It couldn’t have been timed better.
For months the temperature had been rising and even though our collective wish for a drop in the mango prices had been granted, we now longed for the rains and an air conditioner in our flat.
The latter was definitely out of our budget, so Karthik and I focussed on the rains.
And that noon, almost when we had given up hope, it rained. And how.
For hours the rains pounded everything that stood in its way, people caught unaware ran helter-skelter, kids danced and splashed the muddy water until their parents grabbed them by the ears and forcibly took them home, the people working in offices looked at the world outside their glass prisons with equal measures of awe and fear - most hadn’t brought their umbrellas.
The monsoons had finally arrived.
We stood on the balcony and enjoyed the sight, both of us had left office early, but the delay in the trains meant that we had reached well past our usual time.
“Aren’t you glad that it’s a Friday?” asked Karthik.
I smiled, “Glad? Freaking ecstatic! The best day of the week meets the best time of the year.”
Karthik and I shared the flat, we had studied together in college and now worked at the same company, and to the best of my knowledge, earned the same salary.
Which, in a city like Mumbai, was too low for our liking.
But even my financial woes couldn’t get the better of me this evening. Of course, the fact that we had received our salaries a couple of days earlier meant that we could afford a little luxury.
“Bring out the booze,” I declared, and went to take out the ice tray myself (yes, our landlord was benevolent enough to grant us a fridge).
We dragged out a couple of chairs to the balcony and poured ourselves a drink.
“Cheers”, said Karthik and we clinked our glasses and took a quick sip.
The rains had finally slowed down to a more comfortable drizzle, and we enjoyed the atmosphere in silence. This was an old society, fairly large by today’s standards, there were trees and open spaces which are usually a dream for most middle-class Mumbaikars. It was probably this luxury that made the original owners resist the temptation of re-development.
“Not bad huh?” said Karthik, staring outside, looking at the tree that stood just outside our building, overlooking the street.
“Not bad at all.”
It was the kind of evening that made you want to write poetry, I for one couldn’t and thus made do with memories of a better time.
I wondered if Mansi was thinking of me.
Post our break up shortly after college, she too had shifted to Mumbai, I hadn’t met her yet but from what I had heard from a few friends she was doing well. Better than me at least. I knew that she didn’t stay far from where we lived, and I always hoped that one of these days we would bump into each other and would get back together.
Wishful thinking? Yes.
Impossible? Most likely, because my over-smart friends had also let me know that she was dating someone from her office.
I got up, “where did you keep the cigarettes?”
Karthik looked at me, puzzled, “What do you mean? I thought you were getting them.”
After a few minutes of heated discussions, I was able to convince Karthik that I had told him “Cigarette le aa tu” (You get the cigarettes) and not “Cigarette laya hu” (I have got the cigarettes).
Grumbling to himself, Karthik grabbed his umbrella and wallet. “I doubt that Naresh bhai’s shop would be open in this weather.”
“Oh come on, it’s only 9pm, his place is open till 10, and even if it’s not, you need to walk just a hundred meters more to find another store.”
Still complaining, Karthik took his own sweet time before he left.
I got back to the balcony and resumed drinking.
Dinner would be here soon; courtesy ‘Basu’s Tiffin Service’ – meaning on a good day - food that tasted like yesterday’s leftovers, and on bad days, well, we dared not ask how fresh the food was.
But I couldn’t bring myself to eat a preparation of an unknown vegetable with dry, papad-like chapattis tonight, so I called Basu and cancelled the meal, and not quite done - I impulsively ordered Chicken-taka-tak pizzas for both of us.
I was drinking as slowly as possible, savouring every sip, the rains had picked up again, and though it was still beautiful outside, it had a gloomy sight to it.
My thoughts veered back to Mansi; the tragedy of relationships is that the person who calls it off only associates the time spent with the sad moments, and the other person only recalls the happier bits.
We had spent four years together, and all it had taken for her to abandon it was one single argument. And she hadn’t looked back, just ended it and moved on like it had meant nothing to her.
Was it possible that she had been having an affair on the sly before we broke up?
I shook my head; I was getting drunk. Trying to think of other thoughts, I found myself unable to do so, ‘goddamn this weather, and goddamn this alcohol’.
Thankfully the bell rang, I could do with a cigarette now.
But it was the pizza.
It was past ten, Karthik had left more than an hour back. It shouldn’t have taken him this long. I called him up but the somewhat ironical tune of “Smoke on the water” playing in the room told me that the idiot had forgotten to take his cell phone.
Sighing, I started with my pizza, hoping that by the time he returned, his would still be warm.
Another hour slipped by.
It was getting late enough to be worried. I looked down from the balcony. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the cool breeze no longer felt soothing. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back...
There was no reason for anyone to knock, the flat had a perfectly working doorbell, Karthik knew about it too.
From a faraway corner of my mind, something warned me, ‘this doesn’t seem right’.
I walked slowly and hesitantly, and before my brain could tell me otherwise, I flung open the doors.
A chill travelled down my spine.
Every part of me forbid it, but I couldn’t help myself, with my heart beating as loudly as a sledgehammer, I poked my head out and took a quick look on either side, the hallway was empty.
I shut the doors hurriedly.
“It was the wind,” I said aloud, trying to convince myself. The rains had turned positively sinister by then, it looked like it wouldn’t stop until everything and everyone were destroyed.
Karthik should have been back by now...no matter how many shops were closed and how far he had to go, it shouldn’t have taken him this long.
Unless something had happened to him, something bad.
Another flash of lightning, much closer this time, I waited for the sound of thunder that would inevitably follow, and when it did it reverberated within the four walls of our modest flat.
And almost on cue, all the lights went off.
What perfect timing.
I made my way to the balcony, the street lights were gone too. There was a power-cut in the area.
Another knock on the door, there was no mistaking it this time.
I hesitated, but then relented as soon as I heard the familiar voice.
“Come on man, open the door, will you?”
It was Karthik.
After some fumbling, I located the latch and opened the door, Karthik stepped in, bringing a puddle of water along with him.
Though I couldn’t see him clearly, I could make out that he was thoroughly drenched.
“What happened to you? Where’s your umbrella? Why are you so fucking late?”
“Naresh’s shop was closed alright, so were the others, I had to go a long way. Forget the umbrella, it’s ruined, almost couldn’t make it back myself. Do you have any idea how much water-logging has taken place by the main road? It feels as if it’s been raining for months.”
I admit it was a bit selfish of me, but I had to ask, else all of Karthik’s efforts would have gone in vain, “the cigarettes must have gotten soaked too, huh?” I said, trying my best to sound as nonchalant as possible.
“I was too clever for that. After all this, couldn’t afford to get it wet. Protected it with my life.”
Karthik revealed a plastic pouch, within which he kept the cigarette box.
We sat on the balcony, two figures in the shadows, I took out two cigarettes, and offered one to Karthik.
I lit my cigarette and passed the matchstick to Karthik, and that’s when I saw it.
The obscurity provided by the power-cut and the night had been diminished by the flame from the matchstick, and though the light provided by it was faint, it revealed enough.
Karthik had lit his cigarette, and puffed on it gently, as he did smoke came out from a hole in his head where there had been once his eye-socket.
His skull was smashed in and chunks of brain were visible, his jaw was crooked and barely hanged on to the rest of his face, he was drenched but not with water, blood dripped from every portion of his body, and his hand was set at an impossible angle the sights of which I had never seen.
Never seen on a living person that is.
And then the flame died.
And as I started to lose consciousness, I heard him say, “Sorry buddy. I hate to have done this to you. But desperately wanted to have a smoke with you before I left.”
It was probably the chirping of the birds that had woken me up.
The rains had stopped and even with the cloudy skies, I could make out that the sun was coming up.
Still drowsy, I realised that I had fallen asleep on the balcony itself, and then having recalled the events from last night, I woke up fully with a start.
The power must have been back because all the lights were on, but there was no sign of Karthik.
Was it really a bad dream? Where was Karthik?
And then I saw the ashtray on the other chair. I remembered having emptied it last night - before we had poured our drinks.
There were two cigarettes on it, one barely smoked, and the other – enjoyed right down to the end.
HIT AND RUN CASE IN KANDIVALI WEST – 1 DEAD
Mumbai: A man was killed when he was hit by a speeding car sometime on Friday evening.
Police said the accident occurred around 11 p.m. on S.V. Road when the victim was attempting to cross the road. Based on eyewitness reports, a white sedan is suspected to have caused the accident and had fled the scene. The victim was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital where he was declared dead before admission.
The victim has been identified as Karthik Sharma, 24, and was said to have been an employee of Bestsource Private Limited. He was living with his colleague in Kandivali in a shared apartment. What is strange is that the flatmate has been under severe trauma and shock since the incident occurred and has been unable to speak since then. He is currently under medical supervision. Medical experts say that while it isn’t unusual for relatives or loved ones of an accident victim to undergo extreme stress, it is very rare for someone to completely stop communicating.
Image from here.