The Strange Story of Mr. Briggs - Chapter 4

by Geetashree Chatterjee
(New Delhi, India)


On Tuesdays I make it a point to visit the temple in the evening. The temple is situated just outside the Block connected by a stretch of cemented alley running by the side of the biggest MCD Park of the locality. The block is dotted with myriad small and big parks. But this one is huge and a walker/jogger's delight. The only minus point - it's ill-lit. So is the alley, and at times, therefore, difficult to traverse.


Of course a street lamp burns religiously every evening near the gate which separates the Block from the alley. But because of the distance, the light does not cover the entire stretch, especially, those few yards at the far end merging into the street fronting the temple. There is a tube well where the alley takes a turn towards the temple. Next to the tube well lies always a wet heap of rubbish - stale garlands, flowers, leaves, broken mud pots and blackened earthen diyas - the residuals of worship.

As I walked down the alley one Tuesday (late evening - it was nine-ish by my wrist watch), I could hear the faint devotional music wafting from the temple. Punditji was singing a few shlokas and then explaining their meaning into the microphone for the benefit of all and sundry. Today I expected a crowd in the temple - devotees lining up for Divine Darshan and beggars queuing up for prashad (being Hanumanji's day - even Gods have their days!). Strangely, the hum drum of a Tuesday temple scene does not infect the alley and one can not presage the commotion and the excitement of it all till one takes the bend by the tube well. The alley was as usual half lit and quiet.

As I neared the end, I could see a shadow approaching from the other side. Nobody had to tell me who it was. I would recognize him even if blindfolded. Mr. Briggs! He walked a few steps, suddenly changed course and stepped into the rubbish heap. He kept staring at it as though looking for something.

Apparently, he was about to squat on the heap, most probably, to rummage inside, when I came up right behind and called out softly, "Mr. Briggs! Have you dropped something?" For once I had the satisfaction of seeing him startled out of his wits. He leapt back, turned around, saw me and spun out of sight.

I had the distinct impression that he had been caught off guard.


***

This is another of Mr. Briggs? vices. Why does he have to behave like an errant school boy caught red handed by the headmistress in the midst of making mischief?

Simply A-B-O-M-I-N-A-B-L-E!

Foul Mr. Briggs!

Obnoxious Mr. Briggs!

For me he is as much a part and parcel of the garbage that he was about to scavenge!

***

I love to watch Mr. Briggs whenever I get those rare glimpses of his.

Mr. Briggs mopping his front balcony on all fours!

How he crawls on the ground and moves with a waltz-like grace while doing so! His face close to the ground! His baggy muscles undulating underneath his thin snow-white vest as his limbs move to and fro in a rhythmic pattern. Mr. Briggs is quite agile for his age! He must be in his seventies? Sixties? Fifties? It is difficult to guess his age from his wrinkle free countenance. Mr. Briggs does maintain himself well.

Mr. Briggs dusting the grills?.

Mr. Briggs brushing away the cob webs on the exterior walls of his unassuming abode?

Whenever I pass by his flat, my eyes are invariably drawn towards his kitchen window, which like mine, opens on the outer lane..flawlessly tidy inside..but I don't remember ever seeing Mr. Briggs in the kitchen cooking..Never!!!!

I wish I could view a little more of Mr. Briggs' inviolable sanctuary but the drawing room window is heavily draped and most of the times remains closed (Doesn't Mr. Briggs need sun and air?) I presume it will be as spic and span as his kitchen and balcony.

Mr. Briggs checking his mails?.

Checking? Sniffing through his mails rather! The way his snubbed nose crinkles when he reads! It seems as though he smells each and every letter, word, phrase, sentence written on the page; his reading glasses, the one with the golden metallic frame, sticking to his eyes.

Maa says I cross the line of sanity when it comes to Mr. Briggs.

Perhaps she is right.

The more I hate him, the more repulsive I find him, the more I stalk him.

Attraction of the opposites?

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