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Dirtscapes

Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Short Story - North Star

The car pulled over at the usual corner, at the traffic signal on schedule. The same thing, everyday. The suit seated in the back seat shifted uncomfortably. It was yet another day, he could not wait to get to work, because he wanted to get out...most importantly…

“Life’s a bitch...”, he sighed. And then immediately smiled to himself. He just wondered that if he were to count the number of times he said that while at work during the day, he would probably have to do just that. Count, count..Probably die counting. With this thought, he felt a shiver run up his spine. That word again. Die. Death. Self Destruction. He began sweating in the plush air conditioning of his tin container. “Turn up the AC!” he barked at the chauffeur. The Driver replied deferentially saying that it was running at the maximum. He cursed out aloud, and fingered his shirt collar, feeling his tie knot in the process. Ties...what a stupid waste of cloth...he muttered. Screw corporate policies! He managed another smile as he imagined his boss naked…the grotesque old dodderer..

“What’s wrong today? This signal’s taking it’s while” he commented. Cars were piled up as far as he could see. The Driver drummed on the steering wheel, and stayed silent. The suit looked at him with so much hatred. What does he care..the dumb illiterate…All he had to do was sleep on the upholstery till night after parking this contraption…he thought. He was going to be late again. More side glances and meaningful stares ahead..he could imagine them right now. The least non performers could do was to come on time, he thought wryly. He wasn’t even doing that. So where did that place him?! Once more he started to think about hitting the exit button of life. Why did it have to be so complicated? Ending one’s own life? That was the only thing that belonged to him anyways.. fully..he thought. His accommodation was courtesy the company…no family to speak of, since the bitch had left him…the job well, it could be taken away any minute. Life…a four letter word....

Just then he happened to look out of the window. To his right, on the pavement, was a family. A leper family. Poor wretches … he thought. Wonder what they had to eat last night..he started watching, with morbid curiousity. The kids were not infected, he thought to himself. The couple’s hands were bandaged. The expressions on their faces were surprisingly benign. The two children were playing with lumps of mud. A makeshift swing hung from two iron rods nearby. The father took his kids there, and gave them turns on the swing. The children squealed with delight, as they rocked to and fro on the flimsy rag. Happy..he thought. He felt bilious. They had no right to be happy!! Vermin. Scum. They probably haven’t eaten last night. And those kids..just wait till they catch it from their parents. We’ll see how loudly they’ll laugh then…he thought spitefully. Just as he was recoiling from the horror of what he was thinking, the signal turned green. The usual clamour of over stressed executive horns killed whatever thought processes he had spawned.

As expected, he saw all his so called colleagues snicker as he ran to his cabin. He sat down at his desk, after muttering his usual obscenities under his breath. There was very little to do…he rarely got plum assignments anymore. That should be amongst the first indicators that you have outlived your usefulness…he had read someplace.

He returned home that night strangely silent. He drank a little more than usual. The sight of those lepers in the morning had made him very very pensive indeed. They had the one thing he just was not capable of anymore...not at this rate anyways...the ability to smile. He tried hard to remember when he had smiled happily last…and found his lips twisting themselves into the beginning of a smile..No, not this kind of smile…was the last thing to cross his mind as he slumped into a drunken stupor, only to be awakened by the shrill bleating of his snooze alarm.

Surely enough…the family was there at the signal the next morning. He watched them through his bloodshot eyes. They were laughing away, exchanging pleasantries with one another. The parents were indulgently tickling the kids, who squealed with delight. It was genuine laughter. He could almost hear them through the rolled up tinted glass windows.

And so on it continued…each day, he would catch a glimpse of the family through his window, in their own carefree little world, oblivious to the whole show. That sight each morning became the clichéd fountain of strength for him to draw upon.

The sounds stayed with him…for the first time in over a year now, he actually could concentrate on his work. He gradually started feeling a lot better, both at work and at home. He was drinking a lot less, and he was generally performing above his usual standard professionally. But there was a certain superciliousness about the whole affair though, which was troublesome. It was as if he was thanking himself for not being in their place, yet he could not help but admire the way they could find happiness in things he couldn’t. It was with some uneasiness that he used to watch them each morning, feeling like a voyeur intruding upon their infested privacy. He started taking them for granted. They started becoming a part of his daily routine. A cursory peek at them on his way to work, would mark the ideal beginning of his day. He smiled a lot these days…

Till one fine Monday, they weren’t there at the usual spot. He was slightly perturbed, but continued regardless. Since he was performing better, he was overburdened at work. For a moment, he wished that he was incompetent all over again... At least he could make a move earlier on in the evening. Shaking his head, he moved on. He was slightly on edge throughout the day. Where could those guys be? Probably begging someplace else, he thought…on the drive back home.

The whole of the week was a repeat of the Monday morning. They still weren’t there. He was getting more agitated by the day. Where have they gone and why?! This question kept haunting him throughout the day. He left for home earlier than usual, citing uneasiness. His boss asked him to take care, and with all due concern thrust a couple of reports into his hands, demanding them to be completed by the next morning. Yeah..right…I’ll take care… he thought as he left the office building.

The next day dawned as a sleepy bank holiday. The Driver conveniently took the day off, calling him up at the last minute. Swearing heartily at him, he got into the driver’s seat. He didn’t like driving.

But today, the roads were empty, and driving was a pleasure. He revved up the engine and zipped along merrily. He was nearing the signal, and he stepped on the pedal, exhilarated, carefree, spirits high, singing along to his favourite song on the radio. He looked down for a second at his radio, to crank up the volume. When he looked up again, he saw the beggar right in the path of his zooming vehicle. Their eyes met in a dead stare. He honked, but the beggar was oblivious, and continued to stare at him, hypnotic and lifeless. His foot was glued to the accelerator, and he was too numb to react. There was just too much running through his mind…the sudden appearance of the beggar, that too in this manner had caught him completely off guard.

“Deliverance….”, was the thought running through the leper's mind as the car crashed into his emaciated body. “A fucking police case…”, was what he was thinking as his vehicle ground to a halt, a solitary tear running down his right cheek.

The cops concluded that it was the beggar’s fault, standing in the middle of the road…he was asking for it. Below the flyover nearby, the police found the corpses of his remaining family members. The coroner determined their deaths as being caused due to starvation.

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