I try to reach home before they switch off the last streetlight outside my house. They don’t like ‘wasting light’ here. There is a big yellow light right around our corner. The low hanging street light shines dimly through a canopy of cobwebs and leaves and parts of it rest on my side of the road. It is cold here. The wind rustles through the rusted twigs that hold on to the crisp leaves.
The walls here disappeared behind the dense brown-green creepers a long time ago. Most of these houses are empty.
I pace down the black sloping road, counting the newly installed speed bumps, and the distant street lamps staring at each other from the two ends of this road.
I am almost home. I can see my room from here. Forgot to turn off the lights again.
Where I am standing right now, used to be a sprawling graveyard. Legend has it that it was guarded by seven serpents who would, sometimes, transform into seven beautiful women.
Seven beautiful women guarding the dead from the living.
Outside my big black gate, I see her curled up painfully, distorted into a ball half her size, sleeping, probably. Or not. She tells me she doesn’t get much sleep anymore. I stop at a distance, smile at her. The streaks of moonlight that make it this far, shine in her eyes. Dark and moist. I try to get closer to her. She flinches. I stop in my tracks. I try another step. She is on her haunches already, head down, looking at me sideways.
Okay, Okay. I tell myself. I guess I will try tomorrow, again. I raise my hand, as I nod and step away, and she nods, with a stiff body, and looks away. I close the gate behind myself, as I watch her settle down again.
Why won’t she let me help her?
Back in my room, next to the rice my mother had brought in fifteen minutes ago, not very steaming anymore, I think about her. I imagine her lying sprawled, resting against the big black gate, her chin over the back of her hand, staring into the light that had made it around to the corner. Watching out for something. Watching out for someone. Anyone.
Silhouettes in the moonlight, some warm, some cold.
Before going to bed, I go out again and keep the gate open. Just in case she makes up her mind, I think. I take my chances.
She wasn’t always like this. Her grandfather used to squat on a small piece of land half a kilometre from here. They were a family of seven. Her father was the eldest and was good friends with my father and his father before that with my grandfather. Over time, the land was taken from them, bit by bit, one step at a time. Slowly, and then all at once.
She was born into an odd caste, and when the clean people came, they took the land of the unclean and washed it and thawed it and cleansed it into their own form, sometimes with the blood and tears of the unclean. Her father had seen it all, and moved to a place not far from where she is now.
There is no land for our kind anymore, she had told me once.
Just last week, when she was sleeping outside another gate, big men with big sticks broke her right leg, just for sleeping outside another gate. She holds it just above the ground now. Half limping, half hopping. Her skin was branded by kids, with hot rods and, and her flesh is falling in places. Big chunks of rotten meat. There is a big scar across her face which keeps bleeding, and there’s always pus coming out of it.
I offered to clean it for her, but she doesn’t trust our kind anymore.
So, when I step closer to her, she flinches.
Another day, I tell myself.
The next morning, I think to myself: Today, it is going to happen, I tell myself over and over again. I take out the biggest crunchiest snack from last night’s dinner, a bowl of water, and some medicine.
I open the gate and there she is. Sleeping.
I walk up to her and sit next to her along the big black gate. She doesn’t flinch.
My eyes meet hers. Dark and moist.
She is not moving.
I nudge her.
She winces, and lets out a deep sigh.
She doesn’t move again.
An hour later, an SMC truck is called and the young mongrel is washed away.