The distance was not more than half a kilometre. Darkness had wrapped the earth, but street lights were illuminating the footpath, enough for Sahib to safely take the steps. He was middle-aged in his 50’s but his personality looked like he is 40’s. Weather was cool but not windy that could cause winds to swing the trees. A calm aura was penetrating through the spine.
He often would walk this way but never saw much loneliness at this street at night. It was always an acquaintance with one or the other drunkard, whooshing and dwindling, getting magnetized towards each other. When one intoxicant would stagger against the walls, next one would produce himself stealthily like a swaggering wild to show his fits.
But there was no one, no drunkard nor any homeless swindler except for the crackling of crickets, silent homes with barely light from any house and no noise or brawls among these middle-class couples. The street had a dwelling of 5000, with most of them salaried class working in industries on the other side of the town. They would return at night some half-drunk while others fully dozed and create melodramatic scenes of their male chauvinism over their wives, the impact of which is hardly felt out on the street except for hard-hearten me.
The restlessness that pervades in this night road and the mannerism in which it exerts over the bed was the first entertainment that he would feel.
A night street has also its own life, “Inspiring and soul searching, a street of revelations and crowning muse”. The night is a transition of the soul, the crackling of cricket is musical, and the life behind each door, without knocking on a single door or peeping through the window, Sahib would know what’s going on. Rays from the street lights are illusion of evaded night but within each ray is a spot of positivism, piercing through the darkness.
Rodriguez was his colleague in a merchant business. He was British by birth but Indian by heart, as he was born in India when Britishers were leaving, so his family decided to stay here. At the end of the day, both of us would sit at “Rodriguez 402” to drink and discuss the day’s events. This was our everyday ritual. That day was special as we had received a big order.
As soon he took right, he felt something, but despite emptiness and the dog scuffling at the front of the house of Pundit, there was no one. It was not the first time that he took this street at night but never felt this thing, it was strange. Wind had started blowing, blowing the tit bits of the earth around. He stood rocked for a while, twitched his eyebrows and with deep breath continued to walk.
Suddenly a rat jumped over his feet to swiftly escape into the drain. He jumped, but instantly his eyes caught a sight of a man who was standing under a pole with a stick, he was probably a watchman. Unfortunately the street light of the pole was not functioning, so darkness had evaded the persona of that figure. But he still strolled towards him.
He had a sturdy body with big eyes like an eagle’s that could easily find even minute things. Nothing could miss his sharp eyes. Once he had rescued a small puppy from deep inside the drain, which no one could ever make out but he saw brown colored small soul struggling inside the stagnant dirty water. From then on everyone in Rambagh began to call him Cheel.
After brief formal greetings, Sahib asked him, “What’s happening, why there is so calmness here, no drunkard or a sound of any brawl”. He quipped, “You don’t know Babu, now It’s 2 and today is Lunar Eclipse. It is a ritual, no one venture out on this night. Drunkards would throw their bottles, ladies keep their mouths shut, as the Evil Spirit roams here. She takes the hell out of any human especially those who are drunk. You are out at this time? ”
Making a nostalgic face at me, “You seemed to be drunk too, you don’t know or forgotten. Quick you should go home immediately”.
Shuddering his shoulders, he remembered his day had been quite busy. He was occupied with his client, Mr. Rajput Sharma that he had ignored the warnings. The town MLA Lal Bhandari had warned all to venture out tonight, but what about Rodrigues, and why he didn’t stop me? Several questions were hitting his mind. His brain washed, and with stumbling steps, and eyes partially closed, he picked his speed.
At the same time he was making all sorts of patterns in the mind; is that a ghost with long nails and teeth waiting for an opportunity to gabble me with her paws, or it is a dead soul who is wondering with unfulfilled wishes. And now desperate to cut us all like pieces of cake to fulfill his thirst, and I would be the first one to please is palate. These thoughts pricked his hairs, limbs got suddenly week and sudden reflection of his wife appeared in his mind, she had expired two years back. Had she not turned into the evil spirit? ”
With these thoughts he reached at the outer edge of the wall, where there is a temple with closed doors and locks dangling on it. It had been there since last 1950s, an old temple of Lord Ram. So I gave a big sigh of relief to see common beggars couched against each other under the blanket at the temple stairs, as the black cat rushed passed. He would often go to this temple to offer his prayers and would distribute Prasad to the beggars.
Home is right there, towards the other end of the steep path that sledges down towards the main door. He paddled quickly to reach just at the front of his door. “Oh, Gosh! where are the keys?”, not in any pocket or wallet. Had the evil spirit took it and now waiting on my bed to gulp me down?
Keys must have left behind at Rodrigues while I was pouring a drink in my glass, so now what to do? He began to look for the stone to break the lock. Suddenly he stumbled, but before falling down, somebody caught him from behind, shocked he fainted. When he regained his consciousness, he saw himself on his bed, heaving a sigh of relief that he was alive. He slowly opened his eyes to see Rodrigues standing by his side.
“Hey! How men you here, I think I would die, what happened to me?” Rodrigues blurted, “You were quite drunk and highly intoxicated, I never saw you in this condition before. I offered for accompanying you. I was fine, as I had only one peg. You replied in negation and meekly went out of the door after banging it. I thought I simply could not leave you in such a state.”
He further spoke,”Suddenly I noticed you had left your house keys behind so this induced me to follow you. Now town is not safe, as MLA had warned of mischievous happenings here since last two days and today is lunar Eclipse. You were not in a state and neither in a mood to listen, so I had to follow you.” On the way, I even noticed you had stopped,”
“Yes, I had stopped to talk to our watchmen”, as he tried to recollect. With a whimsical grin and a concerned face, what Rodrigues said shocked Sahib, “Our watchman is not here, but yes in dark I could see an image, maybe of a guy, short heightened but heavy shoulders, he had gone to his village for few days to get his daughter married.
Oh! Sighed Sahib, as he placed his hand over his head that had started to give pain. “Cool down”, said Rodrigues, “Everything is okay, rest for a while. I will also go back now”.
Wait! “You couldn’t sleep whole night because of me, lie down here for few hours and then go back”, said Sahib. “It is okay, when you had slept I had also fallen on the sofa, and now the time is 6:30, the sun had already risen, I have to get back. See you again at 10 sharp”. Morning life had started with the ringing of the temple bells.
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