He sighed. Slapping the book shut, he placed it carefully next to the makeshift mattress on the floor which had, out of disinterest and laziness, become a permanent bed for him and a permanent fixture in the drawing room. The watch read 2 AM. He checked, one more time, the alarm he’d set for 7 the impending morning, then lifted himself up off the mattress and scrambled, as noiselessly as possible, to the washroom. The door, lamenting in its disrepair, creaked ruefully. Relieving himself, he sighed again, his tool throbbing in ecstasy as it finally shed the weight of its restraint and with it, more than an hour’s torment.
Before switching off the lights, he stole a quick glance around the room, taking in the discolored white walls and the multitudes of haphazardly scattered newspapers, magazines, open biscuit and wafer packs, polythene bags, shoes and the enormous television set on the floor. It was only Tuesday; it would be another four days before the maid came and cleared some of the mess. On the mattress right next to his, his roommate was already fast asleep. On the other side of him, through the Indian High-rise version of a French window (that slid open unto a cramped balcony), he could see the twinkling lights of the Mumbai night; the city desperately holding onto its conscious being even as the consciousness of those that actually provide relevance to its existence, the people, slowly melted into dreams and dreamlessness. He switched off the light, switched on the liquid mosquito repellent and lay down on his bed.
For the first few moments, he stared into the vacant darkness, more aware than ever of the grunts from the ill-oiled ceiling fan and occasional honks of late night automobiles. The red glow from the mosquito repellent lit up the switchboard around it, investing it with a faintly surreal presence. As his retinas expanded to take in more of the darkness and thus, resurrect his sight, the room gradually reconstructed itself around him. In the meanwhile, the roommate had commenced snoring with involuntary abandon. He’d noticed for some time now that darkness was in some weird manner, a catalyst for the snores, as if it dissipated the subconscious’s embarrassment and inhibitions in the light.
He reflected on the long, tiring day that had been. Fourteen unfruitful, uninteresting hours in office. There was more to come next day; he was to fly to another city to meet people with whom he’d have to discuss the developments of today. I need to get some sleep, he said to himself and closed his eyes.
For some reason he couldn’t sleep. Maybe because of the snoring right next to him, but he didn’t think so. Over the months, he’d grown used to it. No, that wasn’t the case. Somehow, a strange feeling that something was not quite right infested his mind. He opened his eyes and inspected the room. Everything seemed to be in order. But he couldn’t sleep.
So, he stared out of the window into the distance. From where he lay, all he could see was the upper crust of the city and city’s halo permeating the sky above. There was no moon. And he noticed the mosquito repellent’s red glow reflected outside the windowpane from within, a metaphysical twin brother suspended from the heavens. He chuckled at his own half baked poeticism. Maybe I’ll write about this someday, he thought. He resumed looking into the distance, searching for more objects that could become subjects in his, as yet, fictional essay.
Some distance from the balcony, a wire cable was strung across his view. On it were perched dozens of sleeping pigeons. An independent, carefree life? He mused. No, too commonplace, too inelegant. Intermittently, he noted sudden twitches and jerks on the pigeon’s wings, involuntary in all probability. It is not the tools at one’s disposal that decides freedom, it is the conscious use of them? Bullshit, what’s with freedom today?
He came back to the red glow. It appeared to be shuddering a little, an illusion borne out of the slight trembling of the windowpane due to the wind outside, but nonetheless adding to its mystique. Perhaps, the reflection wants to rid itself of the burden of its existence? Now that would be absolute freedom, wouldn’t it? What the fuck!
All at once, the feeling of something not quite right came back to him. The glow had shifted up a little bit. Had it? He stole a quick glance at the mosquito repellent inside the room. It was still exactly where it always was. Obviously. He turned back to the glow outside. It appeared to have shifted up further. What was this? He appraised the entire room, not really knowing what he was looking for. Whatever it was, he did not find it. Maybe, I’ve been reading too much Murakami, he thought. He looked at his roommate, still fast asleep; he realized now that the snoring had stopped.
The glow had shifted further up, almost touching the roof of his balcony. There could not possibly be any doubt now; it definitely was moving. Even as he stared at it, the glow shuddered one final time and vanished into the floor above. He turned around, with wide, frantic eyes. The repellent was still there.
What should I do? He thought about getting up and going out into the balcony. Or switching off the repellent. Or just walking about for a while. But he found he couldn’t move. Not that some invisible force had paralyzed him, it was just that he couldn’t bring himself to move. So, he just lay there.
Nothing more happened. In a while, he drifted off to sleep. It had been a long, tiring day.