The Last Book


The night was hot, and so was my seat. I had been sitting in the same position for quite some time now, reading a book under the faint light the lamp over my head had to offer. The seat opposite to mine was empty, and had been so since I got on the train. I looked at the seat, and wished I had bothered to look at the reservation list and catch the name of the person who was to occupy this seat. It could be a woman. Who knows, we might strike a conversation or two, and then exchange meaningless stares throughout the night. She might pretend to be a lonely woman, waiting for the right man. And I, I might speak with the arrogance of someone who doesn’t care about love, but is secretly hiding a case of heart-break. Who knows, right? Anything can happen, until it has actually happened.  The woman might just have missed the train, and I might have been destined to marry her, but we will never actually meet. Every passing minute, every passing second could change a lot for me, without me even realizing it. I could suffocate, or get robbed, or I might even find a treasure, all in the next few moments. Anything’s possible. Then how do I have any control over the course of my life. I can fight the suffocation, or kill the robber, or discard the treasure, but what if that too was supposed to happen. Is it all just a set of pre placed dominos? I got back to my book, but it did not interest me anymore, I was still stuck on figuring out how I would introduce myself to the woman who might occupy this seat. Just then, a suitcase rolled from my rear and entered the space between the two seats. Closely following this suitcase was a man, an old man who smelled of whiskey and stale food. He was dressed in a black overcoat that looked too good for someone of his demeanour. His hair was jet black, and was cleanly combed back. A sharp triangle rightly fitted itself over his neck. It carried on it a pair of thin, dark lips and a sharp, plunging nose. It also fit in a pair of eyes that seemed to change colour. If I were a man who did not play by logic, I could have sworn they were completely black for a moment. The man took the seat opposite mine and slid the suitcase underneath it. He looked straight at me, as if he could see through me. I don’t know why but I felt naked. A prepossessing guilt rose within me. I avoided his stare and got back to my book. I tried to focus my eyes on the text, but they would constantly try and record if any movement took place behind the book. I gave up on it, and finally questioned the man.

“Excuse me, why are you staring at me?”

“I am not staring. I’m merely looking.”

“Can you please look somewhere else?”

“I can, but I’d rather continue to look at you.” He replied even before I could complete my sentence.

I sighed in irritation and pushed my face back into the book. Here I was, expecting a woman, and all I got was a creepy old guy instead. The book was tough to read, mostly because I had lost touch over my mother tongue. The translation did help, but I seldom used it. How can a writer convert text from one language to another, without affecting the meaning of the former? I had my doubts, and so I struggled to find my own interpretations of the text. I was trying my best to concentrate, but the idea of an old man staring at me would not let me. There was movement in the background, and I raised my head to see that the old man had now come closer to me. He was bending his body, in an attempt to look closely at me. I threw my book on the seat and faced him, this time with intent to fight.

“What do you want?” I inquired.

“Just a look at the book you read, sir.”

“I’m reading it right now. And because I’m not carrying any other reading material with me now, I can not lend this book to you.”

“Oh no, sir. I do not need to loan it. I already know the story in it, rather too well I’d say. I only need a look. Just one.” He replied with a straight face.

I now noticed how coarse his voice was, as if something had been forced down his throat. It made me pity him, maybe he suffered of some illness. I contemplated his request, and decided to let him have a look.

“Okay, you can have a look. But you promise not to bother me anymore.”

“I do not see how I bother you, young sir. But if you allow me a look at your book, and agree to answer a question, I promise to leave this seat and find myself another one.”

“But all you said was a look at the book.” I replied annoyingly.

“I like to take actions in phases, sir. Do you accept my terms?”

I saw no harm, and hence I nodded in agreement. I passed him the book. He opened it to the last page, smiled at what he read, and returned the book.

“Now for the question.” He said. He paused, as if taking his time to think upon the question. After a moment of silence, he leaned towards me, and asked

“Do you regret killing your father?”

“What! How dare you. What gives you the right, you lonely old fuck.” I shouted at him.

“It is merely a question, my friend. I only need a simple yes or no.”

I ignored him. I did not need to answer a stranger, and especially not someone who accused me of killing my father.

The old man got up from his seat and pushed his face into mine. “Do you blame yourself, for not being at home the one night he wanted you to be?”

I pushed him aside, and threw him back at his seat. He got up, almost mechanically, and then ran his hand through his hair, trying to get them back to how they were. The colour in his eyes flickered. They were completely black for a moment there. I was sure of it this time.

He smiled at me and said. “Do you think he would have survived had you come home early that night?”

I did not pay any attention to his question and picked up my bag. I decided to change my seat with someone. If this man does not intend to leave me alone even then, I will call the authorities on him. As I turned to leave, he caught me by my hand.

“The time has come. The time to pay retribution. It shall happen tomorrow, as you complete your journey, both physically and spiritually.”

And now, I lay here on the floor, constantly replaying this incident in my mind. It is cooler than it was last night. This morning, as I got off the train, I slipped and cracked my skull open. I’m surrounded by people, but more than that I’m surrounded by blood. Somewhere in the crowd, I see a familiar place. It is an old man, with slick black hair, and dressed in an expensive black coat. He raised his hand to show me the book in his hand. It was the same book I was reading last night, but somehow I could not remember its name. As I once again remember the events of last night, I wonder, was I just following a pre-written story all along?

Of Mirrors, Beds & Curtains


I twisted my head to the right as I observed the 9 year old boy in front of me do the same. But he seemed to do it towards his left. I remembered what we had learned in science class yesterday- our images in the mirror display left and right in reverse to our relative movements. The mirror was rectangular in shape, the long length ensuring the mirror’s longevity with my growing age. This made we wonder, why doesn’t the mirror perceive top and bottom in the reverse directions? Why doesn’t my reflection get smaller as my body gets bigger? I noted that down as a possible question I can ask the teacher tomorrow. In the mirror, I could see two other people behind me. They were discussing whether to buy furniture made of teak wood or medium density fiber board. ‘Teak wood’ I could speak in a flutter, but it was difficult to learn the other word; I always end up messing its letters. I know their correct positioning in my mind, but whenever I intend to speak it, they somehow jumble with each other. Father says it will get better with time, but mother is always worried about me. But then again, I’ve begun to realize that she is a worried soul in general. The other day I overheard her crying on the phone. I didn’t want to overhear the conversation, but some of the words just fell on my ear as I passed by. She was telling the other person that a particular ‘he’ has not responded well to the treatment, and that she sometimes worries whether things will ever improve. I wonder who she was talking about. I wonder about a lot of things, it’s like my brain has a life of its own. Things go around it in circles and circles, sometimes only breaking to form bigger circles. But within these circles, lies an effortless clarity of thoughts. It is as if the complexities form a network of the most simplified shapes and sizes. I’ve tried explaining it to the teacher and sometimes also to my father. But like with other things, I can’t really describe my thoughts as I perceive them. I looked at my notepad, mother made sure I wrote a lot of things in it. I had written on it a reminder to ask the teacher the mirror question. I looked back into the mirror; my parents seemed to have made a decision. I couldn’t help but admire the ease with which they could argue over such an insignificant matter. Didn’t they care that their image in the mirror performs differently on the vertical and horizontal axis? I think it was because they had already figured out these onerous questions, and hence were now worrying about the more trivial aspects of life. I hope one day I become as knowledgeable as they are, and then use this intelligence to contemplate the colour of my new sofa. I looked at father and wondered if I should just ask him the question right now. After careful thinking, I decided against it. He always encouraged me to think for myself, and I knew he would ask me to do the same now. He doesn’t understand that I can’t figure out everything as he can, and the curiosity of waiting just kills me. But if I mention my impatience to him, he will stress even so more on asking the teacher. No wonder the teacher pays extra attention to me in the class, I’m sure mother and father put her upto it.  My eyes shifted their view to the wooden bed that lay beside the mirror. It was a simple box of wood with nothing but black straight lines to beautify it. It wasn’t flashy, but I like it when things are ordinary. Also it cost less, way lesser than the beds mother had chosen for me. They didn’t appreciate my choice, but like always, they let me buy it anyway. It wasn’t the simple design that troubled them; they were instead against my choice of the bed size. I wanted the queen size, the one that’s meant for one person to sleep alone. They wanted me to get the king size, so that I can eventually share my bed if I have to. But I don’t need someone to share my bed with me. For every sleepless night I’ve spent in my old bed, I’ve also had one where I had a wonderful dream. And I couldn’t explain it to them, but I don’t intend on sharing these dreams. Like father always says, I have to be able to do things on my own. It is how we face our fears and shape our challenges that define the person we see in the mirror. I don’t want mine to have a looming shadow over it. I want my mirror-image to be the reflection of who I am. The worries of my mother, the ideologies of my father and the supervision of my teacher need not be reflected alongside me. Father and mother had now moved to the curtains section, and I knew this was my window of opportunity. I took out the pen from my pocket and starting writing, on the bottom-left corner of the bed, my right to its possession. The new wood was tough to scratch through, but I managed a neat job. The bottom-left corner of the bed now read- “MY DEB”. I smiled at the perfection of my work. I put the pen back into my pocket and proceeded towards the curtains section. I had to make sure I get curtains that have straight lines on them.

– Tushant Juneja

When we help people, we do not necessarily make it easy for them. Because while we are simply helping them cross a road, they are lowering their ego and hurting their self respect by accepting their need for help. So remember, sometimes their acceptance is their thank you.