When a Writer Kills: Chapter 8
Some people have an identity, I have an alibi, I have a shadow self
How do you differentiate between a dream, a memory, and reality?
Perhaps we can’t and perhaps we don’t. We just live with them, moulding them to fit the narrative of our lives.
I grappled with one such flimsy occurrence, which drifted across all the three realms and each one claimed an equal authority over it.
The place where I had spent three nights was the home of a local family in the Stok village. My rescuers had left me in their care. The family had then called a doctor and looked after me. The very old lady was the mother of the man whose house I was in. He informed me that three men had brought me to his house late in the evening, three nights ago (or four? I am not sure).
I asked him about the men who had brought me to his place. The man did not know. However, one of my rescuers had given him a number. I took the number and assured my host that I would call my rescuers and thank them personally. He offered to organise a ride to the Leh town, which I politely declined, thanked him and started walking towards the town. My stitches still clung to me. The wound had not completely healed yet. The surface was dry, but the rest was an open mine.
The afternoon sun felt pleasant on my skin. I was not wearing anything warm and didn’t feel the need to. The piece of paper with the phone number rested in the front pocket of my jeans. The images in my head kept flashing: loud shouts, strong arms, a face went in and out of focus. The more I tried to focus on it, the more it gave the feeling of a dream. I had a feeling that I knew that face.
But it couldn’t have all been a dream, I was rescued by three men. That was a fact. So, all those sensations had to be real. A memory of the subconscious. But the bearded, snow-covered face, those narrow brown eyes, that was the point of contention for me. That had to be my imagination.
I would know soon enough.
Tired and sweating, I dragged myself into the dusty town of Leh. The guesthouse was another three kilometres away, and I didn’t want to be there. I found the first open café, dropped my backpack, and looked for a phone. I found a landline at the reception and dialled the number.
The phone rang uninterruptedly and then stopped ringing. No one picked up. I settled in my seat and waited for the black coffee. Before the coffee was served, the landline rang with a loud noise. The manager picked it up and looked at me. I got up. Without a word, the man handed me the dirty-brown receiver.
I introduced myself as the rescued man. Thanked the man and set up a rendezvous. The voice on the other end of the line was just another male voice; strong, steady, confident, and a little gruff maybe. He had agreed to meet me a couple of hours later. I finished my coffee, paid the bill, dumped the trash I was carrying from the trek and walked towards the guesthouse.
Would she be there? I doubted. ‘I am going back’ meant more than just returning from the trek. I imagined her back with Croissant, her cat, back to her life in humane conditions, enjoying the comforting humdrum of routine life.
I unlocked the room and found it stuck in time, just the way we had left it. She probably never came back to the guesthouse. A few of her things were around, probably none she cared about. I immediately unpacked, then re-packed, setting aside all the rented gear for returning. Next, I took a long hot shower, shaved, dressed up in clean clothes and stepped out.
It was time to get some clarity, to sort out the confusion between imagination and reality, to find the identity of my rescuer. Some people have an identity, I have an alibi, I have a shadow self. In the blizzard, my actual self had left me, and my shadow had stuck by with me.
The iron steps to the Brazil Cafe in the main market were extremely narrow and steep. The first flight led to the kitchen and the reception area. The second set of steps led to the first floor of the cosy sitting area and the last flight led to the roof, which was the open-air sitting area. The late afternoon wind was less cold as the slanting rays of sun invaded the roof.
I walked up quietly and stood at the last step of the stairs, inspecting the space and the man. His back was turned towards me. He was looking at the not-so-distant Leh Palace. The sky was delicious fresh blue and the sun falling on his back made his neatly cut hair shine in shifting shades of dark brown. He was taller than me, at least three inches, and wore a luxurious deep-blue windcheater. His boots, likewise, were clean and spoke of a decent investment. His cargo pants were a deep khaki and overall, he gave the feeling of a rich, well-settled man, enjoying his time on what was likely a winter escapade.
I couldn’t help but give myself a look. My shoes were dusty. A detailed forensic examination would have traced my travel history over the past few years. Sand from the Arabian and South China sea, sand from the deserts of Thar and Nubra, the stones from the Deccan and the tribal heartland, and the holes which had felt a dozen winds blow through them. I stopped looking at myself beyond my shoes. I would have simply painted a poor picture of a ragged nomad.
I walked up to him and stood next to him. My approach was less quiet, and he turned his head towards me. The shades he was wearing reflected the slipping sun and made my eyes squint. He noticed it and took off his glasses immediately and then extended his hand. I looked at his hand first and then at his face.
It was not my imagination. It was the reality. Back then, near the summit, and now, here, in front of me. Solid reality.
I took his hand and felt the heat of my body transfer to his. My head took a big swirl and somehow, I managed to stand steady. He smiled at me and inquired how I was feeling now.
Quietly, I kept looking at his face. I had only seen the picture before, but I had no doubts about who was in front of me.
You don’t know who I am, do you? The question flashed silently in my head.