Serial || Cross-Eyed Sleep (Part 3) (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. David’s whimsical adaptation of different personas during each assignment hits a roadblock during the train journey to Mumbai, the place of his next job. David’s co-passenger, whom he overhears during a phone call expressing his desire to have his wife murdered, distresses David by coincidentally suggesting that he would be better off being a professional killer than the Advertisement executive he was pretending to be. David also recounts a teenage memory of his where he teams up with a diabolical associate to murder a group of people who had wronged David, and an innocent woman to boot.
As he looks out the taxicab and views the Mumbai morning vista, washed awake by a warm, deep orange shawl of newly threaded sunlight, David turns back at the day before with a grim dissatisfaction which is, interestingly enough, laced with a modicum of relief.
What occurred was primarily a fruitless experience, with repercussions that follow a shock, a ‘jerk’ of the senses that sets the whole body on motion for a time; the bafflement, the realization of the absurdity that words would often come at a trajectory and speed to wound, with an intent to disturb – sway the straight traveller’s compass north with a distressing riddle to solve.
It had been a start as inauspicious as one feared and David may still be ashamed about the “character’s path” he took, but he still cannot invest much of his recovering common sense to courting some other path and subsequent situation where he could be exposed.
Unless, of course, he has been exposed already.
A certain gesture, a nervous withdrawal of eyes, even a mere syllable is often potent enough to expose a world unto a person. And with the secret that David carries, it is impossible for him not to be concerned about keeping his cover intact come what may. He is not a gangster, a common goonda who would flex muscles to generate power. He is a criminal of a higher echelon and a graver sentence awaits him once exposed.
Since he is not a goonda, he would abstain from striking out doing what he (professionally anyways) does best; and yet circumstances – there were circumstances which can be tricky enough to manipulate to the final block of the crossword.
So he had retreated.
David decided to retreat with the curt nod to his fellow thespians and invisible spectators, faking a harrowing headache which compelled him to spend the entirety of the journey, till the train entered the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus this morning, holed up in his upper bunk . He wrapped himself up in an off-white shawl, effectively keeping at bay the cold of the AC and the prying eyes of his fellow passengers, especially the doctor on board. He is afraid of the needles that are the man’s eyes.
The doctor had attempted to help, urging David to elucidate his problems so he can diagnose the cause of his mysterious headache, before David spoiled the mystery by linking it to an old case of the migraines his mother would have. She would lie, holed up in bed, for hours – sometimes days on end. The father being an honourable absentee, David would try to cook and fail, while the mother would apparently survive on, and drug herself with a strange white powder that she claimed was afeem. Of course, she would claim it made her recover faster. It was not fast enough.
David ends up travelling the entire route of the taxi from the Kurla railway area to the urban quarters of West Goregaon, via a vivid morning dream.
It had him back in his home, opening an envelope to find a spoonful of white powder within. The child that he was in the dream, he innocently picks up a pinchful and brings it near his nostrils. Unable to detect much, he tastes it and finds the taste to be a curious mix of sweet and something predominantly chemical. He did not mind it, and had a few more pinches, before his mother showed up, rude, wild and cranky as ever and snatched the envelope off his hands.
His subconscious realized that he had just dosed himself with a large quantity of whichever remedial hallucinogen it was, and that David was about to plunge into a high the like of which his poison of choice alcohol could never prepare him for.
Then somebody went on to seat him on a wooden plank, which turns out is from a cubicle of a ferris wheel gracing the mela grounds beside the massive Kali Puja canopy of Mukshudpur.
The ferris wheel starts to move. In a deep sleep paralysis, the wheel moves and begins bringing him closer to the stars. The circumference a mystery for the ages, the cubicle means to travel in a circle but never touches the downward curve. The endless bottom mirrors the sky above as the wheel takes him to the stars, ignoring his fear of heights, ignoring the fact that the wax on his wings were on fire.
It was daylight, and it was night. The winds they brewed up a storm to stretch time till eternity.
David ended up spending what did seem like all of time. Rising, or perhaps falling, deeper into an abyss in his deep sleep that managed to obliterate the forty odd minutes it takes to travel from Kurla to Goregaon.
“It may not be that long in real time”, David remembers, “it is considerably long in dream states.” – he concludes, missing his reflection in the rear view mirror that is clearly showing the undiscovered tuft of grey hairs that seem to have aged overnight, shielding his left temple.
The taxi drops him off at his destination – The Palm Retreat on the New Link road. David does catch sight of a pair of weak date palms adorning the entrance but they are a shabby sight at best. It is certainly not a place to pride upon its natural beauty. It was rather a haven of hospitality, which showed the deepest devotion by turning the other way and allowing you to unleash whatever monstrosity you wish to within its fortified walls.
David prides himself enough upon his research acumen to know these details for certain; to have booked this place for the duration of the three days that he would spend in Mumbai.
David believes in letting the stage define his persona.
David believes in the adage that the Father would often use as a means of imparting education; a Bengali translation of the idiom ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ – Jaswin deshe jadachar.
The Father still believes, in his heart of hearts, that David is the finest protégé of his. David cannot disagree with the belief for some reason, and that prompts him, in particularly severe moments of self-doubt, to castigate the Father for being a blind old fool. He would email him from time to time, in which he would categorically thank him for sending such generous donations and wishing that, whoever he or she was, would be welcome at any time at his missionary, whether in times of joy or crisis. The man who has the right to claim that he is the closest among all to God is foolish enough to not know that it is David and his blood money that feeds his god forsaken orphans. It is he, a murderer for profit, who has been funding God’s work since the great flood of 2010. What an irony!
The Father would not refuse his money, David knows. But what David will not stand is the fate of the poor man on the day he might come to know of what earned that money.
It is easy for David to slip into any character since he believes, deeply enough, that he is one of the worst specimens of humankind that ever walked this earth.
It was not deep enough to elude him at all times, especially when he lost control, but that had not happened since that summer in Mukshudpur, Father Lucius’ ancestral home by the river with that strange name – Ankhbhasi, was it?
The etymology could have been off, but the river had taken a simple meaning in David’s life by making him cry his heart out on its banks one fine evening. It had been the first and only time in his life that he had shed actual tears for a fellow human being. During the brief interlude in that idyllic setting, beneath a canopy of ancient greens tucking in as the sun wheeled towards the horizon, David had seen himself in that old man. The robe, the glasses, the sophisticated diction, the beard and most importantly, the silver cross hanging from the neck – they were barriers no more as David became one with Lucius Biswas’ griefs. Beneath the pageantry lay a man who, despite differences of age and faith, was unknown no more to David.
The sins of the father were his as well.
David is whisked up to his room by an overtly friendly individual whose mousy facial expressions and a joker-like smile gives the indication that he is someone in whom David’s persona can conspiratorially confide in.
David begins, “Dekho abhi, I’m here for fun, you understand? Nothing but masti on the card for three days! Will travel, drink, bring some women over, if you know what I mean…”
David’s wink does not elude the sly man, whose smile broadens at the very mention of women.
“We can certainly help you in that department, Sir. Barhiya maal milega.”
“That’s great!” David counters jovially, “As endowed as the woman is, so shall be your pockets!”
The man pockets the five hundred rupee note that David extends and gives him a real salaam. David can feel the genuine gratitude behind that bow and it calms him for the first time since that wretched train ride.
David sits himself down upon the sofa and sets his laptop on the table as the grateful man takes his leave.
It does not take long for David to get online and log into his encrypted emails. The attachments, which arrived a good 48 hours ago, are finally opened.
As the photo of David’s next victim loads gradually on the browser connecting David to the nefarious ‘dark web’, he reads the particulars accompanying the attachment.
It is rather brief and confusing:
Name: Anita Bakshi
Address: 67/2, Shahu colony, Santa Cruz east, Mumbai.
Standing instructions: keep it clean. No bloodshed. Make it look like suicide, or accidental poisoning. Keep it peaceful for her.
Even as David muses over the strange instructions of the actual ‘killer’, the photo finishes loading and what stares back at David sends a sheer bolt of lightning down his fraying spine.
It is the face of a teenager, barely thirteen years old, is she? Strangely for David, however, that is not the terrifying part.
The girl in the picture is a spitting image of the girl he had forcibly deflowered behind an abandoned factory some sixteen years ago. He had been all but a hormonal lad of seventeen then. How old was the girl? Thirteen, was she?
Even as David stares dumbfounded at his laptop screen, the mousy haired man shows up unannounced at the open front door with a bottle of unopened ‘Indian Scotch’, mouthing, “Compliments of the hotel, Sir”
The man goes on to put a fat, pink photo album on the table beside David’s computer and says, “The manager sent this. You can choose as many as you like and we will be arranging it as per your convenience. Off the books, of course.”
Confounded by David’s lack of reaction, the man steals a glance at the photo on the digital screen and adds clandestinely, “The younger ones are at the back of the album, Sir! I’m sure you’ll find that rare combination of young and endowed somewhere in there… Aap bolke toh dekhiye, we can fetch you absolutely anything!”
… To be continued …
First published in Issue #3 of CultureCult Magazine (Winter 2015-16)