Lunatic

Once long ago when I was a little girl, I met a lunatic. One summer evening tugging at my newest pair of jeans I boarded a tram. My small palms secure in the grasp of old gnarled ones, I was happy. I sat down, the breeze from the window cooling my neck and I was glad. Glad, about my vacation, my trip to the park, my new t-shirt. A gentle tap on my shoulder brought me out of my happy reverie and I turned to find myself face to face with a pair of gleaming eyes somewhat dulled by the thick black-rimmed glasses covering them. An old man with a fat bristly moustache sat there smiling at me; looking like he had climbed right out from one of Dadu’s black and white movies. He asked me my name and I turned around to look at Dadu for permission, I wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers then. I couldn’t find him in the crowd and my face must have crumpled for the old gentleman tapped me on the shoulder again and offered me a packet of peanuts. Warnings from my parents ringing in my ears I clutched the packet tightly in my palms and promised him that I would eat it later. He asked me if I wanted to see a magic trick and all my fears forgotten I nodded eagerly, magicians couldn’t be bad right? He said he would perform the trick only on one condition; I would have to hear a story after he showed me the trick. He mumbled some words and then just like that, in the middle of a crowded tram, he pulled out a coin from behind my ear. I sat there thoroughly impressed; mouth agape like a goldfish when he began his story.

He told me of a city, a city full of mad men and women. The city was an ancient one; every street corner was dotted with a splendid relic of the past. The residents however wanted more, they made plans, sketched new blueprints and new structures started popping up everywhere. One by one all the relics just disappeared, nobody saw them ever again. No, they hadn’t crumbled, nor had some jealous wizard stolen them. They were there, in plain sight, yet they remained invisible. People rushed past them, lovers found privacy in the wilderness surrounding them, but the relics just stood there, steadfastly invisible. The men and women of the city had forgotten how to laugh; they smiled sometimes, a measured widening of the lips, just the amount their doctor had prescribed. The children had forgotten how to run, their backs bent with the weight of knowledge. The trees had turned grey, choking with fumes; they had forgotten how to breathe. Everyone always used umbrellas for at any given time you could be hit by dead birds falling off of the grey trees. No one wanted to be left behind, everyone wanted to match everyone else so they made identical houses and painted them in the same colour. Pretty soon the once colourful city turned into obedient rows of uniformly painted matchboxes. The men and women spoke of archaeological sites where they had dug up paper boats, apparently children played with such vulgar things once. The prisons of this city were overcrowded, their walls sullied with millions of rebellions painted in smuggled colours. The mental asylums were crowded with people who shouted poetry; one could also find a few comedians in solitary confinement, they were the brave ones, they dared laugh at the mad men and women. One day those who ran the city decided that a city that perfect should only have people with pretty blue eyes. Everyone else had two days to leave the city after which they would kill everyone, much like they had killed the giant trees years back because they wanted petite ornamental bushes. The city still sits there with over growing ornamental bushes and uniform matchbox like houses, taking laboured breaths and waiting for its first blue-eyed resident. The prison walls have faded and the asylum has become silent; overflowing with carcasses. The prison compound has developed a small crack from which has sprung a sprig of green. The two tender bold leaves stand there brave amidst crumbling heaps of grey. That year it rained in the city, the grey dripping slowly off the trees and the sprig of green that was now a small plant sported a tight blue bud on one delicate branch.

At this point before he could go on, the stern looking conductor jerked him out of his seat. I had been listening in such rapt attention that I had not noticed the excited murmurs in the tram. Everyone was pointing at him and making animated expressions and speeches to their neighbours. The trundling stopped and he was pushed off the tram, his long English umbrella thrown out after him. I sat there palms tightly clasped around the packet of peanuts while the people in the tram jeered “Lunatic! Lunatic!” out of the dusty windows.

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