Serial || Cross-Eyed Sleep (Part 2) (Siddharth Pathak)
Initiated to a life of violence and crime at an early age, David Mondal has worked his way up from being a pickpocket to a professional assassin. His first murder victim was a fellow teenager Shyamal who had beaten David up over a bitter turf war in Kolkata. David chose to attack him, disguised as a ghost in the dead of the night as Shyamal was on his way home in an inebriated state. David also remembers his ‘temporary saviour’ Father Lucius and the wide eyed girl he had raped behind an abandoned factory when he was young. Even as he travels to Mumbai for an assignment and overhears a co-passenger’s bid to find a contract killer to murder his wife, what David can most vividly muse upon is an old theory of his that asserts that human beings sleep with their eyes crossed under the protective lids shielding the windows to the soul.
As David Mondal glances out the window and his eyes come to rest on the name of the station, etched in black on a cemented banner of yellow, in English, Hindi and a version of the local tongue, whatever language that may be, he realises that the train has finally crossed the borders of Bengal.
Unlike David’s dream of getting to the big city, the particular milestone of setting foot beyond one’s common region had never held any fascination for him whatsoever. It was true, he reckons, that for a child for whom the idea of getting to Kolkata was not a mere thought but a dream, surpassing the confines of the territory that held as captive the big, bustling city of his dreams was something that was beyond the scope of his stilted ambitions and imagination.
That is perhaps why David did not even feel a prick on his spine the day he had finally crossed the landmark.
Odisha had come calling at around 1 in the morning, an unseemly hour to remain awake for David but for the fact that he was actually head on into an assignment. The four boys he had befriended occupied the partition of the sleeper compartment adjacent to that of the six travelling women, mostly in their 50s and 60s, one among whom David’s primary interest lay in.
Keeping witnesses, David finds, is a superior method of being anonymous than being the easily-spotted lone wolf in the crowd. A friendly persona, people who would care enough to vouch for him if need be, gave David’s ‘work’ the sense of societal involvement that it obviously lacked.
Being a supari killer is supposed to be a one man’s game. But David is not cut out to be an assassin by the books.
The women had rented a place near Swargadwar, the interior quarters of the city of Puri, away from the touring seafaring crowd. The boys, on the other hand, were set to get a sea-front hotel, with a view of the endless, of course, on a budget that was too short to be a shoestring for any goddamned shoe.
At least that was the way David had expounded it to the kids. They were college-goers and David was all but 27, a stripling lad with an educated demeanour and a handsome persona to boot. Three of them had been studying English, while the other was a virgin of Economics, vying to be an eligible bachelor! David had cooked up a perfect facade for himself after careful consideration.
The arrival of one of David’s co-passengers interrupts his brief foray into the past. David is certainly not one to dwell in his own history, but the myriad characters and people he had become and come across often resurfaces in his mind to fill him with an odd sense of warmth. It was markedly different to the obvious darkness that he recognises as clearly as daylight itself, dwelling in the nether regions of the person that he is. It is a relief, a privilege to play somebody else and this realisation immediately steeled David’s resolve to break out into a smile at the girl who only had a cheese sandwich for dinner last night.
‘Era breakfast kokhon serve korbe? I’m famished. Besides, you know what they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day! They should make it quick…’
It will be unfair to assume that David expects what the other person will reply in return. David is a good judge of actions, a prudent observer who can nearly predict the course of events during a very short span of time. But it is a gift that does not extend to people and situations he has not had a chance to observe yet in all their glory. Being the practical individual that he is, David is prepared for human rejection at any point of time.
The girl, however, does not necessarily react in the offensive. She returns a generic smile, a half-hearted but friendly effort, mouthing the words, ‘It’s barely seven’
‘Yes, you’re right…’, David is vocally dejected, ‘they won’t get here in hours. I should get something right here. Who knows when the train will stop next?’
David stands up, stretches his arms wide, yawning all the way like the typical Bengali he is essaying, even uttering a standard ‘Ma go…’ along. He jumps excitedly a couple of times, assumingly letting the dry cold of the compartment leave his sleepy joints.
David makes careful mental note of the first few actions that he undertakes in the view of the other players. His method seldom involves slipping into the preconceived idea of a ‘persona’. The role rather develops with the initial set of actions that he performs consciously and the conversations that end up occurring as a result.
Of course, since continuity demands that he lives up to his actions till the point when conscious ‘acting’ begins, he decided to focus on the fact that his persona, like his character, is a strange eater. He has little doubt that the other players only remember his voracious eating from last night, since David is of the opinion that it is the only visibly eccentric aspect of his true personality.
It is certainly not the first time that David has employed a personal trait to serve his persona. Lies are best buried on the stage with a shrapnel of truth. A little source of light is enough to mesmerise the spectators in a dark auditorium if only the acting is par excellence!
The warm sun on the platform is yet to assume the identity of the ferocious, blazing beast come midday as David enjoys a warm sensation of caress with the tangent rays breezing past his emancipated soul.
In steps as light as natural, David struts over to the tea-stall in clear view of the glass window of his assigned compartment. In a voice betraying the deep sleep of the night before, he cheerily orders a large cup of tea and a desi toast. His eyes gleam in pretend hunger as the chef puts the two buns over the double headed omelette and whips the entire arrangement around so that the buns can soak in the residual oil and the heat of the burnt steel surface.
The very first bite is followed by a voice that jolts David, threatening to trip the airy persona that he has assumed on this particular occasion.
‘We are travelling together, are we not?’, enquired the voice.
Actions… David finds them to be a riposte as graceful as any fallacy of life itself.
‘Ore baba go! God damn it!!’, David exclaims, gulping down the little chewed concoction inside his mouth as if it were a handful of coals that he has devoured.
‘Do you need water?’
‘No, no, tea will do much better! Jhaal, dada. You cannot imagine how spicy this is! How many chillies have you put?’, the chef is put at the stake.
‘Yes, yes, have the tea. You’ll be fine in no time!’, the voice chimes in kindly.
The chef, busy serving the fleeting customers of the express train who are eager to get back to their respective seats, reacts faintly at the hot reproach. David apparently recovers himself after a few swigs of the sweetened beverage in the disposable little earthen cup and finally looks into the eyes of the man to whom the voice belongs.
The eyes they are one of the kindest pairs David has had the privilege of looking into in his illustrious life.
It immediately reminds David of the good father Lucius before fleetingly conjuring what can very well be a fictional memory, a little picture that has been a part of his brain ever since he was a child.
David briefly sees his own father, rocking baby David months after he was born, years before the man’s private frustrations would distance him irrevocably from the world of little David, which grew, ironically, as dark as the shades that were engulfing his father’s place on this planet.
David has no way of confirming whether this memory is real or whether it is a permanent fixture erected by the craftier connivers in his brain which are still determined to convince him that good is not a mere figment of human imagination and that there used to be some of the same in his life too, before the narrative began to pan out the way it eventually did.
‘I guess we are travelling together. I’m Ranjit. Dr. Ranjit Ghosh’, the man beams genially, extending his right arm.
David takes the hand after awkwardly balancing the earthen cup of tea on the plastic lid of a glass canister full of baked assortments.
‘I am Prakash Banik,’ David replies, returning the amiable grin, ‘It’s really nice to meet you.’
‘Likewise, my friend. First trip to the West Coast?’
David spreads his wings, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact. I have a small time advertisement agency. Calcutta has become too stifling a place for business lately. I’m thinking of shifting and in my line of work, Bombay is where all the work is.’
David takes a ceremonial nip of the tea before nodding his head in contemplation. Dr. Ranjit Ghosh reacts as David expects, the infectious nod of the skull getting to him before he speaks up:
‘I guess that is true! Kolkata’s a tough nut to crack, especially if you are peddling something other than education or health!’
‘The business of saving lives pays well now, does it, Dr. Ghosh?’ David says with a sheepish grin across his lips. The doctor enjoys the banter enough to smile back.
‘Well, I wouldn’t mind exchanging careers if you were an assassin taking lives instead, but I wouldn’t bet on someone whose greatest skill is, well, to advertise!’, the doctor winks, sending a little drop of ice down David Mondal’s case-hardened spine. In as many times in two days, this man has spoken something that instinctively makes David think of fate.
David feels a largely unfamiliar knot clenching inside his stomach. He is, quite clearly, running out of scripted lines.
During the assignment in Puri, David had been Surjo Modak, an effusive research scholar who was looking to enter into a Ph.D programme with a focus as delicious as ‘Violence in Literature’.
Besides edifying his young, captivated audience comprising three budding students of Literature and a novice of Economics, he had managed to hijack their entire holidays, convincing them of the merits of pooling together funds to rent the lower floor of a tenement on lease instead of spending it all on sea front hotel rooms.
Hotels were tricky affairs where enjoyment was permitted but with riders that varied from maintaining a strict code of conduct to abstaining from certain dubious activities that were considered sub-moral at best.
The silent one might be denied his occasional joints of marijuana while the horny economics fellow would definitely need to call off any plan of procuring a lady-for-hire. The fat one would be rendered broke by the pricing of food in such costly hotels and the bright, friendly one would be robbed of his idea of ‘fun’, trapped in the shackles of the capitalistic hospitality arrangements who were committed to serving the interests of the bourgeoisie with no real regard for the people who refused to conform to the set standards.
They needed, nay, they deserved to derive the maximum out of any arrangement they invested in. Not to mention the fact that the left leaning scholar Surjo Modak would never agree to stay in a ‘hotel’, and that he was the one who, as a cheerful toast to newfound friendship, would sponsor all the booze they could devour in the five days they were to spend together. It had been, as they say, an offer that was too good for the barely legal kids to refuse.
Surjo Modak had turned out to be a fascinating man. Insightful, friendly, liberal as far as mere money was concerned, he kept his holiday buddies happily drunk and fed on a palate-popping assemblage of vacationing delights. It had been a blessed five days and nights for those college kids, aided by the generosity of a dear dada who had been their guardian angel throughout, making Puri their very own version of Valhalla.
It had been perfect but for the fact that one of the six elderly women who had come on a pilgrimage to pray homage to the divine Lord Jagannatha of Puri and were similarly holed up two building down from the kids’ in a one storey rental home, suffered a fatal fall from the rooftop in the wee hours of one particular morning.
Little did the kids know that these six were the ones who were in the coach beside the one they had occupied in the train from Kolkata, during which their beloved Suraj-da had befriended the four to show unto them a way of consuming the nectar of life through exalted hypotheses, blatant debauchery, a confounding mix of sex, drugs and alcohol that did not allow them to realise, even in their wildest dreams, that Suraj Modak was in fact, David Mondal – a scholar in the art of clandestine violence rather than that in literature.
Motivation is a determinant of nearly every action that David indulges in. Aided by a perfectly innocent setting, David would conduct a peerless symphony of brutality. The ingenieur would be stationed beyond the curtains while David chooses to expose masked impressions of himself like the antagonist in an unfolding tragedy who is struck by the grandeur of events and the might of his act rather than the list of casualties prepared by a scholarly historian of facts at the end of it.
David can kill the person who dares call him a killer – a petty assassin with no regard for life whatsoever. He could kill that person but for the fact that murder for mere retribution is a habit which David has been a stranger to since the harrowing events of his 16th birthday.
The sweeter aspects of the day he would turn sixteen were planned in blood by David, a teenager with missing innocence and a moral compass that seldom pointed north.
Inducted alarmingly early in the affairs of carnal desires, he was a fairly regular visitor to the flesh-pen in the basti behind the abandoned factory near Sonarpur. A few weeks before turning sixteen, David had visited the place, alone for the first time after several trips with his makeshift gang of ‘friends’ in the city. David had taken to sex like a fish takes to water, a heady plunge into an ocean of indefinable pleasure, marked by a familiar feeling of conquest which made him seek variety in terms of his objects of desire.
David had planned to visit the friendly Kaju, the sickly pimp who was as good-natured a fellow as they came. David was yet to see that side of Kaju which would make him shudder in retrospect and found him to be a rather affable fellow, peddling in girls in a community where pimps were generally tough guys looking to pick up a fight at the drop of a hat.
It had been David’s misfortune that he failed to reach the area where Kaju would operate, intercepted several hundred metres before by a sly-looking fellow with a gash over his eyebrow. The little man had a tough grip on David’s wrist, as he kept pulling him towards a little door on the side of a dark building, promising that they were many girls in that dark house who liked to play with little boys.
David had not panicked per se. He was offended at being called a bachha, a little kid by a man who was barely as tall as the teenaged kid that David was. But the man had a strong grip, his sinewy brown muscles bearing a coat of sweat, a gift of the sultry April evening, yet David was finding it hard to jerk his arm away and walk off.
It had been a curt selection of expletives that finally made the man stop in his tracks and look back at David. The man had a dirty, cruel gleam in his eyes that gave him the appearance of a genuine imp, sending a cold shiver down the little boy’s spine.
Although he had stopped, the man did not let go of David’s arm and in that stance, shouted out the names of ‘Bocha’ and ‘Nyara’. That in turn led to the presence of two thugs who slapped David around and even opened his pants in the busy evening hours of the red light district. Eventually, David had to run home in only his underwear. The imp had put his hand inside his underpants too, pulling his penis in a painful way while attempting to crush the balls against the inner muscles of his groin, pulling back his foreskin all the way. He did this a few times, almost making David get a sore erection that made the three men laugh and slap him around even harder.
David had spent the next few days locked up inside his rented shanty, surviving on glucose biscuits and water while the world chugged along. He finally conquered the fear and humiliation with a rousing rage that made him forgo hibernation one morning and visit Kaju, who not only lent a sympathetic ear but engineered a revenge that befit the crime.
It was, however, David, who chose to mark the day when they would execute their neat little plan. It would be the 4th of May when David would gift himself the best birthday present there could be.
The dark building that the imp was trying to get him into happened to be the abandon quarters of an NGO who used to operate from that space a few years ago.
They had been the unfortunate victims of a little crime that had resulted in several deaths, owing to the fact that they were trying to clamp down on the more violent atrocities inflicted on the sex workers who operated in the area. Their Samaritan acts had helped them make more than a few enemies and one of them had ultimately decided to act on their threats.
The building had since been taken over by the imp who went by the name Raja Shah. He had made neat little partitions in the building and would rent them out to prostitutes whom he would also supply clients. He would keep an unfair percentage of the womens’ income but Bocha and Nyara would make sure the women did not dare utter a single word of complaint.
Fourth of May being a Monday, business would be slow, especially post midnight. David and Kaju would sneakily get up to the room where Raja Shah would be sleeping with Bocha and Nyara dozing off, sitting on stools outside the door. The guards would be chloroformed, followed by their master. Then David and Kaju would haul the guards inside the room and get on with the planned proceedings.
The two did manage to subjugate the guards. But they had not expected their master to be in bed with one of the women that he held under his wing. The two were mercifully asleep and were quickly put to a deeper sleep by the avenging duo. The guards were brought in and David locked the door from inside, while Kaju swiftly walked up to the unconscious woman sleeping beside Raja Shah and promptly slit her throat. As blood began rushing out of the cut and flushed the bedsheet in front of a horrified David, Kaju, smiling, extended the large, bloody knife that he was holding, inviting David to begin the honours.
David could not do it. The sight of the helpless woman who was dying for no fault of her own was niggling at his insides, nullifying the desire for dear revenge. A sickening feeling it was as David remained motionless with the knife held aloft, while Kaju proceeded to raise the lungi of Raja Shah and expose his genitalia to the thirsty blade.
Yet David could not do it. He would keep standing motionless until Kaju, growing restless and nodding his head in a way that communicated both sympathy and disappointment, seized the weapon from David’s grip and went on to emasculate the master and his henchmen. The four heavily sedated victims were left to bleed out while the blood-splattered avengers stole out of the building, just as the first train of the of sunless dawn whistled away into the dead darkness, down the train tracks that lay directly behind the house of the dying. 
First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue Two: November 2015