Descent into Darkness

By Neel Anil Panicker

The applause broke his reverie. A boy, barely into his teens, was dribbling his way past a fortress of half backs and quarter backs. A motley crowd of hangers on applauded as bare footed spindly player first, overrode the first barrier by cleverly hoodwinking his opponent with a right leg pull, and then, having moved deep into the corner left flank, went past another by pushing the ball past his legs.

The crowd  appreciated this artistry with  passionate cries of “shabash”, “well done”.

Having disoriented his opponents; and now in the dreaded D, the boy ran through unopposed, and then, with the voices from the perimeter behind him getting lustier and lustier, the boy, with the deftest of left flicks, lodged the ball past the goal line.

“Wow, what a goal” shouted out someone from the sparse crowd of watchers.

Reminds me of Pele, the King of Football, saut very oainid another.

The accolades kept coming his way as the other players converged around him and embraced him in a tight bear hug. A few, obviously overexcited ones, then went ahead and hoisted him in their shoulders as the spartan bunch of onlookers nodded their heads and exercised their vocal chords in vigorous affirmation.

Watching from his corner seat in a near invisible cemented bench camouflaged as it were by a thick bunch of shrubs, Professor Raghav smiled__a slow, all knowing creeper that originated from the edges of his lower left lip and slowly but very painfully worked its way to the other end.

Nodding his head asynchronously he wondered whether a similar fate would await the boy when he grew up.

Would life as he grows up be as charmed for this young, innocent boy so full of dreams and hopes and aspirations? Would he still be the star attraction? Or  would he join the nameless majority of failures and has beens  that life tosses about in order in abundance as part of balancing out the law of averages?

As his ravaged mind dived further into the ocean of negativity, his thoughts about the boy began to get darker and darker until, when he couldn’t take it any longer, he extricated his frail self from the rectum of the park bench and began the slow walk out.

Professor Raghav walked past the two elderly couples and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation that had broken out between them.

“ No, I said you will go and that is final,” said the woman, old and frail and carrying a multipurpose stick that she utilised not just on the ground to support the limp in her left leg, but also occasionally to reprimand her husband, as she was doing now.

“But why can’t I go”? protested the man, his pockmarked face now further contorted  as he vainly tried to drive some sense into his wife.

“After all it’s only for a week”.

As Rags moved past them he heard the final salvo,

“ No means no. Anyways, who will take care of you these seven days that you will be gone? Aradhana, no ways? She is too busy with her own life and anyways with Rahul in her life, I sure am not letting you go anywhere, and definitely not without me”.

There was a ring of finality to the voice as if its owner was used to handing out orders and brooked no disobeyance of the same.

‘Who is she to order him what to do and what not to do?” Rags wondered as the couple’s voices receded into the distance.

His mind kept pace with his steps.

‘She sounded very concerned. And for sure loves him no end. Or why else would she bother about him and his health and that too at this age? She would very well have left him to do what he wished, thereby leaving her free to do what she liked’.

The thoughts kept badgering him even when he exited the gates of the park.

‘ Maybe this is what love is. They are concerned as they care about their partners. And at this age, it is all about caring and sharing; that is the only barometer of love’, everything else is just hogwash.’

The honking got louder and nearer.

“Hey watch the road. Do you want to die? A man peered out from the driver’s seat. He looked back to see a monster SUV staring him, all horns blazing.

Sheepishly his mouth formed an ‘Oh’ as he scampered on to the safety of the pavement.

‘The barometer of love. So two who he had seen fighting were not fighting; merely expressing their love for one another.’

She didn’t want him to go anywhere alone. Neither did she ever go anywhere alone.

He had known that. The past one month he had seen them in the park; taking slow walks, as their arthritic limbs measured the corners; at times sitting in the bench beside his. They would talk, almost always she, at times he, their talks interspersed by momentary bouts of laughter and chuckling as they shared old memories and their minds got swept over by nostalgia.
The sun’s rays beat down harshly forcing Rags to squint his eyes.

He had got it then and he had got it now. It was love and only that binds two people together.

Love is the clue that will stitch all bruises; mend all fences; join all bridges; and overcome all problems in life. It is the invisible knot that keeps a relationship from untying.

As his inner self battled with this new found realisation, Rags wondered to himself whether he could say about his marriage.

A month had passed and all he had to show for were endless hours on a desolate park bench looking at life. Day after day he was left to watching the humdrum of existence unfold before him in languorous abandon as his eyes flipped over from one human spectacle to another__fat, bored housewives congregating, laughing, chatting, discussing the antics of their loved ones; retired old gentlemen peering out into the distant horizon as their eyes scanned through the nimbus cloud formations as if trying to recall the good old days of yore; or rumbuctitious boisterousness of adrenaline fuelled young children as they ran helter skelter either chasing balls or hurling them at others.

She had not spoken one word after their last spat; instead either preferred to lock herself in her room all day and night and doing Gods knows what as strange noises and smoke emanated from inside; or staying out for days on end, at times arriving in the wee hours of the morning_ her hairs all dishevelled and eyes blood shot and maddening.

Neither was she any forthcoming about all this nor did he venture to ask her what her new found aberration meant.

For all practical purposes the marriage over_ only its death warrant needed to be issued.

So that was it. Two decades of marriage had gone kaput and he had nothing, not even a child to show by way of its success.

Rags head began to swirl. As his head began to bob, he rubbed his eyes. It was too late. His eyes had begun to make the descent into darkness.


( Chapter 20 on ongoing novella  A FAIR AFFAIR)

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