Journey to Nowhere
by Ratnika Singh
(Karaikal, Puducherry, India)
I woke up in the middle of a road to nowhere, well, if you call suddenly opening your eyes and having no idea of what you were doing before as waking up. Yes, I’m in the middle of freaking nowhere, on a road that has no beginning or end in sight, and I have no idea how I got here. I have tried remembering but all I came up with is, yeah, you guessed it, nothing. I try to breathe in and out in an effort to calm myself before I completely flip out. Now let’s see what I do remember.
My name is Akansha, 21 and in college. I woke up this morning as usual to go to my classes. I remember dressing up in my blue and white churidaar that I have on right now. I have a faint idea of having breakfast, something mom cooked up in a hurry on her way to office. And… that’s it, that’s all I remember before, well, here. There is nothing much to know about ‘here’ anyway. The sky is a deep shade of gray, the kind that indicates an approaching storm, but it’s not dark yet. The road’s flanked on both sides with some kind of trees, something that blocks my view beyond. So I just keep walking forward as I have been doing for the past 30 minutes or so. I even thought of turning back because I must have come from somewhere, right? But a deep sense of foreboding keeps me from doing that every single time and I just keep moving straight ahead. Know what is so strange about this road, well apart from my partial amnesia and dropping here, of course? It’s that there’s not a single soul in sight except me and I have not encountered even a single vehicle till now. At least then I could have just asked my way around this place.
A little while later I see a curve ahead. The road has been pretty much straight till now. As I take the bend in the road I see something on the side. The jungle is thinning on my left and I can see some kind of houses up ahead. Hope fills my heart like water an empty glass. I skip a few trees and turn towards the dwellings, or as I can more clearly see now, huts. Wait a minute, huts? I feel a familiar unease crawl up my spine as I leave the road, and something tells me that I must not deviate. But why? Those people might help me return back home and I decide to more or less ignore my gut to find out what I could.
My first impression of the village is that it is the same as the road, since there is no one in sight. But somebody has to live here, right? I move around a bit and try to look in some of those huts. There’s a kind of dirt path that goes around this place and I follow it. Suddenly in the utter silence of the place I hear a creaking sound. It is at once so loud and sudden that I almost jump out of my skin! I turn around towards the sound and find a lady opening the door to her hut. I’m so surprised to finally see someone that I don’t even dare to move. But then she smiles at me, “Want to come in?” I grin widely, “Yes, please.”
She tells me her name is Riya and she doesn’t look half bad. She wears some kind of old floral dress that would be quite out of fashion now but kind of suites her. The inside of the hut looks beautiful. It has obviously been taken care of. Garlands of flower and bright paints decorate the wooden walls. Riya also introduces me to her family. “This is my mother,” she says, pointing to a frail old lady in a tattered sari in the corner reclining chair, “and this is Ajay.” She points to a little boy in jeans and a tee-shirt who sits in the middle of the room playing with some blocks. He looks up and smiles up at me, the corners of his mouth turning up in an evil smirk. I shudder in response, completely shook up. As if my day wasn’t pretty spooky up to now. I look at Riya but she is off arranging some sitting mats on the other side of the room. Ajay has returned his attention back to his blocks, so I just shake my head and try to get a grip, yeah right, good luck with that.
“You okay?” she asks as soon as I sit on the mat she has placed for me. “Yeah, fine. Hey, umm can you tell me where I am right now, ‘coz I seem to be a bit lost.” I say. She smiles at me and as she goes back to a side room which I presume is the kitchen, says, “Aren’t we all?”. I’m glad she is gone otherwise she would have seen me with my what-the-hell face. What did that mean? As she returns she serves me with something that looks like khichadi. Well now isn’t that fantastic, because I’ve always hated khichadi. Thank god I don’t feel particularly hungry right now. So I try to make conversation again. “Do you know how I could get back to Ratnagiri from here? My mother would be quite worried you see.” She smiles at me and says, “She would understand dear. You just eat up and we will see what we can do.” Her response confounds me. Why wouldn’t she just help me already? I’m not here to chill and eat khichadi, I’ve to get out of here. Maybe it was a mistake coming here and I
should just go seek help somewhere else.
“Does anybody else live in this village? Or maybe I should just go and look.” I say as I begin to stand, already on my way out. “Wait!” she almost shrieks as she pulls me back by my arms. I’m so startled by this I don’t even see where she throws me, but judging from the clattering of the pan and the large amount of goo that goes flying in the air, I would guess her dining area. “I’m not sharing you with anyone.” she screams at me. What? All at once reality begins to seep in. Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into? I try to stand but suddenly the floor is shifting beneath me. I look up horrified into the face of the woman, who a moment ago seemed so pleasing but now is changing, kind of morphing into this disgusting creature with deep wrinkles everywhere. Her skin seems almost… decayed! Her body is now frail and her hair stands out in wisps. I look around in frenzy but the grandmother and the boy don’t seem to notice any difference, while all around me everything is shifting and changing. The fallen khichadi turns into a glob of unrecognizable mud-like substance. The walls and floor seem to be made of uneven earth and soil now. What was earlier a garland of fresh flowers is now a string of obviously dead and rusted leaves and twigs. And then there she is again, the woman, Riya, pulling me by my arms. This time I scream in her face. I’m so panicked that I don’t know what to do. So, I kick her right on her knees and she goes down in a shrill scream. This time I get up and frantically rush for the door, but as soon as I open it, I see more people everywhere, people like her. People with those vacant eyes and that decayed zombie-like look that Riya had, and like her they were all coming for me! So, I did the one thing I could think of, I breathed in and ran.
I could see a way between two of those huts in front of me and I darted in between them. How could I have not noticed how ghastly the place looked even from outside? I have no idea what is happening to me, I just hope it’s one of my nightmares and that I wake up soon. I turn back to see if they are following me and yes they are. Like a bunch of zombies in those horror movies, they are coming towards me with their hands outstretched, slow but determined. I may be fast and I’m oh so thankful that I didn’t wear my Jove heels today, but I’m so scared. More terrified than I’ve ever been in my life, I blindly run towards the road focusing all my attention on not falling, ‘coz we all know what happens to the helpless girl who falls down in a horror movie. Suddenly out of nowhere a hand comes out from my right and grabs my arm. I swear I scream so hard they would have heard me in America. Then I see who had pulled me, and it’s the old lady from the hut, the grandma. She shushes me with a finger on her lips and whispers in such a low voice that I have to strain to hear her, “Don’t stop here girl. Don’t pause, just keep on going forward. It may be hard but don’t stop.” She turns and points to the rapidly approaching crowd of zombies and says, “This is what happens to those who stop. Go go go…” and then she pushes me so hard that I stumble and almost fall. But she has such an urgent and earnest expression on her face that I start running again. My heart is beating so fast that I can feel the pounding in my ears. My breath comes in pants and soon I’m gasping for air, but I don’t stop. I concentrate on the rhythmic push of my feet on the ground and block out all my terror. I run and run until I’m back on the road and still I don’t stop. I remember the look on the old lady’s face when she asked me to run away, and it makes me keep on running until I’m so enveloped in mist that I can’t see in any direction at all. I stop with my hands on my knees and gasp frantically for air, and with the fresh air, I get them back, my memories.
A series of flashbacks start from when I woke up this morning. The effect is so dizzying that I have to close my eyes. I remember looking for a cab on the busy road. I remember my hurry and annoyance. Then I see the fast moving bike coming towards me. I’m in the middle of the road and the bike’s out of control. I remember my nervous confusion and the impact and then blackness. When I open my eyes now the surrounding mist is clearing. Bright light beams down just ahead of me. I finally understand what happened. All I can do now is accept it. I think of my mom one last time, knowing she would miss me but there was nothing I could do. So I spread my hands wide and step out into the light. It’s so bright that it almost hurts my eyes. Slowly but steadily the light pulls me into itself and I start rising up with it.
With a last look below that shows me an unending road covered in mist, I head out on my final journey, one that marks my end. The journey that takes the dead to nowhere and everywhere at once.