Z for Zero-sum (Part I)

Freida Dantas stepped out of the queue to look around. The machine wasn’t that far from here–only a few hundred more. She looked behind. The queue went on for as long as she could see. She too had started from the end of the queue many hours ago. The machine took only a second to judge, so the queue had kept moving continuously. But she worried if there were more hopefuls in the queue than seconds in a day. She had been queueing up religiously for her pronouncement every day since she had died.

She’d learned of the system the day she had arrived at the purgatory. Learned is probably not the best word to describe the process. She had woken up in the purgatory a week ago knowing about it instinctively, with no recollection of her prior life. She knew exactly when and where to queue up for the machine. The machine would tell her if it was her time to ascend to the heaven yet. She’d witnessed thousands of ascensions on her first day. The ascendants one after the other had stood under the

Kindness of Strangers

There was a feeble metal clang of a stone hitting an electricity pole. It was pitch dark except for the streetlights. Shyam slowly rose his head out of the blanket to look around with his swollen red eyes. He had not gotten proper sleep for the past two days. He noticed a figure draped in a thick blanket walk briskly past him. He could discern that it was a man, as the man slipped his hairy hand from under the blanket and checked his watch. He hurried further. Shyam put the blanket over his head again, blessing the temple people for the cozy blankets.
______________________________________
"Oye! Get up".
He felt something against his ribs. He adjusted the blanket - still sleeping. He heard a swooshing sound, followed by a stinging pain in his buttocks. He threw away the blanket and squirmed in pain. He looked up - fully awake, adrenaline pumping through his veins. A police constable stood tall over him, wielding a wooden stick.
"Now would you like to bless us with your presence at the police station?".
Shyam looked around. There were a couple of police jeeps near the jewellery store. The owner of the store, an obese man in his sixties, was standing besides the police inspector, looking extremely worried. Shyam looked back up at the constable.
"I don't know anything about it"
"We'll find that out, won't we?"
He was made to climb into one of the police jeeps along with a few others.
________________________________________

The police station was old but well-kept. Shyam was standing in front of the inspector. A few more homeless people were standing behind him in line. He had been told on the way to the police station that the previous night a huge diamond had been stolen from the jewel shop belonging to the Dhariwals.
"Do you know what happened?", the inspector asked.
"Only what I heard on the way, Sirji"
"Did you see anything suspicious at night?"
"I was fast asleep. I did not see much, but I saw a suspicious looking man pass near the shop very late at night. That's it."
"Describe him"
"Well, he was a bit shorter than me. He seemed well-built. But he was completely covered in a blanket, so I could not see his face. He was wearing a golden coloured watch. That's it, Sirji. That's all I know"
"Fine then", the inspector sighed, "wait in the lock-up until you remember more."
"But Sirji, I told you everything I remember. Please let me go. If I don't go to work today, I will not have anything to eat."
The constable pulled him aside towards the cell.
"Just wait here a couple of hours. We'll give you something to eat. Let the questionings finish"
Sitting in one corner of the dusty little room, he started to recollect the incidents of the previous night. The night before, he had hurried back from work earlier than usual to find a new place to sleep. He had found a relatively quiet place for the night. He had hoped that the police would not trouble him there. He didn't really appreciate the irony of the situation. With his brand new blanket, he had gone to sleep a satisfied man. He had just dozed off when some noise had woken him up. The man who had walked past him had something odd about him. Was it the way he walked? No. Was it what he was wearing? It was a blanket. How odd can a blanket be? Was it the golden watch? Well, perhaps. 'Even if there was anything odd about him, what is the chance that he was the thief? Maybe he was just some homeless guy like me'. He thought, 'The constable promised that I will be let go anyway.'
Just then his stomach growled. He gazed  outside. The inspector was talking to the shop owner. After a while, the shop owner got up and left. All those in the lock-up were left a few minutes later with a vadapav each.
_____________________________________
With no chance of getting work that day, Shyam roamed around the city. It was glamorous and huge. He had always held the city in awe. The sun was almost about to set. He had to walk back to find a good sleeping place near the construction site - he couldn't have gone back to sleep near that gosh darned shop again.
In the evening, the city seemed to have a life of its own - it became a huge beast of people and lights. He peeked around at these people of the city. He was still an outsider to this beast. He peeked into their lives as they went by theirs.
His attention was caught by a man smoking a cigarette near a paan-shop. He must have been in his late thirties or early forties, but he had lost most of his salt and pepper hair. As the man raised his hand to draw another smoke, Shyam noticed a tattoo on his forearm. He had seen that tattoo before! If only he could remember where. Then it struck him like a lightening bolt. He started approaching the man. The man noticed this and threw the cigarette and started walking away.
"Hey, wait. Just want to talk!"
The man suddenly broke into a sprint. Shyam ran behind him. The road was crowded with pedestrians. Shyam started gaining on him. The man found it difficult to run this far. He was much older than Shyam. He started to push people away to make way for himself. He ran with all his might, but Shyam still kept gaining on him. He pushed a cycle into Shyam's way, but Shyam avoided it.
Shyam was very close to him now - he could almost catch him. Even as Shyam extended his hand to pull at the man's shirt collar, Shyam stumbled on a stone and fell face-first onto the road. The man kept running and took a left into a residential block. Shyam got up quickly. He had a bloody lip, a face full of dust and a bruised forearm, but he didn't care.  He ran in the direction of the thief. He could see the thief trying to climb a wall to escape. He grabbed the thief by his leg and pulled him down. The thief tried to fight back with an elbow to Shyam's face, but he missed. Shyam held him by his hair and pushed him down onto the ground. The thief tried to get up, so Shyam kicked him hard in the gut. The thief panted as he struggled for air. Shyam put a firm foot on his chest to stop him from getting up. He looked around and shouted for help.
_____________________________________

The police were soon called and the thief was reprimanded. He admitted to stealing the diamond at the behest of Mr. Dhariwal's nephew. Shyam sat in the police station tending to his wounds when Mr. Dhariwal reached the police station. The whole story got a lot of media footage, and Shyam was made into a local hero, with Mr. Dhariwal giving him a sizeable prize money for nabbing the thief. He was also able to secure a job at a local security firm with the help of his new benefactor. He did quite well for himself, but he never gave away the blanket. It had proved quite lucky for him. It reminded him of the hard times. It also reminded him of the kindness of strangers.




This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. This time your entry must contain, ‘He/She had seen that tattoo before! If only he/she could remember where.’

Popular posts from this blog

Z for Zero-sum (Part I)

X for X023

Y for You