Kaushik woke with a start, his eyes immediately wide open, although as yet unseeing. He was aware he had been dreaming. He’d noticed over the years that he always felt unnaturally alert when he woke from a disturbing dream, as if he had consciously recognized its nature and had willfully wrenched himself out of it.
He found he lay facing the window. Its glass panels were shut and he heard muted rain. The incandescent yellows of the streetlights across the train tracks floated spectrally against the darkness. Everything was eerily still. Kaushik checked his watch; it read 2AM. He sighed and turned over to face the other side. Suresh was away for a week and he had the apartment to himself.
He had only vague memories of what he’d dreamt other than that it had to do with ghosts and the dead. He seemed to recollect an enormous dark castle, recognizable, for he had dreamt of it a few times during the last decade and was aware it appeared very similar to the one he’d imagined when he’d read ‘The Three Investigators and the Secret of the Terror Castle’ as a thirteen year old. He found it strange that his dreams should choose this one, created from imagination, rather than the numerous ones he’d seen in horror films.
He cursed himself, out loud, for bringing up the subject of horror films at this time. Instantly and inevitably, images from those queued up in his brain. He remembered how, as a kid, whenever he woke from a bad dream, he clutched his mother's arm and felt magically safe. "What will you do when I die?" His mother had once quipped, "You should cut my dead arms and keep it with you to put you to sleep." He had sudden visions of lying on an enormous bed covered by a glowing white sheet clutching a solitary arm. The grotesqueness of the vision unnerved him further and he frantically searched for more pleasing memories of limbs, finally arriving, gratefully, at the bewitching image of Eva Green as Bertolucci's magnificent version of Venus de Milo in The Dreamers.
He stole a quick glance at the door and found it slightly ajar, the diffused red of the mosquito repellant right next to it. He imagined what he’d do if an apparition or two were to walk in through there. He fancied himself sitting up straight, his back supported by the wall behind him, calmly light a cigarette, of which there were none in the house, and say “Right, so you’re here to kill me? Mind if I smoke?”
He was wide awake by this time and perspiring lightly from these visions. He sat up, drank some water from the bottle placed on the windowsill, opened the window and stared outside. Apart from the line of yellow lights, he now spotted a few stray whites, lit windows, against the night sky. There was virtually no sound, most notably, that of local trains plying their trade. The last one would’ve passed more than an hour ago. There were no cars on the road. It was as if the city had decided to pack up and leave and they’d forgotten to tell him. The rain had stopped; the rhythmic pitter patter replaced by the occasional solitary drop slipping off slanted roofs and exploding sweetly down below.
He hadn’t put on his glasses or switched on the light in the hope that he would soon by overcome by sleep again, this time deeper and more pleasant. Now, having stayed up for a half hour looking out the window, he realized it was unlikely to happen. So, he gave his eyes their aid and the room, its presence. He walked around the apartment for a while, unable to decide what to do. He rummaged inside the refrigerator and found pieces of cheese, leftovers from the weekend’s wining and revelry. He chewed on those for a while, practicing shadow cricket shots with his hands, setting a particularly tall target for himself to reach in very little time and then reaching it with extravagant strokes, muttering excited commentary as he did so.
The novel he was reading lay on the table – Chabon’s ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh’. He was halfway through it when he’d had to put it down that evening for dinner. He picked it up now and started to read from it, slow and unsure for a page or two whether he actually wanted to get into it at 3 in the morning, before the disarming beat of Chabon’s words found their way through his defense.
He read till he finished the novel, exhilarated and jealous, for he wondered if he’d ever be able to produce prose like this. It was near 5AM and the nearby mosque’s loudspeakers were halfway through the day’s first prayer. He lay down in bed again, anxious to salvage whatever he could of his sleep from the next two hours. It wouldn’t be his best day in office, he knew.