Satya sat at the side of the road, thinking of what had just happened. The gash was throbbing like an angry spider on his right cheek, sending its tendrils of pain deep into his jaw.
Looking up in the sky, questioning himself why this is happening to him as he watched the white clouds moving quickly his pain brought him back to the ground, the pain was manageable, and if you poke someone to the edge, they are bound to hurt you. It was good, though, that he knew the edge to which he could push that particular woman. ‘It is only politeness after all that prevents us from experiencing the harsh edges of reality, but it is only on the edges that knowledge, real knowledge of phenomena come.’ He had heard someone say this, or perhaps he had read it from one of the books Chandramukhi kept.
The throbbing pain reminded him of when Chandramukhi had first scratched his face during one of their dis-agreement only a week after they had met. But, that memory was soaked in a sort of meaninglessness like a deep vein of lead through an iron ore. Lead, because it brought to mind a sense of darkness, a predator of the night that used to roam free in him in those days. It was she who had set it free by creating an opportunity for him to face the darkness that he had denied the light of day before. Satya watched all those thoughts going in front of his dull eyes as traffic light buzzed on the north main road in Pune, he kept walking those roads endless times like a madman, trying to leave this pain and creature behind.
An old man’s head suddenly appeared in front of him; it had been there for a while, and he was asking, “Are you hurt?”
“Do you know where I can get it mended?”
“There is a doctor here, but it’s too late in the day.”
Satya nodded and pressed the edge of his shirt against his bleeding face, to stem the flow of blood. The frown on the old man’s face only deepened.
“Where are you from?” The old man asked, again only after rambling irrelevant phrases for a while.
“Do you know where I can go?” He asked.
“You don’t have a place?”
He shook his head, and at this response, the old man’s bewilderment reached its pitch and he reached for Satya’s hand.
“Come.” He said, grabbing his hand to pull him up.
Satya let himself be pulled, and soon the old man brought him to a hut, whose door stood to the side, broken. Inside, there was a simple cot, a lantern on the floor, and a makeshift table with shelves built-in. Here a bandage happened to be placed daintily at the edge. The old man gave a smile filled with shame and pushed him to the edge of the cot.
“Are you a doctor?” Satya finally asked, when he noticed an antiseptic liquid, some ointments, and some tablets, old and probably expired.
“No. No. Army.” The old man replied gruffly and then, “Stay still. I will get some water.” And now with a kindly smile that was attenuated with compassion, the old man gently washed his cheek, and, grumbling every time Satya winced, the old man started to bandage Satya’s face. Then he was poured a cup that reeked with a local ‘drink’, strong and bitter, but Satya gulped it all, thinking of the makeshift ‘drinks’ full of curious concoctions Chandramukhi brewed for him.
He was running through a hall, and behind him, a fire burned; a pillar of fire rotating and following him through the gallery and then the way in front of him became convoluted and he was running through a maze instead, with the heat still behind him until a large face loomed in from of him; its eyes dark, and its lips full and red like a wound and into it he plunged, to run from the torrent of fire and he awoke.
He was trembling and his shirt was stuck to his chest with sweat. There was a candle that burned at the side of the table, its sooty flame flickering and throwing the dirty walls of the hut into a dim relief. The face of the old man appeared at the head of the bed, looking down, his face smiling in worry.
Satya sighed and tried to rise but the old man firmly pressed his chest until he gave up, and hurtled straight into another dream, where now Chandramukhi danced beneath the stars, at the beach in Gokarna, her loose white dress gathered beside her knees by her pale right hand where a ruby ring glowed pulling the dying light of the sun into it, and though he tried, again and again, to look away from it, it grew bigger and bigger becoming a furnace. And then he was back in the inner room of her house in Pune, and now she was shouting at him, her eyes red, her cheeks tear-streaked where the red print of his hand glowed with a vivid red.
He awoke with the smell of tea brewing and cardamom seeds burst with a pop filling his nose making his mouth water. No. It was the gas because the pop came again and again, and finally, he managed to sit.
“Want tea? You will have to wait though, I have to light incense to the god of darkness, you know, I’m a satanist.”
“What?” Satya tried to pull his mind to the room despite the pain.
“I said, I’m a Shaivist, boy. Are you daft? You know Shiva, the one with the trident. Boys like you don’t know the significance of the meditator in the pantheon, the one who drinks the poison of the world, and dreams on his mountain of ice so that the world can go on.” He let the old man’s voice drone on and on until finally, the tea came, and he sipped it looking into the old man’s eyes, half-closed, and only now could he hear the mantra he was repeating, on and on, ‘Om Namah Shivay. Om Namah Shivaya... like a noose that entered into his mind, through his ears, round and round, swirling at the back of his mind. “How do you feel?” The old man whispered once he had drunk the entire cup
‘Who did that to you?”
Satya pondered for a while, thinking how best to answer it until finally a wicked smile lit behind his eyes and he said, “my mother” and started to laugh.