“Hear me out. Listen to me.”
At first, I could not make out where the question was coming from. I looked around, saw the man sitting next to me, a fat gentle man in a blue shirt and white dhoti; then the young man leaning against the iron bar close to my seat; I saw the back of heads of the people sitting in the front seats; I also saw the many people crowding in a line in the aisle inside the bus.
“You can’t see me?”
The voice came back. I was pulled into a pool of curiosity that never before enveloped me during the afternoon hours. The next move I planned was to seek help from my nearby passenger.
“Don’t even think about that.” The voice said. It warned me, in fact.
I did not know what the repercussions would be, if I went against the instruction. This was the third sentence it spoke to me. OK, I agree, it’s my intuition that it’s an ‘it’.
I tried to focus. I could only see the seat in front of me.
“Look here; open those eyes of yours, which are so accustomed to see only manmade uselessness. Here I am; miracle among all the manmadeness.” The voice said. It sounded preposterous to me to listen to some hallucination inside my head. But it was as real as the crowd inside the bus and their fight for inches of space inside.
Then I saw, with a heavy voltage of shock crossing my heart. I thought about everyone I love, everyone I hate, and every moment I spent dreaming books and stories. I saw a face on the back of the seat in front of me. It was fully animated, not a picture. It was vague, and no one could easily see her in just a random try. Her? How on earth can I trust my sanity still? Nevertheless, the face looked like a woman’s.
“Who are you?” I mumbled under my breath, worried about the prospect in a rational society, talking to a face on a seat cover or as I believed, to myself, in a hallucination. I would not need to take additional pass to some mental hospital. The people will do everything. My students had to come up there to meet me, tomorrow morning. What would happen to my blog, to my unfinished portions in the English literature class, to my students, to my love, to the book I am about to read? No, that is a risk I cannot afford.
“I am your fatigue.” The voice came back.
I noticed, by this time, that even my nearby passenger is not noticing the face on the seat cover. Hallucination—I decided, right at that moment. I also decided to play with it a little more time. I know hallucinogenic instances could entail immense possibilities to learn. The book I read had told me that much. I am spared of peyote poisoning, thank God! This thought gave me courage. So I mumbled under my breath, one more time, “What do you mean, you are my fatigue?”
“I am the Wisdom in your fatigue. The bringer of rejuvenation, like the night that brings the brightest morning to your doorsteps.”
“Why are you here, now?” I said.
“I am here to show you the stupidity of yourself and the man sitting beside you. But before that let me tell you this, I know completely that you consider me just an aberration of your overworked brain—a hallucination. But I am not. Look at the child beside the man, near the window.”
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I had heard the child asking silly questions to her father, the man sitting beside me, as I sat near him in the seat, a few minutes back. However, I was intent on focusing at my latest lessons in the class. So I left the conversation, tuned out. The girl was asking, “Why is the evening news paper not called Matrubhumi, Papa?”
She had voiced this question a couple of times before the man heard it. He said nothing first, and then replied in a sagging and tired voice, “Because Matrubhumi is morning paper, darling.”
Then I wrapped my thoughts about the class bully whose parents came to meet me complaining about his results, the previous week. And right then, out of nowhere, or perhaps, truly from my fatigue was born this woman face.
I do have a character. I do not want to be a child-ignorer. So I said to her, “I did not…” I stopped. There was no face, anymore. My words, accidently, were a bit higher in tone. Some of the passengers, including my seatmate, looked at me. I showed them my cell phone and grinned ear to ear, shrugging.
I had my answer, I should take a less crowded local bus back home tomorrow onwards. This one is too crowded for hallucinations.
“Oh, so when this newspaper comes in the morning, it becomes Matrubhumi?” the little girl asked.
The man, her father, replied in a nod. He had an evening paper in his hand now, and was leafing through it.
“Why don’t some people do not have children?” she asked again. Her father did not reply. Although he attempted, his words were locked inside the box of inhibition in facing this child’s question.
I could have told her about angels and children, how angels come in the form of children, but they forget who they are, once they grow up, I thought. Then the girl made another enquiry, “Doesn’t that road go to Mattannur, too?”
“No, it’s Caltex.” Her father replied.
“After Caltex, doesn’t it go Mattannur. Then why don’t we take that road instead?” the girl persisted. I would have told her, she was right. But this is ‘one-way’ system. You know that that road will lead to where you want to go, but you have to be patient for everyone’s good and take the turns and junctions to meet the same road at another juncture, traffic free, and welcoming.
My seatmate, the little girl’s father, kept on reading his evening newspaper, and did not say a word.