Dec 27, 2014-
It was a nice morning. The sun was shining brightly, and a mild breeze was gently jiggling the leaves of the trees, where birds perched to sing their melodies. R woke up in his hotel room, refreshed after a long ride, and walked out to the verandah to enjoy the pleasant morning.
Emptiness. He couldn’t see even a soul walking on the street. Emptiness. Parked vehicles sans drivers, deserted shops, empty eateries, no honks, no humdrum. Emptiness. The City looked like a perfectly preserved specimen of a modern-day necropolis.
Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead. For last night, the City had been a completely different place. He remembered how, while he was descending down the hill, which bordered the City on one side, he had seen its bright spires shoot up into the sky like iridescent zeppelins. From the distance, the whole place had looked like a giant, floating cauldron with streams of frozen molten metal tumbling down from heaven. Floating on what? He couldn’t explain. It was just an impression that he’d got. And once he’d reached the City, he’d seen how every inch of the place was
bubbling with human activity. Bustling sidewalks, busy markets, buildings saturated with light and overflowing with people. He’d not come across a more prosperous place in his life.
He ran downstairs to the ground floor, where the reception was located. The floor and the stairs looked freshly mopped and glistened under the influence of soft, bluish light thrown by the bulbs from the ceiling. The reception table had things placed neatly, just the way it was last night. A small computer screen, a telephone and a printer huddled on one side of the table; a black ceramic flowerpot, with artificial roses and lilies, lay in its middle; and a glass slab with the name of the hotel embossed in big, block letters lay on the far end of the table. But there was no one there. The chair, upholstered in fine, black leather, was empty.
He strode out of the hotel into the deserted street. The sun was shining brightly, and a mild breeze was gently jiggling the leaves on the trees, where birds perched to sing their melodies. He had come to the City for the Fair that was supposed to happen that day.
To his utter disbelief, he saw a cab speeding towards him. He brought himself to a halt. The cab casually stopped by his side. An elderly person turned towards him from inside the cab and called, “Do you want to go somewhere?”
He froze for a moment. Was it real?
“Want to go somewhere? Need a cab?”
He finally came back to his senses, “Yes, I need to ….to the…Fair. Can you drop me where it’s happening?”
The driver unlocked the front door and pushed it open. “Come in, please,” he said, “and don’t be scared. The whole City has gone to attend the Fair. I got late and am leaving for the place now. ”
R took a deep breath and sat beside the driver in the front seat. The car sped through the wide, deserted streets and in a few minutes reached the outskirts of the City.
Now that they were out in the open, the driver seemed more relaxed. And he started explaining to R about the Fair and how all the residents of the City had left it last night for the occasion.
“They say that hundreds of years ago, when our ancestors had started building the City, they’d lost a part of its foundation to the sands of the desert. Later, after it was unearthed, people from the City started flocking to the place to show their respects. It quickly turned into an annual festival. All the residents of the City—men, women and children—leave the City after midnight on this day everyyear,” the driver explained, “to attend the Fair. No surprise that our City looks totally deserted,” he smiled.
R replied with a wry grin.
Now that R had been in the car for more than two hours, he could see on the other side of the vast sandy expanse a junkyard of vehicles spiralling out of a bright, kaleidoscopic core that looked like a dizzying array of multicoloured membranes of plastic streamers stretched into the infinity of the space.
“We’re near,” the driver said after a while and soon started negotiating his way through the vehicles parked around the site. The car came to a halt at the entrance. R got out of the cab, paid the amount and entered the premises.
Inside, waves after waves of humans, all in shackles, moved round and round and round big hillocks formed out of what looked like calcified remains of huge piles of debris, the kind that one would expect to find in all cities. Bright neon lights of all colours lit those mounds from all sides before reflecting back into the space.
Centuries of ossification had encrusted the debris, but one could still make out the shapes of the junk that lay below. He thought he could delineate cans, boxes, bottles and bags of various shapes and sizes.
Groups, shackled together by interlocking pieces of long, thin chains, moved around one hillock before moving to another. They went about, slowly and methodically, softly murmuring what must have been hymns and prayers
dedicated to the pioneers of the City. They looked like they were in a state of trance. They weren’t humans; they were beasts possessed.
R felt a titanic pull tugging at him. A big surge was about to take over his consciousness. He thought he was about to melt into the crowd and be one with them. Then, from amidst the crowd, which was flowing like water in a canal, he discerned a shape. An old, haggard man—grey hair, shrunken body, wrinkles embossed on the skin like that of a mollusk—appeared. He was mumbling something that R couldn’t understand. He lips moved rhythmically to an alien melody like that of a Hindu priest. His body paced itself to match the speed of the group. He was bound in chains; he was none other than the driver.
In violent, spasmodic movements, like that of a person trying to shake off his chains, R threw his hands in the air and darted out of the premises. He left the luminous nucleus; he flitted through the car park; he ran and ran until he was out of his breathe.
Finally, once he was out on the highway, he started walking, determined to reach the City all by himself and leave it as soon as possible.
Dusk had set in. Rays of yellowish hue burnished the sky on one side, while darkness was slowly engulfing the other.
From the distance came the boisterous noise of a huge cavalcade: a long convoy of vehicles filled with a jubilant crowd had started making its way into the City. The noise grew louder and louder as the vehicles drew closer. They finally started overtaking him.
Suddenly, a car stopped. Someone called him from behind. He looked around. It was the cabbie who’d driven him to the Fair. “Want a lift?” the cabbie asked. R was already panting, and the City was nowhere in sight. “Yes,” he said helplessly.
“Come in and take a seat”
R opened the door and sat in the back.
“It was a good day today, even though I was late…”
R was in no mood to listen. His thoughts wandered to his hotel
room, his suitcase, which lay ready, the highway that snaked through the hills and out of the City, his loving wife and his three kids.
As the taxi neared the City, he could again see its spires radiating and jutting out into the space like elongated bubbles. He neared that huddle of bubbles with each passing moment. And all he wanted was to leave the place as soon as possible.
Published: 28-12-2014 16:47