, I gathered.

I woke up this time, to the sound of a distant bell. The sun had set half an hour ago. Just when a typical, village, streetlight-less darkness had set in, I heard the tinkle of the bell closing in on where I sat. Maybe it was him. Finally! I got up slowly and waited behind the tree, to see who it was before I disclosed myself. The person got down from the bicycle and parked it on a long-worn iron fence that bordered the village headman’s farmland.

Sarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Wow! He had held it for a long time. Men usually need a lot of patience. I sniggered in silence. Zip!

From the cleavage of the low hung branches of the tree, I saw him walking towards my tree and over its floor, strewn with dried leaves. Rustle, rustle, rustle. He lit a beedi and coughed. Then he felt his pockets, looking for his cell phone. He dialled a number and a second later, my phone rang on vibration. I took the call and remained silent.

“Hello! (Pause) Hello, baideu! (Pause) Hello, this is Kaauri. Can you hear me?”

“Kaauri,” I said, coming out from behind the tree.

Oi k**a! Were you here all this time?”

“Yes. I wanted to see if it was you or someone else.”

“Sorry for the language. You scared me out of my wits!”

I extended my hand to him.

“Oh, right!” he remembered and burnt out his beedi under his foot. He walked up to his bicycle and unclasped a package from the carrier.

I couldn’t make out much but it seemed to be wrapped in a khaki cloth.

“Here!”

I took the package from him. It felt heavy alright. “Is it loaded?”

“Of course not, baideu! Here they are,” he said, putting his hand inside his pocket.

I unwrapped the package carefully, checking if someone other than us was around. I palmed it, checking the hammer and cylinder, out of habit. He handed me another carelessly packed parcel. I opened it and put all six of the 0.38″ bullets into the bullet chamber and looked up at him.

“Thank you.”

He laughed sheepishly. “Is there anything else?”

“Not for now,” I said and gestured him to leave.

As the bells tinkled farther and farther away, I put the gun at the back of the worn jeans and pulled down the windcheater bottom.

There was a pleasant chill in the howling wind, as I sauntered down the uneven road.

Autumn had arrived.

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