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The Countryman
by Jayashis Halder (Prose - Short Story) | Published On: 26-Aug-2014

 

I am waiting….have lost count of days….but not lost hope…he had said that my reliever would come someday…so I am waiting….

 

Some time ago…..

Ever since I had been transferred to that valley district, not a single weekend passed when I did not visit ‘The Cave’.

The Cave was the pride of this district.

I used to spend hours inside this cave. Tourists would come and go. Only I and, of course, the local photographers and vendors, would be seen hanging about regularly. Week after week…

Deep inside the cave, there was an engraving of a simple countryman in one of the walls. This was my prime attraction. The tourists also came to see this mural.

The mural was of my height and positioned so nicely that it could be seen from a distance. The colour of the stone used, was distinctly different from the colour of the cave walls. In fact, such was the colour, that from a distance anyone could mistake the mural to be a real man! The nearer one went, the better one could appreciate the sheer brilliance of the workmanship.

Carbon-14 dating tests have revealed that this piece was more than eight thousand years old! Every visitor to the cave had the same question of how did men learn and attend such high level of excellence in art so many years ago!?!

I, on the other hand, was least bothered about finding such answers or explanations. I was simply taken in by the enigma that seemed to surround this work of art. I would only visit repeatedly to stare at this mural.

One foggy day, I met a man outside this cave. I couldn’t decide on his age. The difficult life of the valley, aged locals before their time. He wasn’t as young as me but then he wasn’t exactly ancient. He had a pleasant enough appearance and his eyes held a twinkle that was difficult to miss.

“You never miss a weekend.” He remarked without any preamble.

My surprised look didn’t escape his notice.

“I am also a regular visitor like you, for quite a long time now.” He said by way of explanation.

“But I don’t remember seeing you.” I said.

“Probably, you are too engrossed with the beauty of the cave to notice anything or anyone else.”

“Denial would be a lie.” I laughingly conceded.

As we talked, I came to know that the man was a native of that place and equally obsessive about this cave and the mural of the countryman. He had been a visitor to this cave since he was nine.

After our first encounter, we kept meeting. A bit of chatting followed by tea, from the roadside vendor, had become our routine and it remained for the next many weeks.

One day while having our cup of tea, he asked me, “Don’t you ever feel like knowing how this statue was made?’

“What are you saying? I have always been so keen about it. But, unfortunately, could not find any authentic source. There are so many myths available. Which one am I to believe?”  I replied.

My friend then offered, “What if I show you how it was made? That way, you would truly get to know how it was made.”

I almost fell of the rickety stool, “What!?!”

“I asked, would you like to see how the mural was made?” my friend patiently repeated his offer.

“Would you believe me, if I said that I can show you something that no one else can? I can show you how this mural was crafted.”

 “You? You know about it?” I spluttered in utter amazement.

“Every bit of it.” My friend nodded his head, in a confident affirmation.

Having lit my curiosity and peaked my suspense, he concluded our meeting with “Next weekend is a full-moon night. I will arrange for the entrance to be kept open for us to enter the cave after the sun set. You will surely see and know how this mural was crafted.”

The entire week passed alternating between thrill and anxiety, fear and curiosity. How on earth could I actually witness the making of the mural? An event that had occurred thousands of years ago could not possibly have been video-taped. So how could I see?

We met as planned, after the sunset, under the bright glowing beams of the full moon. As promised, he had made arrangements to allow us to enter the cave post visiting hours. He being a local, I did not enquire how he managed that.

We directly headed to the wall of the countryman. After we settled ourselves on a stone-table in front of the carving, my friend started narrating a story.

About eight thousand years ago, here, in this cave lived a sage with many miraculous powers. One day, a countryman with his little boy entered the cave to take refuge from a terrible thunderstorm raging outside and came across the sage. Realising that the storm would not be stopping soon, they requested the sage for shelter for the night. The sage readily and happily agreed.

Next day morning, when the boy woke up, he could not find his father. While searching for his father inside the cave, he came upon a statue which looked exactly like his father! In fear he started howling. The sage appeared in front of the boy. The boy asked the sage about his father. The sage gave him a dreadful answer. His father had been used in a miracle feat that had been conducted to testify the supreme powers of the sage. The boy did not understand what the sage was trying to convey and kept staring at the sage hopefully, as if waiting for the sage to bring back his father by miracle.

Looking at the innocent and gullible boy, the sage became repentant of his selfish deed that had orphaned the boy. However, his deed couldn’t be undone. So, the sage told him that his father had not disappeared or died, but had turned into a stone, a living but stagnant being. The sage also said that the boy could release his father from this eternal stagnancy by putting someone else in his place. The sage taught him how to put someone in his father’s place and blessed the boy with immortality till he was able to release his father.

“What a wonderful myth!” I exclaimed in disbelief, when my friend ended his story.

“This is not a myth!” protested my friend. “Touch the statue – the heart still beats.” He challenged me.

I was rather annoyed, “You called me here, at this time, to listen to all this nonsense!”

“The story is amusing, no doubt, but pure story. Nothing else.” With that, I made a turn to get moving, but remembered suddenly, “And what did you mean when you said that you would show me how this mural was crafted? Where you making fun of my curiosity?”


“Wait!” implored my friend. “You may not believe me, but, I promised I will show you how this was made. Please touch the chest once. Only once.”

“Certainly not! I don’t believe in such illogical and unscientific rubbish.” I prepared to leave.

He blocked my way. “I request you, touch the chest once. Let me keep my words to you. Can you explain everything through science? Can you explain a mother’s love for her child through science?”

Valley people are extremely touchy and sensitive. I had been thus warned by my seniors before joining my post here. Sensing an emotional argument on the verge of beginning and not entirely feeling comfortable in these dark confines at this unearthly hour, I relented to his request. I approached the statue to touch its chest and satisfy this man, who I internally no longer considered my friend and decided to avoid henceforth. I had intended to place my palm and then simply turn and leave the place.

The moment my palm touched the cool wall depicting the chest, I couldn’t believe what my senses felt. The heart was, indeed, beating!

Utterly surprised and somewhat ashamed of my doubting self, I turned to look at my friend, while pulling away my palm, but, hold on, …my palm was stuck and… why couldn’t I turn my face!?!

Alarmed, I cried out, but no sound came. I tried moving my legs and my other hand, but to no avail. I just couldn’t! I was paralysed. I could hear the loud thumping of my own heart. I could feel my blood rush up to my face with my effort to scream and move. I was feeling hot in some places and then very cold. I realised that I was getting sucked by the cave wall, but not completely, only a part of me. My brain was alert and heart was still working. No wait, my eyes were working as well, because, I could see a miracle unfolding in front of me.

There was some kind of vibration on the wall next to me that my brain registered. From the corner of my eyes, I could see the mural of the countryman slowly turning to its human form. The now human mural made a move towards a small boy who had appeared from somewhere near to the wall and both of them hugged for a long time.

The boy then turned and smiled at me, “No thanks can ever repay your sacrifice. I have waited hundreds and thousands of years to get my father back. Now we both go to my mother, in peace. But, do you not worry. Your reliever will come someday. The sage had told me that the power will never fade and will keep passing on from one to another, till the world comes to an absolute end.”  With that they both vaporised. My brain registered that the little boy was my friend who had also undergone a metamorphosis.

I watched helplessly. My brain screamed, “Please, listen to me. Please, don’t leave me. Who will relieve me?”

My heart sobbed.”Who will even realise that I was inside this cave, plastered to a wall? Hundreds of trekkers meet fatal end in the treacherous cliffs of this valley. I would be counted one amongst them by my family and office. I will be entrapped here for eternity, waiting for the absolute end.”

Then my brain reasoned.”Miracles happen. It happened to this father and son. Didn’t they reunite after so long? Did the son lose hope? So keep your hope and wait!”

I am waiting….have lost count of days….but not lost hope…he had said that my reliever would come someday…so I am waiting….

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Author
Jayashis Halder

Jayashis Halder

Written: 17 Stories

Member Since: 24-Aug-2014

Country: India

Category

Imagine