There, that’s my dad! No, not the pot-bellied one with the face of a Wlarus, but the one to the right- the tall and handsome one, he who is presently being beat by the hero. Yes, the one in the red T-shirt whom the hero now repeatedly beats- as if the hero(by no means as handsome as my dad) were a hammer and my father a nail.
Not that this scene in the movie is comical. Not by a long shot. It’s the climax where the hero must beat all the villains’ goons(my dad being one of them) before he can finally make off with the girl of his dreams.
Oooh, that looks like it hurt!,. Dad always say that all such dishoom-dishoom scenes are fake to the core and the hero’s palm barely even touches his body. Even so sometimes I can’t help but wince at the scowl of pain on his face.
You know what that means, don’t you? That means that daddy is a terrific actor-someone who is able to convince even me- to whom he tells that all these actions are fake a million times-of the reality of what’s going on. If you were to ask me, I would say that daddy is hands down the best actor that Kerala has ever seen- better than Dulqar Salman or his father, or Mohanlal or Fahad Fazil.
But of course, no one asks such things of an 8 year old! 8 year olds are told how cute they are, but the unspoken rule seems to be that we should keep our cute little mouths shut all the time. Unless it’s to recite a lesson. Harumph!
Santhosh walked into the house to find his son watching the television.
“Arnie! Look what I got for you!”
He found the stuffed toy at a streetside vendor’s. He was riding back home from the studio and found a man- North Indian by the looks of him, selling a host of stuffed toys- from Mickey Mouse to Chotta Bheem to this little tailed creature that was the star of Arnold’s current favourite cartoon series. Santhosh would often watch the cartoon together with his son- he had no qualms about such things, indeed he loved every second that he spent with his son.
But for the life of him, he could never recall the name of the character, or the series for that matter.
“This, this..” he fumbled, failing to bring the name to his mind, pulling the toy out of the plastic bag.
“Jorak!” shouted Arnold and flinging the remote control away(only if he was truly excited would he do something like that) the boy ran to him. Taking the toy- which was half the boy’s size, he hugged Santhosh.
“Thank you, daddy, thank you so much! Thank you thank you!” Arnold began jumping up and down.
“Now, what was the need to buy him another of these toys? You know very well that there are more than enough of these lying around here which he barely uses!” That was Kanaka, Arnold’s mother, doing the motherly chore of subduing the joy levels a bit- apparently, all mothers are superstitious that too much happiness would be followed by a tragedy.
But Kanaka was smiling inside, glad to see her husband safe and sound. Though Santhosh always tells her that nothing bad would come to him(“The power of the Lord Shiva being always with me”), not until he returned home from a shoot without injuries(at least, nothing serious) would she breathe freely again.
Being a stuntman’s wife wasn’t easy.
The three of them- the father, the mother and their only child saw the news together. It was the custom for the family to be in front of the television while they had dinner.
This night, dinner included chappathis and fried chicken. Arnold loved fried chicken, especially when it was made by his mother.
But even he stopped chewing when the news about the accident came up, a half-chewed piece of chicken leg held in his little hand.
There was an accident at a shooting site. Two stuntmen drowned to their death. They had to jump off a helicopter to a lake. A boat was kept at the ready to scoop them out of the water. However, when the time came the boat’s motor malfunctioned.
Even though the producers of the movie tried to keep the incident under wraps someone managed to upload the shot of the two jumping into the water(and their subsequent non-resurfacing) on Youtube. The video went viral and all major news media houses picked it up.
“Neither of the two stuntmen knew how to swim- something the producers of the movie knew only too well. The lack of safety precautions in the shooting site was nothing less than alarming,” the news reader- a young woman whose facial skin was so smooth that she appeared more like an animated character than a real person spoke with emotion. “Media personnel from across the nation have expressed their alarm and condemned the incident.”
Santhosh thought that the bit about ‘from across the nation’ was an exaggeration- after all, this was a Malayalam film they were talking about, and not a big budget venture at that. But he was delighted to see his assumption getting toppled when the news channels showed actors including Akshay Kumar and Aamir Khan giving a piece of their mind to the Malayali producers who wouldn’t take care of their own stuntmen.
A few minutes later, Santhosh’ phone began to rang. It was the first of the calls that were to come to him that night- from colleagues who were all shocked by the incident. And it was only from one of those calls that Santhosh learned that one of the dead stuntmen was someone he knew. More than a decade younger to him, he was a 25 year old who was going to get married in the coming month.
“What bloody life!” Santhosh muttered in bed that night. Kanaka hugged him tighter as little Arnold lied asleep between them, a thumb stuck in his mouth.
Santhosh attended his acquaintance’s funeral the next day. Even though Arnold insisted that he be taken along, Santhosh declined since it was a school day. “Also, it’s quite far, Arnie-more than three hours one way. You will only get tired!”
He was still sad to leave seeing Arnold’s droopy eyed face- he hated to see his son sad.
The kid was just about the only good thing that has happened to him in a long time.
He still remembered the days of his youth when he dreamed about becoming a lead actor in the movies, his face gracing the posters and billboards that would be seen all over the state. Not that he has given up all hopes for that yet- his was too romantic a mind to give up on dreams so easily.
But in some part of his mind, he was only too aware of the fact that he may very well end up living the life of a stuntman for the rest of his life. He got his first break in the films as a stunt actor- a break that he got thanks to one of the Executive Producers he approached seeking a major role.
The Executive Producer had said that a stuntman’s salary may not be great but it’s a great way to get into the industry and build some much needed contacts. “And once you make it big, it will be a story to tell! The story of the rise from getting beat by the hero to being the hero!” the man had said with a laugh, slapping Santhosh on the back.
“Some hero I have become!” muttered Santhosh as he maneuvered a curve on his Royal Enfield- a vehicle he had contemplated selling multiple times when he was cash strapped.
He eyed the needle slowly inching past the 75 mark. The numbers of the speedometer reminded him of the years that were passing by. He celebrated his 36th birthday last month, and Arnold was already 8 years old! Education was a major expense and even though the kid was just in the second standard now, Santhosh had got a good taste of the kind of expenses involved already.
“God only knows how I am going to manage things going forward if things are already so hard!” It was his habit to say aloud words that he wouldn’t speak when at home, while he was on his bike. There was something about the feel of the wind on your skin which makes it easy to say such words, as though the wind would carry them away, and along with them the worries which were attached to them.
He watched as the needle slowly inched across the 80 mark. There was a thrill in riding so fast- a thrill which he picked up after becoming a stuntman, a thrill which he often thought of in the same league as getting pitch drunk- something you enjoyed but rarely talked about.
But seeing the curving roads ahead of him, he slowed down. He was going to a funeral but he didn’t want his own anytime soon.
He had his dear boy to think about.
“But…but…I don’t know what to say, really, except that it’s jinxed. Please don’t take the offer up!”
Santhosh met Kanaka for the first time at a movie set. She was one of the extra-dancers in a film in which Santhosh worked. The scene was a skirmish between the hero- a young dude with a lot of money and a bunch of villains in a club. There was a song and dance routine going on in the backdrop and more than the hero’s fake punches, what felt more-way more to Santhosh was the beautiful face of the dancer.
Kanaka had finished her degree before she began trying her luck in the film industry for good. The degree was something that her parents insisted.
But notwithstanding a B Sc. in Biology, she could be completely superstitious about certain things, like her utter conviction that the film the shooting of which had already caused the death of two stuntmen was jinxed.
Santhosh had expected her to respond like this when he told her about the call that he got. “But it’s just a one day shoot, baby. And they are going to pay me extra for doing it!”
“I am sure they must have offered the same money to the ones who died as well!” said Kanaka, her face like that of a child who has just been told that her favourite aunty was going to go away for a long time.
Moving closer to her, Santhosh raised her chin slowly with the tip of his fingers. “But I know how to swim,” he said and before she could say anything, he added, “Also, they have ensured that the safety measures would be pukka this time.”
“All that probably means is that they would have a different boat this time!”
Kanaka kept opposing him in this vein but eventually, Santhosh ran out of patience and said, “You do know that we are already overdue on paying Arnie’s school fee for the next month. The paint on the ceiling is flaking at different places around the house. We need to replace the water tank, and the bathroom outside is in danger of tumbling down any moment- these are all things that we need to fix.” Cupping her face between his palms, he added, “Honey, we need all the money that we can get! Can’t you see that?”
The way in which her eyes brimmed with tears told him that she did see his point. Leaning her head on his chest, she said, “But I don’t want to lose you!”
Santhosh couldn’t help but chuckle at what he took to be her silliness. “I am going to be fine, you will see!”
Mommy was very tense today. I could tell because she prayed in front of the Lord Ganesha picture at least five times . She even went to the temple in the morning though there is nothing special about the day-just another regular Sunday. She doesn’t do such things unless she is really really worried about something.
Though she hasn’t told me about it, I know exactly what she is worried about. It’s because dad has gone to shoot for that movie- the one in which the two people died.
But I think that she shouldn’t worry.(Of course, I wouldn’t tell her that. If I told her that, she would simply say that little kids don’t know anything about anything). The way I see it, dad went for the shoot because he is brave, because he is a true superhero.
I know that father would one day act in a Superhero movie, though in Malayalam there hasn’t been a Superhero movie yet- like Batman. Maybe dad’s would be the first Superhero film in Kerala!
Anyway, that’s all in the future. As of now, I think that mother should stop worrying so much. Dad would be back in the morning, just as he promised, she will see!
“They paid me even more than what they promised!” The expression on Santhosh’ face matched the exuberance in his voice.
To celebrate, he proposed a picnic to the Alleppey beach. “There’s a memu that leaves at 12:30 in the afternoon. If we board, we would reach the beach by 4 easily!”
“What, today? But you may be tired. And what about Arnie? It is a school day, you know!”
Instead of addressing his wife, Santhosh looked at Arnie instead. “Arnie, do you mind not going to the school today?”
Arnie didn’t even bother answering. He just started laughing gleefully.
Turning to Kanaka, Santhosh said, “ I think that’s the answer right there.”
The old broken down pier at the Alleppey beach looked older than ever to Santhosh. “God, I can’t remember when we came here last!” It was one of his- and Kanaka’s favorite picnic spots and the couple used to come here a lot- sitting on the white sands, their eyes on the setting sun, they would dream together about the day Santhosh became a superstar.
But those days were long gone, as though with the passing of years, the dream too has begun to wither.
“Arnie, you want an ice-cream?” The question, of course was rhetorical since Santhosh already knew the answer. But when he asked Arnie to stay with his mother and give her company “while I quickly somersault my way down to the ice-cream shop and tumble everything there down- just like they show in the movies” Arnie said he would also want to join.
This being a weekday, the beach was all but deserted. But Santhosh’s eyes had seen a few youngsters at the far edge of the beach as they came in. From the loud talk and the uncontrolled giggles, it was pretty clear that they were drunk.
Even so it’s unlikely that they would taunt a woman sitting on the beach all alone just because they were drunk.
But when it comes to matters like this, a husband rarely liked to take risks. A woman with her son presents a different picture from a woman all alone.
“You want to come along?” Santhosh asked his wife.
Kanaka looked back towards the lone ice cream shop beyond the beach- a distance that could easily be covered in less than three minutes. But she wasn’t feeling like taking that walk. She was all too comfortable cushioned by the sand and feeling the see breeze on her face.
Santhosh could see that she was enjoying herself being in the outdoors. He felt a short but sharp burst of regret pass through his heart- regret that he was unable to give her more such experiences- this, a beach three hours away from home was the extent that he could manage.
“I will stay here,” she said. “My two men just go for the ice-cream and be back soon!”
“Would you like one too?”
So, Kanaka’s two men went to the ice-cream store, Santhosh racing his son and letting him win.
He brought Vanilla flavor for both his son and his wife and a strawberry for himself. It was only after he had brought the ice creams and paid that Arnie pointed out that someone seemed to be talking to mom.
The someone turned out to be one of the drunk youngsters. He was crouched down beside Kanaka, who was slowly getting up. Santhosh ran, lifting his son off the ground and carrying him.
By the time they reached near Kanaka, there were four of the youngsters.
“What’s happening?” Santhosh enquired of his wife. He could see that the earlier happiness had disappeared from her face, and was replaced by a frown, the kind of frown she gave when something stank.
But before Kanaka could make a reply, one of the youths- a chap with a black band around his wrist and a matching black necklace- seemingly made of painted fake pearls said, “So, this is not a lonely damsel, my friends!”
Even though he was addressing his friends, he still looked at Kanaka. And the way he was looking at her was not something that would meet the approval of anyone brought up on a good dose of chivalrous romantic movies- as was the case with Santhosh.
Even more important, he was her husband.
The young chap’s red rimmed eyes gave Santhosh the impression that there was more than alcohol running behind those eyes.
He put his son down and gently pushed him behind him.
“That’s right, she is not on her own. Now, what was it that you guys wanted to know?” Santhosh kept his voice as much at the level as possible at the same time letting the kins know that if they sought trouble, he had a mind for giving them that.
God only knows that he didn’t want any bad event to mar this evening for either his son or his wife. But if he is pushed, he wouldn’t mind having a fight for real.
“Now, what did we wanted to know?” said the supposed leader of the group- the one with the black band around the wrist. He affected an expression on his face as though he was earnestly thinking. Someone else from the group told him in a voice just above a murmur, “Come on, let’s go!” But the leader of the gang barely listened though he heard it well enough.
And suddenly, as though memory has finally blessed him he exclaimed, snapping his fingers, “Ah, yes, what we wanted to know was this- how much will it cost for a night? We were wondering if there would be a group discount- given how we are four of us!”
There are certain people who are plain malicious by nature, and those who would behave in the direst manner when they are intoxicated but once the effect of whatever substance they had used abated would be the calmest of the sheep. Santhosh wasn’t sure which category the young chap fell in. Neither did he care.
All that mattered was the rush of rage which shot through his veins- a bigger stimulant than any intoxicant. “You bastard!” The cry that rose from his mouth was hoarse yet strong enough to make the youngster take heed of the impending situation in a serious manner.
For no sooner had Santhosh clasped his hands around his throat than the youngster brought a penknife- the kind of which you might find in a curio shop, from out of his back pocket.
By the time his friends managed to pull him away, he had stabbed Santhosh 6 times in and around the chest.
The accompanying sound of the skirmish- not to mention the high pitched scream that rose from Kanaka had brought a few men running to the scene, which in turn made the group of youngsters run away- there was still mad, unreasonable rage throbbing behind the eyes of the youngster who stabbed Santhosh, though now that rage was mixed with a faint apprehension, an apprehension that might transform into a full-fledged panic once the effects of drugs wore off.
“I told you that movie was jinxed!”
Santhosh couldn’t help but laugh upon hearing Kanaka’s words – the very first thing that he heard soon as he came into consciousness.
But the laughing made his chest pain- particularly in the places with the stitches.
The doctor assured him that “even though the assailant had stabled you multiple times, the knife didn’t hurt any of the important organs, partly because the blade itself was rather short. But it’s also divine intervention- if you believe in such things. For chances were high that something would have gone wrong!”
Santhosh thanked Lord Shiva, assuring the God of Kailasa that he would make a pilgrimage of at least three of His major temples in South India in the coming year. Yet, he couldn’t help but think how instead of keeping his vital organs from harm, the God could have actually done a better job by ensuring that the skirmish didn’t happen in the first place- that would have helped him save some medical expense as well, an overhead he certainly could have done without.
Nevertheless, I shouldn’t complain, he thought.
The Lord would surely have something better planned for my future.
And the Lord certainly did have good things in store for him. For one thing, he was discharged from the hospital 5 days before the initial date that the doctor proposed. (“You may feel tired for a few days- even a little dizzy, that’s only natural. So, take some bed rest at home,” the beady eyed young doctor who always smiled as though he were on some drugs himself had said).
Another good news was that in the latest class test, Arnold came out the topper. Anrnold had always got good marks in all the tests ever since kindergarten but this was the first time that he came at the top of the class- and that too a class of 56 kids.
No small matter, by Santhosh’ reckoning, especially given how he was never that good at learning.
But as is the case with God, along with the good news there also seems to be a dose of bad tidings- and as sometimes happened, the bad tidings outweighed the good things.
Even when he was still admitted in the hospital, whenever he walked, Santhosh would feel a little tipsy, as though drunk. When the situation persisted, he spoke about it to the doctor who dismissed it as a rather prolonged effect of losing so much blood. “It will wear off with time!” he had said with that perennial smile of his which was only part assuring.
Santhosh’ apprehensions mounted as the condition persisted even after he came home. And when he struggled performing a stunt scene in his latest project(though it must be said that it was easier to fall under the fake beating of the hero than ever before) he was more than reasonably alarmed.
He thought of going back to the doctor and consulting him about it. But it was Kanaka – who like him had found the doctor’s too assuring smile only partly assuring, who convinced that they ought to visit another doctor- a better one, perhaps one closer to home.
To his credit, this new doctor didn’t smile nearly as much as the first one, though there was an eagerness in his voice to please them, to assure them that things would always be hunky dory no matter how bad they may seem at the present moment.
This eagerness made his voice rise a pitch or two from its natural tone- even when he informed the couple that contrary to what the previous doctor had said, the stabbing did damage something in his body. “Well, partially damaged. A nerve, actually-something that’s impossible to find from an X_ray” the doctor-senior to the first doctor by at least a decade said in his sonorous tone, the implication being the other hospital screwed things up.
“But not to worry, even though the damage- which has affected your sense of balance is irreparable, you can still be functional, as long as you don’t do something arduous everyday.” The doctor even laughed, rubbing the bald patch on his head, as though instead of giving his patient a fair assessment of his medical condition, he just cracked a joke.
They were sitting in the small but neatly arranged consulting room of the doctor- the kind of place where everything seemed to be in its right place, a place that made Santhosh wish that his own life were this well-maintained.
Even though the doctor laughed, he got no response of the kind- not even a small smile from anyone, including the little boy who sat on his father’s lap, looking lost with his wide open eyes.
“You don’t do anything strenuous to make a living, do you?” the doctor said hesitantly after a few seconds.
“My father is a superhero!” the boy, who has remained silent so far said suddenly. When the doctor raised his eyes to the father, the mother clarified the issue: “He works as a stuntman in films.”
“Oh.” That was all that the doctor could manage. That was indeed a problem, he thought.
Daddy wouldn’t be a superhero anymore. Daddy has given up trying. The other day I even heard him decline an offer for a stunt role in another movie.
Mom and dad try to keep such things hidden from me, but I always know. What do they take me for, dumb? Just because I am a kid doesn’t mean I am stupid.
But I am sad. I was so looking forward to going fto the premiere of dad’s superhero film when it came out, wearing a miniature version of the cape that dad wears in the film. The cape would have a mask like that of Krissh but the armor would be more like that of Batman, at least, that’s how it was in my mind.
But sigh! It’s not to happen.
I heard mommy and daddy talk the other night when I was still not yet asleep. Daddy is going to the gulf- at least, he is hoping to. He is trying to find a job there, and also to borrow some money from some of his friends.
On both fronts he has been unsuccessful so far. “When the time comes, you can’t rely on anyone!” that’s what dad said. He said it like how we kids say someone didn’t give us the batting chance as promised while in the playground- with a lot of pain in the voice.
I fell asleep soon after but mom and dad kept talking well into the night- my sleep was disturbed due to their talking.
That’s never a good thing-whenever mommy and dady talk continuously for long. It’s never a good sign.
The godown was at a part of the town that was sparsely populated. To one side was acres of land which was in disuse since there was a legal dispute going on in the court. On the other side was an old government water pump used whenever a minor draught hit the town- as it did plenty of times these days.
The godown itself sat in a couple of acres of land and reeked of rubber. For that’s what the godown was used for- to store pressed rubber sheets before they were taken to different manufacturing units for processing.
Santhosh was surprised when he got the call from the doctor. At first, he had thought that he was being called to relate some more information about his health. Perhaps, he hoped, the doctor had called to say that all the things about the damaged nerve was a mistake- that there was nothing wrong with him at all- the slight limp in his walk would disappear like a common cold, on its own.
But no, the doctor had called about something else- not a bad news either.
“The godown is something that has been in our family for three generations. It’s not big but it is a strain to manage it- more than it is worth, if I may say so- especially given how managing my practice in itself is a huge strain. You wouldn’t believe the dismal doctor to patient ratio in this country-which makes a large number of doctors heart patients! Well, let’s not get into all that. Suffice to say that the security guard I had appointed is doing some foulplay- at least I think so. Rubber sheets have been missing from the godown with regularity, and I am sure that it wouldn’t happen without the guard’s compliance. It’s no big an issue, at least not in the conventional sense. We are talking about a few missing sheets every week- probably some errant youngsters are behind it- those who think the pocket money their parents give isn’t enough.”
The doctor explained all this when Santhosh paid him a visit at his home as requested. He declined the drink that the doctor offered- staying off it since the stabbings. Indeed, he was surprised to find that the doctor was a drinking man-the earnest voiced middle aged man somehow didn’t give the impression that he got his kicks from the bottle.
“Even if it’s youngsters, you shouldn’t under-estimate them, sir!” said Santhosh, slowly rubbing ships shirt above the scars that were still not completely gone.
Nodding appreciatively the doctor explained how he would like to replace the current security guard asap. “I was planning to approach a local security service provider- called Commando Full Force, of all things, can you believe! That’s when I came across you and I was wondering…”
Even before the doctor had brought his proposal to its conclusion Santhosh had made his decision.
When the time comes, you can’t rely on anyone- that’s something he has experienced many times, most recently when he tried to borrow some money from two of his long standing friends, both of whom made excuses as flimsy as the cracked pavement in his lawn.
Now that all hopes of sustaining in the film industry had evaporated there was no other way but to go to the gulf-something that many people had advised him multiple times before but which he had never heeded because, duh, there was no film industry as such in the Gulf!
He was looking for an opportunity as a driver- not of heavy vehicles but a cab or something. And he would need some money even if he did find a job- money that would help him settle down there and also which would help Kanaka and Arnie tide over a few months until he could start sending money in earnest.
So far, luck hasn’t been with him. But he was sure that if he persisted things would turn around. Almost all of his friends from the neighborhood had gone to the gulf- there was no reason why he couldn’t find a job there. It was just a matter of time..
And in that time, the offer that the good doctor made was as good as anything. “There will be no strenuous activities involved, I am sure,” the doctor had said. “There has never been any sign of breaking and entering or anything of that sort. I am assuming that all you would have to do is turn down the youngsters’ offer- whatever that is, when they make it.”
The doctor’s words echoed in his mind as Santhosh sat in the lone wooden cabin adjacent to the godown. The only piece of furniture in the cabin was a small table in the drawer of which Santhosh found a few old porn magazines- belongings that the previous security guard left behind in his haste to vacate, apparently.
It’s been more than a week since Santhosh had joined as the night watchman but he was still waiting for the teens to show up and make him an offer.
The Night Watchman! That could be the name of a superhero.
Dad has joined somewhere as a superhero- I mean, as a night watchman. I am sure that any nasty villain who tries to breach the property would have to face the wrath of the mighty Night Watchman! Harrumph!
The thud brought Santhosh instantly awake. Ever since joining the job more than 10 days ago, this was the first time that he was falling asleep at the job- his resolution to do a proper job, even though the doctor himself had insinuated that he could catch the odd shuteye every now and then(“Only keep the sheets from vanishing!”) he had refused himself that privilege, considering it dishonorable. This was an ethics that he picked from his stunt master from whom he learned the art of cinematic action- a short but stout gentleman who commanded a lot of respect in the industry. “You stay true to the job and the job will take care of you!” was one of his favorite sayings.
The man came up from the lowest ranks- someone who used to fight for local drug gangs in Mumbai. So, Santhosh had tremendous respect for him-indeed, even hoped to become a stuntmaster in the future(if the hero-plan fell through).
But faced with the strain of keeping awake in the night for days on end, his eyelids fell heavily on their own accord.
As he stepped out of the cabin to investigate the source of the thud sound which he distinctly heard, he wondered if someone had been waiting all this time, waiting for him to fall asleep.
As a security guard of Al-Rahman Garage, the only weapon that he was provided with was a one foot club. Feeling it to be inadequate, Santhosh carried with him the khukri kinife which his stunt master had presented him after he successfully finished a one month apprenticeship under him all those years ago when the sky was bluer and the future brighter.
This knife, he unsheathed now when he heard the thud sound for the second time. He was pretty sure that the sound came from the garage’s main shutter. Rising a pen light, he flashed it as he stepped closer to the garage, the night air warm and still, the whole surroundings silent as the grave. Except for the thud which now rose once more, like a hiccup from a corpse- a sign of something not being right.
The shutter remained closed. The only thing that moved in the vicinity was as rat which scurried faster as the light fell on it, disappearing up a small ove that was meant to channel water down to the ground from the roof.
There, that sound again- and this time it became clear to Santhosh that it came from within the garage.
He arrives at the garage before sunset, and he is the one who closes the shutter-after checking the interiors thoroughly. A routine which he followed every day and which he performed this day as well.
So, who could be inside, and how did they get in?
“Well, I am not going to find out by standing here”, he murmered before opening the shutter-which took some 30 seconds but felt so much longer to him.
Once inside the godown, he reached for the switch panel and turned on the mother switch which brought the entire godown into light. Rows after rows of rubber sheets, stacked neatly, these sheets one day would find their way into some household in one form or the other- perhaps as the bud of an eraser on the tail end of a pencil, or maybe around the handle of a pan, or something else entirely.
Walking among the rubber stacks, Santhosh peered closely, expecting someone to pounce at him at any moment(in which case he would definitely get a taste of his khukri). But no one pounced. And except for a couple of more rats he didn’t see any living thing in there, not even after checking the entire godown twice over.
But that was when the thud sound came again-this time rapidly, in short bursts, one after the other-as though they were steps taken by somone walking away. Moving towards the direction of the sound, Santhosh realised that it came from above this time- from the air vent to be more precise. In fact, before that, as he turned around, he thought he saw a tail disappear up the vent- a small hole has been made on it, he noticed. All jagged edges, as though it were made in a haste.
Judging from the size of the tail he though it to be a baracuda-or maybe a racoon, only racoons didn’t exist in this part of the world- they were a permanent fixture in the American cartoons that Arnie watched.
But how could a baracuda- or a racoon, for that matter make away with rubber sheets? He thought. More importantly, why would they need rubber?
Of course, there was no sign that any rubber sheets had been taken this night. But something told him that that might not be the case.
A man in his thirties with all same level of enthusiasm to live which one might see in a 90 year old dying man who once or twice every week to take stock of the rubber sheets. By the doctor’s own account, he was a “silly man who wastes himself away drinking every day” and “someone I feel ashamed to say is related to me.” The exact relation between the two, the doctor never cared to elucidate- neither did Santhosh ask.
The steady swagger in his gait and the perennially bloodshot and bored look in his eyes didn’t make him endearing- and neither would anyone want to know more about him, at least that’s the impression that he had on Santhosh.
But today, Santhosh had come early to the godown precisely because he could talk to the person. He knew this was the day he was going to be in the godown to make the counting and generally “boss around” the workers- something in which he was apparently good at which was why the doctor kept him around.
The man didn’t show any surprise when Santhosh asked him if there has been any oddity in the sheet count. The lack of surprise may have been because of the aweful long time it took him to process certain things in his mind that was liquefied to the point of pointlessness by his alcolohism.
But Santhosh was eager to know the answer and when he all he got was a mere shrug and a quickly pronounced, “The number of stacks remain the same” he wasn’t really impressed by the man’s book-keeping efforts.
“But, what about the number of sheets?”
At this the man laughed- a rare instance of the man giving proof that he was alive and capabe of showing emotions.
“What, did you think that I went about counting each and every sheet of rubber every time I went around in there?” And moving closer to Santhosh, “What, did you actually think that I didn’t have anything better to do?”
As far as Santhosh knew, the man didn’t have anything better to do. The doctor had helped him go to the gulf once but since liquor is as freely available in Dubai as it is in Kerala(in fact, more freely so), the move didn’t have the desired effect of making a man out of the man. The doctor had also told Santhosh about how he made the man his personal driver- a position he held for a mere day since the doctor got a good scare when he appeared at his doorstep, ready to drive him to the hospital, only he was so far gone with drinks that he actually tried to insert the car key into the calling bell switch- which he mistook for the ignition.
But these aspects, Santhosh didn’t bring out into the present conversation. Instead, all he said was, “Okay, sir!” grudging the fact that he had to address something like him as “Sir.”
The man was soon gone and so was the evening. Twilight set in with an alarming rapidity which made Santhosh forget all about the missing rubber sheets and think about the days that were slipping by while he and his family continued to remain in relative poverty- in fact, the situation had deteriorated so much that Kanaka-who had given up her dancing and her own dreams of becoming an actor once Arnold was born, had even started teaching some kids from the neighbourhood to dance so that she could contribute to the finances.
The fact that parents were fiercely competitive when it came to showing off how talented their kids were meant that even from their circle of friends and neighbors, Kanaka already got a decent number of students. But a viable strategy to build a future, it was certainly not.
And the days were passing by with an alarming rapidity, thought Santhosh as he looked up at the sky, after pouring himself a cup of coffee from the flask Kanaka had prepared for him. A sky fast fading towards black, as though the days were in a rush to leave him behind.
After that, it didn’t take long for the day to turn into night.
Santhosh did a complete check of the entire perimeter of the godown twice after sunset. And before shuttering down for the day, he had closed up the hole in the vent-for the time being he had used some unsued planks of woods and duct tapes, having notified the doctor about the need for repair.
He was planning to perform a third round of inspection too-but decided to do that after dinner. Though it wasn’t yet nine, he was pretty much famished, having skipped lunch today- he had to go see someone about raising some cash, the result of which made him lose all appetite at the time.
The tiffin that Kanaka prepared for him was sumptuous- rice, two chappathis, avial, fish curry(sardine) with extra chilies- just the way he liked it, and an omelet. Having finished the meal, he felt an even bigger love for his wife than ever before.
After dinner, he made the third inspection as he had promised himself.
He had just turned a corner around the back of the godown when he heard the noise- not a thud like the last time, more like a gasp, or rather a mix of a gasp and a squeal- which Santhosh found to be even more alarming. For this implied that someone else was definitely within the compound.
His khukhri at the ready, he ran towards the source of the sound, every step making his palpitations stronger but at the same time making his body thrill with the rush of adrenaline. The injuries that he sustained from the attack at the Alleppey beach had gone unavenged. Maybe this was his chance to expend some of the anger that has been carried over.
Santhosh even smiled at the thought.
“Who is there?!” he screamed, the sharp bladed khukri raised in his hand when he came around the corner. His eyes fell on the shutter.
And he gasped.
For a few seconds gasping was all that he could do.
For what he saw was no man but a small creature trying to squeeze its way through the small space between the bottom of the shutter and the floor. And it definitely was no barracuda.
For one thing, it’s entire body was orange in colour- this he saw clearly when, with a shaking hand he shed the illumination from the flashlight on it. The creature was no larger than a football. When the light fell on its body, it managed to pull its head-which was squeezed under the shutter like golly, and looked up at Santhosh.
The creature was as surprised to see Santhosh as Santhosh was surprised to see it.
Even more surprised was Santhosh when the thing began to speak in the purest Malayalam that he has heard in a long time.
“Wait, please don’t shoot me. I didn’t do anything wrong. Okay, I did do wrong things but nothing that deserves the punishment of death. You know very well that there are a whole lot of people out there-human beings who do the vilest things in life and walk free. They don’t even have to spend a single day in prison, let alone die for their sins. And I…all I did was-“ This was when the creature finally realized that what he was looking at was some sort of crooked knife and not a gun- the light in his eyes had fooled him. “Hey, that’s not a gun, is it? It’s a knife!” Instead of relief, it’s eyes widened in an even bigger horror. “That’s even worse. Oh, I have seen a man being stabbed to his death for no better reason than that he necked a woman who belonged to another- and you bet the woman was all too willing to be necked! How that man screamed, and for how long did he lie in that estate, in a pool of his own blood, screaming and screaming for mercy throughout the nigh! All the workers and their families who stayed in the estate did hear him, but no one raised a finger to help him- because anyone who helped would find himself out of a job. You see, it was the estate owner’s daughter that he dared love!”
The more the creature talked the more the frown deepened on Santhosh’ forehead. “What.. what are you!”
The creature had an almost perfectly round face which could be considered as cute when it smiled, as it did now. And its voice was that of a young boy’s, though a voice suffused with the gravity of experience- and pain- which no human kid would possess.
“How ridiculous of me!” he said, “Talking without even bothering to introduce me! My name is Logan!” It raised one of its front paws, ready to shake hands. But Santhosh thought that it was going too far. He was already talking with what could very well be a figment of his imagination- something perhaps brought about by continuous lack of proper sleep in the night and financial stress.
“Logan?” he said, trying to caress away a headache that was on the ascent.
“Yes, it was the name of the car-one of the cars- that the estate owner had. And it was orange in colour. So I took that name for myself.” When Logan saw that this didn’t really succeed in wiping the look of incongruity from the man’s face, he added, “I used to stay in the estate, you see. But the killing-it sickened me. I felt like I couldn’t stay in a place where such a heinous crime was committed, even though the stay was most comfortable- I could get the choice rubber pieces out there!”
The mention of rubber brought Santhosh’ mind-which was fast spinning out in an ever-widening spiral of incongruity back to focus.
“Rubber? What rubber?”
“Why, our kind sustains or rubber!” explained Logan with a grin on his face, as if asking isn’t that awesome? “And so it was that I stayed in the estate- it was a rubber estate, you see, out in Kottayam. Of course, there were other stuff growing there as well- a little pepper and some tapioca, and some eggplant too. But mostly, it was rubber.”
“Your kind?” said Santhosh, the incongruity was now evident in his voice. “You said your kind!” The prospect of others like Logan was just too much for the simple-minded Santhosh whose highest educational qualification was SSLC.
Logan though, sighed, dropping his head slightly. “There used to be. I mean, as far as I know, I am the last surviving member of my species. You see, we didn’t always survived by eating rubber- we could eat other foods too. But once folks started planting more rubber instead of other crops- the sand turned so that it was nigh impossible for other crops could grow where rubber has once been planted. Sadly for us, our physiology is such that we are far too much attuned to the rhythms and changes of nature than most other species. Adaptation happened fast as our bodies started processing rubber. But this came at a cost- for the very thing that sustains us also contains what kills us- you see, with every bite of rubber, we bring our end closer too- something to do with how certain compounds in rubber act with our genes, I guess. I am not smart like you humans but I reckon with enough number of generations, that anomaly might have disappeared from the species. But I haven’t seen anyone else of my kind in over five years..”
“How old are you?”
“I will turn eight next year, sir!” Logan smiled.
“And how long do you..your kind live?”
“People used to say that..by people, I here mean my own kind, of course..”
“Of course,” said Santhosh. By now, he was feeling so messed up in his head that he was willing to believe that he has gone mad. He even had a strange vision of Arnie wiping the saliva off the mouth of his senile(but not old) father.
“Well, the eldest of our people used to say that we lived for up to 120 years. But of course, that was before we became rubber eaters. Now, the best we can hope for is 50 years, I would say.”
“How did we miss you..” Santhosh was about to say ‘things’ when he caught himself and replaced the word with ‘beings’ at the last moment.
“We used to be invisible to humans. Only certain creatures, like deer could see us back in the old days. That’s why you sometimes see such things as deer pouncing around for no apparent reason, as though they just saw something that surprised them out of their skin.”
As Logan spoke, Santhosh began to understand why there was so much gravity in the kid’s voice- as the last of his kind, he bore the weight of wisdom of an entire species on his shoulders.
But Santhosh couldn’t help but smile. For there was something unmistakably childlike about Logan.
Whether it be the slightly hurried tone of voice or the faint whiskers that sprouted from the circle of his face- like the first hairs on a baby’s head, or the supple skin on his body, once you got through the grave voice, there were signs aplenty showing you that what you were looking at was a young representative of the species- whatever species it was.
“So you steal rubber sheets to satiate your hunger?”
They were in the wooden shed, Logan sitting on the table(Santhosh had cleared it of all the porn) and Santhosh himself, chewing on some boiled peanuts that he had brought from home. (He offered some to Logan but he declined, reminding him that he could eat only rubber.
“Yes, unfortunately, stealing is the only option I have. It’s not like anyone would give me a job!”
Santhosh couldn’t help but laugh at this. And how good it felt, his muscles felt like they came unglued to relax. He couldn’t remember when was the last time he had laughed so heartily.
“How did you learn to talk?”
At this, Logan became animated, gesticulating wildly with his paws as he spoke. By now Santhosh had noticed that he spoke like this- with an even graver tone and with the accompaniment of so many gestures whenever he spoke with pride about himself or his species.
“We were always a smart species. In fact, we have a legend that says that humans learned language from us- not directly, of course. It’s said that humans would hear voices in the dark, when they lied asleep, voices coming from different places but without any apparent sources- we are nocturnal creatures, of course.”
Santhosh nodded, more amused by the way in which the story was being told than by the story itself. “So, people- I mean humans here- they picked up on the words and somehow ascribed them with the same meaning as ourselves.”
“Tell me one thing, then. If your species was so smart, how come you are the only one left?”
Only when he saw how Logan’s face faded did Santhosh realize the bluntness of his question. “I am sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I was just curious. I am sorry,” he repeated. Instinctively, he reached out a hand to him, as though about to console a hurt child.
A second lapsed before he realized that it wasn’t Arnie who sat in front of him.
Santhosh and Logan fast became good friends. The little creature could sustain with a sheet of rubber every week or so, but after he was discovered, Logan appeared every night, one time he even came knocking on the door of the security’s hut.
“If you hadn’t closed that hole in the air duct, I wouldn’t have tried to squeeze past the shutter and you wouldn’t have found me.”
“And that would have been a loss,” said Santhosh good-naturedly. The night was considerably cooler than the preceding ones. Perhaps, the beginning of winter, thought Santhosh.
But the cool atmosphere wasn’t the only reason why Santhosh felt calmer. He had finally managed to raise some money. That won’t be enough to go to the gulf and live there until he found a job but he hoped that he would be able to find a job in another month or so- he knew a little bit of the electrician’s trade-which would be enough to land him a job there. And then, the money would come in handy for the expenses.
That’s a huge load off his mind.
Even Logan felt this change in Santhosh whom he had never seen this relaxed before. The man now sat in a bench near the godown, swinging his legs, biting into an apple like he were a kid on a picnic.
`Logan told him how chilled he appeared.
Smiling, Santhosh said, “Yes.”
“There was something I wanted to ask you” said Logan.
“Even though a grown-up, you became friends with me so fast.”
“What, is that a bad thing to do?”
“No, it’s just that I have always observed how grown-ups are very resilient towards things that they cannot easily comprehend. Sometimes they hide their fear in a cloak of hatred.”
“You do sometimes speak so well,” said Santhosh. “Maybe it’s true that we learned the art of language from your species. But as for fearing you, I know there was nothing to fear from a little cute guy like you.”
“Exactly!” said Logan. “How did you know that there was nothing to fear from me? You didn’t even know that my kind existed before you met me!”
This has been a question that Santhosh had asked himself on the days following his discovery of Logan. And no matter how many times he asked himself that question the answer was the same, albeit a little silly.
“There is this cartoon character that Arnie- my son, loves. Sometimes, I watch the show along with him, just to give him some company. I even bought him a stuffed toy of the character recently.”
“And I look like that toon character!” Logan completed for him. “That’s why you feel there is no threat from me! Oh, my, god, Santhosh bhai, you are the most romantic person I have ever come across! To think that such a person like you would be alive today-in these times when all that people are concerned with is their own survival!”
Logan guffawed. This was not at all the kind of response that Santhosh expected. Taken aback, he said, “Why, did I do something wrong?”
After giving himself time to laugh for some more time, Logan said, “Have you never heard of the expression, appearances can be deceiving?”
Santhosh wasn’t entirely sure in what direction Logan was trying to steer the conversation. But he found it still hard to believe that the cartoon-like Logan would be anything but amicable.
Logan acknowledged as much when he said, “Not that I am saying I am dangerous in any manner. Oh, no, though I wish I were. In fact, I am just a poor herbivore trying to go through my life causing as little trouble to anyone.”
After a brief silence he added, “I assume, Santhosh bhai, that you named your son Arnold after Arnold Schwazzeneger, because you admire his stunts?”
Even though by this time Santhosh knew that Logan had more than a cursory knowledge of the various human endeavors, he was nonetheless surprised to hear the Hollywood actor’s name from Logan. “How do you know so much about life of humans!”
“We may have lost the ability to stay invisible-in a literal sense. But we are still masters of camouflage- how else do you think I stayed out of view of humans for so long? And in the estate owner’s bungalow, there was this youngster for whom television was like lifeblood. If the images stopped flowing, he would stop living or that’s how he behaved. And along with him, I got to watch a lot of television-whatever I know about the wider human world, I learned from the television.”
That could be said about most of humanity, thought Santhosh.
“So, did you really name him after Schwarzenegger!”
“Yes,” Santhosh said after a brief hesitation.
“Oh, you hopeless romantic!” Logan began guffawing again.
“Now, stop laughing, you!”
On the day Santhosh got the confirmation that he got a job with a company in the Gulf- as a showroom floor manager for an electronic shop, he felt sure that God was playing some trick on him. He has gone so long without luck that he couldn’t accept the fact that his luck was finally beginning to turn- even if it were in a minimal manner(the pay on offer was not great and he had to pay half of the first two months’ pay to the recruiting agency).
Throughout the day he kept expecting a call which informed that there has been some mistake, that it was another candidate who was selected and there has been a mixup.
But when no call of the kind came in the ensuing three days, even he was convinced of the fact that God didn’t have a personal vendetta against him. Kanaka’s happiness was tinged by sadness at the fact that she and Arnold would be alone from now on.
When Arnold informed the news to the doctor, he was happy for him. ”That is great news, Santhosh! I have an urgent thing to attend to. So, I will not be able to talk for long now. But I cannot tell you how happy I am for you!”
They talked about it on another occasion- over drinks and a few merry jokes from the doctor. It was decided that Santhosh would continue to work at the godown for another two weeks by which time the doctor would find a replacement(“I guess I will have to resort to the Black Commandos Security services, after all!”)
“I am glad for you, Santhosh!” the doctor repeated, downing another shot of whiskey.
“So, you are going to go away for good!” Santhosh was touched by the sadness in Logan’s voice.
“I will get a month’s leave every year. I am sure that I can come and see you.” Even as he said it, Santhosh knew that it was a flimsy proposal at best.
“Yes, I suppose..” said Logan with his head down. Suddenly looking up, he added, “Has it got anything to do with the fact that I stole those rubber sheets? You know that I have stopped doing that ever since you started bringing me scraps of rubber from old tires and stuff!”
“Nothing like that!” And Santhosh told him all about his financial worries and how his dream to break into the movie went nowhere.
“Oh, that’s so sad!,” said Logan after listening to him in silence. “There must be money to look after Arnold, of course, there must be. So, you must go.” He wiped his eye with the back of his arm in a most human-like gesture though there was no tears.
Santhosh had expected Logan, and himself to be sad when he broke the news of his impending departure to his cartoon-like friend. What he hasn’t expected was the depth of sadness to which Logan would plunge. After he was told about it, Logan barely spoke for the next two days, responding to things that Santhosh said with a murmur or a moan of assent.
‘He behaves as though someone in his own family was leaving him’, thought Logan as he sat alone in the wooden security chamber. Well, in a way, I suppose, I am like family to him-after all, he has no one of his kind to commune with, and an intelligent creature like him, how much can he commune with lesser animals?
Stepping out of his chamber, Santhosh went in search of Logan.
He found him curled up under the bench on which they sometimes sat and talked in the wee hours of the morning.
“Hey, don’t tell me that you are sleeping, you nocturnal animal!” said Santhosh playfully even though he could see Logan’s wide open eyes clearly enough, the moonlight glinting off his irises.
“No, I was just…laying down.”
Logan crouched down beside him. He had half a mind to take Logan on his lap but he knew how much the little one hated such gestures of familiarity- gestures fit for a child. Of course, Logan was a child, biologically speaking but then again, you could hardly call anyone who has been smart enough to stay alive on his own for five years as just a child.
Instead, Santhosh said, “I won’t be coming to work tomorrow.” That made Logan raise his head and look up at the man. “It’s annual day at Arnie’s school and parents are also invited to the cultural function in the evening. We are all going.”
“Have fun, then,” said Logan, resting his head on his paws again.
“No, that’s not it.” Santhosh moved towards him. “I was wondering if you would like to come with me?”
The pace with which Logan sprang up almost made Santhosh’ heart leap out of his mouth.
“But, wouldn’t there be a lot of people at the cultural event?,”said Logan, his voice possessing a life that has been lacking these last two days. “How would you be able to keep me hidden through it all?”
Smiling softly, Santhosh said, “No, not to the cultural event. I meant, would you like to come home and visit Arnie. I would introduce you to him!”
From the way Logan’s eyes widened, one might think that he has just been offered the opportunity to meet god in his private residence and ask for whatever he wished.
“Really, do you think Arnie would like me?”
“Like you? He would adore you! God, you wouldn’t believe how crazy he is about that cartoon character- I can’t remember its name for the life of me-some Japanese name that wouldn’t yield to the tongue, it’s a Japanese cartoon, you see. And that thing isn’t even real. But you, on the other hand is as real as me or Arnold. So, how much more would he love you!”
Logan still wasn’t entirely convinced. He knows only too well how humans sometimes prefer illusory things to real things- like the happiness that liquor gives over the simple joy of kissing your child’s forehead.
But this being Santhosh’ child that he was talking about, Logan had some hope- if the boy is half as romantic as his father, he would have no problem accepting the fact that there was a species of animal that could talk human tongue which lived amidst them- at least, one of them did.
So, keeping all his apprehensions under lock and key in a secure box within his heart, Logan said, “Okay, I would love to meet little Arnie!”
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!
Oh. My. Gooooood!
You are not gonna believe what father brought home yesterday! No, it’s not the Superman toy that could raise its arm and say, “Up, up and away!”- the one which I have been asking him to buy for a long time. Neither is it Chotta bheem T-shirt I saw at the clothing shop when we went to buy mom a saree last week.
No, none of that.
It’s the most incredible thing to happen to any kid, anywhere in the world.
Enough of the suspense now- what dad brought home, or rather who he brought home yesterday is Logan- a little creature who loves to climb on to my shoulder and stay there. More than that, he could – you are not gonna believe this- he could talk!
Yes, T.A.L.K. As is talk like any living human being who is not dumb.
And no, this is no Chinese toy that we are talking about- the ones which come programmed with the ability to talk certain phrases in a robotic tone- a tone more annoying than the one adopted by telephone companies when they ask you to please hold the line. No, this is a real live animal that we are talking about(though talking to Logan, you would quickly forget the fact that he is an animal.”).
I would have wanted to show him off to the other kids but father has forbidden me- in the sternest voice not to reveal Logan’s existence to anybody.
Oh, how I would have liked him to be interviewed by the TV people. Imagine how many people would tune in to see a real talking animal!(And how many would take to the online world, tweeting that it’s a fake- a CG created animal!) And they would also have me on the television, asking me how it felt like to be the guardian of such a creature. Oh, all my friends would have gone green with envy!
But no, dad says things won’t work quite like that if we let the world know about Logan. In fact, he says it would be downright dangerous for Logan if we were to do that. I don’t know why it should be so but I know for a fact that adults are…complicated.. to put it lightly, and they rarely do the right thing. In fact, they are notorious for doing the exact opposite thing to the right thing- like putting children through school all these years when our bodies brim with the passion to play and nothing else. So, I take my dad’s word for it. And he having worked in the media world all these years, should know a thing or two about the merits and perils of publicity.
As for mom, she still hasn’t completely got over her fear of the ‘unknown creature.’ “Are you sure it is safe, are you sure it won’t bite!” she kept asking father even after she heard Logan speak.
Mom can be so silly at times!
There’s no parting gift that would actually take away my pain of daddy going away.(When I told him as much, he just laughed and said not to speak as if he was going away forever. “I will be coming on leaves every year, and I would be here for your birthdays, you will see! Also, we can talk on Watsapp every day, can’t we?,” he said.)
I don’t even know if Logan was his idea of a parting gift but if he was, he is the best parting gift anyone could hope for.
So, it makes me so sad to know that I would have to let Logan go as well.
There is only so much old tire that daddy could find. I even exhausted all the erasers that I have for school to keep him fed. But there is no doubt, even though he has been here just three weeks, he is suffering from malnutrition. He is weak, couldn’t even climb on to my shoulder anymore- weaker than a 2 month old baby who was born premature(that’s how my aunt Leena’s baby was born and so I know it).
I tried feeding Logan some other things-like the kichdi that mom made and also the egg puffs that dad brought from Mohanan uncle’s bakery the other day. None of those worked. In fact, after eating half an egg puff, Logan had a violent reaction. His entire face turned from orange to a dark green and he began to retch so badly that both me and mom(daddy wasn’t home at that time) began to worry. After all, it’s not like we can take him to a hospital. I don’t think even a veterinary doctor would be able to do anything for him- for one thing, his body feels just like jelly to the touch- I doubt if any doctor could do anything for something jelly-like. Another thing is that Logan doesn’t have a nose and so breathes through his ears. My Biology marks is only half-decent but I am assuming that there is a huge difference between treating animals that breathe through the nostrils and those that breathe through the ears.
Anyway, we didn’t have to take him to any hospital as the retching stopped once he puked the egg puff out . His face regained its natural colour- the most unnatural colour you can expect on any face-soon afterwards.
“You will have to let me go back, Arnie. I don’t think I can survive without enough rubber!” We were lying in my bed(ever since Logan came home, we sleep in my bedroom, on my bed). Last night, it was really cold and poor Logan was feeling it rather too well, I suppose, from the way his entire body shook like a leaf in the wind.
“Oh, Arnie, I am so sorry!”
That’s the thing with Logan. He apologizes even for things for which he wasn’t responsible- like the time he said sorry when he saw me sitting glum about my recent class test result. He is so good a friend, and when I asked him soon after he came here whether he would like to stayed here with me, he soon agreed saying he wouldn’t like anything better.
He even planted a kiss on my cheek!
I hate God now.
Dad and I have always been devotees of Lord Shiva.
But now, I totally hate him. Sitting all the way up on the roof of the world, at Kailasa- the god doesn’t seem to care anything about me or dad or mom or poor Logan. First he doesn’t help dad achieve his dream of making it big in the films- even though he tries so hard.
Then he takes me away by having to go to the gulf to make money- there is no job to be found in Kerala, says daddy. And he is probably true- all my friends’ fathers work in the gulf or in places like Bangalore or Mumbai. It’s as though no one in Kerala wants their people to remain here. I think when I grow up I will create a huge company right here in my village so that a lot of people could work here. And I am sure that I won’t get any help from god for that, the same god who is now taking Logan away from me.
Daddy has decided to drop Logan back at the godown. He doesn’t think that it’s fair for the doctor to lose his rubber sheets-even though not many in number(I know how little Logan eats). But daddy says he cannot think of any other option. He doesn’t work there anymore, so he is going to go there in the night and drop Logan within the compound. I asked to be taken along but daddy said it could be risky.
I just wanted to be with Logan for as long as possible. But I don’t want to risk his life by going along with them, if that’s what will happen(though I cannot see how that would be).
The adult world- how hard it is to understand!
“So, I will definitely come down here when I come for leave.” Santhosh didn’t know what else to say. He looked at the cute little face on the body that was perched on the compound wall, ready to jump to the other side.
Hoarse whispering in the dark, Santhosh felt his throat constricting with emotion. “I am sure that Arnold would miss you,” he added, and with a sad smile which Logan may or may not have seen in the dark, he turned around and walked back towards his motorbike which he had parked a little way up the road.
Before getting on the bike, he turned to take one last look at the silhouette of a strange being whom he knew he was never going to forget in his life, whether he saw him again or not. However, Logan was no more sitting on the wall.
But as Santhosh got on the bike, he heard a sound- it could have been a gasp or a short cry or both. But what was unmistakable was the fact that the sound came from a human throat.
It was a sound of alarm.
Quickly getting off the bike, Santhosh walked down towards the godown’s gate but even before he reached there he heard a man’s voice saying, “My dear God, what demon is this!” The high-pitched voice penetrated the stillness of the night but the sound that came after ripped that stillness apart.
Santhosh has had occasion to hear a gun being shot in a couple of movies- films made by directors who insisted on authenticity- most of the times, the insisting was done for the sake of impressing the director’s girlfriend, who would be present in the set.
Santhosh knew from the sound that it was a stun gun that was just shot- there was a certain finality to the echo which a stun gun produces once a shot is fired. This is unlike the reverberating echo of a gun the bullets of which were meant to be fatal- those echoes feel like ripples which refuse to fade away.
But for Logan, a stun gun could well be fatal.
This knowledge put an extra force to Santhosh’ steps. Once he reached the gate and looked in through the space between two iron bars, he saw that his assumption was correct- there stood a man holding a gun, his eyes as wide as they could be, the light from the IV bulb which hung in front of the go down’s door falling squarely on his irises- and yet his eyes remained open, wide with fear.
“What is this! What is this, Oh god!” he kept muttering, softly yet loud enough for Santhosh who stood on the other side of the locked gate, not more than 20 feet away to hear.
Santhosh followed the man’s gaze to see what he was looking at. He knew it was Logan- somehow it felt inconceivable to him that some other unknown ‘demon’ would appear there around the same time. However, no matter how much he strained his eyes, he couldn’t see Logan what with the darkness thick as brick on this moonless night.
The man with the gun meanwhile began looking all around him with what could be considered as hysteria in his eyes. And when those eyes turned towards the gate, Santhosh quickly moved out of view- which was well, for in his paranoid state the new security guard might have even shot at Santhosh.
But how come a security guard carries a gun! thought Santhosh. Yes, it was just a stun gun that held rubber bullets in its belly, but still even that was uncalled for in a job like this.
He got the answer for that when he talked to the doctor one last time before leaving for Dubai.
He called the doctor one evening on the pretext that he wanted permission to go to the godown since he has left a couple of his clothes in the security’s shed and would like to collect them. “At least, I think they are there. I have been packing my luggage, that’s when I found that those shirts are missing.”
During the conversation he enquired about how things were at the godown and sure enough, the doctor told him about ‘a little incident.’
“Apparently, Black Commandos Security Service is not as good as they think they are. The one they gave me was a drug addict and so far gone one night that he thought he saw a demon which he fired at. Yes, fired- for the fool always carried a stun gun with him-that was of course without the knowledge of the Security Service. I wonder what sort of background check they do on these people..”
Santhosh looked out of the window as the flight lifted off the earth and he became airborne for the first time in his life. That little thrill was very much overshadowed by the thoughts of leaving Kanaka and Arnie behind.
And by thoughts of Logan.
When Santhosh went to the godown, they had already changed the security guard. But he was able to learn that the druggie’s demon was indeed a figment of his imagination. “Though he swore that he shot the thing, there was no tell-tale signs: no blood, no nothing-except for a spent shell,” the security guard who apparently knew the druggie personally told Santhosh. “The same could be said for your belongings,” he added.
“No tell-tale signs of the shirts that you left behind- the doctor sir called ahead and told me about them,” the man said with a friendly smile. “Maybe the druggie took them with him. I wouldn’t put it beneath him. He was one of those who just wanted to get by any which way he could as long as he could get his dose of pleasure. I am actually ashamed to say that I knew him but alas, I did! We worked at the same place for three years and even though I have told him a thousand times to lay off the drugs, he wouldn’t. He was just plain arrogant!”
Santhosh thought about the man’s words as the flight attendant announced that the passengers could now unbuckle.
He hoped that no one would adjudge him to be arrogant- having clung on to his vain hopes of becoming someone in the film world for so long. Now I am going to the gulf, aren’t I? Now, I will make money, won’t I? Yes, I could have done this before but better late than ever, isn’t it?
Yes, there were justifications for this trip but even though he repeated them in his mind like a mantra the sadness about leaving his dear little Arnie and his wife kept tugging at his heart, giving him no real respite.
And Logan, would he be able to bring him home to Arnie when he comes for his leave 11 months from now?
Not for the first time, he wished there was a script for the movie called life.