Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The night it all began

The city was cold tonight. It always is nowadays. Cold made the road wet, made everything wet. Moon shone bleakly through the dense smog. Dilapidated buildings loomed ominously over empty streets. Lamps lit silently along the roadside illuminating the roughly edged pavement with its lines and its hexagons, beautiful symmetries lying unappreciated in this ignorant neighborhood. The cold prevented any wasps. Every yard or so a tile had been broken from the pavement, wounds from an angry past, requiring a person to be careful while walking.

My tired breath formed smoke in front of my mouth as if I were a trained smoker. I never smoke, too proud for that. Tilted hat and raised collars tried to hide my face from both the obstinate cold and the onlookers, if any; this wasn’t a friendly neighborhood after all, not now. The ochre overcoat hung limply over my sagging shoulders. Gloved fingers unconsciously wrapped tightly over my work briefcase, it was my only prized possession. The gumboots led my feet through the puddled pavement; the dark pathway wasn’t much visible, not even beneath my feet, except beneath the yellow lamps, so I let them have their way.

Tiny beads of perspiration formed at the roots of my hair even in this cold. The hat stuck tightly. Every night from work to home my heart would beat faster lessening my lifespan. Once inside my four walls I had to take pills for my blood pressure. Every night I feared would be the last night. I would change paths, no path was traversed too frequently, sneak into unlikely boulevards, even run into a nearby basement when fear took the better of me. I thought the fear would subdue eventually, that I would get used to it but the fear of death never weakens.

The neighborhood was not always like this. The city was not always like this. It was a small town, brimming with integrity. For some reason it stayed underdeveloped the way it was while the rest of the country flourished. There was neither oil to be found nor croplands to be tilled. Some inertia prevented it from growing but people were happy in this low lying island of a town. But it made the people hollow. Men cannot live without pride, without winning, without sin. Unblemished happiness does not last long. Men started imitating their neighbors, tall buildings were raised but never completed, inefficient industries polluting the river stole the scenery, laws were compromised and when needed broken, rich people without consciences who would earlier be not even allowed to step in the town were now worshiped. The city lost its soul. People became happy, then irrational, then scared. Started living together in small well-knit colonies. Whole neighborhoods were left to slums and gangs. I saw it all happening.

Why did I live alone then? Why did I not choose the life of compromise, the life of safety that everybody else chose? Why did I choose to live in my childhood home? May be it was childish stubbornness. May be I could not live like them. May I could not let them hurt my childhood memories while I was still alive. May be I cherished them more than my life. My hair was growing grey prematurely, but I would stay here till my heart would allow. Every night I reached home I rejoiced, it was a night I won and they lost. I lived for winning. Life was meaningless without resistance. It gave me reason, it gave me purpose. Or may be I was plain crazy.

I was one turn from my home. I had almost won tonight, just when tires screeched, someone had turned the steering to its full potential. A small car, what it was I could not tell in the darkness, materialized in front of me. Its headlights made my pupils contract to pinpoint and it still hurt. I could see the devil grinning. Today he would win. I heard gunshots, not one or two but many. The devil was celebrating with great cacophony. It hurt my ears but my arms would not budge, my legs became a part of the pavement, my heart pounded heavily against my chest wishing to beat for a more rational being, my soul had left me long ago. I stood still awaiting the end.

Just then something flickered. I heard fluttering of cloth nearby. Someone had been watching us. I felt angry and humiliated at being witnessed by someone in my weakest moment but then another round of gunshots and fear dethroned anger. But something wasn’t right, why wasn’t I shot yet? They hadn’t seen me in the darkness; the gunshots were not for me but for my spectator. Or was I the spectator now? And in the headlights I saw him for a moment before he melted into the darkness again. He had flown, yes flown like a bird in front of the car. He was tall, eight feet, no ten feet tall. He was a giant. He could not be human. It was as if the night had had enough, had condensed itself to take revenge. The bullets could not touch him he was too fast. Fear was afraid of him. And then the car toppled, huge hands not hands but machines pulled the doors apart. Even from the distance I saw the fear in their pale eyes, there were three of them, they had seen the devil. I smiled; the devil had not come for me but for them. He blocked my view again. I saw nothing but unending darkness. Even the night was pale in front of him. And then they all vanished leaving behind the debris of an overturned car. I was afraid he, no it would come for me next but nothing happened.

My legs regained sense and I ran for my place not looking back once. I took double my pills tonight. I had seen the grim, no I had lost my faith in god long ago, it was no grim, it was a human, he was a human, just like me. I was not alone, he was with me. He too could not give up. He too was crazy like me. Together we would fight, shoulder to shoulder. We would fight for the city, we would fight for the people, we would fight for ourselves and we would win each time. I knew that he knew that I was fighting, it made me happy, made me young again. I threw away the pills, I no more needed them, they did not suit a warrior, he would not like it. The fallen angel had arisen and this time he was human. Death itself was with me, I never felt fear again.