The Walking Man by Harikrishnan Mankada Covilakam
His alarm started to beep, as the bleak text on his phone blinked ‘18:30′. His phone had a black wallpaper, and over it, a digital clock. The TV show he was watching was buffering, stuck at a point, with the loading sign spinning in vain. He stood up and searched around his room, which was fairly clean, except for one corner that hosted the dirt from the morning sweep. He found his grey Nike t-shirt and slipped into it. The t-shirt was his favorite, old but strong with memories. He always chose this t-shirt for his walks. It seemed only natural to him that he must wear what he truly is. If all goes well, he was going to put a star over his Nike swoosh today.
He closed the main door quietly, swiftly turning to head in the direction of the gate. The watch showed 18:31 and he breathed in, relaxing. He didn’t want to rush; he didn’t like rushing; something about hurrying felt wrong to him. All he had to do was, to keep a check on time and move when needed. All he had to do was be aware and he was sure he’ll make it. He’ll surely make it.
This was his favorite part of the day, twilight with a humming breeze, specifically in the winter – when the colors descended with a sense of purpose. The roads were flushed in crimson, from the dying embers of the sun, and the leaves rustled, like little girls, teasing him for his delusions. He loved the walk nevertheless. He was always greeted by life in its adolescents at this hour.
He waddled through a small road and noticed the children playing. He hadn’t seen them in the past two days and the chance of kicking the ball gave him great joy. He always imagined being able to dazzle the kids with his skill on the ball; a rainbow maybe? – which he used to execute with precision at a point in his life. But his legs never gave heed to his past, and would always fumble. Nowadays, after a couple of failed attempts, he only tried to make a good pass or a quick shot on goal. He was always given a loud cheer and he would take appreciation from wherever he could get, especially when it reminded him of a better time.
The ball rolled towards him as he reached closer to the kids and he hesitated for a moment. Taking aim, he proceeded to pass the ball back, and in a swift kick he rolled the ball back to the children. It brought a smile to his face, as it reminded him how it felt to have the ball slap against his bare foot. The ecstasy of firing the ball through a crowd of legs, to the one player that it was intended. He never played now, even if he could. He was happy with these memories now, and they were brought to life every week with a small kick.
“Uncle, what’s the time?” asked one of the kids. He took out his phone and read out.
“Hey, what phone is that?” the kid asked curiously as he approached.
“It’s a blackberry. It’s old.” he said smiling.
“Still. I can’t wait to get one. I’ll get one when I turn 13 my dad says,” The child said, running back to his game.
He smiled at the kids and moved forward. It was 18:35, he had to hurry. He wanted to stop by the old lady’s house to help her clean the car. He moved forward, checking his watch again. The small road was lined with houses from a few decades ago, reminding the people of an apparent simpler time. The houses quietly conversed during this time, they told each other stories of the people who lived in them. Stories of love and family, and he liked to listen to them when he walked. He’d get a peek of a barbie doll on a windowsill and listen to what it has to say. The stories were narrated in seconds, and in those fleeting moments he could take it all in, because he knew the stories himself. They were all the same story, of family.
He walked towards a house that told of many more stories than the others. It had vines climbing all the way up the porch. It had red windows and a balcony looking at the road. The balcony had two forgotten dusty cane chairs, and the gate had a broken sign that said – “Woof woof” and a half painted dog.
A 78 modeled Premier Padmini was parked inside; It’s white color, prideful and clean. An old lady was cleaning it patiently; she went over the same spot many times, slowly but surely, dusting off everything that had stuck onto the car in the week. Clad in a white saree with her white hair cut short, she was bending to cover the bumpers. As he approached, she looked up with a smile and picked up her walking stick that was left on the car. She pressed and with a heave pulled herself up to form a short frame. She moved towards him with surprising speed and handed the cloth to him.
“On time, huh? What is this project of yours? You will show me once you’ve finished won’t you?” The lady asked. Her small frame buzzed of life, antithetical to time’s cruelty. She brought with her the scent of senility, a scent of impending closure. Yet, she radiated so much life, that her clothes turned yellow. She seemed happy meeting him; always with a pleasant smile, she greeted him and asked about him. She would always give him candy, emulating her late husband who would always give candies to the kids who he used to treat. The Doctor and the wife had a peaceful life, and now all she had were memories. The pain of loss always colors our memories in a different hue, the colorful memories turns painful while the painful memories turns light. Her favorite memories were always the squabbles she had with the Doctor, consequentially, her happy memories were too painful to think of. She locked them away only to run through them from time to time to know that they haven’t been stolen.
“I’ll go get you some candy before you finish,” she remembered, before briskly walking into the house.
He looked at the time and realized that he was running slightly late. Swiftly he wiped the top part of the car of all the dry leaves and the dust that had accumulated in the past week. Before he finished the old lady swiftly returned and handed him a ‘Mars’ chocolate bar.
“Hope you like this one, my son got this the last time he came,” she said and rolled her eyes laughing.
“Thank you ma ’m”, he said, sheepishly accepting the chocolate bar. “I have to go now, till next week then” he said as he turned around to rush to the factory.
18:39, he visualized how he can reach the factory in four minutes and all he could imagine was running till he was out of breath. As soon as he was around the corner from the old lady’s house, he darted breaking into a sprint. He could not feel his body pumping out sweat to cool him down, the thumps of his shoes against the paved road slowly became softer as he turned into the factory.
The abandoned factory was a relic that was caught up in a legal battle. Now, it was time’s muse and its stone, to sculpt it with degradation. The red brick walls pulled together a rusty gate that wailed when opened. The thumps of his feet slowed down, as he eased into a trot, carefully looking around in apprehension. His eyes were wide open, as he brushed a sweat trickling down the sides of his temples. His eyes darted from left to right, checking to make sure was alone. He slowly moved into the entrance in the side and opened the door; he crouched low and took his familiar place. This was his vantage point. He looked ahead, into the room across the hall of this factory. The hall was littered with objects, an old bike someone had left, a couple of tables, bottles spewed across the floor. He checked his watch and it flashed 18:43.
He looked up, his anticipation rising. He knew what would happen, he had been witnessing it every week. But the anticipation still rattled him, as he didn’t know how he would react. It was always somehow different, yet the same. He could see it now, slowly, the bright brilliance in the room.
The light slowly erupted from the center of the door. He was overwhelmed, as always, but today, with grief. This was the magic of the light, that he could never predict the emotion that it provoked in him. He knew it to be other-worldly because of the same reason. He broke down, tears flowing freely. He didn’t know why he was sobbing, he knew that he felt enormous pain and sorrow but not why, yet it was cathartic. He wanted to sob forever, because even if it was sorrow, he was experiencing it. It was real. The tears were his proof, that provided validity to his experience.
But that was not enough. He trembled bringing the camera up, to aim at the light which was at its brightest now. As he sobbed uncontrollably, his heart wanted to capture the light, bring it home in a cage of color and show it to the world. Prove to the world that he too could feel, that he too was living.
Ironically, with the camera’s flash, the light died a sudden death, and with it, his moment. He paused, astonished with what happened, wiping the tears of his face. This had happened before, but not when the light was at its brightest. How did it know? He scrambled to press a few buttons on his camera phone to see the picture he took. Unsurprisingly, he could only see in the picture what he could see now. Just a doorway.
He stood up, stumbling, and walked into the room. The room was as it was but he felt it weep, mourning the loss of the visitor. His knees wobbled and he decided to sit down at the doorway. Hoping to feel what he had felt before. Hoping to feel anything. Sorrow or happiness. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He looked hard, but all he could see was darkness, all he could hear was silence. All he could feel was emptiness. Next time, he decided that he won’t try to take a picture, but then again, he had decided the same last time too. It seemed to him that he was asking the wrong questions and the answers were somewhere else to be found.
Meanwhile, back in his home, the TV show continued to play. The character in the TV show said to an empty audience – “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the ‘good old days’ before you’ve actually left them.”