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The Harley Davidson

"Bharat Uncle was the only one in Rishabh’s entire colony with a Harley Davidson,’’ began Raman. His cousin, Rishabh lived in Jamnagar, and Raman had recently paid him a visit. "You won’t believe how the thing looks, up close, guys. It is awesome,’’ he was telling his friends. They had come over to spend the weekend with him, one November morning.

"Does Rishabh know Bharat Uncle? Could he have asked for a joy ride,’’ quipped Nagesh. "Ah! That is a problem. You see, Bharat Uncle is extremely possessive about the machine. He doesn’t let anyone ride it. You are not even allowed to touch it, by the way. You can see it from beyond the fence but you are not allowed anywhere near it. Bharat Uncle lives alone and works long hours but he makes sure that the bike is safely locked behind a grill when he leaves for office. And Rocko, his fierce Alsatian, ensures that children don’t jump over the gate, either,’’ Raman explained. 

"Wow! That is bizarre,’’ said Kshitij. "I mean, I know of people who are very particular about children messing around with their new cars but this is really going to great lengths to keep us away from these vehicles, eh,’’ he laughed. "You know, when Sarvan Uncle bought his new SUV, he wouldn’t allow Gagan to get into it with dirty shoes. The plastic covers on the seats stayed there for many months before Rukmani aunty managed to convince him to take them off, and it took Gagan a long time to finally get into the SUV with a little dirt on him,’’ he narrated. Gagan was Kshitij’s next door neighbour.

"Strange are the ways of the adults,’’ sighed Nagesh. "They wouldn’t mind you helping them clean their vehicles but ask them for a joy ride sometimes and they may hesitate. Why is that so,’’ he asked. "Who knows,’’ replied Raman. "Bharat Uncle’s case was even more serious. It had become a well-known routine for colony residents to see him spend all Sunday morning just cleaning and polishing his bike. And, he took no help,’’ he said. "So, did you manage to see it properly,’’ Nagesh enquired.

He knew of Raman’s wild streak. He was also aware that Raman had taken up many "dares’’ from his friends and won all of them. A dare is when someone challenges you to do something and you either chicken out or rise to the occasion, as you all know. "Didn’t Rishabh throw a dare at you,’’ he asked, a bit surprised that this hadn’t happened. "How could that not be? Of course, he dared me to jump over the fence and touch the bike in front of all his colony friends,’’ retorted Raman. "And…what happened,’’ probed Nagesh, impatiently. "How did you manage Rocko? Did you win? C’mon, tell us,’’ he pushed forth, eagerly.

"Well! I started planning out my programme. A week day would be better than the weekend because Bharat Uncle would be home. Moreover, I would have to befriend Rocko somehow. He was a scary dog, mind you. So, I began walking past Bharat Uncle’s house everyday, trying to see if I could entice Rocko with biscuits. But he was far too well-trained for me, and I realized in a day or two that I had no hope here. The dare was to complete the task in a week from the day it was thrown up,’’ elaborated Raman.

"It was already Wednesday. And, my plan was not working. Rishabh was almost sure that I was going to lose this time,’’ noted Raman. "So, did you manage something by Friday,’’ asked Kshitij. "Don’t tell me you lost the dare,’’ he added when he saw Raman’s expression. "No. Actually, I both lost and won, at the same time,’’ said Raman, mysteriously. The boys seemed even more interested now.

"The whole week went by, and I could do nothing. So, I thought of a new plan. You see, during the week, Uncle got up at 6 a.m. but during the weekends, he got up at 7.30 a.m. So, I decided that `Operation Dare’ was going to be put into force on Sunday morning at 5 a.m.,’’ he stressed.

"What,’’ shot back Nagesh. "And, what about the dare in front of all of Rishabh’s friends,’’ he asked. "Believe it or not, they were in on this one …all of us were to get up at 4.45 a.m. and ostensibly leave for a jog at 5. Our parents would be fine with this line. We played cricket and football matches during our holidays, and sometimes got up early for extra practice,’’ noted Raman. His friends were impressed.

"On D-Day, hoping that Rocko would also be sleeping inside the house, we made it to Bharat Uncle’s flat. It was still dark. We crouched around the gate. Then, I gave a thumbs-up sign and leapt over the fence.

The grill was right ahead through which I could put my hand and touch the bike. To our great fortune, there was no sign of Rocko. I crept closer, and what do I see…the bike was not there,’’ announced Raman. 

The boys gave a collective gasp. "And to make matters worse, the father of one of Rishabh’s friends turned up and saw the entire gang hanging out House No. 23,’’ he added. "So, what did you do,’’ his friends asked. "There was no other option but to tell him that we had all gathered there because we were going to jog the entire 3 kilometer stretch outside the colony. And, we began jogging and went out. The road on which Rishabh’s house is located is a long patch, and people run on it, every morning.

So, quite reluctantly, the gang of six began running away from the colony. It was still dark, and we had gone about a kilometer when I saw that someone had fallen off on the other side of the road,’’ said Raman. "I had already lost my dare. I was being ridiculed, and decided to break away from the gang. I crossed over to the other side of the road. A man had crashed out by the sidewalk. He was bleeding. His bike lay by him. I called out to him and he turned, groaning. It was Bharat Uncle. He had taken his Harley Davidson for a spin, and had slipped and fallen. I shouted for help. The boys came running. We got together and helped pick up Uncle and his bike,’’ Raman said, with a soft smile.

He had a very strange look in his eyes. He hadn’t gotten over Bharat Uncle’s expression when the man saw his bike in bad shape after the mishap. He wasn’t in the least concerned about his own bruises and cuts. He was tending to his vehicle as one would tend to a child.

Contributing Story Teller Sangita P. Menon Malhan, I am a short story writer, located in New Delhi, India. For most of my professional life, I was a journalist with a national newspaper. I am currently a freelance editor and translator. The stories I write are primarily for children and the youth. Their readership, so far, has been Indian, and therefore, the stories have Indian sensibilities.

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