The flame flared up with a hiss when the matchstick struck the matchbox. I lit my cigarette inhaling the nicotine into my lungs. Placing the matchbox on the terrace compound, I exhaled the smoke into the infinite. The streets are calm today, the weather is frigid than usual. Gazing at the stary night sky into the infinite random thoughts started popping up, about my future, my past, and a bit of both. I always wonder what do they mean when they say being in the moment? Isn’t this being in the moment? Are they just making up new fancy stuff?. As these random thoughts were popping up, Jude broke the silence “Joshua , You know what? They found an old well near hampankatta which was closed for half a century. “ With a confused mind, I asked, “ What do you mean by found a well??”. “Apparently 50 years ago when they decided to contruct a road, the locals refused to demolish the well. This well was a famous source of water to all the travellers, traders who used to come with their bullock carts, horses, etc and it belonged to a person named Appanna Poojary”. “ Oh, that’s how the name arose Hampankatte “ Makes sense”, I thought to myself.
“But have you heard another legend??”, Jude shuddered.
Jude whimpered in a low tone, “Some locals say past midnight there is a spirit which wanders around the city. The rumours are he was a soldier and on his way back home, he was brutally killed. His spirit is still wandering around the city, to go back to his hometown”
Now I am irritated, “ Don’t tell me you still believe these nonsensible stories, these spirits, ghost is just a fiction which superstitious people create to gain attention or to instill fear. For god sake, we are in the 21st century, Jude “,I grumbled at him. I was wondering to myself “ How can people still believe this nonsense. I wonder where they keep their common sense and rational mind”, Jude knew very well that I don’t like this fairy tale, ghost, or spirits. For me these things don’t exist, it’s nothing but a sham or a scam to scared people.
Irritated by this, I asked him “Pass me a smoke“. Jude pulled out the cigarette box from his front pocket of his blue denims similar to mine, only to find it empty. I glanced through the time.
“Damn it’s 2 AM, where can we get a cigarette at this point of time? “
“There is a new petrol bunk which opened recently. It has a 24/7 store we might get it there and from there we can go to our usual spot near the river”, Jude exclaimed.
“Sounds good”, we hopped into my silver swift and rushed towards the place. As we entered the town, there wasn’t a living soul on the streets, and the whole place was eerily silent. In Mangalore city, almost everything is closed post-midnight and we hardly find someone at night wandering around. As we drove into the petrol bunk, to our disappointment we noticed the 24/7 store was closed.
“Guess they don’t even know what does 24/7 means”, I mumbled. After few seconds, an employee approached. He was dressed in a red uniform and enquired whether we want to fuel up. We asked him “ Can we get cigarettes.” He said “Due to corona guidelines the store is closed. I can’t do anything about it. “ These situations, Jude knows how to gets thing done, it’s his thing. I looked at Jude, he knew it’s his cue. He stepped out of the car and had a brief conversation with him. I don’t know what was the conversation about but I was pretty sure he will get the work done. Not to my surprise the worker entered the store through the backdoor and handed over a pack of cigarette to Jude and whispered “ Don’t tell this to anyone “. Usually we avoid buying the entire pack of cigarette, it’s not because smoking is injurious to health. The reason behind it, is the scary images of cancer patients which they print on cigarette packets. It reminds me of Mukesh. Who is Mukesh?? You might be wondering?? Is he my childhood friend? My relative or someone close? Well none of the above, Mukesh is the person whom they show on theatre ads just before the movie. It’s to encourage people to quit smoking. The coughing sound still resonates in my ears when I think about it. Now everything looks fine, our mission is accomplished. I ignited the engine and we started our other half of the journey towards the riverside, which is next to an old bridge. This old bridge was built by Britishers a century ago. I think it’s safe to say, it’s an ancient bridge As we were driving towards it, Jude realized we don’t have a matchbox or lighter. In short, we didn’t have a fire. “Damn what to do now??” asked Jude. 99% of the shops are closed in Mangalore, the petrol bunk is faraway and the only place we have a slight chance of getting the fire is the Mangalore railway station. It’s 2:30 AM. I took a U turn and began driving towards Mangalore railway station, not to board a train but in search of fire.
For a brief moment, I felt like a caveman. I realized the importance of fire that day. I could envision my ancestors in a dark cave, dressed up in tiger skin, 6 feet in height, and long hairs throughout their body. It’s thundering outside, one caveman busy rolling the cigarette and another caveman striking the stone for one hour to get that one spark of fire. The spark of hope. The struggle is real, I thought to myself. I don’t know is this my past life memories or just my imagination. But today I am glad and proud that they discovered fire. Well!!! I am not among the person who focuses bad, evil or superstitious things, which my ancestors have done; I believe they have done more good than bad.
While all these fictional thoughts were moving around my head, we approached the railway station. There is a huge banyan tree here that might be 100 years old perhaps much more than that and under that. Its branches looked like witches hands, the hanging roots replicated the long nails and hair which is uncut for centuries. Just below the tree, one person is standing alone. I couldn’t see his face because there is no source of light. He wore a white shirt the kind of white shit we see in Tide ads, I used to think it’s a myth but today I realise how wrong I was. It looked like he is around 6 feet tall. For a second, I thought of asking him for the fire but then I changed my mind, I felt something weird and unusual of that person. He might be a thief, smuggler or the caveman waiting to give us fire, I thought to myself. I ignored him and drove ahead towards the railway station entry. I slowed down my car to find a parking space and glanced inside the station. It looked like an abandoned station for ages. There were no rickshaws or passengers. All I could see was cops on their Covid duty. Asking fire with cops at this night is not a good idea. I quickly took the U-turn hoping they have not spotted us. I said “ I guess we have only 1 option now, ask that tide tall man near the banyan tree”
Jude exclaimed “ I feel it’s a bad idea Joshua, let’s not do it “
“What if ….” He paused in between. I gave him that annoying look, I knew what he wanted to say.
“For god sake don’t talk rubbish “ , I drove towards that person, lowered the window, and asked “ BOSS!!! Eerda matchbox unda “ In TULU which is our local language, an ancient Dravidian language around 2000 years old translated to “ BOSS!!! Do you have a matchbox “
He paused for a while I could hardly see his face, distressfully he asked “ Do you have a Cigarette? “
His tone sounded like he was old and stressed by something. I said “Absolutely, we have “. Then he asked for 1 cigarette in exchange for his lighter. This is the night we discovered the fire, I offered him 2 cigarettes, he was reluctant to take it but I insisted. He handed over his lighter to me. The lighter was an old vintage lighter with a copper finish. It has a design of an old rifle probably used in world war. I lit a cigarette for him and asked ” what are you doing here over here?”
He said , “ I missed my bus to Madikeri and now I am waiting for my train.”
I asked “What about the lighter what should I do “
He bawled “ I will be gone in half an hour and will be back here again tomorrow “
It was strange , “Okay fair enough,” I said, I started driving towards my favourite palce to smoke.
As we were driving Jude exclaimed “Does he expects us to return the lighter tomorrow at this time?? Isn’t it weird, It is 3 AM now. As far as I know there are no trains to Madikeri from here.”
I ignored him. I didn’t want to get into superstitious talks. I was in love with that lighter, I like vintage stuffs. I placed it safely in the tiny teak wood box in my car. I was wondering to myself “ I got a vintage lighter in exchange for 2 cigarettes, a good barter. My ancestors would be proud of me.” Now we almost reached the spot, I was driving over the old britishers bridge. This bridge looks ancient and almost broken, whenever I drive through it, it reminds me of the Final destination movie. I mentally prepare all strategies to save myself if this bridge collapses but I feel it won’t be necessary today. We reached the spot and parked my car facing the river. I took the cigarette pack and the lighter. We got down from the car, sat on a small rock facing the river. It is pitch dark and the only source of light is the moon and stary sky. I could see the reflection of the full moon on the river, the cool breeze was kissing away my cheeks perhaps whispering something. I handed over the cigarette to Jude and litt it. This lighter is something different in terms of texture, metal, and mechanism. It’s definitely a vintage lighter. I kept it safely in my right pocket because I don’t wanna lose it. It is peaceful here we were enjoying the scenic view. The smoke would just disappear into the thin air and I was wondering even one day we would meet the same fate. Just disappearing, lost somewhere. Jude was done with his cigarette and took another one. “Lighter,” he asked.
I slide my hands into the right pocket but I couldn’t find the lighter. I stood up and checked my pockets once again, it is not there. Now, this was strange. I remember clearly, how carefully I had kept it.
I turned on the flash on my phone and started searching next to the rock.
“It’s obvious I might have accidentally dropped it here,” I thought to myself. But to my utter surprise, I couldn’t find it. A gush of wind passed by, suddenly we could see a shadow pass by the car, a tall shadow passing by. My heart started pumping faster than the buffaloes running in kambla. Something, even more, scarier, there was no source of light or an object so that a shadow can be formed.
I swiftly pointed my phone flash towards it, fear fluttered in my stomach. I shifted my attention towards my phone screen
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If you are curious about what is fire scientifically, go through this video.