Sunday, September 03, 2006

Delayed

He hurries through the narrow alley, checking his watch every ten paces. The downpour had started earlier that evening, and was continuing to thrash the city, rattling its roofs, spraying clean its corners, inundating the roads, bringing traffic to a crawl. He curses himself for not leaving office earlier. Now he would have to come up with a strategy to pacify her. There's a cheap bouquet of red roses in his hands, bought from a hawker on the pavement just outside the station. He adjusts his shoulder-bag feeling the strap biting into his skin.

Suddenly, two men spring from an alcove.

He looks at them. Oh Lord! No ...

Even as he's sizing up their masked faces, he reaches inside his bag, hoping to find something he can use. The steel of a knife flicks menacingly into life.

"Haath oopar!1", one of them commands.

He looks at them both. Average height, 5 foot 5, shorter than him, clad identically in blue jeans, tight T-shirts and cheap leather boots. He stares at them. But the rain's making things difficult. He can't make out their features.

"Haath oopar!", irritation in the muffled voice now.

He pulls out a magazine, rolls it in his hands, and lunges at them. They weave away and one of them swings a punch at him.

A white bolt of shock jolts his body as the fist connects with his jaw. He's thrown off his feet and collapses on the street in a heap, the bag flung off his shoulders. He sees stars in front of him. The shock subsides, and a blue wave of overwhelming pain floods his face. Blood swirls inside his mouth, its metallic taste strangely soothing. He debates getting up and fighting. But the pain is persuasive, the risk foolish. He stays down.

The guy with the knife stands over him, while the other runs over to the bag, checking its contents. Cell phone, lap-top, digital diary, food coupons ... there's too much maal 2 in it. They decide to take the bag.

He sees it late, and doubles over as the foot swings into his groin. His stomach churns as the pain knots him up. They pound him with their feet, like kids fighting over a football. He curls up like a foetus, protecting his body, but they continue to kick him methodically, in his stomach, in his kidneys, in his back, on his head, till he's not moving any more. They turn him over to take a look at him. He keeps his eyes closed, pretending to be unconscious. He feels hands reaching into his trousers for his wallet. They kick him again. Once. Twice. He hears them walk away. He doesn't open his eyes fearing they would come back if they saw him conscious.

He counts to thirty before opening his eyes. He looks about from where he's lying. There's nobody around. Not even a dog.

He rolls over carefully onto his back and looks at the sky, assessing his body, the rain stinging his eyes. His jaw feels like it's come loose. His body is soaked with pain. The pain is a strange creature to contend with. As long as he stays still, it's dull and placid. But the minute he moves, it streaks violently through his muscles, leaving him gasping for breath.

He chides himself for jumping off the bus and taking the short-cut. Now look what happened. Damn. Never ever take a short-cut, sermonizes a part of himself, a vestige from his middle-class upbringing. Hell, it's not your fault. At this rate, there will be no roads to walk on. It's not your fault, rationalizes the finance professional in him.

He waits a while before deciding to move his body. Leaning his elbow on the road, he props himself up. The pain is agonizing, and there's only so much he can gnash his teeth. But he discovers that if he gets through the first few seconds of pain, it's not that bad. He's grateful he's obese; the fat seems to have softened the blows.

The reality of the mugging sets in slowly. This is not supposed to happen to me. He always thought people who got mugged were really stupid, stupid people who couldn't take care of themselves. He thinks about his assailants. He wonders how long they had been waiting there. Or did they get into position on seeing him stroll down the alley? Damn, they chose their spot well. And talk about timing! Smart chaps, he muses ironically.

He looks at the tall, narrow buildings lining the alley. He wonders if there's anybody inside.


"Arrey, koi hai...?! 3", he calls out, more out of hope than out of reason.

"KOI HAAAAIII?", he feels his voice quavering with the effort, his body shivering in the rain.

No answer. No movement from inside the curtained windows. He realizes the futility of his situation. Mugged, beaten up, without a paisa on him. And nobody to help him out. The world can be a testing place.

He ponders going to the police.

Too much of a hassle. Besides you can't give them anything to work with. You have no idea what those guys look like ... maybe
you should have fought them out. What good are you if you can't fight for yourself? If you can't protect what you've earned?

And get myself killed? No way. Not worth it.

He gets up on his feet cautiously, buckling to his knees more than once in the process. The pain is now numbing. He's no longer aware of it. It's like wearing a hat -- you forget you have it on after a while. He loosens his belt and lets his shirt tails hang out uncouthly. The rain feels nice on his face, and he loosens his tie to let it trickle down his body.

He sees the bouquet lying a few yards away; he stumbles over and picks it up. The roses are undamaged and he's thankful for that. Not everything went wrong, he consoles himself.

He thinks about tomorrow, even though it is far, far away -- for now, he just wants to get home to his wife. He will have to file for a new lap-top at the office, apply for a new mobile phone. He can already hear the questions - What happened? You got mugged???!! Where?? When?! Man...you gotta be careful...Did you fight them? No? Yeah, right, not worth it at all ... What did they look like? Oh, OK .. Did you go to the police? Hmm... He wonders if he should lie when they ask him. Tell them that he got a couple of punches in and that it made him feel good, despite being mugged. He wonders if people would think him a sissy otherwise.

His mouth tastes awful. He gingerly pokes his tongue at where thinks he's bleeding inside his mouth. One of the molars is loose, knocked out of its socket, hanging on by a slender scrap of gum. He reaches inside with his fingers, and with a jerk, pulls the tooth off, and throws it out. Fresh blood bubbles out of the cavity and he spits it into the rain. He bends over and catches his breath. The pain is tiring him out. But he needs to get home which is at least another kilometer away. He starts walking slowly, dragging his feet along, the rain insulating him from the pain.

He already disliked the awkwardness he will have to face, the questions he will be asked, the story that he will have to repeat over and over. Just for a week or two. Two weeks and then everyone will forget, even you.

He wonders if he can really recover from this. Already, he's glancing everywhere with each step. Every corner hid a mugger in his mind. He was on red-alert now.
Would I ever relax? What is the guarantee that this won't happen again? Who knows where the next mugger is hiding? Is this how it feels to be raped and have your faith about the world violated? Is this how it feels to live in a state of constant fear? And what good is being alert? What if someone pulls a gun on me? Is this why countries war? Damn...

He reaches the main road from the alley. The house is just two streets away. He hobbles along the road, attracting curious glances from passersby. One or two venture to help him, but he refuses them. He can't trust anybody now. Everybody was a thief now. He realizes the helplessness of his situation. What could I have done? What could anybody have done? How can I trust anybody now? Whose fault is it if I can't trust anybody?

He flings open the gate, the pain in his back almost unbearable now. He goes up to the door,and rings the bell. He can hear her steps from inside the house. He looks at his clothes soiled from the rain, the gravel and the blood. I must look quite a sight, he chuckles, and looks at the bouquet in his hands. At least I won't have trouble explaining why I'm late.

*

1 Hands up.
2 Loot.
3 Is anybody there?.

10 comments:

catch22 said...

Well written piece. Got me involved till the end. Was griting my teeth when they were beating him, wanted him to get up and throw atleast one punch, wanted to be there to help him. And in the end found myself chuckling reading the last sentence

Anand said...

nice story, but would have loved to see the wife's reaction.

musafir said...

catch22

Thanks.

anand

Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

Wife's reaction? Hmm ... next time maybe :)

paddy said...

wow that was some description ... preety much how one feels so many things after an incident even though the world might be least bothered about what had happened... it is the longest moment in life ,thinking all that could have been done and then live just goes on at its usual pace...

Anonymous said...

"He wonders if he can really recover from this. ... Is this why countries war? Damn..."

I suffered a bus accident sometime back. Havent been able to board a bus without misgivings about my safety after that. A subconscious high alert that makes me anticipate a mishap and position my self in order to suffer least damage. Havent been able to relax my senses despite conscious efforts.

This often sets me into wondering about the scars that combat and war would leave on those exposed to it day and night. Perhaps why, many refugee s have re-built their lives in a stellar fashion. Survival Instincts honed to perfection by constant disaster.

And dont know why, havent been able to comment on your blog with my bloggername.... Have been tryin to do so for days...


- Soliloquist.

musafir said...

soliloquist

Yes, I remember reading both the "accident" (for want of a better term) posts ... it's almost like youth bestows you with this cloak of invulnerability and for the rest of your life, with each experience, you're either realizing how fragile you are or you continue denying your own mortality.

I got robbed once; no, it wasn't anywhere as serious as this post is, but most of what I went through after being robbed, I've put down here. And I get what you mean when you say -

"Havent been able to board a bus without misgivings about my safety after that. A subconscious high alert that makes me anticipate a mishap and position my self in order to suffer least damage. Havent been able to relax my senses despite conscious efforts." -- absolutely.

The other day I was returning from work at 2 A.M. and I saw this guy walking towards me -- probably somebody returning home after a long day's work. But until we crossed and put some distance between us, I was taut, prepared for the worst. So, scars don't heal at all sometimes. And this for being robbed. Imagine the kind of scars wars would leave! It is such a surprise that humanity continues to prevail in the world.

As for the comments, I switched over to Blogger Beta a while ago, and people with old Blogger accounts and who haven't merged it with a google account can't leave comments under their Blogger account name. A way around is to use the "other" option for "Choose an identity", use your Blogger account name, paste the link to your blog and leave a comment. And as for signing comments, there are not a lot of people from Wipro who read this blog :)

musafir said...

paddy

"t is the longest moment in life ,thinking all that could have been done and then live just goes on at its usual pace" -- so true. You got that right. Time seems to slow down and every thought seems to crystallize and freeze and take just that bit longer to pass through the window frame of your mind. And like you said, you keep going over and over the incident thinking of what you could have done differently.

Thanks for dropping by and commenting :)

the_soliloquist said...

This reminds me of a song by Sting. "How fragile we are" , post 9/11. Heard it? ...
As for people from wipro reading this blog... u never know ... u have a growin fan following here... :-)
And I prefer my psuedonym to my real name for diff reasons..

musafir said...

the soliloquist

No, haven't heard that song, though Sting is among the artists I like. Can I listen to it somewhere on the net?

And "fan following"? Don't tell me!

the_soliloquist said...

guess u can catch it on youtube...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e33umZlpTIM