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Day of the Superhero

by Abhinanda Datta
(Chicago, USA)

“The inevitable has happened. I am in love!” Sam declared with a dramatic flourish. It was an ordinary Friday on campus. I was enjoying our canteen’s infamous black coffee and languishing in the crisp January air. Sam’s face had lit up with a comical smile as he waited for me to react to his big news.


I knew Sam since the first day of college. We had braved the long admissions procedure together, while the professors had called out names from the merit list. Within the span of a day, I knew that he hated his name, Samar; he had completed the Death Star Lego in a week; and every time I stole a glance to admire his thick, dark hair and Grecian nose, he stared at the ruggedly handsome guy standing in the next line. The next two years saw him falling hard and fast for several men who never reciprocated his feelings.

“Who is he?” I asked, perhaps a little too loudly. I was not jealous. Just disappointed.

Sam rushed into the adjoining building and appeared with a boy – short, dumpy, frizzy-haired, but with bright eyes.

“This is Bugs! Isn’t he amazing?”

Bugs shifted uncomfortably in his spot and offered a slight smile. I felt sorry for him.

Sam continued blabbering and produced every little detail about Bugs. His family had shifted to Calcutta the year before and he was majoring in political science. They met during a theatre festival. That night we went for a horror movie Sam and I had been dying to watch. Bugs was invited too and even though he barely seemed eager to go, he tagged along anyway. Possibly, to appease Sam.

He watched the entire film through the gaps between his fingers, whimpering like a wounded dog after every few minutes. As the days wore on and Bugs became an unshakeable presence in my life, Sam’s choice confounded me. Bugs was weak, sensitive and appeared to be scared of everything around him.

One year into their relationship, they were sitting outside the English department building, when a few guys walked up to them. They emulated Bugs’ walk and passed derogatory comments regarding his sexual orientation. Bugs began to shake. The fear is his eyes was almost palpable. I watched the entire episode from across the street. I willed Bugs to stand up to the bullies, but did nothing to help him. I walked up to them once the guys had left.

“Why can’t you be a little brave, Bugs? People like them prey on weaklings like you!”

Sam remained unfazed. The corners of his mouth lifted into a wry smile and he said: “Bugs is a superhero. He just needs that one bite of a spider or for a lightning to strike him. He is braver than any of us here right now. You will see.”

And we did. Two years ago, on the day that our college ended, Bugs called me at midnight.

“Nisha, have you heard from Sam since we came home? I have been trying to call him. But his number is not reachable. I am really worried.”

His voice trembled. I thought about anything Sam might have mentioned regarding his whereabouts. We left the campus at 6 and I went straight to a dinner party. I simply assumed that Sam would be spending the night with Bugs.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “He is probably binging on horror classics. Go to sleep. He will call you in the
morning.”

For some reason, my words seemed hollow. A thin film of panic began to me. I sent Sam a text asking him to call me. A few seconds later, the ominous ping from my phone informed me that the message had not been delivered. I paced around the room and eventually gave in to a restless slumber.

There was no news of Sam the following day and we were forced to get the police involved. His parents were visiting his brother in Chicago and promised to be back as soon as they heard. Bugs and I waited by the phone. Bugs sobbed intermittently and stared at a photo on his phone. It was taken a few months ago on Sam’s birthday when they were both looking at the present Bugs got him – a limited edition Darth Vader figurine. They looked so happy, so completely engrossed in each other.

The search went on for a day, when an officer informed us that a corpse was found near the railway tracks about an hour away from our college. They needed someone to identify the body. I refused to do it. There was only a slim chance that it would not be Sam’s.

We were about to ask a classmate when Bugs volunteered. The person, who threw up at the mere mention of blood, accompanied the police to look at the rotting, mutilated remains of the guy he had loved for four years.

Sam had jumped in front of a moving train. No one knew what had compelled him to end his life so violently. I kept replaying scenes from our last evening together and grasped at shards of memories which had been tarnished forever. There was nothing wrong with him. He was excited about starting a career in publishing. I did not have the courage to call Bugs. On my way to the crematorium, I rehearsed what I would say to him. When I saw him however, the words eluded me.

It is true that I had lost my will to live, but I also witnessed Bugs’ transformation into the man Sam always knew he could be. I believe that people are inherently brave. For some, bravery is like the skin, it is always there, attracting attention. Then there are those who keep this quality hidden, sheltered in a cocoon, until it is ready to emerge with its beautiful wings and inspire the world. He did not cry. He comforted Sam’s father and held his mother’s hand throughout. When it was time for the final goodbye, he smiled and hummed the Star Wars theme song, as Sam was slowly engulfed by the flames.

After the service got over, I remained with Bugs. It is said that you need immense courage to take your own life. But Bugs proved that real courage was about remaining strong for those around you, after a loved one had passed. I told him how proud I was of the way he handled things. I do not think he heard any of that. He just stared at the floor. “Do you know Sam loved Star Wars? I bet he was humming along too,” he said.

Before I could respond, he broke down into tears. The empty halls of the crematorium echoed with his howls. I did not stop him. It was time. He had been brave long enough. Perhaps it was the grief, but I thought I heard Sam’s voice, brimming with pride. The lightning had struck.
***

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