Samuel And The Birds That Devour All

No one knew where he came from.

All they knew for sure was that he was an extremely diligent worker.EvenParappa- the most disliked of all the landlords in Nanchappakkam was heard acknowledging the fact one evening when he drank with his friends(fellow-landlords, of course) down at the Royal Aradhana bar- the only 3 star facility in the entire town.

And such high praise coming from Parappa- a 54 year old dark skinned man with a thin mustache and an even thinner respect for his workers, was something. The last time anyone had heard him praise any of his workers was never.

But even Parappa didn’t know where Samuel came from, even though he has been working in his farm for nearly five months now.

Whenever anyone asked Samuel about his home, the only reply they got was “Up north.” The young man would point his finger northwards to emphasize the point but when he was asked “Where exactly in the north?” he just repeated “North” before returning to whatever work he has been doing.

And he was always working, it seems.

And the fact that Parappa gave Samuel a place to stay in a small hut in a corner of the farmland itself-where the workers kept their utensils after work, meant that the people rarely saw him outside of the farm.

Not that the townspeople haven’t laid their eyes on him.

For one thing, he would occasionally be called out by other wealthy farmers and other folks to perform oddjobs- like Rajamma when she needed people to carry the grand piano(which she brought from her ancestral home) up the two stories of her newly built house.

And rarely did anyone escape the charm that the youth’s physique and strikingly good looks exuded on them. Especially the women of the town- though you could bet there was no way they would acknowledge the same to their husbands or lovers.

At just above 5 feet, Samuel wasn’t tall. But he was well-built.

Even if you haven’t seen him working in the farm, titling the earth with his torso bared, you would know this by the way the muscled hands protruded from under his sleeves or the board chest widened beneath the shirt as he breathed.

His thin but long hair that reached down to his shoulders, and which fell across his eyes when he worked complemented his angular face, framing it in a gentle blackness that was a counterpoint to the manliness of his face.

He was hardly more than 20(his age was something else the people didn’t know precisely), but the chiseled appearance of his face also blessed it with a manliness missing from many a man’s face.

**

The bird circled him like he was not there, like the substance from which he was made of was laughable at worst andignorable at best.

Samuel looked at the bird occasionally, his eyes widening in fear every time they fell on it. Not that there was anything particularly frightening about the bird. On the contrary, the purple heron with its long curved neck and a gait that would put many a woman to shame was a beauty to look at.

Not for Samuel, apparently. For his heartbeat kept rising the more the bird stuck around, so much so that he soon had trouble lifting the axe with which he has been breaking some logs that were to go to the hearth. It was twilight and soon the light would go out from the sky-like an unseen giant has snuffed it out before going to sleep.

And before going to sleep, Samuel would have to cook and for that he could use some wood.

Not if the bird was around, he thought, a panic rising.

I would have to cut short my wood-cutting and run into the hut where I would (hopefully) be safe from the bird. And if I don’t look at it, I would be safe..

His thoughts ran thus,  a train that wouldn’t make particular sense to anyone who got a glimpse into it. Samuel was about to walk quickly into the hut(deciding he would come back and collect the chopped wood later) when he heard the sound of flapping wings.

Even then, he let another ten minutes pass before he would look up. The sky was clear except for a distant speck which may or may not have been the bird’s retreating figure. He didn’t look long enough to get a clear picture. Instead, quickly gathering all the chopped up pieces of wood, he walked into his hut.

He was shivering from head to toe by the time he got in and latched the hut’s door behind him.

Though evening, it was hot.

And Samuel could find only one source for his shivering- the fear that wouldn’t let his heart still.

**

It was an evening much like any other- hot, the sun fast fading as though it couldn’t wait to be away from this part of Tamil Nadu for some reason.

The occasional vehicle that went by made the dust rise from the highway.

Not that Samuel noticed any of this. He had his head down as he walked, not even looking up when he was greeted by a passerby. He walked at a reasonable pace but for an acute observer, it would have been obvious that barely suppressed beneath that gait was an earnestness which cried out, “Just get it all over with as soon as possible!”

The tense manner in which he kept his fist clenched told as much.

In his other hand, held equally fast was a plastic bag with the store name and emblem of “Thirumala Fruits and Grocers-Madhurai” stenciled on the side.

The grocery store that he was going to visit was not the one in Madhurai though. It’s one of the few grocery stores that were in Nanchapally- one that was run by a man named Prakash whom Samuel had met a few times when he had gone to buy stuff at the store before.

However, Samuel had always been neutral-if that’s the word- towards all Prakash’ advances to establish a rapport between them.

It’s a strategy that Samuel adopted with almost- no, not almost, everyone who tried to get close to him.A strategy that has helped him achieve his objective of keeping himself secluded.

Samuel hasn’t come to this town to make friends.

In fact, the more people knew about him, the more they viewed him as a weirdo. And he has had enough of that.

**

But the problem-whether Samuel was aware of it or not was that the people in Nanchapally had already made an opinion about him- and that wasn’t entirely favorable.

“He is a paranoid nut!” was an extreme manner in which some put it.

“He is afraid of a lot of things. But he is a good worker,” the more lenient of the lot would phrase it thus.

The problem was that it was hard to kepp extreme paranoia the kind of which Samuel experienced under wraps for long.

The way he would literally jump when someone suddenly called out to him at the farm, the manner in which his eyes would flitter so fast when he crossed the street like the sweep of the butterfly’s wings in a hurricane, and the near-scream that he gave last Sivrathri when Parappa gave a feast to all his workers(Samuel was served a second helping of rice and when someone started pouring sambar, he said in a worried tone, “Please don’t drown me!”) were all instances which tipped the people off towards Samuel’s ‘anomaly.’

But it was when Talamma- the harlot went to visit him one night that people got inconclusive proof about the extent of his paranoia. Talamma- who was selective about the men she slept with had her eyes on the young Samuel ever since her eyes fell on his eyes the first time at the town market one hot day.

And she did everything in her capacity to make it clear to him that even though she entertained mostly her regulars- landlords most of them, she was willing to make an exception in the case of Samuel, Samuel either didn’t understand the signs or pretended that he didn’t.

And one hot summer night when the dogs all howled at the moon, their lonely voices filled with lust, Talamma- hands down the ‘most progressive woman in town’, someone who believes that women ought to go and get what they want if what they want won’t come to them, made a visit to Samuel’s hut.

But as soon as he saw the sexy Talamma(clad in a thin saree) standing at his door, Samuel did something that she never expected him to do, and which embarrassed her no end.

Shouting at the top of his lungs, “Ghost!” he ran out of the hut and didn’t stop until he reached the farther end of the farmland. By that point, a few of the neighbors were woken from their sleep and had come out to see what the commotion was all about.

They were readying themselves for the worse- a fire outbreak, a snake bit someone, or maybe a drunken brawl that ended in a friend stabbing a friend, perhaps?

But what they did find, instead of making them alarmed, made them all laugh.

And even though the laughter broke their sleep, they didn’t begrudge it. On the contrary, they loved it, enough to share the tale with everyone they came across, enough to make it the most talked about story in town that summer.

Yes, people in Nanchappakam knew only too well how paranoid Samuel could get.

**

Prakash’ grocery store was situated on a small stretch along the highway which led toPudukottai.

In fact, this particular stretch, in the proximity of the Lutheran church and the Sri Sankaracharaya Primary School was one of the few in Nanchappakkam where you could find a host of amenities within a short radius- bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, even an ATM and a cool bar.

This meant a relatively larger number of people(in a sleepy little town like Nanchappakkam, that would be somewhere between 20 to 30 customers) could be found there on an evening, especially on a Sunday evening like this.

If Samuel had his way he would have chosen somewhere else to do his shopping- somewhere with lesser number of people.

But the thing was, he had run out of both rice and potatoes, and Prakash’s happened to be the nearest grocer to his hut- still a good 20 minutes walk away.

By the time he reached the store, the sun was already setting and all the small eateries and restaurants in the area were brightly lit with green and yellow lights- not neon but with transparent coloured sheets wrapped around tubelights.

Probably because there were a couple of other people waiting to buy after Samuel, or maybe because Prakash has finally given up trying to build a rapport with him, Samuel finished his purchase(3 kilos of rice, a kilo of potatoes and a cucumber) in a very short time. But even so, it was dark when he stepped out of the store.

It was while he was walking back towards his hut that he caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. Usually, such a thing wouldn’t have made him look up but for some reason, he felt that it was a bird that trotted towards him from his left side.

He looked up with a gasp and was relieved to see that what he mistook for a bird was actually the hem of a skirt which a little girl wore.

However, the relief was short-lived since the echoing current of the panic attack that almost came didn’t leave his mind that easily. From afar rose the sound of a horn. A truck was coming from the distance- the only moving thing on the highway as far as Samuel could see.

The little girl-not more than 5 years old, with a small black mark on her cheek lovingly put there by her mother had just stepped down from a bakery, holding a 5 Star bar in her hand. Her parents were still in the bakery, buying something or the other, neither of them looking at the kid at the present moment, this Samuel saw.

Though even by the most conservative estimates, the truck that honked like hell wouldn’t have passed him by for another  three minutes, in Samuel’s mind he saw it coming faster than a bullet train, and the truck’s passage along this particular stretch of the highway coinciding with the little girl wandering on to the road.

Her cute little dress and the way she waves the chocolate bar around in her tiny hand would be enough to make the truck’s driver more than regret the fact that the truck was going to hit her. For there’s nothing that he could do. Yes, he brings his foot down on the brake hard. But that’s hardly enough to thwart the inevitable.

In Samuel’s mind, Samuel saw it all- the way the child’s mother turned to look at the very last moment before the truck hit her, how the truck ran over the little body as easily as though the child were but a smear of cow dung on the road, and the most graphic element of all- one of the girl’s hands got ripped off under the tire’s pressure.

Blood sprouted from the broken stump. The child’s mother’s scream rose violently.

More than anything, it was the unceasing scream which pushed Samuel into action- for if it sounded so terrible in his mind, he was sure that it would sound as terrible when it happens.

So, without wasting another minute inthinking, Samuel rushed towards the little girl, who by now had stepped off the last of the bakery’s steps.

“Don’t go near the road!” he shouted as he jumped on to the girl to restrain her from moving any further. There was every indication that the girl- instead of moving towards the road( the edge of which was still some  40 feet away) was about to move towards one of the plastic tables where people could have a quick snack(and which were empty at the moment).

But Samuel’s mind bypassed such information and focused directly on the singular objective of restraining the girl from becoming the victim of a terrible road accident.

In the process of restraining(sic) the gir,l one of the tables-which came complete with an umbrella got toppled . On the table were cutlery and salt and pepper bottles which all fell down with a clang. All this noise turned plenty of heads, of course.

“Darling!” “Baby!” “What’s going on?” “Hey, who is that?” “What happened?” Many were the questions that rose almost simultaneously after the clamour. Samuel couldn’t make much sense of it, he was lost in a world of self-satisfaction at having avoided a catastrophe, not to mention effectively bringing to an end a gargantuan panic attack.

But what was this that was happening? He thought as he began to feel strong fists falling on his body, to the accompaniment of certain abusive words which would never have been spoken in the presence of a tiny girl-who incidentally was crying at the top of her lungs as though instead of being rescued from the mouth of death, someone had done her some terrible wrong.(Samuel was barely aware of the fact that someone snatched her from him moments before the first slap fell on his face).

“I have seen his type before!” “Pervert!”- these were among the exclamations that the girl’s father made in between landing the slaps which were only now beginning to hurt Samuel. (Even though he was the stronger- and the younger- of the two, Samuel bore all the violence against his body without raising a hand himself, though he never let go of his bag of groceries.)

Many people tried to calm the father of the child down, informing him about Samuel’s panic attacks and how his action was surely the result of some such attack. But not until his own hand began to hurt did he actually stop. And even then he wasn’t willing to buy into the idea that the man was prone to panic attacks of such severity that he would try and grab “My tiny little girl! I am sure that she put up a fight and that’s the reason he was unable to get away with her!”

The question of how such a tiny teeny thing could put up a fight against a dying dog with three of its legs missing, let alone this young man whose body was built on years of labour did cross the minds of the assembled. But they all thought it prudent not to lend voice to the question at that point- somehow the father of the girl didn’t come across as particularly receptive to logic at that moment.

“I must take him to the police station!” he proclaimed, glaring at Samuel with wide eyes like a villain in an old Bollywood film.

**

It turned out that the child’s father- a resident of the neighbouringtown had some connection to the local politicos. Not significant enough to help him buy one villa each in all the surrounding towns but enough to have the Sub-Inspector agree to keep Samuel in jail overnight.

“Just make sure that he receives a good thrashing, officer,” said the man in a loud tone that didn’t exactly pleased the sub-inspector. “I have given him some from my end. People like him who try to harass such little girls should be given the treatment that they clearly deserve.”

“I will see to it that he receives what he deserves,” said the SI in the most cheerful tone that he could manage. “You just go home with your family and have a pleasant evening. Put this unfortunate incident behind you,” he added, careful not to use the word ‘Sir’.

The idea was to have the prisoner- if such a grand term could be used for Samuel, was to be released soon after the child’s father had left the police station.

There was no way that the Sub Inspector was going to create a chargesheet for this. Living not far from Parappan’s farmland, he knew who Samuel was.

And he has been in the force long enough to know that anyone who insisted that his bag of groceries be allowed to be kept ‘somewhere securely in the station while I am in the cell’ has a very low chance of committing a crime.

‘Thank god the father of the child didn’t press charges. All he asked for was to give the poor sod a through thrashing, as though I were a dog ready to do his master’s bidding!” the constable to him he said this- a young man who was trying to emulate the SI  by growing a long moustache nodded thoughtfully. “And I am glad for that. I reckon had he pressed charges, poor Samuel would have been in a spot of unwanted trouble.”

A certain softness overcame his voice when he alluded directly to Samuel. The constable couldn’t suppress a smile, having an idea about the reason for the sudden leniency that has come over his superior officer.

And his guess was right, for the SI was having second thoughts about releasing the ‘prisoner’ right away.

Why not keep him in the cell all night through? he thought. After all, there is no one else in the cell, so there is space enough, and it’s a lonely night…He edited out that last thought, or he did as much as it was possible to edit out a thought that was already thought in its completion.

Rubbing his hands, he looked at the constable- the only other police officer in the station this night. In fact, the SI was about to leave for the night leaving the constable the only one to man the station as was his wont almost every night when the man brought Samuel in.

“Go and stand at your station,” he said to the constable. The constable was supposed to stand at the door, so that in case there of a sudden inspection or something, he could give the warning- a rapid bout of cough which was the signal that was already agreed upon.

“Yes, sir!”

As soon as the constable was gone the SI turned and looked towards the cell which was largely drowned indarkness.

And darkness worked well for him, at least it has in the past occasions. Though this time around, owing to the incredible beauty of the youth’s face(and no doubt, his body too, thought the SI licking his lips) he would have liked a bit more illumination.

But  no, it’s better this way, he thought. What if someone comes in to the station and finds him making love to someone who was brought in for a crime? He was a married man- married to the Panchayat president at that. He has a reputation to look after.

“No, it’s better this way!”muttering thus, he entered the cell, locking the gate behind him.

Samuel, who was crouched at one corner stood up when the SI entered the cell. “I didn’t do anything, Sir!” he said in a pleading tone, his palms pressed against each other in a gesture appropriate to the occasion.

The SI, who expanded his chest, nodded though he said, “I don’t know about that. The way the man who brought you here put things, you did some seriously bad things to his kid. And that kind of crime always attracts the harshest punishments that the law permits. However, I am an open-minded sort of man. Meaning if you can persuade me as to your innocence, I might just let you go, maybe even this coming morning!” he added, unbuckling his belt- the one with the State insignia on it.

“What… what shall I do for that, sir?” Samuel’s voice trembled even as his eyse kept drifting from the man’s belt to his face and back again. He had a rather bad vision of the cop thrashing him up with his belt. In his mind, he saw a part of the belt hitting his eye, as a result of which he ends up losing his eyesight.

But to his surprise, the SI smiled. And a most genuine smile it looked like too.

He even brought up  a hand and kept it on his shoulder, gently massaging him as though he wanted to alleviate whatever pain Samuel might have suffered earlier when he got beaten up.

“I have a theory, Samuel,” the SI said in a soft voice as if whispering sweet nothings to his lover. “You see, I think that if you are truly innocent and have nothing to hide, you would be altogether relaxed, meaning the various openings in your body would open with the application of the least effort, if you know what I mean. “

Samuel didn’t really get it. But he kept looking eagerly at the SI- or rather his silhouette, for framed against the light from the main room in the police station- the one where the SI’s table was, he was nothing more than a silhouette, and Samuel-hardly more than a shadow.

But for the SI,Samuel was definitely not a mere silhouette- he was definitely fleshy enough, as was evident from the way he now squeezed his arm.

But what did the man mean?, thought Samuel. Openings in the body opening with the application of the least effort? It sounded more like a riddle than anything. And he was never any good with riddles.

Samuel began to get an inkling of what the SI intended to do to him when he saw-more heard than saw, actually- the belt slipping from the SI’s hand and falling, the buckle hitting the floor with a ‘twang.’ The movement of the SI’s hand was rapid when it proceeded to unzip his pants but despite the darkness Samuel could still make out what he was doing.

And seeing it, he gasped.

Memories of a time when he used to work as a construction worker came to him. More precisely, the memories of his time working as a laborer at a new hotel that was being built in Kodaikkanal. A few of the laborers- including himself stayed in the hotel under construction during the time, and among them was an elderly man who took a particular liking for the plump youth with the deep brown eyes and the red lips. Samuel was just 15 years old at the time and that made the older man salivate all the more.

It was during that time that Samuel discovered that he was a homophobic.

He resisted the elderly man’s advances in no uncertain ways- once even hitting him on the cheek, the most violence he had ever done to anyone. But even though the man ceased his advances seeing how the youth made it explicitly clear that he wasn’t in the least interested, lying on a mat under a thin blanket which did little to thwart the cool of Kodai in the night, Samuel would get nightmares involving the old man penetrating his backside with his oversized dick, and the dick growing in length like a snake, going up his body and splitting apart his spine. He would wake up in a cold sweat.

He couldn’t wait for the hotel’s construction to be over.

The same sort of cold sweat broke over his entire body when he saw the SI stepping out of his pants and rubbing his crotch, walking towards him with a gleam of expectation in his eyes.

In his mind, Samuel saw similar uncontrollable visions of a penis going up his backside and growing so long and strong that it curled around his spinal column in a vice-like grip, eventually breaking it to smithereens. In Samuel’s mind, he saw the horror in his own eyes at that moment, felt the incomprehensible pain which such an event would precipitate.

The SI pouted his lips and brought his face closer to Samuel’s but before he could plant a kiss, Samuel without even knowing he was doing it, extended his hands and garbbing the man’s neck, pressed his thumbs hard against his adam’s apple.

Outside in the verandah, the constable heard the grunts that came from the cell- grunts that belonged unmistakably to the SI.

The SI was trying hard not to scream out loud with pleasure. He doesn’t want to wake the whole neighborhood up!

The constable smiled at his own thought.

And there was indeed no sound in the neighbourhood to mask any loud screams or such, except for the occasional screech of tires as some vehicle or the other went past the rarely used highway. And the faint croaks of the hens and coaks from the paultry next door.

Somehow, the constable thought that the sounds of hens and cocks an apt background for what was going on inside the semi-dark cell.

**

The SI lied stiff on the floor, his limbs splayed against the cold ground and his mouth open, his teeth biting down on his tongue which looked like a little fleshy creature that died midway in its attempt to escape from the cage of the human body.

Samuel looked at the dead body with abject horror in his eyes. He had to literally press the palm of his hand against his mouth to keep from screaming.

I have killed someone! I have killed someone! Oh my god, I have actually killed someone! The thought reappeared in his mind-phrased with different set of words but the meaning always remaining the same.

And there was nothing he could do to curb it.

Until another set of thoughts broke free- this one mostly images- of himself in a cell, only half as big as this one and window-less. His future cell where he would be put way for the rest of his life, to rot in darkness, where rats would nibble at his flesh(and sometimes would even try to enter his body via his mouth- possibly while he sleeps with his mouth open in the night. He wasn’t sure if he slept with his mouth open or not, but who was to say he didn’t?) In Samuel’s mind, he also saw the prison cops putting up a ‘show’ at times, the star of which would be him-Samuel. The main prop would be a bed of nails on which he would have to lie down.

Every pain-induced squirm would be enjoyed by the gathered cops as though they were dance steps performed by a professional. And every scream of anguish that escaped his mouth would be appreciated like notes of music. He could see the relish on the cops’ faces. He could hear the lewd but loud laughter that reverberated within the cell- they would bring in a special light for such occasions so that everyone could see the spectacle.

“Oh, my god!” Samuel eventually cried, unable to take the force of the visions anymore.

The cry was loud enough, and scary enough to bring the constable-who was at this time smoking a cigarette at the verandah, bored with the incessant sounds of the hens and cocks from the poultry next door, running to the cell.

‘Poor Samuel! The SI must have broke his back!” he thought but when he looked inside the cell he saw his senior officer lying flat on the ground. He saw that he had on just the uniform shirt, his lower half exposed to the elements, his penis shrunk and curled towards itself as if from immense sadness.

If the sub-inspector had a heart condition, the constable wasn’t aware of it. But still, he couldn’t help but think that the man had passed away with over-excitement while having sex with Samuel, even though he did notice that Samuel stood fully clothed.

‘Maybe he put on his clothes after the SI fell’, thinking thus, he opened the cell gate with the spare key. Like the SI, he too was a resident of the town who knew who Samuel was- more by reputation than anything. And he had heard enough to know that he was a harmless soul-someone who barely even spoke to people.

This preconception was the reason why he didn’t think much of not locking the gate behind him after entering the cell. It was also the reason why he felt thoroughly surprised when pushing him aside, Samuel rushed out of the cell, after locking the gate using the key that he procured from the SI’s pants pocket.

There was a moment of hesitation when turning around, Samuel looked at the constable, their eyes locked and the latter could practically see the thought passing behind Samuel’s deep brown eyes- am I doing the right thing or not?

“Samuel, don’t run! You will become a criminal!”

But Samuel didn’t hear the constable’s words. His mind was once again mired in visions involving artificial lights, a windowless cell and a bed of nails which he just couldn’t accept as a bed, not for the rest of his life which was how long they were going to put him away. And he was sure that they were going to lock him away for the rest of his life.

After all, it was a policeman whom he killed.

So, he turned around and ran, on the way grabbing the bag of groceries which was kept leaned against the wall by the front door.

He didn’t look back even though the constable kept calling out to him. And when he jumped out of the veranda in to the lawn and made his way past the front gate his panic rose as he heard the sound of the birds- hens and cocks to be more precise.

By the time the constable came out of the cell, opening the cell gate using his spare key, Samuel was nowhere to be seen.

**

“One ticket to Madurai!” Samuel would have preferred a bus to some destination father than Madhurai. He didn’t have any precise idea regarding the destination. Only, he felt that the more distant the better.

However, since there was no bus around at this time of the night-it was just past 10:30 as per the clock in the Nanchapakkam bus station, he thought he as well get on it, he could catch another bus from Madhurai.

Throughout the ride which lasted above an hour, Samuel whose panic had rarely subsided kept looking back. He was seated at the  back seat, near to the door, as though ready to jump out at the slightest hint of trouble.

He needn’t have worried though since there was no one in the bus to give him any trouble. Including the driver and the conductor and himself, there were just six people in the bus. An old man with soda glass spectacles had a towel wrapped around his face to protect his ears from the rushing wind that came in through the window. In another seat there sat a bored looking elderly woman with a kid-equally bored looking though not more than 8 years old.

Hardly the kind of people to give anyone any trouble.

But Samuel’s heart kept hammering throughout the ride, his mid conjuring up one threat after the other-showing him visions of a police battalion flagging down the bus and a giant magnet from a police helicopter suddenly planting on the bus’ roof and pulling it up-something he had seen in a Telugu movie once.

When he stepped down at the Madhurai bus station, he literally had to take a few moments to catch his breath before moving on. His initial plan was to board another bus asap but now that it was near midnight and his last meal lying almost twelve hours in the past, he knew that he couldn’t go on without another meal.

Opening his wallet, a quick check showed him that he had well over 2000 rupees with him- that’s the entire hard cash he had. Panchappan was not a particularly good paymaster(though he did give him a place to stay). Nonetheless, seeing the money brought to his mind the picture of his master. Of course, he knew that he was a fierce master but that didn’t mean that he didn’t owe him. After all, he was the only one who gave him work even though he didn’t know anything about him.

And here I am leaving without even letting my master know, he thought.

But the thought has to be swept aside as the bed of nails floated into his mind again.

**

The only thing that the small restaurant had at this time- they were about to close-was dosa and chutney. So, Samuel ordered two dosas and chutney.

But he couldn’t enjoy the meal in peace. He was just feeling too uneasy for that-looking around with eyes that remained restless inside the sockets. A closer approximation to a cartoon character, you would have been hard pressed to find.

So much so that the waiter- a sleepy looking old man in a T- Shirt with the words, “Work hard, Party harder” on it asked him if he were alright.

This only aggravated Samuel’s paranoia, of course, thinking if the suspicious old man would report to his boss they might turn him over to cops, claiming, “You look suspiciously like a thief!”

Samuel gobbled up the food as fast as possible. Which was when he encountered another problem.

The dead cockroach was in the last ladle of chutney that the waiter poured in his plate.But only after he took the first bite of it did Samuel realize that there was something amiss.

He retched, bringing out all the roach fragments-even the last bit of it.

But that was mere reality-something that Samuel wasn’t at all impressed by. For in Samuel’s mind, there were roaches floating inside his stomach like debris after a shipwreck in the ocean. And unbeknownst to him, he has been eating a lot of cockroaches since he began having the meal of dosas and chutney and sambar.

Imagining the roaches crawling inside his stomach, he retched.

“I am going to die!” he cried. He was sure that one or two of the roaches would cut through his flesh and come out into the light. He would lose copious amounts of blood through the wounds and then he would die!

Death – one must avoid death at all costs! One must survive, survive, survive even as a lowly form of human life- if there was one thing that Samuel has learned in his life as an Indian without much prospect of upward mobility, that was it.

“I am going to die!” he yelled again, before vomiting all the contents of his stomach on to the leaf-plate. His vision blurred as his eyes went up.

‘Are you alright!’ ‘What happened!’ and ‘Grab him, he is going to fall!’ were things that he heard as if he were standing within an ice cave and everyone spokefrom  outside.

Soon, Samuel’s entire world plunged into darkness.

**

When he came to, Samuel was in a hospital bed.

He realized this by the overwhelming smell of antiseptic more than anything else- the same smell he remembered from his childhood when his mother would take him to the hospital when he had a fever or loose motion.

Blinking his eyes to clarity, he saw that an IV was attached to his veins. The thin liquid inside the IV bag was almost entirely run out.

“Oh, you are awake?”

The beautiful voice belonged to the beautiful looking nurse who stood at the next bed, taking the temperature of the patient- an old man who looked so haggard that it was hard to think that he was still alive.

“Don’t worry. You are completely fine, the doctor had said. Mere exhaustion has made you pass out,” she added with a pleasant smile.

The young female nurse was the most beautiful thing Samuel had seen in a long time. But his mind was not on her beauty, neither was it on the fact that he was in a hospital.

“Where is my grocery bag?” he said the first thing that came to his mind, in fact the only thing that his mind was pre-occupied with at the moment.

The nurse frowned but realized that he alluded to the bag of goodies which she had kept on the small bedside table on the other side. Informed of this, Samuel turned his head t and was reassured by the sight of the white bag in which was the rice and the potatoes and the cucumber. The table was the steel kind found in most small hospitals and clinics- the one with two drawers and quite a bit of rust- always the rust.

After checking the old man’s temperature the nurse came over to Samuel’s bed. Detaching the IV tube from his vein, she said, “I will come around in another hour or so. Don’t worry. You just get some rest. You are going to feel completely fine by the morning, the doctor had said.”

And like a ghost or a mirage that he had seen in the midst of a particularly harrowing passage, the nurse passed out of his view.

He was going to feel completely alright by the morning, she had said.

Well, he was feeling pretty good already, except for a faint grogginess. No sensation of a thousand cockroaches crawling inside his stomach disturbed him anymore.

Though he would have very much liked to be out of the clinic and in a bus now- one that took him far far away from here.

But the grogginess had his eyes droop on their own and within a few minutes he fell asleep again.

**

He was brought awake by the hissing of a snake.

He had seen a snake while working in the farm the other day- a shiny black cobra a couple of feet long which couldn’t be killed since it flittered out of his view almost as soon as it came into it.

How did the snake manage to follow me all the way here, to this clinic? he thought rather drowsily as he slowly came out of the sleep. Still not completely in control of his actions, he was shaking a hand to ward off the snake when his eyes fell on the spectacle of the snake extending like a most elastic band of rubber, its forked tongue out, it’s hissing the sound of all the hatred in the world, it’s eyes the blazing red of hellfire.

But in each attempt the snake fell short of its objective of biting him. It turned out that it simply wasn’t long enough- or rather it couldn’t quite reach him from within the drawer of the table to which its tail end seemed to be apparently attached.

In other words, the snake was acting like a dog tied to a pole than a snake.

But that’s not to say that it didn’t put the fear of god in the now-completely-awake Samuel. Also, it felt to Samuel as though with each attempt, the sanke’s tongue came closer and closer to his cheek.

Hardly could he get a grip on what was happening with the snake before the second drawer in the table came open.

From within came a low rumble- like something was being rolled on the steel floor of the drawer. Whatever rolled came to a halt soon enough with a low thud.

Suddenly laugher began to rise from the drawer- low, menacing and downright rude, and as Samuel’s eyes widened(more than before) he saw the SI’s decapitated head peering at him, laughing like crazy.

No, no, it can’t be! I didn’t cut his head off. I simply chocked him to death! thought Samuel.

But such logic didn’t have much value in the world of Samuel’s paranoia since the SI’s face went on laughing, and laughing and laughing as the snake continued its attempts at shooting some venom into Samuel’s veins.

In Samuel’s mind he saw one more thing: The old man on the bed next to him. Only, in his mind, the man was already dead. But that simple detail wasn’t keeping the man from walking.

And he walked towards Samuel’s bed, his eyes unblinking, his skin cold and his bones rigid in the clasp of death. The man kept repeating the same thing, “Come with me. Let’s go and meet death. Come with me. Let’s go and meet death. Come with me..”like a broken old record.

Samuel came awake from his sleep, bathed in sweat. There was no dead man walking in the ward- in fact, the old man was asleep, snoring almost as loudly as the chubby woman who was his daughter and night-attendant. Neither was there any hissing snake or talking decapitated head, of course.

But not to Samuel’s mind. In Samuel’s mind all these things were as real as the fact that his heart was still beating(in fact, much louder than usual). It was with much effort of will that he went close enough to the table to grab the bag of groceries before he left the ward.

The sole nurse in the nurse’s station was busy Watsapping her boyfriend when Samuel passed the station by. And as for the attendant at the counter out front- dead was a word that was created solely to describe his sleep or so it seemed.

Samuel hadn’t had to walk far from the clinic to find an autorikshaw. From the deserted roads and the closed shops he could make out that it was well into the night. But he didn’t board the autorikshaw- oh, no, for someone in his station of life, it was just aluxury.

Instead, he merely asked the autorikshaw driver for directions to the bus station.

He was most grateful to learn that the bus station was just a 10 minute walk away.

**

The station may have been just 10 minutes away but for Samuel it felt more than that- what with constantly having to fight the snakes which kept threatening to bite him from the side of the road, not to mention the incessant laughter that rose from a thousand decapitated heads- all belonging to one man, the SI he (accidentally) killed and all of which were lying around on the empty field beyond the edge of the road.

Indeed, by the time he reached the bus station, Samuel was panting hard and physical exertion was least of the reasons. The fact was that the snakes and the laughing heads  put a fear so deep in his mind that it was worse than any of the previous fears that he had experienced.

He found a bus which went quite a distance but the problem was that it went via Pudukottai and Nanchapakkam.

After just a moment of reflection, Samuel decided that it’s worth the risk and got on. The fact was that he just wanted to be out of the station as fast as possible.

He feared that the clinic authorities would be chasing him: he left without paying, didn’t he?

For the first time in many years, Samuel felt tears rising to his eyes.

He felt lonely, lonely and afraid. He wished his mother were still alive. And he knew that she would have been had not the bird appeared. That wretched bird..

**

Samuel never knew who his farther was. Whenever he asked, his mother would point to the gooseberry tree which stood at one end of the small lawn of the hut and say, “I got you from that tree. You were born inside one of the leaves. And when you became so big that your weight became too much for the leaf to bear, the tree’s branch lowered and put you gently on the ground. And come morning I woke up to the sound of a baby’s cries. Coming out of the hut, walking to the gooseberry tree, what did I see but the most beautiful baby boy ever to be born!” And his mother would laugh, happy at her own story. And Samuel would laugh with her, gladdened by his mother’s sound of happiness.

His mother took care of him by working in the kitchens of various landlords in his village(and if rumours were to be believed, by being their bed mates on particularly cold nights).

By the time Samuel turned 12 he deiced that the more ‘manly’ way was to drop out of school and help his mother run the house by finding some work for himself. That was how he became a construction worker. By the age of 14, he had quite a decent experience working in many sites- from one storeyed houses to skyscrapers in different towns and cities.

It was also when he was 14 that his mother died.

He was at a construction site at the time- this one in his own village, a three-storied house for an NRI. It was lunch break and all the workers were resting after enjoying a tummy-filling fare. There were two others around Samuel’s own age and not surprisingly, these three bonded rather well with each other.

It was one of these youngsters who noticed the mynah bird first. The blue crested bird sat on the stump of a tree that was felled for the purpose of building the house. It sat still like its sole intention was to sun itself.

One of the boys started throwing small stones at it playfully. The first, the second and the third stone missed- the bird was more than a 200 feet away from them. Claiming his friend’s aim to be clumsy, the second boy jabbed him.

“If your aim is so precious, then why don’t you make the throw!” said the former.

The second boy’s tries too failed but when he raised a stone the third time, Samuel-who has been a mere spectator all this while said, “It’s just a bird. Why do you want to bother that poor bird?”

“Look at him. He talks as though it were his own mother whom I throw stones at!” the second boy laughed as he released the third stone.

But that too missed, far off the mark.

The fourth stone, he took from among the mica that was gathered for the construction purpose. “If this stone hits the bird, the bird will die, Samuel!” he said, “Or if I miss, it will be your mother who die!” He laughed.

The stone came closest to the bird among all the stones that were released with the intention of hitting it so far. But it still missed. The fact that during all the time, the bird didn’t so much as flinch-let alone fly off amazed the three boys.

None of them thought about the bird once they started work again in the afternoon.

But Samuel was to later learn that the time of the bird’s appearance corresponded to the time at which a bus- a town bus hit his mother from behind when she was walking home from the market after having brought some groceries and rice.

The fact that such random connections could exist in the universe, at first fascinated and then frightened Samuel. In his mind, the simple facts that people never floated off the surface of the earth or that the sun never came close enough to burn everything on the planet were not simple facts anymore- they were alterable properties of a world in which anything, and literally anything were possible. Particularly of a catastrophic kind.

The sky may well fall down while you are asleep, the goat that belongs to you may have become a monster by the time you wake up and the sea may come and take the city away for good. All these things could happen.

Maybe a bird would appear as a sign. Or maybe it won’t.

At first the paranoia was a creeping sensation- more apprehension than paranoia, really- an abstract fear of something that he couldn’t yet define. And then, slowly, the abstract fears began to take solid forms.

A ton of bricks falling on to someone’s head at a construction site, someone falling like a ton of bricks to his death in a construction site, the wrecking ball coming in the wrong direction while they were trying to tear down a building- all these were fears that arose with the force of convictions in his mind.

The real trouble began when he started preventing these catastrophes from happening. The consequences ranged from lost manhours to utter confusion among the workers.

Before long word spread that Samuel was unfit as a construction worker.

Before they could fire him though, Samuel left on his own volition- the pressure was just too much. Construction was one business in which a multitude of things could go wrong and which would cause injuries or worse in people- hardly the kind of business in which someone who recently discovered how much random principles are involved in the functioning of the world could dabble in.

So Samuel opted for something a little less exciting-like working in a restaurant’s kitchen.

On the face of it, washing plates day in and day out wouldn’t strike one as the most dangerous- or exciting-of jobs in the world. But in the restaurant where Samuel got the work, he wasn’t only required to wash the plates, he also had to carry the washed lots and place them in a stack on a counter.

That’s possibly how it works in most restaurants but that’s beside the point.

The point is that to reach the counter,Samuel had to walk by huge cauldrons of boiling curries.

Whenever he did that, he maneuvered himself like he were walking through a land filled with mines. A simple slip and he could end up in a cauldron. In his mind, he saw himself, his face a pulp with the boiling heat, standing up from a cauldron, screaming with agony and pain like someone who has been subject to the most horrendous punishment in hell.

No, he couldn’t sustain there for long.

He was just 15 at this time.

A series of oddjobs which didn’t lead anywhere ensued, and job after job, he experienced fears the kind of which he had never even imagined in his existence before the fateful appearance of the mynah bird at the construction site.

To cut a long story short, it wasn’t long before people in his village started realizing that giving him a job was more trouble than its worth. And Samuel, for his part didn’t do anything to change that opinion. Not that he didn’t try, just that by this time his mind was like a different living being in its own right- having whims and fancies of its own, not to mention convictions.

And Samuel’s interferences to control it were not at all welcomedby his mind.

 

(Cleared till here.)

 

So from a laborer who got by thanks to oddjobs, he became a charity case- someone to whom restaurants in the village would give leftovers and passersby the occasional coin. (It was with no amount of small pain that Samuel accepted the few rupees that the very friend who started throwing stones at the bird on that fateful day gave him one day when he found Samuel seated in the village square with a lost look in his eyes.)

However, mired though his mind was in the muck of paranoia, there was still dignity left in him. And when taunts of being a ‘fool’ or ‘no-good crazy’ began to be directed at him, he thought it best to move away. The hut where he used to stay with his mother was reclaimed by the landlord who gave it to some other tenant- someone who could pay for it.

And as for the few relatives he had in the village, none of them was exactly grateful for the opportunity to take in a bastard child whose mind was unmoored.

In other words, there was nothing to moore him to the place.

But now when he sat in the bus that was taking him away from his latest hope, how he wished that there was something to which he could go back in the village- how he wished he didn’t have to leave the village, to be here, alone and pursued by snakes and laughing heads.

A bump in the road made the bus jerk but it was Samuel’s heart which leaped higher than the bus. The fact that he sat in the last seat- the one closest to the door, so that he could get out in the event of an ‘emergency’ meant that he was flung higher by the bump than anyone else.

Right around the same moment as his buttocks reclaimed their position on the not-so-well-cushioned seat there came the harsh glare of the headlights of a bus coming from the opposite direction. The accompanying loud honking made Samuel feel as if that bus was laughing as it rushed to annihilate the bus which he sat in.

Indeed, mere centimeters separated them as the two buses passed each other by. The fact that the driver of Samuel’s bus was as surprised by the rash driving of the other bus’ driver- one of those fancy tourist buses , it had a cheeta’s picture on the side, was made clear when he, after expertly maneuvering  the bus out of danger,cursed loud enough for everyone in the bus to hear the words. Tamil is one of the most lyrical languages you can hope to come across but there was nothing lyrical about the words which came out of the driver’s mouth after they were jarred out of their sleep. (And some of the passengers, before knowing what was happening, cursed the driver’s poor driving skills for breaking their sleep so rudely).

As for Samuel, his attention was not on the cursing-from the driver or the passengers. His mind was caught up in two ‘facts’:

Fact number one: The bus jumped as if it hit a bump- it was the police trying to break the bus’ progress with the aid of some explosives. Somehow, it misfired and the next attempt was for them to have another bus ram into this one. The other day, Samuel had heard someone speak at the farm about terrorists killing people in one of the Gulf nations by blowing themselves up- the person who said it had a son who was working in the Gulf and he was worried for him.

Which brings us to the second ‘fact’ that Samuel had realized:

There are people who are willing to put their lives at risk for killing others. In this case, the police just wants to kill him-Samuel. He has killed a police officer and now they seek blood for blood. And they have found someone willing to drive a bus into this one, killing himself and a lot of other people in the process- all so that they could get to him!

Samuel saw the other passengers in the bus lying in pools of blood, some stuck beneath the overturned bus. Yes, that’s what will happen when the next bus came ramming into this one- for surely it would be foolish to think that the police would give up so easily?

“Stop! Stop!” standing up, he shouted at the top of his lungs. If there was anyone still asleep, it was sure that even the last of them would have been woken by Samuel’s hoarse and scared voice.

The conductor, frowning, told him that the next bus stop was still a while ahead but Samuel wouldn’t hear any of that. “I want to get out now! Stop! Stop now or I will jump!”

“Okay, okay, no need to lose your cool!” said the conductor. Blowing a whistle he had the driver bring the bus to a stop.

Samuel didn’t waste any time getting off the bus, but as the bus was leaving he could hear the driver saying in a loud voice, “Arrogant drunk fool!”

Even though he heard the words clearly enough he didn’t feel bad about it. In fact, now that he was out of the bus, he felt considerably better, so much so that he found a thin smile spreading across his face.

Not that there was anyone around to see it. In fact, there was no house in view though to his left he could see a small aluminium roofed shed within which was a small shrine illuminated by a lone light bulb. The Shiva linga above which spread a multi-hooded snake looked stark in the light- devoid of any sanctity, or so it looked like to Samuel.

But he was still attracted by it- though a Christian, he has been influenced by the numerous traditions of the Hindu religion which was the most prominent religion in his village.Growing up, he would heard the numerous myths surrounding the different deities and  he always got a kick attending the many Hindu festivals that were celebrated in the temples. At least, he used to before the worry that the fireworks which blossomed in the sky would fall to the ground and burn him necessitated him to stay away from such proceedings.

The Shivlinga will protect me from the snakes, thinking thus, he moved towards the small shrine. It was only when he reached the shrine that he realized there was a small watery pool nearby which glittered in the moonlight.

A wind blew and the palm trees which stood on the opposite side of the road swayed. The sky became brighter by the minute, the coming of dawn was not far.

Samuel felt altogether charmed by the surroundings- after having gone through a few hours in the past devoid of any peace, he was beginning to feel that life was finally giving him a break.

And the reason for that is that I have stopped running! he thought.

Sitting on the shore of the pool, he thought how unsuited he was to be a man on the run. He has seen many movies with heroes being people who did something bad and turning into a man on the run from the law. The hero would always have one adventure after the other, thrilling the audience on the way as he stayed one step ahead of the cops who chased him.

But not me, I am not having any adventure, he thought miserably. I am just running like a headless chicken, making a fool of myself, giving people even more reason to call me a weirdo. And I am getting worried about everything. It cannot be more than a few hours since I killed the police officer. And already I have been worried sick by hissing snakes, laughing heads and vehicles crashing, not to mention cockroaches crawling around inside my tummy.

Now that his mind was calm(er), he could see that most of the horrors that he experienced in the last few hours have been illusions- illusions so solid they looked real but illusions nonetheless.

And it made him so sad to know that he was still in the grip of his mind’s fancies. In the past few months-since he has reached Nanchappally, things have quieted down a bit, except for a couple of episodes like the one with that harlot-ghost. So he had finally dared to imagine that he was getting better.

But if there was one thing that he had learned in the past few hours, it was that he was definitely not getting better.

“I won’t run anymore!” he declared to the winds, to the water that rippled in the pool and to the stray dogs which howled at his voice. “The more I run, the more things I would be scared of. At least, in prison I know that I would have to fear only the windowless cell, the rats that would eat my flesh and the bed of nails on which they will make me lie down. Only those would I have to fear, yes! But out here in the free world, I would never know what horrors await me. Yes, it’s better that a person like me goes to prison than remain free. Maybe it’s god’s way of showing me the path- the path towards freedom from my fears- by incarcerating me in prison where I won’t have to worry about many fears!”

Looking up at the brightening sky, he said, “Thank you god!”

Samuel would have liked to jump up and down and give a whoop of glee, only he felt awfully tired.

I would rest for a while, then I would walk all the way to Nanchappally. Looking to his right, he saw the outlines of an old fort looming up against the sky- the Thirumayam fort. Yes, he has passed by this way before. If he walked he would reach Nanchappally in a hour- an hour and a half tops.

Yes, come morning, I would walk to the police station and give myself up!

Using the bag of groceries as a pillow he lied down on the shore of the pool and dreamed of stars floating down from the sky and entering his eyes, singing him lullabies, just as his mother used to do when he was a little baby.

**

“Oh, hurry up!”

Samuel was brought out of his sleep rather rudely by the sound of someone talking loudly.

Opening his eyes, he sat up, and the first thing he thought was that the cops have tracked him down.

But looking up he saw that it was a bunch of Ayyappans- those on the way to Sabarimala who were using the pool to take a bath. There were a dozen of them, and the small tempo traveler in which they rode was parked on the side of the road just beyond the shiv linga shrine.

The dawn hasn’t aged much but the heat already rose off the floor. Standing up, Samuel took one last look at the beautiful surroundings- the pool and the fort and the palm trees which looked majestic-proudly holding their heads high in an open landscape which stretched as far as the eye could see.

And when he turned his face to his left he saw one of the ayyapans taking a dump behind some shrubs.

That sight decided for him that it was time for him to give himself up to the cops. “Start walking,” he muttered to himself, picking the bag of rice, potatoes and cucumber from the ground, “before you start fearing that some ayyappan’s shit is going to come after you, seeking blood.”

**

Samuel could have had some breakfast- he did have more than enough money in his wallet, and he did feel hungry-having thrown up most of his supper last night. But on the other hand, he didn’t wish to risk cockroaches crawling up the inside wall of his stomach.

‘And I just want to get this over with’, he muttered to himself, His voice felt different, now that the usual panic was transplanted with a stoicism- an acceptance that he was rather screwed up and  has come to the end of the line.

By the time he reached Nanchappakkam the sun was beating down hard on anything moving and unmoving on the earth, and damn anyone who happened to be caught out in its harsh glare!  Samuel didn’t know anything about the idea of global warming, and had he known it would have only become one more factor in the big mad equation of worry which has been his life.

As it was, he took the harshness of the sun’s rays like a blessing, accepting the unseemly amount of sweat that emitted from the pores of his body to be a an final anointing of freedom before he was put away in the darkness of a cell.

Indeed he walked around the town square a couple of times so that he could take in the major establishments of the small town- the municipality building,  the bank complex(having HDFC and ICICI banks in the same building) and the electricity board building which was the haven of all the stray dogs during the night. Almost none of the shops were open at this time except for a few small shacks that sold tea and snacks.

He would have liked to go all the way to Panchappan’s farm and take one last look at his handiwork- a few acres of tilled land, most of which he himself tilled, a land lying ready to accept seeds in its bosom. But the fact was that he was getting tired, exhausted to a point that he feared that if he prolonged his surrender any longer, he wouldn’t be able to do it at all, falling down on the side of the road in a dizzy spell.

And then, what would happen? A truck or a bus might run him over- his body may get spilt in two in the process, and crows would begin to nibble-

No! he told himself. Don’t go down that lane. Just walk straight to the police station now.

Samuel knew where the police station was. He had to take the narrow path that started from exactly opposite to Prakashan’s grocery and go down that path all the way till the second intersection. From there he would have to turn left and he could find the police station just around the corner.

Altogether a 10 minute walk.

**

It took Samuel more than 15 minutes to reach the second intersection.

Before he turned the corner, the closer he got to the police station he began to imagine what sort of welcome they would give him- everything from a 100 feet tall monster ready to knuckle him to dust to a swarm of policemen bearing clubs giving him a good thrashing ran through his mind.

With every such imagining, the impetus to run away began to build.

But he kept reminding himself how the outside world was filled with so many fears that he wouldn’t even begin to imagine them, and how once he had surrendered himself to the police he would be completely free of such fears.

‘Keep walking,keep walking,’ he muttered to himself.

Listening to his own voice he missed the other sound until he had turned the corner that brought him in view of the police station- a tile-roofed white painted  building with a blue arch up front which stated that it was a police station.

And just in front of the arch was the source of the other sound- two full grown cocks, the feathers on their body starched to their fullest, croaking, croaking at the top of their voice as though they were challenging anything that came their way.

The sight of the cocks brought Samuel to a halt. He remembered that there was a poultry farm next to the police station.

So, the cocks must have escaped from there, his mind- or rather the logical part of it told him.

But the rest of his mind was in no mood to listen to such logical arguments.

Samuel stood just a few feet away from the arch that would gain him entrance to the police station  premises but would he dare cross those cocks!

“No! How can I!” yelled Samuel as his mind went into over-drive.

In his mind, he saw the cocks rising in size the more he got closer to them. They would eventually become the size of a two storied house and he would be just a tiny dot to them- one which they both would share for food. He saw clearly in his mind, as if it were happening right in front of his eyes, the two cocks ripping him apart, one end of his body clutched between their beaks. He saw his entrails falling to the ground. Cops would trample over those- crushing his intestines under their boots- now that he was already dead, they would need something to take revenge on!

No!No! muttered Samuel. These cocks are not from the paultry farm. These birds came from the same place where that mynah bird came from all those years ago, another emissary of death.

But I don’t want to die! Shaking his head, he took a couple of steps back. Incarceration is one thing but death is another!

No, I don’t want to die!

Turning around on his heels, without giving either of the cocks the chance to grow big enough to devour him, Samuel began to ran, one hand clutched around the handle of the grocery bag-though he had all but forgotten about it.

He ran, without looking back, panting hard, screaming “Don’t die!” in his mind. He ran all the way to the bus station without stopping. He was panting hard and at the back of his mind he still had the idea of his bus meeting an accident.

So he ran out of the bus station. People looked at him, some recognized him, called out, “Hey, it’s Samuel, someone catch him!”

But no one did, for the alleyways of the old town were many and no one saw where he disappeared to. And no one knew of the resolution that Samuel took as he ran away from the small town for the last time:“The birds are the emissaries of death. And I must kill as many of them as I could. The more the number of birds that I kill, the more free of fear I would be. Yes, the freer I would be!”

**

A couple of years later a small news item appeared in a local newspaper in Hosur in Tamiul Nadu- a small town which bordered Karnataka.

It spoke about the mysterious appearance of bird carcasses on the roads in a large number. The initial speculation was that some unknown disease was killing off the birds.This even spread panic among the people, making them abstain from eating chicken for a while.

However, closer inspection of the carcasses showed that the birds-crows, hens, mynahs and anything that may appear in the vicinity- were all killed either by smashing their heads in with a rock(or something) or by repeated stabbing with a (possibly blunt) knife.

The report also mentioned how such killings have been reported in a few other Tamil towns in the previous months.

Many people who read the news item said the same thing: “Who is this foolish ass who goes about destroying those poor birds! As if the cruelty that man does to man isn’t enough!”

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