‘Ahaha! How sad to think that there is in this world
Nothing more miserable than human existence ‘
– Kumaranasan, ‘Karuna’
“Aren’t you going to get off?”
Hanging desperately on the locker with his left hand, the conductor, who looked neither young nor old, asked him. “The place you bought the ticket for is way behind us.”
“Yes! Stop the bus!” He said, waking up suddenly and looking anxiously out into the night. Whether the driver rang the bell or not or the driver stopped the bus or not, he found himself in the dark outside as the bus sped toward its destination.
Later, he would reexamine those confusing moments several times in his mind. Were there other passengers on the bus? And were they, except perhaps a handful, asleep, swinging like broken pendulums? Did any of them wake up to hear the voice of the headmaster and look at him with interest? Perhaps a child had laughed.
He thought the driver had grabbed him by the shoulder and woken him up. The pain left in his shoulder must be from the director’s fingers. Or did you hit him against something when he climbed up? He tried to imagine that the driver, with the help of some passengers, pushed him out of the bus. In the end, he decided that, in the anxiety of having missed his stop, he had gone out alone.
Frozen darkness slammed against his leg and hurt him. In the silence, the sound of the bus engine still echoed in his ears. When his dream-dazed mind cleared and the feeling of anxiety left him, he began to doubt whether he had even been on a bus. All he was sure of was the fact that he was here, on this road, in the dark. He shook off those confused thoughts with a smile.
When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized that the place was completely deserted. He had acted foolishly. You should have bought another ticket and stayed on the bus until you could get off at a suitable stop with at least a couple of shops. Reluctant to believe in his complete isolation, he looked around, hoping to see a distant light from a house that had not yet retired for the night. But there was nothing except a slight breeze.
As always, the four of them, Kunjumon, Devasia, Punnan, and Soman, got on the bus and sat together on the long back seat. He was never alone on the bus because he was not the last to get off. They sat together chatting and laughing, their jokes always eliciting the most laughs.
He was also known for his jokes at his workplace. He would make up lewd stories about Beena, who had big breasts and a round butt, and Soman, stories that sounded almost real and made everyone laugh in a cacophony. And when his stories threatened to completely cross the line of decency, Soman scolded him, but his reluctant use of profanity made them laugh even more. He always got off at their stop, leaving them a nugget to laugh at.
He stood on the side of the road for a long time, waiting for the headlights of a bus or a private vehicle. The area was flat and the road was lost in the distance without curves. Thinking that speeding vehicles through the deserted night might have enough time to see him and stop, he walked to the middle of the road and stood there.
Until a moment ago, he clearly knew where he was coming from, but now he had lost track of where he was going. If you were to go right, you should be standing to the left of the road and vice versa.
A sudden sound froze him in his tracks. Perhaps a snake or a rat moving through the dry leaves. He stepped off the asphalt and noticed that there were no dry leaves at the edges, not even dry stalks of grass. His incipient fear scared him. One’s mind can pretend to be happy or sad, but fear is different. He was not the type of person who panicked and made a fuss when he saw a snake.
Wondering why he felt scared, the traveler carefully walked forward. He didn’t have to fear the dark or ghosts, not even thieves or robbers who might be roaming around like spirits. All he had in his possession was his lunch box which was not even properly washed and a small amount of money.
Usually he didn’t pay attention to small noises, but when there was another disturbance, his ears would perk up. At first, it sounded like water flowing through a small canal, but he realized it was the sound of winged termites coming out of the ground. He reached into the swarm.
If he hadn’t fallen asleep on the bus and unexpectedly ended up in this deserted place, a few more termites would have staggered into the sky instead of slapping his hand and falling back to the ground. He mistakenly assumed that there were houses nearby, and that their owners had turned off the lights against the swarms of insects.
At that moment, he came very close to discovering the reason for his fear. It was the first time that he was so completely alone. “I’ve never seen anyone refuse to be alone even when they go to the bathroom and continue to talk to someone outside,” his wife had exclaimed shortly after they were married.
“I was not alone, not even in my mother’s womb,” he had replied. “And when we went out, we had all these brothers and sisters waiting for us.”
In the mornings, when he and his siblings lined up and walked to the north complex to defecate, the neighborhood children who had no siblings shouted somewhat dejectedly: “There goes the procession of the shitters.”
They would sit in line and shit until the place was called a shitty yard. At night they slept, pushing and kicking, on two mats on the floor.
When he was a stocky young man, when he first got a job at the company, he had tried to make a woman fall in love with him. After the siren that announced the end of the working day, accompanied by seven or eight of his friends, he followed her home, trying, on the way, to get her to speak to him. “What’s the point of even considering it?” he asked those who intervened on his behalf. “He is never alone!”
While his back was to the road, he felt that a vehicle passed him and that the vehicle without light, silent and without exhaust had traveled through his mind. It should have reached out and it could have stopped. It might have been his last chance to escape the gelatinous darkness of the night. He imagined that he felt the wind as the silent vehicle passed him, and that the leaves of the few scattered plants trembled on it.
In that state, he looked down at himself and spoke, somewhat aloud. Just a random chatter, loud enough to hear if a dozen people were around. He had seen the veterans at the beginning of the mental imbalance talk like this, gesticulating. With an innate sense of shame, he looked around to see if anyone had seen him and kept walking. In the feeling of complete freedom, he lifted his mundu, scratched his bottom and let out a loud fart.
“Even that nasty bastard would be fine,” he said, kicking the dirt, thinking of an old man he and his friends had once made mush. He had forgotten why, except that the old man had done something wrong, something like trying to hurt a child with whom he had been left alone.
“It would explain to me if you were alone,” the old man had said when he hit his face. That night, he had gone to bed thinking that his punches weren’t strong enough since he had no prior experience of punching. persons. And he had dreamed something about his arms and legs not following where his mind was going.
He rarely had dreams because he was in the habit of talking for most of the night, falling asleep late, and waking up early. If he had been able to find the old man now, he could have sat across from him and listened to his rationalizations.
At that moment, he realized he was walking down a packed dry dust lane that had forked onto the main road. It looked like it was about to rain, and if it did, you might experience that unique earthy smell for the first time.
A small building jutted out of the road, and when he saw it, he felt as happy as if he had bumped into a person. It looked like a store, just a room and a veranda. He ran his hand along the low wall surrounding the gallery, examined it, and sat down. Those who had sat there during the day had cleaned up the dust. Discarded pieces of paper crunched under his feet.
He could read the large letters written on the walls even in the dark. ____ Memorial reading room. The spelled letters in whose memory it had been created had vanished. It must be Indira Gandhi’s memorial reading room, he thought.
“She was a woman with balls,” he had told his wife on the day of Indira Gandhi’s death. His sons were named Rajeev and Sanjay. He had never come across reading rooms named after him. Probably because you hadn’t really paid attention, you only see what interests you.
He was not surprised to find that he had never read anything but his school books and newspapers. He only read the newspaper headlines and avoided the rest, saying that things had not changed since his birth.
Extracted with permission from Adam, S Hareesh, translated from Malayalam by Jaysree Kalathil, Vintage.