Gopanna realizing that he was being taken to some unknown place asked the hazy and darkish figure that dragged him, “Who are you? Why do you drag me across weird places that I have never seen?”
“I am not supposed to talk with the souls I carry with me. I am a messenger of Yama (God of death). We have to do our duty and travel far. Please keep quiet.”
“Did you say souls? I am not dead and am no soul. I think there is a mistake. I am hale and hearty with no complaints whatsoever even a common cold. How would I die so early in my life?”
“I agree but you met with an accident and fell from the cable car you were travelling alone to the top of the hill. Since your time was up, I had to engineer a mishap to bring your life to an end.”
“I am 45 years old and my wife and two small kids would be waiting for my return. I am sure you must have committed a mistake. You have messed up my life,” cried Gopanna.
“Did you say you are 45 years old? What is your name by the way? Just wait, let me check,” the figure said and looking at its palm added, “I came to your building correctly and when I did not find you, I came rushing to where you were. Is there anyone by your name who is 65 years old in your building?”
Jumping with joy with a shred of hope, Gopanna replied, “Yes, there is Bopanna who lives in the adjacent flat. He is 65 years and has been ailing for long with some respiratory problem.”
“My god, I had made a serious blunder for the first time. Why do you people have similar sounding names? I am sorry for your predicament but you will find yourself alive now at the bottom of mountain where the cable car crashed. Find your way back to your home. I hope you are not seriously hurt,” said the figure before it hastily vanished possibly to claim Bopanna’s life.
Meanwhile Gopanna’s house was in great gloom. The crash of cable car at the top of hill was flashed in the media and hotly discussed. There was some small consolation that the causality was limited to only one passenger. Nevertheless, the rescue team plunged into operation despite the heavy rains during the intervening period hampering its efforts. The cable car had fallen into a deep gorge lined with big and small trees. Visibility was poor. While the broken car could be traced, the passenger’s body remained untraceable. The search was given up after intense search for couple of days.
Articles appeared about the technical flaws in the cable car operations and the suppliers’ failure to address them. There was a clamour that they be hauled up in the court. The state government under pressure with an ensuing by election in a fortnight in the constituency, announced a compensation of Rs.50 lakhs and issued a written offer of a job for the victim’s wife. The cable car company offered Rs.25 lakhs as compensation that was increased to Rs. 35 lakhs after hue and cry. The party in opposition, not to lose the opportunity, pressurized the government to give rent free accommodation till her retirement to victim’s wife.
Gopanna held a small position in the state government and was leading a hand to mouth existence in a rented flat. Though the loss to the family was irreparable, the generous gesture by the government and the company somewhat lessened the severity of the blow. All these happened in lightning speed within ten days before the date of the poll. Gopanna’s wife meanwhile had joined in the new job and moved into her new accommodation close by.
When Gopanna woke up to the roaring noise of a river, he saw around thick bushes and trees and realized that he was at the bottom of a hill as in a steep-walled canyon. Luckily it was morning and as he tried to get up, he found one of his legs broken and hanging loosely from ankle. There was a deep gash on his face below his eye up to jawbone. There were bruises all over the body. The saving grace was he was not hit on the head and was mentally alert. He looked around for help and there was not a soul visible. He cried in pain and prayed to god for long time before he dozed off to sleep.
He did not know how long he slept till he heard a soft voice, “Dear son, get up. This is not a place to sleep as wild animals would be on prowl. Let me help you to get up,” He saw a dark, tall but muscular figure in loin cloth with long beard and matted hair.
“Do not be afraid of me. I roam in these areas. I have some powers and I will carry you up to the verge of the city where you will find people to help you. Just close your eyes till I ask you to open,” he said as he smiled betraying an unevenly aligned yellow teeth.
The next moment, he was asked to open the eyes to find himself lying on the road opposite a government hospital and the bearded man missing mysteriously. Let us skip the details of what happened after some good Samaritans admitted him in the hospital till he came out of it after two months with a crutch on hand to support the one amputated leg, with hideous and twisted face after several stiches from the eye to jaw and three fingers missing on his left hand. He had seen in the toilet the facial deformities that his beard and mustache could hardly conceal and so covered his face with a towel
When he limped to his old home, he found new occupants. They thought him to be a vagabond but he managed without revealing his true identity to find out that the previous resident was dead in a recent accident and that the bereaved family had moved to a free government flat in the Housing Board complex nearby and that his wife had secured a government job along with heavy compensation.
Gladdened at the fortuitous turn of events after the tragic accident, he reached his wife’s new place. Being a Sunday, she was there. Though he felt there was a look of sadness in her face, she betrayed no evidence of recognizing him, when she asked, “Whom do you want?”
“Is this not Gopanna’s house? Don’t you know who I am?’” he asked with a smile that accentuated the ugliness of his grotesque face. She recoiled with a sense of horror.at the dreadful figure before her and said, “I don’t know you. Please go away,” before banging the door shut.
He stood baffled and called his wife’s name twice and the door remained shut. He was in two minds whether to force his way inside by baring all the happenings or withdraw quietly. He thought what if she had not really recognized him? Would she not welcome him with extended hands if she really knew of his return despite the injuries?
It was then he heard a phone ring inside the house. He nudged towards the window of the front room unseen. He heard her voice clearly as she spoke to her elder brother, “Anna, I think it is him who had come a while ago. He looks scary and repulsive in appearance. I could not recognize him initially but when I saw the dark round mole on his forehead, I realized who it is. I immediately shut the door.”
Gopanna could not hear what was spoken by her brother but could surmise from her response about what was spoken. He was aware that her brother has a shady and criminal past
“That is why I pretended not to know him. What you warned struck me too. I am aware the government would take away the job, the house and even a major portion of compensation.”
“I agree he cannot get a job and will only be a burden. I am also averse to live with such a warped man though I am willing to pay him monthly some amount for his upkeep if only he would keep quiet. Please advise me what I should do?” she asked
“Ok. I will stay put and hope he goes away caring for his children. If any development occurs, I will let you know,” she concluded the phone call.
After half hour she peeped through window to know that he left and let a sigh of relief. For two months there was total silence and she never heard or saw Gopanna again till one day the boy in the adjacent house gave her a sealed cover addressed to her by name informing her that someone came and asked him to deliver.
She hurriedly opened to see,
You will be shocked to see this letter from me after my unwelcome visit. I thought of leaving you alone and fend for myself somewhere. I am not getting any job and people drive me away when they see my repugnant figure. I had nearly put in 20 years of service and will be entitled to pension if I prove my identity. But that would affect you adversely as you know the government would withdraw from you all facilities and even compensation. More than worrying about you, I do not want my children to live in poverty.
I have two proposals to make. One is you pay me 25% of the compensation received by you and the second one is to allow me to stay with you and the children for three days in a month. This will assure you of my total silence. You may hand over the reply in a sealed cover to the boy in the adjacent house in a week.
Gowri rang up her brother knowing that she had a blackmailer on hand and this may not be the only or last request. He would milk her when he ran out of money till the last rupee. The neighbours would also start suspecting who he was frequently visiting her. She wished to know what she should do. He replied he would talk to her in person.
When the subject came up during his visit the same evening, her brother cryptically replied, “Do wait for some time to see what he is up to. Meanwhile I will find ways to stop him from troubling you anymore. Leave this to me. Do not tell anyone about his visit or about the letter. Burn it and wash it down in drain.”
Gowri was still worried but strangely there was a total silence for more than a month with no more communications or visit from Gopanna.
When she mentioned this during her brother’s next visit, he told her smugly with a wry smile,” Be in total peace. I have ensured that he does not trouble you anymore. Do not talk about this matter anymore and especially on phone with me”
Gowri stood there with a lump in her throat and tried to fight back her tears.