The man lies on the road in a white-and-blue checked shirt. His head is lying a few feet away in an exaggerated contortion. Ashen. Must have been a few hours, I guess. If only I was not running so late, its expression could have beaten a circus clown.
I mutter in my head... bloody menace! Can’t the municipal corporation ever get anything right? Then I move on. It is bloody, alright.
I try to concentrate on the trees. How green they look, and the sky! The beautiful oh-so-blue sky covered in white fluff. A pleasant day to be travelling. I silently congratulate myself. Could not have been better. Just hope I don’t miss the train.
How could he have ended up there? And on such a sunny afternoon, too! I let out a small, derisive laugh. A motor accident, undoubtedly. People are so careless these days. Drunken driving and what not. Why, every other day I see trucks driving without headlights! Everything goes here and worrying over it can be of no use. It was unfortunate that you had to see that, I tell myself. Now think about something else. Yeah, have you noticed just how lovely this part of the country is?
It indeed is lovely. It is the loveliest place I know. Red and white gulmohar laughing from the trees. Happy purple flowers growing in wild bushes. Soothing gray hills shading the horizon. Straight, empty roads to drive on. Relaxed, laidback, comfortable. And oh, the rains! Nothing beats it in the monsoon. Did Kalidasa tread these very paths once upon a time to weave his tale? The dark clouds billowing in fellowship with a madcap wind, which calls everyone to smell the earth... and hey! No water logging! Not like those big sprawling cities devoid of planning and management. Extremely cordial electric supplies too. But does anyone ever talk about that bit on T.V.? Oh, no! This does not figure on tourism charts. What is the government doing? All these resources wasted while everyone in the place dies about poverty and disease. But it is not all the government’s fault. These Naxals... they are simply the death of everyone! Not just mindless violence but impeding national development! Such perfect nuisance! They take over mines and make everyone’s lives hell. Everyone! No matter where they live, be they in forests, in slums, in quarters, or on roads.
On roads: if you die on a road, nobody knows you. Imagine being hit by a truck and dying and nobody knowing who you were. Nobody to help you. A truck without headlights. No last thoughts. No last frights. No knowing the end. Just a huge monster pouncing at you from out of nowhere and squishing your bones flat with its gigantic Dunlop tyres. Crushed to a mush and hopefully dead. If not, a series of pathetic whimpers into the darkness till your lungs give up. Even moths do not see you go.
But decapitation? Trucks don’t do that. Or do they?
Anyway, how would you know? How much sample data on road accidents do you have, eh?
Logically they shouldn’t, right? Runaway trucks should crush, roll, and turn the human body into a finely grounded paste---not cut off heads, surely?
Are you sure you're not thinking road rollers?
No? Hmmm, okay. Well, maybe? But it doesn’t matter, because either way, trucks do not engage in the business of disengaged heads. Not such neatly disengaged heads anyway.
Yeah? What else could it have been then? Did someone cut off his head? With what? A sharp steel knife? That’d take... hours! Have you forgotten all those years spent watching medical detective shows on Discovery?
Er... it could have been a machete or something, I guess... I mean how in fuck’s name am I supposed to know what these Naxals carry!
But decapitation? Trucks don’t do that. Or do they?
Helloooo! Listen to yourself! You are telling me that someone—wait, not just someone, but a Naxalite cut off the head of a person seven kilometres away from where you live, and in broad daylight! Which reminds me, why were you thinking that the truck thing happened at night? It could have been daytime. Early morning, more likely, actually—hit-and-run stuff like that really happens in those wee morning hours when those all-night drivers doze off. But noooo! So bent on making it a daylight murder, aren’t you? Do you hear yourself? Just how crazy you sound?
Heh, yeah. I laugh at my stupidity. Totally crazy. He was in a factory area. Guarded by the C.I.S.F., no less! Not just some regular dumb police. Central Industrial Security Force! These guys know their jobs. They are an entirely special unit constructed for that very task! And he was lying, like, what, a kilometre away from the steel plant. A steel knife and a steel plant. Hah, that’s some irony, isn’t it? Except, well, it’s not true! It cannot be! Focus... focus. You’re not thinking right. Why the hell are you even thinking about it? Just some nondescript body lying on some nondescript road—how the hell does it even matter? It’s a glorious day; I am off on a holiday; I have a train to catch and I am running late—I have to concentrate on all that. I have to get there on time. Even if it was something untoward, I mean, who knows about the guy? Maybe he was some chooth looking to get murdered. Maybe he was a criminal escaped from prison. A member of the mafia? Maybe he himself was a Naxal threatening to blow up the town, so the C.I.S.F. killed him this morning.
By beheading him. Heh. Yeah, right.
Shut up, will you?! Just shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
My heart’s throbbing against my chest as I grip the steering wheel tighter and stamp on the accelerator. The car squeals as I brake suddenly. There’s a screech of tyres. Now everything else—the beautiful gulmohar, the purple flowers, beautiful hills and the fluffy skies—throbs as my heart keeps still.
It was a cat. Please don’t let it be dead, I pray.
The black creature emerges from under the bumper, shaken but not damaged. Then it turns its green eyes towards me in disdain. I heave a sigh of relief and my head mutters, thank God. I am wrenched between a cynical smile and a frustrated scream as I realise I am an atheist.
I am almost at the station. I should reach on time, I tell myself in an attempt to calm myself. My, what a child you are! Some scoundrel’s dead so you decide to kill a cat. I even manage a laugh.
But it was a black cat after all, says a voice.
Enough! I am not superstitious!
I turn abruptly to glance at the back seat of the car. I see my luggage. A toothbrush peeps innocently from out of my handbag. I turn back to the road. What was I expecting? His severed neck lying there? I am not superstitious, I say in a loud whisper to settle the matter.
Bloody cat in the middle of the road. Bloody man in the middle of my car. Cat reduced to mulch. Human without a head. If only the cat had seen him. Had it seen him? What do cats make of dead humans? Do they realise we are dead? Didn’t I once hear about a cat that ate the old lady who owned it when she died? Would the cat have eaten the man too? Would it have carefully licked at the blood oozing from the neck? Would it then have pulled and bitten away at the hardened flesh? Tugged at the tendons? Rolled his head like a ball of wool and scratched at his eyes?
The images fill my head with disgust. Disgust so complete and pure that I absolutely hate myself and I hate my body and every inch of my skin and I want to dig my nails in deep to rip it away till I can pull out from it.
I am here finally. Here at the station. Here to leave for my hard-earned holiday.
The railway building greets me with mural of a local goddess tearing out the head of some asura with her hand as she tramples all over his torso. A fountain of blood joyfully spouts off his neck, from which naked consorts of the goddess hungrily drink.
It is peace. He was a scoundrel, alright, and none of it is my fault.