Shri sits on a roadside bench looking at the traffic as it crawls by. It is the early morning, and so is way too crowded being the peak office commute time. He looks on as vehicles drag themselves along past him. Now and again, there is that one lunatic who dares to zoom through such traffic.
Pedestrians walk around Shri trying to cross the road through this maniacal traffic. He sits there, staring blankly at nothing specific.
Tired, he looks at the calendar he holds. There are few scribblings on today.
‘10:03 AM. A thin man wearing a red t-shirt & navy blue jeans. Zebra crossing, opposite Walmart.’
As he waits for the watch to announce 10 am, he sees a tall, thin man approaching the roadside. He’s certain that this guy is his task for the day. He watches him get closer to the roadside at the zebra crossing. The thin man looks at the cars coming his way. With each passing car, he grows antsy.
Shri watches him unsuccessfully try crossing the road multiple times, every time ending at the roadside again. He dares to hop on the road finally spotting a possible window for crossing. However, he realises very late he won’t be able to cross the road and turns back, barely missing the car. As he heaves his first sigh of relief, a painful screeching sound fills the whole area, followed by a loud thud. A bus has come to halt, sending the surrounding in a rusty silence followed by an eerie snarl.
Shri sees people rush around him, some even rushing through him, towards the thin man’s body lying lifeless in the pool of blood.
He indolently gets up, looks at his watch. 10:03 AM. A content smile spreads across his face. He looks down at the calendar in his hand and puts a cross on today’s date. He has only one more day to cross out on this calendar and he will be a free man again.
‘2:37PM. A toned lady in a black suit. Edward lane.’
He reads a lady described on the calendar today. And unlike the earlier 9 events, today’s event is planned in not so crowded place. He wonders how he will be a witness to an event in such a deserted location. Somewhere deep down, he hates himself for being so inquisitive.
He strokes his moustache and leans back on the pavement to cogitate what tomorrow holds for him. Last 9 days have been pretty extraordinary for him. He sat through watching 9 souls leave their earthly body and embrace the fate. It wasn’t easy doing that, knowing a death is imminent — knowing the person, the location, everything, and not taking any action.
But he had to endure for he himself had to survive — 10 souls, 10 crosses on the calendar, and he would be back to his life. Back to his town, his home. Back to his family. Back to Riya. He can’t give up on his life. He was awarded a chance to regain his soul, decide his own fate. 10 souls from an unknown land, in return, is a very low price to pay, he reckoned.
He looks up to see construction workers fitting a huge glass slab onto a wall. A nefarious smile spreads across his face again. A “how” that had clouded his mind a while back is answered. All that remains unanswered is “who”.
His eyes follow the narrow lane to the corner, waiting for somebody to show up. Somebody does appear. He sees a silhouette of a lady turn around the corner — unmindful, though, of the frightened face of Shri looking back at her. He stands there frozen as the calendar, which he was clinging on to so tightly just a moment ago, tumbles from his hands.
This story was original published on Medium as part of the publication “The Weekly Knob”.