Kuda. Trash. That’s what Shivay called Anika and Om felt a sharp sting radiating from his heart to every fibre of his body. As the seconds ticked by it just got worse. He looked at Shivay who stood steady with a stone cold face. Om, on the other hand, was trying to remain stoic. He watched as his younger brother’s face went from happy to guilty. The lines from the corner of his mouth travelled to his forehead. Om was too disturbed to console his baby brother.
Shivay had realised what he had said the minute the word escaped his lips. He cast a quick glance at Om. He knew he shouldn’t have brought up that insult. It might mean nothing to many people but Shivay knew his brother’s emotions that were attached to it. He then looked at Anika who remained poker-faced as she turned and glanced at the family one last time before leaving. Shivay noticed that Om was flicking his index finger and thumb against his thighs while remaining serene. He silently walked back to his studio where he could let out all the emotions that had been bubbling inside him for the past few minutes. Shivay momentarily squeezed his eyes shut before walking to his room. He had to think about how he was going to approach Om.
Tia walked up to her fiance. She knew that he must be really upset after the outburst that took place a few minutes ago. Shivay didn’t realise that there was anyone else around him. His mind played Om’s reaction over and over again. How could he be so stupid as to bring it up? He knew that one word or one moment was sufficient to get Om distressed. He was Om’s big brother and it was his job to protect him from everything possible. Shivay needed to talk to the artist but he was aware of how sensitive the topic was and that he should handle it carefully. Tia went on apologising and Shivay responded with generic stern remarks as his mind was elsewhere. It was when Tia mentioned Rudra’s involvement in the incident that Shivay turned his attention to what Tia was talking about.
Om grabbed everything he needed and went on carving into the clay in front of him. His strokes were rougher than usual. Rudra walked up and down the studio rambling about what happened but Om didn’t register any of it. His carving knife drove its sharp edges into the soft clay just like the memories cut through Om’s heart. The memories of the worst days of his life. First, it was Choti Ma’s comment on his past addiction and now this. He felt like he could never escape those dreaded days.
Shivay’s presence brought him back to reality. Rudra’s humorous attitude towards Shivay’s anger made him smile. He knew his smile was ephemeral so he tried to dive back into his work before the soothing effect of Rudra’s jokes burnt out.
“So I have no right?” Rudra asked.
“No,” Shivay replied sternly.
“Is it because I’m not your own brother?”
“Think what you want.”
Omkara turned towards his two brothers just in time to see Rudra walk away with a mixture of anger and sadness.
“Shivay, be patient with him. He’s a kid,” Om said as he got up and walked the length of the studio to where Shivay was standing.
“Kid! This kid needs to grow up.” Shivay said through gritted teeth.
He walked out of the studio and took a couple of steps more before stopping. His thoughts went back to Om and his response to his insult. He turned around to look at his brother. Anyone else would say that he was calm and composed but Shivay knew better. He noticed Om’s extra strong grip on the carving knife. He then shifted his glance to the work area where he noticed that there was more debris than usual and it was messier.
“I’m sorry Om-”
“Shivay, I’m fine.”
“No, you are not,” Shivay stated. “I shouldn’t have called her trash or anyone else for that matter. Not in front of you. I know how even the tiniest detail can get to you.”
“I’m always calm,” Om corrected him.
“Not when it comes to Vinod.”
Om froze. It was bad enough that he had incidents remind him of the past and hearing Vinod’s name didn’t help.
“That was long ago Shivay,” he said. “He doesn’t exist to me anymore.”
“He was your best friend. He’s not someone you can just erase from your mind. You considered him family.”
“But he wasn’t family Shivay. He never was. So I’ve let it go.”
“Well, you did a terrible job at it. Even today you hear one insult or something remotely related to him and it perturbs you.”
Om ignored his brother’s comment and went back to his model. He continued scraping the unwanted clay but this time, he forced the knife through too hard, a part of the model broke off.
“Why do you take it out on your art?” Shivay asked as he dragged a stool next to Om and settled down.
He took a good look at the work in progress on the table. He could clearly make out the coarse cuts that Om had made in order to lash out the hurricane that was building up inside him.
“I don’t take it on my art. I express myself through my art,” Om said.
“Right now I can see the rough, uneven cuts on this model of a man’s bust. It talks about you,” Shivay analysed.
“Yes. It does. This piece is a trash. So am I. Just another Kuda,” Om said. He winced at the word before picking up the model to lay it next to the other imperfect pieces.
Shivay stopped him. “You aren’t trash. That’s not what this model says.”
Om slowly puts the model back on the table.
“I can see a beautiful piece which is you; your soul. The rough cuts are the problems you face. Badi ma, your dad with Svetlana…and Vinod” Shivay continued. “The perfect imperfection. My brother.”
“I thought I am the philosophical one,” Om said making a small smile grace both their faces.
Shivay took his eyes off the model and looked at his brother. “Never call yourself Kuda. The last time anyone ever called you that is the last time any will ever call you that, ever.”
Om felt everything around him dissolve. Everything but the silhouette of a man and the barrel of the gun that was pointed at him. He stood on the balcony of a half-constructed building. The place was dark and dingy and seemed to escape the moonlight that most of the city bathed in. The little light that did get through fell on one side the dark outline revealing Vinod’s sweating face.
Om didn’t move an inch. He was still trying to digest the fact that his best friend was pointing a gun at him. Since Shivay left the country to study abroad, Om didn’t have anyone he could go to and talk about his problems. Rudra was always the kid so Om didn’t want to burden him with the harsh reality of their parents’ marriage. That’s when he met Vinod. They were in the same college and shared the passion for art. There was one more passion that they shared, drugs. With all the troubles at home, Om felt that it easier to sink into the transient peace that the cocaine got him. It wasn’t long before the two friends spun out of control.
“I have to do this,” Vinod said. “I need my drugs but I can’t have them if you are around.”
Om stumbled out of his trance on hearing the last few words. “Vinod, we can help you?”
“I don’t need your help, or anyone else’s,” he shouted. His voice echoed throughout the building.
“I know what you are going through,” Om said. “I have been there. If Shivay hadn’t dragged me out I’d be dead by now. Now we both can help you.”
Vinod ran his free hand through his messy hair. “I need my intoxication. They said that they can’t let you live. You’ll sell them out. You’ll sell me out. Then…then no more drugs. No more peaceful nights.”
“You don’t need drugs, Vinod. You have art, modelling. Just like me.”
” But my inspiration, my muse. What about that? Drugs give me that.”
“Look around you Vinod,” Om said. “You have me; you have our other friends. You have two loving parents who love each other. You have a great life. That’s your inspiration. These drugs will just destroy you.”
“They said that you will tell me that,” Vinod said and ran his index finger below his nostrils. “They said that the rehab will brainwash you into thinking all that and that’s why you need to go. You need to die.”
That was all Om could manage to get out before the gun recoiled and the bullet hit Om near his lungs. The sound of the gunshot pierced through the silent night. That’s when he lost all control. He let the tears blur his vision. He moved his palm to where the bullet struck him and he could feel it. Wet and warm. He took one look at Vinod.
“They were right. You are just trash now. Kuda,” Vinod said.
This was followed by a string of obscenities that Om couldn’t hear anymore.He felt like he was slipping into limbo. His senses were giving up one by one but the pain remained. Not the pain of the bullet wound; the pain of the betrayal by his best friend. The best friend he considered family. He could vaguely make out familiar voices shouting around him but everything was ambiguous.
“If you hadn’t reached there in time to save me…” Om drifted off and went back to his scarred model to figure out how to fix the damage.
“I will always be there,” Shivay assured his younger brother.
“I’m glad you decided to put me on probation after rehab,” Om said, his eyes still on his work. “If not, you wouldn’t have customised that tracking app on my mobile.”
“I’m you elder brother. I’m sup-”
“-supposed to protect me,” Om finished and looked at his brother.
Om smiled at him but it soon faltered. “If I had been a better friend I could have saved him.”
“You did everything you can,” Shivay said. “He chose drugs over you. It was his choice to try to kill you. You were only trying to help him.”
“But I failed. Just like he said. I’m Ku-”
“Don’t finish that,” Shivay said, sternly. “If he really wanted to get out of drugs and be a better person he wouldn’t have killed himself when I arrived with the police.”
Om sighed. After he lost conscious he had no idea what had happened. He only knew Shivay’s side. Vinod decided to end his life and he succeeded. He shot himself before the police got to him. Shivay covered up the attack since he knew that such a news would be used to scandalise the family. Om had never completely recovered from the incident. He was reminded of that night every day by the tiniest detail around him; like a ghost that haunts.
“One word is all it takes,” Om said. “To remind me how messed up I am, even today.”
“No one is perfect Om,” Shivay said. “So stop beating yourself up.”
He laid a hand on Om’s shoulder as a consoling gesture. Shivay isn’t the kind of person to show any kind of emotion or how to handle it but he would express it any way possible when it came to his brothers.
“Promise me that you will try to let it go,” Shivay said.
Om nodded before hugging his brother. He knew that no matter what, he had Shivay on his side.
“This is not fair,” Rudra said standing at the door of the studio. “Hugging is my thing and you are hugging without me.”
He pouted making his elder brothers laugh. They were glad that there was at least one Oberoi left who was free of the darkness that surrounded their family. Rudra opened his arms wide hoping to get a hug.
“The moment is over,” Om said with a grin. “Now it’ll just be awkward.”
He and Shivay walked up to Rudra and lightly slapped him on either cheek. Rudra frowned at his brothers’ usual gesture to pull his leg. Shivay watched Om laugh at their youngest brother’s immaturity. He knew that it took Om a lot of emotional strength to smile and laugh with them but he’s Om. No matter what he’ll remain strong. Shivay knew that his brother was not perfect but he was a perfect imperfection.