Monday, June 16, 2014

THE LAST LIVING GRASSHOPPER


Ever since the food court and restaurants on the second floor started on full-fledged, Select Citywalk was crowded on weekdays as well, but the multiplex remained less in demand after office hours, which is when we always caught up with the latest releases.  On the Wednesday of the week after Ranbir Kapoor’s Barfi released, I left my car at the office in J-Block as planned, and slowly walked to the mall as parking there was another war-cry. Cars that lined up for the basement parking there, almost always backed into the road clogging the routine traffic that shocked snails. Vasudha had just left CP by the time I reached the cinema. So I decided to hold on that thought till she gave me a positive sign, as I did not want to beg the guy at the box office to resell our tickets two days in a row. There were enough seats left if she could make it inside of half hour. I asked her to buzz me when she left Hauz Khas station and walked into the Crossword on first floor, the one place I couldn’t go in if she was alongside. I was not planning to buy any books, but browsing through them gave me the joy. It was deserted except for two or three kids hovering around the newsstand and new arrivals near the entrance. There was also a mother and daughter rummaging through the toys opposite the cash counter. I walked deeper into the literary section, pulled out a Palahniuk, installed myself on that regular red footstool in the corner, and started to flip through the pages. I must not have finished the first sentence right when I heard a hum from behind the racks- a pathetic imitation of ‘Born to be wild’. It wasn’t very loud, so to say, but with the absolute silence, the discordant tune was exceedingly clear. I read that one sentence over and over to no avail, and when I was just one moment short of rising to settle the matter, a small thin bloke in a light green T-shirt came around from the other side with a yellow cap worn front-side-back. The boy must have been around eighteen or nineteen, too young for Steppenwolf. On his shirt written in large thin font covering the entire front side was- ‘The Last Living Grasshopper’- whatever that meant! He must have noticed me trying to read it out because he stood facing me till I finished, with a creepy grin on his face. I returned to my book without acknowledging his presence. I might even have rolled my eyes a little.

Reading a bit into the book, I realized I was being watched. I first checked through the corner of my eyes to confirm. The guy was blatantly staring at me! When I looked up, he smiled again, and looked away shyly. There was something effeminate about him, which was not too evident in the typical head tilt or the limp-wrist kind of way. I tried calling Vasudha. It was pointless till she got out of the metro. The only option left was to wait, like I was already doing. I shoved Palahniuk back into the ‘P’ section and moved down to ‘W’ on the other side. There I leaned down to pull out a Marabou Stork Nightmares for a reread when I bounced into someone with my back. I turned around to apologize when I was met with the last living grasshopper’s smug face again, this time with an impish “That’s ok!”
On closer looks, the guy was older and muscular in his tiny frame, but still in his twenties. I gave him an annoyed glance and slowly moved away. I was probably overreacting, but what irritated me was the fact that he seemed to enjoy it all. In the next minute, without any further signal or provocation, he came and stood right next to me, confidently brushing against my hand. That is when I lost my temper. Saying, “What’s your problem, man?” through my clenched teeth, I yanked on his T-shirt and took him a half circle almost throwing him off balance. That minor action was all very hushed since the both of us respected the silence of the bookshop. Right at that instant he pulled out a gun and aimed at me! 
I froze. 
All my life in Delhi, I never encountered a problem like this ever before, although Jessica Lal Murder Case and such did play out in the background as someone else’s problem everyday. These kind of things, you never assume would actually happen to you. Standing at gunpoint was a scary business. But since this happened too soon, I hardly had time to process. He was standing very close to me now, digging the gun into my belly. I was still figuring out what to say. I obviously couldn’t ask him to stand away, anymore.
“You say a word, and I’ll let go off one!” he whispered into that remaining thin space left between us. He still had that slimy smile on.
“What’s wrong with you!”
“Shhh…”
“How did you get a gun inside here?”
“I said shhh…”
“What do you want?”
“Why? You gonna help me with that?”
“I mean, why’re you doing this? What did I do?”
He paused for a while and pretended like he was thinking.
“Dude, I’m not carrying cash, if that’s what you want. And I’m not wearing a watch.”
He kept staring into my face for some more time, and then said, “Who’re you waiting for?”
“Why? My fiancée.”
“Okay.”
“What?”
“Huh?”
“I mean, what do you mean, who’re you waiting for?”
“Let her join. I’ll tell you then.”
“What do you mean, let her join? Dude, I have no clue who you are, or what you’re doing with a gun inside a mall, but you sure…”
“Hush, dummy! You raise your voice, and you know- click!”
“What do you want, man? You don’t wanna be standing her with me all night turning that thing into my stomach. What do you actually want from me?”
“Okay, then, kiss me.” he said rather casually.
“Huh?” I wasn’t sure I heard that right.
“I said kiss me, fucker!” He said pouting, and it did not look like he was kidding now.
“I’m sorry, what? No way! What the hell, dude!”
He pressed the gun harder. This time it started to hurt. The smile was gone from his face.
“C’mon, do it! Give me one, and you walk.”
At this point, I had started to shake. I was absolutely clueless.I looked over his shoulder. The cash counter was too far away. 
"Don't even think!" he said
“I’m not kissing a dude!” I told him making up my mind.
His pointy beetle-like face made my bowels retch.
“Not even for your life?”
“You’re not seriously gonna pull that thing for a kiss from another guy! That too a stranger!”
“Well, I guess, that was the whole point, right?”
"You know the kind of trouble you'd get into if you get caught with that?"
"Why do you sound all concerned all of a sudden?"
His bubblegum breath wafted all across my face.
Right then, my phone rang. Vasudha!
He did not seem troubled by it at all.
“Pick it!” he said.
I pulled out the phone from my front pocket and took the call, turning away from him.
“Hello?”
“Bhasker, where are you? That bastard rickshaw guy dropped me on the other side of the road. He already charged me thirty bucks from the metro station. Now to just take a U-turn he said he wanted an extra ten. Bloody looters. Can we catch the show now? It must have already started, na? We’ll grab a bite from Amici then, what say? Bhasker?” she breathlessly continued, “Where are you? I’m inside already.”
“Err…Vasu… wait for me at… I mean… you’re inside, huh? The show must have… Vasu? Hello?”
I did not want to invite her to the bookshop.
“Hello? Bhasker, are you still at Crossword?”
I did not know what to say.
I turned around, and I was stunned! He was not there! I quickly checked between the neighboring racks, at the same time talking on the phone. “Vasu, I’ll meet you at Amici.”
I hung up and took a good look around the store to confirm. He was really gone. The kids near the entrance, at the newsstand and new arrivals were not there anymore. Two guys sitting behind the cash counter were chitchatting. I quickly stepped out and scanned the crowd. There was no sign of the last living grasshopper anywhere. I was still shaking. That bully could be anywhere inside the crowd, and he was carrying a gun. Or was it a real gun, even?

Amici was an Italian eatery with open kitchen just outside Crossword on the first floor, good for a quick bite. The whiff of fresh breads, cooked cheese and olive oil was in the air. Vasudha had an apologetic smile when she saw me, for making me miss the movie again. I was never more relieved to see her before. I walked up to her and hugged her good. “Oye! What’s up?” she giggled. She must have thought about my overly critical statements about public displays of affection. But she did not say anything at the time.

I looked around to see if that familiar green T-shirt was anywhere in sight. People were all over the place. The Wednesday flea market on the terrace is what brought in all that extra crowd. They moved unassumingly around the atrium, in and out of shops, up and down the escalators, laughing, yelling, slurping ice creams, texting, immersed in their mobile phones, while somewhere amongst them wandered a lunatic with a gun wearing a green T-shirt with “The Last Living Grasshopper” written on the chest in large font. Even after we moved in and grabbed on the menu cards, I’m not sure if I still felt safe. Amici was a wide open place. Shoppers were always moving past you.There was also a connection to the neighboring mall through it. He probably went that way.

Finally when we were settled, and were sipping on ice teas waiting for our raviolis, Vasudha got on with her group chat on her phone, and I was still trying to figure out what actually happened that evening. What was the whole point of the gun show? What the hell was it? Why did he pull it out in the first place if he was not planning to do anything about it? Was it just to creep me out? Or was it a reflex to my sudden attack? Was he actually gone, or was he still watching me from far? Stalking me? It simply didn't make any sense at all! Was the grasshopper something that just played out in my mind? I felt my belly. The pain from the jab was gone.

When the raviolis arrived, I craned my neck and looked around once more. Then I leaned over the wooden table and said, “Vasudha, which one was the grasshopper again, the round, beetle shaped one or the one that looked like crickets?”
She didn't know.
.

1 comment:

  1. That was indeed well written....Effeminate and creepy.. what a combination..

    ReplyDelete

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