The dustbin was turned upside down. Heaps of garbage lay scattered across.
Two masked and gloved men from the government were walking down the alley, searching for anything of archeological value. So far, they had collected the fossil of a fish; a rusty pistol; two different pairs of slippers – probably of migrant laborers; a collection of bills and prescription receipts; an anchor like metal object; a few unbroken vials of saline; and a few coins.
They were discussing about something between themselves. Probably the fact that off late in their city, pleasure and fun became more like magical illusions than tangible reality…
Suddenly they stopped. There was a pair of quite new socks of a new-born baby. In fact, they could have been called brand new, if not for the stain of blackish blood. Possibly the child had died in the womb; the opportunity to wear those socks never came. Probably it was never meant to.
A dog was aimlessly wafting around. A very old, skeletal shape of a canine. There was Anubis who used to search for the parts of Osiris’ body by the banks of a flooded river Nile eons ago…
It’s been a while since the last novelist had left the world. He did not know of it. No one had told him about it. It was pretty pointless anyway. For these last few days, sitting inside the prison, the only thing he had heard of was that the world outside was plunging towards its end.
Inside the prison, it was growing more and more absurdly gloomy each passing day. Decorated undergarments, glossy magazines, puppetry CDs, abominable slangs on the prison walls – the absurd mix just continued to pile on.
Still he had not revolted. Revolution was simply useless in those days.
He didn’t have any close family or relatives. Or even if there were any, they had, like good old-fashioned god-fearing citizens, had followed the order dutifully and hang themselves at their respective penthouses, just as it was ordered.
Just that his day of hanging had not yet come. He had been thinking about the black loin cloth for some time now. How would they cover his face; how would the final push on the throat feel and how, with a terrible, creaking sound, the resulting pressure would coil up from the flesh, the muscles and break all the resistance off the collar bones.
Dark. Cold. Silent. Just like reality.
That is what that night was like. Cold. Silent. Everyone had gone. He had dozed off when the police came for him, the murder accused. Just that, he did not know whom he was accused of murdering. There was nobody left in the world to let him know that anymore.
Probably at that moment both the hangmen and the murderer were walking along some empty highway…
They would never know that the actual murderer had long back sat for his final time below the sprawling branches and sprouting leaves of a tree.
For listening to an endless story, till eternity…
Told you repeatedly that you needed to shut the cupboard doors well. Else, they would come out. Not the skeletons, no they were long gone.
The clothes and handkerchief. Told you, they would come out and spread.
And that’s exactly what happened.
The kerchiefs and under garments, being the lightest, came out first and started floating around in the air aimlessly. As they started to float around over and across the city, the memories associated with them started to peel off. The anecdotes of mischief, the stains of sin, the memories of love – all mingled and mangled – in one enormous carnival of chaos. Could you even think that the end could be so ghastly frivolous?
Sometime later gradually that carnival of chaos settled down. From the womb of night, the milky way came zoomed down to the earth. It spread over and across the carpet of flowery kerchiefs. For the first time an inexplicably, terrifyingly beautiful night descended on earth and with that snow dripped on the millions of flowery kerchiefs, slowly cloaking them into a white nothingness…
Just one odd thing. A screeching sound. May be some rodents are still not dead, trying to escape the fangs of a mouse trap…
Was just working on a documentary on a dilapidated school building. It abruptly stopped with the sound of multiple sirens across the globe.
The war had started.
The war for what? Against whom? For what? When would it end? Of course, I didn’t have the faintest of idea. There was no time to ask such questions. All I had was the time to pick up the bare essentials, run for my life and find shelter in an abandoned motel. The place was far from clean – a few cockroaches ran away just as I entered, there was nothing but a yellow puckered bathtub in a dimly lit bathroom, albeit unclean. Still, I filled it with water, removed my clothes and slid into the bathtub.
There were some small, odd bulbous stains on my shirts. Where did they come from? I didn’t have any idea. As I undressed, I saw numerous similar small bulbous shapes on my body. From my half-submerged posture in the bathtub, I could see my toes poking up, outside the water, like the peeking nose of some alien looking underwater species or periscopes.
And just about then I noticed it and suddenly my gaze was fixated on my legs.
In the dim yellow light of the bulb I could clearly say that my two legs were not the same anymore. In fact, they had changed quite a lot. It was as if, some other animal was eating me alive – slowly, gradually, painstakingly. I started to lose my strength and senses and it started to feel as if an impenetrable, alive iron wire was wrapping me up. Like the iron fences that had wrapped up villages, cities, countries…
This was what it was then.
For years, it stayed subdued and submerged, like a pale, old, white slice of time, barely clinging to its existence. An invisible cloak of magic had kept them under the wraps and the rags.
It kept them, as if under a timeless glacier of greed and ancient, anarchic truths.
They remained asleep, the army of zillions of ferocious worms, their fangs staying hidden.
Only to leap back to life at the opportune moment.
Do you remember the piper who used to sleep under the flyover during rainy nights and could still smile with his paan stained teeth? Or the man who used to amble around with his odd gait and sell cotton with a peculiarly noisy instrument strung across his chest and shoulder? The sole purpose of his gait and the instrument was to let the world know that he could cover its entire surface with soft, foamy cotton and make it go to sleep. Or the mahua seller who used to sit under the mahua tree with his basket and wait for the tuktuk that could take him back to the locality? .
That flyover collapsed long ago; the earth slept off long ages back; the tuktuk never came back.
There was this image of film producer of olden times. When the times changed and people stopped going to the old movie halls, a fire had burnt down the old theatre. Standing amidst the raging flames, as everything burnt around him – voice from somewhere beyond the curtains started to call him – “Sir, come. It is getting dark. Let’s see how far we can go…”
All of them were hiding here, beyond that curtain – somehow, somewhere, some way.
Most girls of her age were already married off; some even had babies. Some others were really well established. Since some time, she had quit her school job and started tuition at home.
A group of focused, ambitious, competitive boys were her students. Sometimes she used to get flustered within the four walls of her existence. Once she went to a palmist, not out of any realistic hope, just on a whim.
The palmist said, her lover would be a vagabond. Probably he meant, a vagrant. What could that mean? Probably a wanderer, or a driver…point was, he would have a dynamic life of some short. Felt oddly good. You know, nothing wrong in daydreaming sometimes…
That’s how life was going on. A known, laidback rhythm, a mundane existence, but an existence, nonetheless.
Today, there was hardly anybody left to make fun of her. There was a time when she used to wish for a day like this, a day when a natural catastrophe would bring down chaos on earth, and through that chaos, a glistening lack horse would run through, its manes almost tangible and swinging in the wind.
The train had stopped coming to the station near her house since long. Those days she could actually go to the station and sit alone there, quietly.
What if there was no train? What if someone walked along the railway tracks, towards her?
My laptop shut down abruptly. Some indecipherable words, scripts, images and weird faces filled up the screen. After a while the message got clear. “Come back. Your work is done.”
I realized that they have come back to take me. It was pre-programmed anyway. Probably they were nearby only, in disguise, waiting for me.
Point was, I didn’t want to return. Not anymore. I had become part of these people. People who were just going about their lives daily, in a smog of nothingness that coiled up in the air and then aided by the city’s smoky haze, wafted around aimlessly for a while before sliding into the stench of the city’s alleys, passages and underbelly.
I didn’t know when I became a part of this mass of hungry people who slept like logs amidst the shrillest of sounds and the deadliest of stench and smog. I became one of them. Or did they become part of me? Dis not matter. Point was, I didn’t want to get away from this anymore. This had become my whole existence.
If I try to escape, one last time, will it be suicide?
They were walking. All of them were. Where were they going to? Where were their houses? Was there someone waiting for them? How would they? Did they have a shelter? A place? A space?
Nobody knew. They did not know either.
They just kept on walking. Their shoes wore off long ago; their sorrows died long back; their tears dried. Still they kept on walking, for an illusion, a shelter, a mirage…
Thousands of tired legs kept on moving. Across thousands of miles of lonesome streets and highways…
“The return that never happened.” The painter finished reciting a poem in his own solitary chamber where he used to draw something, every day. He was scared, very scared. There was feeling that was eating into him, tearing him apart, slowly, painfully.
Was it his own room? Or was he also walking on an endless, lonesome highway?
A rather strange carriage was driving along the read. The remains of a derelict horse carriage pulled on by two reed thin mules. The carriage, or rather the cadaver of the carriage was chugging its way towards the village from a small town.
Inside the carriage, there was a skeletal figure. He was sitting amidst a pile of books. There were so many books in that pile that you could easily lose the human figure amidst that.
A long time ago, he had had dreamt of becoming a librarian for a rater strange reason. To steal books. The dream became somewhat successful as he eventually ended up being a small-town librarian. Since then, he lost track of how many books he had stolen off the library shelves. The heist kept on piling at his house and eventually became so big that he started to harbor thoughts of selling off some of those books. At least it would bring in some money.
But the moment he looked at those books, the words – the fonts, the letters, they brought him down with some invisible pull. The attachment was way too strong to get rid of them.
And so, the carriage kept on rumbling down the road. The horses died long back, and their driver’s skeleton was stuffed inside an immense pile of books. There was no telling any more about how many years ago that strange journey of books had started and or how long would it continue through the annals of human history.
As of now, the two mules continued to pull at the carriage as its rusty wheels chugged along, towards some uncertain dawns of human civilization…
Or was it dusk?
Since the last few days, a strange, terrible blackish red glow had started to light up that part of the sky where once the NorthStar used to sign and glow. In these strange times, the nights are longer than the day. However, that’s what it used to be before also. Difference was that, no one cried anymore in that abandoned, half derelict house in the neighborhood. The concrete pillars on the rooftop are still there, like dreams that had stopped abruptly and forever. Probably they were counting the stars or waiting for the eternity.
He had become habituated to all of these. No one knew better than him that there was no chance of any more dream fulfillment ever again.
Once upon a time he used to sob. It was a time when even his wish to sleep along with his mother was denied regularly. A few persons, no they were not really persons – maybe they were humanoids – used to come every night. They were creatures with unkempt hair, long, dirty nails, who used to talk in some unknown language. When the doors shut, he could not hear his mother anymore, only those strange, shrill gibberish used to become feverishly high pitched…
“Occupation.” Mother had said once. What exactly did that mean – livelihood or livelihood snatched away? He could not decipher fully then.
It was not possible to comprehend it anymore either. Because then the rains started. The rains that had not ceased ever since. With night its ferocity only increased and with that the blackish red horizon throbbed with an even more terrifying intensity.
No one could see it though. There was no one left to see it anymore. The doors didn’t open or shut any more. The sobs have dried down long before. The house now wore a thick, white, crystallized cloak.
Because the rains did not have water anymore. It was a constant, immense downpour of acid.
He was standing in the balcony of one of the city’s tall skyscrapers, doing something with his mobile phone. Suddenly the phone slipped away from his hand fell into a very narrow and strange slice of space between the apartment’s boundary wall and the lane. As it was getting dark, he went in there with a torch, hoping to find the phone, hopefully unbroken.
He jolted back as soon as he reached the narrow alley. The space was piled with layers and layers of the human spleen, dry blood, gobbled out eyes. A swarm of worms wafted around, glowing in the darkness, ominously. In the light of the torch, a few other things became gradually visible as well – heaps of cold drinks bottles, broken pens, computer parts, cigarette buds, half broken toothbrush, the wrapped body of a puppy and so many more such assortments.
There was a time when all of these used to sign and glow in the brightly lit shops on the broadways.
A sapling had sprouted up where the small drain joined the high drain. Was it also rotten, dead?
He kept on walking through these scenes of decay and dereliction. The light on the street had died down – both the signal lights and the streetlights. Probably there was a power cut…
Was all the fossil fuel of the world supposed to end tonight?
The torch went dark after a while. With that, the sapling became witness to another rotten dead body.
These days, surreal neon lights often go berserk at midnight. The broken signal lights also glow on at their own whim. And the plastic leaves of the saplings continue the process of photosynthesis by the side of dried-up high drains…
My cousin sister gifted me a bonsai plant on my one of my birthdays. She had also given me a book which had detailed out some rules about how to nurture it. I had put that bonsai along with other plants in my balcony garden. I used to give water, manure – everything on time. Also used to bring the bones and remains of the dead from the neighborhood, especially of cats and dogs. They made for good manure.
Sometime last autumn, I saw some miniscule white blobs on its branches. After watching it intently under a magnifying glass I realized that those were some very small birds. Within a short span the bonsai became full of those birds. A woman started to come in after a while, with the hope to collect and sell those eggs. I spent some good tine with her. After all she never liked anything for free.
I am sure the egg seller woman is still coming to my empty flat. The birds are also chirping on the bonsai for sure. In fact, the flat, for sure, is now full of birds. May be the entire flat is theirs only, probably there is even a background score going on somewhere
“…beasts of old England…”
None could ever find out where I was. My cousin sister became untraceable even earlier.
In fact, so many people had become untraceable in recent years that the government had stopped the announcements for “the missing persons” altogether.
Nihilist Texts & Absurd Photography: Debiprasad Mukherjee
Transliteration: Apratim Kundu
(Lock down Quarantined days during Corona Outbreak, India. Mar-May 2020)
Published on OTOLITHSOnline-magazine.