So the world is getting darker and colder as 2014 approaches. Why is it that every year we must face new year under gloomy, foggy skies? Even the attempts of your favourite RJ on your favourite FM Mirchi channel trying to bring in some winter cheer seems to fall flat on its face because it’s just s-so brrrr!
Hey, unless you’re in Australia, of course. Those people get to go to the beach and drink mimosas and surf on the 1st of January.
Not that I am complaining. It’s not so cold in my part of the country. While the north of India struggles to get out of their rajais every morning, I’m gonna find the task a lot less daunting. Indeed we spend New Year’s eve at a rooftop potluck which sounds like an utterly insane idea, and it is, but you get the satisfaction of exclaiming, ‘Aha! See, it’s never that cold here-brrr!’ while you try to get your numb fingers dexterous enough to stuff chicken tikkas into your mouth and all your clothes start to turn smoky because you obviously have a bonfire going. Obviously.
See, there’s an outline of my New Year bonanza, every year for the past five years (I think)! Sounds delectable, doesn’t it?
I end up feeling absolutely nothing as the clock chimes the midnight hour. The only interesting part is watching people who are unused to staying up till midnight, struggle with their drooping eyelids. They win the battle but I am not sure of the purpose.
I guess this here, is right what it’s all about.
Okay, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for new beginnings but I just don’t feel the New Year bug that seems to infest people this time of the year. I go along with it and even though it doesn’t work, hey at least I generate a new post for my blog!
I’m kidding. Go ahead and plan your 2014 right down to the minute in that new 2014 calendar diary you’re going to purchase your iPhone’s planner and download a new app or two while you’re at it.
Finished by Dostoevsky mere months before he died, The Karamazov Brothers is one of the greatest masterpieces to come from Russian literature, if not from the world over. The version I read was a translation by Constance Garnett, one of the earliest translators for writings by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, among others. Divided into four parts with twelve books, The Karamazov Brothers is a richly loaded novel which deals with several issues including religion, philosophy, socialism, poverty, relationships, love and so on.
It’s a story of four brothers, as uniquely diverse as they are similar and their relationships with each other and with their father are a subject of in-depth analysis in the plot. These four brothers borne of the same father but different mothers are completely neglected by him (their mothers all die young) and left to more or less fend for themselves. The father Fyodor is a lavish spender, a philanderer and a crudely selfish man. When he gets murdered, all the evidence seems to point straight at the eldest brother though we are never, for a moment left with any chance to suspect that he is the murderer. The plot examines how, in their own ways, all four brothers somehow or the other committed patricide that led to the death of the man who created them but did not, in any way whatsoever, shape them.
The four brothers are drawn out distinctively, as are the many, many other characters this book contains. Despite the chaos of the story of the Karamazov brothers, Dostoevsky succeeds in creating a very organized and almost chronological sequence of events with minor digressions.
In fact, The Karamazov Brothers is not a whodunit, though it may appear to be one from its blurb. The question of who murdered the old man is hardly ever up for examination because it is settled quite early on and there is a little room left for judgement. The book instead, is a monologue on society, justice, truth and God, amidst other topics.
Unlike Crime and Punishment (the only other Dostoevsky book that I’ve read), The Karamazov Brothers is much more intensely dramatized. Most of the conversations are passionate, heated exchanges. Almost all of them are from the heart and direct. They all seem to be dripping with high levels of pathos and idealism, from the regular conversations between family members, right up to the statements given by the prosecution and defense during the court case.
Religion and Science
Dostoevsky has devoted a large part of the book to religious discussions. In fact, one of the underlying themes throughout the novel is the religious question. Through the character of Alyosha (one of the brothers), Dostoevsky creates a character who believes in God and humanity and is thus an ideal man for him. At the other extreme is the brother Ivan who is an atheist. One of the book’s highest points, for me, was a long exchange between these two brothers followed by a poem in prose put forth by Ivan- The Grand Inquisitor. In this poem, Jesus descends to earth and finds himself lectured by the Grand Inquisitor who complains that God has given human beings too much freedom to exercise their will. If He, instead of leaving them alone to find their way to Him, was to give them their daily bread and in return control every decision of their lives, humanity would not be so degraded.
Besides, through Ivan, Dostoevsky raises other questions such as the reason for the torture of small children, the Bible’s implication that light came first but the stars, moon and sun later and how can a human being be expected to love ALL of mankind, except as an ideal?
Granted these are deep questions and Dostoevsky seems to imply that values and virtues lose their meaning without God; for why are we to restrict ourselves from committing any crime if there is no God?
Indeed, everything I found on this topic within this book is quite valid even in today’s day and age but despite its heavy arguments, Dostoevsky did not convince me on the God question. Can questions of morality not be decided without asking, at every step along the way, whether God exists or not? Is it completely impossible to run the world based on ideals not derived from a holy manual on existence?
Granted, existence may prove to be too complicated for us to examine from our limited post on earth. Granted, there may be a God. But it does not take a God for us to know that we need to love and live. Crime does not automatically become a negation by the presence of a God and it does not automatically become a given in His absence.
Though Dostoevsky talks about the feelings of transcendence and reverence that rise within our hearts and mocks modern science and logic’s arrogant claims to explain everything, perhaps there is a flat element to his examination of the question of atheism.
There is so much in this book that it cannot really be examined in a short summary. I was most struck with The Grand Inquisitor poem and the character of Alyosha appealed to me the most; everyone else seemed flawed and deserving of pity and though Alyosha’s weaknesses were highlighted, he came through as a compassionate human being (and beyond the questions of God, that is what is most important).
Although Dostoevsky notes, with sadness, the tragic metamorphosis of a society embedded in faith to one seemingly ‘limited’ by the theories of logic and science and math, sinking harder and faster into immorality and materialism and moving further and further away from goodwill and faith, I will still continue to look upon the world with hope. Perhaps distance, age, time and difference of opinions and upbringing separates my views so radically from his, I still think one owes it to this novel to read it. It deserves to be read, examined, talked about and interpreted. Good intentions and complex relationships lie at the crux of the culmination of the story of these Karamazov brothers.
History is steeped in examples of how, whenever anything ugly rears its head for too long, it is swept away at some point or the other. Mother Earth has her cleansing process and this applies to the anthropological levels of human society as well. From the war against royalty and tyranny of the French Revolution, to the abolition of slavery in the UK and the USA, from the defeat of Hitler’s anti-Semitic dictatorship to the slow freedom of colonies under European domination, world freedom has been and continues to be a slow fight. But there is so much to be hopeful for! So much is changing and the changes are in front of our eyes.
We are living in a truly radical age! The outburst of connectivity has spun the world on it’s axis, faster and harder than ever before. The era of a flat world is truly here and a modern revolution is descending upon us. Perhaps I am being too much of an idealist, but on looking back I see how everything is pointing towards improvement and growth for the world as a whole. From Malala Yousafzai to Edward Snowden, Twenty Thirteen has been a year of hope.
Closer home, December in India saw something stupendous take place when, during the Delhi elections, Congress was thrown completely off its feet from its stronghold by the AAP.
AAP or Aam Aadmi Party was launched towards the end of 2012. Springing from a movement that aimed at minimizing corruption in our government (something the Indian administration is famous for, world over), AAP used a unique approach to battle the powerful major political parties of the country. AAP comprises of people who belong to the middle and lower strata of society; educated and dynamic young men and women who are truly sick to their bone of watching a country with so much potential grow heavy and hollow under the modern-day political tyranny of the Congress-led UPA coalition who have ruled India these past nine and a half years. Led by Arvind Kejriwal, an IIT graduate, AAP aims at transparency and honesty, it brings new hope to the common people. And even while Congressmen considered them unworthy opponents, ‘newbies’ to this complex world, inept at playing the game of politics, AAP used the internet and media and even good old door-to-door propaganda to win Delhi. Now so many hopes rest with them, as Arvind Kejriwal makes ready to ascend to the seat of Delhi Chief Minister. Things are about to change.
On a personal front, I have battled this year with a bunch of disappointments but on the whole. I think I have learnt a lot. Not just about personal hardships and how to face them but about the kind of things that really matter! i began this year with a challenge of reading 50 books and on any other year I might have gotten through, but I’ve only managed 29 so far. I will round it off to a thirty or maybe thirty one but the book I am reading right now (The Karamazov Brothers) is 860 pages thick and hence a somewhat slow slog.
Anyway, here’s a list of the books I read this year, starting from the beginning:
Prince Flynn was full of good hope, light, passion. The day had finally come. He was going to win his love over forever.
He couldn’t think of anyone else but Rapunzel. Her golden hair, her large blue eyes, her childlike expression when she smiled at him as he serenaded her, her absolute devotion.
For all the women who had fawned over him at court, batted their eyelids flirtatiously at him, worn the most magnificent gowns that gold could buy just so they could get in his good books, he felt only contempt mingled with pity. They all came to court with some sort of haughty confidence in their ability to bewitch him. They became vexed when he would not, could not give them what he wanted. Try as he might he couldn’t love them.
But Rapunzel! He had fallen head over heels in love with her since he had set his eyes on her. The pool of gorgeous hair, her most striking feature, shone like a sort of halo around her head. Her goodwill erupted into the universe and outshone everything else, paling all royalty in comparison. Yes, she was born to be a queen and he would make her one. He knew that the day had finally arrived when he would ask her to escape with him, leave the tower and her evil witch godmother behind forever.
After all, nothing could stand in the way of true love.
He finally arrived at Rapunzel’s tower. He dismounted from his horse, his heart full of hope and promise and called out like he always did, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair!’
And her thick golden braid descended before his eyes, gleaming in the milky moonlight. The prince began his slow climb and the closer he got to the window atop the tower, the gladder grew his heart! He could not even express how overwhelmed he felt that night at the prospect of laying his entire world at Rapunzel’s feet. He was the Prince of vast lands, well-loved and desired everywhere he went and come morning, everyone would know of the kindness and beauty his heart desired!
With these thoughts Prince Flynn climbed higher and higher until he reached the window. Unafraid, he swung his legs inwards as he did every night and opened his arms wide to embrace his love.
He froze in shock. Standing before him was the witch! Rapunzel’s godmother. She held a gigantic pair of gleaming scissors in one hand and that is when the prince noticed- Rapunzel’s thick braid was hanging from a hook in the wall but they weren’t attached to that beautiful head anymore!
‘Where is she!’ he growled fiercely, drawing out his sword with one hand.
The ugly witch cackled, her wrinkled face full of glee and hatred.
‘So this is he, the prince who won my precious girl’s innocent heart!’ she hissed in a smothered voice that made Prince Flynn’s blood curdle. ‘Be patient my lad, she is right here. With me.’
And at just that moment the witch moved to the right to reveal Rapunzel, who was standing behind her. But she looked different. Her hair had been cropped short in a pixie cut. She wore a shirt with short sleeves, her midriff was bare and loose purple pantaloons encircled her waist, with slippers on her feet. What caught his attention, however, was her bare skin, which was covered in tattoos. Long, winding lines of ink sketched over her abdomen and her taut stomach, her arms and her back!
As he stood their in stunned silence, taking her in, Rapunzel laughed. It felt unnatural to him and the hair on his back rose with the agony of an inexplicable grief.
‘Rapunzel, my love, what is this? What is wrong with you? It’s her, isn’t she’, he yelled out suddenly, raising an accusing finger at the witch who stood quietly nearby, her arms folded and a smirk struck perennially on her face.
Rapunzel laughed again and the prince felt confused.
‘My silly darling,’ she mocked, ‘Don’t blame my guardian so. She is quite innocent in all regards. It was my desire to have an intense make-over!’
Prince Flynn could feel his heart shattering and yet he maintained a composed countenance. ‘How could that be sweetheart?’ he cried, ‘When just yesterday we had hopes and dreams and prayers for the future and you never told me about your plans regarding today, even though we were planning the months, the years ahead of us!’
Rapunzel smiled, a little sadly. Reaching out to the table behind her, she picked up a satchel that lay there and slung it across her shoulder.
‘That was the past, my prince.’ She told him calmly. ‘Your sweet nothings were beautiful but they sickened me! It was the same thing, over and over. Riches and brocade wall hangings, silken gowns and rich feasts, jewels the size of my fist.’ She held his fist out to him, passionately overcome. ‘It all sounded magnificent but the more I heard, the less I desired it. I want freedom, Flynn. I want to fly like the birds, explore the world, meet strangers and have strange encounters. Have amorous experiences and countless fleeting affairs! I cannot let you bind me. I cannot let you take me from this tower and plant me in a castle- much more enchanting and a lot more luxurious but still a prison!’
‘But you could have said all of this to me!’ The prince felt betrayed, utterly and completely. In his dejected state, he fell to his knees. ‘You would have been my queen, you could have demanded anything! You only had to tell me, I would bring the moon to you. She too, would have worshiped you.’
Rapunzel only shook her head. ‘I do not wish to be worshiped. I wish to be free.’ She bent towards him and reached out with her hand, touched his temple and moved her finger slowly down his cheek, towards his lips. ‘I’m sorry love, but my fickle heart cannot be yours. I made my choice and my godmother is letting me go.’
‘I thought she wanted to hold you here forever?’ The prince whispered, throwing a disgusting glance towards the lady who still stood in the corner with her jaws wide open and her face contorted.
Rapunzel shrugged, ‘She is old now and she doesn’t mind.’ She straightened up and smiled. ‘Besides, I made my darling godmother an offer she couldn’t refuse. She is to have you with her, Prince Flynn. Forever and ever.So long, my lovely, handsome Prince’.
Rapunzel laughed again and turning away, went to the window. She held on to her own braid and swung out freely, disappearing into the night sky.
The witch, left alone with Prince Flynn, began snapping her scissors, her wild eyes blazing.
Life comes in chunks and blocks of meaningful inundations broken off by restless periods of nothingness. But the truth about life is that is exists, in some form or the other, every single day. Whether we breathe hard and live fast or stay complacent in a coalescing river of time, life comes.
And so does love.
There’s always so much to say about love that sometimes there’s nothing left to say. But as I keep learning, I feel fortunate when it comes to this four-letter word that can move the world, cause storms and bring the strongest people to their knees.
But love isn’t something you can give up on.
Despite the thrashing love takes everyday by millions of suitors and unrequited lovers, people separated by death or disease or distance- ask the people who have loved or still love, how beautiful it is. How magical. How dreadfully patient it requires you to be. How painfully optimistic. Love takes every iota of strength you possess.
That’s why people give up. It’s why they break down. It’s why they curse and yell and scream and agonize. And yet, they continue to love. Everyone does.
How ironical. And yet, how befitting it is that an ode to life cannot be complete without one to love, because nobody can escape from its grasp.
The biggest example I always like to think of in this regard is Adolf Hitler. The military dictator and mass-murderer who threw the entire world into chaos kept a secret lover. Secondary though she was to everything he dedicated his life to, she was still the woman he loved and desired and married, even if it was on the eve of his suicide. Perverted love, but love indeed.
And love is strange too. It manifests itself in different forms, coming out when you might least desire it. Not expect it even
But on a Wednesday in a cafe, I watched it begin again
croons Taylor Swift in one of the love ballads about the electric sparks of new love. It’s just one of those songs that could bring your first date to mind. When you were just a little bit scared but also excited. Not knowing was part of the fun then. That need for heat sometimes drives loves in strange directions, even negative ones. But when love is stripped of all the firsts, what remains isn’t raw passion but a long-drawn, respectful reverence. Emotions can still be thickening, but they won’t make you heady anymore. Things might feel stagnant but many of us dream of reaching a stage of stability like that and it feels wonderful to be there. It’s like reaching the top of a plateau and planting yourself firmly on it’s surface, ready for the smooth ride. Like a highway after a rugged country road.
I don’t know why I wanted to talk about love today. Maybe because I have been feeling blessed and grateful recently. Maybe because of all the shades of love that exist, only some appeal to me and the ferocity with which I guard myself now, coupled with the love I experience, makes me feel filled to the brim with satisfaction.
To wrap up what turned into rather a long-drawn diary entry, the kind you might find in a teenager’s journal maybe (though I hope I displayed more maturity than that), here’s a sweet song I heard just last month and haven’t stop singing since:
A Tale of Two Cities is a story of London and Paris, the contrasting existence of both; the ubiquitous tyranny of the lords of France pitted against the comparative deliverance of a peaceful existence in England during the advent of the French Revolution for Equality, Fraternity, Liberty and Justice. The most appealing part of this novel is how its conciseness is wrapped around the complex factors that led to the uprising of the common men and women in France and built into a personal story with very few named characters. Easy to follow yet containing fast-moving and well-constructed suspense, A Tale of Two Cities becomes timeless in its thrill and grip.
What happened to Doctor Manette, you wonder just as soon as you are introduced to the gentle prisoner in a French prison, delivered safely to London by his daughter. Here we meet the French nobleman who has christened himself Charles Darnay. Charles Darnay has skillfully given up his rights as a lord in France because oppression and tyranny of others like him is too much for him to bear. We also meet Sydney Carton, the unlikely hero of our story. He has wasted away his potential and his life. Both these men are in love with Lucie Manette, the doctor’s daughter and their love drives the pace of the story.
Shuttling between London and Paris, you realize that the Manette’s existence is at the core of the story. Their future and past is both yet to be determined. In France, the storming of the Bastille gives way to the French Revolution which redefines existence. But confronted with incomplete business, Charles Darnay is forced to return to the town of his childhood and with him, the Manettes will discover things they didn’t think possible.
Classics can require a lot of patience sometimes, but this one doesn’t Perhaps the reason for this is that Charles Dickens first brought out this story through installments in his weekly publication All the Year Around. He wrote the story with breaks and later built them into a cohesive novel. At no point in this classic will you feel bored or left out of the story because the pace never slows down and the drive to know what suspense is motivating the characters to act in the ways they do is at the heart of that incessant urge that will keep you reading.
Through it all, Dickens never loses his famous wittiness and for me perhaps the best example of his satire was in his description on La Guillotine, that infamous invention of the French Revolution which sought to separate heads from bodies and led to the doom of the French aristocracy:
It was the proper theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented hair from turning grey, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine, looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack.
A Tale of Two Cities, then is at its heart a personal story but draws from true historical events, making it lean towards historical fiction. However Mr. Dickens has not gone into historical finesse, choosing instead to skim over the surface of events and fit the ones he saw best suiting his story and discard the parts he did not need. In that respect, this novel is a little broken but in four hundred pages it draws out grey shades for the uprising. As always showing a modern sense of justice and appeal, Mr. Dickens proves himself to be ahead of his times through his judgement regarding truth and the rights men deserve and the liberties they should be granted.
And while I read, I found myself wondering why this was the first time I was familiarizing myself with Charles Darnay and Dr. Manette and Mr. Lorry and Sydney Carton and Madame Defarge, the representative antagonist and all the rest of them whilst they have, for so very long, been etched into literary memory through this delightful novel!
Next up: The Karamazov Brothers by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Derek thought he held the whole world in his arms when he held her. It began with a simple kiss but soon turned out to be so much more than that. He felt like fireworks were playing a riot in the sky above him and bloody hell how!
The second time he met her, she looked adorable in a blue dress, stars shining in her eyes. He couldn’t resist; the kisses became louder and harder still. He found himself breathe in her hair, they smelt like roses and lavender and her skin was the most delicate thing he had ever touched.
That’s when he first asked her her name.
‘Delilah’, she replied simply in a voice with a lilt that seemed to entice him and tease him at the same time. He didn’t need to hear another word. She was pouting her lips and he bent down to kiss them but for once she pushed him away, laughing.
‘Aren’t you gonna tell me yours?’ she asked.
‘Derek’, he replied, too busy to reply, too busy to notice how big and round her eyes became when he uttered that one word.
‘So Derek. What do you do?’ she asked innocently. She was like an angel and soon he was telling her about his job in London, the long hours, the commute, the expenses and above all the loneliness of it all.
‘I can’t talk to just about anyone. And it’s just hard’, he told her.
‘Well let me make it a little easier for you,’ she flirted coyly and wrapped her arms around him and he forgot all about the world outside for a long time.
The next morning he packed to leave. He left his toothbrush behind, thinking, ‘I’ll be back here soon. He thought about how grand it would be, then took her leave gently.
When he finally got to the city, he took a cab to work and entered the gigantic glass building with its glossy floors and perfectly lit hallway. It felt like heaven for a change, not a concrete prison.
He entered his cabin and took a step back. There was a note on the door. The handwriting was beautifully curled and simply read, ‘Derek’.
Deborah, he thought in a heartbeat, dropping his coat to the floor as he delicately picked up the note.
Opened it. It read, ‘You gave me a beautiful weekend. But I cannot belong to you. I can belong to no human being, Derek. I’m just not meant to. I can’t tell you why we met or how lovely it was but I thought I’d leave you a goodbye present. Don’t try to find me. Deboraaah.’
As he contemplated the way she had spelled out her name, something changed. Suddenly, he heard fluttering. His stomach lurched as the floor of the room began to shake in gentle waves. He held on to his desk for support but suddenly the envelope that had contained the letter burst and a thousand butterflies fluttered out.
Red, orange, green, blue, purple, yellow- all colors of the rainbow and possibly more fluttered out of that envelope and flew around his cabin, reaching every corner. Unafraid, free. Some of them reached out to him. Sat on his arms. Others fluttered out of the open window but many many more just swirled around and around in a magnificent display of absolutely stunning colors.
Derek watched with his jaw dropped.
His office door burst open and a colleague walked in.
‘Holy mother of God!’ the colleague exclaimed.
And suddenly, Derek was laughing out loud. And he just couldn’t stop!
Rebus is intrigued by the case of Bible John; an unsolved case of the murder of three women yards from their homes, that took place in the late ’60’s. Though he would give anything to be involved in the investigation of a copy-cat who seems to be following the Bible John pattern and is thus being called Johnny Bible, Rebus is caught up in his own problems. An old case is being re-investigated and if things turn out to be different than what was portrayed, Rebus could be in some big trouble. He also has his own investigation to deal with: a man tumbled out of a ruined house and got himself impaled on the fencing. Did he commit suicide? Was he murdered? If so, by whom and to what ends?
Ian Rankin does it again. Another book that examines Scotland from the shady shadows of dark dealings, secrets, mysteries. His books are not just whodunits- they’re a cultural synopsis of a Scotland the kinds of which you won’t see in glossed over TV shows or travel guides. It leaves you desiring more- but it also leaves you glad to be tucked up in your warm bed at night. And in the end, you’re left wondering why and how such grim things could be a part of the world we live in.
Black and Blue, for me, didn’t quite match up to the level of The Falls, but if you’re trying to understand Rebus better, this is the place to start. Divorced, alcoholic, haunted by the demons of his past, Rebus let’s the cases he works on really get to him. He feels the body and soul of each dead victim and it grapples him in the dark, makes him miserable. Then he seeks solace in alcohol. Too much of it. All the time. He is constantly, insufferably attached to a drink. And when it comes to solving cases, he doesn’t always go by the book. In fact, he often chooses to give the book a complete skip altogether. But he solves his case.
Despite his skills, he is easy to make enemies with. His behaviour worries his colleagues and his bosses alike. But he’s still out there doing his thing, leaving people out of the loop.
The Bible John case is what really gets to you in this book. Three women; one in 1968, two in 1969 were found murdered quite close to their homes. They had all picked up dates at a local dancing house. Through eye-witness accounts, the police manages to get a vague description of the murderer but it is only after the third murder that more information comes to light. Apparently the killer traveled in a taxi with the victim and her sister, before dropping the sister off and doing his thing. The sister described him as well-mannered, polite, eloquent and quoting from the Bible, hence fetching him the name Bible John. This is a true story but Ian Rankin makes it his own by letting us know Bible John in ways the real world does not.
Now there is somebody out there in Rebus’s world who is imitating the real Bible John; murdering women and picking up souvenirs the way the original did. This brings Bible John back into the story as well.
And all the while, Rebus is caught up in an internal investigation against him, about a case in which he might inadvertently been an accessory to a huge cover-up. Rebus isn’t convinced either way but he is starting to feel guilty. And then a case opens up before him.
A man travelled with two companions to an empty, broken down apartment. He was drunk and tumbled to his death, duct-taped to a chair, with a plastic bag over his head. Impaled upon a fence. Maybe he jumped, maybe he was pushed. Rebus is convinced foul play was involved and is eager to get to the bottom of it.
As he delves, he finds corruption and at the root of it- oil. Oil that is fueling not just vehicles but people as well. Rebus cannot let them get away with it. He bends the laws that take him to the truth. But he’ll have justice.
Be warned though, after you turn over the last page, Bible John might just still haunt you; his case remains unsolved. Where did he go? Why did he stop after his third victim? Did it get to him or did someone else? Bone curdling questions.
Note: I am not really sure about this story but decided to post it anyway. Criticism needed!
I didn’t know how it happened. I swear, I hadn’t meant for her to die. It was an accident.
I climbed into my car, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to drive. I had to keep driving until the events of this night washed off me, faded into oblivion. Until time reversed itself.
The night had been going smoothly. Sarah and I, best friends forever. We were dressed to go out; high heels and skimpy outfits, lots of makeup and our hair done prettily. This was our Saturday night routine. It felt absolutely amazing, being out there on our own; flirting and drinking and taking in the freedom. Knowing we were sexy and loved. There was sort of power in that.
But things changed that night. I don’t know how. Maybe we got too much to drink, maybe we fell into something horribly wrong. Raspberry schnapps and handsome men. It could be a tonic but it could also be a real curse. Trust me on that.
Before I knew it we were playing a game. It was a weird sort of game. One of those drunk games you play when you’re half out of your senses and everything seems like a good idea. It involved huge makeshift sticks out of broken table legs and a large punching bag we found. We laughed too much and fell too short of our targets. But somehow, my shot hit my best friend and she collapsed into a pool of blood, a deep gash oozing the sticky red liquid down her neck.
I didn’t know my arms had that sort of power. I swear. I hadn’t meant for her to die.
But I had to get out of there. So I drove. I drove and drove until I didn’t know where I was anymore.
It was a pretty summer night but I was thinking about the police. Would they be there yet? Had the guys stayed back or had they taken off as well? Was Sarah dead? Could she be alive?
It made no sense to go back. I decided to keep driving until it was morning and they found me. Somebody would. Then the story would be in the papers. Drunk night games and crazy chicks who thought they could rule the world. Parents would shake their heads. Shameful.
I was finding it hard to breathe. I stopped the car under a tree just off the highway. Sat there and stared at the full moon. A homeless guy and his trolley were parked a few feet away. He was asleep, his hair coiled thick and long past his shoulders, matted with dirt and highway dust. A cat purred at his feet. I took him all in, still thinking about the pool of blood. Then it got too much.
I leaned out the window and retched out an evening’s worth of alcoholic intake. I hadn’t eaten for a really long time. I decided to keep driving.
Hit the gears in reverse, backed out. Then accelerated ahead once more. The moon shone brighter than ever but the highway lights were out.
Where was I going? Shouldn’t I turn back and see if she’s alive?
I passed another homeless guy. It was sort of weird, the way they seemed to live on the side of the roads.
I saw a trailer parked half a mile into the desert beyond. A campfire. Maybe I could go there. Curl up and die.
My car kept eating up the miles. I didn’t know how much gas I had. I passed a gas station. Maybe I should just turn around.
When I passed a homeless guy for the third time, that’s when it got weird. There was a pool of vomit close by and a cat at his feet. Had I gone full circle? But I hadn’t taken any turns. I was on a straight road.
I shook my head clear and kept driving. There was another gas station. I slowed down and tried to turn in, then saw the road ended, just short of the pump and gave way to a huge trench. Uncertain, I reversed my Saab again and kept driving straight.
I could see Sarah’s laughing face in my head now, the sound of her cackle ringing uncannily in my ears.
The sky was turning pink in the distant horizon now. But there was the homeless guy again. I started to sweat, peeped down at my fuel gauge. It was still close to FULL.
I sighed. Think. What’s happening? Are you driving in full circles?
The tenth time I finally decided to wake up the old man. Or his cat. Someone.
I parked the car as close to him as I dared and walked closer, taking tentative steps.
‘Hello?’ I said softly. There was no reply. The cat at his feet did not stir either.
‘Hello?’, I was louder this time but the silence was starting to scare me. I dared myself to go further, to put my hand out and reach out to give this man a gentle nudge.
When I touched him, his skin collapsed under my fingers, his mouth opened wide and worms started to creep out; large, black and uncountable.
I screamed and turned, ran to my car and jumped in, turning up the window. The cat and the trolley stayed put but the homeless man had turned into a pile of dust, large worms pouring out by the dozen. I raced ahead.
I was really creeped out now. The road was deserted.
I did not have the nerve to go to the trailer parked half a mile inland. I couldn’t do it.
I stopped, shaking uncontrollably. It was all getting to me. The beautiful morning, my dead best friend and this weird nightmare. I hoped it was a nightmare and I could wake up. I had to do something.
It struck me to try the gas station. I left my car on the highway and walked climbed into the trench, climbed up the other side.
There was a payphone here. Feeling grateful, I popped a coin in and dialed the first number I could think of. A friend.
There was a tone but when I dialed, the line went blank.
No, no, no. I thought, desperately on the verge of tears. The phone has to work. I popped in another coin.
The same thing again.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I was starting to tear up, staring around the station, looking for a clue. Something.
But there was nothing. Driving ahead was my only bet. I was tired though and could use a rest. I saw the toilets and headed that way. I needed to think. I needed to curl up and sleep off this nightmare.
I entered the restroom, found a stall and did my thing. I came out and walked to the sink but then stopped short. The mirror. It was broken but I could clearly see through it. Like a movie of my life.
My childhood. School days and homework, gym, art, drama. The games and the boys, the short dresses and the beach. Long parties, coming home late. Sarah and all the rest of them. Work and office and my parents. Hitting the clubs, drunken games.
And then last night. It was a battered movie playing on a broken screen but it was there. A hazy room. Laughter and boys. Drinks and shots. And the game. I watched in horror as the stick in my hand came down on her with a dull thud. I was backing away now. But the screen still showed me. Running away like a coward. Driving and driving. The homeless man. The never-ending highway. The payphone. And the restroom.
I finally materialized in the looking glass, wide-eyed, bloodshot and scared. I stared, transfixed. Unmoving. Watched a black hand reach out.
No, please no. I thought. But I was too paralyzed to speak, too paralyzed to move. I’m a good person, I thought. But it wasn’t going to be enough, was it? I realized as hands as black as death began to encircle my neck. No.
The next day: Sarah struggled to her feet, feeling groggy. The blow had hurt her but thankfully, paramedics had been called in on time. She was worried about her friend though? Where was she?
She turned on the TV, flicked channels until she found the news and gasped in horror. It showed a dead figure, sprawled on the floor of a public restroom. The line below read: Dead Highwway Girl, No Clues Leading Up to Mystery Death.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).
Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) is an NGO that undertakes development initiatives to impact positively the lives of the poor, deprived and marginalized sections of the society through a people-centred approach focusing on their participation, awareness and empowerment for sustainable development.
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