A Dark Night - I

As he stepped down the bus, he heaved a sigh of relief. The back breaking journey had demolished all hopes of getting there. He had been on the bus for eight hours now. The clapboard seat had been harsh on his flesh and bones. The roaring snorts and sniffles of the pot-bellied grumpy man next to him with was the cherry on the cake. The first few hours of the journey were unbearable. But as time passed he became more oblivious. His senses had turned numb. The screeching babies, quarrelling women and snoring men seemed faraway. His back was chafed and mind desolate. The heavy tropical downpour had made the journey even more arduous. Mud and sludge splashed around. Rain water drizzled from the roof.

He was drenched to the bones. Drops of rain water trickled down his hair. The petite reticule that he was carrying was in a even worse shape. But he was too airheaded to brood over it. It had been almost seven wistful years since he had left the city of Dhanbad and moved to the countryside. Not once had he considered retreating from the path he had chosen. The call late last night had forced him to retrace his steps.

The station, from where he had to take the next train to Dhanbad stood right in front of him. It was hardly existent. There was a single platform, meagrely covered by an asbestos ceiling. A sort of grim melancholy spread across the entire place. It was gloomy and dimly lit. On one corner was a dinghy-looking, dishevelled and dilapidated shack where a flimsy and senile man was boiling tea. Two beefy men sat on a wooden pew in front of the tea shack, discussing issues of corruption, international policies and national security. Apart from them the only other living creatures on the platform were a few stray dogs taking shelter from nature’s wrath under an decaying wooden cart. Right across the platform on the far edge, he caught sight of two obscure crouching figures. They were draped from head to toe in ragged brown shawls. On moving a bit closer he realized that they were fast asleep. One of them was a man who was coughing vigorously in sleep. The other silhouette was that of a frail young woman. He turned towards the tea shack and strolled upto it. He bought steaming hot tea in an untidy small tumbler. While sipping on it, he enquired about the train. The tea seller revealed that the train had been delayed until morning, as the tracks had been flooded due to the downpour.

Just as he was about to take a seat, a feral gust of wind blew off the brown shawl from the woman’s face. A flash of lightening illuminated the entire platform for a split second. In that fraction of a second, he caught a quick glimpse of her face. The same face which he had been dreaming of and pining for the past eight years. The same face that he had known for more than twenty years. It looked wan and ashened. Dried tears streaked her soft cheeks. A ring of darkness encircled her ethereal eyes. Even in her agony and the grimness of the night he could see her tender beauty. This face was once full of verve, spark and panache. It was radiant as the sun and bright as the stars. A jovial little girl with a flamboyant and frisky demeanour, prancing around mango orchards and chasing colourful kites along the streets. They had been childhood buddies.

But now she seemed to have lost the zeal in her life. Her incandescent smile had rekindled his days, even in the darkest of the hours. What could have commenced upon this poor soul which had drained the charm and felicity out of her. He wondered. After ‘the dark night’ she was the only confidant and companion he had. She had been there for him all along. All along until that morning when she had darted to him, in her same whimsical gait to bid adieu, to say that she was leaving, leaving forever!! At that moment his heart pined and coveted to hold her close and whisper into her ears the magic words, to tell her how much he loved her yet didn’t realize it for so long, to admit that he was incomplete without her and to plead and prevent her from abandoning him. But he just stood there in reticence and watched her walk away. She had turned to wave at him midway down the path. He had waved back. He wondered if it had meant anything. He could never fathom if she felt the same way too. They had never come across each other again .. until today. Today, so many fidgeting nights later..

He had never had anything in his life. And now after so long he had veritably come to terms with it. Why was fate playing tricks again? What were the stars maneuvering him into? Why has life brought them face to face yet again? He pondered to himself, as he lit his last cigarette. She must be married by now. Perhaps the man next to her is her husband. He took a deep drag and walked to the pew on the farthest corner. Perhaps this night would fly by and she wouldn’t discern him. Next morning they could both set off for their sundered destinations. The chilly wind was making him vertiginous and the din of the rain thrashing against the roof was like trance music at a rave party. He put out his fag and reclined. Finally his body gave in and he dozed off.

A subtle palm touched his shoulders lightly. He was startled and jumped to his feet. A frail woman peered at him from the darkness.. Her eyes were gleaming with tears of joy. Light rays danced in her eyes. He was speechless, just like that summer morning 8 years ago. Her face had regained its lost lustre. Her big bright eyes riveted him. Then her lips parted and she blurted out,

“You.. you still look the same, although somewhat ancient.” She grinned :)

His feet were glued to the spot. She went on, “Its been so long. You can’t imagine how happy I am to see you. You never wrote to me. I did give you my new address.”

Laconism continued.. He couldn’t reminisce anything she had said to him that morning after the declaration. Perhaps he wasn’t paying heed anymore. She now bore a perplexed look on her face.

“Do you recognize me? Do you even remember me at all? ”

“Y..Yeah” he stammered. His voice was shaking but he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

“Then why aren’t you speaking to me? Is something wrong?”

His mouth was getting dry. The thrashing of the rain and the thunder faded away. The melody of her voice sounded like the tinkling of the temple bells. She jerked his arm and he revived his senses like a man drowning in his own thoughts had suddenly been pulled out by a mystic force. His lips curled into a smile.

“No! I was just too amazed to see you here. What are you doing here anyway?”

Her smile faded and a grim shadow casted on her face. “My father is sick. I am taking him to the big government hospital in Dhanbad.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“The doctors in my village say that he has TB and if I don’t take him to the big hospital, he will die. He coughs blood.”

He sighed and asked “So is that your father or..” He paused before completing the question.

“Or what?” she chirped.

“No .. I was askin’ if he was your husband.”

“He is my father. I do not have a husband. Perhaps I will never have one.” She said in a low voice. Before he could stop himself words escaped him, “Why? You’re wonderful.”

“My father has no money to pay for my wedding or dowry.” She was almost in tears. He wanted to grasp her in his arms and comfort her. Before he could put his thoughts into action she had regained her composure and a fresh smile had spread across her face.

“What are you doing here all alone?” she asked with a mischievous zing in her voice.

“You should be in Dhanbad making it big and earning lots of money.”

“I moved to a small village nearby after my mother passed away some years ago.”

“Oh.. I am sorry!! But village.. doing what? Weren’t you supposed to run the big steel plant?”

“I teach children in the village school.”

“Teach.. I never knew you were the teacher types. I always thought that you had a thing for business and money.”

“Things change.” They continued for chatting for hours. She did most of the talking. He just sat there watching her talk, his heart filled with love and admiration for her. She talked about all sorts of things, mostly about him, how she had missed him and waited for his letters. She had written to him for a few years at his old address in Dhanbad but then she had no money to buy stamps anymore. She had assumed that he was busy dealing with his fame and fortunes. Every evening she would turn on the radio to catch the evening headlines at 7 o’clock, hoping that his name would pop up somewhere somehow. But he didn’t know what to say, how to say. She had countless prodigious expectations from him. And he was nothing but a loser. He had not accomplished anything. He had lost all of his father’s assets and property, including the steel plant in Dhanbad. Last night the lawyer had called to inform him about the court’s verdict. Everything that he should have bequeathed was to be handed over to the debtors. He was needed there for some legal requirements. He had no avarice or yen for such banal chattels. He had renounced all of it long ago. But today he felt deprived and indigent. He was a meagre school teacher living in a rented room. His only possession was a 7 year old bicycle which he had bought from his salary. What could he give her other than love.. Torments and miseries of poverty which she had had all her life. She deserved better.

It was almost dawn. Their conversation was interrupted by a shrill wheezing and coughing spree.

“Father is up. Lets go. I will introduce you to him.”

Despite being friends for so long he had never met anyone in her family. He knew her father earned his living by working at the steel plant. That unfateful accident, which had befallen few months before ‘the dark night’, had killed her mother and wounded her father badly. She was barely six. She was the only child. During growing up, her father had hardly been there. He wasn’t even there on the morning after ‘the dark night’ when all the other workers had huddled in front of his house with bowed heads & folded hands. He was away for therapy. As they started walking towards the bench, an old stooping figure stood up and strode towards them. He froze. He had known this gait for years. He felt like a strong grip was choking him, pushing out every bit of air from his body. Someone had put a dagger through his heart.

1 Opinions:

etymofreak said...

love stories..stories of longing and bereavement..
cant wait for d next part

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