Illias sat for hours on a bench that looked dusty but the cleaning stuff did his job as per his daily schedule. When he finally met the authority, the officer took his application, written like a summer river, and said nothing.
Illias went to the forest department. Went to the Zoo authority. They all accepted his applications and paid no heed. Illias began to raise his voice, told everyone, “The snake returns every night and drinks the blood of the chickens I chop all day. Every morning I see it recede from the view, its tail rattling, its black skin glistening. I am afraid. My clients will be afraid if they come to know. My butcher’s shop will die down. Please send some men and catch it away.”
They all said, “Did you try carbolic acid? Is the snake for real?”
Illias could not stand the fume of carbolic. The snake was real so far his vision went.
His friend, Kishore, the fish seller, chuckled, “It’s all in your head. Why didn’t we see the snake? Ha! That big! Five feet! I tell you, you must marry now. When a man of your age stays unmarried he sees these things.”
Illias re-tied the knot of his pajama, spat on the cobblestoned market, but mumbled to his mother at night, “Fish is undercooked, ammijaan. I think you should retire from the kitchen. I should marry after all.”
“Did you see the snake again?” His mother asked, but she had already shortlisted the probable brides.
Illias saw the snake even the day before his wedding and sighed. He called the police, “The snake is here again.” The phone was disconnected. He said, Kabool hai thrice.
It was a Sunday the day after his wedding. His right cheek still bore the print of the pillow, his left- a smeared shade of red. He came to open the shop and found no snake. He told Kishore. He smirked.
The snake did not return the day after. The day after. Months after. Illias left a bucket of blood for it. It did not return. He left milk and bananas for it as per the story goes in a Hindu mythology. Kishore laughed, “You are a Muslim. Why are you following a snake goddess? Are you missing the snake?”
Illias spat on the cobblestoned market.
He meets the cat again in the evening.
He has a fish fry crumbled in a bag. The cat meows in a broken voice as if winter just touched the tip of a tree and the leaves are leaving for the following life.
”I think I saw my son in a stranger’s face today”, he says, “He smokes. Do you think he smokes nowadays? I used to.” He sports a faint smile, “I remember the last cigarette. I put it out and brushed my hair with my fingers, was ready to kiss my son’s mother. She said, I smelt awfully.”
The cat tells the wind, “This fence feels like winter.” “How so?” Howls the wind.
“It runs such a short distance that goes on forever, stiff, slow, moony, broke where moonshine gushes out, sleepy and insomniac.” The cat finds a leafless shrub’s thorny leaflet to read. It remembers all its kittens gone into oblivion. The cat doesn’t mind. It feels hungry but would have rejected anything edible. It remembers the house where it dropped the orange kitten. It lost all. It doesn’t mind.
The succubus plastic drifts over the body of sleep. Streetlight flickers to deceive the gathering bugs, not for a period more than its wink.
Who would believe you were born here but you? Your this secret now stands at the threshold of the slum. In the bokeh a woman wearing red petty coat and yellow sequined blouse shifts her weight from right to left.
Another woman beds here. Another boy sways to his study notes in the other room. Between his humming and the constant moaning you stand.
Past and present. Fugue. Figure!
Knock on the door-wood, open a mirror with liver spots showing on its glass. See your mother zipping up her spine to pat your head. Someone spat his tobacco to shape the face of a known comrade on the yellow wall.