“... never really liked him. But he is part of my life now, like so many others who have no significance and are like mute spectators to a riot. I don’t think I got anything against Mr. Robertos, but there are times when his presence stirs up my rage. His understanding eyes would penetrate deep into my soul and ask me questions, which I don’t care ask myself. But then, he has that look for everyone around him. He just walked by, to the main road probably. He generally walks to the main road around this time to have a smoke when his wife does not have eyes for anyone except the daily soap on television. As he walked diagonally, he gave a piercing look at the boys playing cricket on the road with his eyes drilling into them as if they are children of escaped convicts let loose in this residential area to create ruckus. If you ask me, I have always enjoyed watching these kids play cricket on the road. The game itself becomes so engrossing that old rules are thrown out of the window and new rules are created where a red brick becomes the wicket and throwing replaces the traditional bowling. When I was their age, I use to love being on the streets.
Ha! Look at that. The Sharmans have just driven in and I can actually sense the tension on the faces of the boys. The Sharman family were always rancorously opposed to street cricket. Quite understandable if you ask me, the man had never held a bat in his life and he owns two luxurious cars which are parked at a spot where the boys have marked for a ‘Six’. I don’t think I ever saw Sharman smile at anyone. He always has a scowl on his face which looks like a crumpled shirt hanging by the wall. Robertos once told me...”
Kumar heard the door creak and stopped writing. His intuitive mind already knew who would walk into his room and was not disappointed to see Priya walk in with her usual fragrance when he turned around. He called it a woman’s fragrance. He left his diary open, delicately placing his pen in the middle of the book and turned himself completely to face her. Priya gave a curtly nod at him and went about her work in the most clinical way like she always does. He watched her move around his room as if she lived there all her life. While she changed his bed covers and arranged his table,
“Don’t move anything on the table” he said sternly. And even as the words went out of his mouth, he knew she would pretend not to hear him. He smiled to himself though not a bit showed on his face. His face was devoid of any expression as he looked at her, as she went about her job of stacking the books on his table into order. She glanced at his diary and closed it shut quickly and pushed it near other books on the table. Kumar remained seated on his arm chair with his hands folded and his eyes followed her everywhere as if waiting for her to break the silence. He always welcomed serenity but with her, he can’t afford to be silent. He sometimes wondered why this beautiful girl is stuck with him, coming to visit him every day without fail. Kumar had never left his room since last seven years, his only contact to the world was through his window. Watching her closely, he longed to see her break down, even for a moment. To see her at least drop something on the floor or spill the ink on his paper, just to see that hesitation on her face. But she never granted him a moment of diffidence and it made him edgy. She was perfect in her own way, almost like his daughter. This time, when he smiled to himself, his face betrayed him and the smile creased out of his lips for the world to take notice.
“What are you smiling at?” Priya asked, without stopping what she was doing.
“Now, is there a ban on that as well?” He asked, wanting it to sound sarcastic but it was merely asked in a serious tone.
“What are you smiling at, Mr.Kumar? She repeated and his smile became more obvious and wider.
“When a man began to look at beautiful women and still think of his daughter, it means he is getting old. It’s a sure sign.” He replied with a twinkle in his eyes.
Priya beamed at him and said-“You are definitely getting older, Mr. Kumar, but not in the way you think.” with a surreptitious grin which almost escaped his eye.
She went out of his room for few minutes and came back holding a tray with two cups of hot simmering tea. She placed the tray on the small glass table, which she had pulled across to the middle of the room and gave him a determined look.
“Not again...”he groaned and yet pulled his chair nearer.
“...blowing from the east with such a force as if all the gods have taken leave of their senses and blowing their lungs out to create such a strong wind. The windows are swaying dangerously to the winds, threatening to smash themselves to the walls even though the hinges are strong enough to hold them fast. It’s dark outside with no lights on the road below. A lone street lamp is around the corner, if I remember correctly. Lights are already out in most of the houses I see, except the bedroom light of the window in second floor of the apartments in front of this house. In the carpet of darkness spread before me right now, the glowing window looks like a bright star in the dark sky.
A car just sped by, without giving me time to even notice its colour. It infuriates me when I miss to notice anything which passes my window. How I wish, I can run down the road right now, chase the car and make the driver go past my window once again, so that I can check the colour properly. Some drunken kid, I am sure with no sense or consciousness to realize that he is going to kill someone tonight. I should remember to read tomorrow’s paper. I am going to look for the accident which happened round this corner. I can almost feel it right, the wailing cries from across the street. Who was it this time? A passerby or some beggar sleeping on the footpath? No one can say. Or, no one cares. I don’t care either. People die every day.”
“Good evening, Priya” he said finally breaking the silence. Sitting right across him, she folded her arms and smiled at him.
“Good evening, Mr. Kumar”. She looked at him warmly. The way she was looking at him, he felt she might get up and give him a hug. The thought made him shudder and he shook his head to get himself out of his thoughts.
“I think...You should stop coming here.” He said finally slowly.
“You have said this before.” she replied with an endearing smile. Her eyes seemed to say, ‘Not again!’
“God damn you! Are you crazy?” he screamed, as he stood up while he kicking his chair back. It fell down behind him with a thud. She leaned back in her chair and tilted her head to her right, almost resting the head on her shoulder. Her smile was intact, as if his outburst made no difference to her.
“For seven years, you have been coming here. I don’t want your fucking sympathies. I didn’t ask you to come. Don’t you have any friends? Don’t you have your studies to complete? Go home kid. I don’t want to see you here.” he screamed realizing his window is still wide open and his voice might have carried to those on the road. He could sense the road across his window becoming silent to his screams, as if lapping up every word he had uttered.
“Right now, Mr Kumar, It is you who is behaving like a kid. Please sit down. We have done this so many times. I like being here, Mr. Kumar. You know, I don’t come here to feel sorry for you but actually the opposite. But you know that. Why don’t you start acknowledging that, so that we have something to agree upon?”
Her smooth voice was controlled though her composure looked rattled and smile faltered a bit before she regained herself with a bright smile. He continued to glare at her and finally let out a sigh. He pulled his chair and pushed it towards his table at the window. Without another word to her, he opened his diary and started scribbling.
“The boys have started the game. They must be in their twenties. Some might have been in their teens, but that doesn’t matter when you are on the road with a cricket bat and a loud mouth. The way, these kids swear at each other might put the most pervert adult into shame. The noise they make, the fun they have with each other, makes me remember my days as a kid. I was a street lover too, playing in the mud and sand whenever I could. I used to play cricket in our small lane where a car wouldn’t be able to pass. I might have broken few windows or did I? I don’t remember. It was a long time ago. Back then, we would stop playing every time someone walks by, so that the ball doesn’t hit him. But that’s so rare. Now, I guess there are too many people on the roads. Every few minutes, the game is paused to let some passerby walk across or some vehicle to drive past. How sad, these kids don’t get to enjoy the match on their own road. If I had it my way, I would ban all vehicles on the roads, so that everyone can play as they wish. At least, I hope that would keep them safe.
I can see her walking across, to the main road. She is wearing a pink salwar suit and her hair was let loose, may be even a little wet. May be she just had a shower, before coming out for this walk. Her small steps look unsure, as if she knows she is walking into the trap. Looking at those boys, playing cricket, she looked like she is murmuring a small prayer for them to stop playing. Her eyes betrayed fear and innocence, as she walked into the circle of boys in their wild abandon. And...”
“Did you look at that? Anjali got hit. Anjali got hit by the cricket ball” Kumar screamed, getting up from his chair. Priya had a sad look on her face, as she sat on her chair. She closed her eyes for a moment and got up. She walked towards the window and glanced across the street. Looking back into the room, at his bewildered face, she said-
“Mr. Kumar, that girl is not Anjali and I don’t think she is hurt. The ball seems to have just graced her shoulder. Look, she is walking away right now.”
“You mad girl! Don’t you understand English? Anjali got hit on her head. I am going to kill these boys today. I will kill them all. Anjali is...” he continued his tirade when she took his hand into hers and squeezed it. Her eyes were shining due to small drops of tears forming slowly at the corners.
“Anjali is dead, Mr. Kumar. Your daughter has been dead since seven years.”