April 26, 2011

Chapter Two: Fallen Heroes

The Gulmohar trees are the first thing you notice when you enter the city. The entire district, in fact, is full of these trees to welcome you into its red-flower bearing arms.

Every time I look at those trees, I feel I am home, and at peace.

I was killed on bhanuvara, Sunday.

I wonder if I will ever be at peace.

I couldn’t stay at my death-filled house anymore so I decided to venture out. I instantly felt tranquil.

The streets have no smells, the wind doesn’t tickle my ears and the bright sun provides no warmth. The train seemed so much more crowded, until I realized not all of them were alive in their physical bodies. I had never thought before about what happens after death. It is hard to accept anyone’s theory of what happens after death, especially when said persons are very much alive. When you buy a watermelon, you make the fruit-seller cut you a piece so you see it is red, taste it and know it’s good before you will buy the whole melon. To see, to touch, to feel, is to believe.

I am glad I couldn’t see all these people before; the city would have seemed even more crowded. A little boy dressed in worn street clothes is running fast in circles, around an old man trying to read a paper. The paper flutters but the old man doesn’t seem too discomfited by the bundle of nervous energy around him. Some of the walking dead find this amusing and smile at each other.

I look across now, at Rishab’s pensive face, which transmits the pain of bereavement. I go across to check in on the newspaper he holds in front of his glazed eyes. I am surprised I made it to the papers. An insignificant man like me! I wonder if I should smile, and if I will feel happy when I do.

“You will” says the little boy in rags who had stopped running around the old man.

“How did you know what I was thinking?”

“You know what the best part is?” the boy says, completely ignoring my question.

“Tell me” I say, playing along.

“If you fill yourself with any feeling, you can see it being transmitted to the one you want to communicate with”

I find that prospect both scary and exhilarating.

“It takes a while though, so don’t lose heart” he chuckles at his gallows humor, seemingly wise beyond his years. And before I can ask any of the questions milling around in my head, he quickly goes away with a wave of his hand.

Rishab is getting ready to get off the train. He walks out of the bustle of the station, and makes a call. I listen. He tells his boss he needs to take a week off. He makes another call. I recognize the name of the person he is talking to. Shefali, his wife. After a moment’s hesitation, I lean in, with my ear next to the phone and try to listen in. I feel like a voyeur. How quickly one’s morals change when one knows no one is looking!

Shefali expresses her sympathies but doesn’t think getting involved is wise.

“There is a reason we keep our heads low and hope we don’t get shot at, Rishab” she replayed the familiar refrain of the great Indian middle class, in her low office voice.

I don’t want Rishab to get hurt. If he tries to get involved, there is a good chance he will be in trouble.

“Maybe you should leave town for a few days..visit your parents?” Rishab suggests tentatively.

“No, you know I won’t” she cuts him short, without entertaining any room for discussion. “I have to go now, but be careful, will you?” she adds, with concern that hangs around in our ears, as heavy as a grey cloud in a rainy sky, and the call is disconnected.

Rishab sighs as he puts his phone in his pocket. His hand goes to his other pocket, and he nervously touches something inside, then thinking the better of it, leaves the contents of his pocket untouched.

He seems to grow more agitated. Or angry. I am not sure yet. He could be angry that he is attempting something without having a clear plan. Or, at the risk of sounding self-indulgent, that he hadn’t thought to check on me before. He walks to a nearby shop and asks for a pack of cigarettes. I feel like I should tell him to stop, and remind him how good he was the last two months, having gone without a smoke. If only I could talk!

‘Gosh, Khan, stop being the voice in my head’ he mutters and shakes his head as though to free himself of a voice from the grave.

The world is a mysterious place, the mind even more so.

I consider what just happened, while the shop keeper, a boy really, turns around to ask ‘something else sir?’ in his accented English. Rishab shakes his head and pays for the pack.

The cigarette calms him, and as he stamps out the butt, he goes back to the shop to ask something. He heads in the direction of Manoj’s office. The lawyer I work for.

Worked for.

How sudden the transition is, from life to the beyond. It does not give one time to adjust to a new state of being. There is no time for goodbyes. So much left unsaid for another day, a day that would never come.

Rishab talks to Manoj in a hushed voice. I sense discomfort. Rishab seems uncomfortable in the lawyer’s office. You wouldn’t be able to tell from his confident manner, unless you knew him.

As they talk, someone enters the room.

“Ah, Rishab, meet Abhaya. She is a journalist. She had been in touch with Khan for a few of his cases” Manoj said, as he turned to make the introductions.

Abhaya interrupts him. “Oh yes, Khan mentioned you. He enjoyed your company on his morning train.”

Rishab smiles politely as he tries to remember if Khan had ever mentioned her. “Nice to meet you” he offers simply, in the end.

“Can we talk in your office” Abhaya asks, as she gestures to the door at the end of the lobby in which they were talking.

As they sit down in Manoj’s office, she turns to them and says “I was talking to quite a few leads on this particular case. I checked on them yesterday after I found out about Khan” she pauses.

Then she adds “so far, two more are missing.”


Find Chapter Three here

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