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The Living Dead
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

Up until the moment I died I’d never imagined they were actually going to kill me.

Oh, I’d known I was in trouble, yes. But no one, ever, not even a suicide, believes in the actuality of imminent death. There is always the hope, the belief if you will, that something will intervene, that somehow the way will open to safety beyond, or that somehow the clock will turn itself back. No one, actually, in the depth of his inmost self, believes himself about to die.

That morning I had woken in my little – and highly overpriced – hotel room. The television set I had made no attempt to turn on stood on its table along with the equally redundant ashtray. The jug of water and glass I had not touched stood on the side table as usual. It was not yet dawn.

I had arrived in the city on the previous night, on another business trip. After years of roaming the country on these trips, I despised them now. It was difficult for me to believe that I had actually taken this job, not just for the salary, but for the travel it offered. At least I had never been to this state, let alone this city, before, so there had been something to look forward to. Not that it had meant much. A brief acquaintance with the streets showed it to be the same as any other urban sprawl. They seem to turn them out on a factory floor.

That day I had an early meeting – and then another, directly across town, and after lunch a couple more. By the time I was through with the lot it would probably be late in the evening. I would get back to the hotel and take the early morning flight out tomorrow.

Such, it amuses me to relate, were my plans.

So, I shaved my cheeks, I trimmed the corners of my goatee, I bathed, I applied aftershave. One could not turn up for these meetings without dressing for the part. I went to the trouble of knotting a tie, though the heat of the streets prohibited a coat. I put on a silver tie pin on the dark blue tie. I had a light breakfast and then washed my mouth with Listerine. I was ready.

Although the hotel had cars for the guests to rent, I as always ignored them. These cars were always atrociously expensive and for most of the day, while I was locked up in meetings, they would be lying unused – and I would still have to pay for them. Expense accounts could be padded, of course, but economy earned more brownie points where my boss was concerned. A taxi when necessary was a far better mode of transport.

The first meeting went off all right. The man I was to meet was fat and tried to cover his bald patch by combing over hair from one side of his head to the other, but he had acumen. He was not one of those who enjoyed listening to the sound of his own voice and he did not need to be told something more than once, in one way. Such people are rare enough for it to be a pleasure dealing with them.

On my way to the second meeting, the taxi turned down a side street. It surprised me, because I had thought the office lay on the road I was on, though still several kilometres away. Probably the driver was trying to run up the meter – a common enough trick where newcomers to any Indian city were concerned. I leaned over the backrest of the driver’s seat and asked him where he thought he was going.

"Suna hai ke aage koi danga ho raha hai, saab," he said. "There’s a riot going on somewhere ahead, I’m told. We have to go the long way around."

Riot? I hadn’t heard anything. Nor had I, of course, heard or read the news. I had not had the time. I did not think it would be a serious affair, anyway. Had it been, surely they would at least have shut off traffic?

We were wending our way through a maze of incredibly narrow, congested lanes, with old brick buildings on either side, the plaster on their sides tinged with green moss and peeling posters advertising the services of quacks specialising in the treatment of "secret diseases". People were everywhere, thronging the streets, in numbers I had seldom seen before. The car found the going tough amid the sea of pushcarts, rickshaws, and bicycles busy going nowhere in particular. I glanced at my watch. There was still an hour left, but we were going so slowly I doubted if we could make it. I considered calling the man on his mobile and telling him I might be late; but I abandoned the idea. I’d call him if it became necessary, not before. I still had time.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:Living Dead
Type:Short story
Rating:5.85 / 10
Rated By:76 users
Comments: 2 users
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