Sunday, 10 June 2012

Short Story 2012 Longlist, Bhavna Bhuta

Untitled

Arun stood outside the gate. It was to open any minute and let him out. Arun had contemplated several times whether to come and claim the man or not. It had been a battle ever since Arun had got a notice. Surprised they traced him as the claimant, Arun had been contemplating this visit for the last two months. Sometimes the Government worked in strange ways, he thought.

He didn’t remember anything about the man. He had sat at the sea shore the previous evening, smoking his cigarette. He tried hard to dig up emotions which would make a decision for him, but was disappointed by his own soul. He didn’t feel anything for the man, not love or hatred.
Currently he was unemployed. The company he had been working for was relocating which was not a good option for Arun. He had made his life here in Mumbai. Starting all over in a new city would have amounted to a lot of work. To claim the man from the Government would mean supporting him as well.
But he did have some curiosity. What would be like to have a real blood relative? It was his curiosity that led him to the gate this morning.
Arun heard the old, erstwhile blue, now a rotten brown gate open, almost crying out of pain.
Arun did not know what to expect. He looked at his reflection in the window of the car he was leaning against. He heard the sound of the big Iron Gate opening. Would there be a lot of people stepping out, would he have to distinguish the man?

Arun saw his hand borrowing a light from the hawaldar. His feet showed themselves first, simple yet clean feet. The wrinkles shone through the leather of the chappals he was wearing. Arun looked up. His build was the same, slightly shorter to Arun. His face was different from what he had imagined. He could see his eyes. He had a beard and thick grey hair.  He was wearing a kurta pyjama. It took a moment for Arun to register the face, which seemed to have aroused some etched-in uneasy feeling. Suddenly he regretted his decision. He wanted to turn back.

Arun could do with another cigarette, he thought. The man stood at the gate watching him. Arun decided to move first. A police constable escorted him with papers in hand. ‘Sign these please’, he said in his contemptuous, condescending voice. Arun signed the papers. He turned to walk towards his car. The man walked behind him carrying his own bag. Arun found his car.
‘Bindan get up’, he said to the man at the driver seat.

Bindan got up with a start. He took the bag off the man’s hand and quickly put it in the boot without saying a word. Arun sat next to the driver deliberately, while the man sat at the back. It was a quiet journey back home until he got a call from his friend Sachin.
‘I’m busy tonight, I’ll join you tomorrow’, Arun said abruptly as he hung up the phone. They reached 21 Shangrila. Bindan opened his door and took the bag out from the boot.   They took the elevator to the third floor. Bindan unlocked the door, putting the bag down. On entering, he guided the man to his room. Arun retreated to his room. ‘Bindan take care of him will you, I am tired. I am going to call it a day’.
Arun shut his room door behind him, latching his door. He could now breathe. Having felt no connection with the man, he decided to give it time. He closed his eyes. Sleep didn’t come to him easily these days, especially since he had stopped working. He contemplated going out and checking on the man but something stopped him.

He turned on the T.V.  A good distraction, he thought. He surfed, nothing seemed interesting. He switched to the news.  A ship had been hijacked. He switched the channels again. The stock market was down. He switched again. A man who had received life imprisonment for murdering his wife had been released today. Arun froze.  H-how on earth!!

He didn’t know whether he should follow the story or switch channels. He tried switching, but came back quickly to it.

‘Mr. Upadhyay was released today after 25 long years. This channel had covered the story 25 years ago. The channel did not get to speak to the man, but here is a recap. Mr. Pramod Upadhyay, a resident of the erstwhile Rose Manor building was a well-to-do business man. His neighbours witnessed screaming coming from next door. Mr. Upadhyay fled the house from the window. The neighbours pushed the door open and found his wife lying in a pool of blood. He was found absconding four days later. He denied the accusation; and after a long trial was found guilty. He had a four year old son then’.

‘We were interestingly able to get an interview with him today. Here is what he had to say….’
Journalist : ‘Sir, how does it feel to be free’.
The man : ‘It feels good’.
His voice was without any emotion.
Journalist : ‘Who is coming to fetch you?’
The man : ‘my son is’.
Journalist : ‘Have you been in touch with him all these years?’
The man : ‘No’.
Journalist : ‘Then how come he is coming to pick you?’
The man : ‘I don’t know. I was informed that he is coming. I don’t know how they found him’.
Journalist :’Sir, with all due respect, any regrets?’
The man : ‘Yes, I made a mistake…and my son suffered because of me’.
He was now whispering.
Journalist : ‘Sir, how will you face him today?’
The man : ‘I don’t know if he will accept me?’
The man looked nervous.
The man : ‘I don’t want to talk about this anymore…I-I am sorry’.
He was now stammering.
The news reader went back to her newsroom.

‘Hopefully he is able to re-build his life’, she said, concluding the news piece.
Arun was shaking. The news channel had told him all that he had wanted to find out his entire life. He could feel his tears drying up, leaving his skin feeling cold. He wanted to bawl like a baby. Even though with all his yoga, and vipasana he had gone beyond blaming this man, today he felt like a child who had questions.

He couldn’t think anymore. He got out of bed, wiping his on-going tears. ‘Why?’, his head was banging now, with the same question repeating again and again.
Arun stepped outside his room, drunk with emotion. ‘Baba…baba Arun, don’t go there’, Bindan tried to stop him. In his state, he didn’t realise he had pushed Bindan away, almost hurting him.
Arun banged on the door. The door didn’t open, he banged harder and harder, till it finally came open by itself.
It was dark, he couldn’t see anything. He needed support, he leaned against the side table, struggling to find the light switch. The light came on. It was Bindan who had turned on the light. The room was empty. The bed had been untouched. 

There was an envelope on the bed. Arun shivered at the thought of opening the envelope. He kept looking at it, as if it were the evil. Bindan picked up the envelope and handed it over to Arun.
With trembling hands, Arun opened the enveloped. There was a letter inside. He opened the letter, wiping his tears.
‘I am sorry beta’.
That’s all. That’s all. That’s all he had to say to me! Bindan tried to hold on to Arun, but Arun couldn’t stand anymore. He wanted to fall to the floor, the only thing that would support him.

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