End of the Slide

Ajay Patri

Photo Credit: Javcon117*/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Photo Credit: Javcon117*/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

I help her up the steps. She gurgles, her mind probably fascinated by how, even though she repeats her action of climbing the rickety yellow steps one at a time, she keeps going higher and higher. Standing on the ground beside her, my arm steadily stretching upwards, I wonder about the design of a playground slide, making children spend their energy climbing all the way to the top only to find themselves crumpled in a heap on the ground at the end of the journey. Did the person who invented it derive some sadistic pleasure out of it, only to be stumped by how much happiness the simple contraption actually generated? Did that person spend the rest of his or her miserable life trying to create a more ingeniously hurtful toy while the simple slide made its way around the world, including this nondescript corner of a prison yard?

She reaches the top and freezes, still bending down to clutch my hand. As gently as I can, I withdraw my hand from her grasp. I see horror spreading on her face at this action of mine. For a moment, I fear that she will start crying but she turns out to be much too brave for that. Her two tiny hands hold onto the bars that form a protective cordon on either side. Still crouching, she looks at me with those questioning brown eyes. What am I supposed to do? A wild image pops into my head, to climb up myself and give her a gentle shove from behind to help her on her way. But that would surely be an unwise move. The guards would jump at an opportunity to flex their muscles and I would probably join her with my face in the dirt.

Her mother, sitting on the bench nearby, draws my attention with that little tilt of the head that she always reserved for me.

“You need to be there at the end.”

What does that mean? I want to ask but I don’t. As if understanding my predicament, she points to the little ditch that lies at the end of the slide, dry now but usually stagnant with water after the rains.

“You need to be there for her at the end of it.”

This time I nod to show that I understand her. I walk over to the edge and look up. Her face breaks into the smallest of smiles, but it is enough to make me realise how much I have already missed, of how distracted I have been. Her smile widens when I kneel down in the dirt. She knows that I will be there for her at the end of this journey.

pencilAjay Patri is a twenty-three-year-old lawyer from Bangalore, India. He has been published previously in Spark, The Literary Yard, Hackwriters, Every Day Fiction, Mobius Magazine, The Word Couch, Muse India and was a finalist in the DNA—Out of Print Short Fiction Feature 2014. He is also an active member of Bangalore Writers Workshop. Email: ajaypatri[at]gmail.com