Dead dreams of #Shillong streets – Silvester Phanbuh’s evocative short story
“I will not leave you. We will be there together till the end, when it becomes too bright to see and too hot to breathe.”
Kennedy remembered these words as he shuffled down a small path flanked by concrete multi level houses. The air was sour – disinfectant – signs of a recent cleaning drive, as futile as the sentences that reverberated in his head. Decrepitude slowly swarmed around him as he took a sharp turn into what was usually, one of Shillong’s busiest markets, seldom talked about in the tourism circle but a lifeline the town would not do without.
The stalls lay still and mostly empty except for a few blank faced shopkeepers who sat emotionless while flies buzzed around the meat cuts on display. A grinning pig’s head hung from a wooden plank nailed above the counter of one of the pork stalls. K walked on, himself emotionless and tired, like there was nothing to look forward to, at that moment, on that day or maybe for a long time.
‘Don’t you have somewhere to go?’ he called out from the pavement. ‘No, I decided to stay.’
It was all that he could think of, but something more surprised him than the heartbreak which was supposed to set in. He felt numb, like a time traveller who came back with knowledge of the future, a future that wouldn’t matter. It started to drizzle and the grey clouds opened while the market streets seemed to curl into their concrete sides like a dying spider. Some of the shopkeepers walked away from their stalls, leaving their now not so precious merchandise at the mercy of the rain. A few stumbled into the darker crevices of this crumbling complex, walls outlined with piss and a rat or two scurrying into a pile of jute sacks. K continued walking, hands clenched in the pockets of his jacket, knuckles white but no one can see.
He continued walking up to a main road, a busy artery of his hill station hometown. The cars were lined up on the road, a traffic jam that was never going to be resolved. Almost all of the occupants seemed to have left their rides in a hurry, some with doors ajar. The shops here too were mostly empty, but signs of life emanated from the crowded localities that constituted the flesh beneath the lining of commercial establishments on Laitumkhrah’s main street. K walked on, the rain got heavier.
The streets got cleaner as the water washed plastic bags and cigarette packets into the slowly rising gutters but the cars remained. Hatchbacks with muscular wheels and some with expensive music systems, all lay there like squeaky clean relics in the mist. An old blue city bus caught his attention, the driver still at his seat, puffing away on some tobacco.
‘Don’t you have somewhere to go?’ he called out from the pavement.
‘No, I decided to stay.’
K wondered for a second but then realised he didn’t care why. He did not even know why he asked the question. And he walked on.
The grand cathedral was not empty unsurprisingly. He could hear some hymns from within its lofty dimensions. Some people were walking up the steps in a sense of haste that betrayed the day itself. He felt a sense of calmness within it as he passed by looking across the abandoned vehicles that now permanently clogged the road. Her lying did not matter anymore.
This morning he walked into her room, only to find her in a semi circle of her own blood. There were no last words except for that message she had sent.
The rain stopped abruptly. It was all part of a plan. Sunlight burst through the clouds which dispersed as if on cue and the day became the most beautiful he had ever seen. Drenched and staring at the suddenly blue sky, K did not realise that he had company. The bus driver had stepped out of his seat too. The dot on the sky was now visible. It was half past three on his watch.
He thought of her cold lifeless body and the sticky blood around her wrists.
He thought of her eyes staring lifeless at the floor, her twisted body as awkward in death as she was graceful when alive.
The spot on the sky was now a larger spot, hurtling down. It had been in the news in the morning. Was there screaming? He thought he heard screaming. The dot will get larger until it blotted out the sun. He thought of his mother, who tried so hard. He thought of his father, a successful man whose life spoke of many failures. He remembered his friends, and the plans they made to get rich.
The heavens of Shillong would be blue for the very last time. The black dot, which became a black spot, was now a black shadow on the sky. The screams he heard were real. The screams came from the houses; the screams came from the church.
And he knew as he stood there alone, that it will soon get too bright to see and too hot to breathe.