He lay on the bed watching the fan.
Bloody grain mill.
There was no other sound in the room. Just the sound of the fan and its faint breeze. The entire room was bathed in darkness. Outside the moon too had taken its leave. Only fireflies flittered and flickered in the dark sky of the room.
From a distance he heard the barking of a dog. He couldn't sleep tonight. His eyes just refused to close. Usually by this time the grinding of the fan and the keen sounds of the night within would make him drowsy. And then he would sleep soundly. But tonight he had vowed to sleep without taking his tablets.
Along with the dog's howling, the sounds of someone talking came through the air. One or two persons seemed to be speaking in fluttering whispers. What they were saying didn't seem clear. The guim-guim of the fan, the kuim-kuim of the dogs and the low chattering seemed to meld together. He tried to keep aside the sound of the fan and focus on the whispering…who was speaking…from the left of the room or the right…what were they talking about…from which direction were the dogs howling? But he failed. The sounds of the conversation would drop in pitch midway. And then he would only hear the sound of the fan.
Just like a grain mill.
Just like a grain mill.
How many times had he asked for that fan to be changed! But no one heeded him. We'll do it, we'll do it, they would say. The government does not have money to buy new fans, they would say. Fucking government! Couldn't they give a man, who had paid tax all his life, a decent fan in his old age? The ministers never ran short of money to quench the fire in their own arses!
He rose suddenly from his bed and shut off the fan. Then he sat on the bed's edge and listened keenly. The fan slowly groaned to a halt. But as the fan stopped, all the sounds of the night also ceased. There was just the tick …tick …tick …tick of the clock on the table. He opened the clock and took out its batteries. The clock too fell silent. He sat for a few minutes and listened to the night. Nothing. Not even the dogs. All the old folks in the other rooms seemed to be sleeping soundly.
Sweat began to run down his back in the stuffy heat of the room. He rose, returned to the fan and switched it on. His right hand felt a little numb. He came back to the bed, rubbing his right hand with his left and laid down again.
The fan slowly geared up and began turning. The unreal barking began again. Faintly now and then…but the sound was there. Perhaps it was the sound of the fan itself. Occasionally it would come like the beating of a stick on air…ghunv ghunv ghunv…and mingled in it was the sound of some distant music…did someone leave the TV on in the other room? Or are my own ears frazzled, he wondered? I should have taken those sleeping tablets…he tried to shake his head clear.
In a little while, the fan began to move faster. This was that time in the city. The time when its rhythm would change. People would go to sleep at this time. They would all switch off their lights. They would mount their beds. And each other. The voltage would rise…
A brisk breeze swept the room. Now he would surely fall asleep! The breeze played on his face and wafted through his hair. He closed his eyes. He felt like he was on a beach. Coconut palms swaying…gusts of air dancing hither and thither… sand flying. The rhythmic sounds of the wind lulling him to sleep…the waves on the beach and birds in the trees singing a lullaby…
He woke up in the middle of the night. His left hand had disappeared. He lifted his right hand and began groping around. After fumbling for a while he touched something cold and lifeless by his side. He lifted that numb frozen hand and placed it on his chest. He rubbed it and squeezed it and slowly brought it back to life. Tingling currents began shooting again through his left hand.
This always happened if he slept on one side. A hand would vanish, sometimes the right sometimes the left. At first he used to be terrified to find a chilled dead hand at his side in the middle of the night. But now he was used to it. Thank God both his hands had never ever disappeared at the same time!
He was soaked in sweat. The fan had slowed down again. The grain mill grind had returned. He felt a heaviness in his chest. As though the oppressive air itself sat heavily on his body. He took in a long deep breath.
His ears were shrill now. The sound of wheels came to him, ghud ghud…kree kree…the sound of going from the church to the cemetery…with the cart that carried the coffin…pushing it with one hand…on tyres that had no air…ghud ghud…kree kreee…
Wait for a while, she had said. Wait near me, don't go anywhere.
Don't be afraid, he had said, I will keep water to heat and come back soon.
He heated the water on the stove. He fed the dog. He closed the door. When he returned to her…cold horror…
Eyes wide open. That wicked grimace on her face. That terrible grin in the throes of death…o god o god...
He had frozen in fear. He had felt like running away. After a while he had gathered courage and called the neighbours. Actually he should have cried…hugging her… but he could not bring himself to embrace that hideous spectre. He could not even cry.
His chest filled and his throat choked. He felt a wetness on his cheeks. Oh God! Tonight… after all these years? The tears trickled into his ears.
The wheels of the cart kept rolling. He tried to rise. To switch off the fan. To take his sleeping tablets. But his entire body had become like stone. He could not even lift his hands. Neither one.
In that tumultuous moment, the fan stopped by itself. With the stopping of all sound, the darkness of the room deepened. He lay on the bed sweating, waiting.
The power returned. The fan blades began turning again. The air picked up speed. Turning and churning, a tempest broke out over the bed. The weight on his chest increased. And on the wings of the wind, he returned to the beach.
The wind was now dark, pitch black…bringing with it thunder and lightning…silencing the birds in the palms…
The storm roared and shook the trees…the demon wind spewed a bitter rain and the sky shattered into a thousand pieces as the thunder exploded three times. Did the cracks of thunder come from the sky or the fan, he would wonder for the rest of eternity.
He remained staring at the fan for the rest of the night, with his eyes wide open. And like a three winged angel, the still fan stood guard over him till the early morning.