Jehangir got off the bus and started walking towards Oxford Street.
This won’t do, because in reality:
Jehangir got off the bus, a tattered old bus, and started walking towards Park Street.
Or even better,
I got off the bus and started walking towards ________ Street.
I was carrying a small bag, red or perhaps blue in colour and I was wearing bifocals. All this time, quietly, to myself, under my breath, I was telling myself, quietly, that I hated being in this story.
Jehangir hated being in my story. That was a laugh. I leaned back and observed him, highly amused. My creation, a stupid, degenerate, middle class character, rebelling against my authority and sensibility. All because of something very silly, as you will find out very soon.
I walked with a resolution I had scarcely shown before. I saw the billboards before me and a large interminable building, Victorian, and quietly defiant against frivolous advertisements. I was, in fact, trying to run away. The miserable road was littered with characters like me. Sometimes well-observed, sometimes sketched half-heartedly with an eccentricity that would, it was hoped; make up for other deficiencies of the imagination. A man with a shopping bag under his arm looking forlorn and lost at the crossing, a Japanese tourist carrying a plastic doll with more affection than warranted, a woman who stood with a cigarette at the crossing and a young revolutionary poet who refused to write in words on paper.
The street was only half realized in the imagination of the writers. The sky was an indeterminate blue-orange, there were too many birds flying and the road was plain black with no marks. This did not seem to upset anyone as lonely characters wept silently under brightly lit lamp posts, or smoked quietly outside restaurants.
Rimli got off the bus and joined Jehangir. She walked up to him as if she knew him from another age, lost in the past. She tapped on his shoulders and smiled at him as he turned to look at her.
A girl tapped on my right shoulder as I was walking. She smiled at me as if she knew me from another age, lost in the past. I wondered. Do you remember me, she said, No, I’m afraid not, I answered, No, I don’t think so, I said, after considering for a second again. Oh that’s alright- but I do remember meeting you at so-and-so’s party, you know?
My writer has a terrible taste for starting conversations with girls, I said quietly to myself.
So, there I was, walking with her again as in any of his plots. I wondered where it would end this time- perhaps my house, if I had one, or somewhere exotic- maybe a hotel room with a window that opened to a glorious view of the golden peaks of Kanchenjungha. An ending like that would be fitting. A view of the Kanchenjungha suggests a clearing up of mysteries, symbolized by the mist on the winding mountain roads.
I was going to be a novelist myself, writing about wonderful adventures in forests and mountains, until I decided to live in stories. Now, I wanted a way out of these tedious stories where nothing happens and solitary musings next to a music box playing jazz spelt isolation and urban angst.
Her name was Rimli. She spoke about politics.
She also wondered, when we were left alone for a while- we saw the roads being painted as if magically, trees being planted and, rather tastelessly, butterflies appeared out of nowhere- where this would all lead to. She looked slightly weary and I saw dark circles under her eyes. That seemed to make her glow even more and look experienced in matters not known to simple-minded people.
I’m going to die, she announced quietly. I was surprised. How do you know, I asked her, because I’m not made up well, my name was cooked up in haste, and I’m carrying shopping bags with tomatoes in them, they make for good effect when characters are run over or crushed by a meteorite; they roll outside the bags, across the streets and are often splashed to mix with the blood on the street. They offer an ironic undertone.
Indeed, I couldn’t help thinking, now that she mentioned it, she had the aura of death around her- like a dark halo or a translucent straitjacket; I couldn’t determine which.
Now there was a languour in our gait, as if we were walking to our doom and were unaware of it.
As we turned a corner a projectile slipped from a man’s hand working at the top of a fifteen-floor building and fell all the way down on her head. It cracked her skull and killed her on the spot. She fell with a crash on the pavement on her shopping. Crushed tomato seeped out of the bag and mixed with her blood. It rolled quietly down the edge of the pavement and seemed to look on at the scene unassumingly.
Thoroughly shaken up, I wondered what to do. A small crowd- etched in every condescending detail- gathered around and I hastened to escape.
He’s too shaken up. And he knows too much about this. After all, fiction or not, it’s a death and no death deserves such irresponsibility. And Jehangir would know. He would understand all this. So I send a man in a light blue shirt. The man in the light blue shirt is carrying a small pill- jagged like the peaks of Kanchenjungha. His story would, dramatically then, end in a make-shift Kanchenjungha of sorts. This will suit everyone. The man in the light blue shirt is, say, an old enemy of Jehangir. He had wanted to marry Jehangir’s mother when Jehangir was just starting to work at the publishing house- aspiring to be a writer himself, of great adventures set in jungles and mountains. Jehangir had objected to the marriage because the man was almost his age. He was also an aspiring writer. Jehangir’s mother was also an aspiring writer. She had seven unpublished novels in her desk-drawer at home. The man in the light blue shirt will approach Jehangir when he is inside the pub.
I walked into a pub and sat next to the great glass panel that was already fogged up. I tried not to think about the death. But it loomed large in my head, like a great black shadow. I knew who was responsible but I hardly dared to whisper it to myself. I felt the palpable reality of still being inside his imagination. I took a swig at the drink, cold and soothing and thought about my future. Then, a man in a light blue shirt walked into the pub and sat down opposite me. Excuse me, I faltered. He took my glass and put a small pill inside. I saw it shudder and break as it fell to the bottom. He asked me to drink it up in a voice that suggested an old familiarity and a ruthless assurance that I would comply. He said he had a gun with him, a Derringer that he had inherited from his father. The Philadelphia Derringer was used by John Wilkes Booth to kill Abraham Lincoln, he told me. So, you better drink up. I understood that I had reached the end of my life. I wondered if it was going to liberate me from this terrible consciousness. A swallowed pill would tell me.
I looked at my cold glass of beer. It broke into a sweat.