[ fiction - june 06 ]
I have lived here the entire 24 years of my life. I have seen the lips of the earth open, parched; and the mouth gaping skywards, as if swallowing the entire ocean only will ever quench its thirst. The cracks on the dry mud resemble those on my lips. There are few children remaining in this village. The ones who have died have been used as manure for our farms. But hardly any farms remain to be noticeable. They are so sparse and small, the produce so mildewed and rotten, that there is no question of eating it, forget selling it. And now, I have to walk 10 miles in the blazing sun everyday for one bucket of water. Precisely in the afternoon, at 12 pm, the water pump runs for 15 minutes. For the first two to five minutes, black, mucky water gushes through the pipe. Then slowly it starts becoming transparent and starts resembling real water. At exactly this moment, the tap runs out. There are sentinels guarding this lonesome water pump. They are clean-shaven cockroaches dressed in neat ironed clothes. They have a rifle with a bayonet over their left shoulders, like a dead limb. I cannot say how many sentinels are present at one point of time, their number varies from day to day. But their faces remain the same: faces of strangers. When anyone goes to the pump, they form a circle around the person and stay in that position until the person has had his fill of water. Yesterday, I was crawling like a half-dead sidewinder bitten by a scorpion towards the water pump. I was hopelessly late. My entire body was swelling with heat, turning crimson. The sentinels were about to leave their positions, but on noticing that I was making a fuss at the pump (the squeaking noise must have bothered them), they gathered around me in their morose uniforms and faces. They carried me to a small shack without saying a word among themselves. I was vainly struggling to break loose. There, in a little room I glimpsed a little boy playing with an ant on an office table. They took me to a similar room, made me sit in a chair and turned on the television. A film was being played. The film began with an unassuming title. The film was beautiful, dangerous, maddening. It had pictures of people drinking cold clear water against the tropical sun, half-naked people basking on the beach as the water from the shore slowly crouched close to their feet, huge waves of pristine blue water, the sound of which immediately quickened my heartbeat. The room filled up with water, wherever I looked. Each corner of the room produced that same tempting sound of the splashing of huge waves. My brain was salivating. A sentinel coolly presented me with a glass of water. I could see my hand quivering, I could see myself sitting in that chair and hesitating to take that glass from his hand. But I took it. I gulped it down in a matter of seconds. Then another sentinel, who appeared from behind the first one, handed me another glass of water. I drank this too, only faster now. Then I saw that all the sentinels were standing in a long single file which did not end, and continued outside of the room and outside of that shack, and I could see it stretch as far as I could see from the window of the room. I swallowed one glass after another. Never waiting to ponder on the madness that was inevitably being dragged along in this game. My head seemed to have swelled up to the size of the room. The sentinels were mere puppets now. I felt that through me, the parched earth was being quenched, the dead children were being brought back to life, rejuvenated. So I kept on drinking. My eyes filled up with water, as if my body could no longer contain any more of it. The file of the sentinels had shrunk. The last one was now approaching me. There was an idea of a grin playing on his face. He handed me the glass. I held it to my mouth and lifted its bottom. My mouth suddenly went dry again, my throat parched and hot like the desert. There was no water in the glass. It was empty. I could not hold myself any longer. I tore my hair, banged myself against the walls and in a cathartic delirium, was shouting, screeching "Water! Water!"
I have traveled a lot, have explored many diverse terrains. My travels have taken me far and made me a nomad, but the sole purpose of my travels has been food. For a period of time, I have spent traveling a lot in this place which is damp and smelly. But there is enough food to get by. I prefer solitude while traveling than frivolous company of blabbermouths. I prefer silence while traveling. So I usually go alone in search of food, and when I do find any, I signal to my friends to reach that place. We eat a little at the location itself, if we are starving, but mostly believe in storing it for tomorrow, so we carry it back to a safe storage. Personally, I do not conform entirely to this philosophy of storing for the future and all, it's preposterous. "Starve today, eat tomorrow." What an idea! Anyways, I do help my friends with it, but only after I have fed myself enough on the food, which gives me no qualms because I am the one to have located the food in the first place. Yesterday, I received strange sensations when I was passing under an office table in this area. So I slowly began my ascent on one of the legs. It was a very easy task to reach up, since the sensation was so strongly directed that I would have to be na´ve, indeed stupid, to be confused and misled by it. I reached the top of the table in a minute or so. I could see something half-wrapped in a gold foil. On closer inspection it turned out to be chocolate. It was a big chunk. If stored properly, it would probably outlast the entire lives of those fools. I rejoiced in my triumph. I fed on its thick sweet juice. But in a moment my entire body was quivering. I had seen something that I had never before seen at such close quarters. The freckled face of a little boy coming so close to the chocolate, that for a moment I thought that he would eat me together with it. But I was spotted. I could see an idea of mirth in his eyes. By this time I was already on my heels towards the wretched end of the table from where I had climbed up. But in trepidation, I was led astray, and I could see myself dancing around that piece of chocolate like a fool. The boy had produced a glass of water from somewhere, and he did so very quickly. He poured some on the table's edges, and kept on cornering me in this manner. Finally, I was with the chocolate bar, surrounded by water on all sides. I knew that it would be too amusing for the kid to see me struggle in the water, and I didn't want to give him this visual delight. So I sucked madly at the chocolate, until the juice hit my brains and I was drunk as a fish. My movements were becoming extremely erratic. I could imagine the boy having a great time. I was becoming suicidal with the thought that someone could derive pleasure from my suffering. So now I plunged blindly into the water surrounding me and the chocolate bar. I noticed that I was able to float on it, but was incapable of any movement whatsoever. The boy started blowing air from his mouth, I suppose to get me inside his trap once again, or to topple me over the edge. I was shocked to the bones. I was paralyzed by fear and impotency, helplessness and despair. I imagined myself being rooted to the same spot for eternity, and as an impulse to this thought I started shouting, screeching, in insane voices, "Water! Water!"