When I was a young boy, I made many friends from many different castes, backgrounds and religions. Truck drivers from the north would let me hop into the front seat and honk the loud horn. Shopkeepers from the west would give me treats and send me on my way. The other children, regardless of their backgrounds, would always attend my birthday parties and bring presents. I managed to convince everyone onto my side without doing much. There was, however, a workman who lived near our home who I could never befriend.
He strode as thin as a bean pole, usually with a sickle, or an axe, or shovel, and always wearing a brown uniform. He would cover his head with a rag to carry stones or buckets or other items on top of his head. I could never bear to look into his eyes for more than a couple of seconds. The first few times that I saw him walking down the small asphalt road, I just stared. He was lanky and strange.
One day, he caught me playing with a shovel left behind in the office workers shed. I quickly put it back where it belonged, but he laughed.
“So, you think you can dig a hole? How deep do you think you’ll get before you get tired?”, he asked. I didn’t know what to respond but foolish pride took over and I claimed I could dig to the other side of the earth.
“Show me,” he said.
Before long, I was tired, but I had dug a hole with the man watching. It was the same height as me and not very wide. When I looked up, he was standing over me. He kicked a little mud into the hole.
“Have you ever been buried alive?” he asked. His watery grey eyes peered into mine. I was frightened.
“No,” I said.
“I was, once.” he said. “Every time I tried to dig up the mud and throw it out, they threw twice as much in,” he said. He was still standing over me looking down. I couldn’t think of what to say. I wanted to get out.
“Wha…what did you do?” I managed to blurt out.
“I stopped fighting until they thought I was buried and gone. Then, I clawed my way out later,” he said, looking more frightening than ever. “I was about as old as you were.”
I scrambled my legs together, using the force of my hands to propel myself and jump out. I ran until I got home.
My last memory of him standing there is with a shining religious pendant dangling off his chest, just before I darted.
“You barely dug a few feet,” he had said, laughing as I ran.
I told a friend about the incident and he laughed.
“Man, don’t you know his story? He was beaten badly in the ’92 riots. They said he went crazy. I think he’s harmless. But I’d stay away from them if I was you.”
“Who is them?” I asked sincerely, and slightly worried.
My friend was a few years older. He put his arm around my shoulder.
“You have many friends,” he said, consoling me. “Don’t worry about that man.”