The beggar glanced to his right, and saw that the young man in his late twenties was back again. He had been coming here, to the dimly lit and barren street, every day for the past week. All he ever did was stare for hours at end out at the lake running alongside the street. His face would register no emotion at all, only a deep stillness and passivity that made it clear that his mind was miles away from here.
The beggar knew that it was none of his business, but still he stood up from beside the dune of cement dumped on the street by long-gone construction workers, and walked up to the lost stranger. As he walked, he looked up and noticed the dark clouds that had gathered there that night, and wondered what it could mean. The man was evidently lost in thought, for he did not notice the beggar approaching from behind.
‘Hi,’ said the beggar, and the man jumped in surprise. He spun around. The beggar could see that he was a handsome man, with a neat, clean-shaven face and rimless spectacles. His hair was short-cropped, and his clothes were neatly pressed and presentable. A personable man. ‘I could not help but notice that you are here again tonight.’
‘You… you have been noticing me?’ asked the man uncertainly.
‘Yes, I have, and I find it very curious that a man as immaculately dressed and obviously well-endowed such as yourself would visit a shabby part of town like this one and spend so much time standing by a lake, doing nothing. Could I be so bold as to inquire upon your thoughts?’
The man, in his youth and yet so very tired, regarded the old beggar in front of him. This beggar was very unlike any of the others he had seen. This one actually seemed well-off, or at least gave the impression that he had been at one point of time. His grasp over the English language was remarkable. This beggar was an anomaly, and perhaps that was the very reason the man felt that he could trust him. No one with ill intentions would make their deception that obvious.
‘What’s your name?’ asked the man, primarily to gauge whether the beggar in front of him was indeed trustworthy.
‘I have forgotten,’ said the beggar, not breaking eye contact once. ‘It has been over a decade since anyone used it.’
‘I shall simply call you Akbar, then.’
‘Very well. May I know your name, sir?’
‘It is Pulkit.’
‘Mr. Pulkit, nice to meet you.’
‘You as well, Akbar. Please, don’t feel the need to call me “sir”, or address me as “Mister”. It soon will not matter.’
‘What does that mean?’
Pulkit averted his gaze, stared at the lake again. ‘Nothing. You asked me about my thoughts. Are you sure that you wish to know of them?’
‘I would not have asked if I were not.’
‘Of course. I suppose there is no harm in confiding in you, Akbar. You are not connected in any way to anyone I know, so whatever I say to you will stay with you. Am I correct in assuming as such?’
‘You are correct, yes.’
‘In that case,’ said Pulkit, turning towards Akbar again, ‘I am fed up with life.’
‘With what aspect of it?’
‘Ah, the seemingly innocuous pleasure to which many a great man has fallen.’
‘I have fallen in love four times now, and all of those times, I have been rejected.’
Pulkit shrugged. ‘It was just not meant to be. All of them had other people in their lives, and could offer me nothing other than friendship. I admit, we are good friends, but all my life, I have wanted only requited love, and it is that very thing that I have always been denied. I have felt a lot of emotions every time – anger, betrayal, hatred, bitterness, hopelessness, helplessness, despair. I have grown sick of everything. I wish to feel no more. I wish to be numb. Yet I cannot be.’
‘You cannot not feel something that you feel. That is illogical. Let me ask you – why are you here now? Something must have happened recently.’
A jaded, sardonic smile crossed Akbar’s face. ‘I have met someone. A woman who expressed interest in going out with me.’
‘Then why are you here instead of being with her?’
‘Because I cannot trust her. I cannot trust this situation. Every time in the past that I have gone after a woman, it has ended in disaster, with my heart shattered in pieces. I know that it will happen this time also. If I know how the story ends, why begin reading it?’
‘When you see your favourite dish, just because you know it will be finished, do you not start eating it?’
‘What are you trying to tell me, old man?’
‘That a story is not defined by how it begins or ends, only by how it makes you feel. In all those cases that you spoke of, did you feel bitter and angry all the time?’
‘No. There were always some good moments. A lot of good moments, in fact. But they ultimately meant nothing.’
‘Because the people with whom I shared those moments did not choose me. In the end, they chose someone else.’
‘Is the purpose of a good moment only to further an objective? Is your outlook on life really that cold?’
‘No. I just cannot feel those emotions again.’
‘So you come out here every night and stare at nothingness? Whom does that work out for?’
Pulkit stared at the ground for a few moments, then at Akbar.
‘My turn to ask questions,’ he said.
‘I shall permit only one,’ replied Akbar.
‘Okay. Tell me, just… what happened to you?’
‘I too once felt things for someone,’ said Akbar sadly. ‘I too once felt the way you feel right now. Instead of fighting, I chose to let life sweep me away. And it did.’
‘Is she still around?’
‘Yes. I know exactly how to reach her.’
‘Then do it.’
‘Because if you do not, in another decade, when you look back, you will feel the most crippling emotion of them all – regret.’
‘Exactly,’ smiled Akbar, and Pulkit looked down again, embarrassed.
‘Okay,’ he whispered. ‘I shall call her. I shall go down that road once again. But this time, I will try to find a fork, so as to not end up here again.’
‘But only – only – if you promise to talk to your woman again.’
Akbar considered this for a second, and then, only because he was just so tired of it all, decided to agree. They shook hands, and when Akbar withdrew his, he saw that he was holding a note worth 2000 Rupees.
‘For clothes,’ said Pulkit. ‘And to make yourself presentable.’
Akbar stared, open-mouthed, at this most wondrous stranger.
‘I will find a way to pay you back one day,’ he swore.
Pulkit smiled. ‘I’m counting on it,’ he whispered.
That very moment, Akbar looked up again at the sky, and saw no dark clouds. Only bright, dazzling stars.