The door swung open and a young woman in an elegant black cocktail dress entered the room. She had a cigarette pack and a lighter in one hand, skillfully balanced along with a clutch.
“Hope you don’t mind,” she said lighting up, even though it was a smoking room. “If I don’t have one right now I will lose my mind.”
Neeru grabbed Sanjay’s glass and gulped down whatever little remained of his beer, wincing at the bitter taste. Her own wine glass lying empty on the table. She glared at her as if willing her to leave the room by the sheer power of her venomous stare. She didn’t like the intrusion. Wanted to be left alone. It was enough that Sanjay was here, trying to placate her. Playing the trusted family friend. It isn’t true, Neeru. He still loves only you. You are reading too much into things. Right. Reading too much into the late night messages, the scent of jasmine on his collar, his impromptu book tours, and that no-reason-smile on his face.
She made a move to get up, but there was nowhere else to get away from the gossiping crowd. Besides, he was downstairs, with her. Whom she thought was “her.” And she didn’t trust herself to behave.
“That’s your home?” said Ridhima. Marvelling at the four-story mansion that sprawled before them surrounded by acres and acres of fresh green, manicured lawns. Against the azure sky, it looked like a scene out of a fairytale. Whoever knew there was so much open space in a city like Delhi. If she was still angry with him for keeping such an important fact about his life – his family – a secret from her, it was fast dissipating. Getting replaced by childlike wonder and awe. A kid lost in a candy store.
Somewhere at the back of her mind, he feared, realization may be dawning that this grand place, this entire estate, could someday be theirs.
“Is that you, Moonish?” said a voice he had all but relegated to forgotten parts of his memory.
He thought he had seen the worst of it when Chanchal from HR had come over for his documents, a little after a month of being made permanent.
“Mr. Ghosh,” he’d said, “has little to do with practical matters … such as paperwork. You’re practically a ghost in our system, Mr. Moonish. We don’t even know if that’s your first or last name.”
“Both,” Moonish had grinned boyishly, flashing his newly fixed pearly whites, at the thin, studious-looking man looking up at him all earnest, blinking rapidly behind his thick, horn-rimmed spectacles, near opaque.
After treating the man to hot tea and samosas at the nearby tea shop, Moonish was promptly guided to a photocopy-wala who also dealt with forged certificates on the side.
He hadn’t seen this coming.
Among the new hires was a young woman, Ridhima, same age as him. Bright eyes, though plain-looking. Her most striking feature her chin. It gave her character, a fullness of the mouth. And though he couldn’t take his eyes off her, to her he was all eyes and hair. At least at the beginning. When she avoided him off hours.
He reeked, she told one of the other guys. Hadn’t he ever heard of cologne?
It was that that had him install a shower in his bathroom and invest in a soap more expensive than cafeteria lunch. But he realized that just smelling nice wasn’t going to be enough. Not if he wanted her to notice him as a person … as someone she may see a future with one day.
As the word got around, people came to the museum especially to see him. He was a one-man show. There to entertain.
At first, he merely hung about the installations in a ballroom-like space. Moving from one set to another. Acting like a hunter spearing a wolf, or sharpening a tool made of stone, or scratching two rocks to ignite a stack of twigs. But after a few days of this, he soon tired of the routine. The forced stillness was contrary to the freedom he felt in his bones. The urge to move about, interact. To experience everything anew. And not just linger in a corner and wither away into the evening when everybody went home, the museum was sealed closed, and he returned to the streets. To the life of a nobody.
He was more than done with this life.
As days passed and the sun continued to rise and set behind the frozen sky, the fat lady shrank and shrank.
This worried the villagers no end. They had made peace with a possible return to the dark ages, as it were. Even a world without rain. Or other worldly possessions now out of their reach. The Mayor was certain there was enough wood, water, and seeds to keep them going for a few generations, if not more. But all that planning and calculation would be meaningless if Mrs. Godse were to come falling down, or go flying out, which may be the case in the end, wouldn’t it?
Lines across the universe
Those famous lines
That our hands define
They make me yours
They make you mine
Where the grass grows high
And flowers bloom aplenty
Where the breeze has lost its merry way
Where the summer sun smiles down on endless meadows
But shade’s only a step away
Here grows my heart forever
No matter where my body dwells
In case you’ve read Part 4 before, please note that this is a revised version.
The word spread that Mrs. Godse, for that was her name, knew all the comings- and goings-on in the village. For the very next day, at Uncle Goswami’s grocery store, Mrs. Vashisht, while buying the last of the packaged bread, ran into Mrs. Grover, another neighbor, whose coriander and mint plants were a particularly favorite hunting ground for their common “rabbity” foe. Mrs. Grover was more than all ears. And soon the word traveled across the neighborhood and made it back to their yard, where people, minus the culprit, queued before the scaffold for their turn to climb up and have a talk with their all-knowing savior from God.
“Mrs. Godse,” asked one lady, who’d lost a glass eye the other day and was rather peeved at being teased for her pirate patch, “do you know what happened to my other eye?”
Two friends, backpacking across the Western Ghats, arrived by the early morning train at a small town station. It was a day like none other. As the train curved through another of the many moss-covered tunnels and emerged into the first rays of sunlight, they were embraced by a soft blanket of mist. It ran beside them, through the woods, and across the cabin, through the open window, like a mischievous ghost on wheels, making them laugh.
But when they disembarked, they were no longer laughing. No longer human. Much like the zombie-town that lay before them. In ruins under the mist.