By Nod Ghosh
Some shadows are forgotten moments that get stuck in a soul.
One of eight children, Mukunda was destined to outlive his siblings. Two brothers died before he was born. Pneumonia visited Ashok, took him for a walk and never came back. The shadow drew breath. Tuberculosis came dancing, rattling the chests of all it touched, spraying the walls red. It took Khoka by the hand, and left with him.
Mukunda was only three when Dysentery gushed through the village, inviting the children to play. With asafoetida breath, the disease nearly took the boy with it, but waltzed away empty-handed.
Mukunda lived with the shadowy figure on his shoulder, a portent to remind him of the impermanence of life. It followed him through vibrant summers. The darkness was there when the monsoon washed away the mud-shacks where he lived, taking baby Deepa with it. It followed Mukunda wherever he went.
I see everything you do, the misty shape whispered in his ear. I count all your dues.
The shadow followed him into adulthood. His sister Priyah died in childbirth, and his younger brother, Tarun, slipped under the wheels of a truck whilst taking his father’s tiffin carrier to work.
The ghostly form kissed Mukunda’s children on the forehead as they came into the world. Their squawking, defaecating bodies turned blue when the shadow passed through them.
As Mukunda lay drifting to sleep, sometimes he’d think the figure had left. The relief almost made him cry. Then he’d turn over, see dark triangles pecking his wife’s face, and the comfort would wash away like rain.
The shape might present as a raven, or a coal-black monkey, hanging by its tail from the sacred figs in the jungle. Mukunda told himself the shadow was part of his imagination. But whenever he thought he’d escaped, he would feel its dark fingers creep back into his core.
When the youngest of his children married and left for her new home, Mukunda’s brother, Rustom, with the rheumatic heart, caught a cold and died.
The dark form pricked Mukanda’s conscience.
Why are you still here? the shadow asked.
A year later, Mukanda’s sister Kirti pricked a blister on her finger with a needle. Something got into her blood, and left her dead.
I’m watching you, the shadow told Mukunda.
Days come and go. Months. Years. The shadow stays. It is a punishment, a stain. It is a reminder that Mukunda has lived when the others didn’t.
It is a forgotten moment that got stuck in his soul.