One more big bouquet. That would be enough for tonight. Stalin was already carrying one heavy bouquet with his skinny hands. Carrying another one would be too tough for a kid of his age. After all he was only all of ten years. But he knew that, he also knew that he had to go a long way with his delicate burden. He eyed at his surroundings with the eagerness of a hungry wolf as if to locate his pound of flesh.
It was an autumn evening at Zion hill cemetery. Sunlight did fade out quite a while ago. Long shadows of the eternal pines criss crossed on the foreground before moving towards the dusky oblivion. A cold evening was settling with an air of non -chalance. The century old cemetery was droopy and sinking into a drowsy mode.
It was difficult for Stalin to send his piercing eyes too far. But he recognized a prize catch at the farthest corner, a big bunch of pristine white lilies. Stalin hesitated a bit. There were a few small bouquets lying nearby . He could pick any one of them and run away just like he did the other day. Moving upto that corner seemed foolish to him. Stalin was standing still in the middle of the cemetery. He slowly realized that he was wasting time. That dreaded ghost in overcoat and hat could enter any moment. Till date Stalin had just seen his long shadows, but successfully avoided meeting his glances. Today it seemed all nigh impossible to avoid him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He could clearly see the writing on the wall. Alas, it was all going to happen for the wall !
Arun was sitting idle at his usual spot in front of the ATM doors. Actually he was a part time occupant of this seat. Past Few months he had been doing this. After his wife’s death, Arun had shifted to Bangalore with Stalin, his ten years` old son. It was a tough decision, but it was very much needed . At least that`s what Arun thought. Urban lifestyle always attracted him from the early days of his life. He discussed with his wife about moving to the city, several times. But she was reluctant and Arun struggled with his daily labourer`s job. Now that she was no more, Arun listened to his heart`s call. However, being the security guard of a graveyard was hardly adequate to meet both ends. It seldom did pay for a decent living, let alone the job of bringing up a kid in such a costly city. So after duty hours, he worked part time as a security guard at one ATM corner. Arun looked at his watch again, it’s time. The reliever did arrive a few minutes before. He could leave then. On his way back, Arun slowed down a bit near that towel vendor as usual. That was one of his favourite pastime now a days. While that man was busy selling a variety of towels, Arun`s attention was parked on the overcoat hanging behind the vendor from a low branch of the tree. While others bargained or stayed glued to the towel vendor`s colourful collection with dazzled looks, Arun cherished that overcoat .That might be for sale or for personal use. After all, a towel vendor did not sale overcoats every day. Or, might be it was for sale.
The wall was the culprit. It was for the wall, Stalin was doomed to face the notorious ghost he heard of.
The small room inside the cemetery was big enough for Stalin and his father. This dingy room was allotted to his father when he joined here. It was meant for security guards all along. That small bed in the room was far more comfortable than the one kept in their village house. Stalin used to remember every bit of those muddy walls, which he used to survey with vacant eyes while lying in the bed. But here walls were made of bricks with signs of aged plaster work. At some areas, lime paints had gone ashtray and old plaster work had fallen apart unevenly, creating surreal figures of unknown devils on the wall. During night time, those satanic portraits used to haunt Stalin, especially during the evening hours, when his dad ventured out for the ATM job. He used to count minutes and seconds till his dad returned. Meanwhile the figures appeared to be getting bigger and bigger in the dimly lit room. A few days back, he was very much terrified, so he urged his dad if he could go with him. His dad agreed and took him to his work place. He was asked to loiter around, as his dad didn’t want anyone to notice his kid. It was a busy week day, and that was a busier footpath filled with hawkers of all kinds. Kind of a mini market place, crowded more than the village fairs. Stalin didn’t find it difficult to spend time there. Specially that towel shop, just mesmerised him. He didn’t remember how long he was staring at those colorful towels, suddenly that shop owner shouted at him .
“You can’t afford these, move now..”
“How much this one costs ? ” asked Stalin, pointing to a particular yellow coloured one. The gay colour of this towel surpassed others of it`s progeny in beauty and style.
“50 each”, the shop owner replied with a grin.
That was too much. Perhaps his father’s a full day`s earning. Stalin moved a bit forward. He could never afford one of those. They were so costly, he couldn’t even request his father for buying him one. But if he could have one, he could easily cover that frightening wall with that. While thinking he moved towards the bouquet shop. After viewing and reviewing all the bouquets carefully he placed his eyes upon the shop owner. He was a middle aged man, sitting idle and smiling at him. There was no customer around that time, so he was in a relaxed mood.
“Remember me?”, questioned the shop owner.
Stalin recalled, a few days back this guy gave him rupees ten for carrying his bouquets from his truck to cemetery. It was a rich man’s daughter’s funeral.
“Yes, how are you sir?”, murmured Stalin.
“Am doing fine. Do you want some work? I will pay you just fine.”, said the shop owner.
“What kind of a job?”, Stalin tried to hide his excitement.
“Nothing of a laborious kind, you just collect those bouquets from graveyard and supply back to me. I will give you a fiver for the smaller ones and rupees ten for the bigger ones. ”
Stalin quickly did a calculation involving the towel price and the remuneration offered to him for second hand bouquets. He calculated the number of bouquets required to buy that towel.
Next day after his father left he quickly collected a few bouquets, and rushed to the flower shop. Before his father returned he went asleep with rupees thirty cleverly hidden under his pillow.
This day was the final day of his adventure. One more bouquet, and that wall could be covered by a towel of his choice, well, might be the yellow one. That meant a lot to Stalin. There were only two things which used to make him panicked here. One was that wall, and the second one was the ghost in overcoat and hat.
When they first came here, an old fellow used to live here. He used to talk about a sahib’s ghost, who roamed around the cemetery after dark every day. Stalin had never seen him, but many a times, he saw some humanly shaped shadows, which could be of that overcoat wearer. Because of this, normally he avoided coming out after dark. He believed the story to the minutest detail. But today is different. He desperately needed those bouquets to fulfill his dream. Stalin opened his eyes courageously. He was determined to move towards that corner for those lilies. He started his walk. As he crossed two thirds of the distance , he heard a small crackling sound near the cemetery gate.
Arun generally returns much later, but today he was lucky. Some VIP was destined to come at the opening ceremony of a branch at his bank. So all security related duties were allocated to police professionals and some private security agencies. He didn’t know that beforehand. After he reported to duty, he was told that he might leave for the day. Yet he spent an hour gossiping with others before taking his way back to home. That overcoat was the reason why he walked so slowly here. Last monday he gathered some courage and asked the towel shop owner about it’s price. “That`s none of your business“ pat came the reply. It took some days to forget the shop owner’s terse rudeness.
At this point of time he was standing beside the towel vendor and the tree with the coat, perhaps a few yards at distance as he was anticipating not –so- kind type remarks from the vendor. All of a sudden he was pushed heavily from back. He realized while regaining his balance that he was standing on the path of a flash mob. The celebrity must have arrived, he recalled. The next thing he observed that the towel vendor was running towards the other side of the road with his table. All and sundry were running helter skelter. Seeing the opportunity, Arun whisked away the coat from the tree as if by instinct and got lost unnoticed in the crowd within seconds. His heart was pounding, as he was not a professional thief. Even then, he never thought that it would be this easy. His lust for the possession of the overcoat took over his normal senses momentarily. He couldn’t wait to surprise Stalin. After crossing a few lanes, he became confident that no one was following him for the coat. He hesitated a bit, examined his surroundings. Then he started walking wearing that coat. A soothing resonance of satisfaction was filling his mind to the brink as if he had achieved one of the major goals in life. Gradually he approached the cemetery gate.
Stalin looked back in fear just to realise that his worst nightmare had become a reality. It’s that overcoat wearing ghost. He threw the bouquet in hands at the floor and hide behind a big tombstone. He was so panicked that his heart skipped a few bits. He was closely monitoring that ghost. But surprisingly, it didn’t come running to him. It waited a few minutes in front of their room, then sat on top of a packing box outside their room. And he was not wearing any hat , which he was supposed to wear. Stalin was sure that the ghost hadn’t seen him. He slowly approached the ghostly figure very cautiously. After taking a few more cautious as well as silent steps, he understood that the figure was none other`s than his father`s. He ran towards his father to hug him tightly.
Arun thought of telling Stalin the truth about the coat, but ultimately he lied. He told that he found that coat on a deserted park bench. Stalin was very happy with the coat. He requested Arun to keep it hanging over the damaged portion of wall. Arun smiled and followed Stalin’s wish. He knew that the wall caused many problems for Stalin.
Stalin was lying in the bed but sleep deserted him today. Papa went fast asleep beside him. It was quite an eventful and frightening evening for Stalin. He tried to behave normally with his dad, but he was very tense during the whole of evening. He had already decided that he was not going to steal any more bouquet. And anyway, a major portion of his fear was covered by that overcoat. He took out the money from hidden place. Now that he was not going to try to buy that towel, it was better to part with those thirty bucks in favour of his dad. He inserted his hand inside the left pocket of the overcoat to deposit the money. To his amazement he found something carefully folded inside the big pocket. He felt the object with his fingers. It was in fact, a soft towel for which he was actually craving for last few days.
Stalin could not dare to bring it out to find it`s colour. He was afraid of seeing gloomy grey shades in lieu of enlivening yellow.
(Written for a contest in yourstoryclub.com)