CITY OF DUSTHe walked on the deserted streets, feeling his jaw tighten as the dusty wind brushed against his face. He dipped his chin under his shirt, dug his hands deep into his coat pocket, narrowed his brow, pursed his lips and kept walking.
Published at : April 1, 2018
Updated at : April 1, 2018 10:45
He walked on the deserted streets, feeling his jaw tighten as the dusty wind brushed against his face. He dipped his chin under his shirt, dug his hands deep into his coat pocket, narrowed his brow, pursed his lips and kept walking. A bus slithered by and a cloud of dust shrouded the earth. The wind stirred in front of him, then whirled, sweeping the dust off the street, obscuring everything, but he kept walking. Ropes of water, a steady stream, poured down from the edge of the balcony pattering on the cobblestone beneath, but he hardly noticed. He just walked. The trees were shaking, whipped back and forth by the wind, their leaves broke from the branches and showered onto him. As the dust settled, he could see kids playing on the hot pavement, shouting and cursing, but he didn’t blink an eye.
What once was a prosperous city was now reduced to rubble. The roads were cracked, the buildings were debris and pieces of people’s homes were scattered everywhere.
His pant pockets were flip-flapping on his waist, but his eyes were still fixed to the ground, he was carefully studying the tiles on the footpath. The few buildings that still stood seemed like they were going to cave in at any moment, he paused for a second then walked on. The flags and posters barely clinging to the walls fluttered in the wind. A hint of a smile came over his face. Posters like these had littered the walls in Pokhara too. His heart lurched at the thought of Pokhara. Slowly, the buildings before him dissolved and a vast bed of water materialised ahead. His mouth gaped and his eyes narrowed in disbelief. It was Fewa lake. Suddenly, a bicycle swished past him, splashing water all over his pants and washing away his nostalgic vision. He rolled his vacant eyes and gave the cycler a deathly stare. But the cycle disappeared into a galli and he soon forgot about it. He walked past the line of shops and houses. Low hanging dark clouds floated above against a rosy skyline. A feeling of doom crept up on him and he could not shake it off.
He threw open the gate, quietly entered the pokhari and sat on a lonely concrete bench, soaking in the sun. As he placed his hands on the bench, it stood still but the earth seemed to move. He sat carefully. He looked dreamily at the pond. The water was almost completely still, smooth and mirror-like. He saw the reflections of the houses and the trees in it. “Hey, Yogesh,” a warm voice called out from somewhere. He heard it but he didn’t. The sweltering heat of the sun was making him sleepy. His eyes were still fixed on the unruffled bed of water. “Yogesh,” the voice was getting louder with every passing second. Suddenly a hand reached for his shoulder and squeezed it. Yogesh abruptly sat up, but his eyes were still fixed on the pond. “Yogesh,” the cry was now loud and piercing. After a long silence, he slowly lifted his head and looked up blankly. “Thank god. I thought you were in a coma,” Yogesh was unresponsive, his eyes hazy with pain and sorrow.
“What’s the matter, Yogesh?” Ramesh shook his shoulder as dust fell from it.
Finally, Yogesh’s mouth opened and in a faint tone he replied, “I think my life is dull and pointless.”
“What happened, old fella, what’s the matter?”
“The college, it sucks. I wish I’d got the scholarship to your college.”
“Why? What happened?”
“The teachers, they know nothing. Unsophisticated, improper, witless donkeys.”
Ramesh, with both of his hands in his tummy, chuckled excessively. “Oh, they’re all like that, just hold on for a few months.”
“You think it’s easy, Ramesh? You don’t know how out of place I feel,” Yogesh picked up a stone and flung it at the pond. The stone went lapping through the water swiftly bouncing and rippling before plunging into the depths and disappearing.
“What happened now, tell me bud?”
“I feel out of place man. I don’t want to make friends. People are selfish and rude. Back in Pokhara, people stopped to say ‘hi’ whether they knew you or not. God, I miss it.”
“Well, we all need time adjusting to the new environment.”
“I didn’t know it’d be this hard. I feel disoriented and hollow and the confusion only seems to grow.”
“Surely, that’s not what’s bugging you. Come on, let it out,” Ramesh tapped him on the shoulder.
“Well, I don’t want to study anymore. The classes are neither interesting nor thought-provoking, I’m not learning anything. The teachers seem to be more puzzled than the students. I feel lost. I miss Pokhara, the people here are dull and selfish. I can’t seem to fit in. If I knew Kathmandu would be this bad, I’d never have come here,” Yogesh said while tapping on the ground restlessly with his foot.
“Well, people are a bit cold and heartless but you’ll be like them in no time, fella.”
Yogesh took a deep breath, “I’m turning into a lifeless skeleton. I wouldn’t be surprised if people start running away from me.”
Ramesh cackled, “See there, fellow? You aren’t that sad, are you? Your sense of humour is as good as ever.”
As they spoke a heavy wind blew above the pond and the water bulged.
“But…I don’t like being shackled to a stupid school day after day. My heart aches to travel. It’s a desperate longing I’ve built over the years to travel to Pokhara and live in a small hut.”
Ramesh contained his laughter and looked at him in disbelief.
“Ramesh,” a loud commanding voice called from behind.
“Oh god, Yogesh. I forgot I was working when I saw you. Dad wants me to serve the guests. Gotta go, bud. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” they both waved hands as they drifted apart.
Yogesh sprang from the bench. He felt better after talking to his friend. He tucked his pockets inside and made his way home.
At night, he rolled his window and looked out, breathing a sigh of relief as the dark blanket of clouds unraveled and the rain finally started to settle. The smell of the mud and sewage and agarbatti permeated the air. Behind him, he heard the plonk of the tap water dripping onto the basin. The streets were calm and quiet and shrouded in darkness. The leaves of the trees were now dark green and water was gushing down the roads in torrents. The crickets were chirping and the smell of the damp earth refreshed him. Occasionally cars rolled through the streets, honking their horns while pedestrians made their way under the golden glow of the street lamps. Plink. At the sight of the road, he felt a steady rage growing inside him, and this feeling ignited his heart. He would escape.
He clenched his fists and his chest heaved. He had had enough of this dreadful house, and the school and the city, and everything. Plunk, Plunk…Plunk. He was going to be free, unshackled from this dull and depressing social station. He’d go to Pokhara, buy a boat and navigate the lakes. Excitement grew in the pit of his stomach and he could feel his nerves drumming from the tip of his fingers to the tip of his toes. Suddenly, the door behind him creaked open, and a head craned in. His heart leapfrogged to his throat, the cage in his chest rattled and shook.
“Pumpkin,” a shrill voice called out. His mother stood before him.
“Yes, ma,” he gulped.
“Who’s going to do the dishes, pumpkin?” her eyebrows raised.
“I’ll do it in a minute, ma,” his lips quivered with every word he spoke.
“You stupid scoundrel, I’ve told you a million times to keep the tap tight shut. Couldn’t you hear the plunking noise?”
His dreams evaporated before his eyes. As he swallowed his grief that he could feel stir in his stomach.
Quietly, with his eyes on the floor, he rushed past his mother to the kitchen and in a soft voice under his breath he murmured to himself, “If only I had the courage.”