THE WAIT (fiction/shortstory/twominuteread)
By Neel Anil Panicker
It’s a very long queue. The line originates from the barren river bank, snakes through no less than half a dozen dirt tracks, climbs up rocky masses, slopes down rat infested dumping grounds, past stench emanating drains, sidestepping open lavatories and darkened potholes, the kind that offers free one way rides to Hell.
Above, the sun is a blazing red orb, its rays unrelenting in its assault on the hoi polloi below.
Madho is no stranger to queues.
All his life he’s done just that. Stand in line.
What else could he do but fall in line.
Poverty is a very good teacher. Folks afflicted by it make for good students.
The septuagenarian can map his life’s chequered history around queues.
He’s stood in queues_ for a glass of water, for a plate of food, for old, tattered clothes, for a roof for the night.
All in one leg.
He lost his right one the night he’d accompanied his father to the polling booth.
He was a month shy of his sixth birthday.
‘Stay here,’ his father had commanded before disappearing into a dingy bylane to partake of a bottle of country liquor. The coloured concoction was a bait, offered by the local candidate to help ensure the loyal stay loyal, don’t cross over.
That evening proved to be a double whammy of tragedies!
Ten men from his village dropped dead. One was his father. All victims to spurious liquor.
He got to know about it only the next morning.
His mother’s response was stoicism personified.
‘Your father’s dead. You’ve lost a leg, too. You’re your own man now.’
Madho’s cataract ridden eyes scan the human expanse that forms a lazy semi circular arc around him.
A couple of bullet ants wriggle up his neck. They zig zag all over his sunken eyes, traverse his pock marked visage.
Madho raises his right palm, stabs the pests into submission.
Every day thousands go back disappointed. Today’s no different.
‘Come tomorrow, a voice barks, more machine than man.
The line thins, breaks. The women head back to their hell holes, the men to their watering holes.
It’s a quarter to six. The sun’s threatening to disappear behind the distant hills.
There’s a chill in the air. The chatter rises to a din.
Madho cranes his neck. He can see the tent. Watches men and women go inside, exit after few minutes.
He studies their faces. All smiles. Toothless grins galore.
Minutes later, a man in white coat steps out.
Barks. ‘No vaccination tomorrow. Government holiday. Come day after.’
It’s all over. The vehicle’s wheels kick dust, speed away, a mere speck in the horizon.
The line breaks. The crowds disperse.
‘Tomorrow will be our lucky day’, mumble a few.
‘We’ll be rid of this damn virus.’
Madho has his doubts.