Sleeplessness is a curse. Feel sorry for all the insomniacs of this world. But there’s always a reason for the dreams to elope…a disturbed mind is an infertile land where no blooms blush.
The previous day I had had a tiff with my boss. Nothing unusual. We took it in turns to get over each other’s nerves. Perhaps this was what professional rapport was all about. But this time, it was something deeper than the usual which rankled more than I cared to admit.
After a night’s tossing and turning, I decided to leave the crumpled sheets and take to the early morning breeze. Refreshing, they said, it was. The hushed moments of dawn…
Lonely streets. A sky honeycombed with baby clouds, the ones which you felt like crushin’ with your fingers. Soft patter of leaves. The stranded voice of winds. Rustle of my clothes was almost deafening.
I wasn’t exactly alone but. Bittoo n’ Brown, the two stray mongrels, followed me around, as usual – show of unfailing loyalty in lieu of a bowl of milk every morn. Wish humans could learn a few things from these mute quadrupeds!
I headed towards the park. A big park with shady trees and manicured beds – a handiwork of forced orderliness amidst natural disorder. Pacifying? A bit, but not so much as to erase the slate clean and revive the spirit afresh.
A quarter of an hour later it was time to return home. As I turned the bend, Bittoo n’ Brown trotted ahead. Suddenly, in a spate of rush, B n’ B sprang up and sped. Headlong they pounced on the boy unawares, wagging their tails in playful jest.
I ran to his aid. By this time he was sprawled by the road side, B n’ B all over him, licking and growling softly at the same time, an old habit of theirs to welcome surprise guests.
Yes, the boy wasn’t a sight familiar. Of age six or eight. A broad, ruddy face. Lustreless eyes and blond head. That was definitely unusual, yes. We Indians didn’t boast of golden tresses. He was in a bright yellow Tee. The oversized denim shorts lapped around his knees, fastened to his waist with a broad leather belt. Quaintly dressed was he. The socks looked new but the boots were well travelled.
I shooed B n’ B away with a rebuke and pulled him up. Shaken and scared he dusted his pants. I asked the number of his flat. The answer came in stutters. Did I hear him correctly? 136 ? Or 139 ? Ground Floor? The boy fell silent. Anyway, I took him by the hand and walked along his side till we reached the row of buildings starting with 130 and ending with 139.
Just a few minutes’ walk within the block. Meanwhile, could have given in to mundane chit chat. But thought otherwise and allowed him some time to recuperate from the shock of sudden canine spright.
We approached 136. The door was closed. The boy now looked unsure. He stood uncertainly for a while then changing his mind turned towards 139. A corner flat, the windows overlooking the streets. Here he took a sudden turn. Moving close towards the window he peered through the mesh. I was taken aback. Why would he do that? If at all it was his home he should walk in straight…and ring the bell or open the door with spare keys!
I drew to his side. The room was dark and the occupants perhaps still in sleep. But outside the sun was reigning bright. I Squinted my eyes. Following his gaze, I could barely figure out the outlines of delicate damask hanging by the sides of a four poster bed. Strange! A mosquito net? These days in the city were there still families who shied away from coils and repellents? I was rather pleased.
At this point, I thought of leaving the boy to his finds. The streets were waking up. It would look odd if passers-by found me peering inside neighbours’ flats.
The day was spent in usual huff. “Here we go round the mulberry bush”…I sighed Boss behaved well. Perhaps guilty, I consoled myself. Late in the evening coming back home remembered the boy.
De-boarding the Metro, thought of walking up to my flat instead of taking the rick. 136 & 139 were the flats I had to cross by. Curious, I slowed my pace nearing 136. A big lock hung on the door as though in mocking. The flat looked unoccupied for a long, long time. But it wasn’t so this morning. I can swear on that. And 139? In shambles, with broken panes and bricks bare, looked unclaimed as though for years.
“It’s been like that.” A voice said behind.
I wheeled around to find Mrs. Mallik, my over solicitous neighbour, always ready to share the latest in the neighbourhood. So well informed! She always managed to give me an inferiority complex. I, one of the oldest residents of the block, could never compete with her in so far as gossips, scandals and breaking news were concerned.
“Belongs to an NRI. No. 139. Haven’t showed up yet. Not in the past years that we have been here. Now almost ten.” She supplied
“And 136?” Before I could check the question was out.
“Owner’s not known. Mysterious. Some kind of dispute they say.” Was there a note of glee? I quickly brushed the thought away…
“Why? Do you intend to buy ‘nother flat Di?” Her eyes shined with greed.
Oh no! Why can’t I be left alone from mongering tongues and roving eyes please!
“You’d have problems I tell you. What with the dispute and the owner unknown”! Unwarranted advice!!!
I shook my head vaguely. It’s difficult to make the Mrs. Malliks of this world understand that there’s more to life than succession, mutation, acquisition and the likes…