Friends of the Brave

A midnight jog around the neighbourhood wasn’t something of a rare occurrence for Kabir Bakshi, but on the night of 18th June 2014, he too had to sneak out of his home, like other youngsters his age. He had learned not to wake his parents up, his keys and wallets were already in his pockets and he did remember to take his jacket along with him. He frantically pressed the elevator buttons like he always did. For a young man in his twenties, he had a fleeting sense of calm on his face, until he decided to act against it. As he stepped inside the elevator, he felt his phone buzzing in his pocket. It was a reminder telling him that he had a flight to catch the next morning, the purpose of which was as vain as the two-floor elevator ride he was taking, but he didn’t want to mess with his rituals.

He was greeted by the watchman at the front desk of his apartment lobby, who was unsure if it is was the last time he would be seeing him before he left for his ‘big fight’. Kabir nodded at him in the most polite manner possible, without saying a word. He didn’t believe in the concept of a word for a word, which was both a good and a bad thing in his trade. In the other areas of his life, it had always left a sore spot for him in other people’s heart. He had made peace with it, configured himself to not be intrigued by the existence of others.  Not that he liked focusing completely on himself but it was a damn good way to live. It was the only way to fight.

It took him 18 minutes to reach the GNSA stadium, which was in sync with his timing in the training sessions. Furthermore, it wasn’t speed he was after, it was agility. The whole stadium was embellished with the colours black and blue, with the words “Team Kabir” were almost bursting out of the main display board. It was huge deal for them. Professional boxing was yet to catch on in the country and one of their boys was invited to fight the next big thing in English boxing. What was more intriguing was that the odds were in their favour. The had left no stones unturned in reminding the world who they were backing.

For a 21-year-old, having that kind of responsibility on his shoulders, Kabir packed a more than decent sense of humility, one certainly not expected from a boxer his age. It was surely one of the reasons why the people called him ‘The Young Don” and definitely the reason why they trusted him with the city’s colours. But that kind of showboating from the crowd did not please him one bit. He was more interested in the memories that the stadium had to offer him. The ring where he was first crowned champion. His locker, the combination of which was now imprinted on his mind. All the important dates he had written on the back of the Dhyan Chand poster in the main lobby. He checked to see if 30th June was there or not. Although he did find the date scribbled on the bottom left corner, his customary double tick was missing. Favourite or not, he wasn’t going to risk it before the big fight. The fight which had the potential of making or breaking his career.

There was only one store in the city which would be open at that hour of the night and Kabir wasted no time reaching there. Even though he lived in Greater Noida, one of the biggest cities in India, he could rely on the security guard to suspiciously scan him before letting him inside. He didn’t have a lot to buy and wasn’t going to waste a lot of their time.

As he moved to the aisle with the stationary goods, a girl few rows ahead of him, caught his attention. He felt like she had a striking resemblance to someone he had known, or should have known. The woman was almost too fragile to be even called petite but there was this warm luminescent glow on her face which was complimentary to her big brown eyes and sensual wild flare lips that were of an unusual salmon colour. Her hair was not neatly tied up but she pulled it off with a certain grace. Though you could clearly see her age behind her smile, you wouldn’t question her even if she claimed to be a teenager. It was 2 a.m. but she seemed to be dressed as if she was late for a party. All this was enough to catch Kabir’s attention, but not enough to distract him from the task at hand.

As he reached the billing counter, he had another rendezvous with the girl from the aisle who was now all over the place. She searched through her purse in and out, like a mad man. It was certain that she had forgotten to carry her card. The cashier slowly started to move her stuff away from her side of the counter. Kabir saw ‘Rs.128’ flashing on the screen and decided it was one of those moments where he needed to step in to save the day.

As the cashier repeatedly asked the woman if she had the money, Kabir slowly slipped his card towards him.

The woman interrupted this action of his saying,” Oh you don’t have to do that, Sir!” Kabir found it to be another one of those moments where he didn’t feel necessary to honour words with words and threw a reassuring smile at her.

The woman tried to stop him again by saying,” This is awfully kind of you but I cannot accept it…”

Before she could complete her sentence, Kabir interrupted her, saying,”I insist.”

Those words coming from anyone else’s mouth would have been considered only as an act of chivalry which would have been subjected to more hesitance on the part of the woman, but that wasn’t the case with Kabir. His deep pacifying voice, along with his shrugged physique and his scars, could make any woman ‘stand and stare’. Kabir used this power of his to make a smooth exit from the store. The girl was equally adamant. She immediately followed him outside the store.

“Can I have your name and address, so that I can pay you back in the future? Because I can assure you, I plan on doing that.” said the girl as she hurried behind Kabir.

Kabir replied, this time with a little annoyance, “I am sure you would but you don’t need to.”

The girl sensed the rudeness in his tone and sprung out with a reply, ” You know it is rude not to answer when somebody asks for your name. That is the least you could have done.”

Unknowingly the girl had now put her hand on his shoulder as if to confront him. This was enough to make his humility go away. Without much ado Kabir removed her hands off his shoulders.

“Rude? I think I am way past rude when I pay for your stuff? Stuff that I am not going to use? I think that is MORE than what I could have done!”

“FINE! Here have a milk bar. Now we are EVEN.”

This quick-fire conversation made them realise the stupidity of it all and they instantly burst into laughter. That was first time they had seen each other laugh. It was also the first time they saw eye-to-eye. Both literally and figuratively. They gazed at each other for a few seconds. Kabir realised that she too had a scar on her face, just above her right eyebrow. He never knew scars could look this beautiful. It made him feel good about himself.

“The name is Akriti by the way.” she said while sitting on the road side pavement. She didn’t seem in a hurry. For the first time in the night, neither did Kabir.

“Come on. Sit down. It’s not like you have a plane to catch.”

Kabir did not know how to respond to that. He just went with his instinct of making a weird expression before nervously breaking it with a smile.

“I am Kabir. Kabir Bakshi…”

This led to the start of a wonderful conversation between the two. She told him all about how this was her first trip back to the city after college, and how much she missed India in the past four years. Kabir was all ears. He knew that his innocent mind of his would start wandering off track and he would often find himself staring at her. It wasn’t his mistake but he tried multiple times to rectify it.

After an arduous battle with his mind, he broke the eye contact. This wasn’t his best decision as his eyes started wandering to other places. He realised that she was wearing a dress. He had questions.

He interrupted her in the most gentle manner.

“……..I am sorry but I cannot stop wondering what a girl like you, dressed like that, was doing at a convenience store at roughly 3:15 a.m. umm in the night.”

This was the first time Kabir had, in any way, complimented her and Akriti wasted no time in responding.

“You think I am pretty?”, said Akriti, blushing and not holding any of it back.

Kabir almost not certain if it was a question, replied with the innocent charm in his eyes.

“You should see me in daylight.”

“No seriously. How come?” This time with a little nag.

Kabir was way past his ‘if you don’t mind me asking’ phase. He was curious. Like he used to be before he became a ‘professional’.

Akriti wasn’t smiling anymore. She tucked her hair behind her ears before taking a deep breath. She opened her eyes again whilst putting on a smile on her face, more bravely than Kabir ever could.

Little was he to know that it was only a modest introduction to the bravest person he would ever meet.

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