On the Road / Ashok Patel

It was one hour past midnight, stormy weather, with no sign of the storm abating. An ocean of darkness that concealed everything. Its dark silence was violently ripped apart by the violent wind shrieking and speeding along. The shrill cries of the howling wind rushing across the landscape tearing and ripping apart everything that came its way, obscured all other sounds. The howling wind sped along raising dust storm that blinded the eyes. To shield myself against the blinding effect, I pulled up the glasses of my car and sat locked inside, alone.

It was not a voluntary decision, the car stood stranded by the roadside because the rear tyre was punctured. I was marooned in an ocean of darkness. It was not a pleasure trip but a compelling necessity. I regretted having brushed aside my friend’s advice. The plight I found myself in, was not going to end soon. They had repeatedly requested me to spend the night in the hotel but I refused to do so. There was no point crying over spilt milk.

Caged in my car on a dark night, I could do nothing to change my situation. The situation wouldn’t have been so aggravating if my mobile phone had been functioning. But unfortunately it had lost connectivity due to a snag in the network which, in turn, was the result of the bad weather. Without network the phone was as useless as a box. I had enjoyed the midnight party with my friends, time had flown very fast but now, it moved at a snail’s pace.

When my mother had told me to come back early by 9 o’clock, I had laughed to myself. “The party starts at 9 o’clock and mother is talking of, winding up the party by 9.” Oh! How I wish I had obeyed my mother. I was equidistant from my home and the hotel, which were approximately at a distance of three kms. The birthday party celebrations were held at a 5 star hotel. My friends had spent the night there and had tried to persuade me to do the same. I refused to comply. Now they were all under a roof while I was stranded in a punctured car, with the weather playing havoc.

The location was the main market of the town. Although it was a busy market place during the day, the streets were deserted now, at this unearthly hour. The street lights though installed, were not functioning because of the strong gale. I switched off the body light and switched on the headlight. In spite of that, nothing was visible, except the dust particles swimming in the air.

It was a dreadful dark night, with the darkness sprawling endlessly, devouring everything. The dark clouds spread across the sky had blotted out the moonlight completely. I sat inside the car waiting for the storm to abate, for the street lamps to light up, for the mobile to resume its function.

Gradually as the dust particle settled, the visibility increased a little. Pulling down the glass windows to assess the weather I noticed that the gale had subsided into a cool breeze. The roaring storm had subsided into a gentle whisper. In a short while, the wind too stopped blowing. A dead calm pervaded everything, with the dark clouds still shrouding the sky, the darkness was unrelenting. Only the headlight still faintly illuminated the darkness. Dead silence reigned supreme instilling a fear that gripped the heart. The long wait for the network to start functioning had ended, but the battery was discharged, so I was handicapped. I couldn’t use the mobile.

Though the storm had subsided, the roads were deserted at this unearthly hour …. No vehicles plying on the road … not a single soul in sight.. The weather had forced them to stay indoors. The busy hours extended from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. At 2.30 a.m. one couldn’t expect to see people roaming on the streets. This was a time to sleep.

Fortunately, the street lamps lighted up, illuminating the darkness. In that great flood of light the headlight became inconspicuous. Had my mobile been charged, I would have called up my friends and asked for help. Tired of sitting inside the car, I got out.

Though it was a dreadful dark night full of grave forebodings, I was not afraid, because I was in my own  town, in a well-known locality. I stood near the car lazily gazing around everything wore a desolate look. I stood admiring the street lights bordering the road. They appeared beautiful, stretched in a long line. But when I saw the streets ahead, they appeared like small earthen lamps as if suspended on the poles by an unknown hand. The plantation on the divider enhanced the beauty, adding a new dimension to it.

I wondered, was I the only one to notice the beauty of the streets? Why hadn’t I noticed this beauty before? I wondered again. Perhaps the reason was I had never watched them so intensely before. Suddenly I noticed two little girls playing with bricks on the road. Dressed in frocks that were miserably torn and dirty, besmeared with dirt, with unkempt hair, all disheveled, they played merrily, unaware about their misery and poverty. Engrossed in their game of moving bricks along the road, oblivious of all else, they laughed joyfully as they played their humble game. They didn’t go far, but played within vicinity.

I wanted to go near them but fear of frightening them stopped me. Perhaps deterred by my presence, they might stop playing. I did not want to mar their jollity, so I kept away, secretly watching them from a distance. Taking vicarious pleasure in their game, I soon became as engrossed as they and as oblivious of all else as they were.

Suddenly I noticed a few people sleeping by the roadside, about four of them. It was not possible to guess their gender, because they were wholly wrapped in blankets.

The blankets were torn and dirty. Since the girls were playing near them, I guessed their parents must be among them. They were sleeping soundly, while their children were enjoying their game. They were too young to have any sense of time, or to be bound by them. Children live in a world of their own, unsullied by time and space. Like adults they don’t have fixed ideas about anything. Carefree and jovial they went to bed when overpowered by sleep, and when they awoke, they began to play ….. carefree existence not shackled by time, space or propriety. Extremely sweet looking, innocent hearts …

I felt like cuddling them, but afraid of frightening them I refrained from doing so. Intruding upon their privacy might scare them. So I just stood by, observing them with a keen enjoyment. I was no longer in a hurry to reach home, being so enraptured by such sweet display of innocence and charm. Their laughter rang with merriment, sometimes clapping with joy.

Just then, one woman got up, stopped their play and took them to bed. Probably she was their mother. They all soon slipped back into a deep slumber. How I wished to see those girls playing once again! How I wished to cuddle them, give them chocolates, befriend them! I kept gazing in their direction with a vague hope that they would soon get up and resume their game. If my wish was fulfilled, I would surely take them in my arms and offer them chocolates. Now I eagerly waited for them to wake up.

Tired of standing outside, I went inside my car. It was 3 a.m., how I hoped they would get up after sometime, at dawn. I eagerly waited for the moment. I saw the chocolate lying in the car. Ten chocolates in all. I took them in my hands and happily said to myself, ‘I would give them five chocolates each, when they got up. Their little hands would hardly be able to hold them. How delighted they would be? Just as I used to be, when I was a child. I kept them on the adjoining seat and sat expectantly.

Suddenly I noticed a car heading on with great speed. The driver was probably drunk and was driving very rashly. Before I could collect my thoughts, the car sped along crushing the poor souls. Though I followed the car, it was a futile attempt. Within minutes, it disappeared out of sight. I was running on foot, how I could catch up. In the course of my chase, I had covered a distance of one K.M. My feet were bruised and two of my toes were chopped off, by broken pieces of glass. The men sitting inside the car had hurled a bottle at me, when I was pursuing them.

Though badly injured, I could not feel the pain, because I was benumbed by a horrific tragedy, that had just occurred. Dazed and stupefied, I felt no sensation anywhere except in my heart. The pain was unbearable and I was stricken with grief, regret and anger.

In utter despair I slumped down on my knees on the road itself,……… crying profusely, bitterly, agonizingly. Their loving, innocent faces impinged upon my consciousness again and again. The echo of their horrific agonizing cry, tore my heart to shreds. The cry of pain though brief, had pierced the skies. What was their fault after all? What had they done to deserve such a terrible end? Was it poverty?

Were they paying the price of poverty. The man responsible for this mindless butchery, what was he intoxicated by? …… Alcohol … or money? Was there any hope of their survival? Would the children be able to play again?

Rushing to them quickly, with a vain hope, I removed the blankets. It was a sight, gruesome to behold. Blood crusted, they lay in a pool of blood. Each one of them …. A mangled mass of flesh and bones. Horror struck to the very marrow of my bones, screeching grief and fury was unleashed within me. I gathered up the mangled corpse of the two girls in my arms, I sat amidst the river of blood flowing mercilessly around me. I had never imagined that the desire to cuddle them would be fulfilled in such a gruesome manner … so tragically. The incredibly gruesome picture stood in sharp contrast to their innocent, childlike pleasure. My desire to treat them with a feast of chocolates remained unfulfilled. The honey turned to gall.

The weather suddenly turned foul, unleashing fury. The thunder rolled like a demon gone mad, the wind turned violent, streaks of lightning, with a crackling sound zigzagged across the sky. The heavens broke open in a torrential downpour. Night seemed treacherous and greedy. Perhaps the sky wept aloud, heart brokenly. The silent road, which I had admired so intensely a short while ago, turned sinister … ghastly. It seemed as if, on both sides of the road were placed not lamps, but heads of gorgon, their eyes emitting fire, lying in wait to pounce upon their prey. The lights went out and darkness inundated

everything. Out of night’s smudged face emerged strange, tumultuous, horrific sounds …. Noisy tumult of the clouds rumbling threateningly, sharp and crackling sounds of lightning and my loud resounding bitter cry of pain.

The sinful fury gathered momentum, with the sharp wind breaking into a violent storm, the lightening and crackling more frequent, rumblings becoming increasingly ominous, the downpour violent and merciless. The downpour freezing into pellets of hailstorm, hitting me like tiny pebbles, and I, sitting among the mangled ruin , in a pool of blood, with the two girls in my arms, who were spouting blood.

 

Ashok Patel studied biotechnology at DAVV, Indore, India. His short stories have appeared in Madhya Pradesh State Literature Academy’s magazine Saakshatkar, Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University’s magazine Hindi Discourse and other places. He lives in Indore, India.

 

 

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