THE OLD MAN

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CHAPTER 8: PRITAM IS INFURIATED

Pritam (very enraged): Enough of your pranks (looking at Prem). You better find some other way to come back home. I am done with you.

Seeing Pritam flaring up in rage, everyone, especially Prem, is a tad intimidated.

Prem (pleads): Hey bro… Wait, please wait. I won’t poke you again, I promise.

Pritam is in no mood to stay. He starts walking towards his bike.

Prem (begging, calls out): Two more pegs… and then we’ll leave together. I swear on God, I will not poke you again… bro… please…

Parag (asserts): Come on Pritam… Just two more rounds!

Pritam doesn’t respond and keeps on walking.

Amol (sneering): You may go, if you want; but I must warn you: The old fellow with the stick would be waiting there for you…

Pritam (stops and looking towards Amol): What old fellow? What are you saying and, why the hell, would he be waiting there for me?

Amol: He generally stops a lone rider, for hitchhiking to the next village.

The old man is patiently waiting on the lonely highway for a free ride.

Pritam: So? What’s wrong in helping someone, if you can?

Pradeep: Nothing wrong; but there is a gossip that the oldie vanishes mid-way.

Pritam (snaps out): Again, trying to pull my leg? You guys are pathetic.

(Pritam darts towards his bike; and igniting the bike hastily, he vrooms off.)

Jagadeep (addressing all): He will be back in no time… I assure… that chicken hearted bastard...

Chorus: Giggles and they get back to partying.

Pritam drives through the murky village lanes and reaches the state highway. He stops for a moment to look for any oncoming vehicles before proceeding ahead. Finding the highway without much traffic, he cautiously accelerates his motorbike onto the highway. But somehow the engine shuts down, stopping the motorbike with many jerks. As the headlight goes off, Pritam finds himself enclosed in deafening silence and a pitch dark ambience. Pritam skips a heartbeat. He takes out his cell phone and uses the flash light to comprehend the dark surrounding. He unsuccessfully tries to auto start the bike umpteen numbers of times. Pritam’s panic is amplified on hearing wild dogs growling nearby. He frantically checks the petrol level and applies some saliva on the spark plug, using the flashlight.

To make matters worse, Pritam is further frozen with fear as he hears someone’s advancing footsteps accompanied by a loud wooden sound, as if the person is carrying a huge lathi (a long bamboo stick) with him. Amol’s words about “the old man with lathi” whizzes past his fright-drenched awareness. Panic stricken, he looks around with jerky movements; but is unable to judge the direction of the advancing sound. He desperately tries to revive his bike by frantically kick-starting it. The footsteps become more and more prominent with each passing moment. Pritam looks towards the direction of the footsteps and to his utter disbelief and horror, a sturdy man, with a long and heavy lathi is fast approaching him. He desperately tries to revive his reluctant bike.

Pritam (desperately kicking): Come on… BUDDY…

Pritam’s vigorous movement catches the man’s attention and he calls out: Who is there?

Terror, accompanied with goose skin, triggers Pritam’s reflexes to turn the motorbike; and running with it he tries to push-start it.

Pritam (running with the bike): Oh God…! Please start the damn bike...

And as luck would have it, the motorbike budges, and without wasting another moment Pritam jumps onto it, driving back to Vithal’s verandah at breakneck speed.

On seeing Pritam coming back at such high speed, everybody starts laughing.

Jagadeep: Here comes Napoleon Bonaparte, the great… the King of the Kings... the fearless… and the lion-hearted…

(And as Pritam approaches the verandah)

Welcome, His Highness Pritam, we are sorry that you lost your kingdom of courage…

Chorus: laughter.

Parag is making his drink.

Amol (welcoming Pritam): No Worries… at last you came back for Prem!

Pradeep: But he is not back by himself, the fear of darkness and ghosts has guided him back here …

Again a spurt of laughter explodes.

Parag (gulps a sip): Yeah… He should thank his luck that his chicken-heart didn’t blast off.

The big dam nearby echoes the hearty laughter everybody is having at Pritam’s expense. But faraway, the old man is still, very patiently, waiting for his free ride.

Pritam hides his embarrassment by acting angry.

Pritam (shouts in anger): Enough of it… assholes… Do you even know what I saw?

Everybody collects themselves and apprehensively looks at Pritam.

Jagadeep: What?

Pritam: The same guy, that Amol was talking about, with the bamboo stick! It was, indeed, sheer luck that I escaped him.

Except Pritam, everybody knows that the story about the old man with the lathi, is a cooked up, fabricated one. Subsequently, brimmed with mirth, they exchange playful glances, and snicker.

Pritam (retaining his angry face): Why the hell are you giggling?

Amol: Now tell me, precisely, where did you see this guy?

Pritam: On the Highway… He was very tall and well built.

Parag: The guy that Amol was talking about is an old weakling, and not at all a well-built man.

Pritam (realizing his folly and embarrassed): Ahh, out of fear, I forgot about that.

Amol (with an amusing face): That might be Datta uncle… He might be going to switch off the water pump, so that the fields are not over wetted.

Prem (blurts out): But your Datta uncle’s visit has made Pritam wet his pants.

Everybody enjoys another bout of elated laughter.

Pritam (agitated and looking at Prem): Are you finished drinking? If so, then let’s go.

Prem: You know what… You came back in less than 5 minutes. (Sternly) Now, wait for another 30 to 45 minutes. OK?

Out of the blue, Pritam’s instincts get a whiff of some bizarre presence monitoring them closely. He gets peculiar and looks around with a gasp. He quickly glances at faraway distances and on to the tree tops.

Prem: What happened? (Prem also looks hither and thither) What are you looking for?

Pritam (suspiciously looking here and there, and not intending to become the center of another joke): Nothing (he points towards a platform, not too far way). I will be waiting there … When you are done with your drinking, find me there and then we will go.

Pradeep: Why don’t you just sit here, with us?

Pritam is drained for the day and is no more interested in drinking. Moreover, he is afraid that some other horror stories might crop up, and he may end up conjuring out another spooky experience. So he just walks away.

Pradeep (confused): What’s wrong with him?

Amol: At least let him enjoy some solitude... We have made enough fun of him… He has the right to be angry.

(And they continue the party with another session of drinks.)

The old man loses his patience and with a dejected face starts walking ahead, when some snarling wild dogs emerge from the roadside ravines and begin to trail him.

Except Pritam, everybody is having a great time. Little away, from the platform, Pritam is able to hear their unclear chattering and laughing. The combined shot of late-night hours and exhaustion takes over Pritam, compelling him to doze off. Because of lethargy, Pritam experiences sleep paralysis. In his nightmare, he finds himself cornered by a giant grotesque wild dog. Stuck in a corner of a huge dark container, he is restrained to move by the ghastliness of the grotesque dog, which is slowly advancing towards him with froth filled, saliva dripping and snarling mouth.

At the verandah, Prem is done with his drinking. He gets up and walks towards Pritam.

Prem (shouting): Pritam! Come… Let’s go.

But Pritam is still battling his nightmare and as the dreaded dog is about to pounce on him, Prem wakes him up. Floating in the blurred realm, encased by his nightmare and wakefulness, Pritam witnesses the dog’s gruesome face mutating and taking the form of Prem. Pritam screams and, pushing away Prem with all his might, stands up in a jiffy. Prem falls down and is taken aback by Pritam’s peculiar reaction. He slowly stands up patting away his soiled clothes.

Prem (shaken): What’s the matter with you?

Pritam (in a broken voice): Nnnnnothing… A nightmare ... A really horrifying one…

Hearing the scream others rush in.

Chorus: Who yelled? What happened?

Prem: Nothing. Pritam just went through a nightmare.

Pradeep (concerned): Look at the way he is sweating!

Parag: You both should stay here tonight. Don’t leave until sunrise.

Pritam: No, no, I am ok… I have to open my shop in the morning… Can’t stay here.

Amol: You are really shaken up. At least you shouldn’t drive…

Pritam (exhausted and handing over the keys to Prem): I am neither in a mood to drive.

Prem: I will go and bring the motorbike, Amol! Can you please fetch the rum for me…?

Amol (smiles): But of course.

Prem gets the motorbike and Pritam sits on the pillion seat.

Prem (shouts): Amol, where are you…?

Amol comes running with the bottle. Prem grabs the bottle and guzzles down a good quantity before handing it over to Pritam.

Prem: It would be much chillier out there on the highway… a gulp or two will keep you warm.

Pritam (passing the bottle back to Amol): No, I don’t want to…

But Amol, with the help of others, forces the spirit down his neck.

Pradeep: Now you will feel better; and don’t forget to hold Prem tightly…

Prem: Ok then… Good Night, everybody...

Others one by one: Good Night. Take care… And call us as soon as you reach…

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