The car moved swiftly as dazzled by the beauty of curvy roads and steep mountains of Nanital. They lingered in the exotic beauty of heavy waterfalls falling from the sky into sweet desolation of the forest; turn by turn car moved and wheels circled as the path becomes foggy in front of them. On high spirits, the whole Mishra family was enjoying their vocation in a cheerful manner. As the car turned on another curve a Scorpio appeared from the midst of the fog and bumped on the Mishra`s Swift, screeching all the way Scorpio pushed Swift towards the chasm like an empty wooden box. Ganesh Mishra quickly applied breaks and the car roared in defiance as the tires screeched on the road while the car thumped on the rock placed on side of the road which saved the car from falling in the chasm. Damini leaped in and held Golu in her arms as the lights blurred in front of her. She could hear nothing, say nothing. She only watched blur shadows running towards them. The car was brutally bruised and Ganesh was nowhere to be found.
Damini woke up at the hospital. She and Golu, her son, were all right, luckily they had escaped any major injuries but Mr.Mishra couldn’t be found, many suspected that the never-ending chasm had engulfed him. However, Ganesh was found after two days. He was heavily injured, his sulky scarred face was hard to identify, and his chin had been broken while teeth were badly shaped, his forehead was bruised and he was unconscious when he arrived at the hospital with the help of local people that found him lying on the side of a river.
Since then Ganesh had never shown his face to anyone. He prefers to keep it under cover through muffler, cap and sometimes with a mask. Damini and Golu’s behavior had changed as they seem to talk less and gaze more as everything had ceased in those hopeless eyes….
“………Such is the fate of the Mishra family.” Said I to Moti as I patted his back while we both sat beside the fire absorbing the heat in our poor souls in the dreadful month of December, for an Old person like me winter is hard to pass by and as for Moti any month is hard as long as Humans and rocks exist in the world but in December Moti had to endure bone-chilling winter along with Humans and rocks without any clothes as Moti was a dog.
I don’t know how much Moti understood me and I don’t know if I ever understood him but that`s for sure that he was a good companion. He always listened what I had to say-like if he had any other option- he was always there in the night, in my duty time to provide me company while I sat in that poor man`s imaginary bunker, feeling no less than the watchman on the border-line but underappreciated and way too underpaid. Actually, I hated my job especially in winter because of the cold that can melt my old bones, not only winter I hated but I also hated that ever longing loneliness staring in my eyes through the fire that drenched me. It was hard to be Watchman of that motionless society where nothing moved and nothing had ever happened -but if something may happen then I would not be the suitable person that you would look up to- and It was harder to keep the fire burning to keep myself and Moti warm but the hardest thing, I suppose, was to be Moti and listen to all my illogical, weird, bullshit tales all night long.
“Ah! This dreadful December,” I groaned as I lighted my cigarette, inhaled and breathed out and looked at the fire.
“Is it warm enough Moti?” I said and looked at Moti. Moti was black in color with long legs and broad chest. He was much bigger for a street dog but too naïve to be one. He was old like me but strong. He had jaws bigger than any other dog in that society and much more fierce teeth that could tear a bear but his eyes did no justice to his stature as they were kind and innocent and with those innocent eyes, he looked at me.
I got up to pick some fallen branches, weak woods, papers, and other stuff to maintain the fire, I took what I found in that foggy night and then I heard the sound of Mr. Mishra’s car. I opened the gate and nodded. He nodded back but that old cheerful smile was nowhere to be seen as his face was covered with a black muffler; after that incident, the smile from whole Mishra family’s faces had eradicated as some scoundrel had robbed it. To see him leaving at the night didn’t surprise me as he had night shift more often in railway but what surprised me was the call by Damini after Mr.Mishra left.
“Gyan Ji,” said Damini.
“There will be a car by no 4278, let it come,”
“Ji, may I know who is to arrive?”
“No, Why should you know?” she said in a contemptuous way.
“According to this society’s rule no stranger is allowed after 10 and if someone’s relative or friend had to arrive after 10 then his name should be registered by me.”
“Ah! Vyom is his name,” she said.
After she hung up I thought more about the unusualness of my name rather than the situation. I wondered in what expectations my parent had named me ‘Gyan’. My parents should have known that by naming someone something one would not acquire those qualities, those qualities can only be acquired by putting me in a school which they forgot to do. Though after a long time I learned to read and write and it helped me a lot in this dull job to endure this lingering loneliness. At the age of 60, I was able to read Dickens as well as Premchandra and I wrote some poems when only darkness and Moti was my companion.
After 10 minutes a black car with number 4728 arrived at the door. It was a black swift with tinted car glasses. I could not see who was inside but just a silhouette of a man with face covered with something. I opened the gate as that car made its way to Mr.Mishra’s house while I stared at it blankly.
“Gyan Chacha, Gyan Chacha wake up,”
I had no idea when I dozed off like every day but when I woke up I realized that black Swift was gone. Mr. Shukla stood next to me smiling and the little sunlight on my old wrinkled skin was falling like nectar. The cold breeze still blew while Munna arrived at the gate.
“Wake up Chacha, time to go home,” said Mr.Shukla. He smiled with a newspaper at his hand. He looked at it and then at me and sighed. Munna put his bag on the desk and looked at me and then at Mr.Shukla and then again at me.
“Dada, Who Is this Vyom?” Munna asked as he looked on the entries of night register.
“I don’t know, someone related to Damini,” I said
“I don’t know, he came after Mishra Ji left.”
Munna looked at Mr.Shukla then started taking out his things on the table while Mr. Shukla read the newspaper.
“In neighboring society, a theft had occurred last night while the Watchman was found sleeping.” Mr. Shukla looked at Munna, Munna looked at me.
“I have said earlier let me work at morning hours,” I retreated.
“No!” Munna said.
“Why?” I and Mr. Shukla both said. He looked back startled like a frantic but didn`t utter a word.
“I think it would be better Munna if you work at night hours,”Said Mr.Shukla.
“Because…… because I was married last week.”
Mrs. D’Souza arrived with tea for us.
Few days had passed since the arrival of that black swift with number 4728 for the first time. After that day, this car arrived daily at the same time just after Mr.Mishra left for the work. Meanwhile, in between various kinds of theories and rumors born and fizzled out but nothing concrete had proven till now. One thing that changed in these few days was the demeanor of Golu who had grown more sulky and silent, he rarely came out of the home and when he comes out, he sat on a bench and stares on anything with the vacuum of his eyes. Sometimes I had seen Mr.Shukla talking to him but he had never replied to him. He was struggling and the reason for his Struggle was her mother.
Those days were lonesome. You could hear the crackling of fire all night as the silence dwells in the fog of darkness every night. Sometimes that silence comforts you but most of the times it was dreadful, knowing a shriek from you can pierce the silence like a razor scared me. Sometimes Moti barked while looking at the moon, he was attracted to it, there’s a glow in his eyes when he used to see a full moon. That glow reminded me of my moon who died many years ago. She was beautiful but maybe Moti’s moon was more beautiful. There were many things to see at night like the men returning from office with their warm hearts and warm pockets, there were many things to feel at night like the peace hiding all the terror of dark. There were many things to listen at night like the songs of birds, the drop of mist and the whispers of people. That time was good and bad but it was worth to live in that. New Year was upon us as the scent of December was solely fading away. Everybody was excited except Moti because he was unable to know the purpose of people being happy for a thing that is evident to arrive like life and death.
“Shukla Ji, So What`s the plan for New Year,” I said.
“Nothing Chacha, same like every year, small party with friends.”
“I wondered what Mishra Ji will do this New Year.”
“Maybe a little of wine would do him good.”
“Since that accident Mishra family have completely changed.
“Ha. Chacha Such a terrible fate has fallen on them.
“What do you think about that car?”
“There nothing to think, when human is surrounded by darkness then they try to find some small lights of indulgence, sometimes they are good and sometimes they are bad but they surely lift the curtain of darkness a little so that they can breathe.”
But shouldn’t we do something?”
“We should but we won’t.”
As Mr.Shukla finished we saw Mrs. D’Souza approaching towards us with tea like a priest is obliged to open the gates of the temple, every day Mrs. D’Souza brought tea for me in the morning. It was her generosity that she thought so much for a watchman. This place always provided me sufficient love that my duty never felt like duty; moreover, it felt like a responsibility to guide these well- natured people.
“How are you Mrs.D’Souza?” asked Mr.Shukla.
“Good and you?” she handed tea
“Shukla Ji, I hope your ears are also young. Have you heard the voice last night coming from Mr.Mshra’s house?”
“No.,” said Mr. Shukla. I also Shrugged and looked at Moti.
“I think it was Golu who cried last night. I don’t know why but he was crying.”
“Maybe, I think Moti heard him because he ran to Mishra Ji’s house and barked and then ran back to me and looked at Mishra Ji’s house.”
“Oh yes, yes. That time when Moti barked. Did you hear that, Gyan?
“I think there’s something happening there, something that’s vicious and we should do something.”
“We all know what’s happening there and that would’ve made Golu cry but I think there`s nothing we can do.” Said Mr.Shukla
“Good Morning,” said Munna. He still worked at morning hours.
It was that time of year when everyone packed their bags with bottles of vodka go outside and celebrated with friends or some stay with their family, cut a cake, hug their children, spread warm smiles in chilling cold while many watchmen like me wear a jacket, a cap to protect our mortal body from immortal death for non-living thing to get a living. There was no choice for me, each day I had to warm myself from that roadside fire in order to warm my pocket just a little.
When I reached the front gate of society Munna had already packed his bag. He looked at me and smiled. I hated to see him going back to his house at night to his sweet wife; although he earned less than me he was far happier than me. For me, there was no one to go home for, alone I wander in this pitiful life. In fact, I had had more company here than home as Moti was always here, my one and true companion.
“Wish you a happy new year dada,” Said Munna
“You too, Now go and enjoy.”
“Ha, you too,”
“Yes, yes tonight I and Moti will roll on beer,”
Moti sat at one corner looking at Mr.Mishra’s house. The night was fading in and 2019 was drawing closer. Moti was looking constantly in fog when Golu arrived with a blanket in his hand. He had grown thin and weak and looked like fragile leaves of an undernourished tree. He looked at both of us with hollow eyes and gave me a blanket and carved a smile and said, “Happy new year,”
“You too my dear child,” I said and as I took the blanket I saw ring-shaped mark on his middle finger made out of burnt skin, and another mark similar to it on his thumb.
He looked at Munna and said, “Please stay.
“What happened little guy?” asked Munna
“Nothing, just stay,”
“Golu!” Damini screamed from her house. I saw a flicker of fear in Golu eyes as he turned and started walking toward her. He walked slowly like he didn’t want to go there. He looked at us once again and smiled and faded away in the fog.
“Why he want me to stay?” Munna said
“There is something wrong,”
“Her mother is wrong and he is scared, that women shouldn’t do this,”
“Are you going to stay?”
“Hell No! There’s no chance of me wasting my night just because her little boy is scared from the person whom with her mother indulge.” Munna said as he picked his bad and left.
It was 11 Pm when Mr.Mishra`s car arrived at the gate. I was sitting beside the fire, full resolute to ask Mr. Mishra everything. Though unable to courage as I opened the gate he accelerated the car but stopped it as Moti sat on the middle of the road. I didn’t have the courage to ask him what was happening but Moti looked resolute and his eyes forced me to pat on the car window. Wearing black spectacles he looked at me but didn’t lower the window glass. Moti barked which took him as a surprise as he shivered from top to bottom while he was looking at me, that sudden amazement made him jump at his seat and his glasses fell down from his eyes. He picked them up again and accelerated the car in great agitation as his car roared and faded in the mist. After he was gone I recalled that moment and I understood what agitated him and why Moti barked. Mr. Mishra was a sweet and simple man of innocent behavior and polite enough to talk to me sometimes and in those talks I had noticed many times that the color of Mr. Mishra’s eyes was certainly not blue.
Bewildered at this recognition my heart raced out of its composition and with a stagnant impression I dialed Mr.Shukla’s number but no one picked it up after that I called Mrs. D’Souza.
“Mrs. D’Souza, Mishra Ji is not Mishra Ji,” I said in sudden haste.
“Are you drunk?”
“No, not a bit,”
“Gyan I had told you not to drink when you are on duty,”
“I am not drunk!”
“Ok, then how Mr. Mishra is not Mr. Mishra.
“He didn’t have blue eyes, now he has blue eyes.”
“Mishra Ji has blue eyes,”
“No, he hasn’t.”
“I saw his eyes yesterday I particularly remember the color of ‘em,”
“But how could….”
“You must’ve misjudged.”
She hung up. I know that was Mr. Mishra’s car and I know the color of his eyes but with no one to support me-except Moti- I stood right there gazing at the fire for several minutes. The fire was roaring loud as it flames burned to reach the sky, they were dancing like daffodils in winter and creating figures and numbers. The more I look the more I saw and in between I saw the flames took the shape of blanket coming at me held by some hands as they marched towards me I saw a figure forming in it, slowly the face began to form. The face had nothing in it except the blood, only blood in circular-shaped face dripping off in the flames. Fear seized me at that moment as I stood continuously staring at the fire, as it consumed me all like it is accustomed to.
Someone honked from behind which broke my inseparable stare. It was that same car again; I opened the gate although I wanted to stop it, I didn’t dare to do so. I didn’t want to lose my only piece of bread from myself and so I silenced my inner voice and watched that man till he reached his daily destination.
“Happy new year Moti,” I said as I looked at my watch and then I looked at him. He hugged me and I knew he wished me the same. For the first time, I really know what Moti meant but one thing that I never understood was the emotion of people who texted me ‘Happy New Year’. Were they really happy to wish me or they do a formality? How would’ve they said this three words if they would’ve been in front of me? Would they hug me like Moti or would they send me their warmth from fare distance like this fire? What if they meant it in a cold manner like winter or what if they said it sarcastically? I did not know and I never dared to; some things are beautiful in box so I let them stay in my inbox.
Something happened to Moti when I caressed him. He ran to Mr. Mishra’s house and started barking. I got up and called Mr.Shukla, no one picked up then I called Munna, he picked up and told me not to engage till he arrives. I went to the house and tried to look inside the house but all of the windows were closed and the curtains were drawn. I walked around the house but still couldn’t find any way to sneak in. Moti was still barking and I saw Mrs. D’Souza lights going up. I took another round around the home and this time I found a way to look inside. Mr. Mishra’s had a large window in his drawing room and it takes two curtains to cover it, luckily I found some space between these two curtains to look inside. I saw Damini sitting in front of the fire with her back on front of me. She put camphor in fire and it raged above. I noticed a pandit sitting beside the fire murmuring some mantras with closed eyes. I saw that deeply contended short yet stout figure man, wearing round glasses with all his hair dyed black, wearing kurta-pajama. He poured ghee and other stuff over and over again in the fire. Moti was still barking but both of them looked unmoved by the attempts of Moti. It felt like they couldn’t hear him while the light of half of the neighborhood had gone up.
The room was dark only lit by havan’s fire. The pandit still murmured more and more mantras as he put ghee in the fire, the fire roared in all direction, lighting the room much brighter than before. At that time something widened the gap between the curtains and I saw Golu sitting in the chair opposite to Pandit. His hands and legs were bounded by the rope at the back of the chair; his clothes were torn off as he sat unconsciously at that chair with red marks on his chest like something warm like iron had touched his skin before. His face lowered down revealing a strange black mark on the side of his neck; a dark black circle inside a light black circle. I stood right there unmovable looking at the circle, not knowing what to do. It was like my body had left me fragile, weak, and unconscious with my eyes open.
Someone touched me on my shoulder and I looked backward afraid, throwing myself away from that hand as I fell down.
“Dada, dada calm down,” It was Munna, “What, What happened?
I point at the window. Munna looked inside and then immediately ran to the front door and started banging it. I stood and looked inside, that sudden banging created haste among them as they both looked at one another in an incoherent way.
“MUNNA!” I screamed with all my might, nearly I faded out but I gathered the strength and screamed again. Munna came running down to me and looked inside then looked at me then started looking around. I looked inside again. The pandit heated the knife while Damini put some oil on the circle made on Golu’s neck.
I moved backward as Munna threw a big rock at the window which he held from both of his hand and it nearly took half of the window. Till now half of the neighborhood was outside of their doors looking at us like baffled sons of new generation, Moti still barked while he ran here and there around us, afraid, clenching his tail between his legs. Munna Jumped inside from the half broken window and I followed -the sharp glass smeared through my old skin like butter and bread – only to find myself standing at the point of a gun. Pandit held the gun with his both hands. He stood straight while sweat dripped from his forehead. He wiped it from his hand and then pointed the gun at us again and ordered us to sit down. We did as he asked, hand on our back we sat on our knee looking downward. He wiped his sweat again while he moved front and back pointing the gun at us. I looked up, his eyes met mine, and my body shivered when I found out the color of his eyes –blue!
Moti jumped inside and ran towards him, baffled he pointed his gun towards Moti, Munna leaped and picked the glass flask placed on the table on the right side of him. A shot went off, Munna threw the flask at Pandit which struck at his head and broke as Pandit fainted on the floor immediately. Damini jumped into the fire, screaming “NO! NO! NO!” I ran and pushed her aside but her Sari had caught the fire. She screamed “NO! NO!” I found some clothes lying there, probably of Golu, so I rushed and grappled her. She was withering, fighting, and kicking. I held her by leg trying to save her.
“Don’t take it! I had lost too much,” she screamed while I rubbed my hand against her feet while managing to drape a cloth around the burning area.
“NO! Don’t do this YOU FOOL! Let live or let die.” She wallowed, “You FOOL! NO! NO! NO! Don’t TAKE it!” She screamed and screamed and screamed till she fainted.
I left her and sensed an immense pain in my left hand. It was burnt, not badly, but enough to need a Doctor’s visit. The thumb of my right hand was also burnt in spite of this I was in perfect condition. I looked around the room and looked at the broken pieces of the flask on the floor, near that pundit lay, unconscious, his head was bleeding. Munna was caressing at Moti’s back while Moti lay on the floor, motionless, staring at me but not seeing me. The bullet had gone through his heart.
“Ganesh is DEAD!” Damini sobbed. Everyone was at the room, some stood by the wall, some sat on the carpet and some sneaked in from the window. Mr. Shukla had called the police and now the police officer was interrogating with Damini. Golu was alright and had gone to sleep in his room. Vyom, the pandit, sat on the chair with head held down, covering his hurt spot from a handkerchief. I sat in a corner enduring the pain of my burnt hand. Mrs.D’Souza had done the dressing but still, it hurt but the pain was bearable.
“Ganesh is dead and now you have taken the last way to bring him back” she sobbed. “Now he’s lost, forever. YOU! Just because of YOU!” She looked at me and stood up, looking angrily at me and then crashed on the floor, crying like a newly married widow.
“Why you did this?” the inspector asked it.
“Ganesh… Ganesh died in that accident. I…. I… loved him,” she cried, “I wanted h… him b.. bu..t he was gone,” Mrs. D’Souza gave water to her.
She continued, “I craved for him… I nev… never imagined this, we were like milk and water in the recipe of tea. I was completely broken, lost, hollow,” She wiped her tears, “And then I met Vyom. He is a pandit. He told me that he could bring Ganesh to life. So I did what he told me all the things to bring my love to life until YOU….” She looked at me and screamed, “…. Interrupted you old bastard!”
“So you were ready to kill your son,”
“No, no, no who said that. Why would I kill Golu. He is my son, the only living part of Ganesh, the moon of my stars.”
“What were you doing then?”
“It was a ritual, the final step of the process, you stupid people. If you just would’ve let me put that knife through, Ganesh would be standing here by now.” More tears fell from her eyes.
“Wouldn’t Golu have died by this”
“No, no why would he? Only blood will fall into the fire then boom! Ganesh will knock at the door,” she pointed at the door. “Please let me do that, we can still do that.” She clenched inspector’s leg and begged, “Let me do that, please, I am begging you to let me do that.”
Inspector moved to Vyom, who was still holding handkerchief against his head.
“What you did to her?”
“Nothing she is mad, she forced me to do all that things.”
“NO! I didn’t” Damini screamed from behind, dragging herself on the floor she pointed at Vyom, “He said Ganesh will come back if I do all the things.”
Vyom laughed, “Ha, is that possible?”
Inspector removed his handkerchief and pushed his finger in the scar. Vyom screamed in agony but Inspector didn’t stop. “I AM VYOM MISHRA!” he screamed “I am the bastard son of Ganesh’s FATHER!” Inspector stopped and move two steps back, “Yes, I am the unfortunate one, ripped off my title, ripped off from society but what was my fault?” he looked at the floor in agony and stared at it then he looked at the inspector with tearful eyes.
He continued, “What was my fault that I dragged the shame of my existence? What was my mother’s fault that she lived in exile? She was of another caste, this and only this and this was enough for him to throw us outside of our lives? No one accepted us not even her parents. Everyone despised us like we were some reptile covered with mud and sewage.” He wiped his eyes.
“I was a burden, I understood, but I was a burden only to my mother but why they treated me with abhorrence? We lived in poverty where the food was scarce and illness was in full stock, where seldom we laugh and often succumb to despair. It was hard for her to feed me but she had her ways, all along in her life, she endured for what she never deserved. She walked in the stony path barefooted because he never wanted me.”
“I always looked at Ganesh play and it hurt me every time. I also wanted a father but he never wanted me. My authority, my privilege, and my happiness everything that belongs to me was given to Ganesh. Why I was deprived like an untouchable. I was not a worm, neither a snake, neither my skin possessed the ability to change the color of skin, I couldn’t get under your skin, couldn’t bite you, couldn’t kill you. I was weak and fragile and I needed care, protection, love and affection but what I got?”
“Once I asked my mother why we hide in that foul-smelling hut when we deserve more, why don’t you let me meet him? Maybe he had changed and then I saw nothing but fear in her eyes. The fear that eats one inside, the fear that stops one’s hands and legs from moving, the fear of losing me. I never dared to leave her alone since then. I made it my way out of that but I lost her behind.” He wept.
“When she died I had nothing more to lose. Then I decided to give rest to her soul by shedding all of that blood that had caused her pain. I decided to give her all the right that she deserved while she was alive. I decided to become only one of the blood of the Mishra family. So I planned that accident but when I was unable to finish my work. I further planned and did which is known to you all.”
After that Vyom was sentenced for lifetime imprisonment, Damini was admitted to the mental asylum, Mrs. D’Souza took care of Golu, Munna was still working in the morning shift and I… I left the job because this old body of mine was unable to soak anymore cold. Also, my burnt hand caused me a great many problems but the real reason for which I left was that it felt pointless to sit beside the fire without the company of Moti. In the loneliness of night, I only thought about him. I hoped and hoped that someday he will break the solitude of night and give me warm hug. I had lost many people in my life but I managed to work in absence of them but it was something new and sad and my age wasn’t the age to try something new and sad. I gave up on that society but still, I couldn’t give up on those faces.
The car moved swiftly as dazzled by the beauty of curvy roads and steep mountains of Nanital. They lingered in the exotic beauty of heavy waterfalls falling from the sky into sweet desolation of the forest; turn by turn the car moved and wheels circled as the path becomes foggy in front of them. On high spirits, the whole Mishra family was enjoying their vocation in a cheerful manner. As the car turned on another curve a Scorpio appeared from the midst of the fog and bumped on the Mishra`s Swift, screeching all the way. The Scorpio pushed the Swift towards the chasm like an empty wooden box. Ganesh Mishra quickly applied breaks and the car roared in defiance as the tires screeched on the road while the car thumped on the rock placed on side of the road which saved the car from falling in the chasm. Damini leaped in and held Golu in her arms, as the lights blurred in front of her. She could hear nothing, say nothing. She only watched blur shadows running towards them. The car was brutally bruised and Ganesh was nowhere to be found.