All the things seem so perfect, running smoothly, working out the way you had always liked it to be, but a deviation and it all changes. The temple you are building collapses all of a sudden when you are just about to finish it. A pinnacle at the top of its roof, you think and the next moment it falls down in front of your eyes. And not only just leaving you in the position you had started to begin but also stacking up the pile of its ruins and debris that you have to take care of.
The mark of the long incision on the left side of my right leg is still prominent. I run my fingers along the almost straight line and beneath it I can feel the steel strip that is holding together my broken bone and bringing the splits back in the position. The incision begins exactly at the ankle and ends in the midway to my knee. In this condition a walking stick is a must for me. Wherever I go, to my work, for shopping, to visit my relatives or cinema with my friends for last two years it has always walked with me. I cannot walk without it and it cannot either. I don’t ride motorbike anymore, the doctor says my restrained leg cannot stand its weight. Now, I commute to my workplace in public vehicles and sometimes my colleagues are merciful enough to offer me a ride.
“How’s your leg now?” The first question Pawan asks as he opens the door for me.
It is his birthday today. He doesn’t fall in the category who wants to make their birthday parties crowded, full of people. Just a few nearest friends of his and he is satisfied in that. And to be the part of his celebration, he chooses two of us, me and Rohit.
“The X-ray reports are good, it’s improving the doctor said.” I say placing my stick leaning against a wooden table as I sink myself in the couch opposite to the table. “But a year more before they take the steel out of my leg.” I look at him and add.
“Want anything to drink?” Pawan asks.
“No, not now, let Rohit come.”
“Aahh, ok, he is on his way, just phoned me.”
It is an average sized room with light green paint on its wall and white on the ceiling. The floor is covered with a green nylon carpet. The rectangular table against which my stick is leaning stands surrounded by three couches. Two small couches facing its smaller sides and a long couch facing the larger one. Opposite to its free side, near the wall, there sits a television on a low table with cylindrical shiny metal legs and supporting a circular glass slab. The longer couch is empty, with Pawan and me opposite to each other sitting on the smaller ones.
“A year more, and this makes you 27, isn’t it?”
“Yes”, Pawan says and adds, “We all are getting old” accompanied by a brief smile and I too join him with a small twitch on my lips.
The sound of the motorbike’s engine ceases, the door creeks behind us and the entrance of Rohit makes us complete. He is not alone. Priya, his wife is with him. Last summer they got married, it makes exactly 5 months from now. They work for the same firm and that is how they got intimate. They make themselves comfortable sitting on the longer couch, facing the television. No wonder, Rohit’s welcoming question happens to be similar as Pawan’s and I with the same passion as before reply him.
Pawan pours down whiskey in my glass and pushes a bottle of coke towards me. I mix it with the whiskey, letting the coke to stain the whiskey black.
“Beer for me.” Rohit says before Pawan could fill up his glass.
“Responsible man now, huh?” I say to him.
Priya smiles listening to me and gives a short glance to Rohit sipping her coke.
“Pawan, don’t you think, it’s time to follow my path.” Rohit says.
“A couple of year more.” Pawan answers.
They both look at me expecting my view on that. For a while I say nothing. I guess, they understood my silence and this is the reason why they drift their vision from me to their glasses. The silence continues until I interrupt, “I need to smoke.”
I get up and Priya hands me my stick. I walk out to the balcony, holding the whiskey in my hand. I sit on a plastic chair, and through the closed glass window, I can still see three of them chatting but the low audible sound is difficult to understand. Another day is about to finish with the fading light and a chill breeze sweeps pass me disturbing my hair.
A lonely red shawl on the roof of the adjoining house floats in the air holding a rope to which it is clipped on. I push the smoke out of my lungs, for a while, it stays in front of me making the view of the red shawl foggy.
With each sip the whiskey dries out, every puff burns down the cigarette shorter and the passing moment invites the darkness adding up more chill to the air. I hobble back into the room carrying the empty glass.
A couple of rounds of whiskey, beer and coke mingle with us before Pawan proposes to go out to a disco. The primary thing for which the discos are meant for is of course to dance under the flashing lights and in the rhythm of thumping music. I know that my condition is against it. But I feel I need a change, something that would make me feel different. Also, it is his night, the night of Pawan and something he wishes today, I cannot step back from that. Beside these reasoning, there is alcohol running in my blood that is enough to produce a mood of titillation inside my brain.
The feeling is always good once you enter a somewhat crowded, laden with pubs, restaurants, and shops full of artifacts, soft and melancholic music buzzing out of music stores, natives and tourists sipping their alcoholic beverages beating the chill of Kathmandu and silently observing the commuters as they cross pass them. The never sleeping streets of Thamel fill every one with a passion to live inside oneself forgetting everything around.
We stop in front of a big closed wooden door. Just above the door there flashes a colourful neon light depicting a red glowing ‘8th’ and a smaller blue coloured ‘Avenue’. A man in a thick black jacket stands next to the door and lets the enthusiastic queue to enter in one by one. The four of us add up to the end of the queue.
We make our way through the crowd, pushing them, sometimes squeezing in between and sit on a couch near the bar where the two bartenders are busy making drinks in their own stylish way, rocking the bottles, spinning them high up in the air. It really needs a lot of practice and concentration for such an amazing performance. The beat of the music is high and loud, lights flashing all over scattering blue, green, red and yellow spots everywhere. The crowd, mostly youngsters in their early twenties are jumping and swirling their bodies trying to match their moves with the rhythm of the music.
For a while we all sit there on the couch talking nothing, and our eyes fixed on the boiling crowd. Rohit and Priya seem eager to get mixed up with the crowd, and their eagerness soon comes forth insisting the remaining two of us to come along with them. But rather we two opt for staying there a bit more assuring to join them in no time.
Pawan orders for a vodka. The cool vodka on ice with its bitter taste enters inside my gut producing a burning sensation.
“You should think for a new start.” Pawan says.
I stay quiet, pretending to hear nothing from him and making the loud music and cries as excuse to myself. But the spontaneous reply pops out, “Yes” accompanied by a long nod of my head.
Finishing two rounds of vodka with Pawan, my eyes drift towards the bar. A lady in black dress stands leaning against the bar. Light flashes over her changing the colour of her face every time. She seems tired and somewhat sad. “… a new start.” The words of Pawan begin to spin inside my head. Looking at her, I take a cigarette out and hold it between my lips. As I search for the lighter, I hear a voice almost buried inside the loud rattling music, “Sir, you cannot smoke here.” It is the bartender. I put the cigarette back inside my pocket.
Taking a couple of sips of vodka, I grab my walking stick. Pawan looks at me curiously but says nothing. Clutching my stick tight, I slowly take my steps and head towards the restroom.
I look myself in the mirror, take a cigarette out and begin to smoke. “I can do it” I say to myself, “I just have to go and talk to her.”
“But why does she look sad?” I begin to think trying to give myself reasons one after another, and the regular puffs of cigarette keep on following the reasoning.
A sound wakes me up from my deep thought. I look around and see the walking stick lying on the floor. Trying to convince myself that I am drunk, I pick it up cautiously, and carefully place it upright leaning against the wall as before. I splash cold water from tap on to my face and wipe the water off firmly with a handkerchief. Before leaving, I again look my image in the mirror and walk out.
Pawan is still on the couch waiting for me. But she is not at the bar. I look around, but don’t see her, she’s gone.
“Where is she?” I ask to Pawan.
“She was there at the bar, now she isn’t.”
“It’s been a while that the bar is empty, no body was here.”
“No, she was there in a black dress and looked sad.”
“Who are you talking about?” Pawan looks a bit tensed.
“Smriti” I answer.
“What? You are drunk.” He says with a surprised face.
“No, she was standing right there, I saw her.”
Pawan pulls up my jeans up to my knee. “Look at it.” He says pointing the long mark on my leg. “She is gone, she won’t come back again, why don’t you understand this?” Pawan cries out loud to me.
The music keeps on bursting, and it appears to me that the source is moving towards me increasing the intensity with the ticking time. The colourful crazy lights flash here and there, sometimes green, sometimes blue, sometimes red and sometimes yellow. The speeding truck honks from behind. In the rear view I see portion of Smriti’s black hair blowing in the wind and the truck getting closer. I swerve my bike left and just then a mighty thrust from behind, I lose control.