The Way of the World

Yesterday, I saw a car run over a homeless man’s foot. I don’t know for sure if he was homeless; he sat next to a food stall, on the road, his hands and legs twisted in manner that would be deemed strange. I could not understand what he was wearing- I could say they were rags,but then, what are rags? They were patches of cloth over a dilapidated body. His eyes were only slightly open, and his white beard was dirty- he was mumbling. He seemed homeless at the time

I saw him on the night we went out to eat Biryani, because it was Eid, so we went out to eat Biryani. On our way out on the street, we paused seeing more meat on a grill. “Let’s try the kakori kebabs”, we decided and stood there, next to the stall. He was on the ground, minding his business, when the pair of us came and stood next to him, waiting for food. He mumbled something, and I could not respond; he asked me for money, I managed a polite smile. In a bright, shiny plate, we got the four, soft, pieces of kakori kebabs, and he went on mumbling to himself.

Before I could look up from the plate to raise my eyebrows in approval, a car passed us, so quickly that I wouldn’t even have noticed it, if I had not heard a shout, a curse. “Maa ki choot!” The man on the ground yelled, a metre away from us, as the rolled-up glass windows bounced even the abuse off. I saw as the car sped off, and looked back at the man. His nails had come off, and blood, bright red on his dark skin, bright red on the grub of his feet, began cascading down. It made its way down to the ground in beautiful lines, shining on layers of dirt. It travelled all the way down to the grimy road, brightening up the spot where it collected and formed a pool.

Everybody around him, all the stall owners and the kebab makers, they all knew him, they all saw it, looked up when he yelled at the indifferent car whizzing by. And they chuckled- a laugh on the lips, a shake of the head, as their hands went about stirring, stirring and cooking and frying, too used to all this, too used to the world to stop. “Humne bola tha na, side mein baithna”, they said- now bear it. And they went about stirring and cooking and frying, reminding him that he should have heeded them.

The man was now slinking away, putting his weight on his hands and elbows against the rough concrete, he dragged himself across the road, slowly and excruciatingly, running his lower body against the road like a snake, but without the agility, without the venom, he slithered ahead. Behind him, he left a train of urine, dark against the road, wiping his blood away, and the stall owner said, “Yaha mat kar!” He ignored them and he slithered on, leaving his trail behind.

I went and bought a cold bottle of water, hoping he would wash his foot with it, take a little gulp, forget the pain, for a second at least, a second of thirst quenched. But he refused- refused to accept the bottled water, slithering on where he wanted, refusing the bottle of water, which probably to him, was a token of all that ever trod on him. The people around chuckled and shook their heads, smiled an all too familiar smile, went about stirring and cooking and frying: this is the way of the world, they seemed to say.

This is

The Way of the World.

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