A toy horse, a slice of yellow, damaged sunlight and a horned nightingale surrounded me. I tried to catch hold of each of them or one atleast – with failure. I floated, I sank, I floated again. I knew I was drowning. I was desperate. I needed to get hold of atleast one of those….that way I still had a chance. But they were way too far. Just then I heard a soft voice singing:
Before the lights are gone,
Before the night is long,
Amidst the din and noise,
Look out for that voice-
that one sparrow song!
I hated dreams – especially weird ones. There are some dreams that make me push myself to wake up. This was no exception.
Dim though it was, the orange light hurt my eyes. I cursed my father.
“Nightlamps should be blue; green at the best”, I had screamed at him.
“But orange goes well with your personality Emz “, he had laughed out loud in return. That had left me startled. We were used to a factory supervisor who would come and go as a guest to our house and whom we called father. But we never did, nor did he, attach any tag of emotions to the relationship. So his laugh and joke were equal strangers to me.
But at that moment I was in no mood to soak in past. My head throbbed and I knew I needed to sleep for some more time. Cheap alcohols always had such a hit-you-hard effect but I had no choice – the group that I choose to merry-make with can afford only cheap country liquor in pouches. I reached out for the pillow to cover my eyes just to block off that damned night lamp.
Just then I saw him –this was probably the sixth day in a row. It was just a corner-of-my-eyes vision but how could I miss his greenish, hairy being – the orange of the room only lent him a darker hue. I tried to put the pillow over my eyes and shut off the vision. It had worked well the other five times but today it didn’t. I heard his voice instead – it was somewhere between a muffled, nasal tone and a hiss.
“ Bobo, don’t ignore me. Face me dude. Be a man!”
That got me. I knew I had to face him. My head throbbed but I still sat up.
“ Now, who are you and what do you want?”. I tried not to sound too angry.
Harr, harr, harr……he laughed dirty.
“Don’t tell me you don’t know me. You have read about me – pictures are hard to find but you are a smart chap, guessing should be your forte”. He gave a short pause. Then with a dramatic movement he picked up the edge of his robe, swung his green tail to and fro, squeezed his lips to a perfect pout and then bowed a little.
“ Hereby I introduce myself. Presenting the master of damaged souls and fractured minds….the one and the only. Ofcourse I have a better school-name….. but you can call me Lucy. That’s kinda girly, I know. But anything for you Bobo!”
I was tempted to laugh out loud at his theatrics but I was too angry for that.
“Who’s Bobo?”, I barked.
His fire-rimmed, no eye-lid eyes squinted in mirth. “ That is my invention – the masculine gender for Baby. How do you like it?”
“Shut your stinking mouth and just blurt what you want.”. This time I too added a punch of hiss to my voice.
“May I ?”, he pointed to a corner of my bed. I didn’t answer. As if he cared. He lifted his gown with two fingers like a delicate movie-star and seated himself. Then as if to annoy me lifted his tail from one of the slits and slipped its pointed end inside his left ear. Then, in slow, delicate motion tickled his ears with his tail, keeping his eyes closed in ecstasy. Seconds passed and then minutes. I needed sleep and I was really not sure whether this drama was part of a borrowed dream or a surreal reality.
“ Excuse me! If you are over with this comedy circus, I would want to catch a wink or two before I get a really bad hangover”.
He opened his eyes with a sudden pop. “Basically you want a long story cut short? I want that too Bobo…..Tomorrow at four thirty…evening time….is that fine with you ? Ofocurse, why am I asking you at all. Do you actually have a choice ?”
“Do I have a choice – about what ?”. This time somehow I felt my voice crack a bit. Was that a small stream of sweat that was making down my forehead?
“Ah, that should have been an easy guess Bobo – to be with me ofcourse…..”. He got up with a sudden jerk and then with a certain flair made a small turn and bowed before me.
“Be mine forever….forever mine”, he sang in his nasal tone.
“Get lost……”, I howled. Like a man possessed I threw my pillow and whatever I could lay my hands on. I didn’t care if it was a dream or reality….I wanted him out.
His eyes fast changed expression – from mirth to anger to disgust – his prickly eye-brows and his eyes conveyed all in seconds. He brought his face dangerously close to mine.
“ Lemme see. What time is it now? Four thirty in the morning. Twelve, exactly twelve hours from now you shall be mine”, he whispered.
Thack! With an absolute disgust she banged down the glass of chocolate milk before me.
“And now don’t crib about the milk Emmanuel. I have added a full two spoon full of chocolate to it and I don’t want you to make faces. I ain’t no father’s servant to supply variety of food and I ain’t have no pond full of money that I can afford to waste food!”, she grumbled. A chocolate milk was the last thing a hang-over morning needs but to her surprise I drank my milk in silence. Infact I felt sorry for my mother. Her constant struggles with too-little resources, a hardly-there husband, a wayward son did fray her nerves over time.
A pair of eyes shone from behind the pile of half-burnt toasts. There was always a certain twinkle in Zoey’s eyes. Somehow I hated that ever-merry look in his eyes. My brother was so unlike me. He winked. He knew what was coming. It was almost a daily affair – the tiff between me and mom.
But strangely I did not. Not only did I finish the milk in one go, I did not fiddle with my mobile and I even left the empty glass in the sink.
Mother was cleaning the table and gave a puzzled glance. “You ain’t goin’ the right way Emmanuel. Those filthy people and their filthy ways ain’t for boys like you – they will only lead you to the road to hell!”, she remarked softly. I smiled in return. Smiled ? Did I just smile ? Holy crap! What is wrong with me! This isn’t me! Did the early morning nightmare affect me too much ? But was it a nightmare ? Was it really? I wondered.
The park looked deserted. An old man sat in a remote corner with his pet dog. The dog looked as old. They both dozed in silence under a shady tree. A brave sparrow hopped across too near the dog to peck on to the left-over crumbs or insects. It was twelve in the noon and yet the grass seemed fresh-green. I let my feet slip out of the floaters and placed my feet on the grass. I inhaled the smell of sun-soaked grass- for the first time in my life perhaps. I was feeling strange. At this time I should have ideally been in college – dozing during or bunking lectures and here I was sitting in a park for no reason at all. This was so not me. I wondered if I was actually going insane or was it an over-extension of the hang-over!
“Gosh, you’ve been sitting on my pride for too long now!”, a voice echoed besides me.
Startled I looked up only to find him sitting beside me. For a second, my heart was in my mouth!
I looked around – it was broad daylight, the old-man and his dog were still sleeping, I could even hear a hawker’s voice somewhere far – selling his ware and I was not drunk!
“You mind?”, he pointed to the end of his tail trapped under my thigh. I was perplexed. When and how did I manage to sit on his tail at all! And where was he all this while? Given a choice I would have crushed his tail to pulp but I shifted my thigh. He pulled out his tail like ribbon and then went on a kissing spree, nursing and kissing his tail at the same time. Disgusting! This was too much of a drama! I looked around again- was no one else noticing him – a hairy, green man with a strange robe and a stranger tail?
Now I was pretty certain that I was fast losing my sanity. I needed to run away. But before I could, he chuckled, “No use Bobo! Four hours and a half and you shall be mine!”
Don’t know why but for once I felt helpless.
“ Why me ? Why do you actually have to choose me ? There are so many languishing, infact waiting for their turn to die. Take for instance Gomes uncle. He is a perfect package – ninety years, Alzheimer’s, good-for-nothing son who is waiting for him to die . And with a history of wife-beating, alcoholism and even a suspected murder he can be you perfect item number!”, I tried to cover my growing tension with a dose of humour.
He blinked, thought for a while and then put his hand inside his robe-pocket which was so far not visible. He pulled out a long roll of paper and a pair of spectacles. With absolute seriousness he actually wore his specs and began reading through his long list.
“ What name did you just say ? Gomes ? Mmmm….mmmmm. Nah! I don’t have his name in the urgent list. Whereas I have yours….here it is…..family name: D’Costa….number of item: one….here it is Bobo! Can’t help it dude, we are pretty well-organised about our consignments ….we know just the right time to pick one”, he remarked with a cunningly sad pretence masking his face.
“Please….spare me….”, my voice almost choked.
His eyes glowed like wild-fire. He clenched his teeth in disgust.
“ Requests don’t go to the Pending box Bobo! With us, every request goes to the Recycle Bin – only to be shredded to bits later!”
The next moment he was gone. I banged my head hard with my hands. What was going wrong with me?
‘I need to be normal. I need to be normal’, I kept chanting while walking out of the park.
At the turning of the road I met Shaila. At one point of my life she was my girl-friend but as we grew up and as we got engrossed in things we loved, we realized we were too different from each other. While alcohol , drunken brawls and a girl now and then became my way of life, she became a Sunday-school teacher.
She was walking down with her bicycle. A bunch of yellow roses and a small Bible adorned her front basket.
“ A punctured tyre”, she smiled.
“Then have it repaired. You can’t walk down all the way – Church is still far away”.
“ Can’t help it Emmy. Today we have a special choir practice and the kids would have reached by now. If I go for a repair, it would be too late”, she shrugged helplessly.
I could have offered to carry her bi-cycle, infact the Emmy in me wanted to but the four-thirty thing was already bugging me and I needed a drink. I let her walk her way with her roses and anxiousness.
Damn! How could a metro rail-station be so empty at four in the evening? There should, there must be people. People, people and more people – early retirees from office, school-returns, their talkative mothers, sweaty marketing guys – I just needed an insane crowd to surround me. I felt funny! There is perhaps no one in this world who hates people more than me and today I was actually looking feverishly for a crowd. There were persons – a one or two – dotted here and there across the platform but they were too little for my comfort!
I didn’t want to but somehow my eyes fell on the huge electronic clock mounted atop. It displayed 4:28 in bright, red, vibrant hues. Red as in blood red, vibrant as in loud….I looked elsewhere, trying to divert my attention.
The nearest person to me was an old lady with a basket full of apples, sitting on one of the rest-benches besides the pillar. As my eyes met hers, she bowed a little and smiled. Her little eyes almost sunk inside her cherry red cheeks…….a grandma straight out of the fairy tale book – I tried to focus my attention to such mundane observations.
For no particular reason, I happened to look at the guard rail and there he was –sitting on top of the rails, swaying back and forth in a lullaby motion.
“ It is time for party Bobo!”, he jingled in a sing-song voice. My heart thumped louder than ever.
And then there was the thundering noise of the train rushing in. With each second the sounds grew louder – my heart-beat, the train and his insane laughter. The juxtapose of loudness was driving me insane……
Just then my eyes fell on a lean, timid boy making his way down the stairs –rushing in to catch the train. Zoey! ‘Zoey D’Costa’, my soul whispered into my ears and at that lightening instance I remembered his words: ‘ family name: D’Costa….number of item: one’.
I winked at the monster, “No way Lucy! Bobo is way smarter…..”.
The train rushed into the platform in a wild frenzy. Zoey hadn’t seen me at all. Holding his sling bag tight he rushed to the opened doors of the train. Silently as ever, I stood behind him and then just let my fingers do the mild-push. Thin that he was, it took just seconds for Zoey to lose control of himself. A commotion followed. I rushed to the guard-rails and stuck my tongue out in glee.
“It is not easy to get Emmanuel D’Costa dirty guy! You needed a D’Costa, you got a D’Costa – the sum is solved…chapter closed”.
He looked at me for seconds and then broke out in laughter…Harrr, harr,harrr.
“Welcome to hell, my love”, he whispered.
“But…but…but….you are done with the day….you asked for one, you got one”.
“Tch, tch, tch”, he chuckled. “ We don’t deal in life smarty, soul is all we need…and you have just sold yours”, he let out a sarcastic smile.
I couldn’t believe my ears. My legs began to shake. I did not even want to pay attention to the crowd that was swelling up behind. I needed a place to sit. I could hardly see, my eyes were too blurred with upcoming tears. I plunked myself on the nearest bench!
What did I just do ? Why did I do ? I really had no answer. My face covered with palm I sobbed inconsolably. I remembered Zoey’s eyes, his mischievous smile, how he actually took efforts to cover up for my mistakes, his horrible but enthusiastic outbursts of singing, his failed efforts to learn guitar. He was always the weirdo whom I never cared for but admired secretly. I remembered how he had gifted me a baby squirrel for my birthday, how he had stayed awake night after night during my bout of chicken pox…….I now had no way to undo what was done. I felt evil. I was born a devil, I thought.
“ We are not born good or bad Emmanuel, it is just the way we choose to go”.
My ears were so used to hear the hissing, nasal tone that the sweetness of the voice actually startled me. I looked up. The old lady with the basket of apples sat smiling next to me. I didn’t bother how she knew me or my thoughts. All I wanted was to hear her speak. She put her arm on my shoulder.
“ We are basically never evil Emmanuel, it is those small decisions in life that make us so – it can be a forever decision or a momentary one. The trick is to listen to the call – the right call”.
“But once we take the wrong road, there is no way back. Can we ever undo what we have done ?”, I whispered.
“ Sometimes yes…..if your repentance is from well-within your heart. It is that sparrow song that you can choose to listen or ignore. Before the lights are gone; Before the night is long; Amidst the din and noise; Look out for that voice- that one sparrow song!”
I looked at her in disbelief. Who was she? How did she ever know the poem that is often recited in my dreams? I wanted to ask her but a thunderous applause drowned my voice. I turned around to look at the crowd that had gathered at the accident spot.
“What a save man!”
“One lucky chap you are!”
“Ask your mother to offer a special prayer”
“ I still can’t believe it ya…..it is just so impossible”.
“I need a selfie with you hero!”
“Advantage of being lean….thank god your momma did not over-feed you!”.
There were snippets of conversation floating here and there. The only expression written in every face was that of relief. And amidst the torn bits of conversations, jokes and applause I could only see a pair of eyes – a centre of cynosure around. There was a look of nervous relief in those pair of eyes but the twinkle was still intact. How could I ever miss them! I’ve always hated that bit of mischievous twinkle but right now I loved them like never before!