It was midnight in 1970; Sahib closed the door behind them and started walking towards his own house. He had left from “Rodriguez 402,” a decorated name of a small house that was legendary built since pre-Independence by the British. The distance between my dwelling and this ruling man of the 1940s was not more than half a kilometre. Darkness had wrapped the earth, but street lights were projecting the white light in circles, illuminating the footpath, enough for Sahib to safely take the steps. He was a middle-aged man in his 50s but in looks, he was not less than his 40s. The weather was cool but still, no winds were swinging the trees. A calm aura was touching the spines.
He would often take this route but never saw this so desolate street at night. There would be often one or the other half-hearted drunkard, whooshing and dwindling, magnetized towards each other. When one intoxicant would stagger against the walls, the next one would produce himself stealthily like a swaggering wild to show his fits. Sometimes he would act like Devdas, missing his soul Paro, who had left her and he is dying for her.
But there was no one now except for the crackling of crickets, flying bats swiftly passing over my head and vanishing into the darkness, dark and silent homes with barely any light from each house and no noises or brawls of these middle-class sects.
The town had a dwelling of 5000, with most of them working in industries. They would return half-drunk while others fully dozed and create melodramatic scenes of their male chauvinism over their wives, the impact of which they would hardly feel on the street except for hard-hearted me.
The restlessness in the restless night road and mannerism in which it exerts its existence especially over the bed behind the closed walls, was the entertainment for him, a drama in its wholesome.
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 from far away night songbirds create an enigmatic charm as the sweet voices pierce through the different shades of blackness taking us simultaneously on different planes. The barking of dogs is so insinuating, raising our consciousness to each act of disturbance that could create a nuisance. And, of course, there is a life behind each door, without knocking on a single door or peeping through the window, Sahib would know what’s going on.
Rodriguez was his colleague in a merchant business. At the end of the day, both would sit at “Rodriguez 402” to drink and discuss the day’s events.
He reached at the edge to take a turn towards his home, but as soon he took right, he felt something, His eyes pondered here and there but despite emptiness and the dog scuffling at the outside yard of the Pundit’s house, there was no one. It was not the first time that he took this street at night but never had the same feeling, it was strange. He stood rocked for a while, twitched his eyebrows, and with a deep breath, continued to walk.
Suddenly a rat jumped over his feet to swiftly escape into the drain. Eventually, he encountered a man who was standing under a pole with a stick, he was probably a watchman. Unfortunately, the light of that pole had stopped working, so darkness covered the man’s face. But he still strolled towards the human figure, which could be in his late youth, calm, but strange. The youth was a watchman of the area, as he had a sturdy body and the eyes of an eagle that can easily catch even the minutest of things.
Once he had rescued a small puppy from the drain, which no one could ever make out but he could see him struggling deep in the stagnant water and filthy. Dirt from the town fills it, and from then on each one of us in Ragbag began to call him “Cheel”, an eagle.
After formal greetings, Sahib inquired, “Why there is today so calmness here, not even a drunkard and no sound of any brawl”. He quipped, “You don’t know Babu, now it is 2 and today is no moon night. It is a ritual, no one ventures out; drunkards drop their bottles, ladies keep their mouths shut, and the evil spirit roams here. She takes the hell out of anyone whom she found drunk. You are out at this time? ”
Making a nostalgic face, he again retorted, “You seemed to be drunk too, you don’t know or forget. Quick go home immediately”.
He shuddered his shoulders and remembered he had been quite busy, so much occupied with his client, Rajput Sharma that he ignored the warnings. MLA Lal Bhandari had warned us all not to venture at the night, but what about Rodrigues, and why he didn’t stop me? Several questions began to hit his mind. His brainwashed, and with stumbling steps, and eyes partially closed, he picked his speed.
Simultaneously, he was creating all sorts of patterns in his mind; was that some kind of ghost, with white arms, long nails and teeth waiting for an opportunity to grasp me with her paws, or the evil a dead soul who might have unfulfilled wishes? And he is now desperate to cut us all like pieces of cake to quench his thirst, and I would be the first one to please his palate. With these thoughts he shivered, limbs got a week and suddenly there was a reflection of his wife, she had expired two years back. Had she not turned into the evil spirit? “
Walking unconsciously, he reached opposite at the outer edge of the wall, where a temple stood with locks dangling on the closed doors. Temple had been there since the 1940s, with an idol of Lord Ram and Hanuman. So I took a deep breath, with a sigh of relief to see beggars coached against each other under the blanket at the temple stairs, as the black cat rushed across them. This was the usual site, He would often go to this temple to offer his prayers and distribute Prasad to the beggars.
Home is right there, towards the other end of the steep path that sleds down towards the main door. He paddled quickly to reach just at the front of his door, oh! Gosh! Keys are not there, not in any pocket or wallet, where are the keys? Had the evil spirit taken it and now waiting on my bed to gulp me down?
So what to do now? He began to look for the stone to break the lock. Suddenly he stumbled, but before falling, somebody caught him from behind. The hand was hard as the claws of a beast, and he fainted.
As he regained consciousness, he found himself on his bed, with a sigh of relief of being alive. He slowly opened his eyes, to again banged his head. He saw Rodriguez standing with his eyes straight towards him and his body upright. His hair had become distorted and he was in his brown pent and white shirt which was wearing the previous day. The eyes were giving a curious look.
“Hey! How men you here, I think I would die, what happened to me?” Rodriguez 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.
Suddenly I noticed you had left your house keys behind so this induced me to follow you. Now the town is not safe, as MLA had warned of mischievous happenings here for the last two days and today is the lunar Eclipse and so dark. You were not in a state and neither in a mood to listen, so I had to follow you.
On the way, I was going to call you, but you were not listening. I even noticed you had stopped.” He replied,
“Yes, I had stopped to talk to Bhim Singh”, as he tried to recollect. With a whimsical grin and a concerned face, what Rodriguez said shocked Sahib, “Bhim Singh had gone to his village to get his daughter married. ” You remember, he told us in the office that he has two daughters, and his one daughter is of marriageable age and they are searching groom for her.
But in dark I could see an image, maybe of a guy, short heightened but heavy shoulders,
“Oh”! Sighed Sahib, as he picked his left hand from the side and placed it over his head that had started to produce pain. “Cool down”, said Rodriguez, “Everything is okay, rest for a while. I will also return now”.
Wait! “You couldn’t sleep the whole night because of me, please lie down here for a few hours and then go back”, said Sahib.
“It is okay, when you had unconsciously slept I had also fallen on the sofa, and now it is 6:30, I have to get back. See you again at 10 sharp”. Temple bells had started ringing, as the morning life began.