The story was located deep into the night when the streets were relaxing, stretching their bodies easefully from one end of the night to another. The story was stretching itself too! There were little yawns to begin with but then it decided to tell itself…be told. The streets had just started to think that the footfalls had mostly come to an end for the day when the story decided to shake them up, a wee bit. All of a sudden, there were footfalls and quite thumping ones at that! One could see a man running across the sidewalk, nervously looking at his back from time to time. He smashed against the light post and awakened a street urchin who had been sleeping right beside it. The story looked into his bewildered eyes, full of muck. The man saw the mouth of a subway, staring at him to his left. Someone had gone into it a moment ago. He had felt a shadow while bumping into the post. How could it be open at such a time? Did it have an opening at the other end or was it yet another trap? There was a maze in his mind. But soon he realized it was not the time for thinking. The subway promised a shelter, a hideout for him. He took out his lighter, which had a small torch at its back and started running down the dark stairs. The street was still amazed. Was someone chasing the man? A very faint sound could be heard in the distance. Someone was dragging something along. The street asked the story who that man was? The story was silent for a while, lost in some deep thought, as it were, and then it uttered the word ‘Sahay’. The street could not go into the subway and check things out. So, it was the story, which went in, but only after it had made a promise to the street that it will disclose everything on its return.
The steps went down deep into that hollow until Sahay lost their count. It felt like moving down on an escalator. The stairs carried him away until he reached the pit. It was pitch dark and Sahay felt rather shadowless in its company. The torchlight helped him find a corner where he could lean against the wall and then all of a sudden, he turned around and pointed the torch at the wall, trying to find something on its surface, as it were. Nothing…it was a blank wall, much like a white sheet of paper, yet to be filled in by its writer. If it could still be white in that uncompromising dark! Sahay faced his back to the wall and switched it off. The story kept looking at him from a safe distance, imperceptible to him. Sahay kept staring into that dark where opened and closed eyes seemed all the same to one. Sahay went back in his mind. It had all started from that number. He could remember it so vividly! The train had been moving fast. It was a scorching afternoon and there were not many people in the compartment. Sahay had been standing near the gate. Something was written on the other side upon the inner-body of the train. His eyes fixed it with a stiff glance—“9836002729—Rupa, a call girl”. All places have been sold. Now who said this in present tense, all of a sudden? Had the story been following him even then? Someone must have mumbled something in his ears. Sahay took out his mobile phone from the pocket and copied the number and it was that very day on his way back home that he lost his mobile. Who could have stolen it? Perhaps the same person who had written the number on the train! However, it was only now that Sahay could say this…not then. The pungent smell of a plot had frozen the air around him that day onwards. He took a new mobile after that and it had to happen again! The same train in the same heat of a same afternoon and Sahay was up against the same spectacle—“9836002729—Rupa, a call girl”, but it was a little too familiar for comfort this time! The size of the letters had increased and now he felt them, glaring at him. However, there was something more to it and Sahay simply could not believe it! He took out his new mobile from the pocket and clarified whatever little doubt he had. He had saved his new number in his phone for he had been forgetting it frequently. He looked at the screen and then back again at the number—9836002729! He still tried to pass it off as a coincidence. May be someone had jokingly written a fictitious number which had become real in his case. Should he change the phone for that?
After a tiny respite that bitch had got back to business. Someone had thrust a handmade leaflet into his hands that day, while he had been running to catch the train. He could only look at it, after having boarded the train. It was an advertisement of a doctor of secret sexual diseases. Sahay had always been irritated by such stuff. As if he was the only one for them! But this time it had more embarrassment in store for him. The contact number written on it had been 9836002728 earlier but then somebody had overwritten on that 8 to make it 9. It was back to 9836002729—square one for Sahay. How could things be so contrived in the world of reality? Sahay could only wonder. The train had long left the platform where someone might have still been chuckling at his situation.
Sahay had to change his number. It had started to get on his nerves. But he stored that fateful thing in his new mobile alright, lest something more was to happen with it. And then it was this fearfully stagnant night when he had missed the last train that a call came from that number on his mobile. How could it be so? He had exchanged that phone and the man at the mobile-shop had assured him that he would give the phone to someone only after de-activating the old number. The loop around his neck had tightened. He had rejected the call and switched off the mobile only to realize that someone had come behind him on the empty street. Sahay started running and could hear footfalls at his back. He was being chased.
The rest, as they say, is hi(-)story…for the story…for the street. The story left Sahay and moved out of that dark tunnel. The street had been waiting for him eagerly. The story blurted out the story that was Sahay’s, but what story? How could it know the number-game? How could the story access the depths of his mind where words were fluttering like half-torn kites in a musty wind, writing and re-writing the number 9836002728 endlessly? Sahay, like most of us, had kept his most bizarre experience a top secret. The street could not understand head or tails of it and was left agape. All that was so absurd, he thought. Once again, that strange sound of someone dragging something along had become faintly audible in the distance. The eastern horizon had started to light up. The story said to the street, “I have to go now. I simply cannot tolerate daylight.” It hooted like an owl, weary of light. Ah, if one could look into its dead dark eyes where a fire was burning! It represented the eternal desire of man to tell stories, more and more stories…more and more hollow stories. The street bid him good-bye.
It was a story called ‘Deuce’ written by some obscure writer. It had been published in a literary magazine called ‘Presentation’. His friend Indraneel had given it to him. Interestingly enough the protagonist of the story was his namesake. Was that the reason why Indraneel had given the magazine to him? What else? Sahay was hardly a literary person! It was stiff due to its overtly intellectual evocations and that was what had made it so bizarre and absurd, Sahay said to himself. It was a scorching afternoon. . Sahay was near the gate and reading the story. The compartment was almost empty. The train was quite close to Howrah station. There were sounds of the brake and the train started slowing down. The same old car-shed stoppage! Sahay looked at the other side. The train had stopped. There was nothing on the other side. It was just a blank metallic surface with some scratches and patches here and there. It was pretty much like an anxious one-off page of some writer, where he could hardly manage anything more than a few pen-strokes here and there. It could only be headed for the dustbin. Sahay shifted his eyes back to the last page of the story. He could only chuckle at it. The train started to move again and he could hear a strange sound, coming from a distance. Someone was dragging something along…