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Death of a Man

August 20, 2013

His body will be recovered by the government, and his death assigned in dusty files to a heart attack.

By Vivek Raj
short story on loneliness

Reluctantly, he closes the door. He can feel the pain of being alone begin to throb in his heart again and he makes a desperate effort to keep his mind busy.

There are a few people in the elevator when it halts at his floor. He steps in. So do a few more who had been waiting with him. The elevator is packed now.

“So many people around me,” he thinks. “Yet I don’t know even one of them”.

It is evening and the day’s work is over. Emptiness grips him once again.

He sees himself as part of a crowd plunging down to the ground where the elevator doors will open and gorge out the humans who hurry to be back to their families, leaving him standing there alone until the doors close on his face again.

The elevator shudders; and the sudden rustle of clothes tells him they have reached the ground floor. The doors open and everyone rushes out, leaving him standing there alone. He winces then steps out before the doors close on his face.

Outside, the pavement overflows with the surging sea of humanity. He floats along with the current, his shoulder brushing against a thousand people he does not know. Nobody looks at him and he is careful not to look at anybody.

It is dark before by the time he gets back to the building where he lives. He crosses the lobby and the elevator doors open as he approaches. The operator looks at him and automatically punches his floor.

He smiles at the operator — partly to thank him and partly because he is feeling unusually lonesome tonight — but the operator only shoots him a suspicious look before ignoring him.

He can feel the emptiness rise from his stomach and grip his heart. Then the elevator stops and the doors spring apart. As he steps out, he can feel the operator’s eyes on his back.

He unlocks the door of his apartment and steps inside. The apartment looks desolate. He closes the door and turns on the lights. The place still looks empty, reflecting the emptiness in his heart.

“I have no one to talk to,” he thinks. “My only friend is two thousand km from here. I haven’t seen him for two years now.” He tries to remember what his friend looked like two years back and fails.

He engages himself in the set routine he maintains every evening. He tries to ignore himself and he becomes more lonely.

“How many books can I read?” he shouts at the bookcase from the kitchen. “How many movies can I see? Huh?” He points a spoon at the television. The TV mutely stares back at him, reflecting a distorted version of him.

He carries his dinner out on a tray and puts it on the table in front of the sofa.

“Come on now,” he says to the room in general. “Let’s have some liveliness around here. Nobody’s died, you know.” He turns the TV on and returns to his dinner.

He has just finished dinner when the doorbell rings. He pushes the plate aside, taken aback by the shrill notes of the bell. He is taken by surprise. Nobody ever visits him, he thinks, but he finds a wild hope springing up in his heart all the same.

He opens the door and finds a young man in some kind of uniform.
“Is this 204?” the young man enquires.
He nods his head quickly.
“Mr Andley?” the young man asks again.
He is disappointed. He is not Andley, he tells the young man.
“Well,” the young man scratches his head. “204. That’s the address I was given.”

He waits silently, not knowing what to say. “Any idea where Mr Andey lives?” the young man asks again.

He shakes his head apologetically. For a moment they both stand there, the young man considering what to do next and he almost wishing there was some way to delay the young man’s departure.

The young man makes up his mind and gives him a parting nod before turning away. Reluctantly, he closes the door. He can feel the pain of being alone begin to throb in his heart again and he makes a desperate effort to keep his mind busy.

“Let’s have some music, he says to himself, turning on the stereo. He turns the volume higher than necessary and tries to remember what it used to be like when he played the guitar.

“I could have been a guitarist,” he says to himself. “I could have become a good guitarist, had things been different. I wouldn’t have been lonely, then.” Then he shrugs the thought away and tries to concentrate on the music but all he can hear in his mind is the blues he had played once.

Irritated he switches off the stereo, strides across the room to the window and pulls the curtains apart. The sweet night air pours into the room and enchants him. A silver moon hangs low in the sky, and the playful wind chases clouds across its serene face.

A young couple are looking up at the moon from their balcony across the road, their arms draped comfortably around each other.

The beauty of it all moves him to tears. And then the pain he has been trying to ignore all evening — all his life — comes flooding into his heart.

“There’s no one to love me,” he thinks, “There was one who did, but she went away a long time ago.” He tries to recollect what she had looked like, the only girl who had ever loved him, and a hazy picture starts to build up in his mind but it dissolves again before he can look.

“There’s nobody who cares for me,” he thinks. His hands grip the windowsill so hard that his knuckles shine white in moonlight. “It’s my birthday today and nobody in the world cares whether I live or die.”

Then a stab of intense searing pain hits his heart and takes his breath away. His head involuntarily flies up to clutch his breast before the world turns black around him and his knees give in. Silently, unnoticed by anyone, he passes from this world into what he dubiously hopes is a better and higher world.

His body will be recovered by the government, and his death assigned in dusty files to a heart attack. He was a non-entity as long as he lived but his death will bring him the recognition of becoming yet another statistics.

This short story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).

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