>> Thursday, March 22, 2012
The afternoon sun was beating down; its vertical rays scorching the living sufferers, all save one, who was rapt utterly in his ‘chase’. He flickered and darted in the baked radiance, like a mirage summoned by feverish mind. The man, tall, thin, with knotted hair had a square jaw which foreboded obstinacy, and his pallor was cadaverous. No one knew his name, age, whereabouts; he was a part of the blistered street. The throng of everyday crowd from nearby tall-buildings were scattered about him, men and women in stiff office apparels, lurkers and shoppers in casuals, a group of idlers in road-side tea-shops, chattering, smoking, drinking chais, sodas, and munching refreshments on the pavement.
The man’s peculiarity was his one eye, which Cyclops-like appeared as if a flaming jewel in the center of his forehead completely overshadowing his sightless left eye. That mammoth bloodshot orb glared like a piece of broken glass if bystanders poked fun at his all engrossing ‘chase’. In other respects like other madmen he was harmless ergo they left him alone after few curious glances. He never begged but people dropped food near his ragged bedding heaped beside a dingy dhaba.
The idiosyncrasy of this city is the manner in which, men, beast, hunger, opulence, poverty, luxury, beauty and foul co-exist in her variegated corners. Bits of this with splashes of that. Motley carousal. The mound of goodies and a load of trash stuffed with such burden of deceit that you can not tell one from the other. Proserpina, sitting over her neat stole spread on the dirty pavement, sipping her solitary lemon-soda, observing the madman Cyclops had an intimate knowledge of that life both in its tenebrous and luminous forms.
There was something bucolic about Prosy; oozing of farms and pastures. She should have been a shepherdess in Arcadia rather than a girl toiling in the marketing office. How such a rustic flower had blossomed in that garish city was an enigma even to the dhaba-walla, Lycorus. He stole quietly towards her, holding the bread-roll wrapped in paper, approving the solemn picture she made with a shaft of sunlight making splendor of her hair. She extended her arm, held the piece of morsel in one hand, pointed the other toward Cyclops and gave him a quizzing look.
“what is that man doing?”
“ohhhh HE! Nothing. He is demented.” Lycorus whispered, as if imparting a secret.
“I can figure that much.. but what exactly is he running after?”
“.. chasing his shadow”. He grinned and turned to attend other customers leaving Prosy to contemplate that confounding problem.
What had first absorbed her attention was his unsure, focused, roving, quasi-thoughtful shape flashing with panther-like abruptness, which pierced her like the thrust of a hot knife. He reclined on trees, to catch his breath, and his queer eye collected the wandering brightness, dazzling with supernatural depth. He was alone is his own world, far enough from everyone, on that shaky rim, where sanity ceases, and the delusion of absurdity begins. Having discovered his antiquated Eden still surviving in primitive glory, he relished it. He did not seem to notice any one.
When Prosy stepped out from office the pure honey of setting sun had turned into spirited crimson flushing her eager countenance. It was a tart late summer evening with that far-off touch of melancholy which harbingers the ascent of monsoon even in the midst of a vulgar city. Lycorus waived his friendly hand and Cyclops had given up his chase. The street lamps were not yet lighted and the shadows were indistinct in last beams of the dropping day. Cyclops’ dark face had heartbroken look as he cracked his gnarled knuckles. Prosey walked towards the bus-stop, close to his shelter near the dhaba, dismissing him from thoughts though the man who chased his shadow kept returning with troublesome persistence.
She was indeed, as Lycorus had observed, an incandescent flower, but with sensual and turbulent hues in her vigor. She shrunk from society while her whole Bohemian spirit preferred to stay locked after work, buried amongst old books in her sepulchral apartment, swapping jobs, alternating between narcotic and ambition, the lassitude of morphia and her own fierce exuberance.
Like most of us Prosy led a double life. The external modification when she dressed for the prosaic job did not alter her inner self which groped in dark. She remained more Proserpina than Prosy to the last. Proserpina differed from her kindred Prosy in a grave, mossy, fossil attitude. She had a mutilated air as if she meditated solemnly on the wrong done to both and from that inner self she got her vagrancy, despondency, her angst and her bad luck.
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In a violent night, rainy and damp, Proserpina was unusually late from office. Lycorus was in the process of shutting his dhaba. Few individuals loitered about the street that had buzzed during the business hours. Lycorus observed her from the corner of his short-sighted eyes. He did not believe in picking blooming flowers. He knew that they dropped their witchery outside indigenous domain. To savor wildflowers one had to track them in their own ground, savor them and leave them alone, catching backward glimpses, taking away only their captivating charm and fragrance.
Oblivious to him, Proserpina sat and shivered at the bus-stop, awaiting transport, as the rough wind whistled down the awning. She stared at the bordering lights that extended like strings of hazy jewels, seen mistily through the driving rain. Looking out through eyes befogged with rain and tears she wished to cling on to something tangible, to love someone whom she could clasp against her body, someone she could watch, feel and do things for. And then she perceived that she was not alone. A vision hypnotized her, which moved slowly between the blue-tinted patter, and had occupied the far-end of the iron bench; an embodiment of sober manhood, silhouetted against the silken rain. The stranger sat with a deprecating air in his tall figure, a slight stoop, and a tender look on his pale long face. He gave her a transient wintry smile and looked gratefully at the rain.
Then a serpentine melody, pellucid and delicious, drifted in a lulling sway, imparting a mystic glow over the player. As the final note broke off, his sole audience, from her whimsical trance, exclaimed spontaneous bravos. He dropped his mouth-organ. His face though handsome, on a closer scrutiny, indicated habitual prevalence and indulgence of diabolic passions. But the dusk was intense, the rain keen. The black figure dissolved. In retrospect it was as unreal as a phantom. The raindrops whispered ironically. The wind jeered.
For a week she waited for rains but sun spat his merciless rays venomously against her very heart which pined to behold that specter of night for the second time. The insidious enemy having thus entered her heart, in the guise of Orpheus, had assumed a more dangerous form of Hades. She caught the plaintive notes of his organ in dreams; they electrified every nerve with an odd power as if it were a requiem sung by the dead over her own buried hopes. She was aware of this shifting sensation, detested it, fought it, yielded to it and treasured it.
She contemplated nothing but that whirling vision seen through her cocaine -crazy eyes; then at last once again she awoke to find herself defenseless, tired, blear-eyed, waiting for the bus. The twilight was sultry and overcast; and before she had reached her destination huge drops of rain had spattered down and the grumble of thunder blended with the everlasting roll of traffic. Somewhere ahead was home, which guided only to bed, a place of petty comfort for someone whose fantasies were attuned to the rhapsodic string, and whose fervid hopes were just then riotously moved.
She had loved before. Loved and lost. The anguish into which lovers like her fall when they discover by personal wisdom that earnestly to pledge eternal love is one thing, and genuinely giving it quite another. She had endured the fearful period of temptation, wherein she had heeded longingly to the pleading of her heart; resolved to stifle all mad fancy, deferring the discovery of soulmate on mere chance, and to avoid, at all costs, getting wounded by those who swore to be true.
And when a short amnesia, a blessed blackout, could be bought at the expense of a slight puncture in the skin, or a few drags of nirvana, it was foolish to be circumspect. But the dreams, the hunger, for something alleviating or elevating, that filled her soul during the spell of sobriety, if one could have sensed a single pang of that netherworld thirst in her struggle which followed, accompanying the inevitable fall into a gutter of lust, not forgetting the sermonizers and well-wishers who pretended to never sin, if they had cared to observe her bitter agony, the lamenting horror of self-deprecation that ended in debauchery. Sigh! At any rate the hurt was always there, deep and vicious, and the new actor stepped up into the ancient, grim drama, and was about to set off his role with an indefatigable sincerity, but it could be lethal if she lost.
A second glance was not needed to inform that he was there. His wet locks fell confusedly over forehead and ears. His shirt was chequered, unbuttoned at the neck and chest. His feet and arms were bare. His features were the sanctuary of wild and tranquil gravity, but his eyes bespoke music. As she concentrated there crept over her a dim, weary feeling, as if she was familiar with this ruin, the forlorn hopes, and the florid wreck embodied in that mysterious tune.
The night set in, it became clamoring and gusty. Dark clouds came bundling up in the west, and now and then a growl of thunder or a flash of lightning told that a dust storm was close. The advent of his misty apparition in the midst of the universal silence of her being unfolded her heart to maniacal emotions. She imagined that an aerial goblin touched with a sense of her solitude had come to visit her and the idea melted her to tears.
“why should I see you only when it rains.. ?”
the stranger bowed acquiescence..
A fortnight slipped by giving way to a heavenly morning, the dry and shimmering air full of crispy glow that gets into head like sparkling champagne. The street glistened in the golden sunshine and the pale blue sky had not yet taken the pitiless gilt hue of the blatant afternoon. Weary of wait, indifferent to the balmy weather, reeking of tobacco, Prosy staggered towards office and found Cyclops standing at the gate of her building. He gave a malicious smile and walked away. She shuddered. Cyclops, like some people on street had remarked, may have been devilish, but no hermit could have led, on the face of it, a more ascetic life. Though his face at first sight wasn’t unpleasing it was corrupted with intensity and to which an unearthly effect was bestowed by his unseeing eye.
Unexpectedly in the evening, twilight was veiled by clouds that rolled up from the west, heralding a deluge; and in another minute a fresh splatter had commenced. And again gawking at the rain Proserpina visualized she had once lived where the amethyst grapes were supple and ripe, and where all day there was a melody such as she'd never heard since, but which had come back to her in the form Orpheus. At the thought of whom the raindrops flitted about, caroling, in gladsome strains.
She held him with her eyes in a wild, nervous thrill. She knew not how long. Time and space had no part in that ecstasy. She thought nothing, did naught, merely felt, the warm blood flooding her brain, falling back in whipping downpour, and a pain that was exquisite pleasure.
Profound dejection, flourishing darkness, the dead noise of a hopeless soul immobilized in stark cold of space filled the pauses between music. Silence took over, during which Proserpina saw the white face before her alternately fading and returning. And the face was like that of a dead man.
She was afraid, at that moment, she meant to turn her back forever but the gust came purging along, the wind hurled rain in pearly surges, the music rattled amongst leaves, thunder bellowed, the lightning lapped the deluge, and in next instant Proserpina was snugly sheltered in his arms, it did not matter who, crouching under a tree, rocking upon his heaving chest until they fell asleep.
Next morning the street awakened to a queer sight. The blusterous storm of night had rolled away, leaving traces, in the piled up leaves and frail branches, heaps of rubbish, and wreckage of the dhaba lighted up by the morning sun, which appeared like a silver lamp hanging in the castle of clouds. In the strewn havoc was also the lifeless supine figure of Cyclops. The sunrays, silent, majestic, had submerged his forehead and grotesque eyes, and an otherworldly calm suffused his disheveled head.
A couple of yards away sat the throbbing image of Prosy. They envisioned the murkiness of death undulating about her body. She carried that exalted expression on her face since she had clutched the nightly companion in her arms. Proserpina was a woman bursting with love, compellingly beautiful, and absolved to everything. Life wasn’t barren any more, and death could dupe her of nothing. Love had nipped the final fear. Love! How scaling, torturing, soothing it was! That possession of body, soul and mind! The substance in its crux subtle and spiritual as a hint of cerulean in the string of pearls! She embraced him tightly and gazed around but a curious feeling of cold passed over her as she noted the icy glare of Lycorus. Trembling, she looked down, and a scream escaped her lips. She found that she was hugging her shadow and the person she had held in her arms was shadowless.