It was lovely weather. The torrential downpour late in the night paved way for a tranquil morning with a gentle breeze, overcast sky, and a wayward raindrop falling every now and then. The atmosphere was a sea of tranquillity. The patient sat on the floor at the foot of his bed. Legs folded, eyes closed, he embodied the tranquillity all around him. Had I met him somewhere else, I would have taken him as the source of the serene atmosphere. But this was a mental institute.
Bhavna stormed out the metro station. She had fallen asleep on the train ride and had woken four stations after hers. She blamed it on the youngster whose shoulder served as her pillow. She had specified which station to wake her up at. Perhaps her smile had really entranced him when she asked to use his shoulder.
She was to meet up with Ranjit half an hour ago, and she could already see him slumped by his chabudai into a pile of misery. Even the mental picture made her smile. Her baby-faced lover had that knack of always making her smile.
My tireless legs and tired mind took me to an unknown part of the town. A narrow road separated a row of dilapidated houses and a wasteland, neither deemed worthy enough to be lit up by streetlamps. The darkness around me was intimidating. I tried finding the spotty obsessed lover in the sky, but he was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps musing about giving up, finding solace in Clapton blues to forget her blue face.
My foot hit something hard and limp and I went tumbling to the ground. A thump and a cough resounded through the abandoned houses. I got up at once, for I hadn’t coughed. A man lay in the middle of the road, arms folded under his head, gazing dreamily at the sky.
It was Sunday. Not that it mattered to the kids in Ranjit’s apartment complex since schools were closed for summers, which made every day a Sunday. Nor for the sun as it set the air ablaze. As Ranjit returned from the nearby department store, he saw a set of wickets rolling on the road and some kids huddled together, picking teams. His eyes met Piyush’s, his only young friend in the complex and he waved. Piyush’s eyes lit up with joy and he pointed at Ranjit.
“I pick him!” he exclaimed.
I saw a man scampering like a dog with his tail between his legs. Having walked similarly a few minutes ago myself, I knew the reason for his unusual gait. But his robes piqued my interest; a patient was allowed to roam outside after sunset.
“Hey, how come you’re here?” I inquired.
“Ahhhh, sweet God, I needed that. Are you happy now?” he said with a sharp tone.
Ranjit was visiting his cousin. His niece was a difficult girl but had always been fond of him. He didn’t boast many skills, but having a stabilizing effect on his niece was one of them. It was with little hesitation and great relief then, that his cousin asked him to accompany Riya to her parent-teacher meeting.
“SlapJack strikes again!” Vipin hurries to squat next to Ranjit. The two read the news about the recently active ‘SlapJack’ of New Delhi – a white guy slapping pedestrians who cross roads without adhering to traffic norms and rules. He holds a Jack of Clubs in his slapping hand, which is often imprinted on the victims’ cheeks, inducting them into the Club of Jack.
It was my first day of interviewing patients at the mental institute. The sign outside the door said ‘Bullet for My Valentine’.
“A heavy metal band,” said the ward boy accompanying me.
“But why is that written under ‘Artist of the Day’?”
“The patient behind that door can only speak through song lyrics,” came the response in an incredulous voice. The ward boy couldn’t believe the absurdity behind my question. I was amazed that despite having worked in the facility for years he could still be struck by absurdity at all.
Winters had overstayed their welcome, and summer, aware that it was late to the party, had rushed on with twice its usual vigour. The sultry air had stripped trees of their leaves. A new covering was due, and Ranjit, in a bid to follow suit, visited his barber for a regular haircut. But routine chores and events hardly ever enfold in a regular fashion for him.
Bhavna watched incredulously as her neighbour produced a snakes and ladders board and placed the two pieces at the starting point. The fact that he was serious about playing board games as opposed to going out on a date made her question how on Earth had she developed romantic feelings for him. But then she saw his eyes lift sheepishly to meet her penetrating gaze, and his cheeks flush and puff. She could never stay mad at that face. Stupid cute baby face, she thought as she smiled.