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Friend in Need
by Ramendra Kumar

Pankaj had just entered the lane to his house when he heard a dog howling in pain. He looked around. Just behind the huge banyan tree three boys had surrounded a pup. They had tied a string to one of its hind legs and they were yanking it by turns. Every time one of the boys pulled the string, the pup would fall on its face and yelp while the three bullies would howl with laughter.

Pankaj knew the boys. Manoj was their maid servant Radha’s son while Raju and Kaalu were the sons of a cycle mechanic who lived close by.
Pankaj hurried forward shouting, “Hey Manoj. Why are you torturing the poor mutt? Get lost!”

The three of them looked up and seeing him come, scampered away.

Pankaj looked at the creature. He had never seen an uglier dog in his entire life. It was skinny and its bones were sticking out. It had a long, pointed face, which made it look like an undernourished fox. Its skin was dull grey in color and one of its ears was missing. To add to all this, one of its hind legs was twisted; as a result it walked with a pronounced limp.

Pankaj turned back and walked towards his house. The pup followed him wagging its tail ever so slightly.

The next day as he walked towards the bus stand Gagan and Vinay, his classmates, joined him.

“Hey Vinay! Look yaar, Panku has a pet just like him - a langdu.”

“Yes, yaar. Who says like poles repel. In this case they seem to attract,” howled Vinay doubling up with laughter.

Pankaj turned back. It was the same pup. Pankaj’s face turned red with shame and anger. Pankaj had fallen down the stairs when he was very young. Since then he walked with a limp. He was very ashamed of it. His classmates always made fun of him. And today this stupid mutt had given them ready ammunition.

He picked up a stone and chucked it at the pup. It missed it by a fraction and it hobbled away a look of hurt on its ugly face.

From that day the dog kept its distance from Pankaj. Some times Pankaj would see it following him from a safe distance. Whenever he would stop and glare, it would slink away. Pankaj had named it Ugly.

One day Pankaj was coming back from tuition. It was 7.30 in the evening and it was pitch dark. The streetlights had not been switched on. The tuition sir lived half a kilometre from Pankaj’s house, which was in the Officers Colony away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Pankaj decided to take a short cut through the children’s park. As he crossed the peepal tree and hurried towards the swings, which were at the end of the park, he heard the sound of footsteps. He turned back and found himself staring at the dark and ugly face of Bakshi. Bakshi was Radha’s brother. He was a good for nothing rascal who spent half his time drinking and gambling. Whenever he ran short of money he would come to Radha’s house begging.

One night Pankaj was studying late. Next day was his history exam and he was trying to memorise the dates of all the battles and wars. As he got up to switch off the light he noticed a movement. His window was facing the neighbor's. He saw someone climbing on to the roof. As the intruder crept forward the moon came out from behind the clouds. The moonlight fell straight on his face. Pankaj recognized him. It was Bakshi. He rushed to his parent’s bedroom and informed his father who ran out and woke up the neighbors. By then Bakshi ran away.

The next day Bakshi was caught by the police and Pankaj was sent to identify him. Pankaj had no problem in doing so and Bakshi was packed off to jail.

“You lame nosy parker. I got out of jail last week. Since then I have been waiting for an opportunity to teach you a lesson. First I’ll twist your skinny arm till you screech, then I’ll break your other leg and after that I’ll take this lovely watch you are wearing and vanish. I have decided to leave this stupid town forever. But before I do that I have to settle a few scores. I’ll begin with you.”

With these words Bakshi grabbed Pankaj’s arm and began twisting. Pankaj howled in pain. Just then there was a funny kind of sound and Pankaj saw a dark shape hurtling through the air. As Pankaj staggered back he saw Bakshi fall to the ground with a thud with the huge shape on top of him.

As Pankaj stared in wonder and fear, the creature uttered a menacing growl. It was then that Pankaj recognized Ugly - the dog. It had really grown since the last time he had seen it. Ugly was now uttering low, ominous growls, its face inches from Bakshi’s. Its lips had curled back to reveal long, shiny teeth. Bakshi was trembling with fear.

“ this monster off. The only thing I am scared of in this world is a dog. And this creature is no ordinary dog - it looks more like a wolf and...and it looks like it has gone m...mad...,” Bakshi stuttered.

Pankaj patted Ugly on his head and muttered, “Thanks friend. Keep an eye on this crook till I get back.”

Pankaj hurried back as fast as he could hoping against hope that Ugly had understood his words. On reaching home Pankaj quickly described to his father the whole incident. His father rang up the police station and taking out his scooter started for the park along with Pankaj.

They reached the park at almost the same time as the police. Pankaj would never forget the scene that met his eyes. Bakshi was still lying on the ground with Ugly on top. The rogue, who a short while ago was a picture of guts and daring was now whimpering away, with the ugly mutt growling under its breath.

Bakshi was taken away and locked up. Pankaj took Ugly home and was granted permission by his parents to keep it.

From that day Ugly became Pankaj’s best friend.

“He may be ugly and lame but he is far more faithful a friend than you,” Pankaj would now retort the next time when Gagan and Vinay teased him about his dog.    

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