The dead side
I finished my coffee and placed the mug on the window sill, looking clumsily at the tiny drops of water on the glass. It was a cold December evening, with the chill crawling up my spine like a vicious serpent. I looked at the wet streets outside, craning my eyes to spot a speck of joy in the stressful panorama. The streets ran empty, trees stood with an expression of loss. Shops closed down with the skepticism of a stealthy rain and the chilling winter air pelted its ferocity on every poor thing in its reach.
Appalled by the devious sight, I picked up my coffee mug and rose to leave for more, when, suddenly, my eyes fell on the strange little creature on the other side of the street. It was a different sight, sarcastically aided by the fearful west wind. I looked at the distance, trying to engulf the reality, struggling to reason out the sudden deviation from normalcy. I saw a girl crouching behind the shadows, fighting the piercing cold with a set of tattered rugs on her body. Aroused by the sudden rush of adrenaline, I plunged my head out of the window for a better look, but the raging torment of raindrops bleared my vision of certainty.
There were many questions rushing up the stairways of my mind, but the confusion between ‘who was she’ and ‘what was she’ provoked the stigma of demonic forces inside me.I narrowed my eyes to reconcile the surge of curiosity within me. What was she doing on an empty street, when the churlish downpour turned every place into a no-man’s land.I had to know. There was a reason that out of the many geographic directions, this strange creature looked at mine, and I had to find out why. I did not stop to think. The next moment, I was out in the streets, the rain piercing my face like a magician’s scimitar.
It took me some time to spot the black-robed figure. I walked with heavy steps towards her, frantically observing the fact that she was staring at me, as if she already knew that I would come for her. Somehow, groping for proper directions in the darkness, I reached the place where she stood. There she was, clutching on to the side rims of the lamppost with one hand, while the other grabbed the filthy old rug around her chest. She looked at me with cautious eyes, eyes that tacitly defined the other side of hedonism.
It was a young face, yet the wrinkles of pain had crowded the soft texture of her skin. I went closer, wiping off the thick drops of rain from my face and leapt off with a cry of utter amazement.
“Emily?” I squeaked, doubting the permeability for my inaudible voice in the terrible rain.
I wondered whether she heard me, her feet stayed rooted to the ground, her eyes immovable like an age-old rock. I wondered if she was the same Emily I knew 3 years back. There were no signs of proximity from her, her eyes gazed unblinkingly at me, red as blood, as if they’d been open for an eternity.
There were extraordinary times in life which demanded extraordinary measures. I pondered how a bright sunny day could turn into a profound night of terror.My mind knew that the skeptic figure in front of me was an old acquaintance, but my heart feared the dire consequences of this unexplained rendezvous with her.
No one spoke for what seemed to be an eternity. Only the sound of thumping rain tortured our ears like a painful cry. I looked around in diabolic haste, hoping that there would be some place to shelter this unfortunate friend of mine, but the devastating downpour continued to devour all possible signs of life in my vicinity.I had to do what I was about to do. There was no way that I would leave Emily to wither in that dreadful weather, though the uncertainty of her stochastic emergence circled my mind like an American hurricane.
“We should not be out here,” I said, “let’s go inside the house and have something to eat, you look weak,” I finished, stretching out my hand adroitly to hide my hesitance.
She looked at my hand for quite long before stretching her own, as if calculating the risks of an overnight interview with me. I held her hand tight, it was cold, very cold. She limped painfully with little help from her two jaded legs, her fragile body falling in my shivering arms at each step.Somehow grueling with the stubborn rain, we reached the aisle of my apartment. Emily had still not spoken a word, and I had already started to fear the aberrant sense of diligence from a long lost friend. I walked my guest past the already open door and directed her towards the couch, looking disgustedly at the slurry of mud that her malodorous feet had brought in.
The room was suddenly cold, as if my apartment was shifted to a distant army base on the Everest. The light from the 200 watt bulb suddenly seemed insufficient, the walls appeared darker with a hint of gloom all over them. I tried to reason out the sudden absurdities around me, but with each passing moment, the incisive manifestations of paranormal activities stirred a hypnotic stigma in me. I looked at the trespasser, who slouched on the sofa with a hunch, water dripping all over the floor from her unusual uniform. Clothes and food was all she needed, or so I thought.
I opened my cupboard and stared at the heap of dirty clothes that I hadn’t washed for months. After a rumbling of 15 whole minutes, I found an old sweatshirt that I used to wear back home. I folded it neatly; skillfully hiding the stains of ketchup it had on it, and went towards the living room, where Emily sat, unmoved.
“Here, take this shirt, you must be pretty wet in those clothes. You can change in the bathroom,” I said, pointing towards a small door at the end of the hall. “I’ll be back with something for you to eat,” I added in a friendly tone.
Why isn’t she talking? What on earth was she doing in this part of the world, when she settled in California 3 years back after marrying her rich boyfriend? What is wrong with her face, her clothes, her body? There were so many questions to ask, but all the answers waited at the other side of her tired lips. Probably, she was too weak to talk, I reasoned.
I opened the refrigerator to find some food for my poor friend. There was not much leftover, especially when you’re a 25 year old ‘teenager’, but fortunately, I hadn’t had any dinner that night due to a minor stomach ache. I took out the apple pudding, a bottle of beer and some freshly baked biscuits and strolled towards the living room, hoping that the dinner was sufficient for a starving unfortunate as her. I placed the pudding and the bottle on the table, noticing in anguish that the kurta lay untouched beside her. I leaned forward to pour the pudding in a bowl, but I was too late. Emily had already snatched the spoon and began stuffing the food into her mouth.
I sat on a chair facing her, watching her devour every bit of the pudding I gave her. Old scenes flashed in front of my eyes, those parties at the college canteen, the refreshing hangouts before exam nights. I recalled the bike rides around the city, with Emily sitting on mine. She had a thing for me back in college, but the shackles of education compelled me to miss every bit of the beautiful life I could have had with her. It had been 3 years since we talked, the many moratoriums of life had taken us far apart from each other. And here she was, sitting right in front of me, in a state of complete melodrama. I wondered amazedly what time could do to us, while she munched hastily at the biscuits, two at a time.
I rose from my chair, and walked towards the telephone. A sudden thought drifted into my head as I flipped the pages of my diary hurriedly. I wondered if I had Karl’s contact number with me, probably he could explain the pathetic state of his wife, I thought.After an animus tussle with the tattered pages of my diary, I found what I was looking for.
“Karl Donavan, 56 President Street, California.”
I picked up the receiver and dialed the number, my heart racing at the pace of knots. I glanced back at the couch where Emily was seated, munching away merrily at the biscuits I’d given her. The bell rang at the other side and a deep grumpy voice answered it.
“Hello, is it Karl? I am Dan from college, remember?” I asked hopelessly, pretty sure that the rich bastard had flushed me out of his memory long ago.
“Hello Dan, long time,” confirmed his deep voice, much to my surprise.
“Karl, can I speak to Emily for a second?” I whispered, holding my breath, fearing how aberrant his next statement could be.
“She died in an accident this very evening,” he said.
I could still hear Emily, munching away at the biscuits as Karl hung up and the line went dead…..
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