The One That Flew Away

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The first time Randhir had heard about Michael Painter, it was from Shaina’s mouth. The same mouth she had kissed him with, so many times. Shaina was dead now, before Randhir had the chance of meeting Michael Painter.

The first time they met, it was in the disused basement of Randhir’s little house. Michael was tied to a chair, unconscious, while Randhir waited for him to wake up. Randhir had quit smoking a year back, when he met Shaina, but some old habits just don’t die.

Quite like some memories. And some people.

Michael stirred a bit, and Randhir slapped him on the face. “Wake up, Michael. You’re late already. There’s much to talk about.”

Michael wasn’t scared actually. He hardly ever was. He opened his eyes, and looked around. The crumbling shelves, the old guitars, and in the corner stood the untouched canvas.

“You know, my name says I should be a painter. I’m not though. I’m an engineer by profession. Can you lend me a cigarette?” Michael’s raspy voice broke the silence that had crept in.

Randhir slapped him again. Michael smiled.

“You’re a fucking murderer. You killed my girlfriend. Why?” spat Randhir.

Michael was still laughing. He gazed longingly at the cigarette that was hanging from Randhir’s hand. After a long time, he said, “You should have seen her with me. She wasn’t as happy with you as she was with me. So what if it lasted just one night. Most people don’t experience all that in a lifetime, what she experienced with me in that one night.”

Randhir didn’t want to believe that. He didn’t want to hear the words that Michael was saying, because he knew that it could be true. Shania had said those things herself.

~~~~~

The party had started late, and by the time they came out of the pub, the streets were quite empty. That’s the way Randhir liked the roads to be, for what better way to impress a girl than to take her for a quick spin in a fancy car?

Shaina Naazneen was no ordinary girl though. She had the glitter in her eyes, the one that comes when you dream about making it big. She wanted to be a movie star, and she had run away from her home to the city to realize that dream. She had escaped her village, the boundaries of her old life, and even her old name. Now, in the city where no one knew her, she was known as Shaina Naazneen.

She was a dancer at a popular bar in the heart of the city. That’s when she met Randhir Jaiswal, a straightforward Chartered Accountant, decently handsome, and a perfect blend of all those things that made Shaina’s heart skip a few beats when she saw him. Right then, she decided that she had to take Randhir to bed with her.

When Randhir saw her, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He felt like he was in love, with the way she moved, the rhythmic taps of her feet. He wanted to hold her in his arms, and keep looking at her forever. But that doesn’t happen ever. The music stopped, and she disappeared behind the curtains.

Randhir had had quite a few drinks for that night; he was, after all, out to celebrate. That’s why, in his half-drunken state, he didn’t quite realize who it was walking towards him, till she was right in front of him.

Hi, I’m Shaina,” she had said, with a beautiful smile.

Randhir Jaiswal, Chartered Accountant,” was all that he could manage to mumble in the wake of that dazzling smile.

~~~~~

“I was born with the name of Michael Painter. I loved painting since I was a child, but I always wanted to make something much more tangible. That’s why I became an engineer,” said Michael into the silence.

“What makes you think that I’m even remotely interested in what you want or do not want?” asked Randhir.

“I just thought you’d want to know a little bit about your girlfriend’s murderer. I think I assumed too much.”

Randhir just stared at the face that had gone silent again. ‘I’m looking at a murderer, a cold blooded murderer, right now,’ he thought.

“Why’d you do it? Why did you kill her? Why the fuck, were you acting like the devil?” he fired at him, before he could stop himself.

He allowed himself a small smile, and then he spoke. “Why do I do it? Because it’s essential, to keep the men – and women – in line. Why did I kill her? Because, you know just as well as I do, that she deserved it. Why was I acting like the devil? Oh, I’m not. I’m just a regular guy who thinks that sins should not go unpunished. And what greater sin is there, other than infidelity?”

“You coerced her into being unfaithful. You seduced her, you got her into bed! Now you’re saying that you killed her for those very things? You have the audacity to term it as your own brand of justice – what sort of justice is this?”

“I never asked her to come to bed with me. I was just testing her. She failed the test, and so she paid the price.”

Randhir couldn’t believe the power with which Michael held his stare. He couldn’t believe that the man who had killed the woman he loved, could look him in the eye and talk about it so confidently. Yet, that was exactly what Michael was doing.

“I loved her,” whispered Randhir.

~~~~~

“Go to hell, Randhir. I can’t believe you can be this insensitive. All these days, I’ve just been nothing more than a small town girl for you?”

That’s not what I meant. Would you please, stop misconstruing everything I’m saying?”

Well then, what exactly did you mean when you said that I’d understand, since I come from a small town? You think I’m just as narrow minded as the fools that I’ve left behind in the village?”

Shaina, that’s not at all what I meant. Why are you screaming, we just made love, for god’s sake!”

Oh, so now I can’t even speak my mind when I want? Really, Randhir, go to hell!”

Shaina! Please, relax, would you? We love each other, don’t we?”

I don’t! What the hell made you think that? I thought you knew that, I thought you knew I’m just in it for this!”

Shaina, what? You mean, you’re just in it for the sex?”

Yes, Randhir. I told you, I’m not like the other narrow minded village girls. I’ve got this one life, and I intend to live it just the way I want to! I won’t let you, or anyone else, run it for me, you hear?”

Randhir couldn’t stand any of it anymore. He jumped out of bed, flung her clothes at her, and bellowed, “Get out! Get out of my house right now, you bloody whore! Get out, and don’t ever dare to set foot in here again!”

Fine! I don’t even want to stay with you anymore. You’re no better than the shallow folks I left back home when I came here. Michael Painter is so much better than you.”

Michael who?”

Michael Painter. He’s the guy I’m sleeping with on the side. Satisfied?”

She stormed out of the door, and at the moment, he was happy that she had left his life.

~~~~~

“She came to me that day, telling me that she had dumped you. It was at that moment that I knew she had failed the test. I decided that the time for her punishment had come close. She had always wanted to fly. That night, I pushed her off the roof. Ironic, isn’t it – she had to die, living the very wish that she wanted since she was a little child.”

“It was just a fight. We could have solved this one. I know we could have, if only we had talked it over, things would have been alright.”

“No Randhir, things wouldn’t have fallen into place. She really didn’t love you anymore, she just wanted to sleep with you. That was the extent of it. I’m sorry you had to find out like this. Now you see, why I think she really deserved what she got? She lied to you, she played with you.”

A little bit of sense came back to Randhir, and he looked back at the man who murdered Shaina. “That still didn’t give you the right to kill her! You had no right to kill her! Who do you think you are?”

“I know I didn’t have the right to kill her. You remember the gun you found in my jacket? There are two bullets in there. Those bullets are meant for me. Now you understand, Randhir, why I called you to meet up? If anyone has the right to take a life here, it’s you Randhir – you alone.”

Randhir got up, and walked to the jacket that had fallen to the floor. He bent down and picked it up, and found that the left side was unnaturally heavy. He removed the black pistol from the pocket, and felt the cold gun in his hand.

Slowly, Randhir walked back to the place where Michael was sitting. He turned around to face the man he had brought to the room and tied to the chair. He loathed this man sitting there, and he loathed the girl because of whom this man was sitting here. The hatred seemed to shine on his face, for Michael recognized it and smiled at it.

“Look into my eyes Randhir. You will hate me, I know that, but when you look into my eyes, you will know that this is exactly how I wanted things to turn out between us. This is exactly why, there was no need for you to tie me to this chair.”

With the heavy gun in his hand, Randhir found that he couldn’t talk. All he wanted to do was to rid all the people who were involved in the incidents that had happened in the last few months. This man was the last link to that episode.

Randhir looked into Michael’s eyes, and knew that he wasn’t lying about anything that he had said. But behind the honesty, he saw something else in Michael’s eyes. Something that was brought out by the last words that Michael said. “I hope it doesn’t hurt too much.”

Randhir aimed the gun on Michael’s forehead, and Michael braced himself for the two shots that were coming his way. A shadow of that scared smile still remained on his face.

***

This post is my attempt at a series that Annie started – Grey Shades. This one was actually brought about because of two reasons. Firstly, Annie wanted me to write something related to Infidelity, and that’s something that I’ve never really been comfortable to approach. Secondly, someone commented that they wanted a murder story from me again. I tried to combine the two, and this was the result. I hope it was acceptable.

Apologies for the length of the post, as well as the strong language used. I really couldn’t make the story what it is without either.

Image Courtesy Auraelius

The Entertainer

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The shower was one place where she just couldn’t resist singing. Her melodious voice danced over the notes, with the flowing water keeping the rhythm. Her voice obeyed her every command, and the song itself seemed to bring life into the world. It was a wonderful way to start a wonderful evening.

All except…

“Would you cut out your singing and hurry up? You’re making both of us late!” screamed Anuradha from the other side of the door.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m almost done. Give me two more minutes,” said Samaira, while her reflection looked at her accusingly.

‘I should be an Entertainer. I’m supposed to charm people with my voice. Why doesn’t anyone get that?’

The evening was slowly turning into the night, and she was ready to take on the world. With the song still singing itself in her head and her heart, she walked to the Prakash Photo Studio. She needed some glamour shots for work, and Prakash (as it was fondly called in that locality) was the one place to get them from.

She spent an hour at Prakash. When the shots were done, she looked at them. The gentle hint of Kohl in her eyes, the black waves of her hair, the heart shaped face, they all told her that she was, indeed, beautiful.

‘I should be an Entertainer. I’m supposed to charm people with my beauty, with the ladylike grace that I possess. I wish someone else would see that for a change.’

On the street, she heard the sound of ghungrus coming from the local Dance School. She remembered how she used to go there as a child. The long hours she spent, dancing to the wonderful music. She remembered how wonderful and free she felt at that time, to move like she wanted to.

‘I should be an Entertainer. I’m supposed to charm people with my graceful movements, and the gentle taps of the ghungrus on my feet. I wish I could have that stage, once, where people would appreciate that in me.’

She reached her “Office”, her place of work, and met Greg. She didn’t know Greg’s real name, and he didn’t know hers. In the “Office”, she was Sam.

“Sam, your client’s waiting for you upstairs. He’s a Russian man, with big bucks, lots of it. Make sure you entertain him well tonight.”

She looked into the mirror, and the reflection spoke to her.

‘I am an Entertainer. I charm people with my body, and the things I do with it. In here, I’m Sam, and I fuck for a small fee.’

***

Image Courtesy pericomart(busy.. excuse me)

A Brand New Family

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A little over a year into her marriage, and Rupal had exceeded all her expectations towards herself – she had actually become a wonderful cook. The Pulao and the Shahi Paneer were giving out the most mouth watering aroma, and she should have been proud of herself.

Only, she wasn’t. It’s not easy to be proud of yourself, when you’re all alone at home, waiting for a husband who’s late. It was the third successive night that she’d been waiting for Himanshu to turn up, but he said he was held up at work for yet another day. She knew it was for the best, and yet she didn’t like it one bit. The fact that all her efforts at making the exquisite dinner were slowly turning cold was something she didn’t want to come to terms with so easily.

She heard the key turning in the lock. A moment later, Himanshu’s voice boomed in from the corridor, “Honey, I’m home!”

“You’re late again! Why do they have to make you work so hard?” she asked him the moment he came within her line of sight. Her arms were crossed over her tummy, always a bad sign.

“Sweetheart, I told you on the phone. You know the VP, if he wants a meeting, he wants it now! I’m sorry it took so much time,” said Himanshu.

Rupal wasn’t impressed by what she was hearing. Something inside her was not ready to accept the things that Himanshu was saying to her at that moment.

“Is it too much to ask for a husband to be back home at a decent hour, so that we can have a proper meal together at the end of the day? You know how hectic my days are, and you know how much I look forward to the dinners that we share.”

“I know honey, but this was something  I couldn’t avoid. I’m sure you understand…”

“Oh sure! You would always expect me to be the one who’s understanding, right? As if it’s never going to be your job to try to understand what I want, ever!”

Two fat droplets of tears formed at the edge of her eyelids, and she couldn’t stop them from rolling down her cheeks. Himanshu, noticing this, rushed forward and held her tightly in her arms.

“What is it sweetie? What do you want? You know all you have to do is tell me, and I’ll do anything to make sure that you have it.”

He could feel her heart beating against his, could feel her wonderful warmth in his arms. And then she looked up at him, and said, “I just want the three of us to be together, and happy, and to love each other, forever.”

“The three of us?” asked Himanshu, noticing her smile mingled with the two fat tears rolling down her cheeks for the first time.

***

Image Courtesy H Images

The Storyman

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It was the first time that Sachin and Samarth were out in the real world. They called it a vacation, although what they really wanted was an adventure.

They hadn’t found any. After two days of hiking, and travelling to remote places of India, still they found nothing.

So when they saw the makeshift highway pub, neither of them could wait to be inside, and get comfortable with a cold beer.

“We don’t really need adventures, do we Sachin?”

“Nope. We need beer.”

“Cold beer!” said Samarth, and they were inside the dingy pub, catering to its highway people, and emanating the highway smells.

“And anyway, this was an adventure of sorts for us too, wasn’t it? I mean, think about it. We did something new, and in a way, that’s an adventure as well. Who said anything about an adventure being thrilling and chilling?” said Sachin, with a fake-cheery voice that he knew was cheering him up more than Samarth.

“Two beers”, ordered Samarth, as they sat down on the bar stools and waited for the beer to come to them. They didn’t know what else was coming along with those two innocent beers though.

The barman handed them two chilled bottles of beer, and bent down to speak to them.

“I heard you guys. You’re looking for adventure? At this young age? You guys must be mad!” said he, with the most serious eyes that any man could possess.

“Why’s that?” the boys asked.

“Look behind you boy, you see that man there? You know which man I’m talking about. The one with that great big scar running down his face? Legend has it…”

“I’m sorry, did you say, ‘legend’ has it?” interrupted Sachin.

“Yes, boy! Listen closely, and don’t interrupt me when I’m talking!” said the barman, and then continued in the same manner, “Legend has it that he has seen adventure. Not just once, but many times over in his life. They call him the Storyman, and I can’t tell you the stories that I’ve heard from him.”

“Why not?” asked Sachin, acting his usual curious self that he always was.

“Because it chills me, down to the very bones! Now, if you want an adventure, he’s the man you should talk to,” said the barman, and left to attend to business.

“You think we should go talk to him, Sam?”

Samarth couldn’t make up his mind. He thought it over for a moment. Thoughts such as ‘this might be dangerous’ and ‘never trust strangers’ kept chasing each other inside his head. Finally, he came to the decision.

“We’re out here, looking for adventure. We can’t really turn back, now that we’ve almost found it. We’ll just go and talk to him, that’s all.”

And so they went. The man’s face was half hidden in the shadows of the dim light of the bar, and as they neared, they could see his face in better relief. The candle on the wall cast deep shadows on his face, and they could clearly see the two eyes gleaming at them, and the scar that the barman had told them about. It looked eerie, and now that they stood near this man, they knew that the barman wasn’t lying when he had told them that ‘legend has it.’

The man didn’t speak, but gestured for them to sit in the two empty seats that seemed to have been waiting specially for them. They sat, down, and the man in front of them spoke.

“Good evening boys. As you’ve been told, I am the Storyman.” said the Storyman.

The boys couldn’t speak. They could almost reach out and touch the adventure that seemed to tease them at just an arm’s distance away, but at the same time, they didn’t want to reach out to the adventure. For the first time, the two brothers were scared.

The Storyman continued, “I can see that you boys want a taste of adventure. I’ll tell you a story. It’s a very special story too, for it is about my first adventure. There were two of us, just as there are two of you right now. It was a long time ago, and the two of us were carefree, and just like you, wanted to be out in the real world, having one adventure after another. We were young and restless, and so we left the safety of our village and ventured away.

“I don’t know yet how we managed it, but we found our way into the docks of Bombay. There was a ship leaving port at the time. We thought to ourselves, what greater adventure can there be, apart from an adventure out on the sea? So, the two of us made our way stealthily into the ship, and soon we were off to unknown lands beyond the shores of our village.

“But we weren’t lucky. Soon after we set sail, the ship was caught in a violent sea storm. Oh the sea storm! Boys, you should see it once, the majestic power it holds, the ease and grace with which it tosses an iron vessel around on the sea – the power of it was undeniable. The storm showed no mercy. The ten foot waves caught the curious fools that we were, and almost launched us away into the ocean. My friend held on to my hand, and he told me that he wouldn’t let go, come what may. He said he would pull me back into the safety of the ship, and all I had to do was to hold on to his hand. He was a brave one, with a mighty heart.

“A second wave crashed down on me, and I was pulled away from the ship, and into the sea. I don’t know about my friend, but I lost consciousness in mid air, and I don’t remember hitting the ocean.

“When I came to, I found myself on a barren island, with no trees or birds or animals of any kind. There was only salt water behind me, a sheet of sand under me, and harsh black rocks ahead of me. As i raised my head, I could see that there was nothing but the harsh black rocks all around me. I was hurt, and I was hungry. I felt as though I hadn’t had anything to eat for two days and two nights, and I knew if I didn’t get something to eat soon, I would surely die.

“That’s when I saw a figure nearby. It was my friend, lying on the beach, under the evening sun. He was hurt, and he was bleeding profusely from his arms. There was nothing I could do to save him; the sea would claim him.

“But, I was hungry. I knew that it was either the sea that would claim him – or it would be me.”

“Are you saying that you killed your own friend?” asked Sachin.

An odd smile spread on the Storyman’s face. “Yes, I killed him. Like I said, I needed food that day.”

He seemed to want to go on, but Samarth and Sachin didn’t let him. With cries of “monster” and “murderer”, they launched themselves at him. Hearing the commotion, the barman rushed over and pulled them away from the Storyman.

“Oi! What on earth do you boys think you’re doing?”

“This man is a monster! He killed his own friend! How do we know that he won’t harm us?” asked Sachin, looking at the barman.

Sam was looking at the gleeful face of the Storyman, and he knew he had missed something. At that moment, the barman spoke up.

“Yeah, yeah, I know all about his story. The one where he kills his friend. Well, I am that friend! Sure, we met the terrible storm that night, but we never fell into the sea. We reached the shores of Madagascar, spent a great few weeks there, and came back to Bombay on the same ship.”

“What? But then, why would the Storyman tell us that story?” asked a bewildered Sachin.

“Because, that’s his job. That is why we call him the Storyman! Now, boys, if you don’t mind, I’ll be going back behind the counter. Anymore fistfights you want, you take them outside the pub, you hear?” and still muttering darkly about the boys scaring good customers away, the barman walked back to the bar.

The Storyman was still smirking. Sachin somehow couldn’t digest the fact that he was actually so gullible, while Samarth kept looking at the Storyman.

“Let me ask you something. If that story was made up, then how come the bad guy won? How come the good friend, who had saved the bad guy’s life on a previous occasion, be killed by the very man he had saved?”

The eyes were still twinkling, as the Storyman said, “Because, boys, I’m a Storyman, not a Saint!”

***

Image Courtesy mikebaird

Krishnendu

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I still remember the chilly dampness that had crept into the station that day. It was like the weather wanted to give that special scary effect to everything that had happened in the little village. My office was in a mess, as usual – only two things on my desk were where they were supposed to be; a cup of coffee that was growing steadily colder, and a name plate that identified who I was.

Detective Tarun Bhattacharjee

I like almost all the things that occupy my desk space. Almost all of them, with the exception of the case file that lay open in front of me that cold day. I had had a lot of experience in homicide, but never had I seen a case like this. The cold precision, and the unashamed open-and-shut nature of the case gave me the chills. It almost made the steady pour of hailstones outside feel warm. I wanted to linger on with the cup of coffee as long as I could. I wanted to delay the interrogation with Krishnendu for as long as possible.

I remembered the cold eyes of Krishnendu, as they had scanned my face from behind the matted hair. I wasn't too keen to meet those eyes in a hurry again.

Finally, the last drop of coffee was gone, and there were no more excuses for me to stay away from the interrogation room. I got up, stretched, and with a few slow steps, was standing in front of the metal door separating me from Krishnendu.

The door opened, and one more time, I saw those cold purposeful eyes of Krishnendu looking at me; almost as though he could see right through me. It was hard to believe that he was twenty six years old. There was something innocently curious and boyish about his face, almost as though everything that he had done, he did just to quench that curiosity.

"Good evening, Krishnendu," I said, as I entered the room. The eyes still followed me, from the door, to the table where he sat watching me.

"Good evening, Sir," he said with a hissing whisper, barely moving his lips. The chill from outside seemed to have found a place in that interrogation room, precisely at the moment he had opened his mouth. He noticed my reaction upon hearing his voice, and the edges of his lips twitched into a smile as he peered inquisitively into my face.

"Cold day this one. I wonder how long that hailstorm's going to last. I like hail, wish I could see it once," he added. "Do you think that's possible, Sir?" he asked me with a sneer.

I couldn't answer somehow. There was not much left for me to do in the interrogation room. He had confessed to everything that he had been accused of, and the preliminary interrogation had revealed that he wasn't lying. What left of me was to go into his mind, and figure out why he did whatever he did.

I took the seat that was waiting for me opposite to those cold cruel eyes; a misfit in that boyish face. The eyes stared at me, a sense of evil power resonating from them. I found that I couldn't look for too long into them.

"4th August, 2008. Interrogation of Krishnendu Saha, accused for 11 counts of murder. Round 2. Time, 7:42 PM. Presiding officer, Detective Tarun Bhattacharjee."

I paused for a moment, and chanced a look at Krishnendu. His stare had become fixed, but he wasn't looking at me anymore. He seemed to be able to see outside the room, right through the stone walls. I didn't mind really.

"Well, Krishnendu. You've pleaded guilty the murder of Shailendra Saha, and 10 other boys from the village. Is that correct?"

"Yes."

I looked up, searching for a slightest bit of remorse on his face. There was none. I continued with the interrogation.

"It was 1992 when Shailendra was killed, wasn't it?"

"Yes."

"That means you were ten at that time."

This time, there was a slight pause before he answered in the affirmative. Something moved in his voice though, something had changed. I wasn't in a position to let my emotions show however, so I asked what needed to be known. We knew the when and how. It's the why we were looking for. It's the why, for which I was sitting in this room.

"Why did you kill him, Krishnendu?" I asked, praying that my voice stayed calm.

Again, he didn't answer immediately. It was some time before he said, with a slightly warmer whisper, "He raped my little sister. She was six at that time; his only niece. When she squirmed, he choked her so she wouldn't make a sound. He didn't release her. By the end of it all, she was dead." Apart from that slightly warmer voice, there was no other display of emotion on his face. No tears stained his face, no lines of anger formed on his un-wrinkled, boyish face.

A few minutes of silence, I had to give him that. I knew this story, his lawyer had gotten it out of him too. However, I had to continue the questioning.

"That was in the year 1992. After that, you waited for 6 years before you committed another murder, is that correct?"

"Yes."

"Why did you commit that murder? I don't think there was any need of revenge this time."

No one had bothered to ask him this question. As long as he had pleaded guilty, who cares why he murdered all those people? I, however, couldn't stop myself from asking that question though.

The cold voice was back. "It's addictive."

I felt a cold sweat on the back of my neck. Suddenly, I wished I hadn't asked that question. However, I still had one more thing to ask him, but it wasn't easy anymore. He was looking right at me, with those eyes.

"Your father has been missing since 1993 Where is he, Krishnendu?"

~~~~~

The day was hot, sultry. All he wanted to do was just get a quick dip in the river, but he knew he had to sneak in there, so that he could avoid his father. He came to the river bank, clad only in his towel. Taking it off, he plunged into the cool water. How wonderful it felt, the river flowing slowly, talking to him. The river knew his secrets, almost all of them.

The buffalo was also in the river, but he didn't mind. He had given her a bath many a times, and she knew him quite well. He wasn't scared of her. In fact, he was one of the very few people in the world the buffalo adored. He could get her to come inside the house when no one else could, he could get her to stay in the shed on rainy days. He could get her to calm down on stormy nights. They were quite fond of each other actually.

He hadn't seen his father come from the other side though, but his father had seen his towel lying there on the ground. His father knew that he had sneaked out, and gone into the river, even after he had been explicitly told not to go there. Furious, his father pulled him out of the river.

He got a beating that day, right in front of his buffalo friend, and his river friend. They couldn't do anything about it, except watch him being beaten up. Finally, when his father was satisfied with the punishment he had handed out, he let Krishnendu go.

Krishnendu picked up the moist towel from the ground, and with a whisper said to the River and the Buffalo, "Don't worry about him. I'll be back tomorrow."

***

Image Courtesy egvvnd

God has a Sense of Humor

34 comments

He had never thought that this would be the way that he'd return home, sitting in a fancy chauffer driven sedan. Especially considering the fact that it was not at all the way he had left the place – with just a bag full of old clothes on his back, and a heart heavy with memories.

"God really does have a sense of humor," he thought to himself, and once more it felt to him as though the cheers of the crowd followed him.

It was his second act as a standup comic, the first time in his old city – and by God, had the city grown! The people still were the same; well, almost. Some people do change an awful lot over the span of seven years after all.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Evening. I stand here in front of you, not to show you my wit tonight, but God's sense of humor. I never thought he possessed one, and by golly, was I surprised!"

His opening lines still rang clear in his ears, the applause and laughter still beating on his eardrums. It felt so different in the smooth silence of the car, right after the tremendous cheers he faced back at the auditorium.

"When I left this city, I had promised myself that I'd never come back, and I'm sure God heard that. I think that's why he's made this city what it is now, raising it from the dumps to the beautiful metropolis we know today – all while I was gone. He made me miss it all, and I think that was just for kicks! Something like, God's way of saying 'Haha, Gotcha!' "

He had left in rags. He had left a broken man, feeling as though he had been deceived by a good friend. He had left with a ragged bag on his shoulders and a torn Rs. 100 note in his pocket. He had left nothing behind, for everything that he had owned had been lost or taken away from him. He was nothing more than an exile that day, boarding the last train, never to return.

No food, no shelter, no clothing, that was his condition that chilly winter day. Food, clothing and shelter, the three basic needs of all men. The three basic necessities, without which no man can ever survive.

"Well, the Big Man Up There has a funny system for that too. For nine months, he gives us food through a tube, delivered right into our tummies – no hassles of chewing or swallowing even! He gives us a wonderful home, warm and cozy, that doubles up as a Jacuzzi all the time we're in there. And the best part, we don't even need clothes in there. We can walk around buck naked, and still not care about it, or be one bit uncomfortable. And just when we start to get comfortable, (which I think happens around the ninth month of our stay), we're pushed through a tube, and out into the world, and forced to worry about things like digestion, and breathing, and jobs, and who's got better clothes, or better cars, and loan installment payments for all the things we couldn't afford but wanted anyway. Well, what kind of a system is that, really?"

He had never been free from the memories. It had always gnawed at his mind, calling out to him. Like that old friend, who's been half forgotten, and you're curious about how that friend is doing these days, and what he's been up to all these days.

"You can drop me off there. My house is just around the corner, I can walk the rest of the way," he said and stepped out of the car. The evening smoke and the constant shrieks of the cars on the road greeted him.

He recognized the little restaurant where he used to eat, every night for three years before he fled; the park where he used to go for his after dinner smoke, every night, without fail. This night too, he took out one of his favourite cigarettes. As he lit it, a stranger approached him.

"Excuse me, do you have a light?" he asked with a smile. He was a stranger, and yet he recognized him.

The cigarette was lit, and the man walked away. He smiled at the city, and the city embraced him back. It was good to be back home.

This time, there were no jokes by the Big Man Up There.

~~~~~

Been away from the Blogging world for a while now, haven't been in touch with writing even, what with the exams going on and all. They got over today, so I had to write something – couldn't wait, like always. This one might have come off a bit sloppy and/or rusty, apologies for that. I wanted to finish the post as soon as possible.

Nice to see a steady string of visitors even in my absence, thanks so much for that!

Thanks to Juhi for the "This blog Measures up" award.

 I'd like to pass on the award to Arv, Harshita, Isha, Siya, and Jagjit.

Hoping to write more soon, see you guys around J

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Image Courtesy baratunde