Let the Darkness Come
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
The hard light of noon pours down on the street, down on my blood that trails behind me, glittering rich red in the sun.
This is not the death I’d imagined for myself. When I’d
pictured my demise, I’d always thought that it would happen sometime in the
evenings or the small hours of the night, in a room shrouded in darkness, with
nothing but silence to mark the occasion. I had not thought that I would die in
the bright hot sunlight of a summer day, with a crowd gathered round.
They have tied my body with ropes around the ankles, and are
dragging it behind a pickup truck. The vehicle is driving slowly, so that
everyone gets a good look, and that I’m not too badly mutilated by the time
they’re done. Each bump and crevice in the road surface jolts my body, throws
the trailing arms around, the curled fingers twitching as though they still
want to reach out and grasp at the life that has slipped by.
Almost curiously, I watch them drag along my corpse. Now
that the moment has passed, the moment everyone dreads, I can afford mild
curiosity, a detached near-amusement. When my head bounces in a pothole with a
crack hard enough to be heard over the little pickup’s labouring engine and the
voices of the crowd, when one of my eyes, still half open, is covered with a
smear of mud, all I do is watch. Not that there’s much more I can do anyway.
Momentarily drifting lower, I look at my body, realising
that I’m bidding it farewell. It was a good body, hadn’t given me too much
trouble, and lately had borne up extremely well under stresses it had never had
to deal with before. I study it almost like a laboratory specimen; the shabby
business suit I’d worn as a disguise, the hole in the head from which the red
blood still bubbled on to the ground.
Here, on my body’s left hand, I can still see the scar that
I’ve borne since my teens, when I had tried to commit suicide by slashing my
wrists. The right hand scar – made by my weaker, more unsure left hand – had
long since faded, but the other one never quite did, and now is an angry weal
on the skin. I’d survived then, but it seems I’d only postponed my death.
Well, don’t we all?
It’s strange to think that even half an hour ago, I’d been not
just alive but filled with hope for the future. I’d been hunted for weeks, in
the towns and from the air, but I was still free, still going, and, after
months of "freedom" and "liberty", more and more of the people were beginning
to agree that I’d been right after all.
I had to travel light, sometimes alone, sometimes with two
bodyguards at the most, men who were loyal to me, who had stuck with me since
the old days. I, who had once dwelt in rooms with plush carpets on the floor
and air conditioning round the clock, had learnt to adapt. I had spent nights
in tiny village storehouses, sharing my space with sacks of grain teeming with
weevils and learning not to flinch as rats scurried over my face and hands. I’d
crouched in a dugout under a field with my ear pressed to the wall, listening
to the sound of boots through the wall as they walked around above. I,
who had dined on gourmet dishes on the finest china at state banquets, had
found that a disc of flat bread and sour wine was enough to live on for a day,
and counted myself lucky if I could get it. And though once I’d had doctors at
my beck and call, I’d found that illness, as long as I could still move and
talk and walk, was an irrelevant distraction from the important things in life.
Yes, I’d changed, from the man who had made speeches on the
television that everyone had listened to and then analysed and discussed for
days, not just here but abroad, in the halls of power in countries on the other
side of the world. I’d become leaner and harder, and I’d realised again what
I’d forgotten: that honour and loyalty and friendship are more important than
palaces and luxury and the trappings of power, but even honour and loyalty and
friendship are not the equal of having a tattered blanket to wrap around you in
the cold of a desert night.
I had learnt more, too; I’d learnt to tell a genuine look of
sympathy and friendship from the plastic smile of insincerity, to know when to
tarry and when to leave. I’d developed a kind of sixth sense which had told me
more than once to stay away from a village that was just a little too quiet, or
not to cross a road which might be under observation from a hill in the
distance. I’d learnt, once again, to trust my instincts, and most of the time
they had served me well.
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