Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Night- The Game of Shadows

T R Mist

Days passed ...lifeless, listless. While returning from work one day…wait did I mention about the work I do. Not yet, but this seems to be a good opportunity. I work in one of the sections of the great formless municipality. A puny cog in the gigantic wheel, which keeps turning and turning without going anywhere.

People tell me I have a respectable job. I harbor no such delusions. For the record I am a truth checker. I go through volumes and volumes of municipal documents and point out mistakes and lies and set them right. It is needless to say that truth is relative, and what the truth is, is decided by the top echelons of the municipality. The nameless  and formless.

So 'the suns’ are as good as the Sun who never disappeared He just manifested Himself through the smaller suns, and they are to be referred as ‘the suns’ only and any other name given to them amounts disrespecting the Sun himself who never disappeared.

The word ‘eclipse’ is only about hiding something small and never can ever be applied to the objects larger than a palm of a human hand. The Sun was never eclipsed he just manifested Himself through ‘the suns’ and anyway nothing bigger than a human hand can ever be eclipsed.

‘Warmth’ is a word to be used exclusively with the heat

generated by the ‘suns’ or the gas heaters in the houses and nothing else. Warmth can also be associated with green houses where food is grown.

‘Beauty’ is a word only to be used with reference to the lights in the marketplace and physical beauty of the human beings and never ever something so obsolete as a thing as ‘nature’.

‘Brilliance’ is a word to be used exclusively with the lights in the marketplace and sun parlours and never can be attributed to anything else least of all things from the past or obsolete.

‘Life giver’ is the municipality and cannot be referred to or attributed to anything else.

To be ‘happy’ is a feeling one gets by having good life with family under the ‘the suns’. There can be no such thing as being happy without the family and ‘the suns’.

I am sure you must have got a hang of it. The people in the office knew my preference to stay on the fringes, which I attributed to a fictitious medical condition of skin pigmentation and not being completely able to bear the brilliance of ‘the suns’. Some of them were definitely suspicious that I belonged to that non-conformist lot of the population, which had this strange obsession for the return of the Sun, but the higher ups never bothered till I did my job well. There were, however, always ways to get back at them. Like when I changed the sentence: “ the Municipality has passed a resolution to set up more suns” to “The esteemed holy Life giver MUNICIPALITY which has no equal in this universe has passed a resolution in all the goodness of their glowing hearts to provide greater brilliance to the city by setting up more ‘the suns’”. I would sometimes be called and counseled to keep my adoration for the municipality less obvious. To which I would shoot back saying, they were telling me to commit blasphemy and would add, inducing myself into a mild hysteria, that what I had done was right. The bosses would look at each other, raise their eyebrows, nod a bit and then agree and I would find a quiet corner of the office toilet and break into subdued guffaws.

I knew I needed to guard myself cause there were definitely some smart heads around , so I knew when to overdo and when not, so that it could be dismissed as a spontaneous yet reoccurring bout of zealous adoration.

Now I feel I need to go back to what happened a few days ago. I returned home as the light globs were fading, I had a plan to go out for coffee at the Sunshine Café, one of the few places in the whole city which was free of pretense. I went home had a bath, it was already dark by then. The streets lights were diligently lighting up the already deserted streets. I crossed the adjacent street and hurried down the road ahead, my boots pounding the cold stones of the pavement with their rhythmic clacks when a sudden gust of wind hit me from an alley on my left, which almost snatched the coat from me. I walked ahead adjusting my coat in disgust then I jolted to a stop. I thought I saw something. A silhouette or a shadow, something that looked human? No, just some shadow, I had had enough of this game of silhouttes and shadows with K a few days ago, my mind was playing tricks on me now. The clack of my boots resumed on the pavement.

“Come back”, a voice said from the alley. It sounded mysterious, yet matter of fact. Something that had immense authority, deliberately concealed. Like a quiet order from an emperor. I stood rooted to the pavement and turned my head towards the alley, waiting for the next order. “You are still not walking back.” “I am not K and I will not try to choke you,” the voice said. I shivered. I clenched my teeth, whosoever he was was spying on me. I wanted to run away, but my feet had grown heavy, it seemed as if some invisible rope kept me tied down to the ground.

“Don’t be mistaken, it is not that I do not like to come out, but trust me it is safer here,” the voice said. I retraced my steps and reached the mouth of the alley the wind blew right into my face. “Come in, come in, it is me Raogata,” he said.

“Rao? Where have you been? Is it really you, I can’t see your face." Rao switched on his torch and for a brief moment lit up his face from below. His face had hardly changed. In the yellow light of the torch and the corresponding shadows, his face looked menacing. “Why this blind alley man and why the sudden disappearance and then this sudden appearance, what is all this about and why the hell is the municipality looking out for you, what is going on Rao,” I asked.

“As expected, too many questions?” he said. “And don’t call me Rao, call me by the name you had given me, I like it more, ‘Corto’.”

“Yeah Corto, but these questions are screaming out for answers. So??”

“Things seem to be happening in your life pretty suddenly these days, may be that is why you seem to be concerned,” Corto replied.

“That does not answer any of my questions, how exactly do you know what is happening in my life,” then I remembered that he had mentioned about K being in my house , “and how did you know K had visited me recently. Are you spying upon me? And for what purpose?”

“I take care of my friends.”

Rao’s conversations were always as mysterious as the man himself. I had not known him for long, just a few years, he worked in the same office. He was tall well-built with sharp features a pointed nose and chiseled jaw, with cold eyes and lips, which seldom smiled. He was a man of few words and an incisive intellect. He was always on target with whatever he said and evidently some got stung by those words. He was, therefore, respected and hated in equal measure by the people around him.

When I spoke to him for the first time, I told him casually, without knowing much about his reserved nature, that he looked like the legendary comic book hero, Corto Maltese, he had smiled. He loved the name pretty much and we became good friends. Though of the same age, he was senior to me in the organization and took upon himself to mentor me to the ways of working in it. Things were going on smoothly till the eclipse happened. A few months after the chaos died down, Corto called me one day while I was in the office and told me he would resign as he could not “digest the unsavoury changes”. Classic Rao, aka Corto.

Municipality had swept in the changes, our work changed dramatically from documentation to truth checking, some accepted these changes with some curiosity, some others whole heartedly, I did not belong either to these classes and I am sure nor did Corto.

Things moved on and I hardly heard from him. Almost a year later grapewine in the office told me that the municipality was looking out for him. What he had done was never told and never discussed. My bosses asked me if I knew what he was up to or where to find him. I told them about the day when he had called me and informed of his intended resignation. I did not tell them about his jibe. I felt that would put him in some unseen danger.

This meeting with him in the blind alley on the road to the café was our first after he had left the organization.

“Could you please explain, how you help your friends by turning up in blind alleys?” I asked.

I could feel Corto smile, though I could see nothing except his feet with his trademark leather boots jutting out of the shadow, as he stood leaning against the wall with his legs crossed.

“Let me apologise first for causing you guys some inconvenience”, he said. I waited for him to explain. He was quick to grasp that it has made no sense to me.

“Did the globs go out a few months ago, when you were at work?” he added.

“Of course they did.”

The full purport of the sentence exploded in my mind.

“You mean…you mean…YOU did it?” I stammered.

Corto cleared his throat.

“Have you not heard of the Underground”, he asked casually.

The word underground froze my blood. I felt cold and numb. I felt not blood but cold sweat rushing through my veins at the onslaught of a pounding heart.

“I don’t like that word particularly myself, I would rather prefer to call myself the Sun Worshipper, but then in war the name given by the enemy is what is remembered,” he said.

The papers told that authorities had found letters S.W. spray painted on the main light glob of the inner city, when they went to fix it after all of them had failed suddenly at mid-day a few months ago. This gave raise to many conspiracy theories about a gang of people who were out to subvert the municipality and all their ideas of existence. They were collectively given the name of the Underground by the people.

Some other said that S.W. stood for ‘Shadow Warriors’, some others ‘Sun Watchers’, and even ‘Scum of the World’.

Municipality rubbished all this as hearsay. And put the blame on a short circuit for the failure of ‘the suns’. Further they came up with a story that S.W. were the initials of the son of the maintenance in-charge of ‘the suns’, Mr. Weather . So S.W. stood for Son of Weather.

The municipality document, said that the kid had innocently spray painted the letters S.W. on ‘the sun’ and had been severely reprimanded for his act.

The matter ended there.

To be continued…...

(T.R Mist is a resident of Puttaparthi and would be contributing a serialized story “The Night”. )

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