Stray Man

 

meherhossain1752@gmail.com

I had to spend most of my time away from home at different unknown cities; first for schooling and then for job. Finally I settled down in an unknown city having retired from govt. job and tried to integrate.
I felt the pull of what many call ancestral bondage after a long time. It gradually started to instill in me when the mastery of sensory organs was waning. As a result I refurbished my ancestral home with my own design and putting my imagination  towards the end of my service.
It’s a Bungalow sitting on a waist high platform with six feet spacious verandah all around with slanted roof and a portico in front standing on Roman type pillars. One spacious sitting space, two bed room, a kitchen with adjacent dining are located in the ground floor. On top there sit at the center of  about six thousand square feet open roof one big bed room with attached bath and a pantry.

My Bungalow has a walled spacious precinct has a giant gate overlooking a desolate metaled country road going straight about half km joining a tri-junction. It seems that one can see the whole world sitting on the verandah of my Bungalow.
People here have become almost unknown and distant for lack of interaction for a very long period of time. But the home remains very close to my heart. My childhood sticks around the courtyard.

Our family graveyard is about fifteen minutes’ walk. I go and visit the graves of my ancestors whenever I get a chance and reflect about my root.
It gives me strength.
For last few years I visit my ancestral home more often, minimum twice a year.
Omar, a man of his late nineties, about six feet on his heel with stone-cut craggy face, lives in the complex to look after the property. He lives with us from the time of my father.

He lives in followers’ quarter built in one corner of the complex. He keeps the complex and the bungalow secure and maintained. Besides his free lodging and food he is given monthly salary.
He works for others in the village when there is no work in our complex. He took permission from me.
-What is the necessity of working for others? I asked him.
-Just to help others. I don’t feel at ease if out of work.
He does not take money from people whom he works for.
-He thinks that all the villagers are his own people, more so, he does not need extra money. He says.
He has nothing to look back and nothing to look forward.
He had his house somewhere in Assam, he says. He doesn’t know much about himself. He is also not at all bothered about that. He strayed from his family when he was a boy and came to this area. Life moved on since then.
He does not have anybody here to call his own.
My father tried to marry him with a local girl but he refused outright. He confided something to my father and the topic was never broached since then.
Omar has a light dark complexion well matched with people of this area but his flat nose and sunken eyes tell about his intrusion in this area. His face speaks that he does not belong here, he belongs somewhere else.
He looks very lonely and helpless whenever he sits distrait.
He lives clinging with the Bungalow and it seems that his only duty in life is to look after the house.
Omar realizes my emotional attachment with the house.
Whenever I visit my home after a long gap, having asked about weal and woes of my family he gives a categorical update about the house and the complex. He informs about aspects like; which wall needs to be painted, some corner of the stairs is ditched, some fruit bearing trees to be treated etc. saving anything about his own, be that physical or mental.
The discussion gets diverted as my relatives and few villagers throng around. 
So many times I thought of asking about his own-self very privately- regarding his past and future. But so far without any avail. Firstly, because he deliberately use some pretext to divert the discussion whenever occasion is created to discuss about him. Secondly, I get busy in a lot of engagements as I visit my home after a long gap.

This time it’s full monsoon, already raining profusely. The sky was fully overcast with dark cloud. I almost scooted on to the verandah as I got down from my vehicle.

This time I am in no hurry  to go back. I have enough time at hand.
It’s twelve noon, but day light does not say so, only clock indicates that. All are blurred with the incessant fall of rain drops. Sporadic gust of wind jerks the supple branches of Mahogany trees standing tall by the side of green lawn.
None are seen around, no trace of any human being, only nature rules with its unabated rain with unbroken pitter-patter sound.
I went up straight, opened the door and brushed away the raindrops from my head with a towel. Normally I stay on 1st floor.
Having a quick change up, I came down and plunged into the easy chair on my raised verandah overlooking the main gate. Normally I sit here and Omar must have placed the chair for me.
I always enjoy rain being plunged into my easy chair on this raised verandah. 

I closed my eyes to feel the rain.
-When have you arrived, son?
Omar’s voice jarred me up from slumber.
Omar addresses me calling son since my father died. My father used to call me like that. He calls me son with a distinct feel of emotion.
But that day his voice seemed un-rhythmic. Something was missing in his voice, I felt.

I wriggled a bit and reset my position in the easy chair and looked at him.
Omar brushed off the floor with his loin cloth and sat reclined against the wall.
He looked gloomy and distraught. I was seeing him after about six months. He really looked sickly.
He asked about the welfare of my family in usual tone and then started informing about the house and the complex.
His voice was choking at times as he talked. He was also gulping intermittently.
-I thought of asking about himself today.
-You have to paint your bungalow after the rain is over.
I did not answer him.
-How is your health? I asked instead.
I had to take little preparation for putting the query. As I am not habituated to put those sort of queries.
He cleared his throat by making some dry cough.
Omar was also not quite prepared for such question, it seems. He also took little time to prepare.
-I have no problem for my living. So don’t worry about that.
I didn’t understand what he meant.
– I clearly see that you have lost weight.
I tried to be more personal.
Omar smiled.
-It appears like that as you are seeing me after a long time.
I didn’t understand whether he complained or not.
I thought of asking about his relatives. But could not gather courage. How do I ask about something which I did not do for last about fifty years!
-Beside you, I have none in this world. My heart aches only for you and your homestead, son.
I thought of asking about his own relatives as the subject is raised.
-I am here with you since my early boyhood. Your father graced me to live here. He was a kind hearted man. He tried to let me root in and grow some identity permanently in this area before he departed.
Omar heaved a sigh of despair.
-I narrated everything to your father. What my Creator did not desire how one can do that! I only live in my physical body, so no worry about anything else.
I listened to him with stark silence.
Rain drops were falling unabated stifling all other sound.

-Son, the other day an old beggar fell and died at the tri-junction in front of your house.
-How come? I got a shock.
-Yes, son. The beggar was a familiar face in this village for years. He used to beg here almost every day. All villagers knew him.
-All thronged around the dead body and few also wailed.
Omar paused to gulped a sob.
-I also went to see the dead body. People were otherwise busy, they started leaving one by one. Old Imam of our mosque broached the issue of burial of the dead body. Some kind hearted villagers left some money beside the dead body.
Omar let out a stifled sigh.
-But problem arose about the grave yard where the dead would be buried. You know that all family has their own grave yard in this village. They only burry their own member, none else.
-Only acquaintance don’t qualify. He was a beggar and did not have any family affiliation here. Thus his dead body could not be buried in any family grave yard.
-Though some kind hearted family member acquiesced but the decision could not be taken with the plea of combined family decision.
-How can you take consent from all members of the family in such a short time? More so, is there any guarantee that all members would consent? Salaried Imam opined.
I listened to Omar with rapt attention.
-It was late afternoon, old beggar died in the late morning and dead body was left like that till then.

Omar rubbed his eyes by the corner of his loin cloth.
-Police came before sun set and wrote down report. They looked for something to wrap the dead body. I ran back and took my sleeping mat and gave to police.
-They wrapped the dead body with my mat and carried on a paddle van.
Omar’s voice totally chocked.
-Where are you taking the dead body? I asked the police Sergeant.
– It would be disposed as unclaimed dead body. Sergeant answered.
Omar kept sobbing silently, tears rolled down his cheeks. 
Heart rending event indeed. But I was puzzled seeing Omar moaning for the event.
-Was the beggar someone of his relative! I thought.
-Was he related to you, Omar?
– Son, the dead body is identical of mine.
Omar stood up and walked down the stairs and away into the rain.

• I have stopped counting my age, rather I’m busy putting more life to my age. Meher’s Quote

Category: English, Short Story

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