He walks on the street of a nearly empty city. It’s a holiday and he feels the mild sun in his face; it’s a pleasant feeling. There is a cool breeze after the morning shower, the street still wet from the downpour. He feels the breeze ruffling his hair, a tingling feeling on his scalp, a scalp that is dry and dirty. He feels like scratching it but he doesn’t; his fingernail looks dirty. There are some houses instead of apartment blocks on this side of the locality with decorative bushes in front, beside the sidewalks. The grass is green and well tended; there are flower bushes and the flowers are of various colours. He loves the colours and wishes he knew the names. Is there a rose bush amongst them? Maybe yes. He doesn’t know, never bothered to learn about flowers in his life. He feels good, looking at them. Innocence, he thinks, but doesn’t the evil have colours too? He halts that line of thinking. A whole can of worms, he thinks, so better keep the lid on. He feels tears making his vision blurry.Up ahead on the street, he sees a small cart with an oven mounted on it. Fried pieces of chicken and other fritters are on display. There’s also a load of noodles on a flat pan, whiffs of steam swirling from the slithery staple; it’s recently cooked. He goes near and looks at the cart; he sees the fritters have a blistery look with the oil still sputtering a bit; he sees the yellow of egg and the orange of carrot splattered on the noodle pan. He has eaten from these carts before but has never paid any heed to the “life” that the foodstuffs display. He sees a man sitting on a bench with a plate of hot noodles and a piece of chicken, trying to finish his food at the soonest; time is money for the go-getter. There is a bag slung across his shoulder, an umbrella peeping from his trouser pocket; his cell phone, lodged in his shirt pocket, rings; he is vexed, wondering whose call it is; he keeps eating, letting the phone ring; he can call back in a minute. Since when have people stopped carrying bags with handles? At a distance is a pair, a man and a woman, young office workers or students; they are sipping sweetened tea and they also have bags slung with a strap across their torso. The young lady catches him looking at the strap going smoothly along her hidden cleavage. What a wonderful sight, he thinks. Why were these people invisible before? He thinks of having some fritters but finds the man in charge looking at his teary eyes with wonderment, so he moves on. He finds a cigarette in his shirt pocket, crumpled but still intact enough to be smoked. He asks for a light from a smoker passing by; reluctantly the smoker offers him a lighter while wincing at the crinkled cigarette. He fumbles with the lighter, with shaking hands and teary eyes; the other man lights it for him. He coughs as he puffs on the cigarette, the cigarette paper stained brown with his sweat, or it could have been liquor that spilled on it last night. He doesn’t have a clue but he coughs and keeps walking. He sees a park ahead and enters it; the guard standing at the gate thinks of stopping him but takes pity on him. He settles on an empty bench.The serenity of the morning is yet to be destroyed by the rising sun and the breeze is still blowing to soothe people who are now resting after several rounds of walking around the perimeter. He doesn’t feel the pleasure from this peaceful morning anymore as memories rush in. A happy childhood, an adventurous adolescence, the earth-shattering feeling of love, the birth of his children, but dark and foggy days thereafter. But the recent past has poisoned the present and will inevitably ruin the future; a realization filled with despondence. He searches his pockets for another cigarette but finds none. He holds his head in his hands, the sobbing giving him convulsions; he wants to scream but cannot. A man puts a hand on his shoulder and gives him a slight shake, almost out of empathy. He looks up, eyes red from sobbing, trying to extend his shaking hands towards the stranger and his lips failing to utter the words he wants to say. He holds his head in his hands again.
“I wish you were dead!” are the words his son yelled at him earlier in the morning.SM Shahrukh writes short fiction.
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