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  • Niteen Hatle


Updated: Feb 6, 2023

I wake up at the sound of the 5 o’clock alarm. I reach for my phone and swipe right. The alarm stops. I lay still for a few seconds. Then I turn to my left side. I feel a bit dizzy at first and then disoriented. My chest feels heavy. Inflammation. Or acidity. I’d had a late dinner. And it was spicy and oily. So most probably the latter. I lay on my left side for a while. The inflammation will subside.

I wake up early in the morning to write. My mind is fresh and words flow smoothly at that time of the day. I also visualize right after the alarm. I lay on my left side and think about the scene I want to write. This way I write more and tend to make less errors.

I wake up with a start and pick up the phone from the side table. I had dozed off for 15 minutes. Shit! I throw away the blanket and get out of bed. I hurry to the loo and come out in record time. I open the door. I tie the shoe laces. I hurry down the stairs. On the second-floor staircase window, a bird flies away hearing my footsteps. I don’t know its name. It is black, with red undertail coverts. Sometimes I catch it unawares. It jumps and hovers above the grill, and then takes off like a fighter jet on a carrier.

I run down the steps and get to the parking lot. I glance around. No one. But then the milkman walks up to the elevator.

“You’re late today,” I say.

“So are you,” he says. He pushes a button and waits.

I start to jog and go past him.

“See you tomorrow,” the milkman says.

I let out a smile. “Definitely.”

I turn left. I see the housekeeping guy cleaning the premises of the building. He stops and waits for me to pass. He waves at me. I raise my head in acknowledgment. Same time last year when temperatures had dipped to nine degrees in Pune, I’d given him a woolen sweater, which I rarely used. My wife had gifted me a jacket on my birthday and insisted that I start using it. She was glad that I gave away the old sweater. So, he waves or nods every time he sees me.

I begin to pick up speed as I head to the main gates. The security guard has already opened the gate for one person to pass.

“Good morning, sir,” he says.

“Good morning, Ramesh.”

I start jogging faster once I’m out on the road. I’m about to move to the sidewalk when I hear a car behind me. Before I could turn my head, I hear desperate honking. From the corner of my eye, I see that the car is headed toward me. I try to move away, but the impact is hard. I’m thrown away farther from the sidewalk and on to the compound wall. I hear my head crack and I feel the warm blood ooze out of my skull.

I wake up with a start. I had dozed off for 15 minutes. No heavy heart. No disorientation. The extra 10 minutes had turned out to be a cure. I get off the bed and stretch out. I hear my joints crackle. I move to the loo, switch on the light, and get in. I don’t know about other writers, but I get to think clearly in the loo. There are no distractions. No sounds. I sit there like the Auguste Rodin sculpture and find solutions to plot issues. I’m able to eliminate one by one the various ideas that I had come up with to include in the story. Basically, it’s time well spent on troubleshooting.

I choose the blue track suit. Blue has been my favorite color since childhood. I don’t know why. Maybe because I love the blue sky. It is the color of promise. Of hope. Of peace. It is the color of the sky when dark clouds clear away and light shines through.

I put on my smart band. I open the door and walk out. I wear my shoes and stretch out again. I jog down the few steps and stop at the staircase window. The black and red bird is on the window sill. It hardly moves. It doesn’t see me. I move down couple of stairs and stand opposite it. The bird sees me, I think. I look at its eyes. They make me uneasy. They’re staring through me, not at me. I stomp on the floor. It doesn’t move. In fact, the bird chirps a few times. Another bird lands next to it. Now, they both stare at me. I feel invisible.

I back away and almost stumble down the stairs. I stop at the landing and steady myself. I control my breathing, which has achieved Mach 1. But I don’t feel the thump of my heart. Is this a dream?

I head down to the parking lot. The milkman is at the elevator. He looks up to check the indicator. He then turns his head in my direction. He acts as if he is seeing me for the first time. He doesn’t nod. He doesn’t acknowledge my presence. I take a few steps toward him. He looks up at the indicator and tightens his grip on the sack full of milk packets. He opens the elevator and disappears into it.

‘Hey,’ I cry out. But the door closes and the elevator goes up. I stand there stupefied. I’m unable to figure out what is going on. I guess that he was not in the mood to have a word with me. Maybe he had a fight with his wife early in the morning. Or he had an altercation with the milk supplier. He had mentioned about earlier instances when he had complained to the supplier about the date on the milk packets. So why would he not... But then I feel that I don’t really care. And why should I? To hell with him if he pretends not to see me.

Jagan, the housekeeping guy is cleaning the premises. I jog toward him. He continues with his work. He does stop when I’m close to him. He has that no-nonsense look on his face he always has while working. He doesn’t nod when I pass him. And I was in no mood to give a shit whether he acknowledges me or not.

The security guard hardly raises his eyes as I reach the gates. I just can’t figure out what’s wrong with today. So, I jog out. I run down the slope and begin to move to the sidewalk. That’s when I hear a car racing toward me. I move my head and it is almost on my back. The car zooms past me. In fact, it goes right through me. I feel the rush. I try to analyze what had just happened. Several things go through my mind. The bird. Birds. The milkman. The housekeeping guy. The security guard. The car. The final thought gives me the creeps.

I fall on my knees, I look up at the heavens, and cry out, “No.”

I’m sure nobody can hear me.

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