Almost after twenty years they have met today. It was Bijan’s idea. In fact, this get-together organised in his house only. After a long time, they all met. In school days, Bijan, Avinash, Tamal, Anshuman & Sayon was the most notorious five. They had made not only other students, even the teacher’s life, miserable. But they all agreed now that those are the golden days of their lives. As usual, they were so lost in their old stories and laughter that when the evening turns into late night, they hardly noticed. Their story takes his own pace of enjoyment. Avinash put his plates down in the sink and wash his hand carefully. Suddenly, his wristwatch jabbed his attention.
“Oh my god, it is twelve o’clock already!”
He murmurs to himself.
Avinash was in a notion that it was hardly ten o’clock only.
He moves calmly in front of the group.
“Hey guys, I need to leave. It’s already too late.”
Bijan replies on behalf of the gang.
“Hey, what’s hurry, buddy? Nowadays, our movement is not dependent on some stupid clock. Your chariot of fire is here with just a small touch on your smart phone. We are now free soul night or day. You know, after almost two decades, we have been together. Avinash, please stay tonight.”
Bijan’s wife announces from the kitchen,
“Bijan, let him go. Don’t you remember that Shampa always allocates time for him whenever he is out of home. How will he stay here tonight?”.
Avinash laughs with everyone else in the room.
“Madam, you are just incorrigible.”
Avinash gets up from the couch and stands near the kitchen.
“But I really need to leave now.”
But the exit was not that easy for him. A prolonged farewell takes some more time than he expected.
It is already half past midnight when he hit the road. The roads are empty. There is no sign of life at all. Only a stretched own shadow accompanying him. In a city like Kolkata, in the middle of December not supposed to be so scary. Avinash pulls out his phone from jeans pocket and tries to book a taxi. But when after three consecutive app-based taxi cancelled, he is a little worried now. Avinash thinks that may be taxis are not interested to come to such interior part of lane for pick up. If he moves up to the next big crossing, this problem might solve.
With his thought, he walks towards that. After ten minutes, he reaches there.
But today, his fate is not with him. Entire place is quiet. No presence of people apart from a tiny cigarette stall. A faint yellow light is coming from there.
Before he left, Bijan was repeatedly requesting him to stay there tonight. He thinks now it would be better to listen to Bijan. If he would have not been such impulsive, he hadn’t been out alone here.
He thinks there is no point to weep for past decision, let’s move forward.
He walks towards the cigarette shop.
“Brother, give me a Gold flake.”
Avinash takes the cigarette and looks for the fire. A rope made of coconut debris and a constant fire at the end is hanging beside the stall. He lights the cigarette and inhales a long puff.
He observes the shop owner now. A middle-aged man with a large mustache. With full attention, he is cutting some tobacco leaves without noticing him.
Avinash clears his throat forcefully.
“What I’m saying, brother, can you tell me where to get a taxi here.”
The shopkeeper stops cutting tobacco leaves and looks at him with a surprise.
“Taxi? Where will you find them now, sir? All the taxi owners have called for strike since today midnight, because of the increase in Petrol price. They are demanding a rise in fare too. Don’t you know anything about it?”
Like a flash of light, Avinash recalls it now. Yes, it was for long on newspaper & TV. He had taken a mental note of that too, but after midnight the date has changed. That part he totally forgets.
“So, what’s the way now? I have to get back to north Kolkata, near tala tank.”
“Look, Sir. I’m sure you won’t get anything from here. But after two bus stoppage from here, there’s a big fish wholesale market. There are many vehicles that drive at night. You may convince one of them for a lift.”
“You save my night, brother. I was anxious. If you can tell me which way to go, then it will be a great help for me.”
“You take this main road, but it will take about forty minutes’ walk to reach there. There’s another way but.”
The shopkeeper halts. Or rather, something just choked his voice. He is trying to brush a layer of chuna over a paan leaf, with a tremble hand.
“What is it, brother? Why you stopped?”
“No, there’s another road to go there. It takes about half the time too, but at night, no one dares to walk through that route.”
“That road is actually passing through the middle of a Christian cemetery. It is not safe at night. I suggest, it’s better not to take that route tonight.”
Shopkeeper looks straight to Avinash,
“You take the main road and keep walking straight.”
Avinash laughs so loud that a cat sitting on the opposite side of the wall jumps out of fear.
Since his childhood, Avinash known as a fearless. People who used to know him closely usually say that Avinash can’t feel fear. Even in his college days, he took bate with Bijan and spend an entire night in their village’s cremation ground alone. That Avinash can’t go this little way.
After taking the last puff of his cigarette, Avinash throws it on the road and smashed with his shoe.
“You don’t worry about it. I’ll be alright. You just show me the direction.”
“Sir, I am again requesting, don’t take this route today.”
Avinash looks at shopkeeper and his face turn rigid.
Shopkeeper exhales a little longer breath.
“Okay, listen when you are insisting. Walk straight, after five minutes a short foot-walk will come. Take that road. After ten minutes, take a left. A graveyard will start from there. Once you cross it, you will reach the fish market. But think about it, Sir. No one goes on that road at least in such a dark night.”
Avinash smiles a little sarcastically. Then dissolves in the darkness of night.
After leaving the main road, Avinash realises he made a blunder by deciding to take this road thoughtlessly. No, it’s not because it has a graveyard on the way. The road is so dark that visibility is almost zero. There’s no torch with him. Nowadays, people don’t have that habit. After a brief walk, his eyes adjusted to whatever light available. At least he can see things now, faintly.
Avinash rushes straight, persuasively ignoring his surroundings. A moon from last quarter suddenly rises in the middle of the sky from nowhere.
Avinash looks around and finds himself in front of the cemetery. The tomb is all around. Time wears some of them out, some of them are new. The road moves in a crisscross, keeping all the tomb both sides.
After filling his lungs with a fresh cold air through a long breath, Avinash thinks only a few more steps left to reach his destination. The rest of the night, he can sleep with a little more comfort. And that thought brings him some extra energy. His walking speed exploded.
But after a few steps, a sharp sound sprinkled over him.
Avinash startles. In such place and such an odd time, from where such sounds come. Is he really heard it or it was just an illusion? He halts for some time, but there is no more such sound. He shrugs his shoulder and puts a step forward.
What a surprise, this time sound is very clear. Can’t ignore it again as an illusion. Someone strokes a stone with a hammer. He thinks it’s not a good idea to check the source of this sound in this impenetrable darkness. Most important question is who else would make such a noise in this lonely place at middle of the night? All such intertwined thoughts of his makes him quiet again. But there is no further sound. Everything is suspiciously silent. Once Avinash thinks to check it but then he drops this idea. It is better to remain in the course and reach the fish market as early as possible. He walks towards that.
From nowhere, a piece of black cloud come and unexpectedly covered the last source of light, the slice of moon. Then again, all around is inky darkness. Avinash has no other way around apart from keeping on moving forward on instinct and speculation.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
No, this time clearer and originated from close vicinity. Avinash always a reckless man and his curiosity is extreme. Avinash speaks in his mind, “I will go till its end.”
Clang! Clang! Clang!
Now, he walks toward the anticipated source of sound. On the turf he is walking, those can be called anything apart from the road. After managing the bushes and carefully prevents collision with broken crypt, he finally reached an empty space. That place is almost the centre point of the cemetery. This entire area encircled by a row of tombstones. It gives him a feeling that they all are alive and standing round him with holding each other’s hands.
He seeks for the source around and finds a faint line of light. It is coming nearby from a recent tomb. Certainly, the noise is also coming from there. Avinash in a strange state of dilemma. He could not deny that this was the first time he’s been scared. He’s never been in a situation like this before. But curiosity has its own itch.
Avinash swallowed some cold air and starts walking towards the light.
After a bit of a move, Avinash sees that light is not alone but has an owner too. A middle-aged man, not less than fifty years old. He is skinny and his skin of face is crinkled. Rashes covers his face and hand in such a way that you can’t guess his original skin colour. His head is covered with salt & pepper hair. Face is buried with the beard that has not been cut for a while. An old greenish brown colour with furrowed full sleeve sweater; he wears. That man looked at Avinash because of sound of his feet. That man’s eyes are blank and cold. Avinash breaks the eye contacts with him.
Avinash doesn’t know why he has palpitation and short of breath looking at those eyes. But somehow, he gathers the strength and asks.
“Who are you? And what are you doing here at that point of night?”
A contemptuous smile appears on his face.
“Shouldn’t I ask the same question to you? Sir?”
“I was trying to get a taxi from a nearby market, so took the shortcut from here. But you?”
That man smirks,
“Myself Narahari, I look after this cemetery.”
What a relief for Avinash. The simple solution doesn’t come to his head. He feels stupid about himself. It’s obvious who else will be here on such a late night apart from the caretaker.
As his mind is free now, he fucuses on surroundings. A small covered pointed flashlight is laying near Narahari. A tiny hand tracer and a big hammer are resting next to him, too. It quite satisfied Avinash after finding the solution of this spooky sound issue.
After observing that in his face Narahari says,
“You’re almost there, and you’re just ten minutes away to get to the market.”
One question is still hassling Avinash. Why is this guy doing all this in the middle of night? Hope there are no other hidden intentions.
Avinash gives an intense look at him.
“Well, you’re not afraid to be here alone at night?”
“To be honest, it would have been horrifying even a few years ago. But you know, all the fear finally we need to swallow to feed our empty stomach. And now, after spending so many years here, I’m not afraid anymore.”
“But why you are working in this dark?”
Avinash couldn’t hold this question anymore.
“Don’t mention it.” Narahari says in disgust. “The name embedded in this tomb is not correct. You know our young generation, just hopeless. Nothing will be in place unless you make your hands dirty.”
Avinash tries to read at what is written. In the diffracted beams of the flashlight, he sees the scripture and some details on the tombstone, faintly.
M. N. Discuza
“So, what’s wrong with that?”
“Well, that should be N.M. Discuza.”
“I wonder how you could notice that name of this tombstone has an error in this crowd. I must admit that you have a great observation power and an outstanding memory.
The man smirks with-out creating any sound.
“No, I don’t have such power. And I don’t know exactly what the rest of the tomb is written even. But I know this one very well; that’s why I’m trying to fix this.”
“Oh. So, this one might belong to someone whom you know?”
“Well, you can say that, but this one actually is my own.”
Avinash startled abruptly.
“Mean? What a joke you are making.”
Avinash says in a trembling voice.
“What a hell, why would I make a joke? Oh, my dear, I’m The Narahari Michel Discuza, the last caretaker of this graveyard. I had left mortal world three days before. Since then, I’ve been trying to fix this mistake. Don’t you think I should deserve at least that much decency after giving my entire life here.”
Avinash is not in a position to substantiate his statement. He wants to scream, but not a single word comes out. He can’t feel his hands and feet. He can’t move.
Narhari looked at him with a wide-open eye with full of surprise.
“It seems you’re scared. But why? I could find nothing to get afraid here. Any way my work is keeping pending due to you. Let me finish it now.”
Narahari pulls out his hands out of the sweater and starts working with the hammer and the hand tracer.
Even with faint rays of light, Avinash clearly sees those hands do not have any flesh, blood or skin. Only a pair of white bones. Atmosphere becomes intoxicating for him. He could not hold his senses. What he last remembered that a repeated rhythmic sound.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
The next morning, a group of morning walkers spot Avinash near the tomb, unconscious.