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  • Writer's picturesrikant-sharma

Adventures of Rahul (2) - The Dead Street

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

While tying his shoelaces, Rahul glanced at the large wooden clock hanging over the wall. The clock had just struck twelve of mid night and last of the twelve gongs was still echoing across the house. Yet, he wanted to make certain that he didn’t miscount number of gongs and that glimpse on clock reaffirmed he had overstayed at his friend’s place. Summer vacations were the only time when he could visit his native village and meet his friends from town. Hence it was usual towards end of every vacation, when sense of time was no longer his priority. Yet walking back home all alone at this grave hour, was something he was not prepared for. Had he been in the city where he usually lived, he would have simply called up his parents to convey that its late to travel and stayed back. However, here in this village phones were still a luxury, accorded to rare few.

With shoelaces tied, he wasn’t yet ready to venture out in dark and was hoping for someone from his friend’s family to accompany him. Despite hope, somewhere deep inside his heart, he knew that he would have to brave this journey alone and slowly stepped out of house, just to hear metallic door being closed behind his back. Now out, he stood there, scanning neighborhood in darkness, to identify what all he should be scared of. Perplexed with this unexpected situation, he started imagining how this journey would play out in time to come. In next few moments, while standing still, juvenile mind of his had traversed through dark lanes, jumping through open drains and potholes, mapping each of the turns he would have to take before reaching doors of his house. A smile was about to appear on his face, for successfully completing this journey in his thoughts, and that’s when he felt a chill running down his spine. As that would be the most difficult part of his entire journey, waiting for someone to open the door while he waits impatiently outside in dark. Still deep in his thoughts, gush of cold wind brought him back to reality followed by a frown on his innocent face, as he was yet to take that first step towards his home.

Out of trance, he looked around counting number of houses which he would have to cross to the first turn. Occupied in thoughts and accustomed to graveyard silence all around, he got distracted by rumbling noise right over his head. Turning towards direction of the noise, he saw two king size lizards fighting each other. And before he could even plan his next move, with a thud sound both came crashing down, just inches away from his head. A silent scream escaped his mouth and he jumped from elevated porch of the house on to muddy street, finally embarking on his journey.

He continued moving cautiously, time had slowed down for him and walking all alone was getting far more difficult than he had initially imagined. Constant dilemma, of whether to run or walk with caution, was mercilessly pounding his little brain. Darkness all around had already brought some civic sense in him and he kept cursing those responsible for erecting streetlights, as he didn’t have support of any of those in this by-lane. Only source of lights, howsoever dim, were bulbs installed outside few of the houses. Clinging on to hope of seeing some living soul at the end of by-lane, he kept on walking while avoiding puddles of dirty water and garbage, which would have found its way from nearby overflowing drains. After crossing few houses, next was a stretch of open land, with boundaries made up of thorny desert bushes. The bushes were so arranged to form a fortified wall of thorns, ensuring no one trespasses through without permission. However, to his little brain, it felt like a well-planned execution to scare him at this hour. Height of bushes were marginally higher than himself, restricting his view and making background look deeper, darker and lonelier. Wind blowing across the open plot was making things worse, as the rustling sound out of bushes gave a feeling of someone hiding behind those bushes and waiting to pounce.

Despite all odds, he tried to maintain his calm and that’s when he again heard sound of wind gushing across those thorny bushes. Yet this time something was different, as from corner of his eyes he could sense someone hiding behind bushes and waving at him. He simply froze there, feet glued to mother earth, not ready to move even an inch. He wanted to scream and run away, however his legs were no longer in his control and neither was his heart. From scary ghost to rogue assassins, in those split seconds he had already given multiple identities to the shadow waving at him. Too scared to turn and look in the direction of this shadow, he felt another strong gush of wind and now the shadow was waving more aggressively towards him. Looking ahead at rest of by-lane, his innocent brain had already concluded that he won’t be able to outrun this aggressive shadow, if at all it comes to that and hence will have to face it head on. Holding his breath, he turned left towards this shadow, only to notice that those hands, which were waving towards him are now trying to reach out to him at wind speed. And in split second he felt a dead cold touch on his face, which made him jump as he desperately tried to remove those hands from his face. Couple of seconds of frenetic efforts, there he was motionless and with a torn plastic bag in his hands. It just took a moment for him to realize that the waving arm and peculiar noise was nothing but wind blowing through plastic bag stuck over those bushes.

Still anxious, he folded his arms close to chest in an attempt to calm those racing heartbeats. And after few deep breaths, he smiled and blurted out loud…

‘told you, this is just a barren land and nothing to fear…silly you!’

With this incident behind, he was sure that rest of his journey would be an easy walk, as now he felt brave and practical. All this was still playing at the back of his mind when he again heard rustling sound of wind coming out of the bushes. It took just one blow of wind for him to pack all that positivity and start running towards end of by-lane, hoping all his miseries will disappear once he reaches there.

Still running and just couple of yards away, his mind had already started projecting vivid image of the main street, which he had crossed earlier during the day. Despite the darkness around, his mind was reflecting pictures of a vibrant market just round the corner. Subconscious mind was projecting images of a bright sunny afternoon and thus providing much required hope. In his imagination he was already at the edge of by-lane looking at the busy market, full of commotions from people engaged in their daily chores. Few blocks to the left, were a string of wooden vending carts, painted with vibrant oil-paints, reflecting bright sunlight of its surface. Each of these carts had unique items to offer, from fresh fruits and vegetables to deep fried snacks. One of them displayed ice block, covered with a jute rug insulating ice from summer heat, and had various glass bottles, each filled with unique vibrant colour fluid. Summer heat and attractive colours made it the most sought-after option among children, who were crowding the cart and impatiently waiting for their turn to get a cup of crushed ice dipped in one of those colorful fluids. And towards the right, were queues of shops on each side of the street. Most of these shops had protruded canopy, made of thick rug, to keep away harsh sunlight from inconveniencing prospective shoppers. Few of them even had long curtains covering entire shop entrance, regularly sprinkled on with cold water, an indigenous way of air-conditioning shops. Visuals of this local village market in his imagination could be easily compared with those images promoting best of rural India.

In flash of moment, he had visualized it all, and that’s when moment of truth enveloped his vivid imagination. For the first time he noticed how environment changes as sun sets giving way to rise of nocturnals. Vending carts were still there towards his left, yet bright reflection of sun was nowhere to be found. In place of various items to offer, they had metal chains wrapped all around, to protect from miscreants. His favorite cart, which used to sell crushed ice dipped in various syrups, was nowhere to be seen in this deserted street. Every shop had their respective metallic shutters down, with big locks hanging at the edges. Canopies protecting shoppers from heat and sun rays, were no longer there, as they would have been pulled back to avoid being damaged by miscreants and strong winds. Brightness of sun was replaced by lights emanating from scattered light-poles, which had significantly large gaps among themselves.

It was no less than doomsday for him, as he had hoped for a busy street to help him navigate his way back home. The only familiarity, with his vivid imaginations, was the herd of cow sitting next to a cart, which used to sell sugarcane juice throughout the day. Some of them visibly interested in the leftovers for their midnight hunger pangs and rest simply enjoying the cold weather after a long day under scorching sun. His eyes were desperately looking for presence of a human soul, at the failure of which he knew he is up for the longest quarter mile walk of his life. Looking at those empty streets, he knew he cannot run through remaining distance as that would not only require strength but would also entice street dogs to get into action. Throughout the day, streets are so busy with life that number of dogs feels insignificant, yet at this hour when there are few to represent human race, these dogs are no less than pack of hounds.

Evaluating current situation, he decided against running any further and started walking slowly towards his home. It was difficult for him to even look around and every step he took was followed with a question, whether he should increase his pace or not. Fear of being chased by these dogs was as real as it could get. He had noticed that couple of dogs, slacking at some distance under a streetlight, were already staring at him. As if they could sense he was the one who had ignored them earlier and now it is their prerogative to make him aware of their dominance. He remembered his grandfather advising him that street dogs are friendly animals and they do not create ruckus unless provoked rather they bark only when they smell fear or are hungry. Till now he had both his arms up close against his chest, hoping to create an invisible shield protecting him from any unwarranted attack from those dogs. However, evoking advice of his grandfather, he gently straightened his arms, hoping to fool the animals of the fear brewing in him.

His heart was as heavy as it could get, and his eyes were just a flick away from shedding tears. He was constantly cursing himself, at times on starting so late and ignoring his mother’s advice and at times for not asking his friend to accompany him home. He was furious on his paranormal discussions with his cousins and friends a day back. Stories, on how souls of dead keep strolling at dead hours, which were entertaining a day earlier were now scaring the hell out of him. Comments ridiculing others to be so rudimentary in their thoughts, were now replaced by prayers to protect himself. He was reciting hymns in praise of Lord Hanuman, to scare what is not visible to his naked eyes.

He had crossed few blocks, and another few were only left for him to take the final turn. Dogs who were staring at him had stayed glued to their place and didn’t moved an inch. While this was giving him a reason to smile, yet their gaze had been following his every movement. As if they were waiting for him to make an error of judgement allowing them to pounce on him. It was a tough walk for him, as he had to maintain a steady pace and yet be aware of all his surroundings. After a long and lively day streets were now covered with puddle of dust and garbage, which he had to avoid and at the same time keep an eye on movement of those street dogs. More than half of journey travelled, he felt as if someone was discreetly following him. This thought gave him goosebumps and took him to familiar dilemma of whether to turn around and face the one following or keep walking. With earlier event of getting scared by floating plastic bag still fresh in his mind, he decided to turn around this time and face it.

On turning back, to his horror, he saw couple of street dogs strolling towards him. He was aware that to them he was of no match neither in size nor in strength. This made him stall for a moment before stepping-up his speed towards his destination. To his tough luck, the pack understood his intention and came rushing towards him, halting right behind him only to continue matching his speed. It was all going downhill for him, as all what could have gone wrong went wrong, making him feel helpless. Left at the mercy of these dogs, he just kept walking not even stopping to look if their pack size had increased or was the same. Still engrossed in his thoughts, swinging between curse and hope, he came across an open drain flowing across the street and he instantaneously jumped to cross it. The moment he pressed his feet to jump over, he realized the blunder he was about to do. He knew he had to avoid any unexpected movement yet ended up starting a motion which was no longer in his control. Result was on expected lines, seeing his body in air, the friendly pack following him got agitated and were now aggressively barking at him.

And it was this growling, which made him aware of the increase in pack size, which now consisted of four of them, out of which two of them were now on each side barking relentlessly. Rahul was perplexed, as if the place where he landed was not hard land rather a deep pit full of quicksand, trying to suck him in. He stayed there watching each of them behaving uneasily at a distance and growling at him, as if they wanted to tear him up. No longer able to contain his emotions, his eyes gave it away first and tears started rolling out, passing through his lean cheeks, maintaining a constant stream through both edge of his face. He knew it is going to get far worse before it gets any better and only option for him is to run for life. Yet somehow for unknown reasons he kept standing there, waiting for them to pounce on him and bleed him to death. To his surprise nothing happened, as while they continued with aggressive growling, they maintained a constant distance from him. This gave him much relief, as he realized that it was not only, he who was scared, rather they too were equally afraid of him.

Thanking god for this enlightenment at the right time, he started moving ahead. With just few minutes of journey left, he started imagining look of surprise on his family members’ faces on seeing him back at this hour and that too all alone. He was back in his fantasy land, where he had already knocked on massive metallic door and could hear footsteps of someone approaching to let him in. Next few moments were full of pleasant thoughts, imagining who would that person be and what would be the proud reaction on seeing him all alone. From his cousins opening the door to his grandparents doing the needful, he had imagined how the situation would play out in each case. In every version he was being patted for his bravery to manage to travel all alone battling through scary darkness and furious pack of dogs. With a smile on his face he pranced ahead, completely oblivious of the fact that those dogs had stopped following him and were now at reasonable distance from him. On reaching the last by-lane, he turned left to walk last few hundred meters before reaching doorsteps of his house.

First visuals were pretty discouraging, as on turning left he comprehended how isolated his grandparent’s house was. Entire lane just had two houses, one on each side, and that meant only two sources of lights while rest of it was as dark as hell. Nevertheless, he kept walking trying to stay positive and planning on how he will make his knock on the door sound like that made by an adult, so that some elder from the house will come to greet and he will receive far greater appreciation. He would have just walked few steps, when he saw someone coming out of the house with a utensil in hand. The lights were not that bright, yet he could make out that it was his younger Mausi, who had come out to throw garbage. With this assurance, he kept all of his previous thoughts aside and screamed with all his might, for first time in last twenty minutes.

“Massi…...!!!”, a slight prospect that he might not have to travel alone for rest of the distance, was enough for him to give up on his plan of surprising others. He didn’t even wait for a response from her and started running towards her as if it’s now or never for him. Fear of standing alone at doorsteps in this darkness, mixed with joy of seeing someone familiar after that long made him abandon all his thoughts. He ran hard and fast jumping through the puddles and was glad to see her standing holding the doors open for him. As soon as he stepped inside, he closed his eyes and took a deep sigh of relief only to notice everyone in there were still awake. After all vacation was coming to end for all of them too. Adults of the house were crammed inside a room having conversation among themselves. While his cousins had taken over the other room busy reading comic books and watching television. It then befell upon him, that no one had even noticed his arrival or the fact that he was not there in house till now.

He was quite disheartened to realize that no one missed him and the fact that his bravery went unnoticed made him feel further low. Pondering over this, he went inside and straight away climbed up stairs to their terrace, to relook at the lane he passed running to reach home. Standing at the edge, he stared hard, absorbing the darkness and mapping where each step would have landed. That’s when he heard someone shouting his name … one of his cousins was calling him down

“Rahul…. Rahul…. Come down…!!! Aren’t you scared, standing on roof all alone that too this late in the night?”

It was then when a smile came on his face, as he relived entire journey once again in his vivid memory. Caressing the back of his head with his right hand, cherishing the journey, he humbly murmured…

“I know what I have achieved today”, and shouted back to his cousin with an even bigger smile on his face

“No, I am not afraid of dark anymore”

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