On a hot, dusty evening, a man fell to the ground beside a heap of rotting garbage. He skinned his knees and the side of his face as he hit the asphalt. His tattered pajamas did little to hide his modesty.
He lay there, sucking in short, sharp breaths. He was supposed to feel an emotion, but which one? Perhaps anger… or was it shock? He tried to play dead, hoping the boys would move on to some other prey. Like bears. But he couldn’t stop his gasps of breath. The more he tried to stifle them, the more his body jerked. He was conscious of how his body had started to writhe again, uncontrollably.
Today he was a stupid man, stripped of intelligence, stripped of sense. He was so stupid, he couldn’t even play dead. So when the pelting started again, could he blame them? He curled his beard in front of his face and put one hand over his eyes, the other over his genitals as the men laughed.
As far as he could see, the world was a remarkable place. So many shades of sunshine. If he closed his good eye, he could only see the white hot light glinting off another bauble at the trinket store. And when he tried on another pair of sunglasses, the world was suddenly bathed in blue. The shopkeeper didn’t mind. It cost him nothing to keep the khyapa amused.
And when khyapa smiled, it was so weightless that for those few moments, every customer at that roadside shop would feel themselves unplugged from the world and its cares.
Smiling comes easy when you’re in step with your world. When people do as you do, you smile. When the light looks just right, when the shade is cool enough or when food is found, you smile. When sleep comes easy, and you wake up because you’ve slept enough, you smile. When the body does what the mind tells it to, you smile because you’re harmonizing.
And then when you can play with the world, that smile becomes a laugh. When a child comes and sits beside you, you can laugh and help her laugh too. When another day goes by, when you didn’t have to lie, about where you’ve been or what you did, you can laugh. If they’ll give you a roof for the night, where you can make your bed in plain sight, you can laugh, even if it’s in your head. When the rules line up neatly with what you were anyways planning to do, just laugh.
So today was a good day. After an arresting conversation with a friendly constable (both of them parted, step-in-spring intact), he figured that the imbalance he struggled with, wasn’t so bad. Sure, he didn’t see why people needed to walk around as though wearing straitjackets, nor really why their up was down, and their down up, but as long as everyone got along, did it really matter?
When the shopkeeper had had enough of him, he’d give khyapa a fiver to send him on his way. The money meant little, and khyapa would later give it to a beggar, but he understood this signal - It meant ‘enough now, leave’. See? He knew what was what.
Now, as the sun blustered in the evening sky, khyapa had grown thirsty and hungry. The buildings all seemed to slant in the wrong direction, so no cool shade was on offer as he looked for food. He knew better than to knock on doors, and some sense of esteem prevented him from sitting on the road to beg.
That’s when he stumbled upon an open garbage pile. A maid from a nearby colony was dumping the kitchen waste. There was bound to be food there – homemade, at that. The promise of solid pickings started him on a clumsy dash towards the garbage, drool dripping instantly from the side of his mouth.
He perched himself on a brick and lunged from his squat towards half a boiled potato, nestled among some broken egg shells and cauliflower stems. How people could waste perfectly good food like this he didn’t know, not that he minded.
A laugh rang out somewhere in the distance as he was about to bite into the potato. The next moment, he felt a sharp pain at the back of his head, and immediately after, a sting in the recess of his knee. The stones were sharp, almost as sharp as the taunts that accompanied them. A man broke away from the group, ran up to him and kneed him in the back. On that hot, dusty evening, a hungry man fell to the ground beside a heap of garbage. Mad men we are.