CRISS CROSS

He stood in the open doorway. Outside it was brilliantly moonlit. He stood watching. A breeze had sprung up and he felt its coolness on his face.

He closed the door and stepped out. On an impulse, he found himself looking up. The sky was clear. There were tufts of clouds here and there and the moon was shining full and bright.

He walked out to the path in front of the house which climbed up on the hill. He didn’t have an idea as to the exact time but guessed that it was past midnight.

The night was quiet. The path wound up the hill; shaded ocassionally by trees. He strolled up this path; lazily kicking a pebble now and then.

There, when he turned the corner, he saw the figure – sitting, it looked like, on some high boulder or fence next to the path.

He was a little intrigued by the presence of this figure at such late hour in the night. He increased his pace a little; interested now. As he came close; he saw that it was a child – wearing some kind of a large cloak or coat which made it look larger than it was.

When he came closer; the child lifted his face. It was an extraordinarily pale face which seemed to be filled by the deep dark eyes of the child. The child sat quietly and in many ways, it was eerie. It didn’t affect him, however, even though he noticed the eeriness.

“Hey kid, what are you doing here,” he called out to the child.

The child didn’t answer but kept looking at him.

“Not the time for you to be alone pal”, he said, looking at the child closely.

For a second, the child’s face seemed to blossom and distend; but when he looked again, there the kid sat looking at him silently.

“Uh, ok, no joking, tell me your house and I’ll take you back. Not safe here,” he gestured coming further close.

A smell, as if of dry fallen leaves, came from the child.

Their eyes locked. He felt a deep abyss somewhere. He jerked his eyes away.

The child lifted his hand and pointed. He turned back to look at where the child was pointing. On the sea, beneath the hill, some distance away, a light blinked.

He turned aside, so that he would keep the child within his view as also watch the distant gleam. Slowly he could make out what looked like a small motor boat heading towards the shore. The moonlight glinted off its shining hull as he watched the boat.

Suddenly he lost interest in the kid and found himself walking down to the shore. The boat was already there; anchored close to the shore when he reached it. But there was no one around.

As he stood watching the boat; he became conscious of a movement on the sands behind him. He turned – to see the same kid with a scruffy looking dog beside him.

He picked up a broken twig lying at his feet and threw it for the dog. In a few moments, the dog was bounding up to him with the twig in his mouth. He looked at the dog and smiled.

Then he felt apprehensive and quickly looked up. The kid was no longer there. Instead stood a large indiscriminate figure; quiet but menacing.

He sighed. He turned as if to walk away; but suddenly came around facing the large figure. There was a snarl on his face and his mouth opened wolf like. With a cry of unholy joy; he sprang at the figure and brought it down to the ground. But the figure shook itself free and with a leap was running up the hill. He sat looking at the running figure till it disappeared in the shadows of the hill.

The boat was still there. But there was no dog. Neither could he see the child. He lay down on the sand; tasting the salty wind on his lips.

He found the night growing darker and looked up to see clouds much more than there were earlier. Somewhere in the hill behind, he heard a sound; a long wailing sound.

In a blitz, he was up; racing to the hill path where he had met the child.

It was much darker now. But he could still see that there appeared to be a figure; in fact two figures – sitting at the same place where the child had sat earlier.

He slowed down, and as he did so; the dog bounded up in front of him and merged with the figures.

He went up to them. A kind of mist was building up; or so it seemed to him.

He went nearer; walking slowly and quietly. He reached out and touched the misty outline and it was like the feel of dust upon his fingers.

He sat down before them, head bowed; while the misty outline slowly faded away in the darkness.

There was the boat down at the shore waiting for him and there lay the open door of his house where he could go back and rest. Or he could go back to the cemetery and lie down with them; his son, their pet dog and the driver who had crashed their car.

He would decide for he had time. The night was not over yet and there was plenty yet left to criss-cross.

 

 

 

 

April 12/13, 2010 Sanjay Kumar Singh

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