Mahalingam was sitting on the steps of the temple tank. He did this most evenings to find a secluded spot for himself. There was always a cool breeze at this place. Generally except a for a stray few like him, most get down the steps to wash their feet before entering the temple.Maha never went inside the temple save on rare occasions. He is neither an atheist nor devout. He was past 80 and had lost his wife a decade back. He lived with his son Dandapani who was affectionate towards him but never demonstrated it except when alone.Dandu as Maha called him endearingly maintained a diplomatic balance between his wife and his father.Maha had this drawback. He spoke whatever came to his mind and was never tactful. This brought him into logger-heads with his daughter-in-law and the grand children. They hardly spoke to him and pretended not to have heard when he called. Luckily he had good health and could manage his chores himself. He would spend time reading the dailies from cover to cover and read books that he brought from local municipal library.
It was one evening and the sky was overcast though there was no indication of any rain. The tank was almost empty but for a silhouette of someone bathing on the opposite side. When Maha turned towards the Southern side he found some hazy figure in dark clothes standing at a short distance from him but watching him. Maha was eating hot masal vadai bought from someone who made hot snacks in his cart at the entrance to the tank.Maha looked at the figure and called “Come here. Why are you staring at me? Sit by my side and have some vadai”
The black figure had a puzzled look and moved closer to him without saying anything.
“Why are you silent? I think I saw you yesterday too. Come closer. Why are you in dark dress? Do you belong to any political outfit?” he asked in his exuberant style. When he came nearer, Maha offered him a couple of vadais and asked him to sit by his side.
The figure nodded its head to decline. It said in a gruff but peculiar voice “You have only one more day.”
“One more day for what? You are talking like a Yama dhuta”Maha roared in laughter.
“One more day to live. You will follow me thereafter. Your guess is correct”
“You don’t seem one. I thought they come dark in complexion, bare chested and with scary face without a nose or mouth or wide mouth with protruding tongue or teeth. That is what my mother just a day before her death told me that she saw grotesque and fearsome faces. You seem to have black cloth on. I haven’t also heard that these emissaries of Yama talked to the victim announcing the date of departure. Either you are a nut or a knave” Maha said laughingly.
The figure for the first time smiled and said “You seem a jolly old fellow and are not scared. Though I don’t have to tell you, I took a liking for you and hence gave the news for you to make suitable arrangements before your final departure”
“Ha, ha, ha!! Don’t think I will fall for your ruse. Surely you are a drama actor coming after rehearsal without changing costume and may be trying to get some money out of me. Show me some evidence that you are Yamas’s messenger” said Maha
“Nothing like what you say. See this rope” he said as he dangled a long rope.
Maha was in splits. “Rope you said Ha-ha, showing a clothesline for a life line (pasa kayiru) and scaring me or what? I am in perfect health. Though past 80 my heart is strong, I walk long distance, digest all food, no complaints except fading vision. I don’t think I will die for another 5 years. Get lost and find some easy quarry” he said
“OK, Can you see my legs? Watch whether I am standing on the floor or a foot above the ground.This should set your doubts at rest” said the figure
“You know I have poor vision and cannot verify the veracity of what you say when it is dark. Get going and we can meet tomorrow evening here. But you must have some vadais with me” said Maha and got up to go home.
Maha didn’t tell his son Dandu lest he got worried.Maha saw it as a joke though the next day before he left for the evening jaunt to the temple tank, he kept all his things in his room clean and in an orderly manner.
He looked around for the dark figure as he munched the vadais.He was not to be seen though he waited till 7pm.He heard the temple bell toll and left the place after folding his raised arms in the direction of the temple. .He was in a happy mood as he walked into his house.
Just as he climbed the three steps, he tripped and fell down. The sharp corner of the concrete step hit his forehead hard. As blood came out and he was losing consciousness, he turned his head to see the dark figure with the rope smiling at him. Maha wanted to say “You won” but his life ebbed out by then.