“What time is it?” whispers Robin over his left shoulder to Simon. The sound of footsteps on the gravel the only prominent sound, cutting into the deafening quietness of a gloomy afternoon. Occasionally, a quiet sob escapes from the front.
Simon gently tugs into his breast pocket and produces a small chain watch on his palm. Looking at it, he replies, “It’s just 2 pm”.
Robin and Simon, both 10 years, have been marching along with the crowd for almost 20 minutes now. Their parents, a few rows ahead. On any other day it would have been easy for them to slip out without anyone noticing them.
“What is that?” asks Robin quietly, indicating to a small pipe like silver metal sticking out from his breast pocket, as sound of slow momentous footsteps continue.
“It’s just a whistle,” answers Simon re-adjusting it back inside the breasts pocket.
“Hmm, how far do you think before we reach Gilly’s Moor?” whispers Robin.
Silence fills the air. Simon, his chin down, slowly raises his eye brows and turns his head to meet Robin’s glance, “Not sure. Couple of miles more I think” replies Simon frowningly.
Somewhere someone steps on dry leaves. The houses on the side of the path look sad and dull today. Close by, a child is crying somewhere. Curious onlookers gather in front of their wooden gates to watch the procession of the silent crowd. A man puts on a black coat and steps out of his house, as his wife carrying a baby follows him till the gate. He quietly dissolves with the crowd walking down the gravel path.
“Is that Vinny, in the front there?” asks Robin tilting his head towards Simon. Simon lifts his head, following Robin’s gaze, trying to see between gaps.
“Where did the idiot get that piece of shitty hat from? It’s ugly as him”, chuckles Robin. Simon catches a glimpse of a short boy with a black oversize hat.
“Shush,” comes a warning from behind. The boys are quiet again.
It has been raining since the last few days. Today it’s just cloudy: like the weather god cannot decide whether to shine or cry. Every now and then someone would join the line. Robin tries to look behind, but his view is blocked by fat Aunty Tilly, who gives him a wide grin. Robin looks away immediately.
Robin keeps shifting his body, trying to see the line ahead. Simon pulls his friend’s arms to steady him. He catches sight of Mr. Miller, their school Headmaster, few rows in front eyeing them with hostility. Intending to lighten the mood, Robin pulls up his scarf over his mouth making funny faces at Simon. Simon feeling annoyed, gives him a blank look.
“By the way, where did you get that watch from?” whispers Robin to Simon again. Simon, unwilling to cause any further disturbance replies quickly, “My uncle gave me.”
Robin with a wicked satisfied smile inquires again, “Your uncle from the city?” Simon nods.
“May I see it”, asks Robin.
Simon brought his hand to his breast and instead replies, “You can’t. It’s attached to my coat.”
Robin gives Simon a disappointed look and stomps the ground hard. Instantly, the boys feel a hard slap on their heads. They dare not look back. Simon feeling embarrass pulls out the whistle instead and hands it over to Robin.
“Here, this is a special kind of whistle” whispers Simon. Robin snatches the whistle from Simon, “How special..?” he asks and blows into it.
Nothing happens. Robin blows the whistle over and over again, only managing to produce a tiny whist. Simon looks at him quietly, thinking that would keep him occupied for a while. Simon smiles to himself as the silent march continue. Somewhere a dog barks.
Robin blows the whistle again; his jaw hurts a little now. A low whistle escapes from his mouth instead. Mr. Miller looks back at them with a stern face.
“Your whistle is broken. It can’t generate sound. It’s useless,” Robin complains bitterly, blowing the whistle again.
Simon giggles. Robin looks at him irritated. The woman behind them grunts again.
“That’s a dog whistle. Only dogs can hear it”, explains Simon with a chuckle.
The barking of the dogs grows louder. Suddenly, there are dogs everywhere. Few dogs on the side-walk starts barking; while, others, wagging their tails begin to follow the procession, as few jumps into the crowd. Soon, shouts and shrieks disrupt the motion of the procession.
“Where have all these dogs come from?” asks someone. “Keep quiet, Rusty”, commands another to their dog.
The silent procession of town folks, family members, teachers and students is now turning into a show. Few of the dogs decide to run around the procession party. People became frantic as they start bumping into excited dogs. The solemnity of the procession has taken a new turn.
Mr. Miller can not stand it anymore. “The whistle, Mr. Robin”, he demands. Robin wanting no further part hands over the whistle to Mr. Miller.
Mr. Miller blows the whistle like a professional dog trainer. The animals drift to the sound of the whistle, like a piper mesmerizing the rats. The barking turns to low howls, as excited animals obediently adhere to one side of the path.
Finally the funeral procession of Mr. Franklin Dane, the Town Founder and the school’s chairman could resume. But, for Simon, it will be the last time he sets his eyes on his special whistle; while, Robin plants a bunch of daisies on the grave of Mr. Dane, mostly out of guilt. And Mr. Miller never left his eyes off them.