Aman looked down at the parallel tracks, which stretched deep into the heart of the horizon, going farther than his far sighted eyes could see. He adjusted his spectacles, took in a deep, full-filling breath and looked down. Below his feet, lay a quite bed of stones and gravel which sank in by a few millimeters every time they had to experience a slight misbalance in pressure. Around him were other tracks, aides of the one he was standing on. They all ran side by side each other, like loyal friends or a caring spouse. Aman wished he had some more people in his life with similar virtues.
“How could things go so wrong in such less time? How could god give me the pleasures of a hundred men, only to snatch them away, and burden me with difficulties of a thousand?” – He thought. Everything was fine yesterday and, suddenly, now, he was staring into a blinding light that had bounded him at his spot. It seemed like the end; the kind of end that no one can anticipate, no one can avoid and, no one can escape from. He twitched his toes inside his expensive shoes; it had always made him feel better. But not anymore. His ability to take pleasure from things he loved had declined, as anxiety and despair had grown inside him. He ran his hand recklessly through his hair, unsettling a hairstyle he had spent a fortune on.
He heard a low, rumbling noise behind him; it was maybe some gravels shifting or some piece of plastic being carried away by wind. But he couldn’t muster enough courage to look back. He was terrified, and rightly so. It doesn’t matter if you are there by your own choice or somebody forced you into it; the thought of being sliced up into a million pieces by a monster weighing over ten thousand tones roaring at over hundred miles an hour would, and should, scare the soul out of anybody. But Aman had always hoped to face his death bearer head on, wanted to stare into its eyes as it dipped it’s blade inside him; he didn’t want to get crushed over by it from behind!
Thinking so, in a reflex action, he jumped and turned around. The tracks were empty! The train had not arrived! He, however, made out the source of the hollow sound.
“Can you help me wash my hands?” The source said, pointing at a dirty looking water bottle rolling down the tracks.
Aman kept staring at the man in utter amazement. He couldn’t gather the words which could fit the occasion appropriately. His mind was hanging on the edge of a mountain and his body was ready to throw itself down into the mysterious lows, but this insensitive evil man here, cared more about his personal hygiene! “Where’s the world getting at!” – He screamed inside his thick skull.
“The bottle! Please !” The man said again.
Aman, hesitantly, picked the bottle from the ground, unscrewed the cap and bent it over on the man’s hands, cleaning them off any undesirable entities. He didn’t have a clue about what he was doing. Thinking awfully hard over his actions before executing them and then doing a complete reversal in practical had been his long time habit. He wanted to bash the guy’s head in, but instead, he was behaving like an obedient robot, programmed to pour water on filthy hands.
“That helped.” The man said, shaking the excess water off his hands. “Thanks.”
Aman went through the appearance of the man whom he had just laved. A snubbed nose on a large head, tiny moustache and horribly huge lips; unorganized hair, partitioned in the middle, falling shaggily down his ears; a pale yellow shirt, atleast a good three years old; brown pants hanging on pelvis like a dead animal, torn at some places, patched at others. Thick and ugly toes protruding out of rugged slippers, with soles so used up, they could beat paper in thickness. In other words, he was in absolute contrast to him. He was black to his white, night to his day, and plenum to his vacuum.
The man tucked the bottle in his armpit and began walking away. He was limping, bending towards his right every time he set foot on ground. Something was terribly wrong with his right leg; whether it was permanent or only temporary was the question. Strangely, Aman felt pity for him. Also, he felt that maybe it was time for him to find a concerned audience, as he needed someone to know why he was doing this. Someone should know his side of the story too and somebody must be there, standing right beside him as his witness, when he would narrate his tale to the almighty. He was not looking for the arm of a man who could pull him out of this mess; he was just looking for his ear.
“Do you know why I am here?” Aman blurted out, all of a sudden.
The man turned around sluggishly. “Yes, I know. You are here to kill yourself.” He said casually.
“How can you tell that?” Aman was taken aback by the correct guess.
“People come here for only two things, and I don’t see why a man who can afford a suit costing well over twenty thousand bucks can’t find himself a decent washroom. So, that kind of cut shorts the list.” He said with a long face; indicating he was not as much as one bit interested in Aman’s feelings and his fate, that to him, Aman was just another loser, tired from all the juggling, wanting a quick ticket out of the circus.
Aman smiled a sad smile and shook his head off in disappointment. “I can’t even let one man care about me, can I?” He mumbled. His tongue wagged inside his mouth, his teeth crashed against one another. Biting his lower lip as hard as he could, he continued - “Can you hear what I have to say? You will be doing me a favor.”
The man just stood his ground, not moving a muscle, not attempting to produce even a single expression on his face. He looked down at his wristwatch and then at Aman’s sad face. Aman had an innocent face; and combined with a gloomy look, he looked massively vulnerable.
The man crossed his arms behind his back and said in an unusually calm voice for the ambience, going by the gravity of the situation prevailing around, - “Are you in a hurry, I mean, to die?”
“Ah, no. Why?” Aman replied, clearly shocked by the timing and informality of the awkward question.
“Because, you know, the train doesn’t come on this track for atleast the next fifteen minutes, that is, if it’s on time!” The man took a pause, spun a little and pointed at huge heaps of garbage dumped on ground, about twenty meters away from their current position. “But if you are ready for a tramontane expedition, the tracks just across those piles should be expecting a train any moment from now.”
Aman had no immediate counter for such a stoical response. He spent the next few moments searching for words. “Ho…w do you kn…ow?” He stammered.
“Are you stupid? I am more consistent here than those damn train! I am here every morning and sometimes in the evenings as well, right like…” The man laughed off.
“No, I am not in such a hurry to die. I think I will draw a few more breaths, i.e., if you don’t mind!” A rude Aman cut him short.
“Okay, goes fine by me.” The man said. “Then you may begin your story.”
Aman felt light on hearing this. He had, finally, found someone with ears and a functioning brain that was willing to hear him out, even if that someone was a man similar to the one currently filling his field of view. As he started framing the architecture of his tale in his mind, recollecting the practical nightmares he had faced, the morsel amount of happiness that had erupted inside him by the man’s approval started vanishing, giving way to sadness and hopelessness. As much as he hated trying to remember the incidents and their fine details, he wanted the man to listen to them, wanted to put a complete picture in front of him, each pixel, and each person, filled with precise emotions. Aman wanted the man to slip into his character and frame of mind, face his life and then decide what he would have done.
Thinking so, he bent down and took off his shoes, the same ones which he had fought over at the store. They were the last pair remaining with three potential and prosperous buyers. The manager, taking advantage of the situation, decided to hold a mini auction, which saw Aman emerge victorious with the highest bid, well over thrice the original retail price of the shoes. He threw both of them with all the might left in his body. Then he took off his socks and stepped on the icy tracks, with his naked feet resting firmly on the callous metal. Aman smiled as he sensed a cold sensation piercing his body, travelling upwards with the speed of light. “I will go upwards too, with the same speed.” – He thought.
“I got cut from work. My boss slammed my resignation letter on my forehead two days back. Last week I was their blue eyed boy, squeezing clients and offers in the palms of my hands! And now, I am a liability! I am someone who did more harm in one stroke, than good in the entire life combined! God damn those selfish bastards!” Aman roared. The intensity in his voice rose each time he began a new word, so by the time he finished, he was almost screaming. “It’s God. I know. He just can’t see me happy.”
“No. Don’t say so. He watches us all. He’s the stinging feeling we get every time we are about to do something wrong, he is the happiness that warmth and care provides. ” The man said reassuringly.
“You are wrong this time, mate. God just hates me!” Aman grunted. “There are no roses this time, just thorns and cuts; bruises and an impeachable pain.”
“Come on, don’t talk like an idiot; even if you are one.” The man said. “Tell me. Why did they fire you? You must have done something!”
“I did nothing! He was the one who threw himself out of the window!” Aman barked in a fit of rage. Only when he finished, did he realize that he had spoken too much, and too soon.
“Oh boy, slow down!” The man grew cautious. “Who jumped out through the window?”
Aman thought for some time; he tried to gauge whether the information should be revealed or not. As he stood there, lost in thoughts, a passenger train arrived on the same tracks he had been advised to move to, by the man. The shrieking noise of hefty wheels, grinding themselves over those stoical tracks filled Aman’s ears and turned his face yellow. The more he pictured a scene in his mind, of his inner organs lying around on the tracks, being run over by the merciless train, the stronger his desire to run away from there became. But even if he ran, where would he go? Nowhere! He had no home, no life to go back to. He felt like a child, someone who doesn’t have an identity, who lives at the mercy of others and lacks decision making abilities; without an aim, without a will. But he was not a toddler; he was a grown man, responsible for his decisions, however stupid they might be. “I’ll be strong, I’ll face the train!” He mumbled as he confirmed the belief he had in the remorseful fact that death was the ultimate solution to all carnal troubles. “This is the last conversation I’m having. This man, here, deserves to know everything about me!” He thought as he emerged out of his mind.
“You know what happens when a top multinational enterprise loses a race which had no other participant, when it suddenly loses a multi-million contract from within spitting distance?” Aman asked.
“No.” The man said, rubbing his face; producing a peeving sound as his hands scratched against the steely beard.
“People get blamed!” Aman said, shrugging his shoulders. “You see, blame is a lot like a bolt of lightning. It’s swift, it’s unexpected, and it always comes down from the top!”
The man nodded. This irritated Aman. He always hated people who, like ball jointed dolls, waved their heads around fluently like geniuses without even understanding properly, acting on hints.
“He has never been blamed. He can never understand; you have to do something to get blamed; this man here has done nothing in his entire life. He has just twisted and turned in his bed, waiting for death to slap him on his forehead and throw him down into the pit of fire!” Aman thought before he continued. “When we lost the contract, my superiors tried to pin it on me; and I just did what they did. I passed it down! But my junior; he was weak. He couldn’t take it when things quickly got out of hands; so he wrote a little note about me harassing him and threw himself out of the window…” He paused. “…in my office.”
“Oh my god! You took a life!” The man said in shock stricken voice.
“No, I did not! He took his own life; it’s called suicide, you idiot!” Aman yelled at him. “And because of that suicidal prick, I lost my job. And that’s not even all; police filed three cases against me. My own lawyer says that I’ve got no chance; I’ll soon rot in a prison! That stupid fuck ruined my life!”
As Aman’s words ricocheted inside the man’s head, he felt disgraced at the corrupt soul Aman possessed. An inside so rotting, so full of ashes, mud and smoke and yet, hiding cautiously behind a pretty golden mask. “How can a man be so hardhearted?” – He asked himself. “How can someone be so cruel to others?” – He questioned again. Both questions were left unanswered. No matter how hard he tried to dig deeper, he couldn’t find any reason strong enough for someone to behave like Aman. “How can a man as evil as him survive, how can he find partners and friends? Was he so used to suspecting others that even the minute thought of trusting someone terrified him to suicide? Why is he so weak, how can he be so weak? He is a waste, a useless man sucking in the pleasures a civilized society offers, yet, returning nothing. This man here is, evil!”
“You are such a selfish man that you make me look far more prosperous than I actually am, not in copper but in blood, in flesh, and in emotions.” The man said as politely as he could, taunting Aman that he could still maintain his composure and calmness around all his screaming. “You should burn in hell; you kill a life and destroy a few, and still you blame the slayed for your own woes! Are you even human?”
Before Aman could react, the man began again. “But a man as nefarious as you won’t kill himself for someone else, you absolutely won’t! You can never kick away all the materialistic pleasures that life offers you. A man like you even bargains with the devil, asking for a silver coffin; men like you…” He paused as something important crossed his mind. “It has to be for something or someone close, almost as close as to you as you!”
“Ahhhhhh!” Aman yelled at the man, but in his mind. “How can he play so naive? How can he not understand what I am trying to say, is he that stupid or is he hell bent on proving a point to me? How can I bring him to my level, if that’s possible?” He thought. “You don’t deserve to hear what I have to say. But, let’s put it this way, god has limited my options! Now, I have no one but you! I need to speak and you need to hear, even if that’s the exact reserve of what we actually want to do right now!”
“My wife.” He said, sulkily. “She left me.” His weak eyes turned watery and he hung his head down to hide them. But what he couldn’t hide was the sharply incisive pain and anguish, which was cutting through his mind like a hot blade.
But, the man stood unaffected; not a trace of empathy blossomed in his mind. He was still angry at Aman, mumbling under his breath, cursing him for taking away a life. As a religious person, he had always believed that every mistake is repairable, every broken thing can be fixed, but the sinner should own the desire, which would propel him forward on the way to salvation. But with Aman, that desire was absent.
“Ignorant man, no doubt she left you, given the very limited respect for other humans that you have!” The man said. “Go, find yourself a dark, treacherous cave and run into it. Emerge only after exhaling your last breath!”
It seemed like the man was not in any mood to listen, he just wanted to speak his mind and leave. “I am sure she wasn’t even on your list of priorities, when she should be at the top. You are not a man worth having!” He paused to collect some breath. “You are incapable and intolerable, filled with so much stupidity that soon you might start leaking some!”
When the man stopped finally with a tired mouth, the dam broke down. Water plunged down into the valley, causing havoc, taking lives.
“You illiterate fuck! How dare you call me stupid, you asshole!” Aman roared at the top of his voice. His eyes were red and his face swollen. His forehead was crossed with hefty lines stretching from one ear to another. With his clenched fists hanging like truckloads of brick, he continued mercilessly. “What righteous deeds have you done that gives you the right to lecture me? How many lives have you saved which makes you feel that you can burn me for taking one? Huh? You stop your gibberish before I stuff my fist in your hole, and shut you up myself!”
The man had his eyes fixed firmly at Aman, he gauged each expressions, each misplaced breath, each alteration in tone. His mind was doing calculations faster than he knew he could, his senses were picking up things he couldn’t notice before. He was studying Aman and that too, without him knowing it.
“Can’t you understand me, can’t you feel me? I lost my wife, my love!” Aman said, breaking down. His voice had turned bleak, much like his will. The anger that had suddenly fueled him had been all used up; now all that was left was misery and emptiness.
“So did I.” The man said, resting a hand on Aman’s shoulder. “I lost my wife to a disease, couldn’t afford the medicine, couldn’t afford her; had to let her go.”
Aman looked deep into the eyes of the man; he could tell he was listening to truth.
“But have I stopped living, no! I have not.” He said. “I live, and inside me, she lives.”
Aman kept staring at the man blankly. He knew he had spoken his part, and maybe now, it was his turn to gather his senses and listen to a few words of wisdom.
The man bent down and picked up a dead leaf. Running his fingers gently over its surface, he smiled. What was once green with life is now dead. Its face lies devoid of any pleasant color; only the soul remains, or the identity, of what it once was. “This leaf here fought many autumns before succumbing, it didn’t fall down itself. It had to be peeled off by brute force or it would have been somewhere up there.” He said, pointing at a nearby tree. “Be this leaf; don’t give in.” Then he disappeared into thin air, leaving a bewildered Aman behind.