When J came out of the door for the first time he almost felt as if the illusion had spread its aura beyond the premises of that lugubrious hospital where the air was occupied by the rancid medicines and the stench of death which mingled more frequently than one expected. He had put up a cigarette to his mouth before even opening the door pretending his eagerness to put out the stress, which in actuality did not existed but he almost forgot to light it up when he saw a legion proceeding towards the gate with their murmurs which were more of noises than whispers.
For a moment J thought that these people must have been mislead by someone and have mistook this hospital for a place of some deity but soon the contradiction prevailed as two men from the crowd made haste to open the door followed by another four men who carried a body which seemed dead by all means but there was still some life left in it. During the course of action the murmurs changed to convulsions but if one gave a little attention one could easily make out that it were prayers which came out incoherently from the trembling voices.
Looking at such a commotion two ward boys from the hospital came out to dispose of the situation but on realizing the fervour of the event they instead rushed forward to help the patient. Soon the patient was taken in the labyrinth of the hospital rooms where it was natural for one to get lost if a certain set of directions were not provided. One of those men who had gone on to open the door gestured to the crowd to move back and sit down besides the wall at the opposite end. They obeyed and so one after another they sat down against the wall constantly looking towards the door.
J observed the entire scene, momentarily forgetting that he had a cigarette in his mouth waiting to be lighted, if he had chosen to speak something the cigarette would have fallen for sure. J went up a few steps further to find some solace, he lit up his cigarette and let out a heavy cloud of smoke with a sigh of relief. It was a difficult place for one to hold up his composure, for every moment passed precariously alluding to another death or some devastating truth. It was one of the places which put to test the courage lingering in the face of adversity. As soon as J let out a second cloud of smoke a number of wails emerged from inside in unison. ‘Another one gone’ thought J. ‘If they continue to perish like this it won’t be long before the whole city plunges into sombreness. Only outbreak of an epidemic can cause such number of deaths and absence of one means the people here have been caught up in some other virulent disease which is beyond the comprehension and cure of the medicine. Maybe love has started on its revenge.’
Two men came out holding a woman who was quivering violently, more out of the foreboding of the future than the grief of the present. After few moments when her strength gave out the two men eased her back into the hospital where she was required to complete the formal duties of another death. The crowd which sat against the wall witnessed the entire scene with cringing calmness; this is how fear usually found a way to creep into others, through the disasters of others. J observed the sitting crowd and discerned that they were not from the city but some nearby village and through their perplexed expression it was clear to him that they were foreign with the ways of city life. But there was a certain unity in them, for they held hands when ever one of them trembled with fear, maybe their prayers connected them with some invisible bond.
Four men who had carried the body inside hadn’t come out which added to the anxiety on their faces.
J pondered ‘who could be the person they all have come for? It must be someone eminent from their village, for in times like these there couldn’t be any one who was loved or cared so much.’
He, out of his curiosity, decided to go to one of the men who had hurried to open the gate. When he reached near him he halted for suddenly, through a panic attack, he had failed to perceive a way to start the conversation but for his luck the man had failed to notice him as he himself was lost in his thoughts. J contemplated for a moment a way to put up the question, whether he should make an acquaintance first or start with a general statement of condolence. As he stood there J’s ear caught a distant serenade the tune of which he remembered but its lyrics struck him decrepitly, so that he grumbled the words beneath his breath and when he stopped he seemed resolved. J turned once again, this time with few determined steps he came to the side of the man and spoke without giving a thought
‘What grief does bring you here?
The man turned to his side to notice J for the first time. It was hard to tell whether he had heard the question or not, for his expression remained unchanged. It could not be denied that the question was blatant and abrupt and could have shaken any man who was imbued in grief. To the utter surprise of J the man held his hand, murmured a prayer and then with a subtle smile which emanated from the profound depths of grief he replied ‘nature’s course of action cannot be altered’ and moved away to his other lamenting companions. J thought that the entire group was still absorbed in their prayers and would not give up until they heard some news from doctors.
‘Can so much prayer help to evade death? These are the times when one cannot rely on faith too much’ reflected J and started on his way back. Continuing his obligatory duty of waiting J went inside the hospital and sat on one of vacant chair which lay between an preoccupied old man and a woman in her thirties who was ceaselessly chatting with her other neighbour. He sat down between them so slyly that none of them noticed that the seat besides them was now occupied.
After few minutes J became accustomed to the constant sobs that emanated in patches from all sides of the hall room. In between those sobs came the wails of the woman who J had seen outside, the two men still accompanied her but this time they were holding various forms and papers which were necessary to release the dead from the gloomy bounds of the hospital. Whenever the woman found a bit of strength she exhausted it through deafening shrieks cursing the world of injustice which had been inflicted up on her but she was conscious enough of devoir that needed to be carried out for one last farewell. She quite frequently moved in and out of the door stumbling up on several people giving an impression that the burden was unbearable and that she might buckle down any moment and collapse, for the two men themselves were unable to keep pace with her as well the demands from the dead but in truth it was the intricate procedure of the hospital that caused so much of commotion. J found it difficult to fit in that melancholy, dismayed by the spectacle he had before him he slipped into an interlude from the reality as gradually the noises around him subsided.
Two evenings before J had decided to take a stroll in the central park, it was an unusual decision from him as he seldom went for such excursion but it was certain through the vigour in his steps that he was propelled by some enamoured feeling, for whenever someone passed him he greeted them with a hearty smile and on occasions intruded the group of kids who were jauntily engrossed in their games. The frisky aura of that park only added to J’s impulse and he circumvented through the groups of children, old men, women and even vagabonds who all seemed to have gathered to abdicate their daily tribulations.
J remembered how as child he often came to the parks with his friends, if they had been given the choice they would have forsaken their homes for the sheer joy of being there. It was the place where they were driven by madness, where bounds held no meaning for them, where time ceased and coalesced with the intangible horizon which was almost mystical. J was overwhelmed by such a feeling once again, he was happy walking around savouring moments. When he had reached at one end of the park he saw that there weren’t many people around, he went up to one of the empty bench under a ‘peeple’ tree which almost eclipsed the bench making it somewhat dark and obscure but by no means it looked gloomy.
As he sat there for a while lost in some reverie, a man came up to him and without speaking anything extended his hand in which he held a box of sweets. J looked up to him in amusement and before he could ask the question the man said
‘my daughter’s marriage is after a fortnight. She will now get a new home. I am the cleaner here for past 18 years. I have seen my daughter grow playing here and now that she has found a new house i feel relieved of my duty. Such a great day it is. Pardon me for accosting you in such a manner but happiness knows no bounds, moreover the people who come here i consider them as my family’.
J was astonished at such an offering, for he could not remember an instance where a stranger had offered him anything like this but instinctively, after looking at the undeceiving expression on his face, he took out a sweet from the box and before eating he said ‘Indeed it is moment of happiness. Do pay my wishes to her’.
The man nodded with a smile and in a manner of gratitude swayed his head to the sides and then on finding other visitors in the park he excused himself and went up to new the enterants to share his joy. J reflected on the incident and thought ‘The place remains blissful irrespective of the age, there is something in the aura of this place which buoys the spirit of the people. Even the saddest one here looks happy.’
J was merely enjoying the idea when a couple came and sat in such close vicinity, careless to pay attention to the surrounding, on the grass that he was able to hear their conversation without making any effort. He didn’t want to evasedrop by intention or by luck but he felt so pleasurable that he didn’t want to leave immediately, besides he could clearly make out that the couple were still an apprentice in love. ‘Ignorance becomes bliss in such times. Such is the power of love. But love has its own stringent ways for its accomplishment and when once caught it is the only escape. Such a labyrinth is love’ thought J.
The young man who was barely out of his teens was making infallible promises of love; the one which novice make to their loved ones but it came out in such a poetic manner that even J was taken for the intricacy of those words. The young vivacious girl who too had renounced her teens for the youthful blossom blushed and hid herself in the arms of the man and moments later they held each other hands as a ritual and pledged an indelible allegieance to each other. It was another pleasant spectacle which had befallen before J in that park. The couple sat there for sometime in silence as did J, it was as if there were not two but three lovers who sat oblivious to the world in the enamoured corner of that park.
A rattling sound devoured the serenity of J and he once again found himself in the sordid bounds of that hospital. While he was still coming to terms with reality he saw a number of people were holding back a man who in his savage fury had knocked off a window glass. He seemed hurt but hardly aware of the damage he was persistent on inflicting more injury to himself than any of the object. J in his confusion asked the man besides him
‘What drives that man to such convulsions?’
The old man to whom the incident had struck as surprising as the rest of them said in a low hushed voice ‘His mother lies on one of the bed and the doctors won’t allow him to see her. They say she is unconscious and so cannot see anyone but her son thinks otherwise, for he met her last evening. Last night he portrayed the confrontation in such an articulated manner that it felt like i was also present there. He is now delusional that the hospital has only kept her to barter money from him so as to compensate for the fast healing of her mother.’
J listened to the man in complete earnest and when the man finished he said incisively ‘this place does make one delirious. With death hovering around incessantly how can one remain lucid? But don’t you think death has been frequenting us more than it used to be?
The old man was somewhat baffled by the question but with a certain calmness he replied ‘Death has become more precarious these days. It can embrace anyone without admonishing. I used to believe that it was our sins that accounted for death but seeing the pattern it all seems absurd. My son, whom I sent out last night to see out some trivial work, met with a terrible accident. Would you believe!! I could have gone myself and achieved the purpose but i rather chose to send him and now i pay for the consequences. It’s hard to blame oneself too, for one cannot have premonitions of such things. There is no use for repentance. He was run over by the errand of a drunken man. God was gracious that it only left my son injured; i could have lost him too. But what justice god does? No one knows where the man is; maybe he would have no guilt for the act. It amazes me sometimes how people grow indifferent to the general act of humanity. Now, we can only hope for the better future. In another way one can look at it as a new beginning.’
J made a gesture with his hand to give his condolence to the old man for the misfortune and then with grave expression he simply nodded his head and turned away to the other side. He was perturbed and weary of waiting and his observations and thoughts made him more tired. Meanwhile the man who had lost his cool was taken out to refrain from causing any more damage. The lady who was sitting on the other side of J noticed the dejection on J’s face and conceived that he might have been taken by sudden grief which often invades and ravages one’s peace when one has just got hold of his calmness.
She spoke out almost candidly ‘Death is not all that bad as it is perceived, you know death must have its reasons.’ J at first thought that she was still talking to the lady sitting beside her, primarily because he was surprised by the trenchant nature of her words and secondly he did not notice her turning towards him. She looked at him in the face, and saw that his expression changed from being in grief to being completely perplexed, which made it clear to J that the statement was intended for him. Unable to find a reply he merely nodded his head as if he agreed with her but in reality he had hardly understood her words.
She continued, not expecting any reply from J ‘Everyone comes here and weeps over and remorse and cry out for their losses but in truth only few are indubitable rest each of them cover their semblance very well to act for a disaster. Oh! And such a good actors they are! One can be easily deceived to feel for their adversity but look what treacherous souls they have! Do you see the girl standing in that corner?’
J looked in the direction the woman had pointed her finger and saw a tenuous girl with voluptuous body standing in some deep pensive, and was looking at the patterns left by the dust made by the frequent sojourners. J noticed that despite her serious demeanour she looked unperturbed, he asked ‘What about her?’
‘She is merely waiting for her brother to get perished so that she can go through her vile ways. You know he was so well a few days ago, it has come as a shock to us that he is at the peril of leaving us. Few nights ago he had gone to the village to look out for a suitable match for her and when he returned yesterday he immediately fell ill. If you ask me she is the one liable for the catastrophe. I have never seen such a cruel woman disguised as princess, for everyone is beguiled by her beauty. There is no remorse on her face rather she will be feeling elated. Who knows which lover she might choose to go with?
J felt as if the woman was speaking more out of envy rather than genuine reproach for the depravity and although he was hardly curious he, for merely continuing the conversation, asked ‘what relation do you bear with that girl?
‘Oh! None. It is a blessing that i am not related to her. So much trouble she would have brought. But i have to suffer none the less, i am her neighbour. I have almost become accustomed to sleeplessness. You see, i have come here to fulfil my duty as a neighbour. I pray that her brother gets well soon, for he is the only hope for her.’
‘My prayers are with you. Would you like to drink something? i suddenly feel very thirsty, maybe i can’t sustain the air of this place’ spoke J as he got up without showing the courtesy of waiting for the reply.
The woman became a bit startled but replied in same candid manner as she had begun ‘No, thank you. You must not let sorrow take over you, for your life is still to be pursued’. J put up a weary smile and left after nodding to the old man as the gesture of adieu.
He moved out of the hospital door once again, this time a bit agitated he walked away from the premises of hospital but despite his exasperation he saw the crowd still sitting where they had been in the beginning. He made haste to get away from the place as quickly as possible. Just before the main entrance gate of the hospital, which now was an exit for him, J saw that there were lawns on either side of the pathway, a detail which he had failed to notice when he had bustled in here.
‘Oh so they also have a garden here with all those flowers. I wonder if they serve the purpose of enlivening the ones who are enervated by their miseries. Maybe we have lost the feel of things and their existence is merely a fact for us without any significance. It is not like earlier when even a trifle thing could revive a man from the depths of despair, for they saw some meaning and motive in trifle. That must be the way of will to sprout out it roots, from the trifle; it becomes infallible. But we have become depraved; we merely look things for their value and not for their essence of beauty. Ah!
Why do i burden myself with such thoughts? I must escape this place, so many doubts this place puts on one’s mind’. He stepped out of the gate and found himself on the street with a very little commotion. Devoid of any sense of direction he started walking towards his right, his sense of urgency had suddenly disappeared and he felt as if he had come in some other world which was away from the aura of that morose hospital. On moving a bit further he saw a cluster of light fluttering giving away a dream like impression, he discerned that it must be the nearby market where all the people from hospital go to buy the necessary commodities.
As he reached the market he had the urge to eat something although he did not feel hungry or thirsty as opposed to what he told the woman in hospital. He thought that maybe food can distract his mind from all the distressful thoughts. He went up to one of the stall and ordered impassively, the shopkeeper looked up at J and thought he must be one of afflicted ones from the hospital and gave him his plate with a compassionate smile but J took his plate ignorantly and moved away. He stood under a tree because all of the seats were occupied by the other customers.
There, once again, somewhat to his disbelief, he saw the two men who had accompanied the miserable woman, who J noticed was not around, standing just a little distance away from him. He took few steps sideways without turning just to get closer to the two men. J did this more out of familiarity than curiosity, the intermittent reoccurrences of these two men made J to stand near them as if to show the solidarity between the sufferers from the hospital although he did not suffered from consequence of any tragedy but since his stay at the hospital he felt frequent mental torments for a reason unknown to him.
He began to eat from his plate and turned around very slowly but causally and saw the two men in their face, it was easy for him this time as he had no intention of starting a conversation and neither of the two men had seen him before, he felt as ease for the first time after he had received the call from his friend to come to the hospital. Both of the men stood in sombre state , one was holding a file in his hand pressed to his chest in which all the paperwork was arranged and the other man held a lit cigarette which he seemingly had forgotten to smoke. Then suddenly breaking the silence the man holding the file said
‘We have to get the certificate signed by the chief medical officer, if he goes off for today it will be trouble for us. We must get back.’
The other man moved his hand to change his posture and realized he had a cigarette in his hand; he flicked his wrists to clear of the ash and took a deep breath as he inhaled in the smoke. After making a mist, out of smoke, between them he spoke
‘Even stupidity has duality, for one it can be ridiculous showing its innocence and on contrary it can be disastrous and can lead one to ruin. Do you think if last night he had not been so drunk and so rage full he could have saved himself? It’s a pity how moronically he decided to go away while his mind kept deteriorating.
‘Well, he was foolish but only to the circumstances, he could have acted wisely but sometimes humans are rendered to desperation and it is only then they are evoked for such act of stupidity which you speak of, end in disasters. He had a fight with her last night and it was again on those banal subjects of distrust. They inflicted injuries on each other through abuses and savage truths. One of them was bound to break down sooner or later, unfortunately it was him’ replied the other one
‘After we had dropped him to his home i thought he would sleep peacefully but look what a cruel game fate plays! He is now gone. I heard he hit a child too while on his way. Is it true?’ as he completed his statement he looked at his cigarette and drew another deep inhale of smoke.
‘Many have corroborated the news and their description fits his car. He must have been out of his mind not to notice a child. But what good my curses would do he is already gone now, that fool! The child they say was badly injured; he was taken to hospital in time. I wonder whether they have brought him in this hospital. What a coincidence would that be!
‘Let us hurry now. We still have to get his body out of here. If only things could be easier after death…’ spoke the man as he put the cigarette off under his feet.
J after hearing the conversation stood transfixed for a moment. He was struck by the virtuous irony of the fate. The two men started on their way towards the hospital and J saw them as they paced up still chattering. He lost his appetite suddenly and put down the plate under the tree.
‘What a strange coincide this is!! If the old man knows this he would be relieved that the justice has prevailed but in truth this a mere tragedy contrived by fate. Sometimes how cruel can our fates become, it makes all our reasoning futile.’
He thought and began to move still somewhat stupefied. As he had move a bit further a voice shouted ‘Mister, you haven’t paid for the food.’
It was the shopkeeper who said it in a gentle manner so as not to disturb the solemnity of the suffering man, which what he thought it was. J realized that he had forgotten to pay and he turned back quickly and took out his wallet but fumbled because his hands trembled due to a weak nervous control. This fumbling had become quite common for J and he was not bothered by it anymore rather he now considered it as a routine phenomena. The shopkeeper keenly watched J as he took out his money and with a sudden surge in emotion said affectionately
‘It is merely out of my profession that i ask, i know how grief can make one oblivious to things around him. When i opened my shop i thought i could cheer people up for a little while but through years i have seen the shock or the grief is too much burden for the people to handle. Death has undulating power to wreck the strongest of the will and render people to hopelessness while on other hand it can resuscitate people from the verge of self defeat to an indomitable will.’
J only heard the last line as he was not paying any attention to the shopkeeper. Unable to understand the context of the statement he nodded his head and handed over the money. He very feebly said ‘thank you’ to the shopkeeper, which was even incomprehensible to him, turned and staggered towards the hospital. The two men were still in his vision but J made no effort to catch up with them as he didn’t felt the bond anymore which had existed a few moments ago. He simply kept walking glancing around to see if something could make his mind aberrant but everything remained in its soporific state. He reached the gate of the hospital and before entering in he paused and took a deep breath to prepare himself to breathe in that gloomy air once again.
The anxiety was clear on J’s face. He paced up and down in the hallway waiting for his friend though he was appeased that neither the old man nor the loquacious woman was present in the hall. He for some unknown reason was intimidated by the idea of confronting them once again. He hoped for a sudden twist in fate which would mollify the ambience around him.
While he swayed in the hallway he exchanged few glances with the tenuous girl whom the woman had slandered all the while she talked. J, Intrigued by her charm, became more fastidious every time he crossed her. It seemed to him that her beauty proliferated every time he passed her. Her slender waist ascended to the impeccable curvaceous bosom and her face radiated a dazzling exuberance which clearly betrayed the grief she was in, if she did felt one. He observed that she still stood morosely yet unperturbed which seemed eccentric to J because he for a moment thought that he not was in a hospital but rather in a dream which consisted only him and her.
It impressed him more that she rarely looked around; her eyes were always transfixed on something though the subject of her interest changed, she somehow caught up J’s glances every time he looked at her. J felt as if she insinuated something in their brief exchange of glances and this uncertainty made him restless. Already with a pre conceived notion, coerced into him by the chattering woman, it was difficult for him to come out with an inference of his own. He had noticed that there was a burn mark on her right forearm which she tried to obliterate with her other hand in which she held a small brown purse. When J passed her for the sixth time he was certain that there was no one around her as the only man who stood beside her had gone out. He passed her once more, this time without giving a look and when he reached at one end of the hall he paused for a moment.
After entering second time in the hospital J had kept himself aloof, if one had noticed he would have discerned that J was hiding away from someone, which was the truth but he had done more so to avoid a turbulence in his head, a turbulence which might have left him defunct or even worse lead to an implosion if he had tried to converse with others. But her case was different, he in his strolls had seen her body which he had found attractive when he saw her first and now he was filled with sudden burning temptation to get close to her. It was an inexplicable and outrageous feeling in those circumstances but it came to J so naturally that he felt helpless and somewhat overcome by guilt.
Suddenly the stench of the hospital, through some conjures, cleared and filled with aroma emanating from her body. He intrepidly moved up once again, stomping on the hands of few people who were sitting on the floor, forget to apologize, and went up straight to her. At last when their eyes met up once more with both of them static, a sensation ran through J as if it was destined for them to have met so much by chance yet with a striking familiarity. He said ‘hello’ in a very feeble voice so that it was only audible to her and waited a moment for a reply but on seeing the nonplussed expression on her face he quickly pursued
‘Weren’t you there at the midnight function at the market square three days ago?’ he asked the question inquisitively.
She quickly replied ‘no’ as if denying some truth, which in actuality was the case. She was present at the midnight function at the famous market square where a generation of young men and women had gathered to lose themselves away in the oblivion of the night. She had gone out with her friends while her brother had been away for work. J had shot the question vaguely, leaving it on chance, without knowing that the truth of it would turn him into one of the suspects of a fortuitous delirium.
‘Who are you? I do not know you neither have i seen you before’ she continued after an awkward pause
‘It is true that we haven’t met before and we do not know each other, it was just that i felt i saw you the other day’ belied J
‘So what do you want now?’ she retorted quickly. The authority of her question shook J for a moment, he had rather expected a polite reply without having any concrete reason for such a thought but soon he regained his composure and replied
‘ i was just wondering what misfortune brings you here?
‘There is no misfortune, my brother has gotten ill, and he will be good in a few days’ she said with a certain assurance in her voice.
‘Oh! Of course, he will be good soon. I pray for him too. By the way where do you live?’
J asked the question bluntly yet with such calm casual manner that he almost made it feel trifle but the reply came out in a firm admonishing tone ‘ This is no time to make acquaintance. You must leave if i am of no help to you.’
‘You are too apprehensive about strangers. It certainly unfits your character, i merely wanted to have a conversation, for this place was making me restless but it seems that turbulence is concealed all around here’
‘Ah! So you are another one of those who have heard stories so as to judge my character’
‘Stories??!!’ J blurted out completely surprised, completely missing out on the insinuation which intended on accusing him.
‘It is strange how surprised you act while in truth you merely think of me as an object of great satisfaction. ‘She replied
J stood stunned for a moment, awestruck by the remarkable twist in their conversation. He could not discern though whether the reproach came out of guilt or merely through delirium. He tried to restore the matter with a lucid justification
‘It is not as you imagine. You must have mistaken me for some scoundrel. I am here because a friend of mine required my help, if such was not the case we wouldn’t have met; it is mere chance that has put us together. I do apologize for the unknown offence caused to you.
‘It must be my fault then, pardon me but i, being the subject of constant derision, do get paranoid with strangers. It disappoints me to see people renounce their ventures and take interest in lives of others only to make it dilapidated and oh! how much pleasure they take out of it!’ said the girl, lightened by the J’s apology which she thought was genuine.
‘It is indeed sad and disheartening. But what is it that makes you conspicuous?
‘It is merely the opinion of the people based upon the cascades of rumour and instilled with their malevolence that makes me the subject of interest. You see when people find a tribulation in others lives they intend to exploit it to keep themselves engaged rather lending help to abate the trouble. My every moment is under scrutiny and being judged upon, a judgement they base to cover up their own vile nature. Such are the times’ she said almost venomously
‘It is true that beauty is fragile and can be blemished very easily. But why would anyone defame you?’ he inquired further without realizing that it was none of his concern and he was intruding in the personal matters of a stranger but neither did the girl realized it.
‘In this complete expanse of lie it would be difficult to tell but generally it is the close ones who are infidel and show duplicity. When my parents died a few months ago they all came up as if the whole tragedy will be forgotten by their sheer love but the contrary happened. If it was not for my brother i would have been devoured. My neighbour, a shrewd woman, is the one who has been slandering me all around, if you ask, but the truth is she had fallen for my brother long ago but he never accepted the relation and now she seeks her vengeance when my parents are gone. I thought this only happened in books or films but the reality of it is very excruciating. She can easily metamorphose others through her articulate words and stories all of which are sheer lies. She even came here to……
She stopped suddenly and turned around as if she had seen something forbidden. J also turned around and saw it was the same chattering neighbour he had been just hearing about. The woman had noticed both of them as soon as she had entered through the gate but pretended otherwise and changed her course, almost retrieved back to the gate and stood near it.
The girl gestured J to go away and he implied instantly. He felt as if was he was guilty of something and started moving hurriedly but as soon as he reached the gate a voice broke out exactly as he had feared ‘Another one has been beguiled by her charm, another one has been deceived, what times! where essence of beauty is treason.’ He quickly moved out of the gate and searched for his cigarette and trembled a bit taking it out while meandering through the crowd. Again he found the place where he had come out for the first time to smoke, this time being really stressed out. He lit his cigarette and released a heavy sigh. He did not want to reflect on the incident, for he could not understand the nature of it. It was all unreal and once again he felt that everything was happening under some illusion.
After a while when J regained his composure, he assured himself with the thought that they all were strangers whom he had met today and maybe after a few hours he will never see them again. So their tribulations and stories should hardly affect him at all. He eased out a bit and took few puffs of cigarette in succession. The thought relieved him so much that his body felt light, almost on the verge of flotation. He held the railing that protruded from the building and ran parallel to it. It was then he realized that the crowd which had been there from the time he had stepped out of the door for the first time was not there anymore. It startled him a bit, for he had seen them when he had returned from the market, sitting in the same manner, almost creating a replica of the scene J had seen before. He moved a few steps to see if they were still around, but failed to see them anywhere. He could not understand how through course of events they vanished, for he had been in there for twenty odd minutes.
The truth was, at the moment when J had gone up to talk to the girl, the four men who had carried a seemingly dead body into the hospital, carried an actual dead body out. Surprising enough for the onlookers out there, the crowd which had seemed so much engrossed in prayers did not go hysterical. There were only few sobs that too subdued ones but they did keep murmuring their prayers. The news had already been broken to them before and they were merely awaiting the arrival of the body.
What took it long were the formalities of the hospital but astoundingly it was completed instantly as compared to what it normally took to get done, maybe because of the respect of the age of the dead or just by the intimidation of the staggering number of people who came for him. They all touched the feet of the dead one by one, which is all the time they took for their grief, and proceeded to wards the exit gate. During all this time J was indulged in an arduous conversation with the girl. By the time he had ended his conversation abruptly, the crowd had already got out of the hospital with the dead.
Now J felt more hopeless than before and with his cigarette out he had no notion of what to do. He tried to remember something from his past, some convivial memory but to his bitter luck nothing came to his mind, even if it had come the effort would have been sterile, for the turbulence in his mind would have devastated any thought. For once, he thought of running away without informing his friend but he renounced the idea quickly considering it as an act of cowardice. If the praying crowd was still there he would have joined them to pray for the humanity as a whole.
Just then as if through some miracle his friend called. He talked to him very briefly and as soon as he kept the phone in his pocket he felt ecstatic. His friend had called to thank him up and to tell that his services were no more required as everything was under control. J suddenly felt free from the bounds of the hospital. He no more was intimidated by the idea of confronting anyone. It occurred all so quickly that he felt a quivering sensation in his body, not being able to stand anymore he began to move. As he moved forward, yet again, he saw the two men and the grief stricken woman coming out of the door with one man still holding a file and the other one held the woman, giving her support to walk.
‘Maybe they too are relieved, if not, may god help them’ thought J and walked just behind them and passed the door without looking through the glass, although he did want to say a final goodbye to the girl he repudiated the idea from the fear of making things complicated. Soon he reached at the gate of the hospital and as he stepped out of it he felt truly liberated. Had the call not come from his friend he might have lost his sanity. In those few hours at the hospital he was exposed to too much savage reality. When he had entered the hospital in a state of panic all he had thought was to help to his friend in whatever way but once the matter was undertaken, which was of no serious consequence as J had thought, he had to do the lugubrious duty of waiting which ultimately had rendered him to desperation.
He stood outside the hospital for sometime not being able to decide where to go but he was much more relaxed than he had been when he had stepped out of the hospital at first. While contemplating he saw a procession coming from the front. He could from distant distinguish that there were children, ladies and men all of whom were plunged in celebrations. The music from the drums and trumpets along with the scent of the burned firecrackers pervaded through the street and might have also entered the premises of the hospital over the walls.
J thought finally in reality there were people here who celebrated an event, for he had made himself to believe that the vicinity around this place was devoid of any joy because of the death always hovered around the place. As he reached near the procession the crescendo suddenly omitted the ambient sounds and voices of the men and children mingled with drums and trumpets, as if in complete harmony. On coming closer J realized that these celebrating men and women were no one else than the ones who were in the hospital (the crowd) but the children were new to the group. He stood there in disbelief and saw the contrast on the two sides of the wall which demarcated the boundary of the hospital and the street. The same crowd which was under grief inside the hospital premises was now almost berserk with celebrations. One of the men who had strayed while dancing bumped into J who J recognized as one of the men who had gone to open the door when they all had entered the hospital and so he took the opportunity to ask
‘What is the cause of such celebration?’
‘Our old men left us today after living for a century. It is considered a good omen in our place. We are celebrating so as to give a grand farewell to the departed. He may live for another century in heaven before coming back here again. This is our gratitude for his blessing that he has left us with.‘
‘But why do you celebrate here and not at the place where he lived?
‘Sir, it is here his soul left us and if it still lingers around here then we must put up a great spectacle for him to see his farewell. After one has lived so long death is a mere obligation, if he had died somewhere else we would have celebrated there only.’ The man completed his sentence quickly and surged away to the dancing crowd which had taken a lead on him.
‘Ah! so death can also be celebrated’ thought J
Just then in front of J four men carried a wooden plank on which the body rested. It seemed calm and peaceful as if it already had attained salvation. J turned around and began to move along with the crowd and with the beat of the drum he began to dance slowly losing himself in the jubilation of a death.