The Strange Story of Mr. Briggs- Chapter 5
by Geetashree Chatterjee
The yellow cat is having a merry fest around the Block. He is omnipresent. Wherever I go, he is there. On the park railing, near the Mother Dairy Booth, outside the vegetable stall, in the alley leading to the temple...! He is every where.
But there is a subtle change in his behaviour. Nowadays, he chooses to ignore us, me and Mr. Snow Boot, and we, in turn, shy away from him. So far so good.
But Mr. Briggs has taken to him (Or is it the other way round?). He is always in and around his flat. In spite of my warnings!!!!!!!!!!!
On an unusually pensive note, I rationalize - Mr. Briggs must be feeling lonely, isolated, being so friendless. He also needs company. Old and alone that he is. And feline friendship is thousand times superior to human acquaintances. At least the animals are faithful and know what loyalty is unlike their human counterparts.
Is there a change in me too? I am surprised. A little at myself.
Rainy days and Mondays always make me down.
I wake up late, I am disoriented, I need time to get over my holiday hang over and come down to this earth; as a result I am horribly late. Inevitably.
As I was hurrying down the main lane, towards the temple gate, to catch the metro to office, I saw the yellow cat sitting on the big MCD park wall, sun bathing.
The mellow autumn sun is a pleasure now, warm and soothing to the skin. He was licking his left paw, engrossed. As I rushed past, he turned away his face slightly to the other side.
Did I hear a soft chuckle?
My ears play tricks sometimes?
A few bouts of rain and the city comes to a standstill. Bumper to bumper traffic and an indefinite stranded existence inside claustrophobic buses and cars!
I had dozed off inside the chartered bus - my chariot back home! It had halted somewhere far away from destination and kept rooted to the spot for hours sandwiched between rows and rows of vehicles with blazing brake lights.
It was still pouring. Evening had swum across to night and night would probably wade through to dawn. I had already informed Maa not to wait for me. I was safe with the co passengers who traveled with me every day and stayed in the same locality and around; a set of spare keys with which to let myself in home, there was nothing to worry about, I told maa.
My vertebrae were stressed by the interminable sitting posture. I desperately wanted to shift to the horizontal mode. A daily one and a half hour journey was stretched to infinity.
It was three minutes past eleven when my bus dropped me outside the Block. I suffered a shooting pain down my right leg as I got down. A five minutes walk down the damp, deserted alley doubled in time as the discomfort increased with every step. No rickshaw around. So, no option left but to limp home. It was drizzling softly. Most of the flats had put off their lights and called it a day. One or two left looked about to retire to bed too. The street lights seemed to have taken a day's off too. (That's what rains do to the Capital!). I could not see the night guards but could only hear their shrill whistles afar.
As I passed the big MCD Park with the old peepal tree, involuntarily my mind flipped back a few pages of memory and a pair of grey eyes incongruously pranced in front of my own. I shook my head and staggered on.
From this side I would be circumventing Mr. Briggs' flat first in order to reach mine. As usual, the flat was dark. No, nobody was around except a black mound on the parapet, which, as I tried to quicken my pace, gingerly pulled up and stretched languidly.
I winced as the effort of walking faster made the pain worse. The drizzle had stopped. The clouds parted a little just then to let a streak of pale moonshine drunkenly fall over Mr. Briggs' front walls. The mound had now taken the shape of an arched bow; its shadow danced wickedly on the lusterless wall.
I had crossed over and was about to open the front door when a muffled noise made me turn back. The lane looked desolate but I had heard footfalls. My eyes went up to the flat opposite, the shadow on the grim wall had changed shape appearing almost like a human form on haunches slightly stooped in front. My heart skipped a beat. I opened my mouth to shout but no sound erupted.
A whistle blew close by. The night guard was approaching. I almost ran a few steps, dragging my right leg along, to wave him towards this side. The guard saw my frantic gesticulations and reached me in no time.
Without looking, I pointed towards my neighbour's wall,"Wahaan kucch hai , dekho!?"
"Kahaan memsaab?" asked he.
I turned around to pin point - a blank facade stared at my face.
As I dismissed the guard with a mumbled excuse, the crescent moon winked impishly.
Were the shadows just convolutions of my tired but over imaginative mind?
Was it the yellow cat again?
It did look like a four legged beast straightening indolently on its forelimbs. But then it changed to something else which almost looked like...
I don't know. I am not sure.
I am too exhausted to think.End of Chapter V