We had a well in our house, the kind in which you could not see the bottom unless sun is shining right above it. As a kid, it always used to captivate me. It was like a well that they used to show in fairy tales; covered with green climbers and creepers. Ants and bugs of all kinds climbed up and down transporting their food on head like the labor carrying stones for making pyramids; only that there was no one forcing them with a whip in their hands. Whenever some toy or ball or cloth fell in that well, the feelings attached with that object also fell along. I believed that all those feelings are sitting at the bottom waiting for someone to come down and feel them all at once. It was like death of a loved one. How wonderful it would be if you can visit the place where they store all the souls and once again love them, fight with them and hate them? As human beings we are tuned to crave for things and people when they are gone and not when they are with us. So naturally, when something fell in the well, I used to stand for hours figuring out a way to pull it out. I tried to persuade a group of ants to bring it out for me, but of course they had more important occupation like figuring out how to break a large grain and take it home or whatever they called it. The well seemed like a large hole in time which took away my future stream of thoughts and association with an object which I had once planned to keep with myself for my life.
Have you ever felt that all moments in your life lead to a particular aperture in time absorbing what you were and after which life was never the same? No, neither I am talking about change in your thinking after reading a self -help book, nor meeting a spiritual guru who changed the course of your life. I am also not talking about quitting your job and pursuing your life-long dream. I am talking about a literal bend in time. Like all moments in my life have culminated to the single most important which is now. Next six seconds will decide my fate and yet here I am, thinking about the wells and bends in time.
Unlike childhood where everything spellbound me, my later years were spent in a small apartment in city where there was hardly anything which aroused my curiosity let alone fascination or thoughts about the storage for dead souls. I took up a small time job as a clerk. I had an unassuming personality and seemed to be forgotten by friends and family. I ached hard to remember the way I was and the way the world was, but guess my thoughts had left me as well. I preferred to lose myself in long walks to home after work rather than joining company of self- absorbed ones in their mindless leisureliness.
Then it happened one day during one of such long walks. I saw him. It was as if a moment ago he was not there. I thought I have started imagining things; maybe it was dark and I must have missed him earlier. Generally I chose to ignore people as I walked but this one was different; not in any mannerism or personality but something felt different about him. While I was passing him by, he spoke to me. I could not place that voice for my life, and yet it sounded so familiar. I had such a careful look at his face which would have made anyone uncomfortable, but not him. He was as relaxed as a pig in dirt on a summer noon. I chuckled at this analogy in my mind. His nose didn’t resemble with that of pig’s in any manner. It was more of what you would imagine on face of a doctor or a counselor; a nose that you would trust. His forehead had no wrinkles as if he never had a thing to worry about in his life and eyes were like he never lost sleep for even a night.
“What was it that you said?” I asked. “Do you have a smoke on you?” he asked again. He didn’t look like someone who smoked but then neither did I. I offered him one. He took a long pull and started talking to me as if he was an old friend. I had heard that cigarette brings people together but this was different. It felt that this was not the first time he was talking to me. He talked at length about issues of living in a city, politics, weather and asked about my job. I also asked about his job but I don’t think he gave a conclusive reply. Finally he asked for my number and walked on casually as if it was natural for him to be a part of life and then walk on. I don’t remember if he offered his number or if I asked for one.
It rattled my brain to place his voice and his face, but to no avail. Was he one of my long lost friends; maybe a cousin who I met in childhood and never again? Do you know the feeling where you keep something hidden so carefully that you are not able to find when you look for it. Generally it is such an obvious place that you end up missing. Sometimes the thing you hide is so precious that to protect it you would rather keep it at such place where even you cannot reach than to let anyone else touch it. Have you heard stories of people who kill their love only so that no one else can love them? What does a lonely man like me know about love and jealousy? Do I remember throwing something precious in that well? Can I now climb down the well like those ants and play with all the things which fell? If a cat fell in it, would it still be alive? Do cats live for so many years? Maybe if it was a dog, it would have howled and someone would have pulled him out. Can I howl and someone pull me out of this life? Am I also living in some kind of a well? Maybe I fell and there was indeed a world in here like I imagined. I need to stop this train of thought and concentrate on placing who this person was; but then what does it matter. He was gone and I wasn’t expecting him to call me.
He called after lunch and asked if we could meet in evening. It puzzled me to think why it was not weird for him to call me. Why was everything so casual and natural and comforting about him? We met at the same place and walked together. I asked him where he lived to which I did not get a conclusive reply. He was very unlike me. He was passionate about almost everything in life, had an opinion on almost everything and had a story about almost every day of his life. I was mesmerized and listened to him for hours and it suited me because I had nothing to say anyways. While leaving, I asked what his name was. To this day I don’t remember what he said. Meetings became quite regular and he was never at loss of words. After a couple of days, in his casual manner to which I was now accustomed with, he asked whether he can move in my apartment. Normally, it would be a repelling idea especially when I don’t know anything about a person apart from the fact that he was an excellent storyteller. In his case I only nodded in affirmation and next morning he came with one bag. I don’t know how he had been living or where he was living till now, but one bag was far too less for a lifetime of belongings.
After an hour or so he was done unpacking in his room so we had a hearty breakfast and talked about various things. When I say ‘talked’ I mean that he talked and I listened. He was perfectly ok with me only nodding in yes or no without any significant contribution in terms of opinions or stories of my own. I could never understand neither I put my head to what he does during the day but he was always sitting on the couch, watching television and eager to tell me more stories when I came back home. The apartment was almost always untouched and it seemed that he had just walked in before I did.
With each passing day, something was changing. I could almost swear that his face was different when I met him but as everything else I could not place the change. Can you believe that after all this time till date I don’t know his name? I remember he told me his name, but I cannot remember it. These days, sometimes I had difficulty recalling my name as well or from where I was. I had trouble recalling incidents of my life and had trouble concentrating on my job. Only his stories seemed real and everything else appeared artificial. No, I am not talking metaphorically. I am also not talking about some smitten young girl who cannot see anything beyond her lover.
I am not a fan of traveling much but once I visited an old village in the hills. I don’t remember how I come to know about the place. For all you know, I jumped out of the train without thinking and walked towards the village. I trekked on narrow lanes in midst of clouds to reach this dreamlike place where people were simple and houses were modest. No one was in a hurry to go anywhere. They offered me some tea without me asking for it. They also offered me shelter without mentioning tariff. The mornings started with rays filtering out of clouds and days ended with orange and blue painting on the endless canvass. I lost track of days and dates. Then one day a man who had a beard so white as if he just came out of a snowstorm asked me “where is your home?” Have you ever had a feeling when someone shook you out of a dream?
Today morning when he came out of his room, I could not take my eyes away from his face. No, I am still not smitten. This time I was able to place the change. This is the face I have been looking at for last thirty years of my life. The face has changed a lot over this time but the features have not. This is a face which I know the most. This is my own face. He asked me what was the matter; in my own voice. I could not answer. I just took him by the hand and stood in front of a mirror. For the first time since we met, I saw a wrinkle on his forehead. He did not speak for a long time. It could have been seconds, but seemed like a long time. “It was not supposed to happen so quickly” he said. I was baffled. I shouted on him asking what was not supposed to happen so quickly. “I am surprised you haven’t realized till now. Haven’t you noticed how slowly I am turning into you? Haven’t you noticed that how your own life is slipping out of your hands? You are supposed to be replaced by me” he said casually as if it was a normal thing to happen like a tooth getting replaced by a new one.
“Are you here to kill me?” I asked. “How can I kill you? I am you. There is no you and I anymore. I am all what you thought yourself to be always. I am the one who sat at the bottom of the well and felt all those feelings. I am the one who played with all those toys and talked to the souls. I am the one who looked up when you looked down the well. I am the one the ants carried the food for. Haven’t you felt that ever? But then I am the one who is supposed to feel.” He said. He got up and opened the door to his room. I followed him. All that ever fell in the well was neatly arranged on a desk. No wonder he was carrying only a bag full. On a chair nearby sat an old cat, purring and licking itself and in midst of the room was a well with all the climbers and creepers and ants.
“You know it is not necessary that you have to go. We cannot exist together, but it is your choice. The department of replacing people however has not given us much time to choose. I will walk away from that door exactly at noon and you can keep living your old life. Either ways you would not know the difference.” He said without any attempt to influence my decision. We sat across the table without saying a word. It wasn’t a dream for however I wish it was. I didn’t try to ask him any questions about whether any such department existed or who headed that department and whether we can speak with the head and ask for more time. At exactly 11:59:50 he got up.
I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath.
"Ten, nine, eight, seven..."