The Night's Stranger
رات والا اجنابی
And someone suddenly appeared on the deserted street, when the dying night was taking its last breaths.
Hiding his gaunt,
bent body under a warm woolen coat, he walked slowly, down the edge of the
foggy, mist-laden night. Perhaps he feared he would collapse then and there, if
even a small gust of cold wind touched any part of his body, if it was left
exposed. His inexpensive scarf covered his entire face from ears to neck,
leaving nothing but his eyes and nose uncovered.
He was walking like a victor, in the middle of the frightfully still night. In his one hand he held a long blood-stained dagger, carefully balancing the drops of blood on its blade, preventing them from dripping on the ground. He was the only traveler on the street that night. Why would anyone be there at all at that hour of night? Had anyone ever dared to walk with his head raised, before a murderer?
Though apparently, he was moving on fearlessly along the desolate and quiet road, the night chill was unnerving him. But he kept holding the dagger in his hand. Suddenly, he felt the earth cracking under the heavy thuds of gumboots. He spotted two policemen going past him, holding hand in hand. They were strangely silent, even when they saw the bloody dagger in his hand. He didn’t exhibit any sign of fear at the sight of them.
For him one killing was enough – a murder that was terribly more vital than hundreds, thousands of murders. How much he longed to accomplish that task!
‘Murderer’ was a soft and honeyed word to him. He loved that appellation. How happy he would be when the medal of a murderer was pinned to the discoloured overcoat on his body!
How fervently he wished the night changed suddenly into day, with people moving around, appearing shocked to see him in such a state – especially, his friends and relatives who loved him.
But he was the last traveler alighting from the shivering, shrinking shadows of the night. The entire town lay in the cradle of deep sleep – sleeping the sleep of the dead.
He started thinking. His own people, turning to their sides in their beds, didn’t dare open their doors to him, because they were extremely afraid of him. They feared that if any one of them even looked out of their secure casements, he would attack them. But the lone murder that he committed was itself equal to a thousand killings. He would no more dye his hands in blood, even if someone punished him to do so.
He just wanted
someone to appear unexpectedly, and patting his shoulder for his heroic deeds,
say, “O man, what a feat you have pulled off today!”
But it looked like the dark stillness of night had stung everybody. It had even bitten the policemen, who slipped away quietly when they saw him.
The earth could have shaken under the thunderous hammering of the dreadful long boots of the policeman. The specks of dust, clinging to the earth, could have flown towards shelter, apprehending death. But he knew no fear! Expanding his chest, he was walking triumphantly on the road, despite the fact that he was a murderer. The road lay wrapped in thick sheet of sleep. The homeless, stray dogs roaming the streets, barked when they saw him coming from a distance.
At every step, however, he could clearly hear the frightened, tremulous bark of those stray dogs. They ran away on seeing his gory spectacle coming closer. It was gradually getting colder. He was now overtly feeling that piercing through his warm overcoat; the biting gusts of cold wind were penetrating deep into his bones.
Who knows why, his inner self no more wished the spell of night to be broken. It was only a little while ago, when expressing his innocent thought to himself, he had wished for a sudden change of the night into day, so that when people saw him emerging out of the foggy morning, they would ….
But what was
that? He was, in fact, the last
traveler arising from the dense smoke of night.
He had become triumphant by tearing the robes of defeat into pieces.
He was a traveler who pushed life down into the valley of death.
Engrossed in deep thought, he trudged along in silence.
Was the night heading forward or retreating? Why didn’t anyone pursue him? Had life once again achieved victory over death, or had death yet again scratched the face of life?
He was looking
rather tired, as he moved on.
He suddenly turned into the lane on his way, without any intention, and confronted a funeral approaching from the opposite direction. Four miserable people were carrying the bier, mumbling incantations to themselves, while crossing the street. They appeared to him as ghosts in the deathly stillness of the night.
He was surprised to notice that the four pallbearers were crossing the road with their eyes closed, as if they were born blind.
The picture seemed very strange to him. He thought if anyone else had been there in his place, he would have all but shrieked and collapsed right away at that eerie sight. But he wasn’t a coward. He never was.
In fact he was
the one who had dared to emerge out of the shadows of night, even after
committing a heinous crime. He smiled to himself. It was after so many days that
his lips had tasted the flavor of smile. Could the face of live ever be so
beautiful? How could a murderer travelling out of night to the brightness that
might expose his misdeed, dare smile? The arms of night were folding, and the
smile playing on his lips was fading slowly.
The dread that gripped him now was that the long shivering winter night might, any moment, embrace the first light of the morning. However, the rooms of the towering houses, standing by the road, were closed. Dark somber curtains were flapping against the windowpanes. It was his misfortune that the night was sobbing into its death, and the signs of daybreak, were manifesting themselves slowly but steadily. The sheath of darkness was falling off from the sky. Somewhere at the pinnacle of the sky few dim stars were twinkling feebly, as if announcing the death of night. He wished to die before being embraced by the light of day.
Now the night was actually receding, and the factory workers were walking on the road with hurried steps. They were absorbed in their own thoughts. They didn’t take any time off, to even look up at him. Walking briskly right on the middle of the road, he was extremely sad to realize that he could not draw anyone’s attention towards him, in spite of carrying openly a blood-stained dagger in his hand.People were passing close by him, overlooking him, as though his existence had no importance for them. Their ignorance was awfully tormenting for him. His existence now appeared to him like that of vile
maggots rearing in the filthy gutters. A muddled net of people was now spreading on the road. The night was taking flight, and he felt lonely among the milling crowd. Nothing was visible to him. Now the heavy mist was fast rolling out of the bosom of night. He started running on the road in frenzy.
“O, look there! Look at him. The main is running full gallop, as if he is going to miss his train.”
The attention of
the people on the road was now diverted towards him.
Everyone was passing remarks on him, according to his intellect and ability. All of a sudden he felt, as though his scattered existence had reached its consummation.
(Translated by Saif Mahmood)