Archive for the ‘Short stories’ Category

Tick Tock

May 19, 2016

12 am. The whole city is struggling to come to terms with the day having ended. Like a big monstrous machine shutting down, the noises are gradually getting muffled. At House No. 22 Park Lane the subdued light of a table lamp is still percolating through the thin gauzy fabric of the curtains of the room on the first floor. The window of the room is open and the soft night breeze is trying its best to billow out the curtains a bit. Its adamant nature is rewarded as now and then a slit between the two curtains becomes wide enough to offer a tiny glimpse into the contents of the room. A woman is lying on the bed facing the pillow, presumably reading a book. Her right leg is bent and swinging rhythmically, the left hand is cushioning her face and her unruly black hair is strewn all over her back, a few locks hanging in pretty curls along the sides.

The woman seems to be completely immersed in her reading, oblivious to her surroundings. It is New Moon, the star-studded sky is all out in its full glory, bewitching any prospective star-gazer. The light from the street lamp near the main door of the house makes a soft circle on the pavement below, surrounded by a penumbra. The shadows of the night refused to bow down to the brave but feeble effort of the lamp. Something moves in the shadows beyond the reign of the circle of light. Is it a stray cat out on its nocturnal rendezvous? No…. it is bigger in size, maybe a dog. The shape moves into the circle.  It cannot be!. At this hour? How is it possible?…Perhaps slipped out unseen… the woman upstairs is too engrossed. The child is holding something against her bosom…Ah! A doll. There are two pigtails of curly infant hair and the right-hand thumb is in the mouth…why the child is hardly two! The frills on the little yellow dress sway gently in the breeze, the bare little feet look too fragile for the stony pavement. The little girl is busy gently sucking on her thumb. The empty street and her innocent face make her look even more vulnerable.Her gaze is fixed down the street. The woman is now lying on her back, knees drawn up, and her face hidden behind the book jacket. She ought to know, a dark empty street is no place for a small child to be out on.

A far off purr of a car engine interrupts the silence on the street. The dark end of the street is pierced by the headlights of a car approaching the house. The headlights glow like the eyes of a nocturnal animal out roaming in search of a prey. A taxi rambles lazily to a stop in front of the house. A tall young man alights from the passenger seat, even the feeble light on the street cannot hide his lean athletic frame. He is dressed in a pair of shirt and trousers and a bag is slung over his left shoulder. Flexing and stretching like a lazy cat he is trying to wear off the strain of the long journey. There are a few murmurs as he talks to the cab driver. A flutter as one of the curtains is drawn halfway, against the light from the table lamp, only her silhouette is visible. There is a sharp cry of delight and the woman turns away from the window. A few seconds later. The main door of the house opens and the woman rushes out. Her face is still not clear as she is blocking light from the hallway. Thank God! Now they will see the child. But where is she? She was there under the street light a few moments ago. Perhaps a hallucination, a trick of shadows and light, maybe she is from the neighbouring house. But out alone at night? How strange!

The taxi pulls away.The man quickens his pace to meet the woman and the sounds of happy chatter fill the night as the couple walk arm in arm towards the house. The woman sounds excited and her excited chatter elicits a guttural laugh from the man. Snippets of the conversation   “…very naughty now itself…” drift into the night. The breeze tries to wrap loose night-gown of the woman against the legs of the man as if trying to be a part of this happy reunion. The man pushes the door open with one hand wrapping his other arm protectively around the shoulders of the woman. They enter and the door is gently pushed back but not hard enough as a slit of light from the hallway is still visible on the grass. A movement again from behind the nearby bush, the little head bobs up. With the dear unsteady gait of an infant, the child trots towards the door.The doll is clutched to the bosom and for an instant, the thumb leaves the comfort of the mouth.The child pushes the door back, slips inside and this time the door shuts with a surprising force. Ah! The naughty child troubles the mother so much. The lights in the kitchen are up, some clatter of dishes and 10 minutes later the lights are off.The whole house is now under the firm grasp of the dark inky fingers of the night.

All is quiet on the street, the restful night has finally prevailed upon all the living beings and cajoled them to lay their tired heads on her bountiful bosom, lulling them to sleep, promising the dawn of a new day. But the children of night carry on with their business as usual, a chirping cricket is suddenly answered by its companions and together they croon the song of the night which soon raises to a crescendo permeating the stillness around. A bat swishes by trying to be the dancing ballerina of the musical opera unfolded.

3 am A sudden creaking of the hinges, the door of the house has opened, someone is leaving the house but it’s difficult to see as the hallway lights are off. The form walks towards the street lamp, it is the man and he is holding the baby in his arms. The man pauses inside the circle of light and turns to take a long look at the house. He is dressed in a blue night suit. The child is still holding the doll and the other tiny hand clasps the neck of the man. The man turns and steps out of the circle walking slowly towards the dark end of the street. The child hides her face in the niche between the man’s shoulder and neck probably going back to sleep. Soon both of them get shrouded by the darkness. Oblivious to this mysterious nocturnal excursion of her loved ones, the woman sleeps. The crickets continue with their humming and the bat flits in and out of the shadows.

5 am The eastern sky is turning brighter as the light of the day wakes up from the slumber gently pushing the blanket of the dark night away. The crickets hand over their musical legacy to the few early risers who chirp here and there on the trees. The street is still dark but a periodic tap rings out loud and clear. A bent human form, a very old woman leaning on a stick comes into view. Her walking stick strikes the gravel with a firm tap with her every step. She is walking very slowly.Perhaps another early riser out for her daily morning walk beckoned by the crisp fresh air of the morning. Suddenly she stops in front of the house and takes a purposeful step towards the main door. She takes a painfully long time hobbling to reach it but manages to gently push open the door and enter. What strange going on are happening here?

The sky turns brighter and a pinkish glow lights up the horizon. A loud heart-rending wail from the house pierces the calm of the morning, followed by shrieks of pain. Such is the volume of shrieks that all of a sudden the whole street springs to life;  a few windows of the nearby houses open, anxious faces peep out. The shrieks of pain continue one after the other interspersed with wails of immense sorrow. Door from the neighbouring house opens, a man in a dressing gown and a woman rush out and enter the number 22 hurriedly. The man in the dressing gown rushes out and like a madman starts running to his own house. The shrieks continue to emanate from the house.This morning no one can hear the birds chirping.The man in dressing gown rushes out again and this time he is carrying a stethoscope.An incessant wail of a siren reverberates across the length of the street and an ambulance screeches to a halt outside the house. Three men in white overalls dash into the house. A small crowd gathers and blocks the view of the door. The people move to one side as a stretcher bearing the woman writhing in pain comes into sight. Why the woman is in labour! She is hurriedly carried away by the ambulance while a woman from the crowd and one of the attendants accompany her. The crowd again faces the door..what are they waiting for? Who was that old woman?  Another stretcher is coming through the door. It is carrying a body of the man in …blue night suit! The man in the dressing gown with the stethoscope dangling from his neck shakes his head as he talks to someone from the crowd.People flock around him murmuring, the day noises are still muted and amongst the murmurs, a sentence can be heard “… looks like a massive heart failure….instant death… probably between 3 and 4am….”.The sun has risen and the golden rays filter through the tree leaves and light up the whole street. The birds carry on with their diurnal ditty unmindful of the unfolding of the cycle of death and rebirth that the House No. 22 Park Lane witnessed.Meanwhile, who knows which house the girl in the yellow frock and two pigtails will visit today and where the journey of the man in the blue night suit might end.

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