It was July.
This time, the monsoon was heavy and the moisture-laden air had dampened everything. But for the streak of yellow light originating from the street lamp, the room was dark.
He got up again with his toe scratching the surface of the moist floor.
Apart from the moisture, there was more. Sukhi, his wife, moved a little. He felt sorry for her, as she had spent all her life in the dingy, ten by eight room; cooking, cleaning, praying and dreaming of good days. Just next to her, his three sons, Harish, Rakesh and Nandu, aged twenty-one, eighteen and fifteen bore testimony to government’s failed family planning program. The make shift kitchen, the wardrobe, the ceiling fan, nothing had changed. Then why was he not able to sleep the way he always did; peacefully?
He sat back on the bed. It creaked.
“What happened?” Sukhi enquired fighting her deep slumber.
“Nothing. You get some sleep.” He comforted her.
“It has been three days. I have been noticing you. Get used to it now.” She turned around, adjusting her saree to cover her midriff.
“You are right. I have also been waiting for all these years.”
“You are such a bad liar.” She sat up; yawning, looking at him. She could not believe that the man sitting in front of her, her husband, aged sixty-one or maybe sixty-two had someday come to Mumbai to be an actor.
He got uncomfortable under her gaze.
“Why can’t I sleep?” He blurted, accepting his limitation.
“Accept it.” She walked towards the large stainless steel container and filled a glass.
“I am not thirsty.” He sounded agitated.
“Who told it is for you?” She smiled and put the glass to her lips.
‘Do you think I am old?” The query was abrupt.
She smiled. Her eyes met his. “Still look like Devanand, less the hair.” She teased.
“Liar.” He blushed, giving out an embarrassed smile.
She sat beside him and caressed his hand. “We all have to face it. It is nothing unusual.”
“Yes, I know that. But why can’t I sleep?”
“Because you are still not here. You are fighting with them, dreaming of the days, aching to be there again, proving yourself.”
“I can still prove them wrong and you know it.” His face lit up.
“See, there you go again.” She sighed.
“Why cant you guys sleep? I have early morning shift tomorrow.” Harish, the eldest one, half in sleep turned towards them and lodged his complain.
“Look at this scoundrel. Just a junior artist and acts like Shah Rukh Khan. Does this house belong to his father?” His temper flared.
“Yes, it does. Remember, he is your son?” She smiled.
**** **** ****
He tossed and turned, God knows for how many minutes or hours. It was getting unbearable. He had to take some action, do something. Finally, he got up, this time more cautiously. Intuitively, amidst an assortment of clothes, his fingers found his pair of trousers and shirt. His eyes shimmered as he folded the clothes, clutched it under his arm and stepped out of the room. The schedule ahead was something he had been doing for the last thirty years—putting his uniform under the custody of the cycle carrier, and pedaling for fifteen minutes to his work place—Sea View Towers.
He knew the guard well and was sure that with his cooked up story of mid night shift the guard would let him in.
**** **** ****
“Uncle, wake up. Wake up please. Hello, hope you are not dead.”
The rude shoulder shake jolted him out of his deep sleep.
His sleep-infested eyes still could not see things clearly.
“Thank God, you is not dead.” The young man standing in front of him, wearing similar uniform like his own, brown shirt and with a pair of matching trousers seem to be relieved.
“I am the new lift man. Who are you?” The young man enquired.
He licked his lips. There was salty humidity sitting there.
He gulped some air and focused his eyes.
“Just someone who is addicted to this steel box and had come seeking some sleep. Sorry for the inconvenience, it is all yours now.”
He got up from the stool, removed the brown cap, part of the uniform, from his balding head and walked towards the condominium’s exit gate.
Illustration : Hasmukh Makwana & Romanch Soni
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