Fiction: That Stretch of the Road

Reuters photo

 

By

Pranab Ghosh

 

 

She is walking up to him! She is so close! Barry could feel her breath. The scent of her dress, her perfume, made him feel dizzy. How could she be real? Yet she was there. Standing so close to Barry, yet so far. Barry could have done everything for her… Everything. Only had she not been. Barry was lost in thought.

 

She was out of this world, something ethereal, as if a fantasy. Barry has seen the world or so he thought. But she was…How could she be…? Barry was breathing faster than he normally would. A drop of sweat rolled down his temple. Barry’s grip on the handle of his leather briefcase tightened.

 

Barry looked around. It was 1.30 am. This was the time of night he usually passed this stretch of the road in his office car. The roads were desolate at that point in time. Trucks plied at that hour. One or two taxis and an occasional private car could be spotted. Empty cabs lined the street just beyond the intersection where the alley, which has never failed to put Barry off, met the highway. The woman, along with some of her partners sat there gossiping or sipping tea from earthen pots in which the roadside vendor sold the ‘elixir’ of life, every night.

 

She was not like others. She was the queen of the street. The way she sat on the stairs of the house at the corner of the alley; the way she moved her hair away from her forehead as she spoke; the way she gestured at the moving traffic; the way she stood up and moved away from the group towards the tea vendor; the way she carried herself… her dress, her features, her curves, her full-blown body, her womanhood, her beauty – images that Barry had stored in his mind after nights of observation, all fleeting images as he stole a glimpse of her every night when he passed that stretch of road in his office car.

 

Barry used to get depressed if she wasn’t there when he passed. But more often than not she would have been there with her enchanting ways, her out-worldly demeanor that made Barry gasp. She was his fantasy. Yet Barry could never reconcile to the idea. He felt guilty at some nights when unknowingly, his expectation of catching a glimpse of her got better of his conscious effort to discard her from his thought process, as his car approached that stretch of the road. Was he falling in love with her?

 

The quiet night, the sleeping buildings, the distant barking of a lonely dog, the sleepy driver of his office car, the empty taxies standing in a row, the single policeman patrolling that stretch of the road, the lame woman limping across the road, the half-naked beggar trying to get some sleep in his pavement home, the unexplored charm of the gang of women jostling on the staircase, made Barry crave for company. He remembered Christine.

 

Cursed be he! She cannot be Christine. Christine is the mother of his only son. Christine left Barry for New Zealand last year. She has settled there. She wanted Barry to come along. But Barry wasn’t sure. Journalism had always been Barry’s passion. Would he get a scribe’s job there? There wasn’t any guarantee. Christine left with her son. Barry left their Park Street flat and took a modest accommodation in north Kolkata, a place far away from where members of his community lived. Barry avoided interaction with them. They were so happy together! Why did Christine leave? Barry was tired of answering their queries. Perhaps he should join Christine.

 

She couldn’t be Christine at all. But she was for real. So close. Yet so far.

 

Barry was passing that stretch of road one afternoon. He generally took the metro (tube) to work, but the services were stalled that afternoon. Someone had jumped in front of a train half-an-hour ago. It would take another hour before the services could resume. The mangled body had to be removed. The tracks cleaned. There are other formalities, the cop in the metro station had said. So Barry took a cab. He passed that stretch of the road. It was so different! There was traffic on the road. At night it takes a couple of minutes to cross that stretch but that afternoon it took him 15 minutes. He was on the other side of the road. But his eyes were fixed on the staircase. It was empty. Three men stood in front of it. Some women stood on the footpath. It was 5 pm. ‘Business’ had just begun. She was nowhere to be found.

 

Barry blamed it on Peter! They were inseparable in college. Peter was a medical student; Barry was in humanities. But that hardly made any difference. They were inseparable. Barry and Peter. Peter and Barry. Bored with skeletons and human anatomy, Peter had taken to exploring bodies. Live bodies. Bodies of the opposite sex. It became his favorite pastime. He even availed of ‘paid’ services. He frequented that stretch of the road in the evenings, especially on those days Barry went for tuition, Wednesdays and Fridays to be specific.

 

On one such Friday Peter had met Radha, a woman in her late twenties. She was a Nepalese. Radha had cast a spell on Peter or so Barry thought. Peter started spending nights with Radha. They hopped from one hotel of the city to the other. Peter had fallen for Radha.

 

Could she be Radha? “Come on Barry”, he told himself. Barry could not guess her origin. She could have been a Eurasian as well. Who would tell Barry? Barry’s desire to know her grew stronger each passing day. He would eagerly wait for the time when his shift in his office would be over and he would hop into his office cab and be homebound, bound to catch a glimpse of her on his way. Was he in love with her?

 

It was 1.10 am that night when he did board his office cab. Sleep tried to get the better of him, but he resisted with all his might. He couldn’t afford to lose her in sleep. But sleep got the better of him. He woke up when a burst of exhaust from a truck on the right of his office cab almost stifled him. There was a traffic snarl, quite unthinkable at that time of the night. But there it was. There were trucks lined up in front of his cab. They managed to inch ahead. He was approaching that stretch of the road. And in a short while there he was. He was in front of the footpath where ‘she’ sat on the stairs of the corner house of the alley that has always put Barry off. He was looking straight at her. Eyes met eyes. The cab stationary.

 

She got up. Jerked her hair back to its place. Her head slightly tilted to the left, as she approached Barry. Barry gasped. And there she stood by Barry’s window side. Barry’s grip on the handle of his leather briefcase tightened. “I am the queen of the night!” As if a fountain had exploded. “Want to try me?” Barry would faint! But he didn’t. He looked straight into her eyes. His grip on the handle tightening even more. He looked away.

She stepped back. Turned away. She was walking back to the stairs that led to the footpath. Barry wouldn’t buy sex. “Cool men don’t buy sex!” Didn’t Christine once tell Peter?

 

 

 

 

 

Pranab Ghosh

Pranab Ghosh is a journalist, writer, poet, translator and blogger. He writes a blog “Existential Problems”. He graduated from Scottish Church College, Kolkata, with Honours in English. He did his masters in Journalism from Calcutta University and has worked for such media houses as HT Media Ltd, Eenadu India, etc. He has also written for Slant News, a US news portal and such publications as The Statesman, Economic Times, Ei Samay. At present he writes for Business India.

Currently he is also working as a research writer and Editor at Pratichi India Trust. He has co-authored a book of poems, titled ‘Air & Age‘. He has to his credit a translation of a book of Bengali short stories titled ‘Shantiramer Cha‘, by Bitan Chakraborty. The title of the English translation is ‘Bougainvillea and Other Stories‘.

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