The night was calm and oddly uneventful for a crummy neighbourhood like Shantinagar, so much so that the lovers on the phone had to revert to the good old soft sensuous susurrations and the locality dogs had called a truce amongst themselves. So tranquil was the setting that even the insomniacs slipped into an alprazolam-induced stupor. The gentle breeze glided like a fairy ship through the empty lanes sending ripples through the bedrooms across the community. There was however one pair of cobwebbed windows which were tightly shut.
If it weren't for the blabbermouth Landlord mouthing about the whereabouts of his tenants, one would think it were a vacant apartment. Inside that bug infested dump of an accommodation endured our troubled protagonist; a twenty-six-year-old recluse. No one in that one-kilometre radius knew the apartment dweller except for the landlord, the caretaker and the Paanwallah. Once in every ten days, the panwallah would order his little helper to deliver a carton of wills flake to the fourth floor-wale bhaiya. For an extra fifty bucks, the caretaker would run his errands, fetch his money from the atm and keep the landlord at bay. Something about him bugged everyone. The fact that he was different from guys his age was enough to create suspicions. Like he never had any friends come over, he never stepped out of his apartment for as long as someone could remember, he never played loud music or contributed to the daily household hubbubs of the community and, his windows remained shut throughout the year. There were conjectures of him being a druggie or a pimp and how his name on the id had to be fake, for he definitely didn't look like a Parthapratim.
Partha's room stank of mould and tobacco, but tonight it had a distinctive foul odour, as though, something had died and decomposed in some dark and stuffy corner of the room. He lay in his bed, pointing his flashlight at the gyrating ceiling fan, wondering if he would die instantly if the fan were to fall on him. He liked his room dark. That way, he could simply ignore the mess and stumble about; just the way it was meant to be. His friends were going places, making strides, pursuing their PhDs; 'Parthapratim PHD', wouldn't that be nice! He imagined. Then there were the Pattaya-return-travelers, the pizza hut-foodies and the newly engaged couples in their straw hats and fanny packs revelling in their material bliss. Must be nice to be them; with their sun-kissed selfies and curated lifestyles, wondered Partha. Had he not been fired from his job, he could have been one of them. Parthapratim Rabidas, 26, unemployed; that was his reality. A feeling and thinking individual with ideas and opinions; ambitions and desires reduced to a mere category. The voices inside his head were slowly creeping their way to the fore. His feet had gotten cold, and his body hair stood erect in unison.
'It's easy these days to secure a job, especially if you have a caste certificate', so said one of his well-meaning uncles.
'You can't rely on talent, so what if you had won some writing contests; writers and artists don't get pensions', exclaimed his father.
'It doesn't suit people like us to have big dreams, son.' uttered his mother with a sigh.
'If you lose a job, you go hunting for another job; protests and dharnas are for political pariahs', asserted a coder dada.
'Please don't ask me to keep your surname after marriage; 'Aparna Banerjee Ravidas' it sounds so unfashionable…plus modern women don't take their husband's last names,' expressed his vogue-reading ex-girlfriend.
'Bhaiya Ji we are the same. No cares for people like us, and there's nothing we could do about it… If you want I can get you hooch for fifty bucks,' wheedled the stocky watchman.
His chronic anxiety hit him like the sudden shrill urgency of an alarm. It crawled up his pant legs, corkscrewed the lid off his insanity, and fried his wires to the point where he was left holding a cracked coconut in his hands.
Partha was sweating bullets, and his body went numb. He wanted to flee from all the clutter. All he had were fifteen hundred in the bank and sixty-seven bucks in coins. That kind of money doesn't get you anywhere, he thought. He could call up a friend, and ask for a few thousand bucks and call it a business loan. But there lies the risk of insult and shame. He could catch the morning train for home, sneak in, and steal his mother's pair of bangles, only there is the danger of being seen by a neighbour or an acquaintance. It was one in the morning; still enough time for him to figure out something to get rid of his misery. He could call up the watchman ask for the five thousand he loaned him.
'Bhaiya I am in dire need of money if you could kindly return the sum you borrowed from me,' verbalized Partha.
No that would come off as weak; he needed to show resolve.
'Give me my money, not later today, not tomorrow. I want it now.', demanded Partha.
Supposing that doesn't intimidate the watchman, what would he do then! People have exploited him for all his life; they have taken advantage of his inherent good nature, no more will he let himself be stepped on by anyone. The anxiety subsided and was replaced by smouldering rage. The sly simpering visage of the watchman emerged in his imagination. Partha took out his kitchen knife from under his soiled shirt and stabbed the poor man multiple times in a brutal and horrid frenzy.
'You dirty imbecile swine; you and I are not the same. You are a leech … I am going to wipe out that silly grin off of your face forever,' Partha blurted out. Alarmed by his own appalling intentions, Partha sat up in his bed, panting for breath. What has gotten into me; the poor man never had anything to do with my miseries, thought a rueful Partha.
The stench inside the room had gotten intense by the hour. It must be a dead rat, supposed Partha. He got out of his bed and switched on the lights. As the stark white light flashed before his eyes, everything went blank for a moment, he couldn't believe what he saw next. Corpses stacked on top of each other; their eyes cold and expressionless. In a panic, he turned off the lights. He must be dreaming; all of it is just a bad dream, and it would all go away the moment he wakes up, he thought. He turned on the lights, squinty-eyed, hoping it would all go away and it did. Only a slew of cockroaches scurried back into their hiding. But the familiar faces on those lifeless bodies remained with him.
The cabinet lizard lurked under the bed to get its share of the bounty. Never had it witnessed a massacre of this magnitude; twenty- five dead cockroaches squished and squashed by a giant pair of flip-flops. Gone were the days of free food, when the lizard could crawl without a care across the bedspread and snap the smacking pizza crumb or nibble at the leftover chicken nugget upon the table. For the past six months, the lizard has had to hunt for a living. For no longer could it creep down the wall without having to fear for its life; the fear of being stomped on by the proverbial big boot. Tonight it'd be a welcome change of taste from the terrible termite truffles and the occasional moth delights. And at the first chance, it went scurrying into the light to lap up a dead cockroach, not knowing it was bait.
The perpetrator of the massacre stood in the midst of the dozens of dead cockroaches, repeatedly mashing the poor lizard with his flip-flop to make sure it is dead for good. Partha recognized it was the same lizard, which would often gawk at him from the safe confines of the lampshade.
At times, all we need is a change in perspective, and everything becomes a little less complicated. That's why man invented aeroplanes, to avoid the trouble of riding up the long winding roads, and vanquishing stormy seas and braving unforgiving deserts; all but useless thrills. Up here, there are no overarching structures of society, no human bestiality disguised as scruples. From the eyes of the hawk, we are but mice trapped in a maze. Partha felt a wave of confidence wash over him…
It was four in the morning. Partha had scrubbed clean every nook and corner of his room, but the foul odour persisted. It must be the landlord conspiring to evict him from the apartment, thought Partha. It is people like his landlord, the bloodsucking parasites of the society, that should be thrown in the pit, he believed. At that very moment, an idea struck his mind. Maybe he could rob the landlord and kill both him and his young wife; it would be akin to doing a service to mankind. Perhaps 'Kill' isn't the proper nomenclature, he'd prefer the word execution. Maybe, in the years to come, they will remember him as the man who liberated humanity from the clutches of the evil landlord. Here is how he would commit the revolutionary act:
The landlord wakes up at five in the morning without fail. There's only a fifteen-minute window before the man goes out for his morning jog. First, he would knock at the landlord's door on the pretext of paying the dues, and just when that reptoid answers the door, he would strike the man's forehead with a five-pound dumbbell, and keep hitting him until he is down and out, then he would go for the wife. Or maybe he could have mercy on the wife, tie her up and lock her in the bathroom, thought Partha. She is such a pretty little lady; they could elope and settle down in the hills like he always imagined. NO! NO! There is no room for such weakness; he pulled himself together. Should he hang them by their feet from the balcony to prove his point, as they did with Mussolini? Yeah, that is what he should do!
''You are what you become, Partha,'' he enunciated.
Just when he was getting ready to commit the greatest act of humanity in the twenty-first century, a group of black-dressed burly men barged into his room, and before he could get a hold of the situation, they picked him up, put him on their shoulders, and carried him out of his apartment.
'Where are you taking me?', protested Partha.
All the people he knew and loved in his life were there, bidding him goodbye and showering petals on him. As they loaded him into a white matador, he tried to break free. The authenticity of what happened next is as dubious as the whole story. As far as rumours go, there were atleast a dozen similar first-person narratives about the incident. They reportedly saw Partha, all happy and smiling, looking dapper in a pearlescent tuxedo, benignly staring at his doppelganger lying on the stretcher.
' Relax! You did it, buddy. The stench is gone. You can sleep now,' he whispered.