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Serial || Cross Eyed Sleep (Part 1) (Siddharth Pathak)

EXPOSITION

David Mondal has always possessed the singular idea in his head that human beings sleep with their eyes crossed under a veil of the assorted lids and lashes. His theory of cross eyed sleep has by far gone untested but that has never stopped him from expounding his assumptions to nearly everyone he has ever known.

David remembers coming to the foresaid conclusion and sharing it with his best friend Rahul, way back in the 1990s when he was no more than a stripling lad of thirteen. He had excitedly recounted his discovery to his disinterested parents, a wide-eyed girl whose virginity he had taken by force behind an abandoned factory and even Kajal, the lascivious prostitute he had fallen in love with in his youth.

David has climbed up several of the rickety steps of success since his humble days of picking pockets or ganging up to invade a slumbering household. He had nearly been beaten to death one time during an episode of ganapituni when his sleight of hand had failed to fool the unseeing spectators and he was caught with his hand stuck awkwardly in an unnamed back pocket with a bus full of deceptively violent souls looking on.

The robberies were far less risky since they would normally target homes in the middle of nowhere at the dead of the night, several stations away from their respective hometowns whose names were a well-guarded secret even amongst their innermost circle.

Their haul would be graciously rewarding and they would board the first train of the morning a happy bunch, until the day David’s co-conspirators drugged and left him to his fate inside a train compartment.

The night before had been especially fruitful; they had attacked a farmhouse belonging to some rich honcho who used the place to house his mistress and stash his ill-gotten gains. David had been denied every penny of his share, his only gain from the venture being a memory of the couple of turns he took with the mistress who had been ready to do absolutely anything with a desi gun pointed at her temple.

Looking back at the incident, David no longer experiences that ancient fire of rage he had initially felt towards his partners in crime for screwing him out of his fair share. Since denying him his hissa had been their prerogative, David realises now that they could as easily have thrown him off the moving train. It would have been so much simpler than serving sedative in a bottle of Cola but they had nevertheless adopted the most convoluted and humane method.

In hindsight, it is David who feels that he owes his erstwhile friends a word of thanks instead of the eternal miseries he had wished upon them then. That incident had been the one which steeled his resolve of flying solo and also took him to the big city for the very first time in his life.

Calcutta was not as far from his hometown as it was distant to him, like a dream that has very little chance of coming true. The overwhelming skeleton of the Howrah Bridge had been neutralized by the sight of a familiar river body; the cacophony of the bustling Howrah station drowned out by the pathetic cries of beggars missing limbs, dotting the station premises like loose hair in a comb. David could give them some money but the shock of waking up at the terminal station with a hundred bucks in his pocket instead of the thousands he deserved, numbed his propensity for sincere charity.

David could easily have taken a train back to his hometown but the city of his dreams had beckoned him to stall that eventual moment. Its sheer diversity; the co-habitance of glitz and desolation, of penance and prosperity, of saffron-clad sanyasis and girls in tight jeans invited him to stop by and breathe in the musk that emanated from every orifice the city possessed. It was not long before David decided to ditch his plans of returning home and make the city his new abode.

The big city tested him as it tested every single soul who ever dreamt of making it here. David realised soon enough that it was easier to leave the city than survive in her tumultuous womb.

Ever her own children, bred in her veins and no stranger to her myriad shenanigans often chose to snap their umbilical cords and head for the greener pastures of Bangalore, Mumbai or Delhi. The deserters would often complain that Calcutta was a dead city – a soulless patch of existence that simply did not deserve the love of her progeny.

The surrogate that David was, his precious hundred was exhausted soon enough. Snatching handbags and picking pockets sustained him for a while before he got embroiled in a brutal turf war with a local snatcher and received that deep scar near his elbow which forces him to wear full sleeves to this day.

The gift of oblivion was one of the virtues that aided David is his path towards success but the scar ended up being a regular reminder that gnawed at his insides night and day, before his teenage self decided to do something about it.

Shyamal, the perpetrator, had the fairly regular habit of heading to a murky hooch den just outside the respectable quarters of Bajeshibpur. He would take his day’s earnings to the liquor lair after dutifully delivering the agreed upon share to the local overlord. Three days of reconnaissance was all it had taken for David to hatch a neat little plan to exert revenge upon the fellow teenager who had gifted him that ghastly scar.

The plan was good enough to have been made by a goddamned architect.

David would lie in wait in the mosquito-infested shrubbery that grew along the path Shyamal would take on his way home from the hooch den every night. The 90s were not as well-lit as the place probably is now and the particular patch David had selected was especially notorious for reasons not entirely natural. Even the daredevil Shyamal would mutter ‘Ram Ram Ram Ram’ under his breath while he crossed that particularly dark patch between the den and the local bazaar, in a bid to ward off any evil entity that might be lurking in the shadows.

David would not only be applying a mask of mosquito repellent cream and mustard oil on his hands and feet but would also cover himself from head to toe in a white bedspread with two slits for customary vision. The rest would go as expected.

Shyamal, of course, would go into an intoxicated fit of fear, exacerbated by an avenging David who would climb on top of him, choking him through the bedspread with a vice-like grip befitting the supernatural spectre he would pretend to be.

Shyamal would struggle at first, yes, but even under the pressure of David’s oily hands, he would be too paralyzed by fear to fight back with his characteristic ferocity.

The plan did go accordingly. David had merely failed to account for the arrival of a man riding a bicycle which happened by just as the final remnant of life was being exorcised out of Shyamal. David, of course, did anything but panic. He gingerly rose up after murdering Shyamal and convincingly enough, uttered a shrill, choking cry with the aid of his immature vocal chords which made the curious onlooker jump off his bicycle and run away towards the very direction he had come from, struggling to utter the Lord’s name due to the sheer shock from bumping into real evil.

That night had not made Shyamal the cold blooded executioner that he is.

It had been the night Shyamal discovered where ghosts come from.

POSSESSION

The two-tier air-conditioned train compartments, David feels, are cosier than any business-class airline experience one can buy. There were no excuse-seeking flight attendants interrupting him during his crossword puzzles or the final chapter of a nail-biting paperback thriller that he might be reading; the customary waves caused by the moving train being the best anaesthetic there is, it convincingly outscores the deathly air pockets that would often spoil David’s aerial siestas.

He particularly prefers overnight journeys, the ones that would get David to his destination as soon as he would wake up at the crack of dawn.

The waking up at dawn thing was a habit that he had inherited from the man who had rechristened him when he was fifteen. If only Father Lucius could see how easily David has chosen to forget the other lessons the good parson had attempted to instil in him.

A smile would crease his cheeks every time he would recount his divine guardian and the happy years he had spent at the home for children that Father Lucius had marked his entire life for. Even though David has not visited Alorkone in more than a decade, he would often see the place in his dreams, the ones which would generally be interrupted by inconvenient air pockets or the night train coming to an unsteady halt in the middle of the great, impenetrable darkness.

David, who is by now used to getting only anonymous payments for his professional services, does send similar unmarked donations to the home that had helped him overcome the darkest days of his life. As recently as last month, David donated as much as ten percent of his paycheque which he had received for his last assignment. The amount that he ended up donating came down to a nifty fifty thousand rupees.

The assignment that David is presently drawing the blueprint of is nowhere near as convoluted as the Indore assignment had turned out to be. The well-guarded hospital had been practically impossible to infiltrate and even when he found a way to do so, the rumour of a pandemic virus nearly convinced David to ditch his mission and return to a safer zone. Ironically, the deadly reports had ended up assisting David in completing his task as  it gifted him the idea of donning a mask and a generic patient’s outfit to outwit the sensible guards of the realm who were too busy keeping the pandemic in check to double down on a masked man who, as his disguise suggested, had already been admitted to the facility.

His makeshift wheelchair had helped him, of course. The guard manning the elevator did not even question the anomaly of finding a wheelchair-bound patient on the tenth floor without a medical attendant. All David had to do was point clandestinely at the golden crest on his uniform and utter like a man in mild distress, ‘The nurse… chali gayi… a doctor called. Aap thoda… 4th floor?’

Of course, he would have preferred taking the stairs instead of indulging in such a risky playact. David, however, had found out during his recon that 4th floor was exclusively for the facility’s most special patrons and thus, had its very own dedicated set of elevators and staircase. It had been a rude shock to him when he found out that the general staircase only opened up in front of the rooftop garden on the 4th floor with all but a large, boarded fibreglass window to merely see the beautiful natural assortment through. There were no entrances or any sign of life in that fairly narrow space between the glass and the door.

With the emergency and general departments overflowing with potential patients showing portentous symptoms, not many of the staff were available to keep a watch upon the uber-patients that this particular private hospital boasted of.

It is peculiar, David had thought, that the proverbial peak of a disease that ails the masses even turns the greediest into anxious souls who want to shed their personas and overturn the onslaught on the collective health of the society.

The exceptions were few. They were rare. They were the ones who, in reality, were ‘gifted’.

David has the gift of anticipation. He can virtually foresee the events that would unfold in the short space of time that he ‘works’ in. Was he proud of his work? Probably not. But he knew that it was a work that had to be done by someone! It is an offshoot of the oldest ‘profession’ that the male of our species have wilfully chosen.

There had to be someone who wielded the hammer when Jesus was nailed to the cross.

David had rightly assumed that the 4th floor would remain considerably empty at a time when the outdoor patients would flock at the hospital’s altar on the ground for hallowed opinions while the royal visitors to the 4th floor would have been shown the door post their morning visit and lunch served to the inmates. They would be asleep by the time David convinced the elevator man that he was feeling achha enough to roll his chair to his cabin.

The guard did not have much of a choice. There was a terrified, angry and disappointed set of patients behind, willing him silently to keep the lift moving.

The man who was lying, frail and unconscious in front of David, barely matched the poorly scanned copy of the photograph that he had received in his email. The chart at the end of the bed, however, did confirm the identity of the patient and David did not waste any more time. Time is much more than money in case of David. In a certain way of looking at it, he practically has all the time in the world. But in order to keep it that way, he must put at stake his very life for short spurts of the clock that tend to have the illusion of an eternity. David cannot waste any of it. In his case, time is life.

As David’s packaged dinner punctually arrives in the two tier air-conditioned sleeper car, he puts down his glasses and stashes the paperback thriller into the satchel at his side. David does not have a great fascination for food. Deprivation has its own virtues, he believes, and the fact that he has been denied the cravings of his gastric juices for such a long time in his life does make him less susceptible to the clutches of gluttony.

David prides himself on being a connoisseur if not a consumer and he won’t be out of place in any upscale party celebrating the many avatars of food. Yet, he contentedly digs into the bland mangsho-bhaat with his bare hand, perfunctorily biting off the chicken legs and extracting the marrow, peppering the process with mouthfuls of rice and a  flat curry.

David does not care if any of his co-passengers find the process a little repulsive. One has a napkin shoved inside his shirt while he drank soup with a comically tiny spoon; another thinks two pieces of cucumber inside a ‘cheese’ sandwich can help her lose weight; the third is a palpable foodie, the extent of his midriff bearing testimony to the fact, further emphasized by his unwavering attention towards his food and the abject disregard for the way David conducts his dinner.

David cannot care less about what any of these people think. As long as he is living his life, not governed by the constraints of his work hours, he refuses to behave in any way that will force him to alter the persona he has so carefully constructed since his youth. Of course he had to let go of a few urges that were practical hurdles on his road to success, but the other traits that possesses him make him who he is. He must wake up at the crack of dawn. He must solve crossword puzzles. David must eat as if a famine is about to unsheathe its fangs.

Tucking in after everyone else switched off their reading lights, David lies awake under the covers with only his eyes looking out into the darkness. He is trying to think of nothing, faltering repeatedly at the prick of the work at hand. The client has probably sent the final set of details regarding the assignment in his inbox by now. His hyperactive mind, aroused at the thought of resuming work tomorrow makes him pull out the phone in his pocket to access the internet. The signal being weak, David waits for the browser to start functioning as he hears a set of words arranged in such a strange sequence that it immediately makes him think of fate.

The man right below his bunk is speaking to someone over the phone in spite of the terrible signal in this place. It is the frail connection perhaps, which forces him to speak out the words a little louder than he obviously intends to. It is certainly not something one generally says out loud, even in the presence of sleeping strangers.

Dhyan se suno, I need you to find someone who can kill my wife…’                                                                                    

 … To be Continued …  []


First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015

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