by Annapurna Sharma
(Nellore, AP, India)
I snoozed the ‘early morning chirps’ on my alarm. It chirped again and again. The lazy bug in me snoozed it again and again. A few years back, in the hostel my roommates hated me for disturbing their blissful sleep every morning with my alarm clock. Did I ever bother? I cackled like an evil witch at their helplessness while they bore me with my undulating snoozes from four in the morning till five or six. They had no choice; I was the intelligent of the lot, solving problems, finding my way out of the maze of calculations and grasping the essence of Physics, a tricky subject. Bearing the ruckus of my alarm clock was in lieu of dishing them out of their daunting struggles. I chuckled at those thoughts and finally shut it and slipped out of bed. I brushed, pulled on my tracks and set for my ‘boring’ (as my friends called) morning walk. I never missed my daily walks, my only exercise throughout the day. Crammed in a cubicle with high-end technology with an induced claustrophobia, eating away hours till late into the evening, I feel drained, at the end of it all. The luxury of a calculative gymnasium workout or dreamingly beautiful spa treatments was not for me, a tax on my time. My morning walks were the only gateway to amorphous restoration.
I rubbed my chilly palms together. On this nippy October morning, dew settled on my potted roses. I took a deep breath and walked down the cobbled street. Soon I reached the main road and turned right instead of the left which I usually took. Walkers hustled to the Nehru Park on the next street. A middle-aged couple whom I knew from my walks waved, I smiled and gestured that I was taking another route.
At the crossroads, Shivaji café was brewing with men sipping steaming cups of caffeine. I turned left and strutted on the lonely road. It was an uphill. I snorkeled and panted a bit, absorbing the beauty of the sinuous green grass sparkling with crystals of dew. Unfazed with the wetness, tiny passerines – a group of sparrows were on a mission of early worms. A pair of myanahs fluffed and huddled on a nearby tree, antsy
about the late sunrise. A faint tap of steps, I turned my head slightly. A man in a blue sweater, a couple of steps behind me was tramping the slope. I looked forward - there was a bus-stop with a handful of people. Why didn’t I go to the park instead of this deserted place? The woman in me turns cautious and alert. I bucked up myself. The man surpassed me, head held down under his chin. What a man (gentleman), not bothering to glance at a young woman? Conversely, the tap of his slippers was rather loud. Maybe he’s heading to catch the bus, Ms Doubtful. Extremely smug, I carried on with my walk.
I glanced around – open spaces, fenced and gated. A glass factory locked and shops with shutters down. The tap again. I turned around, the blue sweater man. He looked straight ahead, his unkempt stubbly face. He strode past me. Indecisive, I slowed. Didn’t he stop near the bus-stop? Was he following me? Should I turn back? Too many questions stampeded in my mind dampening the fitness spirits. On the right side of the road, a raddi-wallah (scrap dealer) was rummaging through his assorted clutter. I approached him, “Bhaiyya (brother), where does this road go?”
I gathered it would take another 20 – 30 minutes. I saw him again – this time he was standing behind a parked truck, a little distance away. I could sense his look on me. I felt creepy. Should I call for help? He didn’t do anything, not even a look when he overtook me. What would I tell people? Maybe I was wrong? Should I dare trot ahead? He loitered there. I conversed with the raddi-wallah for a while, made up my mind.
Shuddering, I almost ran downhill till I reached the café bustling with people. I decelerated, looked back, no trace of the man. I went home. Chickens, was I a loser? Was he a mugger or a teaser or …? Could I take a chance and risk my life? Maybe he was good, then why did he play peek-a-boo. Should I stop my walks because of a dawn-mare, bad and terrifying!
Certainly not! Next morning, I was at the park along with a friend. ***