Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Night

By T R Mist

It was the haze of dark nothingness that bothered me always. It is something I could never get away from, even in those brightly lit streets with various kinds of shops that sold happiness. As I looked I saw men, women and their children happy, some of whom I knew, others who were strangers enter and exit from these brightly lit shops of a dreary city, with an air of nonchalance. They had what they wanted. And they were happy. For them the haze seemed nowhere. I had stopped gazing too long and with a start I started back on my way. Bright lights were not for me.

I walked. The din relented in its assault. From harsh to soft to feeble. After several hundreds of paces I turned right. The bright lights and shops were behind me, and the din gone. Dim street lights flickered above. I halted and my gaze was drawn to our locality. How different it was from the brashly glowing inner city. There were just a few buildings and those too were by and far empty. All slimy grey, they seemed to stand in a solemn contemplation. It did not matter to them that some of their walls had their plaster peeling off showing the brick and mortar underneath. Nor did it the onslaught of icy winds bother them. With their windows lit up they stood still and solid, keeping the hope burning in their hearts of a tomorrow, which was bright and real. I smiled and walked on.

It was just early evening, well that is what the clock tower declared, there was hardly any other way to find out, for it was dark as ever, save the pale light from the distant light globs, which filtered through the mist. It was lonely in this part of the city, few stayed here. The wind wailed through the streets, looking for somebody to share its grief with. I looked the other way. Casting a forlorn glance at me, the wind rushed past picking up the shreds of orphaned news sheets and some plastic refuse for companionship.

I looked at the sky, I knew it was an unnecessary exercise, which some of us had grown used to. It had always been dark for quite sometime now and there had not been even a pretense of it ever getting bright. Even the stars seemed dead and no Moon ever rose. But faith and hope have hardly ever followed the rules if reason.

We live on the margins of the city, and since the Sun went out, we have been relegated here. Not that we are not welcome in the city, we are, we all work in the city, but staying under glow of the artificial ‘suns’ was never meant for us. So we made our home away from the bright lights, waiting for the real Sun to rise.

The city had not always been this way. It was bright, very bright. The Sun rose in the East and set in the West. In the mornings day after day the horizon beyond the high blue mountains would go from crimson to orange to yellow, till finally the Sun rose over the dark mountains and gradually breathed warmth into the cold morning air and pushed the mist to the darker reaches of the lush forest below the mountains, where it hung a bit longer. Then began the cacophonic symphony of the birds, starting with a few chirps and then turning into a grand orchestra that lent a strange tranquility to the city. People would then go about their chores. The Sun’s brightness and warmth nourished and sustained them all. The Sun retired in the evening behind the mountains and the colours danced once more on the horizon to the dramatic notes of the bird symphony. Winter brought snow and the blue mountains would have heavy streaks of white on their tops, which threw golden and copper colours into the already colourful mélange of morning and evening. This happened with such simplicity that we seldom noticed. We took everything for granted, the colours, the warmth, the cacophonic symphony, the forests and finally the Sun Himself. Wish we had not.

One day a rumor floated of the coming eclipse. We looked at the Sun. He seemed bright as always. But some people said they could see some spots. We never believed. Then one day the eclipse happened. Eclipses happened with the Sun many times. So we hardly bothered. “He would disappear and reappear as always,” we thought. People said this time the Sun will never emerge from the eclipse. We knitted our brows in contempt.
The day arrived and the Sun went from bright to dark, from full to black. We knew it was temporary. The temporary blackness, however, remained. We waited. The Sun did not return. We waited a bit longer, still light eluded us. Moments gave way to days and days gave way to months and months to years, we waited still.

Darkness overwhelmed us. With the darkness came the cold. Plants withered under the onslaught of the dark and cold. The lush green forest turned into a dreary jungle of rotting trees. The Sun no longer rose behind the dark mountains. No longer did the birds chirp. Their symphony died and they died soon after, their lifeless bodies littering the city streets. The crimson, orange and yellow, golden and copper were gone.

The humans, however, survived. The municipality had been pretty helpful. Soon after the eclipse, at various places in the city, the municipality erected enormous concrete pillars on tops of which were placed huge round electrical lights, which simulated the light of the Sun during the ‘morning’ hours. People called them mini suns, some others simply the suns. For us on the margins, however, they were light globs. The ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ time was fixed by the municipality. At ‘sunrise’ the light globs would burn softly which would increase in intensity till noon and then die out at ‘sunset’. Food started getting grown in green houses, of course, supported by electrical lights. And more and more modes of diversion started appearing in the city. The bright dazzling shops were a part of that project.

A masterstroke was the Sun parlour. People could enter one of these parlours, lie down on a couch with eyes closed. An electrical light would be switched on over their eyes and the people would feel the warmth over their faces and redness in front of their eyes, just as they would if the Sun had been there. They talked about how they felt that the Sun was present in the Sun parlours. “You and the Sun parlour would burn to cinders if the Sun had been really there,” I would counter. I found it hard to understand why people preferred to go to the parlours when they could do it themselves at their homes, with the electric lights they had. “You need to visit a parlour to know the difference,” people would tell me. “I prefer home,” I would reply.

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I trudged laboriously along the staircase of my building. The clack of my boots came back to me from the whole structure. My home was on the second floor. I reached the door. The flaking white paint greeted me as cheerfully as it could. I too was tired. Searching for the key in my coat pocket I turned it in the key hole. The locked groaned, I pushed the door softly, but the hinges resisted and then groaned. I ignored the protest and pushed a bit harder but stopped. I thought I heard soft footfalls behind me and some heavy breathing. I turned around, in the hazy glow of the dim light on the stairs, I could not see anybody. “Too tired, my mind is playing games, this wretched mind,” I thought and turned around. Suddenly I felt a huge hand over my mouth. I gasped, but could not breathe. The hand was gradually chocking me.

To be continued…
(T.R Mist is a new entrant to Venugaanam. He is a resident of Puttaparthi and would be contributing a serialized story “The Night”. )

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