“Move it aside, this is not how it is done!” squirmed Dinesh while trying to put the woods aside that are not yet burnt in the fire that companies him most of his nights to his brother who was leaving for the night. He pauses for a while and unloads the cigarettes for Amena who sneaks in every Saturday night to grab two packs of cigarettes late at night away from the prying eyes of their little town.
Dinesh sometimes waits for Amena an extra hour just to make sure she gets her packs, it has somehow become an act of bravery for him and he goes back to sleep every Saturday thinking he has enabled a woman to do something, no matter if it’s an addiction but secretly he imagines himself as a harbinger of change in the mindset of people. He feels he is waging a war secretly against society and it is a heroic feeling for him no matter how insignificant it may sound. He was just getting looped in at the thought of how he is somehow pushing Amena into an addiction and how he should stop, which is a regular feeling for him for the last six months he hears familiar footsteps.
Dinesh somewhat jumps in excitement grabbing his shawl keeping his broken red chair aside and calls out happily “Rajesh sir! Rajesh Sir!” And then shouts a bit louder, “oh Doctor Shahab”! Until he can finally see him stopping and the silhouette approaching him. Dinesh’s face was gleaming with excitement to be able to finally meet his partner of the last six years of every winter that has hit their small town. Dinesh was somewhere convinced that he and Rajesh share an inexplicable bond that only the empty streets have witnessed.
Dinesh panting in a way and really excited asks Rajesh with a complaining tone to be exact, of Rajesh’s whereabouts for the last two weeks. Rajesh somehow understood the complaining tone and knew that it was waiting for him so he was trying to avoid it, he was not willing to have a conversation with anyone. Not tonight. But knowing his habit and the unsaid bond he shares with Dinesh he pauses and he pauses with the regret of doing so and looks at Dinesh.
Dinesh finally a bit relieved seeing Rajesh pause for him, starts to feel everything is normal again and maybe his friend was away since he is one of the most important man in the town in his normal chaotic life of being a doctor and what they share is not at threat and he instantly starts being his old self and pokes a bit of fun at Dinesh by going “So Doctor Shahab do I need to get your appointment too for a glance if so who do I call?” and starts laughing. Usually, Rajesh will ignore a taunt like this and will start the conversation with how Dinesh should actually visit him for a check-up and how the day was at the local hospital. It was a windy night and the temperature was way a bit on the low, seeing his friend not say a word he abruptly changes the topic and asks Rajesh to come inside the shop since it is getting unbearable to stand outside and he has the fire going.
Rajesh follows Dinesh without saying a word and Dinesh was continuing with his usual chatter of how the local milkman is robbing him of pure quality or how he wishes to buy a new headphone for himself, he was just visibly happy to see his “friend”. Rajesh usually always took a part in this conversation but said nothing for the ten minutes and Dinesh without realising the same kept going. He suddenly paused and looked at Rajesh realising the same and even before he could say something Rajesh pierces the sound coming from the fire and says “Dinesh can I have a cigarette, don’t tell Minti about it.” and breaks down sitting on the shabby bench of his local store.
Dinesh has never experienced anything like this in his six years of knowing his “friend”, and he got in a shock for a while since Rajesh being a doctor has always been abstaining himself as Dinesh puts it, from anything fun including alcohol. But the cold outside had already numbed their senses and it was so dark that nothing was visible in the radius of the next probably one kilometre, without hesitating he lit two sticks of cigarettes and passed one to his friend hurriedly. He was always a poor comforter when it came to consoling the ones he loved, but he was trying to find the right words but Rajesh interrupted his chain of thoughts. He looked at Dinesh and said with a glare, “Dinesh they got Minti,they came for her Dinesh they came for her” and broke down again like a pack of cards and started sobbing.
Dinesh realised his friend has been holding in something for too long and he just asks shakily, “I saw Minti this morning, while she was leaving for her school, and” he was interrupted by Rajesh with “You remember Dinesh last year February when I came back from the hospital late and there was this kid who had come in with injuries?”. Dinesh very well remembers that night and the havoc that brought to their little town. Dinesh not sure how to reply to this question since everyone in the town remembers the horror of that day kept quiet but kept looking at Rajesh hoping he will go ahead and say something else after this question. He could feel the slight discomfort now in his shabby little shop and checked his small phone for the time breaking the gaze.
Rajesh bangs the bench seeing Dinesh looking away at his phone and asks in a threatening tone and shouts “do you Dinesh, tell me do you?” Dinesh has never seen his friend this hostile he politely said “yes Rajesh I remember. I have seen the father too, and I wish not to discuss it tonight. “
Rajesh abruptly breaks down again and looks at Dinesh and says ” I am sorry Dinesh tonight is the most difficult night in my life and I don’t know where I was heading if you hadn’t stopped me, I can’t begin to tell you how scared I am, I want to run away Dinesh or no wait I want to protect my family and fight or no wait I want someone to help me to pull me out of this darkness you know Dinesh” and his voice starts to shake again and he stops.
Dinesh could finally understand that something has happened to his friend and feared it is something beyond his fixing. He pauses for a while take the first drag of his almost finished cigarette and continues “Rajesh you remember the day mammi died, I never thought before that death is that heavy and I somehow thought when death will come for me I will always embrace it with my open arms since it is my main source of bread and butter. Every morning when I get a call to drive a dead body to the cremation ground, I somehow felt that I was getting closer to understanding life that death is nothing but peace. He continues looking at the darkness, but the day I had to drive my own mother for the last time I wish I had better words to let you know how much it hurt. I screamed the moment they took mammi away from me and Bhaiya. You know Rajesh I was screaming not because I was sad, I was howling and clinching because I wanted someone to help me to take me away from this noose that was strangling me, I wanted someone to help me and pull me away. To let me know that it is going to be okay. To let me know the pain will stop or mammi will be back right now.’
Even before he could continue, Rajesh gets up and embraces Dinesh for the first time in six years of being friends, they have never been this close with each other. Rajesh then sits and grasps for breath and tells Dinesh, “I think someone is touching Minty the wrong way Dinesh and I can see it in her eyes in her body and I don’t know how to tell Mamta about this that I saw a scratch mark on her neck that she jokingly said was from a fight. How do I tell her that the next kid I am going to examine for a sexual assault is my own, I don’t know Dinesh I have been doing this all my life, look at us bounded by faith to do things that everyone detests and how it came back to haunt us.I have never felt this helpless all my life Dinesh. I don’t know, I think” Rajesh’s shaky voice was interrupted by a fragile voice from the back of the store window.
Amena interrupted the intensity of the conversation by putting her hand inside the back window to grab her packs. It is the first time Dinesh notices how fair Amena is and how fragile her hands are with the numerous cut marks that decorate them. Amena left in a hurry like always unperturbed with the surrounding.
Rajesh coming back to his senses gets up to leave and was interrupted by Dinesh “Rajesh, talk to Mamta bhabhi about it if it’s what you think it is we need to act immediately.You know all this way better than me so I won’t dwindle on it but I can tell you one thing before you leave tonight and until we meet again, sometimes there is no help that comes and that is the vanity of human existence no one knows which is the correct way to reach the uphill or even if there is one once you are way below in the darkness. “
Rajesh looks at Dinesh gives him an assuring nod knowing very well that Dinesh will die than blurt out what happened tonight and walks towards his home thinking about how he once treated an acid attack victim who could have done so many things if she was not a victim, who knows maybe she could have been the next big thing in their little town, and it crept in on him the vanity of the human existence and the lack of help in a drowning boat of life and how no matter how much you scream or shout or pray for someone to pull you out of a situation there is no help that arrives ever magically it is you against life. He tugs himself in tightly in his sweater and vanishes in the dark gesturing a goodbye for his friend crossing the poster of that the local leader had put up for beautification, “Smile it helps you to cross the biggest hurdles” in the local language.