The Mission

“…the privilege of absurdity, to which no living creature is subject but men only.” – Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

The alarm shattered the stillness of the night and rudely jolted him out of his sleep. Automatically, his arm groped for the ‘off’ switch. Click!

Peace prevailed and he slowly slipped back into slumber land – but not for long.

Someone was persistently trying to twist his foot to another angle. Groaning, he got up, opened his eyes and in the dim light of the night-lamp saw two ghostly faces floating inches away from him. This cleared the cobwebs and also shot his adrenalin to a high level.

“It’s time,” mouthed one ghost in a familiar voice.

It took him some minutes to recognize the sister-in-law and the mother.

“Urrrrgh…” he cleared his throat and tried to protest feebly.

“It’s time.” Hissed one of the faces again with great intensity.

“Eh?” he said, wondering what really the time was and sat there with his mind blank and mouth open. The sister-in-law sniffed disdainfully and lanced the mother with her usual ‘Explain-to-this-imbecile’ stare. The mother flinched and then impaled him with her usual ‘How-can-you-do-this-to-me’ glance. Then, as if on cue, they both turned and threw looks at him that would have made Yamraj hide his face in embarrassment!

“It’s time,” snarled the mother, “It’s time to leave.”

“It’s already 3 am!” the sis-in-law spewed sulphurous fumes. And then, it struck – The Mission!

“Are the others up?” he asked nervously.

“Some are,” growled the mother.

“Listen,” rasped the s-in-law. So, he listened.

Outside, the world was coming alive in spurts and the morning breeze carried a sense of urgency along with a stink from the chemical industries.

Carrying his gear, he crept out of the house as quietly as possible hoping that no one else would hear or see him. As he silently made his way to the target area, his mind went over the previous night’s hectic planning, counter-planning and desperate vows to win. The strategies discussed by the s-in-l and the mother amazed him. He wondered fleetingly, as to what would happen if they were to control the old city where the clashes were still on. If such a fantastic eventuality were to bless him, he fervently wished for snipers!

A dry leaf cracked and there was a gentle ‘chlink’ behind him. Looking over his shoulder he clutched his possessions fiercely and quickened his steps.

Out of the early morning smog emerged his neighbour who slinked-up and snickered, “I heard your alarm-clock!”

Friendly snipers forgotten, his mind started churning out plausible excuses that could be presented to the viperous females at home, in case he failed the mission.

“I came out of the house before you did, though,” he said to the neighbour, “And, I bet your wife saw me leave first.”

The neighbour’s step faltered and his nervous gulp was extremely gratifying to hear. Pleasantries over, they moved together and soon reached the target area with the supply depot just ahead of us. There was no body around and like lunatics they raced forward, pushing each other.

Eyes gleaming, teeth bared and nostrils flaring he ran with the sole intention of reaching the depot first. Panting with triumph he skidded to a halt and placed his gear at the step of the depot.

“You pushed me!” wheezed the neighbour accusingly.

“It’s a tough life,” he philosophised between gasps.

Neither of them had the wind to continue with an argument and stood guarding their possessions instead. As the day dawned, more people started arriving. By now, the neighbour and he had reached a truce.  With glee they watched figures rushing towards the depot and coming to a sudden halt, their faces aghast with the realization that they were late.

The line in front of the depot grew and by 4 am there were nearly fifty people waiting anxiously. His smirk was slipping, as there would be hell to pay. He was not too keen to face ultimate wrath if he returned empty handed – first-or-no-first! The neighbour didn’t seem comfortable either and started gulping nosily again.

“Doesn’t look good,” ventured the neighbour.

“No,” he parried. The crowd grew restless and some started leaving, their places immediately being filled by others.

How long could they stand? What if the supply van came after they had departed? It had happened once and he still carried the marks of the tongue-lashing he had received, kind courtesy the viperous women! So, the neighbour was now his best pal, because he wanted him to be his witness. His companion for the moment had the same thought, he imagined.

A crow hawked at them angrily and they heard gunshots coming from the old city. Sirens hooted indicating curfew. There would be no supply today. Wearily they picked-up the empty milk bottles and trudged back to their respective firing squads.

The mission had not been successful.

As the riots continued in the city and people killed each other, all he could think was how early would he have to get up the following day?

They all hated black tea!

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February 2010
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