It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back….
For a split second there was a thought that hung between going to the door and ignoring it. After a brief pause, there was another knock which very much brought me back from my own thoughts. I started walking towards the door with lot of things running through my mind with each and every step. I opened the door to find Meera, my neighbor’s five year old kid. Meera, with her parents moved into the apartment recently, just before the cyclone. The apartment is three storeyed, with 4 houses in each floor making a circular arrangement around the common lobby and stairs. It is relatively an old apartment constructed during the initial invasion days of modern apartments in the IT corridor of Chennai. Though old from the outer look, it is well maintained. Meera stays to the house left of mine. As with most apartments with family residence, my apartment is no alien to restricting bachelors to stay especially men. We managed to stay, courtesy my friend and roommate whose uncle owns three houses in the same apartment.
Meera was always fond of painting, and on weekends I would accompany her with her artwork as an assistant. We have grown closer even for just the couple of weeks. And as for her, I earned a good introduction with her parents too. But, I was a bit surprised to see her at my door at that late hour. Before I could ask her for the reason, I saw Rajesh almost sprinting towards me.
“We were running out of candles. I suggested Nandhini of asking you if in case you have extra candles. Before I could complete saying it, Meera rolled out to get it from you in this darkness. I had to run to catch up to her. But here she is already.” explained Rajesh.
The cyclone had almost brought down each and every electric distribution line in Chennai and with it the modern life. It has been two days since we have had electricity in the apartment. It is even tougher to handle a situation such as this being a family with a kid.
“Sorry Rajesh, I don’t have any candles with me. Bachelors room, we manage anything and everything.” I replied lifting Meera up.
“Ha ha, I should have known that”
“If you want you can use my mobile flashlight, it has 10 percent remaining charge” I offered
“No problem, Anyway that wouldn’t be enough to either of us. I shall go look for any shops. We will have to struggle a lot to make Meera eat.”
“Don’t you eat by yourself” I teased Meera, she giggled back in response.
“It is 10, and I don’t think shops would be open given the damage caused by cyclone.” I hinted.
“It is anyways better to take a look I believe.”
“Then I shall go and check in my bike. You cannot move your car out of the street. The huge Gulmohar tree uprooted by the cyclone still blocks the road. It isn’t good for you to go by foot with all sorts of wires on the floor in the darkness either”
“No problem why do you have to take the trouble, we shall adjust with what we have” Rajesh concluded.
“What is the big trouble in this, anyways I roam around all the time. There is no trouble.” I affirmed.
“I will also come” declared Meera.
“No” argued Rajesh.
After a five minute long conversation, I convinced Rajesh to allow Meera to come with me. It is true that there is a long silence after cyclone that extends into days and nights. The silence that only has life, nothing more. Silence that places all life in same line, which the artificial way of human living has very much disturbed. The road was better lit than expected with the bright moon to our back. The road was full of logs, twigs, wires and leaves. The whole environment seemed silent except for the rhythmic croaking sound of frogs in the puddled water. After a struggle of half an hour crisscrossing the streets and roads, we managed to find a shop that was in the process of closing for the day. We bought the last of 3 candles that was available and few candies for Meera and headed back home. Meera fell asleep in my arms as I drove. As we entered our street, I noticed Rajesh and Nandhini standing near the gate. Nandhini took Meera into her arms and I handed over the candles to Rajesh from the bike’s tank cover. Rajesh opened the gate for me, as Nandhini climbed the stairs with Meera sleeping peacefully on her shoulders. I asked Rajesh to go after Nandhini , affirming that I would take care of the gate. As Rajesh left, I stood over my bike before the gate with the headlights gleaming over the dark parking. The sound of bike added to the rhythm of croaking frogs and chirping crickets. I was back, immersed in the random thoughts of mine. Out of a split second, I closed the gate, turned back and hit the road again.
It looked like the yellow lining of lights were put to rest all along the road. Source of light limited only to the distant yet bright moon and the headlights of the bike. I had no plans of a destination, but the urge to ride through the dark and silent night. I rode past the Pallikaranai marshlands crossing into the Velachery railway station flyover. I searched my pockets for my mobile to check for the time. To my disappointment, the phone had drained out. From the look, it felt like it was nearing midnight with no traffic whatsoever on the roads, no life movements on the road except for an occasional dog crossing the roads in search of a warmer place to sleep. In the course of time, I realized that I was nearing the Adyar signal and involuntarily turning right at the signal towards Besant nagar. There are times when we travel in an involuntary path. When a person is all filled up with different conflicting thoughts, there comes a point where the sub consciousness by itself chooses a way. This was indeed one of those moments and paths taken.
Minutes later, I parked my bike along the parking area just after Murugan idly shop. I walked straight for the sea. It is always a combination of various forms of adrenaline to be at a place that was wrecked into pieces just a fortnight ago. The cool breeze, the clear sky, shining moon and the warning howl of winds and waves added more to it. Though, I have been to Besant nagar beach an infinite number of times, the experience tonight was a whole lot different from that of any other usual night at the beach. The walk towards the sea, started revealing the impact of cyclone on the very livelihood of the beach. It was a complete chaos. The whole scene looked as if there was a gravitational pull from all possible dimensions, as if a self-proclaimed modern art was made. The whole set up that was unravelling before me, for some strange reason resonated with my inner self. The past few months was indeed an emotional roller coaster ride. The emotional build up that was forming with each and every instances in the last couple of months was overwhelming. It seemed like all those would break out and amalgamate into the real world projections of the same. My feet felt numb and an overwhelming force from within started populating along my eyelashes. Mind and thoughts were hanging in a world which is yet to be defined by any of the dimensions.
As I continued walking along the empty, natural stretch of beach sand, a golden shower caught my eye in the distance with an occasional hint of fiery red icing. It definitely was trying to mend the gap between what is natural and what was artificial. As I looked closer did I found a couple of human silhouette formed by the golden shower. Human irrespective of being an introvert / extrovert, as a social animal is always curious, is always intrigued by anything out of the expected. I started pursuing towards the dark set of frames. As I grew closer with each step, I saw a street side vendor surrounded by a couple of people. The time, the occasion added to the curiosity. It was a small stall formed out of multiple aluminium and steel plates patched up into a single unit. The roof of the cabin was nowhere to be found. A lean, dusky, athletic man entering his late thirties manned the stove. He was busy peeling potatoes, carving them out into rolls over a stick, frying them in a boiling oil pan, dressing the fried dish with a sauce of choice. The shop had three customers in the waiting. A couple in their mid-twenties, who weren’t ready to let go of each other’s hand except for picking the fried potato from the stick. An elderly person who was shivering and equally eager to get hold on to his fries. There laid a tan coloured dog very close to the warmth of the stove.
“What would you like to have? Sir!” a voice shook me off from my observations. I looked at the direction of the sound. The vendor having delivered all his orders looked up at me expectantly. I had nothing but silence as an answer.
“What would you like to have? Sir!” he repeated.
“Ah, A potato fry” I managed.
“ Spring potato or French fries, sir” he continued.
“Spring” I replied not expecting a sub question for order this late an hour.
Within seconds, he launched himself into action. He started peeling a potato in the swiftest motion I have ever seen and proceeded with the next course of actions. I stood there silent watching the potato frying with regular stirring. The cool breeze coming in from the sea and the warmth of stove triggered goose bumps all over me.
“Mayonnaise or Chilly sauce, sir? “
“Uh, Mayonnaise please”
“Here you go!”
“How much anna?”
I placed the spring potato over the tissue paper to get the money.
“Here you go bro” a sound came from a direction other than us. The guy among the couple stood across me with a brand new 500 rupee note.
“I don’t have change. Please give as change sir” requested the vendor.
“Bro, shouldn’t you be having change for the business”
“On any other day, I would have had. There is literally no business and there is difficulty to get change and cash for the past one month”
“Mm, it is ok now. But try getting a card machine in the future bro. We have wireless machines nowadays. There will be no more change issue” said the guy as he searched his wallet for money.
“I have only 50 as change” he exclaimed.
“It is ok. Please give when you come the next time”.
He paid the 50 rupees and disappeared away from the golden brightness in a white sedan. I was perplexed with thoughts on the happenings for a moment. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or get furious.
“Here you go, anna” I gave him the money and took the spring potato back and started nibbling. After few minutes, the elderly person walked away leaving the three of us. Myself, the vendor and the dog.
“Anna, It was surprising to find a shop so late in beach that too on a day like this” I broke the ice.
“Yes sir. It is indeed late. The cyclone have almost damaged all the food stalls here in the beach. But still we don’t have anything else to rely on than these for living. We cannot go to the sea too. Lot of houses were damaged. Everyone are busy repairing their houses. Only few of us came to open the stall today.” He explained at a stretch. The randomness of the facts and the straight eye contact he had struck hard.
“I thought of staying longer than others into the night expecting few people coming along on their adventurous journey to the beach after the cyclone” said the vendor bursting into a satirical laughter. I was at loss of words for no reason but managed to spill “How about your house anna?”
“My brother is missing since the day of cyclone.”
“Did you inform the authorities’ anna?”
“They repeat the same thing again and again which isn’t helping. My wife and my son are looking after our house. At least one has to earn to run the family. At the end of the day we are the one at the receiving end of all shows ” he muttered with desperation. I had no words of consolation than a silent nod of the head and an empty stare into the simmered lavender shower of flames.
I threw the empty stick, stripped of the potato in to the trash bin and walked into the darkness away from the light of lavender without uttering any more word. I drove back home tracing back the same road but with more food for thoughts. In the next 30 minutes, I was leaning against the rails of my balcony watching the mango tree and the dog.
Note : This is my first written try at fictional writing. I have enrolled the same for Times of India – Write India.
Disclaimer : True to my consciousness, the write up is an imaginary plot.