The Road to Nowhere
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
road to nowhere winds along through the red desert, through the featureless
immensity, with nothing to show where it begins and where it might be headed.
Iím at the wheel of the burned-out car with the missing
windshield, clutching the steering wheel which has melted and buckled from some
forgotten fire. The bonnet of the car is loose, and flaps up and down with
every jolt and every pothole, and the road to nowhere has many.
The wind off the desert blasts at me through the frame of
the windshield, hot and dry and full of the cruelty of the desert. This desert
is cruel beyond all others, hostile to anything even remotely resembling life,
and the rocks that make up its substance resent even the passage of my
destroyed car over the road laid across their bosom.
I think Iíve dreamt this all before.
The first time was, oh, I donít know, twenty years ago, and
Iíve dreamt it maybe twice or thrice a year, I think, since then. I canít say
for sure, because when I wake up itís only a fast-fading memory. Afterwards, I
can never remember it: until I begin dreaming it again.
Itís one of those dreams where I know itís a dream, right
from the beginning, but at the same time itís real, so that Iím in the dream,
and the things that happen are happening to me, and Iím powerless to break free
It always begins the same way, this dream. Thereís the old
desert landscape of eroded bedrock, and sunset-red skies. Iím driving along the
road to nowhere, through the red desert, under the red sky.
Far in the distance, I see the place where I must stop. The
sight never fails to send a thrill of apprehension down my spine, and each time
I see it I try to drive past. It ought to be easy to do that, since Iím in
control of the car, for all that itís a burned out hulk, but somehow I never
can. My hands swing the steering wheel, automatically, and the car turns off
into the driveway, and I stop in front of the house.
Even though I know whatís to come, even though I know the
source of my fear isnít in the house itself, the building has always terrified
me. Tall and blank-faced and white as bone bleached by this desert sun, it
crouches like a predatory bird, a couple of windows staring out across the
desert from an upper storey. At some time in the past, it must have been
burned, and a great scorch mark defaces the near wall. The scorch mark almost
looks like a Christmas tree, or the distorted shadow of one.
As I get out of the car, music begins playing. This is
always the first sound I hear, because until this point the road to nowhere
knows only silence. The music is slow, mournful, and repetitive, playing a
single series of notes over and over. In between, there is a second note, a
sound I can almost hear, but not quite. This second note makes me, always,
worried and apprehensive, because I know what is to come.
I walk round the side of the house, staying as close to its
wall as possible, away from the brooding malevolence of the desert. The desert
has songs I donít want to hear, songs that are set to the music, dirges that
destroy the soul with the weight of their sorrow. I stick to the wall and hurry
because I donít want to hear the music.
The door is at the back of the house, and itís always open.
Sometimes itís a perfectly ordinary door, slightly ajar. Sometimes itís
splintered and hanging, shattered, from its hinges. Sometimes itís rotted away
and falls to pieces at a touch. And once or twice itís been made of heavy
metal, like a bank vault, but opened easily at the pressure of a hand. Today,
itís of some dark, heavy wood, and thereís a vertical crack down the centre.
When I push, it falls into two pieces, sagging, but leaving enough space for me
to squeeze through.
As always, I stop inside the door for a few moments, getting
used to the shifting play of light and shadow on the walls and ceiling. Itís
like being inside a beating heart, with the red pulsing light and the slow
throbbing music. Thereís the corridor straight ahead, which leads to the hidden
recesses of the house, which I have never visited. And, on the right, there are
the stairs which I must climb, though every fibre of my being cries out in
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