“I have been on this street for as long as I can remember… all I know is that I just have to live… live till the day I die.” By, The Homeless man
The evening sky frowns down at the somewhat busy main road of Koramangala. Cars gliding, people rushing and a whole lot of lights flashing; the usual city chaos.
A homeless man sits on the footpath, on a rugged jute sac, with his back pressed against the stone wall of an old temple. His once white shirt has turned khaki and a blanket of dust rests on his shredded, black pants. He hums a tune to himself as he stares out into nothingness. We will call him HM, short for homeless man.
For a long time now, he has been looking at this same sight, every night. As he shifts his gaze from right to left, all he can focus on are things he doesn’t like. Indecent youth, lazy adults, irresponsible preachers, blind believers, jaded students, and the list goes on and on and on! So much misery, so much sadness; all HM can see is a burning world.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the wide road, an old lady walks slowly. A car continuously honks at her, urging HM to turn his head towards the commotion. He watches as the woman flusters and somewhat limps out of the way. From what HM can make out, it is the driver’s fault for being on the wrong side of the road.
The fuss subsides but HM, for no particular reason, lets his eyes follow the old woman’s trail. She is wearing a white frock covered in prints of red roses, or so HM assumes as he cannot deduce minute details from afar. On her head, she wears a red hat while on her side she drags a purple suitcase. The most intriguing part is her shoes; she isn’t wearing any.
The old woman stops, exactly perpendicular to where HM is sitting. She looks around as if to make sure no one’s watching, failing to notice the only one man who is. There is a dark alley to her right and she turns to face it. The woman stands still for a moment, looking into the darkness of the slim, threatening road, and then starts walking towards it. The homeless man keeps his eyes glued to her back, never breaking eye contact.
All of a sudden, a shiny, black taxi pulls up in front of HM, blocking his view. The body of the car is so glossy that HM can see his reflection on it. He looks at his face in the black mirror and a wave of self-pity washes over him. This is me? he thinks. A woman climbs out of the car and drops a banana in front of him and he quickly picks it, peels it and starts gobbling down the fruit. But, he stops short when his reflection looks back at him as a stranger. His eyes well up and he lowers his head, chewing on the food in his mouth.
A moment later, the car purrs away, freeing HM’s view. A young girl now stands exactly where the old woman had been before she walked into the alley. As the girl walks away, HM notices something odd… the young girl is wearing a white dress with red roses, a red crooked hat, a purple suitcase, and no shoes. He is dumbfounded and stares as the young girl disappears from his sight, around the corner of the road. He tries to run his mind over what he just saw and reach a conclusion but there are no possible explanations.
As he sits there, contemplating different scenarios, he notices an old man on the other side of the road. Brown dungarees, black shoes, light-coloured shirt, and a big trolley suitcase. The old man stops somewhat opposite to the homeless man and checks his surroundings. His demeanour is similar to that of the old lady and this makes HM suspicious. The old man then walks into the same dark alley from before.
HM waits for the old man with bated breath. But, he never returns. After a long while, a young man, arguably in his thirties, walks out of the alley wearing the same clothes that the old man was wearing. He drags the same trolley suitcase on his side and it looks pumped.
Intrigued and somewhat frightened by his own imagination, HM gets up to his feet. From the other side of the road, the old man’s eyes meet the thirsty gaze of this homeless man and he turns, swiftly walking away. By the time HM crosses the road, the old man is already gone.
As HM stands outside the dark alley, bewildered, he notices a shadow walk past him. A little girl, in her teens, swiftly walks into the alley. The man holds back a yelp as he stops himself from stopping her. He notices a yellow bow on the girl’s hairband as she vanishes inside the alley. A few minutes pass and then some more, HM starts getting impatient and finally decides to investigate the matter for himself.
As he walks into the darkness towards the unknown road, the voices of the world behind him grow fainter and softer, until there is only a soft murmur of sorts left. The further he walks, the more accustomed his eyes get to the darkness. There are a few bulbs here and there, shedding enough light to see the concrete. A piece of heavy music hangs in the air, catching HM’s attention. He stops and listens. It is coming from behind him. When he turns around, he sees that the music is drifting from yet another divergent alley which is even darker than the one he is in.
A cold wave rushes down his spine and HM is suddenly not so sure if he wants to know what’s going on. As he stands at the mouth of the dare, dilly-dallying his decision, a tall figure emerges from the darkness. He moves out of the way and stands to one side of the alley, stealing occasional glances at the approaching person.
He can hardly believe his eyes when he sees who it is. It’s a beautiful, fully-grown woman with a familiar yellow bow hairband on her head. It’s the little girl from before! Only she is not so little anymore! The woman ignores HM and walks away.
The homeless man’s head starts spinning. What the hell’s going on here!
“You better not go in there.” A hoarse voice of caution causes HM to almost jump out of his skin. “This is no place for the right-minded.” For the first time, HM notices that there is a person on the sidewalk to his right, another homeless man. HM bends down and gets closer.
“Is that so? Why? Is there magic going on here?” HM asks, a sense of innocent awe evident in his questions.
“Magic? Huh!” Grunts the other man, “Far from it.” The man inches closer to HM till his face is only an inch away, “It’s the powder.”
HM twists his brows, trying to make sense of what the man just said. “What’s that?”
“The powder you fool! The stuff that makes kids feel like adults and tricks the dying into feeling young again.” The man’s lips curl in a dirty smile as he raises his eyebrows, giving non-verbal clues to HM.
But HM doesn’t need any more hints. He understands what ‘powder’ means. The greater concern is, if they are just taking drugs, then what was HM seeing?!
“But… I think I saw them change, physically…” HM muses, not able to grasp why he was seeing things.
The man thought for a while before grunting, “Maybe you have a gift.” He pats HM on the hand. “Or maybe…” the man’s expression suddenly darkens, “How did you get here anyway?”
“I- I sit outside the temple on the main road… or at least I have been for the past few months… I think” HM answers doubtfully.
“Where were you before this?” The man asks.
“I… Um… I don’t remember…” HM fumbles, trying to look for answers inside his brain.
“What’s your name?” The concern is evident in the man’s voice.
HM can no longer answer. He doesn’t remember much, not even his name. And it wasn’t a shocker for him. For some time now, he had started feeling that something was amiss. His surroundings didn’t quite add up and he genuinely had no clue how he got there.
The touch of a cold hand brings HM back to the present. The other man squeezes his shoulder with a grave look on his face.
“Are you on the powder?” The man asks and suddenly, pain shoots up from HM’s nape to his skull. It is like a dam of memories has just broken down within his mind, flooding his consciousness. He starts recalling bits and pieces, fragments of what must’ve happened.
Two faces appear in his mind. The face of a woman, his wife, and the face of a friend.
HM settles down beside the other man as he lets his memory fill in the gaps.
“Are you okay…?” The man asks. He is now sitting upright, facing HM intensely.
“I don’t know…” HM mutters.
“What happened to you?”
HM thinks for an entire minute before answering. “I think I was powdered... too much…” replies HM. “I had come to this place with a… well he’s no friend anymore. I knew something was up… I knew he was sleeping with my wife, but I chose to ignore it. A few days ago he brought me here, he wanted to buy drugs-” HM pointed towards the darker alley, “But something went wrong and the next day I woke up on that footpath…”
“But there is no drug that lasts for days you know… I mean that much would’ve killed ya but here you are, alive!” The man points out.
“The banana…” gasps HM and turns to the man "Every night, there’s this woman who drops off bananas where I sit and once I eat it, I get sleepy and wake up the next evening. Today… I only had a bite of the banana… that’s why I am still awake…”
“My God… that’s quite a scandal.” Is what the other man said. “What will you do now?”
That was not a good question. The sheer enormity of what was happening to HM was impossible to grasp, let alone finding solutions. HM asked for some water which the other man had. He downed almost half the bottle as the other man flinched internally at the depletion of his precious resource.
“I am going to make sure that two more homeless people hit the street within a week.” HM finally declares in a flat tone.
“Good… good…” the other man mumbles, “But you better remembering your name before that!” He rolls his eyes and takes back his bottle.
That night, HM slept with the other homeless man, his mind spinning webs to bring down his foes.
However, what happens next depends only on one thing, and that is whether he recalls his name the next morning!
To be continued...