On the road ahead, he saw nothing but a building haze and dense trees on either side. It was still early evening, but the growing mist or fog, whatever it was, had considerably reduced visibility.
He switched on the headlights – and then, the fog lamps.
Driving was becoming increasingly tedious. Not only was visibility bad; but the road was also narrow and twisting.
And then, a slow drizzle started, which made it worse.
The haze had come quickly and unexpectedly.
He had planned to pass through, but realized that he would have to find a place to stop at, and find it quickly.
He remembered the place and took care to locate the turn when he came to it. An even narrower road, more uneven and broken, branched off to the left. He took this turn and after driving for another fifteen to twenty minutes, came to a wooden gate on his left.
He stopped the vehicle and got out to open the gate. After putting the vehicle inside, he carefully closed the gate and drove up the path.
The tyres crunched the gravel.
There were grass lawns and flower beds on either side of the path; well lit by a number of lamp posts. Up ahead, there was an open portico herding a cheerful looking ambling cottage.
He drove up to the portico, stopped the vehicle and got out.
Flowerpots lay all around. A wide door, painted white, framed the entrance to the cottage.
As he was in the act of walking up to this door, – it opened and a man came out, looking vaguely familiar.
“Hello, good evening,” he addressed the man who had come out, “the mist came down suddenly thick and heavy and I had to stop. Is it all right if I park my vehicle near your house for the night?”
The man crossed his arms across his chest. He was tall, somewhere in his mid-fifties. He was wearing a light-coloured tweed jacket, dark trousers with a silk scarf knotted at his throat. He looked distinguished.
“Of course, I would be sleeping inside the vehicle,” he added.
The man continued to look at him and then gave an imperceptible nod. “Come on inside”, he said quietly with a smile.
Inside, it was warm and cheerful, almost like home.
The host was courteous with a demeanour which was infectiously relaxing. He was shown a washroom and, after he had finished, found himself in a comfortable sofa in the front room.
The conversation was routine. It came out that the house belonged to the host and that he had been living there for a number of years.
Sitting in the sofa, he found himself feeling pleasantly tired and must have nodded off; for the host suddenly insisted that he should take his dinner and then retire for the night. He mumbled a polite refusal, but the host was insistent.
After dinner, he was shown to a small bedroom, – again warm and cheerful.
From the window of this bedroom, he could see the night outside – dark and cold.
“Thank you, it’s a cold night outside.”
The host was in the act of leaving the room, but hearing this, he paused and turned around. He smiled, “No need to say thanks. Just a thin wall from the night outside.” Then he turned and went away after wishing him good night.
He stood near the bed, alone in the neatly furnished room – slightly uneasy. The parting remark of the host, as also the host himself, seemed vaguely familiar.
But he was tired and quickly fell asleep.
He wasn’t sure what woke him up.
Suddenly, he was awake.
It was quiet.
The house was peaceful.
He lay in the bed, then looked at the window. Curtains were drawn across it, but not fully, and the night outside was visible from a slight gap between the drawn curtains.
On an impulse, he got up and looked outside – and instantly froze.
A number of persons were moving outside. But there was no sound. Only one or two lamp posts were burning now and it was dark – so dark that it made the figures look like silhouettes.
But then, there was no sound. They moved in total silence, randomly, like shadows and he found himself holding his breath.
It was a dream like sequence outside; peculiarly soothing.
He sank down on his knees, his chin resting on the window sill.
He didn’t know exactly when he fell asleep again. The cold woke him up and he stumbled to his feet with a start. Hastily he peered outside – but there was nothing out there – just the fog hanging heavy and dimming the one or two lamp posts that were still alight.
He looked at his watch. It was nearly morning now. He tidied himself up, put on his shoes and then, treading slowly, came out of his room.
The house had an empty feeling. Slowly and carefully he made his way around. The place had a different look now – though still quiet, but as if empty – without anyone living there.
He stood in the front room, looking around; and as he did so, it grew to be morning. He parted the curtains and let in the morning light. Somehow, he was reluctant to switch on the electric lights.
A book lay open on a side table. He picked it up.
Two lines, heavily underscored, caught his eye.
It read, “The line between the good and the evil is thin, surprisingly thin. Both are compellingly driven, and therefore so much more close than we think.”
He turned to the title of the book and looked at the name of the author.
He put down the book.
He came out of the Cottage, closing the front white door carefully.
To the side of the wooden door, which he had somehow not noticed in the night, hung a wooden placard which gave the information that the author of the book that he had picked up a while ago had lived in this house – and the place had been converted into a memorial house after the author’s death.
As he walked away, idly he wondered why he had not recognized himself the other night – for the name of the author was his.
Was it because of the thin line in between………………