The clouds in the sky looked like they were ready to burst, thought John. But then, they have been looking like than for the past hour, since he stepped out of home for the office.
Little did John know that before the dark rain clouds would burst, his belly would.
John couldn’t believe that he was still stuck in traffic. Not that he has never been in a situation in which he found himself stuck on the road an hour after leaving for work when the distance between home and work was less than 10 kilometers. In fact, it was the reasonable distance between home and work which made him opt for the house in ShivajiNagare. Since he had a bike, he could easily reach his office in the Manyata Tech Park in half an hour, 40 minutes top.
But as it turned out, that was just wishful thinking. The traffic between the two places could get so bad some days you could forget entirely the fact that you’re a being capable of movement and not a tree.
But no matter how many times he got trapped in the insane traffic, he just couldn’t get over it. The fact that he spent almost 3 hours every day inching through the road like a man without limbs out for a walk grated on his nerves.
He felt relieved when the tanker lorry in front of him began to move. Again. The exhaust was so thick that there were times when he found himself driving completely blind. As for his lungs, he thought it better not to think about them.
The bike hit him from behind. What surprised him more than the fact that another vehicle had hit his own was the fact that there was space enough on the road for a hit with good impact.
And the impact was good, for he felt his ass lifting from the seat and his entire torso twisting beyond his control. He had time enough to see that the bike that hit him had come in from the sidewalk. Yes, it was riding on the sidewalk, and hit his own Honda motorcycle when it transitioned to the road at a point where the sidewalk had a missing slab or two which exposed the muck and scum of the sewage that flowed under the city.
John also saw the bike swiveling, the man on the bike- whose face was hidden behind a helmet visor expertly maneuvered the two wheeler through the space between a push cart filled with fruits and an autorikshaw. He entered a small bylane by a playground that lied empty at this time of the morning, and scooted away on his bike
The clouds were parting and the sun was already sending some intensely hot rays towards Bangalore when John Sebastion- 26 years old, with a thick black moustache and black pupils hit the black road face up. As he fell, his cell phone fell out of his shirt pocket. In fact, it fell out ringing, right beside his face.
Looking at the screen he saw the caller’s ID. It was his betrothed calling him. They were going to be married in less than two months. Usually, she called before he left home. Today, she was a bit late.
“That’s no problem, darling! You can call me anytime you want to!” he thought of telling her.
Indeed, the fool in love that he was, he reached for the phone, hoping to attend the call, even before getting his ass up from the ground.
The idea of trying to take the call was wrong on many fronts. For one thing, he would have sounded winded to his fiancé, given how the entire air was knocked out of his body by the fall. And a man who sound as though he has trouble catching breath rarely comes across as romantic.
Another thing was the strange behavior that drivers express in a high traffic situation.
If you have observed how people behave in traffic- and you would have plenty of opportunity to do that if you lived in Bangalore-you would see how, as soon as the vehicles in front of him begins to move again, the driver would immediately get impatient. To go as fast as possible. After spending a good share of half an hour nose to back with a water tanker in front of you, you are no more patient enough for the traffic to clear for you to go fast. Even if it’s a few inches of ground that have cleared in front of you, you would want to cover that distance at the maximum possible velocity. Just to prove to yourself that there still exists the thing called speed.
While the mini-accident victim John was lying on the side of the road, reaching for his red Lenovo smartphone so that he could talk with his doe eyed fiancé whom he thought of as the sexiest girl in the entire universe, a car was making the above-mentioned maneuver just behind him- covering a tiny fraction of ground at the highest possible speed, oblivious of the mini-accident that happened just a few moments ago.
The car- a red Scorpio-ran over John’s body as casually as it would have run over a smear of dried cow dung that you frequently encountered on the roads of Bangalore.
Surprise, more than pain got hold of John’s brain.
He also felt sad at the fact that he was unable to take the call. And now that he had his attention on the slowly yet steadily spreading pain that moved to different parts of the body like a fluid down a slope, he no more could move enough to reach for the phone. Or rather, he was afraid that any movement would amplify the pain.
The driver of the car had seen the man lying on the ground, his toppled bike by his side, just a fraction of a second before he ran over him. That didn’t give him enough time to change the course of his direction. In fact, what with the traffic that has filled the not-so-broad road near the Banaswadi junction like Maharaja burger would a small saucer, he couldn’t have moved the vehicle in any other direction had he even got the time.
However, the fraction of a second was enough for the driver to turn the wheel just enough so that the two wheels on the left hand side got on the edge of the sidewalk.
This meant that John found himself partially under the car, his belly and a portion of his rib already ruptured. Blood flowed out of him like a disappointed tenant fleeing a bad building. He couldn’t see the blood from where he lied, which was as well because the sight just might have been too much for him. As far as fearful sights went, there’s something unparalleled about your life blood exiting your body when you seemingly could do nothing to prevent it.
But judging from the high pitched screams that many of the passersby raised, he assumed that it was not at all a good sight to behold. Indeed, he saw one elderly woman sticking her head out of the window of a bus and puking her guts out. Whatever she had for breakfast, she would have to make up for it come lunch.
John wasn’t really surprised by the reaction of people. Though he wasn’t exactly feeling the sharpest- loss of blood and the shock of the accident, not to mention the overwhelming pain had seen to it that he was feeling a little dull, he did understand that it’s only natural for people to respond to the sight of a gory accident in this way- by screaming and puking.
No, that didn’t surprise him at all.
What did surprise him was that he was still conscious. In almost all the movies he has seen with a similar scene, the accident victim would be unconscious or maybe even dead by now.John was an avid movie watcher who downloaded and watched at least one movie every day. It was hard for him to imagine that every one of those filmmakers got the plot wrong.
He was grateful that he wasn’t dead. But he would have been even more grateful if a dark shroud were draped over his consciousness right about now.
The driver of the car that ran over him presently got out. A middle aged man with so many pock marks on his face that he looked like the dark side of the moon, gazed at the damage he has caused. And to John’s amazement, he saw him immediately getting back in the car- reversing it carefully enough not to run over him again, and slowly inching across the road along with the other vehicles, driving past John without even looking at him, as though it was the most natural thing for the driver to hit a man and injure him, possibly fatally before driving away to work. All in a morning’s itinerary!
John looked around and saw a lot of concerned faces, eyes fascinated and repulsed at the same time by the gruesome sight. But no one came up to him. No one was trying to get him to a hospital or anything. Hell, no one was even trying to give him some water!
Everyone was in a hurry- even though the going was slow due to the traffic. This was the hour when everyone rushed to get to work. Most people in Bangalore came from other places in the country, and the only reason they came here was to work. So, of course it made sense that they wouldn’t want to be late for the sole purpose for which they had arrived in the city.
But, come on! Can’t you even spare a few minutes to get me into a car and a hospital!, thought John, a thought that pained him almost as much as the injuries.
If only there were bystanders, people who walked by.., he thought. People who drove or rode by would have a psychological barrier in getting off their vehicles and helping someone lying on the roadside drenched in blood. You’ll have to find a spot to park the vehicle, then bring it to a halt, then get out of it-that’s one step too many for many people. On the other hand, for a man walking by, there were no such barriers. So it makes sense that he would-
John’s train of thoughts was broken when he turned his head slightly to his right,, looked above and saw a bunch of people standing at the nearby bus stand waiting for the bus. They were not more than 10 feet away from him. They included young women- children in school uniform, a priest in a white cassock, a couple of elderly men, quite a few young men, and a dwarf. In other words, too many people to be contained within the smallish perimeters of the bus stop shelter.
But none of them even moved. Many among them looked at John with sympathetic eyes, though the priest was looking away with an expression on his face which suggested distress. John thought he saw the man mumbling something-praying, he supposed. Possibly praying for me?
But prayer is not what I want right now, dammit!
John tried to shout for help. Maybe hearing him whine or plead would make the people’s hearts finally melt. But sadly enough, the best he could do was make a wheezing sound. And that was barely heard by himself, let alone anyone else. The problem was that when he tried to suck in enough air to utter a word, his ribs ached like they were getting fried in a pan.
Instinct told him to look down and investigate what exactly the problem appeared to be around his rib area. But better logic prevailed- the logic that he didn’t want to freak himself out, not anymore than he already was.
It was when he tried and failed to utter even a single word that it occurred to John that these just might be his last moments on the earth. So far, he has thought that this would be an accident episode that he would talk with his friends in the future and maybe even laugh about-God only knew there were darkly comic elements galore in this.
He began to feel weaker than before. And as if to accentuate the thought that his demise was impending, a wave of blackness swept through him, a surge of dark feeling complemented by shrouding of his eyes as though they were covered with a black cloth.
In the next few minutes he experienced the loss of vision occasionally. And every time the vision was snuffed out, he thought this was it. The kiss of death, the touch of oblivion. He prayed every time it happened- asking Jesus to forgive him for all his trespasses and to deliver his soul to heaven. But after repeating the same prayer a fourth time which was immediately followed by a restoring of his vision, he thought it better to pray for someone to come and help him out.
At least ten minutes have passed since the accident and even though no one came to help him in that much time, he was still alive, wasn’t he?
This meant that he still had life left in him. He was not going to die that easily, if only someone would come and help me…
Whether it was because of his prayer or not, someone did come help.
An old man in a long kurta and a Musalman’s cap. His eyes were smeared with mascara. As though these weren’t signs enough that he was a Muslim, he also had on a Musalman’s round cap, not to mention the black mark on his forehead, the result of repeated niskaars over the years.
The man was walking by, chewing paan, holding a small red Nokia phone tightly in his fist when his eyes fell on the young man on the side of the road, surrounded by blood that was already hardening.
The Musalman’s bored fexpression didn’t change upon beholding this sight which was surely not a common phenomenon in Banaswadi. He simply spat out a stream of paan juice before dialing a number on the phone and bringing it up to his ear, all the while looking at John as if he were watching a boring television serial.
John assumed that the Musalman must have served in some war, and having seen all the gore in battle after battle, there was nothing left to shock him. Though the man’s lean frame and too smooth looking skin didn’t correlate with that theory.
“Hello, I need an ambulance!” John heard the man speaking on the phone, a calm yet firm voice. The words were crisp enough to be heard over the honking and the screeching of the passing vehicles.
It occurred to John that instead of the side of the road, had he lied somewhere to the middle, he would have been taken to a hospital by now. After all, no one liked anyone to disrupt the (slow) flow of the traffic.
The Musalman crouched beside him, placed a hand on his shoulder. The first person to touch him after the accident. John was an avid Catholic. But the man’s gesture made him reassess the idea that the only good people in the world were Christians.
“I have called for an ambulance,” the Musalman spoke in a calm monotone. “The traffic is bad, so it might take them a while to reach here. But they will be here. Stay alive! Now, I need to go somewhere, okay?”
The question was rhetorical. For the man got up soon after and walked on.
Some ten minutes after that, John started hearing the sound of someone screaming again. It sounded like somone screaming from afar. Maybe someone was aggravated at the traffic and was screaming at it, he thought. It took him a couple of more minutes to realize that what sounded like screaming was actually the sound of the ambulance siren.
Finally, they were here!
The traffic wasn’t as bad as it was during the time of his accident, but it was still bad. But by the time the ambulance was near him, it had eased up enough to permit all the vehicles presently on the road to hit at least the 20 km/hr mark- miracle of miracle!
Sadly enough, the ambulance didn’t stop for him. It went past him, the siren sounding harsh in his ears. Through its window, he could see an elderly man and woman with concerned expressions on their faces, looking down at someone lying on the stretcher.
John groaned as he realized that this wasn’t the ambulance which was called for him.
The Musalman waved to him on his way back, telling him once again that the ambulance would be here any time soon, cursing the bloody traffic. The transparent plastic bag he carried was chock full of onions.
“I am sorry, I couldn’t stop,” he said, “I have to go back to the restaurant. I work as a cook, you see, and the restaurant will open for business in another hour. A lot to do before that!”
Though every passing minute was draining energy from him, John summoned up enough energy to nod- that was the least he could do after what the good Musalman has done for him.
Soon after the Musalman was gone, the rain began. More a drizzle, really, but the droplets that landed on his wounds for some reason hurt him, each splash on an open wound a painful reminder that he wasn’t at his seat at the office, drinking coffee and typing computer codes.
The ambulance arrived soon after. When they loaded him on the gurney, John didn’t feel anything- no pain, no distress, nothing. It was as though he was different from his body. He watched from outside as his body was being carried into the ambulance.
His last thought before losing consciousness was whether his betrothed- who was a rather sensitive person, would be pissed that he didn’t attend her call.
He felt a sudden jerk of his body.
He blinked, the white light feeling harsh on his pupils. For a second, he was completely disoriented, not knowing where he was. But then, he recalled the accident, and his body being carried into the ambulance which was the last thing he saw before passing out.
The lights must be the operating lights! he thought with alarm. It was never a good idea to be awake when you are undergoing an operation.
However, when he looked around he saw that he was still in the ambulance. There were two men with him- both in white overalls, one was the attendant and the other a nurse.
Seeing John come awake, the nurse- a young man with an angular face placed a hand on his shoulder, a placating gesture. “I have injected some sedatives in you. You wouldn’t feel much pain. Don’t worry!”
Contrary to the calm tone in which the nurse spoke, the other man in the ambulance- the attendant was positively fuming. Looking out of the window at the road outside(or what he could see of it), he bellowed, “What the hell kind of pubic hair is this traffic!” The man spoke in Kannada. Though John- who hailed from Kerala and moved to Bangalore just two years ago wasn’t too conversant in the language of Karnataka, he knew the bad words well enough- he shared a house with two Kannada friends who threw such words playfully at each other with the ease of someone throwing a frisbee to a dog.
The ambulance tires dipped into a pothole and John realized that the jarring feeling which brought him awake was thanks to the lackadaisical road conditions.
The attendant meanwhile turned around and looked at the nurse. “Do you think he has any chance! We should have reached the hospital long time ago. Only, now, what with this godforsaken traffic, we are still at least fifteen minutes away from the hospital. Come on, you have learned how to care for people medically! Tell me, does he stand a chance! I can hardly stand the thought of losing yet another person to this infernal traffic! If he too dies, it would be the third person in a week!”
Though the attendant gestured towards the supine John while he talked, he rarely looked at him. In fact, he talked as though John wasn’t present in the ambulance. The nurse- a young chap in his late 20s blushed upon hearing his comrade’s words. “Such matters are always up to god, isn’t it?” he said with a calmness that well surpassed his age.
The attendant’s eyes fell on John, eyes filled with sympathy, eyes that looked like they were ready to leak tears. He looked as though he was convinced that John would die before long, as though he had a special line with God through which such information was passed down.
The man’s look sent shivers down John’s spine. Once again, he thought, ‘This is it!’ Once again, he thought about his doe eyed betrothed and how he has never made love to her- they were waiting for after the wedding to do that.
He would have liked to hold her image in his mind a while longer, it helped him imagine that she was right here by his side in the ambulance. It made the ordeal of lying in a drugged state, having lost blood and in pain, not knowing whether he was going to come out of this alive or not, a little bit better.
But that was not to be. For he soon lost consciousness. Again.
John Sebastian of Mukkadan House in Palakkad passed away before he reached the hospital.
Once the last breath left him, he once again felt himself stepping out of his body, and looking at it as though it belonged to someone else.
His vantage point was above the body. Looking down at the blood smeared and injured body he felt like laughing. For the body, with its open mouth, the tongue lolling out of the mouth like a rolled up pink tissue paper, looked grotesquely funny.
The ambulance attendant-who helped roll the gurney with the body into the ICU, presently stood to a side. John was surprised to see him crying. He felt gratified that someone- a stranger would cry for him. In fact, the sheer intensity with which the man cried- his body shook with convulsions, made him wonder for a moment if even his own mother or dad would have cried so hard.
A couple of doctors stood by the gurney as well, both young men in white coats, both looking glum.
“I’m pretty sure that had he reached the hospital at least ten minutes ago, we could have saved him.” said one of them. “What do you think?” he added, looking at the other doctor.
The latter nodded silently, still looking glumly at the dead body.
Though it was evident from the unnatural stillness with which the body lied that it was a lifeless body, it was only when the doctors acknowledged the death that John’s soul, which hovered above the carcass finally accepted the fact.
“That’s not fair! That’s so not fair!” he shouted, thinking about his doe eyed betrothed and her nether regions which he has never seen, not even once. Though he shouted, no one could hear him. And that’s when the realization struck him that he was now immaterial- a soul, what’s mentioned in the scriptures as the eternal body.
But his eternal body was raging with anger at the infernal Bangalore traffic responsible for killing him. He felt destructive but before he could give vent to his anger, he felt sucked from above- like a vacuum cleaner sucking up dirt.
Though John Sebastian felt that his ascension was towards Heaven where he would meet the Good Lord and rest in eternal peace, he still was fuming inside. He wished he could rain a deluge in Bangalore and destroy the city- the ridiculously inefficient machine that killed him.
St. Peter has been doing the job of heaven’s gatekeeper for a long time. Longer than you would care to know, long enough to make him familiarize with every creak that the gate made when it was pushed open.
But never in his entire career has he seen a newcomer who looked so agitated.
He has seen plenty of new comers in his time as heaven’s gatekeeper, as you may imagine. And the expressions on the souls’ faces when they landed in heaven after being sucked out of the earth through the heavenly vacuum cleaner ranged from blissed out to wonder struck. In other words, these were expressions which could honestly be described using words that you would find in a holiday brochure- only, in this case, all those words would be true.
But not so with this young man who was walking towards him. The man looked positively agitated. He kept wiping away imaginary sweat from his forehead, even though no one ever sweated in heaven, of course.
“Call me Peter,” St. Peter said to the man after introducing himself, hoping that a friendly attitude would help put John’s mind at ease.
Opening the gate, Peter led John inside. John was surprised to find that heaven looked like a plush hotel- with elevators made of clouds and a bar that’s open 24 by 7 which served the most delectable wines ever. Indeed, it was to the bar that Peter led him first, where an angel-bartender served them. “Give John the best you got!” Peter ordered the bartender.
Back on earth, John was a whiskey man. Though he liked Johnny Walker-which was his go to drink whenever he hung out with his friends, it was Old Pulteney that was his absolute favourite. In fact, many a Friday night, sitting in the comforts of his home, sipping some Pulteney while also enjoying cashew nuts(unsalted, plain-just the way he liked it), feeling the warmth of the drink spreading through his limbs like light illuminating a dark tunnel, he had thought he knew what heaven felt like.
But compared to the exquisite red wine that the angel-bartender served him, Pulteney was just barley water.
But even so, the wine didn’t do anything to better his mood.
Peter next took him to the heavenly spa, the beach, a chocolate parlour(“Bite into bliss!” was the tagline), the sports centre where they played table tennis for a while- TT being John’s favourite game, a park the trees of which were filled with all the extinct beautiful birds of earth, the pizza corner where they made pizza using dough mixed by our good Lord Himself, the gaming centre where John played a strategy game the main aspect of which was to make as many people see the light of Jesus and make them baptized, a flower show, a heavenly handicraft show, scuba diving in the Ocean of Eternal Bliss, fishing at the River of Glee and a poetry recital by Shakespeare himself, in that order.
Heaven has traditionally been a place that has attracted very little number of people. That tradition hasn’t changed much. There were times when Peter would have to stand at the gate for days on end, bored out of his skull, before he saw a new arrival being brought by the heavenly vacuum cleaner.
Though there were a large number of Christians back on earth, the ones who truly believed in Jesus as our savior were limited in number.
John Sebastian- someone who has never missed a Sunday mass in 12 years straight( an under-30 world record) was one of them.
And John was the first newcomer to heaven in 6 days.
This meant that Peter had enough time on hand to show a newcomer around. But after giving John the tour, Peter was sad. He was sad seeing how John still remained sad. For heaven is a place where empathy reigned foremost.
So they went back to the bar. This time, Peter ordered a couple of beers and asked John what exactly was the matter. Why did he look so glum when he was in heaven? Didn’t he realise that people would give anything-literally anything so that their souls could enjoy eternality in heaven than rot in hell?
And so John told him.
By the time John finished talking, he had downed two mugs of heavenly beer, brewed by the Angel-Bartender himself. By the time he was done talking, he felt slightly better- though he couldn’t be sure if that was because he shared what was on his mind with Peter, or because of the beer.
“So, you are angry at the Bangalore traffic for claiming your life!” Peter said.
John was glad that Peter got the gist of what he said so easily. But then again, he thought, nothing unusual about that. For it’s logical to assume that Heaven’s gatekeeper- one of Jesus’ closest aides also possessed a sharp mind.
“I’m not just angry!” said John. “I am positively fuming. So much so that I would like nothing better than destroy that entire city. Otherwise, I don’t see any way in which I would curb this agitation inside me. Tell me, Peter, is there any way that I could pour down like a deluge on that city and wipe it away!”
“Now, now, John,” Peter said, patting him on the shoulder, “You ought to know that such mass scale wiping out is not what heaven is concerned with.”
John’s shoulders stooped at these words but Peter said, “But I do empathize with your agitation. The city of Bangalore can be vicious- no doubt about it. And I can see that the agitation that you feel cannot be remedied unless you do something.”
John looked up at him with hope in his eyes.
“But have you thought of all your loved ones in Bangalore who would be wiped away by a deluge?” continued John. “And if you were to choose and punish all those who are responsible for the traffic mess in the city, why that would be a large number of people you would be punishing- from policy makers who don’t do their job properly to corrupt government officials to everyday people who don’t obey the traffic rules! If you were to punish or kill that many people, I would worry about your soul!”
“But I believe that Jesus is my savior, with the core of my heart!” John said.
“I know, John. In fact, you are one of the strongest believers, I can tell such things you know. Experience and all…But still, if you were to indulge in mass killings, you may have to spend a considerable amount of time- weeks, maybe even months in purgatory. And believe me when I say purgatory is no Wonderla. In fact, it would be a bit like going through that harrowing experience of lying in pain after an accident on the side of the road, with no one coming to your aid, over and over again”
That does sound like a bad deal, thought John. Lowering his head, he looked at his own reflection on the bar counter.
When he looked at Peter again, he was near tears.
“But, what did I do to deserve it?” John said. “I have never violated a traffic rule- at least not knowingly, and I have always make way for ambulances when I ride!”
Peter looked at him with sympathetic eyes. He beheld him in silence, thinking how the man needed to expunge his anger if he were to enjoy his eternal stay in heaven. There was another reason why he thought it a good idea for the newcomer to expel anger- his state of mind would affect the other residents.
He has already caught a few glimpses of the effect- when he was walking out of the spa with John, for instance, a elderly soul, a woman who was just then going in, caught the glum look on the newcomer’s eyes. Seeing it, her own expression changed from serenity to sadness. Indeed, for a second, she looked downright heartbroken.
Peter could certainly empathize with the woman. For wouldn’t you be heartbroken too if you were to think that even the spa in heaven couldn’t remedy human sadness? What hope is there for the human soul, if that’s the case?
It was only when Peter smiled at the woman- it always has a magical effect on the womenfolk-that the woman cheered up again.
As the guardian of heaven, he couldn’t allow other residents to be affected by one person’s glumness.
“Okay..” he said ruminatively, pulling out a PDA from the pocket in his robe.On the PDA, he opened a folder named “Incoming.” Inside that folder were two more sub-folders, one marked heaven and the other hell.Peter clicked open the latter.
“This is a database that contains information about the ones who would soon be dead,” Peter explained as John looked over his shoulder at the PDA screen. John exclaimed how sleek the PDA looked, sleeker even than the latest iPhone. “Yeah, our eternal engineers are unmatched in skill,” said Peter. “Anyway, let me see if I can find someone in this database…Yes, here is one! His name is Stephen Godda, he is a resident of Bangalore- #294, 19 b Main, KHB Residential Plot, Kormangala. The man is a government official. Last year he got bribed by a big corporate that has one of their establishments in the Residency Road. The reason was that that road was supposed to be widened. If they did that the said establishment would have to be torn down. You see, it was already standing on space that belonged to the road, to begin with. So, they paid this official to make sure that the widening didn’t happen. Their wish was granted. As you surely know that area sees some of the biggest traffic jams in the city- sometimes its so intricate that you couldn’t help but laugh- seeing how people who would absolutely hate each other if they were bedfellows, spending so much time close to each other, entrapped by the unmoving steel of vehicles…Anyway, John, I propose that to expunge your anger, you go down to earth and..err..haunt this person. I cannot grant you the permission to touch the person’s body. But you can touch objects associated with him. I suggest that you cause him troubles, troubles that would make his late two weeks on earth hell-which is where he is to end up, unless by some miracle he were to find God in these last days of his life, highly unlikely given how the last time he used our Lord’s name was when he needed to curse someone. In short, he looks like a good target for you to drive your anger at. I hope that after the two weeks worth of..haunting..you would be cleansed.”
“I hope so,” said John. He would have liked to wipe away the entire city, but then as Peter said, such a move would kill off his loved ones too. Besides, now that the beer had hit the spot, he wasn’t so sure if jumping a traffic signal actually warranted anyone a death sentence.
Given such a scenario, what Peter was proposing, about haunting and making life miserable for this Godda guy sounded like a better idea.
He nodded. “You do realize that we don’t usually allow souls to return to earth once they are here?” said Peter. “But I am treating this as an exceptional case. And I am allowing you to go on my own personal risk. So, I hope you wouldn’t let the anger get the better of you and kill him.” Placing a gentle yet firm hand on his shoulder, he added, “ I hope you won’t get carried away.”
“No, I won’t,” said John. “And thank you for this opportunity. Really, I appreciate it.”
Peter smiled at him like he were an old friend. “Let’s have one more beer before you leave, then.”
I like this man’s style, thought John.
Stephen Godda was a middle aged man with darkish brown skin and a pudgy nose. Something about his face made one repulsed on the first sight, or so thought John. He couldn’t be sure if what caused this was the permanent sneer on the man’s face or the peculiar nose which gave him a bulldoggish appearance.
Stephen’s wife was a fair skinned woman who seemed to be in the same age bracket(40 to 45). All she did all day long, as far as John could tell was watch the television. It didn’t matter what was on- reality TV., soaps, celebrity news, songs..the lady would watch one thing after the other, munching on nuts like she was the undisputed queen of binge watching. The only times she stepped out of the home were to watch films in the theater with her daughter.
The couple had but one child- a girl of 18 years, who mostly stayed in her room upstairs chatting on the phone with her friends or browsing the internet. A fashionista who went out shopping every other day, she was a student at the JyothiNivas College, in her first year of BCom. But as far as John could make out, her interest in commerce was limited to the pricing structures of latest Kurtas and minis.
Now that he was down on earth with the explicit purpose to bring trouble to the Godda household, John’s first plan was to observe the girl while she took a shower. That would be a pretty demeaning experience for her, he thought. But that was before he realized that such a move would go unnoticed by the girl- he being invisible and all. What with no more in possession of his physical brain, John had trouble thinking things through, unlike when he was alive.
There was another reason why he abandoned the plan to peep into the bathroom while the girl took a bath.
The girl was beautiful. She took after her mother, thankfully, rather than her ugly mutt of a father. Dark skinned, she had a long forehead, petal shaped eyes and a pretty long nose which ended in a hook- something which John thought was quite appealing on her. There was yet another feature on her face which he found even more appealing- a black birthmark on her cheek. It looked like the miniature map of Sri Lanka. The first time he saw it, he imagined planting multiple kisses on that map, until his lips turned sour. He could also imagine how many young men and boys who saw her wouldn’t have trouble conjuring up a suitable scenario when they masturbated.
The beauty of her face was perfectly complemented by the rest of her body- the curvatures and bends of which he could see easily thanks to the bodyhuggers and micro-minis which she wore while she was at home. Which would have meant a feast of a time looking at her naked body in the shower.
But John restrained, thinking how that would be infidelity to his betrothed. He has never had sex in his life and died a virgin. He was looking forward to putting his virginhood in the past by consummating his wedding which would have happened some two months from now had not his mortal remains begun to rot. Even when a friend of his offered to “arrange” someone for him for “one last fling as a bachelor” he would hear nothing of it, opting instead to stay true to his betrothed.
And though death probably has rendered the engagement moot- for all he know, his betrothed’s parents might, at this very moment be looking for another husband for their daighter, he still felt uncomfortable about gazing at another woman’s naked body. Not matter how heavenly an experience that would have been.
He felt sure that Peter- when he came to know about it, would congratulate him for the restraint.
Leaving the girl without following her into the bath attached to her room, John floated down to the first floor of the house- Godda’s bungalow was three stories high and occupied a space enough to accommodate at least two duplex villas. His daughter’s room was on the third floor while the entertainment room- the size of a large conference hall and the wall of which was adorned with pictures of superstars was where his wife passed entire days watching the giant screen television. The overtly dramatic music cues in the soap operas that she watched didn’t sound good even with the superior speakers system of the home theatre.
But the woman didn’t seem to notice this. She had her eyes glued to a verbal fight between two young women on the screen as John floated down to the room. At one end of the room was a glass-paneled cupboard which contained a lot of crystal objects. There was no reason for the existence of these objects in the entertainment room except for the visual appeal. At least, Godda’s wife, who was in charge of the interior decoration, thought that they enhanced the room’s visual aura. John thought the crystal pieces looked as out of place in there as a spaceship would inside a washroom. But being a ghost, he didn’t have much say on it.
So, he moved towards the cupboard and began rattling the glasspane on the cupboard. It was his first active interference with the material world as a ghost. Even though he knew that such an interference was possible only because of the special permission granted by Peter, he still felt a shiver of thrill coursing through himself. He felt gratified to see that his actions were having a direct impact on the material plane- a realm with which he still held a connection. After all, it’s been but only one day since his demise.
However, Godda’s wife didn’t look too impressed by the ghostly feat. In fact, she didn’t even notice it, keeping on watching the television with her legs bent under her thigh, chewing on some nuts. Deciding that he should take things to the next level, John opened one of the cupboard’s glass panels and toppled a couple of crystal pieces to the ground where they shattered to smithereens like the crystal pieces they were.
One of them was that of a swan and John found it incredibly funny to look at the swan lying on the floor with a broken neck, as if it just felt the sharpness of a butcher’s knife.
And that’s exactly how I would like to have Godda!, he thought venomously.
Godda’s wife was startled by the sound of the crystals breaking. Even as she looked up in the direction of the cupboard, she saw two more pieces plummeting from their rack. One of them was of the peeing boy which was one of her favourites- she had always wanted a baby boy, a wish she harbored in her mind but never told her daughter.
“Pankajam!” she shouted, jumping off the lounge chair on which she sat.
From somewhere within the house came running a short elderly woman. She looked flustered, tired and she was sweating.
“Pankajam! Look what you have done!” Godda’s wife shouted, pointing towards the crystals. “I asked you to clean the crsytals. And you put them back carelessly so that they are falling off and breaking. That’s really irresponsible of you! I would make sure that the cost of the crystals would come out of your pay in the coming months!”
Though her servant stood not more than a few feet away, Godda’s wife was shouting as though they were divided by an entire football field. Hearing the shouting, Pankajam looked even more flustered than before. The poor woman attempted to say something but she was brutally cut short by the madam when the latter said, “I don’t want to hear anything from you! In fact, I can’t stand your sight at the moment! Get out of here!”
Pankajam turned away and trotted back down the way she came from. Tears were beginning to form in her eyes.
But even more heartbroken by the incident than her was the ghost.
After the attempt to scare Godda’s wife by dropping crystals failed, John re-strategized and decided the best way on would be to directly scare Godda.
Godda, who was away during the day returned only by late evening. John had decided that the most effective way to scare him would be to scare him in his sleep. So, he waited for the ugly man to sink to sleep.
In fact, he waited till midnight- so that his attack would have even more of a dramatic effect.
When the giant grandfather clock in the living room on the ground floor chimed 12, sending tinny sonic vibrations across the length and breadth of the entire house, John slowly creeped into the room where Godda and his wife slept. The closed door was no obstacle for a ghost who could pass through wood easier than a knife would through a pillow.
But once he was inside the room, he was surprised by the fact that a light was still on. He also heard noises- the kind which people made when they were in severe distress, like when they had trouble breathing, or they had a really upset stomach.
Or maybe when having a heart attack, he thought.
He remembered Peter telling him back in heaven how Godda was to die in two weeks’ time due to a heart attack. Maybe heaven’s guardian got the dates mixed up. Maybe this was the sound of Godda dying!
Shit! Then, I am so late!, he thought.
John looked towards the bed from which issued the noises- moaning and groaning and other indescribable expressions of distress. The bed was so big that it took John a couple of seconds to locate the couple in it.
And when he did, he wished that he hadn’t.
What with her doing nothing but watching the tele all day long, Godda’s wife wasn’t exactly the epitome of a good figure. And as for Godda, he was as ugly as they came. The soft light of the lighting fixture in didn’t do anything to alter that fact.
What this meant was that seeing such two bodies making love was an unholy sight, especially after you have seen and experienced the heights of sensory delights in heaven. But now that his eyes fell on the unholy scene, John found it hard to pry his eyes away, though he was revolted by it. It was, he assumed just like how many people looked both fascinated and horrified at him when he was lying injured on the side of the road after the accident.
There’s a fascination for the ugly and the grotesque in the human soul which didn’t even end with death.
Almost as bad as the sight were the accompanying sounds.
The grunts and groans and moans which he had earlier took to be signs of distress were actually expressions of delight and pleasure. Having never had sex himself, Johns’s experience with such matters was almost completely limited to the porn he has watched online. He considered himself a connoisseur of the “Neighbours” genre and though he has, in the course of exploring the genre seen a variety of people- ranging from the exotic to the downright ugly-copulating in more positions that you could shake a dick at, he has never heard ugly noises like these.
He has always associated love-making with sensuous and passionate sounds like the ones made by those porn actors- mostly American, some Scandinavians too. Never sounds as grating on the ears as what these two elderly people were making on a bed which, on hindsight, looked like it was especially made for sex.
John wasn’t sure what eventually made him feel like puking- the sight of Godda having his wife get on top of him and seeing that woman’s flabby ass with so many lines on it it looked like a roadways map, or the ever-increasing noises the couple made- more wheezing than anything sensual.
But felt like puking he did, and unable to give in to his feeling thanks to the absence of a body, he doubled back out of the room, and floated down the stairs, went all the way down to the living room where there was a small chamber underneath the stairs where they kept old rugs and mats.
He hid himself inside it as though haunted by the sight of the infernal love-making.
A full two hours passed before John came out of the chamber under the stairs.
John knew this because he heard the old grandfather clock chiming.
Time enough to make another attempt, he thought.
The images of the unholy sex scene kept flashing in front of his eyes as he floated upwards to the couple’s room on the first floor, disturbing him, making him halt in his airy tracks at times. To give himself something else to focus on, he went over in his mind the plan he was to enact.
The plan was simple. It involved shattering the glasses of the windows in the room. He has seen a ghost doing this in a movie once. It was so effective in the movie, bringing two sleeping figures- a husband and wife though (not nearly as ugly as the ones above), awake and screaming with fear. He hoped that the same could be replicated in real life.
He entered the room without effort, like the last time. But unlike the previous time, he kept his eyes down, not daring to look towards the bed. He was gratified to notice that the lights were out. But there was a noise coming from the bed- the sound of Godda snoring. It sounded to John like a bee that has been a wood cutter in its previous life.
John proceeded towards the first of the windows. Now that he has had some practise breaking objects(crystals) , he proceeded to break the window glasses with a confidence he has rarely felt in life. The first window was broken in a second. John found the sight of the tiny broken shards of glass- a lot of them, flying out into the night, glittering under the light from the street lamp that was right in front of the bungalow. It delighted him.
The sound made the couple’s dog- a German shepherd half John’s size to bark from the yard. It also jolted awake the security guard who was posted near the gate. Jumping out of his chair, he looked around, still in a daze and admonished the dog to keep quiet, thinking it was barking for no reason.
Though the guard and the dog were now active, the couple lying in their bed, remained in their supine position, one of them snoring, both of them asleep. The post-coital bliss is too much for them, thought John, not without anger, thinking the injustice of a man responsible for hundreds of traffic accidents – including deaths sleeping so blissfully, like a baby.
The anger made John inadvertently crash the glass on the rest of the three windows simultaneously. He could hardly control the ectoplasmic energy surge effectively. Nonetheless, he was impressed by it. Next to sitting at a bar counter in heaven, chatting with none lesser than St.Peter over a mug of beer, he felt this to be the coolest thing that had happened to him since death.
More importantly, it brought the sleeping couple wide awake. To his delight, John saw that Godda’s wife, soon as she came awake and saw that the windows were shattered, began to scream- just like in the movie that he saw.
But not so Stephen Godda himself. The man was, if anything calm.
He expressed his distress at being brought out of a deep sleep by saying “Who the hell?” or something to that end . But once his mind was awake enough to discern what was going on, he calmly reached for the table lamp and turned it on. Then he wrapped the lungi around his waist tighter before walking towards one of the windows.
The dog was still barking down below and beside the canine stood the security guard, staring up.
“Everything alright, sir?” the guard called out.
“Of course, not, you idiot!” Godda called back in a voice raspy with lingering sleep. “Can’t you see that someone just broke all the windows?”
“Of course, sir!” said the guard in a timid voice.
John observed this exchange with amusement. The security guard was easily double the size of Godda. And he was at least a head taller than his boss who himself stood at a respectable 5 feet 8. However, there was no doubt that the guard was extremely submissive to his boss. His stooped over body posture and the cowering voice were indications enough. John assumed that the fact of the windows getting broken while on his watch also put the guard on the back foot.
John saw Godda looking up and down the street in front of the house which lied empty at this hour, except for a couple of stray cats looking for a feast in a garbage bin.
“Should I come up, sir?” the guard said.
“Of course, not, you fool! What good would that do? Just step out of the gate and take a look outside . See if someone’s still lurking. Though I think they must have got away by now.”
The guard did as Godda commanded. He came back with the report that there was no one on the road.
“Well, you know who did this, Anthony! You deal with him tomorrow, you hear me? And I don’t want any delays!” The raspiness had lifted from Godda’s voice and his words rang loud and clear in the cold night.
“Yes, sir!” said the guard, even saluting with a hand. “I would make sure of it, sir!” he added even as Godda turned away from the windows and walked towards the bed.
His wife was still sitting on the bed, her legs drawn towards her body, just the way she did soon after she came awake. Though the screaming has subsided, she was still shivering, perceptibly so. Sitting beside her, Godda consoled her, saying there was nothing to worry about.
“We should go to one of the other rooms,” he said. “The AC here won’t serve us tonight now that the windows can’t be shut!” He tried to make light of the situation.
He helped her get up from the bed and guided her by the hand to one of the numerous other rooms in the mansion. John watched as the elderly couple made their way out of the room. Bare chested, wearing just a lungi, Godda looked just like an ordinary man. Not a corrupt individual responsible for multiple traffic accidents and deaths.
In other words, he looked just like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And John felt righteous anger seething through him at the decoy.
But more than that was curiosity, about what Godda mentioned to the security guard- about taking care of the one responsible for the shattered windows tomorrow itself. How would they know who was the responsible party?
John walked up to one of the windows, if he had a body, the silvery moonlight would have illuminated it. As it was, he remained hidden in plain sight from the security guard who regained his place on the chair by the gate, the dog lying very close to his feet.
The guard was bulky, with a bald head and a pudgy nose. His round eyes reflected the harsh light from the street lamp.
Aside from the bulky physique he looked normal enough- nothing to suggest that he was a medium or someone who could at least peek into the doings of the ghosts. Yet, for a moment, John wondered if that was the case. Did the man actually realise this was a ghost attack? Was he conversant in magic spells and such which was what he was going to apply against him- John- tomorrow? After all, it stands to reason that the ghost of someone who had died in a previous accident had come down and pulled a similar stunt before? Perhaps, that explained why neither Godda nor his security guard appeared too flustered by the broken windows brought?
John shook his head, from old habit, to dislodge the thought from his brain, though he no more possessed a brain in the conventional sense, not any more than a wounded animal held a clairvoyant’s license.
But still, he couldn’t shake the feeling so easily.
John was too flustered about the thought of the security guard doing some voodoo on him that he didn’t dare perpetrate an attack on Godda again later that night- or early morning, if you want to get technical.
But as it turned out, he needn’t have worried. For the next day, John had the opportunity to learn exactly what Godda and the guard thought about the nightly attack.
There was this chap in Godda’s neighborhood- 17, 18 years old, John couldn’t be sure about the age from the conversations between Godda and the other members of the household that he overheard- Godda kept referring to the young chap as that ‘brat’ or ‘punk’ or ‘asshole’ and never ‘that 18 year old’ or anything like that.
The chap in question was apparently a ‘no-good nobody’ who had a crush on Godda’s daughter. He expressed this crush to the girl on multiple occasions- in manners ranging from the chivalrous to the lewd. And every time the girl had informed him about her disinterest. When the boy didn’t stop his advances- he just couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that an 18 year old girl wouldn’t like a present of a black currant cake, she informed her father about it.
Godda, along with the security guard had a little chat with the boy, cornering him in the street one day. That happened almost a month ago.(Around the time his own engagement happened, John figured). And since then the boy has not entered the girl’s life- almost as though he didn’t exist in the first place.
Godda had begun to think that that issue was solved- one of the minor issues he has solved in a life that has seen its fair share of issue-solvings.
But as the incident last night revealed, he was wrong!
The boy came back with a literal bang. ”With the aid of some friend, the punk threw stones and broke our windows! You must give him a good beating for this!” John heard Godda say to the security guard. The security guard pointed out that when he checked for stones or any other weapons that the perpetrators could have used, he has found nothing.
Godda laughed. A chiding, deep throated, belly shaking laugh. “Show me your mobile phone!” he said. The guard pulled out of his pocket a red coloured Nokia phone. John was pretty savvy when it came to mobile phones, buying at least one new model every year- at least, he used to when he was alive. But even he couldn’t place the model. But the old fashioned physical buttons on the thing was all the proof he needed to know that it wasn’t a model DeepikaPadukone would be caught flaunting on a red carpet.
Godda’s phone, which he raised in his hand like a prize was a silver coloured iPhone 7- the latest model, sleek and for a phone geek, the most delectable thing in the entire galaxy.
“Now, which phone do you think is the most advanced?” John heard Godda ask the guard. The guard, smart enough to know that it was a rhetorical question, kept mum. “This means,” Godda continued, “that I know more about technology than you do. Way more. You wouldn’t even begin to believe the kind of things that are made using technology these days, Anthony.” He placed a patronizing hand on the guard’s shoulder. “And young people- they know more about technology than you or I would know about sex, if you know what I mean. I’m sure that that brat and whoever helped him would have used some fancy gadget to perform the vandalism that they did last night on my windows. Something which emits some sort of force- maybe high frequency sound waves that may shatter glass. In fact, the wife even told me that she saw a few of her prized crystals breaking before. Maybe that was the brat giving it a trial run! Come to think of it, if he had in his possession such a devise, he wouldn’t even need the assistance of anyone else to pull the coup! The motherfucker must have done it himself!”
By the time his master was done talking, the security guard was more than convinced that it must be the brat behind the attack. “And can you please shut that dog up!” Godda said before leaving.
The dog has been barking throughout their conversation.
Though John hated to admit it to himself, he was impressed by Godda’s theorizing about a device that emitted sound waves. Like any self-respecting techie, John too was interested in sci-fi films and has seen such principles in action on the big screen multiple times. But that’s not to say that he didn’t find it hilarious to hear Godda- the crafty man who has earned more wealth than you could shake a stick at, ascribing last night’s attacks to the wrong cause. In fact, he laughed so loud that had he been alive, the sheer noise of it would have woken up the dead.
But all such jolliness dissipated when he saw what Anthony- Godda’s security guard did to the ‘brat’.
The brat in question was lean and tall. Judging by the meticulous appearance of his superbly manicured beard and equally stylistic hair, John assumed that he spent an inordinate amount of time on personal grooming every day. In fact, John even caught himself thinking how he should ask the chap for grooming tips- so that he would appear crisp on his wedding day. But that was before he recalled that he won’t be having a wedding day anymore. Sigh.
But he saw the meticulously crafted appearance melting- so to speak. Every beating that Anthony the guard inflicted on the chap was almost more disheartening than the thought that he would never get married.
John had tagged along with the security guard just out of curiosity. The guard who traversed in his silver Enfield on the expedition located the ‘target’ in the public playground around the corner from the Apollo Cradle Hospital on the fifth block of Kormangala. It was around 10 in the morning, on a working day and there weren’t that many people in the park. Only a smattering of young people who, from the bags they carried looked like they bunked classes.
The ‘brat’ was one of them. He sat on a wall with three of his friends like Humpty Dumpty.
And like how cracks would appear on Humpty’s egghead, cracks began to appear on the chap’s face once Anthony began to go at it. Even before that, the three friends who were with him, scooted out of there. Anthony didn’t even give him the reason for the beating- just gave him a good taste of his hand’s power.
From the ever broadening smile on his face, it was done with apparent relish.
John was disheartened by this turn of events. It appeared to him that more than Godda., his actions were hurting other, innocent, people- first, that poor housemaid whom Godda’s wife chided for breaking the crystals, and now the brat who was going through his life wondering why he got the injuries which was making him pay a hefty hospital bill.
John was seated on the front steps of Godda’s porch. Technically, he could float around for eternity and still wouldn’t get tired. But at this point, he felt that it would be a good idea to sit down for a while all the same. And get some thinking done.
His next move has to be something that gets to Godda for good.
But he wasn’t being successful in getting much thinking done.
For the German shepherd in its kennel was barking like there was no tomorrow and it was giving its due to existence with its barking. “shut up, you silly mutt! Let me think!” John shouted exasperatedly, though the dog of course, couldn’t hear him.
But when he looked up, he saw that the canine had its deep brown eyes fixed on him even as he was barking viciously.
Of course, the dog could see me!
The thought struck him with a suddenness which almost knocked John off his feet. Yes, he thought, why hadn’t I thought of it before?
He remembered the scenes in the horror films he has seen. Nit that he has seen many. Wasn’t much of a fan of the genre. It lacked the logical sanctity of science fiction. But he distinctly recalled scenes depicting canines and cats getting agitated when they saw a ghost.
So, that was real, huh?
The idea gave him another idea.
He had seen Godda petting the dog a few times. The man even talked to the dog just like he would to a child. Of course, it would be mighty vicious if I could turn the dog against him!
The thought made him so excited that he could hardly keep still throughout the day. He kept walking to and fro in front of the house, waiting for Godda to come home.
Godda reached home later than usual that evening. In fact, it was almost night. John worried that due to the lateness of the hour, Godda may forego his routine of coming out and petting the dog, talking to it for a while.
But he needn’t have worried. For right after his bath, Godda came out and began spending time with the dog, playing with it by throwing a ball and talking and laughing and all. Once again, Godda looked to John like an ordinary person than a corrupt soul- a wolf in a sheep’s clothing.
Feeling angered, John floated out of the house and stood behind Godda, at an angle that ensured that the dog could see him.
The dog was trotting up and down, clasping the ball in his jaws, dropping it at its master’s feet and then trotting back up to collect it when it was released by the master again, when its eyes fell on the ghost. At first it took a couple of steps back, as though startled by the vision.
John hoped that he hasn’t turned the dog away with fright. That would be the opposite of what he wanted to accomplish.
But thankfully, he saw the dog inching forward towards him, snarling, and before long, it started barking viciously, just like earlier in the day when it saw John sitting on the porch stairs.
Feeling irritated by the mutt’s change in behavior, Godda gave it a slap on its back. The dog was apparently perplexed by this behavior of its master. It was after all, barking at an intruder, just doing its job, wasn’t it? The confusion, along with the supernatural disturbance caused by the presence of the ghost propelled the dog to do something-anything- other than just barking like there was no tomorrow.
To John’s delight, the ‘something-anything’ that the dog opted for turned out to be jumping straight at its master’s feet and biting at his ankle. Godda started screaming, shouting invectives at the dog. Hearing the commotion the security guard came running.
But before the guard to detach the dog from its master, it had taken a decent sized chunk of flesh from its masters leg.
When it looked up, the ghost was nowhere to be seen.
The dog’s bite inflicted enough injury on Godda to warrant bed rest. On the second day of his rest, John decided to strike again.
Godda was lying in a large bed- all the beds in all the rooms of the house, it seemed, were large. Since he couldn’t climb stairs in his condition, he was in a room on the ground floor. His wife, after feeding him cut pieces of apple just exited the room, mumbling she would bring more from the kitchen.
Godda had his ankle wrapped in a bandage. The whiteness of the bandage was in stark contrast to his dark skin. Though the television in the room was on(a soap which his wife was watching), Godda was just lying down, staring at the ceiling, or rather the chandelier which hung from the ceiling.
The chandelier was the reason why John thought that Godda was moved into the room thanks to divine intervention- so that he could attack him further. John was sure that he would disturb the chandelier enough to make a couple of pendalogues or even a candle tube fall off- parts that would be enough to inflict major injuries on the man on the bed. Indeed, not a man but a beast. A beast that killed people in traffic traps!
He had heard the beast commenting to its wife earlier that the pain in the leg was abating.
“I would give him some more pain!” he thought, floating up to the chandelier and beginning to disturb it. Godda had presently begun to slip into a sleep, and seeing that beast lying on the plush bed, looking comfortable as though he were already in heaven, the anger inside John flared even higher, high enough to make him lose control over himself, enough to make him fail to notice that the force with which he was shaking the chandelier was too much for his purposes.
Godda saw the violent shaking of the chandelier and his eyes widened in horror.
Due to his leg, he couldn’t move as fast as he wished to, but still he was fast enough to move out of the way just a spilt second before the 22 kilogram chandleire crashed on the exact spot where he was lying just a moment ago.
Once he managed to get out of the bed, he looked back, only to see the chandelier, precariously perched on the bed, swiveling and falling off the bed, almost as though it was chasing him, determined to get him, one way or the other.
‘Aargh!’ screaming louder than how his dog had barked at the sight of the ghost, Godda ran out of the room with his arms raised, his face drained of all its colour, fear the only emotion that he experienced in his heart.
It was fear for his life that made him run like that, John realized. And he liked it.
Oh, yes, he did. For the second time in three days, he contemplated whether it’s worth killing Godda. He would then go to purgatory for a cleansing period, as Peter had said. And his stay would be excruciatingly painful, the saint with the flaming arrows have said.
But savouring in his mind the sight of Godda lying dead, his body brutally mutilated, he thought the pain that he might have to endure in purgatory would be totally worth it.
John spent the rest of the day weighing different methods to kill Godda, but trying to settle on one that would prove the most effective, one which would mangle his body so much that his own wife and daughter would find it fearsome to look at it was hard.
But he was determined to find it, regardless of how much he had to stretch his feeble creative intelligence.
As it turned out, he didn’t have to tax himself too much. For early next morning, he found that Godda had died. The man passed away peacefully in his sleep. The most awesome sort of death anyone could hope for.
Oh, god! How come! John shouted angrily at the sky.
Godda’s death was not to happen in another ten days. Unless the information that Peter gave him was wrong. But why would the good saint do that? He didn’t know.
As he stood in Godda’s house feeling like an utter fool, he felt a suction from above. The heavenly vacuum cleaner’s suction hose protruded through the sky- unseen by mortal eyes, except of course by those of dogs and other creatures smarter than humans. Godda’s dog barked as it saw John being hoisted towards the sky, carried by the pull of powerful ectoplasmic air coming from the giant vacuum cleaner that no man designed.
“No, I didn’t make any mistake. What I told you, about Godda’s death date was right. Only, I had to prepone it by a few days,” Peter shrugged after speaking, taking another swig of the beer which the angel-bartender served.
No sooner had John got back to heaven than Peter guided him towards the heavenly bar counter. If the two glasses of wine- one red and one white which the angel served (upon Peter’s command) were meant to placate John , it was working.
After spending the last couple of days in the mortal realm, his mind tinkering with such concepts as destruction and death, John could certainly appreciate the charms of heaven much better.
But that’s not to say that he was still not angry at not being able to vent his anger completely. He was this close to killing that goddamn murderer!
“I thought things like death date were fixed”, he said, looking at Peter. “You know, preordained. Like, once it’s fixed, it cannot be changed. At all.”
Peter shrugged. “In most cases, yeah. But in some instances, if the change is worth it, then, we go for it, change the whole arrangement of the future for the sake of the soul in peril.”
“And which soul exactly was in peril this time?” John didn’t bother hiding the sarcasm in his words.
“Why, yours, of course!” The surprise in Peter’s voice was also reflected in his face. “The moment you decided in your heart that you would kill Stephen Godda and imperil your soul, I knew that something had to be done. I did a quick calculation and saw that bringing his death up by a few days wouldn’t make that much of a difference, cosmically speaking. So, I pulled the plug on him. Had to!” Peter shook his head, as though saying to himself, ‘Jesus, the things that a man must do to make a living in heaven!’
“But my soul wasn’t in peril!” shouted John. “At most, I would have to spend a few months down in the purgatory. That’s it! You said so yourself!”
“But John, this is murder we are talking about!” Peter spoke patiently, adopting a tone which a teacher might with a particularly slow student. “And once you perform murder, you cannot predict what would happen to your soul afterwards, not with utmost certainty. It may just turn a shade darker- to coffee brown maybe, in which case it’s fine, you still have a chance of making it back to the light. More than a chance, in fact. But if the shade turns even darker- more towards jet black or the black of the tees that the death metal lovers prefer to wear, then you may find yourself in a cave cut off from the light of the Lord Jesus. You may not then be able to find your way back to the light, for the labyrinthine pathways inside the cave would be like a maze, a maze that keeps you going in circles, never quite leading you to the –“
“_light of the lord, I get it,” John interjected, suddenly feeling tired of the paternistic mode of governance that was evidently heaven’s style.
But the alternative- of being in hell was, of course, hellish. So, he thought he as well might get used to it. It was not like he had any other option but to spend the rest of eternity in heaven.
“You do realize that I did what I did with the sole intention of saving your soul?” Peter said, offering his sweetest smile. A smile that could melt butter.
John didn’t even bother nodding. Just grunted which he thought the saint would take to be a sign of assent.
“Now, if you would please excuse me..”
John got off the bar stool, feeling tipsy from the drink but with none of the associated bad vibes which he may have got if he were having liquor back on earth. His legs didn’t wobble and he didn’t perspire unusually.
In fact, he felt just fine except for a tiredness which was more of an abstract feeling than anything tangible.
He thought that maybe he should go take a dip in the pool of eternal joy, so that he could take away some of the weariness. The more he thought of it, the more the idea appealed to him. Though the wine had put a tinkle of joy in his heart, he still felt bad about not being able to off Godda himself. He imagined the waters of the holy pool washing away that resentment, making the film of resentment fall off him like unwanted skin.
He was about to ask one of the passerby for directions when all of a sudden he found himself standing beside the pool with its name stenciled on a board beside it.
Of course, this was heaven. All you had to do was wish for something and it would happen! No transportation involved. Just straight ferrying, bypassing time and space. John reckoned that science fiction writers back on earth would get to learn a lot if only they knew the underlying mechanisms that kept heaven functional.
He got into the pool and felt his weightless self floating around on weightless water- sparkling and crystal clear water, the kind which you would see only in dreams- that too if you are lucky.
As he had expected, he started feeling all worries slipping away from his self, he felt like an overstuffed bag which was finally being emptied after a long, arduous journey. A young boy swam past him, smiling at him a cherubic smile.
The boy looked no more than 10 years old. He almost called out to the boy to be careful, that the pool was much deeper than he may think, when he recalled that the boy was already dead if he were in heaven, duh.
With that thought, he once again began to relax, just letting him float around on the surface of the pool, like he were floating around on the dead sea.
Minutes, or perhaps hours drifted by- if such measures of time had any meaning up here in heaven. And the more he floated in the eternal pool of joy, the more joyful, the more filled with radiance he became.
John’s eyes were closed in a silent yet joyful reverie when they were brought open by the sound of splashing water that someone made. He looked to his left, from where the sound issued, expecting to see the boy who passed him by a while ago.
But it was a man, on a huge plastic duck, wearing nothing but a pair of orange shorts- an orange too loud for even the beach but which fitted perfectly in heaven where the light was extra crisply white. The duck described short but slow circles on the water, while the man slurped through a straw some blue liquid from a glass in a cup holder attached to the duck- surely an addition that he wished to existence.
The duck eventually turned in such an angle that John finally had the opportunity to see the man’s face.
It was Godda!The one he couldn’t kill, the one that got away! Now, sharing the same pool as him in heaven.
John noticed how the man had a glum looking smile on his face, the same kind of smile he has expressed on many occasions back on earth- particularly when he made a scathing remark about someone.
Even as he made note of it, John was thinking just one thing: “How?” It didn’t make sense for this grave sinner to be here in heaven, much less have access to the eternal pool of joy, that too wearing shorts even Hawaii would find obscenely loud.
For a second, he thought this might be a prank. Someone was pulling his legs, someone with a mean sense of humour.
But hold on, hold on! he told himself silently. Mean and heaven are two words that don’t go hand in hand. So this was not a prank. Then what the hell was this?
He had to get out of this pool and go find Peter- and learn from him what’s going on. No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than he heard Peter’s immaterial voice within him: “John, don’t freak out. Stephen Godda is, of course, here through legitimate channels. For the last minute before his death, when his heart convulsed and excruciating pain shot through his chest, Godda woke up from sleep and the first thing he uttered was “Oh, sweet Jesus, I love you, please don’t abandon me!” A thought which he held on to until the last moment, right until when the last breath escaped his mouth.” After allowing John a few moments to digest this news, he added rather grandiloquently, sounding a bit too pleased with himself, “Stephen Godda may have lived the life of a sinner but he died a believer!”
And with that the voice faded.
John observed mutely as the duck kept revolving around him, making small circles which described a wider circle that was drawn around him- John, on the ultra-clear water.
He felt nothing- not even anger. The long soak in the eternal pool of joy has seen to it.
But the idea that injustice could extent to eternity did occur to him.
Slowly closing his eyes once again, John hoped that when he finally got to meet Jesus in person- Peter had said that the Man visited the living quarters of heaven every Sunday- all such nasty feelings, including that of injustice would leave him once and for all.
But something told him it wouldn’t be wise to bet on it.