Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Ghost from Mud Lake

This is the first part of the latest short story that I am writing. I will post more entries as I finish writing them.

He asked me not to waste my time on him. But how could I not? I had already sunk too deep into the quicksand that his story was. Too deep to get out unsoiled. The only way forward was to stay still and delay the pace at which the thick semisolid would eventually engulf me. Because any movement at my end would only pull me deeper. Deeper into a dark, dense quagmire that would cloud my vision and leave me to rot alone.

*  *  *

He came on a wintry morning, not without a warning. He had declared to the world with an almost obscene pride that he was moving to a hot, humid and overcrowded city where it rained half the year. I had one whole month to pay heed to his warning. But I hadn't known then. It was still too early for me to fully grasp the peril of what I was getting into. Besides, I had spookier things to fear-Exams. University exams loomed over my head like a peaceless spirit that would rest only after slaying my soul and leaving my body for the vultures to feed on.

That month passed with the fading sound of the last bell jingling on Rudolph (the red-nosed reindeer, of course). And the next month brought with it icy nights. It was after a fortnight of unusual chill that the winds finally managed to slap me hard on the face. I knew then that he had come. And I had only fifteen minutes to run back home. I panted after my sprint with my teeth clattering as I double-locked the front door and slammed my bedroom-door shut. It was futile. I couldn't escape by locking myself up. He had covered a thousand odd miles and one extra mile wouldn't be too difficult for him.

Our upscale suburb was well into the season of spring by the time I realized he wasn't here to hunt. He was the prey. As the cold winds gave way to a soothing breeze, I set out to find him. I had to find out why I was restless. What was it about him that bothered me so much! 

*  *  *

I watched from my observation deck, disguised in an oversized T-shirt and glares. After days of peering into the blue waters of the Konkan coastline, I was finally granted my reward- I spotted him. I rushed inside my makeshift beach-shack and returned with my giant pair of binoculars. I fiddled with the lenses till I could focus on him. He wore a yellow T-shirt, wet with the saliferous sprays of the waves that crashed against the shore, that stuck to his chiseled body and honoured the hours he would spend pumping weights at the gym. He had his arms around a couple of tourists in string bikinis.

I threw the binoculars in my duffel bag and started the engine of my red hatchback. I was heading home. I cursed the traffic as I honked incessantly with frustration. I was angry. And disappointed. At myself. What a waste of an evening! I should have gone for my usual jog instead. The world looked so happy as I perspired in an ugly T-shirt. My feet ached with every extra minute of maintaining the fine clutch-brake balance on the upward slope. And then I remembered to switch on the air conditioner. But how much would that help? How would the AC cool the rage that was building up inside me? My car slightly slid backward as I shifted my right foot from the brake to the accelerator. The rest of the ride was smooth. The drive back home gave me plenty of time to go over the episode and reflect on how shallow I had become. Had I really stooped to the level of a spy? I slowed down as the guards opened the gates to my residential complex, turned the curve and parked between a navy BMW Z4 and a white Honda Accord. I got off the car and frowned. I was still a rookie when it came to parallel parking.

My heart sank when I entered my flat and remembered I still had to work on my Final Year project. I was too tired to tweak the plugins of the jQuery library. Months of nothing but Java had put me off coffee for good. Why would anybody take something as aromatic as Java beans, misrepresent it in the cryptic world of computer science and haunt unsuspecting software engineers (in the making) till they loathe the very mention of coffee beans (Java or otherwise)! I showered and switched on my laptop. It was going to be a long night.

*  *  *

I sat hunched over my favourite travel magazine on a Sunday morning, my cheeks resting on my knees, as I clipped my toenails. (Multitasking is one of the many things I do well.) I looked dazed as my eyes scanned the picturesque castles of Flanders. Click. It looked so much like Venice with all the canals that seemed to link the entire region. Click. I wondered how the gondoliers posed for the cameras without making the gondolas topple. Click. The chocolate-shop windows that displayed the best desserts in the whole world gleamed despite the awnings. Click. The photos bore no trace of any language other than Flemish. The cursive font on every store only made the place more magical. Click. I collected the nail-clippings between the pages of the matrimonial supplement and proceeded to the waste-basket. Each of the pink pages of Economic Times had a tip on saving tax. It was March. I was inching closer to my Project Presentation Day but I made little progress toward knowing more about that mysterious guy. All I knew about him so far could be listed as below:-

  • the approximate time he left his home in the morning
  • where he went to work
  • what work he did
  • how he commuted
  • what time he got back
  • which watering hole he went to
  • landmarks that could give away the location of his home

I chewed on the information with the aloo parathas that I had for breakfast and came up with an action plan. I spent the rest of the day glued to my laptop, creating tables with jqGrid. My eyes rebuked me for subjecting them to such torture for hours on end. And the mirror showed me how the windows to my soul had suffered all these years. I was diagnosed with myopia while I was still in middle school and my eyes were sentenced to lifetime-imprisonment behind clunky metallic frames that held a pair of concave lenses. I knew, however, that I was anything but myopic. Only a shortsighted person would give up on her quest. I softly placed the white china in the kitchen sink and turned the faucet on. I watched as the white water cleaned the dark green remnants of the spinach florentine. Dinner was good, as always. I drank from my bedside water-jug and switched off the lights. I needed to be well rested for tomorrow would be an eventful day.

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