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Us and Them
Short story

By M. Farooq Azam
March 25, 2004

The music poured out of the cassette player. Pink Floyd's "Us and Them", soft, smooth and slow: "Us... and them... and after all, we're only ordinary men..."

We were terribly late. But still Jim was coasting along the highway at a comfortable speed. The road side lamps sped past and shed their light into the dark interior of the car. Sometimes I turned and looked at him. He seemed tired. He had been back only that day from college but had come to pick me up from my university hostel as a holiday surprise. And it was a surprise, seeing him standing outside the girls' hostel awkwardly, looking at me expectantly. I had laughed, and so had he. We had so many things to talk about; my experience at university and his at college, but it would have to wait.

Whenever we were together, we heard this song at least once, quietly absorbing the soothing musing. Tonight Jim was replaying it for at least the eighth time, but somehow it didn't seem odd or out of taste. It was, perhaps in our moods, or maybe it was the atmosphere. It felt sad and good, in a delicious sort of way.

"Me... and you... God only knows it's not what we were chose to do..."

I yawned and looked at him again. I lit a cigarette, took few puffs and placed it between his lips. I looked out of the window but could see nothing except my own reflection and white snow on black bushes, swishing pass. Somehow it made me sleepy.

"Black and blue... And who knows which is which and who is who..."

It may take another three to four hours to get there. I closed my eyes.

"Up... and down... And in the end, it's only round and round... and round..."

I was four years older than him. But right from early childhood we had hit it off. Not like being together all the time but... when we were together, it was different. He was different. Perhaps it was because he lost his mother at an early age. Not like all those macho, showoff, brainless boys. He had the special privilege to enter my room anytime he wanted, which he never abused. He always made one look at things deeply. Once he told me he wouldn't marry anyone, ever.

"Why?" I had asked, astonished.

"Because it brings lots of responsibility," he said soberly, "More than you bargained for. And you start sinking deeper and deeper. So those who are good, they face up to them while others just runaway from their responsibilities."

"But those are responsibilities you are glad to bear, for they are of those whom you love," I pointed out, looking into his deep brown eyes.

"I don't know... I just don't want someone to cry for something I did," he said looking away.

"But Jim, why would anyone cry?" I asked.

"Well, I don't know," he said. He was only thirteen-years old then.

"Down... and out... it can't be helped if there's a lot to think about..."

I awoke curled on the seat and noticed the blanket draped around me. It had started snowing. He looked at me and we smiled.

"Only an hour more to go," he said.

"Haven't you had enough of that song?"

"Ummm, tonight I just can't seem to get enough of it," he replied.

He was hottest thing around the town before he went out to college. Not only because of his looks but there was something in him that made people notice and trust him. Combine that with his manners and mystic personality, every girl from cheerleader downward wanted to go out with Jim. But he shrugged them off as soon as they started to be even slightly possessive. That, no girl except me could understand about Jim. He did not want a girlfriend, he wanted a friend. An honest, straight friend, with no strings attached. A friend like me.

"Us... and them.."

I closed my eyes again. Suddenly the brakes screeched and something thumped the front of the car.

"What was that?" I asked alarmed as Jim was getting out of the car. He ran to the front of the car and cradled something in his hands. I raised myself groggily to look through the windshield and saw a deer sprawled on the road.

"It's ok, said Jim carefully, a little stunned, nothing broken, silly thing ran straight across the road."

I felt very drowsy and rubbed my eyes vigorously. It must be freezing outside the car, I thought. Jim rubbed the deer and tentatively it tried to stand. Then it tried to run and fell on the other side of the road. Both of us at the same time saw the lights of another car coming from the opposite direction.

Quickly Jim stood up, looked at the approaching lights and then at the deer, still trying to get up. Somehow I knew, I just knew what was going through his head.

"Jim no!!!" I shouted getting out of the car.

Suddenly he looked at me then at the deer and dashed towards the opposite lane. I saw in slow motion as Jim lifted the deer, knowing that he can't cross the road faced the car as it hit him and flung him into the air. The deer fell into the bushes and ran away. The car was gone in an instant.

"Oh My God!!! Oh My God!!! Oh My God!!!"

I ran to where Jim lay, his body twisted awkwardly, face to the ground. His blood was already soaking his shirt. I turned him over and lay his head in my lap.

"Jim!!!" I shouted.

His face was chalk white, eyes closed. My tears fell on his face and slowly he opened his eyes.

"My God Jim!"

" It's ok Nora, don't worry, it's ok, I'm fine," he said in a weak voice.

"It's cold, I must get you to the car" I started to lift him.

A heart wrenching cry came from his mouth.

"No, please Nora, don't move me..."

"Oh Jim!"

"Don't cry Nora, please don't..."

Suddenly he shivered uncontrollably. I took off my jacket and tried to wrap it around his twisted body.

"Nora..." he said in a very weak voice.

"I... I wanted to say something to you," his lips were quivering.

"Don't, not now, be quiet, don't waste your breath," I said, holding his face in my lap.

"Nora, you must hear this," he said a pleading look in his eyes.

"Nora, I love you, you don't know how much I loved you..."

Somehow with infinite pain and effort he lifted his bloody hand and held mine. His hand was cold, very very cold.

"D... do you love me Nora?" He searched my eyes, his hand clenching my hand so tight.

"I LOVE YOU, Oh God I love you Jim, God knows how much I love you, I loved you from the moment I saw you" words came tumbling out of my mouth uncontrollably.

"I knew it," his face softened, but I held his hand tightly. He looked deep into my eyes and knew what I said came from my heart. His smiled, I felt so much love flooding my heart for this boy I knew all my life. He sighed softly and closed his eyes.

"Us... and them..." came the music from the car.

"You made me cry Jim, you made me cry."

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