A million people pour into the city like herds of cattle everyday. Each branded with scars too deep to hide. Pain, anger and dismal gloom abound and procreate wantonly. Men, women and children lie buried under the debris of waste and apathy. A million people pour in to bury a dying million.
It would not have been anything out of the ordinary to see a bruised, beaten and bleeding girl on this dark alley. However, I was not quite ordinary. Or so they thought. Barely having seen twenty-two summers, I was on my way back from the most important interview of my life. My mother, who stood pensively beside me, had already distributed sweets in the neighborhood. Days of depravity were over, her son was to be a Magistrate soon.
The girl in the alley was only a schoolgirl. Did I know her? I had seen her somewhere before.
Ah! She was at our shop the other day. Her mother had wanted to buy a ring for her. I think father sold her a sapphire ring.
“Look at how blue the stone is,” he had assured her. “Only the best at the best price for you.”
She was worthy of affectionate hospitality last time but draped in what remained of a white dress, today, her cries mattered little. The city was deaf.
“I think we should take her to a hospital.” I turned to my mother, seeking assent. “No, we are going home. I don’t want you getting tangled up in this, my son.”
There was to be no more arguing. There never was. Children owe their existence to parents and they must pay this debt with silence.
We quickened our pace now, reaffirming the futility of life with our inaction. Yet, we could not outpace the cries of the helpless girl. The torrid wind carried her agonized wail with ease but I am sure the pain wrecked havoc in her brain, robbing her off speech.
I had half a mind to turn back and call the ambulance for help. Only mother would have none of it.
“We can’t get involved in this. The police could very well frame you if they can’t find whoever did this to her. You know how people talk about rape these days. Your entire future could get ruined”.
The girl looked on as the we became one with the darkness. It was only when we had reached the end of the street that I dared to turn back and steal a glance.
She had stopped wailing and was staring at the stars . I think I heard a raven cawing but I wasn’t very sure. It all seemed so surreal and yet so ordinary. A breeze passed by me. It played with the knots in her hair before clearing the fumes over her pool of blood.
I was going to let her die. Given the brutality of what she had been through, how sweet must death seem now that she lay at its door steps. Death has not known a soul that hasn’t wished for life but in this dark city of murder and rape, few see foe in death. It liberates the captive, embraces the outcast and vindicates the humiliated. It was her only source of light now, her only victory in the impending defeat : the city could deny her a right to live, but not a right to die. In the end, that’s all that mattered.
At home, I stared at the ceiling-fan, lost in thought.
I didn’t need to justify my actions but I did it anyway. It’s good for the soul.
Cowardice is relative. Just like morals. A person’s actions must not be judged through the lens of norms and traditions of society but by the logical calculus of circumstance and time. At that moment in my life, there was little else that I could have done to help her. She would have died anyway. An ambulance could not have saved her. Maybe, I saved her by letting her die.
Slumber pushed me into the same dark alley again. Only this time, I had no legs. I was beside the dying girl, trying to drag myself away but my hands wouldn’t move. I pretended to not see her until her blood began to soak my clothes. I could not ignore her anymore. I turned to face her but she grabbed my hair with both her hands and just then, the ground below us began to give away. There was water everywhere in the very next instance. I didn’t want to die. Not now!
“Let me go,” I cried.
She let go.
A smile followed.
Removing a ring from her finger, she held it in her palm for me to take. “Take it and go.”
“I don’t want anything. Just let me go. Please.”
“Take it and go.”
There was no shaking her. I did as I was told.
Before dropping it into my shirt pocket, I took a closer look.
The blue sapphire. Why was she giving it to me?
“How blue is it?” she asked.
How blue? She has lost her mind.
“My blue sapphire. How blue is it?”
“I don’t know. Let me go now. You said I could leave. Please.”
I woke up to my own cries. It was only a dream. A dreadful nightmare. Maybe one I should expect more often.
It was already seven in the morning but the usual steaming cup of tea was absent from my side- table. I was about to get back into bed when the doorbell summoned me to the main entrance.
It was Chhotu.
I greeted him wryly with a yawn, “You are late today. Two hours late. Let’s hope you don’t get fired by dad today.”
Chhotu was only twelve years of age but he worked at the house from five at dawn to five at dusk for a meager salary that relegated any prospect of a better and more dignified life to a far- fetched fantasy. Hierarchy in the city is sustained by exploitation. All victims are assailants.
“It’s not my fault this time, Sahib. The entire system is only corrupt. I had to spend the night in the police station for trying to help a poor girl. That’s why I got so late,” Chhotu pleaded.
“Hold on. What girl? What are you talking about? You better not be making anything up.”
“No, Sahib. I swear. I was going back home last night when I saw this girl by the alley near the clock tower. She was bleeding from all over. I took her to a hospital somehow but the people in the hospital refused to treat her before the police had had a look at the girl.”
“ They took me to the police station for enquiry and set me free at six in the morning.”
It took me a moment to register everything Chhotu had just said. Erudition had granted me contrivance to rationalize each decision I made in life. However, rationality is not the end that life seeks and at this moment, my life stood quivering with shame.
People in this dark city claim aloofness from sentiments. Each individual conforms to the code of vain pursuit of endless power. The assumed incongruent nature of power and sentiment is an oversight, the trickery of a few to spur pathological conformity and to subordinate the interests of all to those of a few. So deep rooted is this thirst for conformity now that not a single spark of distinction exists.
If ever there was a time when power was sentiment and sentiment power, ‘twas there that peace and contentment breathed love and faith. Apathy has replaced sentiment now, power ravages, unrestrained.
“Did she make it?”, I asked, finally. “No one lives in this city. She’s dead.”
It’s just another day in this dark city. Apathy of the heart shall saunter into the robes of ignorance once again. The eyes shall see people but not their pain. The ears shall hear voices but not their cries. The dead shall depart to realms unknown, deeds buried and burnt forever. The living shall endure another day, feigning ignorance from the plight of the irrelevant and sipping blood from ivory cups at the break of dawn.
It wasn’t until I stepped out for groceries that I found it again in my shirt pocket. The blue sapphire ring.
Most people would have paused and thought about the ring until insanity subsumed their consciousness, I did not. The fact is that all of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am.
I borrowed a hammer from our shop and after lunch, I wrested the sapphire from the ring. As I buried the ring in the backyard, I couldn’t help mumbling.
“From dust to dust. From dust to dust. From dust to dust.” Father sold the blue sapphire to another girl the very next day.