The following story is a work of fiction. However, it is based upon actual events and therefore no real names have been used.
He held on to his coat tightly as the wind blew colder. The streets were lonely, dark and desolate; and it was not the best of times to be taking a walk. But it was not a mere stroll that he was on. He was out there because it was only in places like these that he could think clearly. He wanted to purge his mind of all the ideas that had been bothering him; he wanted to get rid of the guilt that was plaguing him from the things that he had ended up
doing and the horrible things he now held himself accountable for.
He turned around the alley and ventured into the long, unwinding street. This part of the town was the last place one would want to walk around at two in the morning, but for some reason, he had always felt at home in the most absurd of places. All he could hear at this hour was the occasional wailing of the neighborhood dogs, the distant noise of a car alarm or the mere sound of his own footsteps. But it was not noises that bothered him; it was silence that scared him. He chuckled to himself at the irony of it, given he had grown up around it; how, more often than not, the only person he had to talk to was the lonely, friendly face that looked back at him in the mirror. Maybe the silence was finally getting to him; maybe the voices in his head were getting too loud for comfort.
Tonight was not a night he wanted to be alone, and as fate would have it, here he was, walking down the path of least resistance, as always. He kept walking, shivering a little, not so much because of the chill in the air, but because of the storm brewing inside his mind.
As far as he could remember, he had always been a loner. Maybe it had something to do with his roots, where he was found as a discarded three month old baby in the city dump. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that while most children his age were being spoilt for choice by their parents, he was out on the street, having to fight for every square meal that he was lucky enough to lay his hands upon. Maybe it was the countless nights of sleeping underneath the stars on an empty stomach that brought out this dimension to his persona. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the jealousy and hunger to have everything that he had been denied that evoked such strong feelings inside him to think for himself and achieve all the things that children like him are not destined to get. Destiny, he often wondered, was the excuse for people who just did not try hard enough. He lit his first cigarette for the night and let himself be drifted away in the stream of thoughts flowing through his head.
He had found ways to climb the ladder faster than the others. His methods may not always have been on the right side, but given his circumstances, he felt he owed himself at least that much. While the others in his generation had a head start, given where they came from, he felt that the only way he could catch up was by bending a few rules. He started out as a rag-picker, graduated to being a waiter at a small time restaurant, often being abused and laughed at by the so called ‘elite’ crowd. This was where the first signs of disdain and hatred started cropping up inside him. He saw boys walking around with beautiful, young girls and was filled with jealousy. He wanted to be one amongst them, someone who would effortlessly walk into a place hand-in-hand with a pretty companion by his side. Instead, he was waiting on such guys and being subjected to their high-handedness and ridicule.
He had realized that this road would only take him so far. To get what he actually wanted, he’d have to resort to methods the world wouldn’t quite approve of. To hell with their approval, he told himself. When I make it big, the world would come crawling to me for my approval.
And that is how it all started.
He started smalltime, peddling drugs to young boys and girls outside schools and colleges. Sometimes he’d do nightshifts around clubs and discotheques, helping rich boys and girls get high. Marijuana, Hash, Ecstasy or whatever it was that his loyal customers wanted - he would arrange it for them. It started out as a tiny effort to get into the big league, but slowly and gradually snowballed into a complicated web of mammoth proportions. He knew the ins and outs of the trade, the right people and the right places to do business. His rise was meteoric, and he did not know what to do with it anymore. The money made his head spin, but more than that, it was the power that thrilled him the most. The kind of girls he would spend countless nights fantasizing about, now threw themselves at him. The new found confidence seemed to sit pretty on his shoulders and his presence was almost magnetic now. The fact that he could control people who came to him, the fact that he could dictate his terms and the world would listen – these were the things that he had always craved for. Finally he had something he always wanted. Finally he had arrived.
If only I had stopped at that, he thought to himself tonight, as he took another puff at the cancer stick. One of the few things that can still control me now is this stick between my fingers; he wryly smiled, looking at his cigarette. In spite of all the events that had changed him as a person, the one thing that he still managed to sport was the innocent smile from his childhood. He was not good looking, in the conventional sort of way. In fact, he had an everyman quality about him that had helped him blend anywhere. His average built, wheatish complexion and unassuming demeanor made him just another face in the crowd. But it was his smile that would make people turn around and notice. In spite of all the things spinning out of control in his world, he had managed to carry the one thing from infancy to adulthood – and that was his honest, childlike smile.
Events had spiraled out of his control, taking a form of their own. He now realized that he had started something he had no control over. The devil inside him wanted more, the greed ever growing in nature. Having established himself as a known entity in the world of drugs, he set out to achieve bigger conquests. During one of his underground rave parties, he was introduced to people dealing with guns and ammunition. For the first time in his life, he held a gun in his hand, and could instantly feel the connection. He felt power to its hilt – the ability to control, manipulate and decide for people and he felt heady from the feeling.
He started dealing with ammunition and owing to his connections and networking skills, soon established a name for himself. As with the drug packets, his guns carried a signature mark on them, just to mark his presence. Even though he was now dealing in huge numbers, he was still a one man force. He lived alone, worked alone and slept alone. Trusting anyone was difficult for someone like him, mostly because of his past. He knew that in his line of work, one was bound to gather a few enemies as he went ahead, but he had always had the knack of turning foes to friends. He would often tell people around him that he wasn’t afraid of anyone else, apart from the devil inside him. If anyone else had said that, they would have probably laughed. But in this case, they knew this was true. And that was the scary part.
He had never really known that he had a conscience. The very idea of one eluded him. Until this very morning, at least. He woke up and just like any another day, walked out into the balcony and picked up the newspaper. As he was sipping on his customary cup of dark, black coffee with the day’s newspaper spread wide open, he almost spilt the hot drink over himself. The day’s top story talked about a seventeen year old going on a drug fuelled rampage with a shotgun in his school, killing seven of his classmates and eventually shooting himself in the head. The teenager had been using drugs for the past one year and had somehow managed to get his hands on a gun. The police did not have much to go on at that point, apart from the fact that they had found a particular signature mark on the drug packets as well as the gun found on the kid.
He knew that it was him. He knew it was his stuff that was responsible for this mayhem. He knew it even before he got to the part that made his worst fears come true. He did not know what to do now. It wasn’t the fear of this coming back to him. He had enough contacts and reach to make it all disappear and untraceable. He understood the power of money and its hold over human greed too well to know that he could make it all go away. What did haunt him was the guilt. He knew right from the beginning that the path he was treading was eventually leading to where he was today, but he was surprised at how unprepared and affected he found himself.
He decided to not work today. For the first time in many years, he took a day and off, made a few calls and went back to bed. Not surprisingly, he couldn’t go back to sleep. The demons from his past haunted him and the news only made them stronger in his head. He just lay there, looking at the ceiling, talking to his imaginary friends – the only ones who truly understood him. He could always be who he really was in front of them. He wailed and cried out loud and felt no shame, because they were his own. He tried to tell himself, and his friends, that he could not have possibly seen this coming, that this was a freak accident and that he was not responsible for any of this. But deep down, he knew that the only person he was kidding was himself. There was no redemption from this; there was no escaping the consequences of his own actions.
He tried to get himself to eat something, but nothing would go down his throat. He tried to drink enough to forget about everything, but somehow even his strongest scotch couldn’t have the desired effect today. He felt sick and depleted and just wanted to get away from it all. He stayed indoors, in a dazed and confused state all day, and the longest day of his life showed no signs of coming to an end.
Fresh air, some fresh air would do me good, he thought, and checked his watch to show the clock telling him that it was past midnight. A new day, technically, he thought, and the outdoors could only do good. He put on his coat and walked outside the building into the long, deserted street, seeing imaginary faces and hoping to mingle amongst them, become a part of the crowd and lose everything that was bothering him.
And here he was, strong and powerful today, walking down the streets of the city, yet feeling hollow inside, in the weakest hour of his existence. He had always known that power and money came along with their own set of troubles, but he did not know that they would drive him to the point where even he’d hate to be alone with himself. He lit another cigarette and seeing that this was only getting worse, decided to head back. He had walked a lot tonight, and maybe his body would give in and finally allow him to sleep.
As he neared the end of the dark alley, he felt a sudden push. Before he knew it, he was down on the ground and a pair of anxious hands was holding a gun to his face. I need all your cash now, screamed the guy, bringing the gun closer. He could sense that the assailant was not in his senses, maybe a drunk or a junkie, trying to scrounge enough for his next trip. Having been in the business for enough time now, he knew an addict when he saw one, and he had a feeling that his attacker was knee deep into the habit.
The street light flickered above the assailant as he threatened to blow his head off. He had enough on his mind today. He decided to give in and tried to get up so that he could reach for his wallet and empty its contents. However, in a rush of blood to the head, the paranoid junkie felt that he was trying to make a move, and in a moment of fear combined with excitement, pulled the trigger. The noise from the gun reverberated through the neighborhood in the pitch black silence of the night as the attacker dropped the gun and ran away.
In the flickering of the street lamp, he could see the gun that had brought him to his end. It bore the mark that all his guns did. He could have laughed at the sheer irony of it. He had often wondered what people think about during their last moments- family, friends, love or karma. In his last moment, all he could think about was how he had finally found redemption. And he died with a smile on his face.
*Picture courtesy: Ankit Mavchi. To see more of his work, visit http://ankitmavchi.com
*Picture courtesy: Ankit Mavchi. To see more of his work, visit http://ankitmavchi.com