by Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar

The slow yet incessant rain made me a bit irritated. People waiting at the bus stop were few and buses were fewer still. The autos all full zoomed past never stopping. I paced up and down the little shaded area to keep away from getting drenched. After a while an auto slowed at my stop and luckily someone got down. I swiftly boarded it.

“Till where are you going driver?” I asked. “Station,” his answer was short and curt. “stop, stop!” the voice came from my side, I had not noticed the lady till now, all being covered in overalls due to the chill. It gets really cold and the wind almost cuts through when it rains in Bangalore, especially at this hour of the night it feels like winter at a hill station.

I de-boarded for the lady to get down. Now there were just the two of us, another gentleman and me. “Hello – if you don’t mind, may I ask you which way you are going to go from the station?” he asked. “Ya sure why not – am going to go down the station road on the left.” I answered mildly, “And what about you?” I asked.

“I too have to go the same way, shall we walk down together?” his voice was enthusiastic. “Sure.” I said. “Ah! That’s a relief you know, at this hour and with this rain the roads are quite empty and it feels a little eerie.” The gentleman said. “Nah there’s nothing to be scared of on this road, and anyway there isn’t much with me to tempt a burglar.” I said casually.

We got down at the ‘station’ from the auto and started walking down the station road, there are many by-lanes branching out of the main road. We passed a couple of them, deserted dark alleys –  suddenly a flash of light blinded my eyes and I shut them tight. Next moment I opened them and saw that the gentleman I was walking with standing in front of me with a knife. “You—what are you doing?” I stammered almost stunned by his unexpected stance. “This is my livelihood sir. Please hand me whatever you have, ring, watch, wallet everything – then we can continue our walk, my house is a small way from here.” The gentleman said as casually as the doctor says routine checkup, I don’t think he qualifies for being called as a gentleman anymore though.

I handed my watch, ring, chain and wallet over to him and we started walking again. “What if I go to the police tomorrow morning and get you arrested, it can’t be difficult for the police to fish you out from this locality.” I told him as soon as the thought stuck me. The gentleman – I mean the thug, the snatcher curled his lips into a peaceful smile and said, “I am a polymorphic, so it is difficult to catch me. I was a theatre artist and am adept in changing appearances; tomorrow the police might find an elderly lady at the house that you identify as mine. Also I don’t stay at a place long enough for people to get to know me – hardly for a month – no family – no strings attached. I generally rob once a week – works well for me – in this locality, you are number four.”

We walked in silence for a while, all quiet and peaceful – dark and wet – windows shut tight, hallowed lights pouring out making the apartments look like a scene In a sketch book. “Well that’s it my friend this is where I get into the alley down to my home,” said the robber. He crossed the road and I followed – ‘better in an alley than the main road’ I thought.

The robber turned to face me, the shining knife still in hand. He had a surprised look on his face, “Are you really trying to identify my house so as to bring in the police tomorrow?”

This time my lips curled to smile and I started casually, “I have also been here for about a month, did you hear about that accident at the entrance of station road? I was on my bike when a truck hit me and fled. People came rushing; one guy swiftly took out my wallet and mobile then fled. I tried calling out but no one could hear me. The police came and looked for identification and found none. My face was beyond recognition. Someone suggested finding the identity from the bike’s number plate. It was that of Hyderabad. My body was moved to a morgue; an ambulance came and took it away next morning. I floated after it for a while but could not go after a certain point. My body must not have been cremated or buried for then my soul would have disintegrated. Here am stuck forever it seems – so I kept on floating around for a couple of days aimlessly and then one fine afternoon I saw a man intently looking at me and then gestured me to go to him, there – he was standing by that big banyan tree. I used to be invisible and inaudible to human eyes and ears – so it was very surprising indeed. Any how I went to him. He asked me and I told him my story. He then taught me how to suck up a soul at a regular interval and attain a solid structure that can be used and a voice that can be heard. The man who taught me is also the same; there are many of us amongst you guys. We are not humans but neither are we air. We have a solid outer shell complete with skin but there is nothing inside. So we don’t need to eat but we can wear a watch, keep a wallet which is currently in your possession.” By then the robber had started taking a step or two back and also started making an inexplicable sound like ‘gno-gno’, I took a step towards him and said, “So no I won’t bring the police tomorrow morning am just going to take your soul – you too are number four!”

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