Taking long strides, he reached the Shanishwara Temple fifteen minutes after he’d realised his last hope, his favourite restaurant had betrayed him. ’I’m sorry, Sir, we’re closed on Mondays,’ the man had said over the phone. The pizza place had something similar, ’Sorry, Sir. Telephonic orders closed twenty minutes ago. We’re shutting down for the day in ten minutes.’ JustDial had only confirmed his doubts, ’Sir, there are quite a few restaurants open in Indiranagar.’ But how was he to get there? How could he have slept nineteen hours—through the entire day!
Wait, was he hearing footsteps? Perfect, as if the throbbing head and the gurgling stomach were not enough, his mind was now playing tricks. Or he was hallucinating. Nobody is follwing you, Akul.
He would walk home, drink a litre of water and try to sleep. The morning would fix all his problems. Just seven hours more.
Warm summer breeze caressed him. But he walked like a soldier, carrying his injured comrade, to the nearest medical facility. As moments passed, the footsteps seemed to get louder. The dim, flickering street lamp only worsened the situation. But no matter what, he knew he would not turn around to see who it was. No. A few moments passed. He felt a cold, fragile hand on his shoulder. He froze. He felt his limbs grow cold, and his heart beat fast, as he flinched. He ducked, and turned around. Damn it!
An old woman in rags, stood with two packets of cream bun in her soiled hands. Her facial features only made her look scarier. Her teeth were broken and stained, her hair was a mess. Yet, her wrinkled face was serene—expressionless. He nodded sideways. Standing like a statue was her way of insisting. She widened her eyes into a cold stare.
Fear took over, and he grabbed the packets. Ignoring the use-by date, he stuffed large chunks of bun into his mouth, choking in the process. He just wanted to run to his room. Once he was done eating, she held out a bottle of water. He nodded. Closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see her cold stare again. When he opened his eyes, the old woman smiled. She turned around and started walking.
‘Hey, wait!’ He took out his wallet and pulled out a twenty-rupee note. He looked at her, stuffed it into his pocket, and drew out two hundred-rupee notes. Her face turned pale. She nodded sideways. He stood, his hand extended. She smiled and pointed towards his pocket. He nodded, held her hand, and stuffed the two notes in it, saying, ‘Eat well tomorrow’, in broken Kannada. A drop of tear slipped off of both their eyes, as they smiled.