Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wretched Darkness

Born with an urge...

An urge he tried to understand...

But never could...

Cultural, hormonal or genetic – whatever the origin...

The urge remains...

The cop walked down the street. Armed with nothing more than a lathi and protected by nothing more than a uniform. He had to do this every day.

Walk his beat. Walk carefully.

“Don’t step on the faeces” he thought.

Faeces - The least of his concerns. There are other things a cop on a night vigil has to worry about. Stepping on the pavement dwellers, for example, while they slept through their fear. Mankind slept a disturbed sleeps on these streets. And it wasn’t the weather.

The pavement dwellers were disturbed by the thought of the eerie violence that could be upon them on a dark night such as this.

So they slept together. In batches of three or more. A rodent running through their legs would cause them to raise a fearful alarm. And whip out a knife or a stick or whatever it is that they slept with to protect themselves. They slept in fear.

Fear of the unknown quantity that could drain out the blood from their bodies. And leave behind a starved corpse unrecognisable to all apart from those who slept next to the corpse while it was alive the night before.

It had been out there for many months now. It had many names. And it had many faces. Few claimed to have seen it. Some saw a large bat. Others saw a giant mosquito. One saw a large snake. They argued about it all day while they went about doing what the poor do. They bickered over it while they ate their food. It entertained them in the morning and they feared it when they slept. For it attacked only in the night.

They deluded themselves into believing that it attacked only those that sinned. And they believed it to be true. The streets turned pious. Gambling dens, hooch joints and brothels resembled housed haunted only be the spirits of dead vices. White lies were no longer spoken. Tongues were barred from speaking evil. Man became as pious as man could.

Ironically, piety led by the devils hand.

For a city that never sleeps, streets fell silent after midnight. Apart from a stray suicidal vehicle, those lucky to own their own abodes refrained from stepping out. It had never killed the affluent. But the affluent always fear more than the poor.

The poor took strength from poverty and the absence of alternatives. And they slept a sleep wedged in twilight. Too tired to stay awake and too scared to sleep.

The cops walked the street to protect the city. Sometimes alone and sometime in pairs and sometime on bicycles. They walked the lonely walk of the fearful. They walked the dark alleys and the sub-lit streets.

They feared every corner, every blind spot and their blind side.

They wished they had four eyes. Two behind the head.

The commissioner, asleep in his secure bedroom at night, had asked them to refrain from using their vehicles. Vehicles made a noise that could drive the murderer away. The commissioner wanted him alive. He wanted to prove that the murderer was not some creature from the dark side.

The commissioner liked to believe that the murderer was human.

The cop walked the street. As he neared a dark alley on his right, an alley no cop would have stepped into alone, he thought he heard a cough. Something told him to stop. He stood still. He thought he heard a cough again. He was about to start walking again when he heard a muffled squeal. He was about to enter the alley when he heard footsteps running towards him. He looked up and saw two other policemen walking towards him. If whoever was in the lane heard them, there was a chance that he might get away. He gestured towards the cops to quiet down and tread slowly.

After a few moments of bewilderment, they understood. They walked on eggshells towards him, gesturing “What is it” with their hands, fear written all over their faces. He put his finger to his lips asking them to be silent and pointed to the alley on his right.

As they reached the entrance to the dark alley, he gestured towards them and asked them to back him up while he would spring into the lane. They took cover behind the shadows cast by the building at the corner of the alley. He sprung in, deliberately making a noise with his lathi. He was too scared of the element of surprise. "Who in the end might surprise whom", he thought.

Towards the far end of the lane, a man sprung up. The cop could not see the face shielded by darkness. The man was momentarily startled by the cop. But then he recovered and bolted.

The cop ran after him. His girth ensuring that he was slower than the man ahead of him. He panted into his whistle while he ran. He heard the two cops behind him come out of the shadows and run after him. As he reached the far end of the alley, he saw a man unconscious, lying on his back. The old man looked like he belonged to the pavement. The two cops had by then reached the man too. The old man looked dead. But his pulse was alive.

The cops were exhilarated. They finally had seen the one or at least the silhouette of the one. The one known as the bat and the mosquito and the snake. Now they knew that he was but a man. The cop asked one of his accomplices to follow him as he ran after the murderer. The other would go off and call an ambulance.

The two cops took off after the murderer. As they turned the corner, they saw him running a few hundred yards away. They ran after him as fast as they could.

The man kept running. They kept running. After what seemed like an eternity, they saw him duck into an alley. One cop followed him and the other, ran into another alley, further ahead, that ran parallel to the one the murderer had run into.

They two alleys both opened out to the main road on the other side of the alley. Both alleys had only one other lane that cut across and connected both. If the man ducked into that lane, the other cop could cut across and apprehend him. If he kept running straight down to the main road, the cop had him in his sights.

The first cop saw the man duck into the lane towards the right. Their plan would work. “The bastard will finally be caught” he thought.

As he ducked into the lane on the right, he saw someone at the far end. As he ran towards him, he realized that the murderer was nowhere to be seen. The man at the other end was his partner. The cop stopped and looked around. There were no other exits. Apart from a few old ramshackle two story chawls. “The bastard could have entered any of these” he thought. “But which one?”

He called out to the other cop and asked him to remain where he was. He saw a few lights come on at the sound of his voice. “This was a mistake”, he thought. “If anyone comes out of their houses in any of these buildings, they are in trouble. And I don’t even know which building the bastard entered”

He saw a few fearful faces peeking out at him through half open windows. “Close your windows, bolt your doors, switch off your lights and stay quiet” he screamed out. He screamed out his instructions again and asked the other police man to do the same. As he kept shouting out instructions, he walked back quietly towards his end of the lane.

The two cops were now at either end of the lane. And again, it was quiet, apart from a few stray dogs. The dogs had joined them in shouting out instructions and were still at it. Then the dogs fell silent too. And then it was really quiet. The only one with the courage to breathe was the wind.

He looked for his mobile phone. He had to call for backup. It was dangerous for one of them to enter the poorly lit buildings all by themselves. The man was capable of violence. He had demonstrated that forty three times now. It was not sensible for both of them to go together into any building. They did not know where the man was hiding. And if both of them were off the road and searching the buildings, the murderer could run away, while they combed the wrong place.

"But did his partner see the man" he wondered. He tried to gesture but the other cop was too far away. He had no choice but to ask him aloud. The other cop said that he didn’t. He did not see anyone when he reached his end of the alley.

The first cop found his mobile phone. And it was switched off. He tried to switch it on and realized that the battery had drained off. “FUCK” he screamed out loud. A few dogs barked back. He was always lazy when it came to charging his phone. He disliked them, but had to carry one because his wife nagged him.

He called out to his partner and asked if he had one. “No. I left mine at the police station. I had just stepped out for a walk with Thambe when this happened”

“Benchut, all this has to happen today” the first cop abused loudly. He thought about combing the buildings alone and then thought of his family. “No. It is not wise”.

There was nothing that he could do. He sat down in the middle of the road at his end of the lane and gestured towards the other cop to do the same. They had no choice but to wait. Wait until another cop walked this beat and could go get help. Neither could leave the place as it would give the murderer an escape route. “And who knows, the bhadwa might be watching us now”

And so they lay siege. Someone switched on their lights and looked out of the window. An old man looked out. The cop screamed at the old man. “If you want to look out, at least do that with your lights off”

They sat there for an hour. And nothing moved but the rodents. They had nothing to fear. There was no sound apart from an occasional street dog whimping and barking. And then it was nearly dawn. The man looked at his watch. 5:00 am it said. Something had to happen soon. He had to do something soon.

In an hour, people would start going up and about. Someone would come down for a walk. Someone would start the kitchen fire. He wasn’t sure if everyone in the had heard him. If someone does step out, for a walk or to buy milk, the murderer would find a hostage if not a victim.

And then his luck turned. Luck walked up to him with a pot belly dressed in an uniform. “Why are you sitting here baba” the new cop asked while he walked up to him. The man who lay siege on the dark lane nearly cried out loud. Tears of joy and tears of relief. “Go get more back up. Go now benchut and come fast”

“What happened”

“Arre, benchut, the murderer is in one of these buildings. Now don’t fuck my head. Go and come fast. And get backup. Lots of back-up and ammunition. We need to comb these buildings. He is in there somewhere”

The cop who had just arrived turned around and ran faster than his pot belly would allow. After a few paces, he had to catch his breath and started walking. He had just walked a couple of steps when he heard the other cop abuse him “Run fast bhadwa”. The man ran as fast as he could. At least till the end of the alley.

In the next half an hour, there were more than 20 cops in the alley with their primitive ammunition. More were promised soon.

The cops started combing the buildings in batches of five. Then more cops arrived. One cop was on a loud-speaker bellowing instructions to the building dwellers. “DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSES. SHUT YOUR DOORS. STAY INDOORS. KEEP YOUR WINDOWS CLOSED”

By 7:30 am they had him. A teenage urchin with murderous eyes. He had no weapons on him. He was crouching in a dark corner on the second floor of a building when they found him. He tried to fight back. He was strong but he was outnumbered.

They took him to the police station. And they beat him. They beat him till he was nearly dead. Then they beat him some more. They then took the nearly dead body to the nearest government hospital. A few of them, the senior ones, serenaded the media. “It was a successful operation” they said “no casualties and no collateral damage. The murderer is recovering from his injuries that he sustained while he tried to escape”

A week later, after fighting death, the boy recovered. And they questioned him. He said he was innocent. He said that he was a rag picker. He was addicted to pot and was crouching on the street, rolling a joint when the cops came upon him. He was scared and he ran.

But finally he accepted that he was the murderer. Before that he was beaten again. He finally put his thumb print on the confession. A week later he died. "Of natural causes" the media reported.

Two weeks later the two cops who lay siege were at the local bar. The bar was crowded again. The bar owner, happy that he was minting more money than he ever did, offered the two cops all they could drink on the house.

After a few drinks they discussed the evening. The whole bar was all ears. The two gloated and exaggerated. How they nearly caught the murderer. How when they ran behind him and nearly caught up with him and tugged at his torn shirt. They said that he looked behind and with his red eyes and hypnotized them into momentary stillness. And how the two of them were a part of the search party that finally caught the murderer. And how he fought. One against ten. It took twenty cops to finally overpower him. And how he finally sat in meditation in the jail cell and gave up his life. The drunk crowd oohed and aahed and applauded and raved and abused.

The two drunk cops finally walked out of the bar. They could go out on the beat again. Fearless and drunk.

“By the way, Do you know where Thambe is ?”

“Ha ha Ha, that fattu must have shat in his pants after that night and must be still cowering at home. Or he must have gone off to fuck that whore he dotes on”

“Ha Ha Ha”

Thambe never went home after that night.

It took the cops a couple of days before they realized this. Wives of policewomen in the city are used to not seeing their husbands home for a few days. And Thambe had a mistress on the side. He sometimes did not come home for a week.

But when he didn’t come home for more than a week, Thambe’s wife came looking for him.

Thembe never went home that night.

They found his uniform in a gutter.

One month later the murders started again. In another city not far away...

The urge remains...

The urge is strong...

The urge grows stronger...