The final act in itself was a very normal one thought Ravi. By the act what he was thinking of was the moment when he jumped dimensions from the living to the dead. For you see, Ravi Nair had kicked the bucket about five minutes ago when his car met with and said hello to a truck. They call these trucks ‘Tipper’ in Kerala. While the name makes you think of a happy go lucky kind of a personality, the reality is anything but that.
Now for a bit of background about Ravi for you will have to travel a while with him. Ravi is the kind of guy whom you meet a dime-a-dozen in Kerala. He is what the media would adorably call a ‘Techie’. This means he did complete his studies in engineering and went to work for a software firm. Now now, I am not going to tell you a sob story of how he grew up from poverty or how he battled insurmountable odds to climb up in life. He was as ordinary as it comes. Father and Mother who took good care of him and his elder sister and gave them a quiet family life. He had his share of heartaches and triumphs and on a strict weighing scale, would have come up as a happy person.
Ravi has now been working in his office for close to six years. He is thoroughly an unremarkable person at his workplace. The kind of person you would be happy to stamp as ‘the workforce’ in Corporate lingo. This is simple English means that he is just another face in the crowd. The one who puts in a lot of work, gets appreciated at times, gets promoted and retires doing his job & one who is treated more or less as a wall. One that you know you can lean on and will not collapse under your weight. In short he had nothing in him that made him count as a star but he was very much an unavoidable cog in the machine. So much for his work space !
The day on which Ravi was to die was a Sunday. As was his usual schedule, he rose late and sat through a sleepy half hour before making a move. Sundays was the usual time he went out to spend some time with Liza. Liza worked in a different company and if you were to ask him Is she your girl friend ? or Is she your love interest ? or Is she your friend ? , he would have wrung his hands and grinned in a sheepish way. The truth was he did not know what relation they shared. It was just one of those where all that matters is the presence of the other person.
As for the condition now, Ravi was dazed. He could see his car and he could even see himself slumped on the seat. But what he was unable to figure out how he could be seeing all this. All that he remembered was coming out of a pocket road, hearing the blare of a horn and a loud noise. He was more or less coming to grips with the fact that he was now dead but surprisingly there rose in him no emotion at this thought !
The world as he saw it now was like looking at things through the mist. Everything was visible with a cloudy look to them. The people running up to watch the accident scene. The rubberneckers who pulled out their mobile phones and took videos of the entire scene and in seconds went uploading to Facebook with updates that read : The accident I saw now! Ravi walked around them all and took in the conversation. The unmissable fake sympathies, those who kept on saying that it was Ravi’s fault alone and those who blamed the truck driver. For a moment he looked at the truck, the driver did not seem anywhere around and orphaned the vehicle stood in the middle of the road holding up traffic. The police arrived and soon the babble was proving a little too much for Ravi, he was also too confused as to what was next for him. Then he saw something that even in his dead state make him grow uncomfortable. It was Liza.
Liza was riding her scooter on her way to meet Ravi when the traffic was held up. Having a scooter helps in traffic snarls for she wove in and out through even the smallest gaps consciously ignoring the angry blare of horns and swearing. She was behind the truck now and slowly but stealthily she was leaving the mess behind when she saw a familiar color of a car through her mirror. It can’t be him she thought, he is just too slow a driver to be caught in a crash. Still there was a nagging pull that made her stop the scooter, get down and walk over to watch what it was all about. What she saw made her stop breathing for a while and made her want to scream out aloud. All that came out however was a whimper which not even the ones standing next to her heard through all the din.
Ravi or what was left of him was now near Liza and he looked at her for a long time. He noticed the expressions of shock,revulsion and horror cruise through her face. It made him feel stupid not knowing what to do at such a time. Finally he thought maybe just maybe if I will it enough, I can make her feel my presence. He lifted his hand put it on her shoulder but it slid through her hand again making him think of mist. He kept trying the same gesture each time thinking the same thought to himself as to making her aware of his presence.
‘I am afraid it doesn’t work that way’ a voice said behind him. Ravi was startled for a moment with the clarity of the voice. Till then the voices he heard sounded as if coming from a tunnel or from behind a closed door. This time though it was a clear,firm voice. He turned around slowly and stared.
Behind him and leaning on an electric post stood a man. He was tall and wiry with a full head of hair that was combed into place despite the heavy breeze, a face that spoke of travel and something that resembled tough leather. A dark but handsome man, his eyes were unlike any Ravi had seen till now. They were black and not the kind of black that speaks of a starless night but a black that speaks of the absence of light. Also what set him apart was his attire. With the heavy humidity in Kerala, this man would have stood out like a sore thumb. He was dressed in a white shirt, dark trousers, a suit coat and loafers to match. He looked every bit like the corporate honchos that Ravi was accustomed to but there still was something unsettling about his presence. Ravi could also see that the man was clearly visible and in sharp focus than anything else around him.
‘It doesn’t work you know. Trying to touch people, talk to them or making them feel your presence. You are beyond all that now’ said the man with a poker face.
‘Wh…who are you ?’ asked Ravi.
‘Take a guess. It is not as if you have a lot of choices’
‘You are death ??’
‘Don’t I look the part ?’
‘Well you look like something out of a corporate board room. I was thinking…’
‘Big guy with a curved moustache on a buffalo or skeletally thin one with a scythe. Was that it ?’ asked the man.
‘ More or less’ said Ravi.
‘Times have a profound influence on me. I appear in the form that you want to see me in’.
Ravi still could not get over all that he had been through in the last few minutes. He said ‘Forgive me for not being afraid of you and all that, but I am still a little shocked as to what just happened over here’.
‘ Understandable’ said the man. ‘You feel afraid only if you truly want to be. It does not make a difference for me either way’.
In the meantime an ambulance had arrived. The police and the people had pulled out Ravi’s body and were taking it away. Liza sat by the wayside with a blank look in her face.
‘ Am I not supposed to be angry ? Screaming at the injustice of it all and tearing my hair apart at the sight of the woman I care for sitting a few feet away in such a state’ Ravi was looking at Liza as he spoke.
‘Only if it helps you’ replied death.
‘You are not helpful in conversation are you ?’ Ravi asked turning to the man.
‘ I am not known over the world to be a helpful person’ replied death absent mindedly flicking away an invisible speck of dust from his suit.
The crowd had slowly started to dissipate now that the entertainment was over. Liza shakily got up and walked to her scooter. She looked back at the bloody scene and bit her quivering lower lip. Then like slipping a mask over her face, she put on her helmet and rode away into the traffic.
‘It’s really a sad thing to see someone unable to express their grief. The weight of such a feeling can be very destructive’ said death staring after the receding scooter.
‘She cared for me’ was all Ravi could think of saying.
Death said nothing but kept looking absent mindedly at the traffic around them. He then took a look at his watch and told Ravi. ‘Time we got going’.
Ravi honestly had been dreading that question. He looked back and asked ‘Where ?’
The only reply to that was a wry smile on Death’s face and with a slight nod of his head he said ‘You’ll see’.
End of Part I