I forced my eyes open as my cousin woke me up. It was 5:30 in the morning. I wasn't used to waking up that early but I had promised her we'd go on a morning walk in the park today. With sleepy excitement, I dragged myself to the bathroom to wash up and get dressed.
When we both were ready, I went to wake up my dad, who was to accompany us. He opened an eye.
"What time is it?" he asked, raising his head from the pillow.
"6:30" I replied, looking at him.
"Isn't it late now," he said, adjusting his pillow,
"Should've woken up earlier if you wanted to go."
I could feel disappointment creeping up. I usually got a no for an answer when it came to going somewhere but this had been discussed last night. We'd decided we would go.
"It's not that late," I said softly.
"I think it's late, it would be too crowded by now" he said, settling down in his sleeping position again,
"I'm not coming."
"Can we both go?" I asked, referring to my cousin and me. He shrugged. I left the room before he could say no.
We went downstairs and greeted my mother and grandparents. I and my parents were visiting our hometown for vacation, where my grandparents and cousin live. We were meeting after a long time and my cousin, a year older than me, decided to go on this walk for fun this time. I didn't get to go on walks where I lived. Our grandparents were always happy to see us sticking together. We asked their permission and then took off.
After a few rounds of the park and a little racing, we sat down on a mount of grass to catch our breath. It's always fun to have open air flow against your skin, especially when you rarely get to really feel it. I've always felt I can only laugh freely in an openness like this. Breezes automatically make me smile.
My cousin nudged at me.
"Those boys are staring at us," she said in a hushed voice, pointing her eyes sideways,
"Don't look there. Let's go."
We got up and walked out of the park, checking back once in a while.
"Cross the road," she said,
"They're still following us."
I looked back shakily. There were 4-5 boys, all in tshirts and jeans, a little distance away from us.
We crossed the road and walked as quickly as possible towards our society premises. My cousin pulled out her cell and dialed home.
"Shit they've followed us till here!" she exclaimed as we entered the premise.
"Let's walk with her," I suggested, pointing my chin towards a neighbour aunt who was walking by. We started walking behind her. While cousin told grandfather what happened on the phone, we twisted a few turns so as not to direct them home.
"C'mon," she said after getting off the phone. "Grandfather's got his gun out. They're informing the police too. Keep walking towards home and they'll catch them"
We walked directly towards home and the boys, unaware, followed us. My father and grandfather were standing by the gate. As soon as they saw the boys, they ran after them. We went inside to safety. Mother and grandma checked on us, adding a "shouldn't have gone alone."
Luckily a police van was passing by near the society, so they chased after the boys as well. When the police took over, the men returned home.
"Three boys have been caught," grandfather informed, sitting down on the sofa,
"One ran away."
Father walked in too, but with a different attitude.
"Told them not to go," he told my grandparents angrily,
"Told them it's too early to go, the place would be lonely..."
I don't know if the shock was visible on my face as I stared at him, hearing his words. I hadn't lost my calm till yet, but this hit me hard. I got up and went upstairs, without saying a word. There I locked myself inside a room, cuddled up on the bed and cried and cried. I opened the door only when my cousin called out. We sat there on the bed, hugging each other and crying.
"Baba said you got afraid," she said, trying to console me, "He said you shouldn't be afraid. You should be bold."
I felt a fresh gush of tears build up. Who was I to be afraid of?