Sunday 30 May 2021

Manish Ranjan, Prose 500 2021 Longlist

Dance of Life

He sat there, basking in the afternoon Sun, with his back to the brick wall. Bowed down, his bald head reflected the sunshine. He looked up when I moved in closer to touch his feet.

Pranaam Nana, I greeted him. He did not reply. I looked for a sign of recognition in his eyes. I did not find any.

It’s Vishal, I said, trying harder. He nodded this time.

How are you, the question popped out of my lips. What a wasted question it was? His lips wavered, attempting to reply.

Just counting the days, he shifted in his seat then pointed up. Waiting for the final call.

I smiled awkwardly while he rummaged in his pocket. Out came a small diary. He ruffled through its pages before stopping at one. He showed it to me; a number hastily scribbled alongside a name. Next, he handed me his feature phone. Obviously, he wanted me to dial a number. I did. It was a short call. He barely said anything.

Isn't it Wednesday, he asked me after the call ended.

No, Nana. I shook my head. It's Sunday.

Ooh. He looked confused.

I sat with him for some time while guests came and went. I hardly knew anyone. But they seemed to know me. Some commented on how closely I resembled my mother and others how I did not.

At some point of time, I got a call from work. I walked a little away to take it. Few minutes into the call, I noticed him trying to stand up. Disconnecting the call, I rushed to him.

Do you want to go downstairs, I asked. He nodded. I grasped his waist then took his left arm and placed it on my shoulder. Slowly and steadily, we made our way down the stairs.

His room was dark. And a smell lingered of what could be stale pee. I turned the lights on. In the dim glow of an incandescent lamp, I could make out a bed in one corner with a mosquito net hanging over it. I walked him to the bed. There, he sat comfortably.

You're Vishal, right? He was smiling now. I was quite surprised. I nodded in affirmation.

You're his son, right? He uttered my father's name. I nodded again.

We talked a little. And then some. After that, he crawled inside the canopy of the mosquito net.

Enjoy the wedding, he said.

Stepping out of the room, I heard the sound of drums and saw my niece running up to me.

Mama, let's dance. The dhol-baaja has arrived.

I stepped outside the house to a throng of people. My niece dragged me to the centre and urged me to dance.

I did not know how to dance.

Still, I danced.

Because I could.

While I could.

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