Of course, one doesn’t expect a beast at the door upon hearing the calling bell.
The more reasonable assumption would be a salesman or the postman- if you are one of those who still receive the occasional snail mail.
Or you may think it’s a friend who said she would turn up. That was what Aruna assumed, at any rate.
Trisha- her colleague-who-is-almost-a-friend had said that she would come around on Saturday. She did say that she would be there only in the afternoon- Saturday mornings being dedicated to washing clothes for the entire week. But if there’s one thing in this life that one may be excused for not feeling like doing, it’s washing of clothes.
So, maybe she changed her mind and popped over.
Thinking thus, Aruna cleaned her hands using the kitchen towel- though really, there was nothing to clean for all she had done so far was put the milk on to boil.
While crossing the living room to the front door, she looked up at the wall clock and saw that the time wasn’t yet 9, the second hand ticking so slowly upwards, as if keeping the time moving was the last thing that it wanted to do.
That was fine with Aruna, for no one wants the weekend to go fast.
But she did think it odd for her friend to turn up so early. She knew that Trisha was a late sleeper who went to bed at 1 in the morning and woke up only after ensuring that there’s no possible way that she could get another moment’s sleep without losing her job-or in the case of Saturday, missing the breakfast at the PG facility where she stayed.
And why didn’t she call me before coming over? the thought ran through her mind as she reached a hand and unlocked the door. I could have made her something special for breakfast if she had told me.
The handle was pressed down with the gentlest of pressure and she pushed the door open.
Her first impression on seeing the beast was incomprehension followed by profound amazement mingled with fear. Throughout the string of impressions she remained silent, unable to breathe, let alone make any sound.
The beast stood at least 9 feet high with two sharp and curved horns on its bald head. And as though weighed down by something inside, the head was bowed a bit. This gave Aruna the opportunity to see clearly what appeared to be a network of thin red veins that passed just below the surface of the blue skin. And the veins throbbed, looking like so many worms wriggling, throbbing as though each branch of the network had an erratically beating heart inside it.
Aruna hardly noticed when it took the first two steps in to her home, stepping over the threshold without inhibition, as though this were a household that it frequented – just a friend making a surprise visit.
Aruna instinctively took a couple of steps back though her eyes were fixed on the face. The beast’s face had just the faintest trace of humanism in it, especially along the side of the cheeks which looked almost human, and the forehead which was evidently bolstered with tougher bones than human though it had an unmistakably human appearance.
But that was as far as the similarities went.
For one didn’t have to look closely to see that what the face resembled the most was that of a buffalo. The man’s torso was that of a human’s- a well built, muscle- rich human’s but his lower half which ended in two hoofs were a testimony to the fact that the creature was more animal than human.
Aruna wished that she could see a tail behind him-which she couldn’t.
A tail would entail someone making a practical joke, someone in a fancy costume who thought there wouldn’t be anything more charming to do on a Saturday morning than give Aruna a minor shock.
Yet she knew that what stood in front of her was no person in a costume. The rise and fall of the chest, the sheer animal heat that rose from its body and the rhythm of its breathing were all a world away from what one could expect from a human.
This..whatever this was..was unreal.
As soon as the thought struck her, she gasped, letting go of her held breath and gulping in a huge pocket of air. She was ready to scream, indeed could feel the rush of air within her lungs which spilled over to her vocal tract- ready to be transformed into a loud sound, sound that would help her communicate to the world that she was in danger.
But the beast was no mere animal. Sensing what she was about to do, it moved to her side with a speed that belied its bulk. Before a single sound could be spilled from her mouth, it spoke into her ear: “Don’t make a sound. You just obey what I tell you and you would have a great life here!”
Aruna, her ill-conceived scream dying within her throat, looked up at the beast.
The buffalo-man’s eyes widened . She saw in them tiny red veins- just like the ones that appeared subcutaneously beneath the thin yet tout skin on his head reaching from the edges of his eyes and moving towards the dark pupils, making a circle around them like a ring made of red thorns.
That was all she could take. She passed out within a second.
When she came to she was lying on her yoga mattress in the living room. The first thing she noticed was the cobweb which was slowly building in size at one corner of the roof- she was pretty sure that it wasn’t this big the last time she saw it- maybe a few days ago.
I must tell the cleaning lady to do a better job, she thought. She has been doing a sloppy job for a long while, if she doesn’t improve I will have to fire her.
The thought struck her as somewhat absurd.
Now, why would that be absurd! After all, if I pay for her services, it only makes sense that she does a good-
That’s when the reason why she found the thought absurd occurred to her.
The beast! Of course, the beast was no nightmare, it happened for real! And how could she be thinking about anything mundane like cleaning up the place when it was around?
But where was it?
She sat up so abruptly that she heard a tiny crack on her back.
She hoped that the beast- for whatever [purpose it had appeared at her door had left.
She was surprised to see that the time on the clock was almost 10:30. That meant she was unconscious for about an hour and a half.
The buffalo-man was not to be found anywhere in the living room.
Aruna proceeded slowly to check the sole bedroom when the sound of a steel plate being kept on the counter stopped her in her tracks. She now walked towards the kitchen, even slower than before. At the kitchen door, she extended her neck and peered in, without going in.
If you have never seen a man with a buffalo head and bottom wearing an apron, rubbing clean a washed plate using a kitchen towel, you probably wouldn’t know the depth of incongruity that Aruna felt at the sight. In fact, she almost fainted again.
But the Buffalo-Man, sensing her presence turned around and grinned at her- yes, grinned.
“How are you?” he said, and without giving her the opportunity to reply, “I thought I would prepare some Kadai chicken curry, just as you planned. I know how much you like it. Of course, it may not be as good as your own preparation but I did the best I could..”
It was only when he said this that Aruna’s brain actually registered the delightful aroma it had been experiencing as that of a well prepared curry. If it tasted anywhere as good as it smelled like, it would be more amazing that she could ever hope to prepare.
But how did the Buffalo-Man know I was going to prepare it?
She was about to ask the question(somehow, other questions like “What the hell are you?” had lesser prominence at this point) when her cell phone rang. She had kept the phone on the counter when she came into the kitchen earlier this morning.
The ring tone- the opening chords of the song ‘Tere sang yaara’ from Rustom was not exactly an alarming tune. But when the chords played on this day when a strange beast was in her kitchen, Aruna felt startled by it.
Seeing her hesitate, the Buffalo-man said, “Trisha called a couple of times when you were asleep. I didn’t wake you up because I didn’t wish to disturb you.”
But before Aruna could move towards the phone the beast, still grinning walked to it. Looking at the phone’s screen, he said, “Oh, it’s Sudeep!” and immediately cancelled the call.
Aruna frowned. What the hell did this thing think it was doing?
The beast turned around, about to go back to the kitchen sink where awaited a couple of more dishes to be done when the phone ringed again and he swirled right around.
Aruna took a couple of steps towards the phone but the beast beat her to it this time as well, cancelling the call after the second ring.
“What are you doing?’ she said, sounding not at all pleased.
The Buffalo-Man didn’t bother replying, slightly shaking his head instead and walking towards the kitchen sink in his apron looking as ridiculous as you pleased.
That was when the phone chirped again- this time, it was an incoming message but that didn’t stop the Buffalo-Man from sliding towards it like a kid on a pair of rollerblades-looking ever more ridiculous than before.
Aruna watched as the Buffalo-Man rapidly typed something. The fact that he was at least two heads taller than her meant that she was unable to look over his shoulder and see what words he put in there. But soon as he was done typing he kept the phone back on the counter as carefully as if he were placing a baby back in its cradle.
No sooner had the Buffalo-man turned away than Aruna took the phone and checked it for the messages. “Busy?” was the one from Sudeep to which the beast had replied, “I am extremely busy. I will call you when I am free. Don’t call me.”
“How dare you!” Aruna said the words before she knew what she was saying. But even after posing the question her anger didn’t subside. Her heart continued beating at an extra-ordinary rate.
Sudeep was her boyfriend, that too a serious relationship-one day they may even get married to each other. Who was this weird creature from god knows where to disrupt their communication?
“Who are you to come barging into my house and do whatever you want to do?” she said, irritated by the way the Buffalo-man continued to ignore her- he was presently washing the steel bowl in which he cooked the chicken.
But the naked anger in her voice did make him look at her. And in his eyes she could see reflected the same anger that was shaking her to the roots.
Fuming(literally) out of his nostrils, the red veins spreading across his eyes intertwined like vines, he moved towards her. Not even the fact that he had on the apron-with rose flowers on it- made him look ridiculous this time, not in Aruna’s eye.
The Buffalo-man looked downright scary.
“I won’t let anyone come between you and I!” roared the beast. “No one loves you as much as I do! No one!”
“How dare you say that!” No sooner were the words out of her mouth than a heavy slap fell on her shoulder. Heavy enough to make her bones break.
Though only 25 years old, in her life so far Aruna had experienced more pain than someone her age would normally get to experience- many times when she was a child, when her father would come home drunk and beat her and her mother, and later when her mother passed away not more than two years after her father’s death, she got her first taste of how emotional pain could surpass physical pain.
But this was the same learning in reverse- sheer physical pain: the worst evidence of your material existence, overpowering your entire senses in a wash of agony.
The good news was that the pain was bad enough to make her pass out pretty soon.
She work up to the sight of the beast’s face- mere centimeters away from her own eyes.
Even more alarming than the proximity was what came out of its mouth- a white viscous liquid which he expunged into her mouth which he held open using a thumb and forefinger.
Though she struggled so that the liquid wouldn’t be transferred into her body, once the liquid did start passing down her throat, she lost all sensation- in her mouth, the liquid had felt cold, ice-cold, tasteless except for a faint saltiness, like extremely diluted tears. But once the fluid entered her throat, all taste, all sensation evaporated as if it never existed in the first place.
In its place was an indefinable tingle which spread all across her body, something that verged between a tease and a prod, something which led her down a valley filled with shadows, where the destination was pre-determined: complete darkness.
The next time that she came to(this certainly seemed to be a day for passing out and reviving for Aruna) she found herself in the bed. Even though she was wearing the same top from before, she found that the beast had taken off her pajama bottom while she lied asleep.
“I noticed that you were sweating, so I took that off. You have read somewhere that it’s through the legs that most amount of cold get into the body- the legs and the head, remember?” The Buffalo-Man sat at the foot of the bed, looking at her with a smile on his face which was charming no one.
She pulled up the bedsheet and covered her lower half, then, pushing down on her arm, she sat up.
Only after that movement did she realized what she just did- she used the hand with the broken bones as if it were good as new. A few rotations of the wrist and moving the elbow back and forth and she realized that it was indeed good as new.
“What day is this!” she asked suddenly.
Calmly smiling the beast said, “Don’t worry, it’s the same day.” He went on to explain the medical properties of the white fluid.
“More like magical properties,” said Aruna once he was done explaining.
The beast laughed as if she just made the biggest joke in the history of mankind.
“So, what are you?” Now that the beast has irrevocably proven its complete authority over her, she thought she had the right at least to know who he was.
But what the Buffalo-Man said next surprised her.
“You really don’t remember?”
She frowned, wondering what the hell this thing was talking about.
“Those nights in the village, when the nights were much cooler and filled with the cries of the livestock next door?” the buffalo-man leaned closer, as if the gesture would help her remember.
Whether it was the gesture which finally broke the door open in her mind or not was unclear to Aruna but in hindsight, she would think that it certainly looked like the dreams she had as a kid- of a Buffalo-Man coming in from the dark of the night, coming all the way from the far end of the neighbor’s compound, jumping over the fence, coming running solely to save her and her mother from the clutches of her drunken father was brought back to her mind prompted by the beast’s closeness.
They were living in the village then, and in the nights little Aruna would lie awake, scared of when her father would come in, hearing the occasional mooing of the livestock that the neighbor kept- a mix of buffaloes, cows and goats that kept that household running and which gave fodder to her dreams- the foremost of which was that of a strong Buffalo-Man who would be the protector to her mother and herself from the abuses of her father.
And the dreams persisted-even after father checked himself into a rehabilitation centre(that came after the night when he beat his wife so bad that she had to be hospitalized), even after he came back from rehab, completely revived against all apprehensions.
He remained a teetotaler, and was able to control his temper; the family moved to the city where he – a journalist got an opportunity with a bigger news organization and the rest of their lives-right until that tragic day when he died in a car crash(he was on a news hunt, on the way to the venue of a train accident), they lived a peaceful enough life.
But years later, sitting in the bed in her rented 1 BHK in Bangalore, with an incongruous beast for company, she finally admitted to herself that no matter how may good moments that her father gave her and her mother after he came out of rehab, she has never-not even for a second, actually stopped harboring a doubt- doubt as to when the anger in him would surface again, when whatever discontent that haunted him- one of the most private individuals that she had known, would make him reach for the bottle again.
She had never truly trusted him again.
The sound of the calling bell almost made her laugh- such an ordinary sound didn’t seem to have a place in this situation, and yet, there it was!
She looked up at the beast for directions. She wasn’t sure if he would be angry if she were to move towards the living room without his permission. The astounding healing property of the Buffalo-Man’s bodily fluid aside, she wasn’t really looking forward to getting hurt again. The pain in the hand was gone but the memory persisted.
As though reading her mind, the Buffalo-Man said, “You are going to be fine, as long as you agree to my demands.” Raising the fingers in his hand one after the other, he added, “One, you never talk or even think about Sudeep, and the first chance you get, you dump him. Two, you need to pay me 20 percent of your earnings- I will use that money for better upkeep of the place, of course, you are very bad at such things- have you noticed how unclean the place is? It’s high time that you fired that cleaning lady! Anyway, that’s two. And the third and most important thing is, you cannot question my authority. After all, you called me into existence to be your protector!”
Somehow, the calling bell sounded more persistent the second time around. But the Buffalo-man kept his eyes trained on her face.
In as mellow a voice that she could summon, she said, “I don’t understand what you mean when you say that I ‘called you into existence’.” She even offered a weak smile- in case he was relapsing to his earlier angry state.
But he wasn’t angry. In fact, he was smiling.
“You really don’t know much about yourself, do you?” he said. Moving closer, he began to pat her on the side of her head. When he spoke again, it was in a gentle voice, so different from his usual raspy voice which felt like a rock being grated against a boulder. “Darling,” he said, “You are one of the most rarest things in the world- someone who could summon to life her deepest wishes.”
But I wished for you more than a decade ago! She didn’t dare speak her thought out loud, fearing his wrath.
As if reading her mind, the Buffalo-Man added, “You are not yet in complete control of your powers. And even though you are an adult, the wish for someone who protects subsisted in your subconscious- after all, you live and work here in this strange city, all by yourself. “ Before she could interrupt, he continued, “Yes, you didn’t explicitly wish for the Buffalo-Man in your adult life, but then you didn’t have a better image in your mind either. An image, I might even say a deity whom you nurtured in your mind for so many years as a child..how could you usurp it with some other image?”
The Buffalo-Man smiled but Aruna didn’t feel any trace of humour. In fact, she felt an incoming headache- all this information a tad too much to take in.
But the calling bell sounded again. And this time, the Buffalo-Man gestured her to go and get the door.
“Remember,” he said, “There is no point in making a ruckus about me being here- for one thing, I can shift into something else and people are just going to think you are mad with your wild tale about a Buffalo-Man who came calling on your door on a Saturday morning.”
Even though Aruna didn’t respond, she knew he had kind of a point.
“And if it’s Sudeep, you better tell him to leave. If he steps into the house, I won’t be responsible for what happens,” the beast added just as Aruna was getting out of the bed. She had found her pajama bottoms and pulled it on while staying under the bedsheet.
Letting out a sigh, she slowly walked to the front door.
As she took the 15 steps or so that covered the length from her bedroom to the front door, she kept repeating the same silent prayer, “God, don’t let it be Sudeep!”
She hoped that it would be her friend, Trisha. That way, not only would Sudeep not come to harm in the hands of the Buffalo-man, she would have someone to talk to for a while- someone real, a human. Maybe she could even go out with her for a while. Ever since the Buffalo-Man had come in, the house has become an oppressive place to her.
Some time out would certainly be nice.
The Buffalo-Man had said that she was one of the very few people who could bring their earnest wishes to life.
Well, if that were true, her powers had failed her this time.
For when she opened the door, she found that contrary to her most earnest wish it was Sudeep who had turned up. He with the most beautiful smile and a black mole on his chin which made him so much more beautiful, carrying his helmet in a hand and a few rose flowers in the other.
“Here, I brought these for you!”
Aruna accepted the flowers automatically. But before she could say anything, he slid past her and was in the house.
“I need to pee! I have been riding from Electronic City and you wouldn’t know the traffic! It took me more than an hour, and I couldn’t wait to pee!”
Electronic City was where he lived.
“But before that, what the hell happened to you? I called you, and what’s with that message? Hey, what are you looking for?”
It was just when he asked the question that her eyes found what they were looking for – the beast. Only, it was a vague outline that she saw, one that brought his fine figure in a sharp relief, though the bulk of his body was invisible.
He stood against the light brown curtain that covered the door which opened to a balcony.
She remembered opening the door earlier in the morning, through which now entered a draft of wind which made the curtain sway, drawing the attention of Sudeep’s eyes, which presently widened with astonishment at the sight of the amorphous shape that stood there.
Overcome with curiosity, he took a step or two towards the door to the balcony even though Aruna kept a restraining hand on his shoulder.
“What is that?” he said, still not looking at her.
But before she could frame an answer, the beast moved- swifter than any wind, mightier than a typhoon or so it seemed, literally shredding Sudeep to pieces, chunks of flesh and bone fragments falling all around Aruna like grotesque confetti. The movement of the beast was swift enough to disturb the air around it, and the disturbance enough to make the petals being violently torn away from the roses.
And there they fell, amidst the pieces of her lover’s body, a few of them already soaked in the blood.
As she stood there shock-still, unable to come up with the right response to something as atrocious as this, the Buffalo-Man once again took on his solid form, and without making a sound approached her. Before she knew what he was doing, he breathed into her mouth, making her swoon.
But he caught her before her unconscious form hit the ground.
While the woman remained in stasis for the third time this day, the Buffalo-Man get busy cleaning up the mess that he made. The chunks of flesh and bones turned out to be easier to clean than he had assumed. The blood took some taking to be cleared though.
But by the time he was finished, he was quite happy with the work that he had accomplished, looking all around the living room with a look of appreciation in his eyes. All that was left of Sudeep was neatly tied up in two small sized garbage bags.
Time to wake up the girl, he thought.
Jayanagar is one of the more developed areas in Bangalore, with high end brands and luxurious eateries showing themselves at either side of the road at frequent intervals.
However, all of it looked unreal to Aruna as she sat behind the Buffalo-Man on Sudeep’s motorbike, watching but not taking in the passing sceneries. She was not yet more than a kilometer away from her place but already it felt like she was in another world.
What transpired in her house since this morning has made her question everything about what she knew about reality.
So did the small white plastic bag which hung from the bike’s handle- the bag was one she usually took when she went shopping for groceries-supermarkets in the city charges up to 20 rupees for a fresh bag. But now, the contents of that bag were no groceries.
Aruna felt a wave of nausea washing over her at the memory of all the flesh and blood lying on the floor- the remains of a love relationship.
The Buffalo-Man had woken her up once he was done cleaning up.
“We will need to get rid of Sudeep’s bike which is out front,” he had said.
From being a lover who was an inadvertent witness to her dearest one getting murdered in the most brutal manner imaginable, she was transformed into a forced accomplice in crime- to dump the remains of Sudeep.
Of course, she could have resisted, but then the pain that might be the consequence of such an action was enough of a deterrent for her.
Now, she sat with silent tears in her eyes.
The Buffalo-Man was no more the Buffalo-Man. For the time being, he had assumed the shape and features of Sudeep. There were a few minor glitches- like the light shade of blue that wouldn’t disappear form the skin on the forehead-glitches brought about by the fact that the Aruna’s power was still not completely refined and the beast which came about as a result of such an ill-developed power would obviously have its own limitations.
But all in all, it was a good imitation, even Aruna thought so. Only if you were to look closely would you see the glitches.
But sitting behind a mimicry of her lover only made her sadder still.
Bangalore is a city where you wouldn’t have any problem finding a place to dump some garbage-from plastic bottles to rotten vegetables and human waste. In fact, it’s a city where people have fast learned how to co-exist peacefully with even the most revolting waste.
Aruna was only a little surprised by the speed with which the last of Sudeep disappeared from her life. They were passing over a small bridge under which flew a stream-only the water in the stream looked more like sewer than anything. The plastic bag which the Buffalo-Man flung with might became just one of the debris which floated in this cesspool of muck.
The evening now changed into night, the sky more grey than dark- like it was part of the body of some giant industrial machine. The Buffalo-Man just kept going, commenting that “might as well go for a ride!”
“It has been my dream to show you a good time by taking you on a bike ride!” the Buffalo-Man exclaimed at one point. “I know how much you love it!”
That was true. Her father never learned how to ride a bike or a car. And growing up an only child without a brother, she used to get envious to see other girls sitting on the backseat of a bike, hugging their brother or father. The cool wind in your face, the openness of the space while you are moving-these are things about the motorcycle she has romanticized about.
But when the Buffalo-Man spoke about it, she couldn’t help but feel his words were a tad absurd- one that almost made her laugh.
“Are you hungry?”
She shook her head but he added all the same, “I know you like shawarma a lot. Remember that place you heard your colleagues speak about the other day-the one at Kormangala where you can supposedly get ‘rocking good shawarmas,? You want to try that place?”
The Buffalo-Man made it all sound like they were lovers on a date night.
But Aruna remained silent, buried somewhere deep within her own mind. Stasis, that’s what she hoped for more than anything.
The Buffalo-Man found the shawarma joint soon enough- a small makeshift shop adorned with neon lights tucked away in a small bylane near the Jyoti Nivas College.
“Let’s not have it here, this place is too crowded,” said the Buffalo-Man. Aruna nodded automatically. She had come to learn to agree to whatever he said.
“I think we could find ourselves a more private spot,” he added.
The private spot turned out to be a park not far from the shawarma joint.
It was past 8 and the park was already closed. But that didn’t stop the beast from going over the fence and helping Aruna make the same move.
The small park was filled with so many trees that it was hard to see if someone were to take a seat in one of the wooden chairs in the central area, especially if it’s dark.
And it was dark now and it’s to one of those wooden benches that the two walked.
The Buffalo-Man wiped some of the dust off the bench and asked Aruna to take a seat. She quietly complied.
From the parcel bag in which the vendor had put the shawarmas, he took one out and handed it to her.
“Why do you look so glum?” he said, “Don’t you like my company?”
Aruna looked up at him though remaining silent.
Though the park wasn’t more than a few feet away from the road, the sound of the traffic appeared muffled here. Added to that the fact that there were no one else around made Aruna imagine that she was alone with the Buffalo-Man in a place far removed from civilization.
She was surprised to feel no fear for the beast anymore. All she felt was cold numbness.
She took a bite of the juicy shawarma. It was all she could do to keep from puking.
“I am beginning to think that you know me better than I do myself,” she said, more because she didn’t want to take another bite of the food than because of an interest in making conversation.
“Why do you say that?” said the beast, greedily biting into the flesh-filled food. Since he was submerged in the near darkness of the park(all the lamps were long turned off) she heard him chew more than saw him.
“You know things about me that I don’t,’ she said, “Like this power…”
“Yes,” the Bauffalo-Man gave a little laugh as if she made a joke. “I am a part of you consciousness, after all. You may not have access to that part, but I do,” he laughed again.
Having finished the shawarma, he now ran his fingers down the side of his jeans.
While the Buffalo-Man was looking down, Aruna took the opportunity to dump what was left of her shawarma in the nearby waste bin(shaped like a kangaroo, the pouch was the bin. The idea that she was surrounded by beasts flitted across Aruna’s mind).
“So, this power, you think I can bring any of my strongest wish to life?” she said.
The Buffalo-Man looked up and nodded. “Yes, you need to wish it strong enough and long enough. And as you learn to control your power better, you can bring down the time period for a wish.”
“Such amazing power..” she murmured, not louder that the sound of the leaves being ruffled by the wind. “Can you change back to your own appearance?”
The Buffalo-Man complied with a grin.
“Can you move closer?” she said.
The harsh yellow light of the halogen bulb on the street lamp just outside the park found its way to the beast’s face, partially illuminating it. Aruna gently placed a hand on the side of his face, caressing his fur.
“Such an amazing power..” she repeated, this time loud enough for him to hear.
He raised an eyebrow, wondering what exactly she meant. But a grin wiped away the frown at her continued caressing.
Looking straight at his face, Aruna thought about what could give him the worst death imaginable, inflicting so much pain on him that he would wish he were never born. And then, once she had a vague idea of what it could be, she willed to transform that idea into a vision, and the vision into an earnest wish.
And she held that wish close to her heart like a mother would her dear child.