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Unidentified In The Big City
by Chandrika Pamid (Prose - Short Story) | Published On: 15-Feb-2016

It is 6 in the morning and I woke up as usual to the familiar sounds of my neighbours pulling their carts out. Some of them were tea vendors in the market, some sold chaat and some others sold vegetables. I live in a working class colony with single-room accommodations where most of the people were poor like me. Most of my neighbours migrated to the city leaving behind their small farms and some their families. There are not many people from Sikkim, where I come from. 
I live in a sort of working men's hostel where they provide a bed and dinner for eight hundred rupees a month. My belongings were meagre and easily fit into a duffle bag under my bed. I shaved and bathed in the shared toilets and walked out into the street in uniform with my lathi in hand. Madhubhai called out from across the street saying I got a letter. He is the caretaker and cook of our hostel. It must be from my daughter, she was leaning to read and write in our village school. I took the letter from him and walked to Gopal’s tiffin centre. Gopal smiled and handed me my usual bun and tea. When I started to leave he reminded me of my monthly dues. "Nepali, tomorrow is first. Please settle your monthly account so that I can buy my supplies." Most people here call me Nepali or Gorkha. For them, every man from the Northeast is either a ‘Chinky’ or a Nepali and every watchman is a Gorkha. Earlier I used to try to correct them but I later realised that to some it is a habit out of ignorance, to some it is just as casual an address as ‘Bhai’ or ‘Dost’. Even those who know me personally continue to call me Nepali because they could not pronounce my name. I assured Gopal that I would pay his money the next day and left for duty. 
I work as a day watchman at Mansion Towers Apartment in the upscale area of the city. As I reached the building, Jitendar, the night watchman, was packing his tiffin and sweater and getting ready to leave. Jitendar is the new recruit, he joined two months ago. Since we never get a chance to work in the same shift, I do not know much about him other than his name. But he seems like a good fellow. He minds his own business duty and is punctual.
I took my place at the main gate with my entry book when Secretarysaab called me to go to the generator room and take readings for the day. The generator is in the basement on the corner of the parking lot. I took the entry book and went into the basement. I had barely written the numbers when I heard a big crackling sound, almost as loud as a thunder and suddenly everything went dark. A big gust of dust raised and the roof caved in. Everything came crashing on me. It was darkness everywhere. My thoughts raced to my daughter. I felt that she was being pulled away from my arms... I tried clutching her hands desperately but in vain! I opened my eyes. I thought I woke up from a nightmare but I couldn't see anything. There was a sharp pain in my left shoulder. I fumbled to find a switch or a match, something to light up the room. I realised I couldn't move. My body was aching badly as if I was run over by a truck. I could not tell where I was or whether I was alive or dead. My head ached and I couldn't breathe properly. In a few moments I lost consciousness. 
I saw my wife cooking my favourite dish in the kitchen, my daughter was showing me the new dance moves she learnt in school. I remembered that I had to send her money for the school fee. I want to send a few hundred rupees extra so that both of them can buy new clothes for the coming festival. Secretarysaab had promised to give me a bonus. I woke up again not knowing how long I had been lying there. I could not tell what time of the day it was or whether it was day or night. I slowly remembered that I came to the generator room to take readings and that's when I heard the blast. Was it a bomb or something else, I could not tell. I only realised that the building had collapsed and I was trapped in the basement. The heavy metal frame around the generator stopped the rubble from collapsing on me and I was crammed in a tiny space between the generator and a wall. Suddenly panic struck me when I thought that nobody might realise that I am trapped under the building. I gasped in terror, unable to breathe. I tried to calm down to think but I could not. Tears came rolling down my eyes. I called out for help but I only choked in the dust. I could not feel my left arm. My headache started increasing. I cried and pleaded to God for help. I hoped someone would pull me out of here. But fear for life, for my loved ones was the only emotion that came to me again and again. I kept falling in and out of consciousness. I lost track of time, I could not tell whether I was awake or not. I could not even be sure that I was alive anymore. In that dark hole, I lay crammed under hundreds of tons of debris. My breath became heavy and difficult. Every muscle in my body ached. I sat there waiting. 
I heard noises, slow murmurs at first and then they got louder. Somebody was dragging a heavy object, a large stone may be. It got closer and then there were more. I could hear people talking in urgent tones as if in an emergency. I wondered what was happening. Suddenly there was a bright flash of light and a gust of cold air. I shivered. I tried to open my eyes but there was dust all around and my eyes burnt. I tried wiping them clean but could not move. Someone was talking again, someone was talking to me. ‘Gorkha, don't worry’, they said, ‘everything is alright’. I tried moving again but something very heavy was pinning me down. I heard the slow whining sounds of a dog nearby. I realised it was Tony. Tony was the stray dog I fed everyday at the apartment much to the dislike of Secretarysaab. I do not know what happened later. When I woke up next I was in the hospital bed. There were hundreds of people like me, hurt and injured. Tony was lying under my bed. The duty nurse told me that there was a big earthquake in the city and hundreds of buildings collapsed. Thousands of people were killed. I was one of the few lucky people who survived. I was later told by someone at the hospital that it was Tony who sniffed me out from under the building debris. I was stuck in the basement for almost two days. 
I felt sudden pang of pain in my heart. I have to let my wife and daughter know that I am alive. I requested the nurse to take me to the telephone and called the number of the grocery store in our village. The owner is a cousin and friend. He was so relieved to know that I am alive. He promised to convey the message to my family. I took some biscuits from the ward boy who was distributing food to the patients and gave them to Tony. But for him, I could have died that day, alone, nameless, unidentified.

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Author
Chandrika Pamid

Chandrika Pamid

Written: 7 Stories

Member Since: 12-Feb-2016

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Emotional Touch