The sound of heavy brakes ruthlessly shattered the quietness of a night.
Kumar tried hard to keep his truck straight, but it went on skidding violently towards the edge of the steep road. He clutched the steering so hard that his knuckles turned white. He felt a sharp pain in the shoulder but he couldn’t let go of the steering, this was a matter of life and death.
Luckily, the heavily loaded truck came to an abrupt halt with a shudder. Kumar slowly took his hands off the steering wheel. He was shaking uncontrollably, his heart thumping so fast that in any moment, it might have come out of his rib cage.
Something, may be some kind of an animal had suddenly crossed the road and to save him, Kumar had applied brakes so hard.
Kumar wiped the sweat from his face and climbed down. The truck was standing diagonally, covering three quarters of the road. The rear of the truck was looming dangerously into the valley, with one wheel freely hanging in the air.
This was not the first time that Kumar had a close encounter with death. In fact, in the past he himself had tried to hug death. But now, the situation was different. Now, he didn’t want to die.
“When I wanted death it evaded me and now when I want to live, death seems to chase me,” he said loudly, as if he wanted someone to listen to him.
He smiled at this irony of life and climbed back to his truck cabin. He turned on the engine, engaged the gears and carefully steered the truck straight.
He was back on the road.
Once relaxed, he again got entangled into his web of thoughts. Thankfully, the highway was pretty deserted and the chances of anymore mishaps seemed remote.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a deserted road. As a matter of fact, this was like a boon to Kumar because he liked being all alone in his journeys. Such lonely journeys in the dark quietness of the night seemed to attract and mesmerize him. It’s like being in a maze and trying to find the way out, but the experience itself being so wonderful, that the trouble hardly bothered.
Indeed, in this wonderful world of solitude and serenity he couldn’t possibly deny himself the pleasure of enjoying his moments within the larger scheme of life.
Kumar was enjoying being all alone on the road, which was lying before him like a large, shiny reptile when suddenly a shrill horn of a vehicle once again brought him back to reality. There was another truck on the road too, and in much hurry, looking for a way to overtake Kumar’s truck.
He gave him a pass signal by turning the indicator light on. The truck came level with him, driver waving and muttering something before passing. But Kumar was too engrossed with himself to pay any attention to it.
The road ahead was to take him to his destination, first Agra, then Bengaluru where he was to deliver some goods on behalf of his company; Khalsa Transport.
There was a sharp turn ahead so despite all the thoughts swirling in his mind, he brought himself back to reality and got attentive for that somewhat treacherous curve. After passing the curve, he reached one of the many railway crossings strewn all over the highway. His stomach rumbled with hunger, but the gate of the crossing was closed and he was forced to wait for the train to pass.
Kumar always had a fascination for trains and it hadn’t gone away with age or maturity. Right now, in the pitch dark night, waiting in front of the closed gate of a railway crossing, he was getting excited about just one thing; whether the train will be a passenger one or a goods one.
Watching passenger trains in the middle of the night has its own hypnotic effect. With most of the passengers asleep in the train and the dim yellow neon bulbs fitted in the compartments giving a pale tinted look to the train windows, made it look like a mesmerizing, intriguing centipede. Watching this centipede moving seamlessly with a rhythmic sound was always a treat for Kumar.
On the other hand, the goods train is all covered in black, because there aren’t any lights, except the head and tail ones. Despite the dark shape and lack of lights, a goods train seemed to excite him the most, because of the rumble and the tremor it created while passing.
As Kumar knew that, he had to wait for a few minutes he thought about stretching his body and got down from the truck. It was pretty cold outside, in comparison to the cabin of his truck. Though he felt a shiver down his spine, he welcomed the blast of the cold wind. It seemed to wake up and refresh him up, at the same time.
There was no other soul in the proximity and Kumar felt at peace with the world. There were very few occasions when he got to enjoy being completely alone in this busy and teeming world. He was enjoying this feeling and to make the most of it he lit a cigarette. After few drags, he could hear the shrill siren of the upcoming monster on the track and he got ready to experience the excitement which never seemed to wear out its magic.
It was his favorite one, yeah; a goods train and he could feel the tremor under his shoe clad feet. He was only few feet away from the tracks and the rumble of the passing train was creating a deafening effect on his eardrums making the whole experience all the more intriguing and memorable. The train passed with speed; quite unnatural for a goods train, and somehow rooted Kumar on the spot.
In a while, there was pin drop silence again but that rhythmic sound of the train still reverberated in his ears.
The train created a huge turmoil amongst the dry leaves covering the ground beside the tracks. Some of them got blown away by the gust of wind and few others took little swirls around them and went ballistic in some sort of a dizzying merry go round before settling down on the ground.
Watching this whirl wheel of the leaves got Kumar thinking in another direction. Instead of getting back to the truck, he stood there comparing his life with those leaves. It seemed to him that these leaves somehow depicted his life more accurately than he could ever do with words.
He sub-consciously lit another cigarette.
Same as these leaves being displaced by the force of a passing train, something big and powerful had ruthlessly displaced his existence and he still wasn’t sure whether that was for good or bad.
For some of the leaves, this would be their last journey because the wind had got them so far away from the tracks that they would stay there and would eventually get disintegrated in the earth, making the soil more fertile.
Kumar felt his life too, had gotten scattered and seemed to have settled in such a place where it was pretty tough for him to change its course. There hardly was anything powerful remaining that would create much hubbub in his life anymore.
Though, he was not at all confused about what he was doing and what he had to do, still, when he thought about his journey so far, things tend to surprise him quite a lot.
All of sudden, Kumar felt a chill down his spine, a gust of severely cold wind brought him back to the present.
The gates of the crossing were wide open and the way ahead was apparently clear.
He had to make the delivery in time. It is true that, Bobby Singh, his boss cum friend had said that there was no hurry to deliver the cargo and there was no need to be on the road on such a cold night. But he himself had insisted on this cargo delivery, because every time he took journeys like this, he got an opportunity to be at ease and be closer to himself.
Kumar always tended and loved to think but it seemed that, today he was indulging more frequently into this.
He was getting a feeling that there was something mysterious beckoning him towards something interesting and exciting, but he was not being able to understand or find out what it was. So, he just let the string of thoughts take him away wherever it wanted to. Life indeed had taught him many lessons, but that had been possible only because he had been an obedient student. Tonight it looked like as if this night was going to teach him something more, something unusual. His unexpected encounter with death an hour ago seemed to confirm his intuition.
At this precious moment of personal contemplation, his stomach again intruded with a rumble, reminding him that, though he had a lot of food for thought, he needs some for his body too.
He pressed his foot on the accelerator. He wanted to reach to his favorite Veera Da Dhaba before long and enjoy some of his most favorite dishes served there.
His truck too, somehow understood the need for food in his body and got aligned with his mind. He reached the dhaba within a surprisingly short time.
As he looked at the dhaba, he realized that, there weren’t many people here tonight; obviously the cold had taken its toll on the raging business of the dhaba. The owner would be happy to have an extra customer as himself, he smiled with a thought.
He drove his truck into the compound and parked it beside a couple of other trucks. He quickly got down from the driver’s seat, locked the doors and walked briskly towards the seating area. He passed few people sitting in the circle around a blazing fire, fighting the severity of cold with the help of cups of various drinks, before retiring for the night.
On any other day, Kumar would have headed for this small knot of people and would have joined in the chit-chat but tonight, he didn’t feel any urge for the company. Rather, he felt content with himself in his contemplative mood. So, he just waved at them and moved on.
He sat down on one of the plastic chairs that seemed to have replaced the good old wooden chairs permanently from the face of the earth.
A small boy in an old faded blue sweater appeared quickly out of nowhere and stood in front of him staring expectantly at his face for a quick order. As he knew the menu of this joint from back to front he didn’t hesitate before choosing his favorite dish. He asked for a plate of masala chicken and few parathas. The boy nodded in acknowledgment and moved towards the kitchen area to place the order.
Kumar stretched his body to get into a more relaxing posture and poured himself a glass of water from the plastic jug sitting on the table. With the very first sip of the water he realized, how cold the night was. The water seemed to freeze him from inside.
All of a sudden, a childish thought occurred to him that if the jug was left on the table overnight, then by the morning, the water might turn into ice. He knew it was not possible, but thinking about it made him remember the excitement he felt when his parents had bought a refrigerator and for the first time he had seen water turning into ice. To his childish mind at that time, it was no less than a miracle.
He was lost in his world of thoughts once again and realizing that he shook his head, as if to clear his mind. In need of some kind of distraction he called the boy and asked him for a cup of masala tea while his food was getting ready.
Within minutes, a cup of steaming hot tea was sitting in front of him and he was glad about his decision as the warmth of the hot tea, started to spread all within his body from the very first sip. He lit a cigarette and waited patiently while enjoying his tea.
After a few minutes, the boy re-appeared with hot steaming food. The aroma of generously added spices escalated his hunger to an unbearable height. He could wait no more to satisfy his stomach and taste buds at same time.
The masala chicken was as good as he had anticipated and the parathas were made with such skill that they were crispy, yet soft. He quickly finished the parathas, and ordered a few more. But he was still hungry so he ordered a plate of jeera rice and some more masala chicken.
After eating his dinner to his heart’s content he ordered one more cup of tea. When he returned after washing his hands at the nearby wash basin, another cup of steaming tea was waiting for him at the table. He took a long sip of the tea and felt extremely contented.
About The Author: Asmit Rathod
Asmit Rathod is a New Zealand citizen, currently living in Australia.He has acquired post graduation degree in Journalism and Mass communication.He is passionate about writing and intends to make writing as his full time career. His focus of writing is life in general and human relations in particular.
Apart from writing fictions he is fond of writing Poems/ Gazals as well, which he posts at his Facebook profile on a regular basis. His poems can be read at www.facebook.com/asmit.rathod.
“Life is a Bitch” is his debut book which dwells in to a brand new concept of life, derived from his observations and experiences acquired through extensively travelling to various countries and by meeting hundreds of people of various nationalities.
Currently he is working on two projects.The first project is a fiction titled “Incomplete manuscript”, which is a love story of a middle class girl from Banaras. He intends to publish this book in English as well as in Hindi.The Second project is a horror/ thriller film script, tentatively titled “Anhoni”. Author is very much keen to make entry in to Bollywood as well.