Oblivion9 mins 157 9 mins 157
“Help me. Remind me why I’m here.” A distraught voice broke my reverie momentarily. The sun was sinking beneath the horizon tinting the sky with a brilliant golden hue. The congested streets of Jamshedpur were bustling with traffic and the proximity had descended into pandemonium with incessant honking of horns and the clamoring of the hawkers trying to lure people to buy their wares. The day’s work had been exhausting - you would concur with me if ever you get a boss who constantly gets infuriated with any exiguous mistake that you commit and you got a deadline to worry about too. I was on my way to my home and would have reached had it not been for a flat tire. So here was I, amid a bazaar in Sakchi waiting for the mechanics to figure out the problem, sitting on a bench. I’d drifted off to a nap before the insolent interruption.
“Sir? Please help!”
I swear that for an instant my temper had got the better of me. But the voice was that of a young boy - perhaps in his late teens - going by his visage and what mollified me was the pitiable state that he was in. A tattered T-shirt and a pair of loose, oversized trousers were the only garments he had donned as if he was completely impervious to the frigid climate. He didn’t have any shoes or slippers on and had an overall shabby appearance.
I chose to ignore him like I always do with all the other vagabonds. This one, however, seemed very obstinate and persistent. He inched closer to me and started tugging at my shirt - first gently and then briskly. I’d to relent eventually.
“What do you want?” I enquired, brusquely. “Can’t you see I’m having a bad day? Why choose to heckle me? Is it money that you want? Here, take some and get lost…” I endeavored to get rid of him by flashing a 50-rupees note at him, but he unexpectedly grabbed my hands into his and started sobbing.
“I can’t remember...I’m lost,” he said, his lachrymose eyes placating my reaction.
“What can’t you remember?”
“Why I’m here...I feel lost in the buzz.”
“Okay, but who are you? And you must have some reason to have come here into this city.”
“My name is Sujit. As to the reason that I’ve come here, it’s inexplicable, sir. I can’t recall anything in the recent past. I can only remember that there was fire everywhere and pain...excruciating pain…,” he flinched as he said that.
“How come you turned up here? I mean, you must have undertaken some journey.”
“Frankly speaking, sir, it’s still obscure...it’s like my instincts are telling me that I've got something to do here. But, the problem is I can’t remember. Can you help me? Please, I’m starving and I don’t know anybody here who can provide me some shelter. I need some rest…” he implored, with joined hands.
Now that he stood facing me, I could see his face clearly. His countenance was of dusky complexion marred by lines of distress. A lithe youth, with jet-black hair, he was almost as tall as me and otherwise had a robust physique - if it had not been for some recent happenstance that had purportedly altered his life. I noticed that there were some small cuts and bruises too all over his face and also some parts of his bare arms. He was bleeding profusely.
“I think you ought to be taken to a dispensary,” said I, “you would’ve to get those nasty injuries dressed up or you might get sepsis.”
“NOOOOO!” he bellowed, startling me. Several passers-by halted in their tracks to see the drama unfolding.
“Okay, okay!” I said, trying to soothe him. “Cool down. So, what’s the alternative then? Because you ain’t looking pretty either. I mean, you need to be treated somewhere to start with.”
“Sir, take me anywhere but a hospital or a dispensary. It’s the last place I want to be. The pungent smells that exude in that ambiance are utterly nauseating. You’re also aware of how they’re brimming with cases of contagious diseases. I beg you - please - don’t take me to a hospital,” he rattled off meekly.
I was embroiled in a dilemma of being a Samaritan or ignoring him. Half of my conscience solicited me to succor him. The other half warned me that it might not go down well - he might get unruly and start demanding more services from me. A gentle, chilly breeze ruffled the hairs on my head and made me shiver slightly. I noticed that the guy hadn’t any clothes on. You can conjecture that my compassionate side took over.
“Okay. I’m gonna take you to my home for the time being. It’s getting dark and it’s very windy and cold outside...maybe you can put it up at our residence for tonight. And then, we can contact an NGO or something so that they can ascertain where you came from and might aid you further.”
“Thank you!” he said, excitably, shaking my hands vigorously. “I’ll always be grateful for this gesture.”
It took another hour for the mechanics to figure out the problem and set it right and soon after that we were homebound with me behind the steering occasionally dodging cows who materialized out of nowhere on the cobbled streets and cursing at the poor acumen of the rogue drivers. During this period, he was very reticent and this surprised me a little as I’d fathomed that he would be garrulous, on the contrary.
I’d rented a flat in the not-so-swanky locality of Bhalubasa - at least till my boss doesn’t stay adamant and give me some promotion or even a salary hike.
“Hey, look who’s come! None other than my hubby, the most handsome man in the world,” my wife said, warmly, as soon as she answered the bell which I’d been pressing petulantly. Her expression hardened a bit when she saw the boy behind me. “Who’s this uninvited guest? A new household help, perhaps?”
“His name is Sujit. I’ll tell you more once I’m inside.”
I narrated the day’s happenings in a nutshell. My wife is a tremendously patient listener. She didn’t interrupt me even once nor did she betray any signs of getting judgmental over my course of actions. When I finished, she pursed her lips and seemed to enter into a contemplative trance for a while. After some time, she got up and fetched a newspaper.
“You said that the last thing that you remember is fire,” she said, directly talking to him. “Do you remember which place it was?”
“No…,” he said, in a low voice. “I can just visualize the burning bogie of a train and people screaming...and the suffering aftermath. I didn’t stop for help...the pain was too much to endure. So, I scooted off and ended up in the bazaar. I asked many people to help. Nobody paid any heed to me save for your husband. He is indeed a God.”
“Wait, what!” my wife, exclaimed suddenly. “You say that you’re a victim of a train mishap. Why it’s all there in today’s edition.”
She was right. The front page of the newspaper bore the grim headlines: ‘Mishap at Chakulia Station As Train Gets Derailed, 54 Killed.’ Rest of the column comprised murky details of the accident that had transpired a day before and an ode to the deceased.
I felt an uneasy knot unraveling in my stomach. My wife sensed it too probably as she said, “Why not take him immediately to a hospital? He is still bleeding. He should have the medical facilities at his disposal. We can’t do anything for him.”
“He already made it clear that he isn’t willing to go to a hospital,” said I, nervously. “He was particularly insistent that the wounds are superficial and a first aid alone is sufficient.”
“I don’t know if this is the correct way. I mean, he needs treatment…”
“With all due respect, ma’am, sorry for intruding,” Sujit said, warmly. “I know that I’ve shouldn’t have dragged you into my plight. I just wanted a roof for the night and some rest. This incident has taken a toll on me. I solicit you to just give me some bandages and antiseptics, that would suffice for the injuries incurred. And some food, as I’m very hungry.”
My wife acceded to his demands straight away - providing him with some first aid, helping him clean up, as he winced, and also making him some omelets, which he devoured ravenously. We offered him a couch to sleep in for the night and reached the consensus to try and approach an NGO the next day to seek help. After my dinner, I went straight to my bed, worn out by the day’s ordeal and the overpowering fatigue.
I had a weird but pleasant dream that night. I dreamt that I got a salary hike, impressed my wife on V-Day, and were having a merry gala time in Paris together. It would have been one of the best dreams that I’d in a long time if only it wouldn’t have been for an impertinent, abrupt interruption.
As I opened my eyes, a blinding flash of light startled me. I was fazed to see many cops standing gingerly.
“You’re under arrest, Mr. Mahesh Gupta, for aiding and abetting a fugitive. You have the right to remain silent. Anything that you say will be against you in a court of law. The same charges apply for your wife as well,” said one rotund cop, assiduously.
“Wait, what happened?” my wife was awake now too, rubbing her eyes, evidently as flummoxed as I was.
“So convenient, right?” he said, smirking. “Pretending to be asleep and be oblivious. Maybe, this might jog your memory.”
He switched on the television and navigated to the local news channel. “We’re receiving reports that a dreaded and notorious Maoist revolutionary, Ajit Toppo, was spotted in a Bhalubasa locality today. Our viewers will remember we’d reported his intrepid escape in a jailbreak at dawn two days ago. The uncanny coincidence today is that a murder has also been committed in the same locality. As we speak, police have already launched a search operation for the absconding. More information will be relayed to you as soon as we’re apprised of the tidings. For constant updates, stay tuned to our channel,” the news anchor said, in her impassive voice.
“This must be a mistake,” I said, fully awake now. “I’m just an ordinary sales manager. My wife is a businesswoman. We’ve no motive to help him.”
“It is the ordinary people that wreak extraordinary events,” said the rotund cop, who was probably the inspector-in-charge. “Save your excuses for the trial. Take them away.”
My encephalon didn’t even get time to properly process what happened in the course of the next few minutes. I was dazed and couldn’t protest as darbies clinked on our wrists and both of us were blindfolded and roughly escorted away by the stolid policemen.