On life and its vagaries


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Late  at night, seemingly out of nowhere, a slow drizzle began and then it would never stop. There were sudden bursts of wind, shaking the droplets of cold rain on to the ground from the shivering trees. They spread like patches of black blood beneath the trees and drew pale and dark designs on the ground.  They were all deep and narrow abysses. The wind sometimes took the rain towards the shuttered window panes and shop fronts and rattled on them with persistent force. The sign boards seemed to awaken and shiver on their creaky chains.

He had to wait then

And, as he watched, the procession began again; they appeared out of nowhere and stood silently on the street at first.  They would stand there for a moment, quite still after emerging. It drew a deep chill from him that clutched at his heart with dead cold fingers. The faces appeared familiar but indistinct. All of them would be looking at him with a mute intentness. They were bloodless faces, in the pale light their eyes looked like hollows.

He would cringe but was never able to move away.

All this had started a few nights before. He was returning from a late shift and had just paused to light a leaf cigarette in the middle of the street he was passing. This is a kind of ritual he had gotten used to; it broke the tedium of the walk and usually freshened him up. The beedi was not necessary, but the pause was. After sitting on the hard wooden seat of the train the walk and the occasional pause did him good

On that chilly night he had just gotten out of the late-night shuttle and there were only the old station master and the half asleep porter in the otherwise deserted railway station. He was the only one to get out of the train and that was how it was on all the night shifts he took. There was a patch of pitch dark space on the road just after the station lights ended. Somehow it had always frightened him more than any other stretches of road he had to walk on those nights back to his single room lodgings over an auto workshop.

He had emerged from the black stretch of road and let out his breath.  The rest of the roads were lighted. There were still areas where semi darkness resided. But they used to worry him less. Then as he was turning into the more lighted streets he had to pass, the night got suddenly chillier around him. He felt the air condense into mist outside his nostrils. An involuntary shudder passed through him.

He fumbled for his antidote to the chill and loneliness. The beedi sputtered as it caught fire and he drew the first smoke in hard, making a hissing noise. His nose burned as the air with the pungent smoke rushed into his lungs in gasps catching at places inside while going through. The bitter taste of the beedi had bit into his throat he could almost trace it all the way down to the lungs, touching up little pains here and there.

The smoke now came out of him in sticky strands, twining and extending like slim slithery snakes. It was a taste and sight he liked. The cough that came with the beedi would keep him awake at nights and would rumble in his throat in waking hours. Yet he could not quit. It felt to him like something religious that he can’t forego it.

It was then that something strange caught his eye. There were vague shades emerging all over the road just before him. It’s a trick of the eye. He thought blinking, but the shades grew in thickness and became visible as human forms. The air had suddenly gone cold and a shiver took hold of him.  He wanted to bolt, but his legs would not carry him.

They formed a vast and thick line in front of him, extending to the end of road and probably even further. Just like arrays of masked Chinese clay soldiers he thought shuddering.  Trying to curb his panic and dread he had looked behind, but curiously there were nothing behind him, only the reality of a dimly lit road at night.

Turning he caught the sight of a movement. The line of specters was walking towards him in a procession; he was to the one side of the road but was still on it, right in their way. He liked walking on the roads rather than on the shady sidewalks if the roads are deserted at night.  They were advancing towards him and he could not move.  A terrible dread took possession of him, they were almost on him and he could see the pale visages. They were not threatening, but seemed to expect something of him.

The first line reached him and the chill grew intolerably. He could not bear it anymore and let out a cry, just then the first line vanished, but the others kept coming, he had wailed on till the entire giant procession faded away like that. Then he could move and had dragged himself home, shattered to his very bones.

He thought of it as a one time experience, yet it repeated every night he had the late shift. He tried different roads but at certain point in his walk this would happen all over again. He also tried taking a cab home, though he could ill afford it, but no one would come at two in the night.

So he walked every time and faced the specters.

On this chilly and showery night he had come to the spot with something like a resolve forming in his mind. The specters came alive on the road and moved towards him, the moment the first line reached him; he turned and headed the procession. Then something stranger took place. A foundation grew out of his feet and he became frozen to the spot.

People who came that way in the day barely looked at the statue. Most of them did not know who he was, and those who knew thought little of him. And those who came that way during the nights would never see the procession he was heading……….


Written by Sam

January 17, 2010 at 10:18 am

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