I raised my hands in defense and placed them in front of my chest, a reflexive defense mechanism. But before I could start, a man came and gave a tight slap on my face. I swear on God, I have never experienced such a sharp immediate intense shrill pain in my life. It was tight and the unpreparedness made it harder. It made me see atomic glittery insects flying with and through the tiny sparkling stars. Then what followed was pretty obvious.
I wept so hard that even those people might have surely got confused for a while that whether to bully him more or to console him, some out of pity while others out of the fear for others in the locality to get awakened.
Looking at the ruckus caused by his slap, one of them grabbed my collar and with zero tolerance in eyes said, “Shut up, or we’ll kill you.”
The fear flabbergasted me but helped me go mute. Two fat guys walked up to me.
Looked at me, exchanged looks with me and with each other, fixating eventually on me. One of them then took out his camera phone and took my picture. And even before the phone guy kept his phone in the pocket someone grabbed me from behind and started beating and manhandling. And during the time I took to register whats happening, my mouth was sealed by the guys in front and my limbs almost tied-up.
Once fully wrapped, they picked me up, exactly like the furniture and placed in a wooden box kept next to us.
At that point in time, my mind state was like, I didn’t even wanna struggle. I couldn’t. I had surrendered and was waiting to die. Anyhow, while I was in the box, the other people went back to their work as if nothing had happened. The one who clicked his picture went inside the bungalow nearby. While the unloading continued, the same white bolero from the bus stop comes and halts next to the horse – cart. I could still see through the chinks of the planks and to my surprise it was the same lady driver from the bus stop who disembarked the Bolero and walked inside. Nobody said or asked anything to her. Maybe she was a regular here.
Once she went inside, within a minute or so, a loud yet inaudible verbal argument between a man and a woman could be heard. None of it was clear, but it was an argument for sure, with a slight color of a domestic spat.
This all went on for a while with the undocking happening nonstop outside.
And while I was busy sobbing mutely inside, a middle aged semi fat man in a crisp cream coloured kurta with a same color merging fur jacket and a Kashmiri fur cap came and pointed his henchmen to get me out.
Once I was out and unfurled, I lost control and fell. The men came forward and made me stand. As soon as I was made free, my consciousness picked up instantly and I screamed, screamed with an outburst of fear, anguish, pain and emotions.
Looking at someone yelping and screaming in front, the white dressed guy, shouted at me. In one go, he threatened me with so much conviction that I suddenly like a small kid got dumbstruck and went silent. My senses went numb instantly and worked as a silencer for me. Once I was silent he, in an extreme commanding voice, said, “What are you doing here? You know which area is this and what time is it?”
I still in the shock of everything didn’t know what to respond. The struggling logical sense had surrendered in front of the panic. I didn’t know why I was there; I didn’t know what to do and where to go next? All I could see was a few people, who I felt will kill me with a trifle provocation, all surrounding me. But I didn’t know what to say. I, seriously, didn’t even felt that I knew how to even speak. I looked at them blankly, which I think triggered the boss. He, re-instigating his ego in front of his henchmen, took a step towards me. He caught my collar and in a very firm voice asked, who are you?
This was it. My legs lost control and while he still was holding my collar, I knelt, obviously in tears. With a complete power drained body; I folded my hands and implored to leave me. My confused mind also blabbered….train……..friends waiting……..station …. and stopped. Even I felt the nonsensical course of pleading, but I didn’t have anything to offer. My mind was exhausted and saturated. I succumbed.
I left my hands loose, bent my head facing down, propped it, ready to get beheaded, closed my eyes, and waiting for the blow to cut my head off.
For few seconds there was no response. I could hear…….. Thank god at least my ears are working…….. the murmuring sounds….I think he is on drugs…….No No, I think he is mad……..are you mad, how can a mad man be dressed like this………. who said mad people can’t have good clothes…..where were you, I went to pee on the highway….who is this?…….a druggist…….no a mad man………what if he is an informer…………. STAND UP!!
All these faded voices ended by that intense STAND UP. I looked up with a lachrymose face so that even the Satan might feel pity for me. I could see that white kurta guy again. He yelled stand up again, this time a bit mildly. I stood up like a puppet and strangely before he could ask anything, I started.
I’ll tell you sir, my name is……….
And I told every bit of my story. I told him without breathing or taking any pause. I think that kneeling and the fear of another blow, has recharged the brain from within.
Once I finished, He still, still as a rock, was looking at me. There was silence, a dark musty silence whose intensity was enhanced by the nerve chilling temperatures and that man.
“I believe you”, he said in his thick baritone voice and then coming a bit closer he whispered, “And you believe me, you are lucky” and turned and started walking away.
While on his way back, without even looking back he ordered, “Search him, take all that you get and don’t forget to take his watch and all his clothes.” Then he turned slightly, gave me a look, as if saying, l am not that gullible also. He smiled and said, “Once done leave him with his worries in his undies on the highway”, and then turning to one of his goons, with a very serious nonsmiling face, “obviously blindfolded.”
And there was I FINALLY on the highway, amidst all the faint occasional illumination offered by the passing vehicles. I still could feel the damp chilliness of the wooden floor of the horse cart, through which I was deported to the highway. To avoid death, I twisted and turned and adjusted all the way lying almost naked on the floor.
Nothing as in completely nothing was in my mind except the last bar of the Maslow’s hierarchy chart, the fact that I have to be alive, have to avoid this cold. The tussle to survive was the lone strongest thought and feel which I could get at that moment. And I, like a tramp, started drafting here and there, asking for the help from the passing vehicles. I very clearly remember that I was shivering; I was constantly grinding my teeth, running here and there to acquire some help, producing as much body heat as possible. My all the fingers, fist and toe, and the tip of the nose were already below freezing point. The rest of the body temperature was also rolling down the slope. I very quickly ran and luckily found a banana tree from which I plucked a few leafs to wrap me up. The previous stint in the horse cart told me that the cold leaves will create a shiver on contact, the inherent reflex. But surprisingly no, nothing happened; In fact the leaves were pretty comforting and provided an instant coziness.
Nature’s offerings were her wrath for me now. The temporary coziness is no solution.
I had to have some help. I, wrapped in leaves, shivering like a restless tree in a storm, ran from every vehicle to vehicle for some kind of help. But it was properly ensured, driven mainly by greed than conscious, that the doubt should not be the doubt in any vehicle. I now properly looked like a mad man running on the streets, a potential danger to anyone who even comes for my rescue.
But at times like this, a constant zeal, a constant pursuit, a never-dying ultimate optimistic approach is the only option left, which was again very brilliantly being supported and maintained without any distraction by the biting cold. I tried hard, imploring to every passing vehicle to stop and help me with even bare minimum help which they could offer, but NO. The practicality, the highway, the night, the cold and above all my look, altogether assured that nothing great is coming my way. But I have to try.
And while I was just about to collapse, I saw a vehicle going slow, switching from high beam to low beam to turning off the headlight. It crossed me, changed the lane, and parked a few meters ahead to me. And before it could park, I ran.
I ran towards it for the help. As I reached, I saw Shivam and Bhuppi stepping out, along with that same lady from the paan shop from the driver’s seat. As soon as I saw them I loosened the grip of the almost torn banana leaves and went dead. I knew I have made it. I knew it was cold, cold enough to kill me, but the sudden outburst of joy of seeing the familiar faces gave me the power to embrace the shock than to utilize the help. It was the moments of condolences and appreciation for the effort made. I always have heard but it was the first time, in my life, that I actually felt the joy of being alive. The happiness borne out of moment was simply out of the world. But then later, after a couple of heavy inhales and exhales, amidst the get together the cold strikes back again. I rushed into the Jeep, grabbed the middle seat of the rear row and unfurled the seat cover, which was nothing but a fancy removable slightly thick piece of cloth seat cover. I wrapped myself thoroughly into it from head to toe and like a tortoise in his shell burrowed myself in the seat underneath the seat cover.
I till this day don’t remember what my friends said to me, how did they get the car, though I very faintly remember Shivam praising the lady driver for her out of the line smartness in connecting the dots. But for me, the feeling, the happiness to be alive was more than perfect. I still tucked properly in my seat was looking out on the highway, looking through the mist covered dendritic watery window glass. Still trying to ease out the storm in the brain, and looking at the hazy view of the highway, the cold, the occasional but constant illumination by the passing vehicles and remembering “The Train and Subtlety of Chaos” that followed, just before dozing off to sleep.