As the dark clouds closed in on the ebony sky, light footsteps could be heard clamping on the damp walkway of the empty street. As the gigantic maple trees cast their majestic shadow over the street, Hoodie could be seen walking away deeper into the folds of the dark night.
No one knew who Hoodie was and why he wandered around the town at night. He was never seen in the day. Or so I thought. I had never seen his face clearly. I only recognized him from his canvas shoes and long coat and the hood of his sweater, which he wore beneath his coat, sitting complacently on his head. His neck would be covered with a beige colored muffler. It also reached up to his face to cover his mouth and nose. Though this would seem as an act of alienating the cold gusts of wind from entering his system, I looked at it as a way of not coming into recognition.
As the hood would constantly be on his head I had named him Hoodie, for the purpose of easy relativity factor when I would ponder over him in my thoughts. He was active between the timing 11pm - 3am. This few hours were the most quiet and ghostly hours. Everyone would be back home from work and outing by 9. And after a gracious dinner and the day's work done, people would be tucked into bed by 10. It was almost like a ritual in my small town. Very few people ventured out into the night. The ones who did so were looked at with doubt.
I had always been different from the others there at my town. My ideas were always considered to be strange and absurd. I wanted to go to the city to do my college but my folks would not hear a word about it from me. They thought that the reason for youth going astray was the freedom and frivolous attitude that the girls and boys attained after setting foot on the foreign soil.
Yes, they considered the city to be foreign soil. My mother would say that I already brought a lot of disgrace into my clan by choosing to do something unconventional like fine arts. Children of this town only did schooling and then got onto doing their family businesses. Our little town was full of these businesses. Boys got into their family business and girls got married off and had kids. But I was different and I chose to remain that way. I had to travel a long road to attend my college which was in the next town.
It was the month of exams and I had been up all night memorizing my answers when Hoodie walked past my house. I was sitting near my window and trying to get a grip over one of my answers in between of my sleepy bouts, when I heard Hoodie walk. I peered out the window through the gap in my curtain and saw that Hoodie was nervously looking around himself and walking away fast. I was stunned at first and then surprised. What could a man be doing out at this time of the night and that too in such a secretive manner?
I could hear his footsteps because he chose to walk on the road where a lot of dried leaves had spread onto the road. The crunch of his leather boots on the dried leaves was enough distraction for me to look away from my books. He seemed to look up on his watch every few minutes. It was clear that he was in a hurry. But where did he have to go?
After a while Hoodie was gone and so was my interest for studying. I sat up all night thinking and contemplating as to why would a person be out on the roads at that time of the night and for what purpose? With the thoughts crowding my tired mind, my eyes finally shut for their ritual sleep by around 5 in the morning.
And so for the next couple of days, I would stay awake late hoping to catch a glimpse of Hoodie but he never turned up.
I never thought of opening my mind and mouth to my elders or my friends about Hoodie because if I did so , I was sure of getting admonished and told to not look out the window at that ghastly hour.
'You never know what that strange man could be up to. Only evil people venture out in the dark of the night.' 'He could be a thief, a murderer, a smuggler.'
These were the kind of responses I was to get had I opened my mouth about Hoodie.
It had been a week or two that Hoodie had not turned up around our street. I had conveniently forgotten about him aswel.
Then a fortnight later, when I had been up late completing my project for submission for next day, I again spotted Hoodie down the road. This time he held something in his hand. Fear and shock swam across my face.
'What if really he was a killer or some sort?' 'Why was he carrying a knife in his hand, that too at this time of the night?' 'What was he going to do with it?'
these thoughts crowded my scared mind. I had been so scared that I had not bothered to check if he really carried a knife or not. I had easily assumed that "thing" in his hand to be a knife. I was numb with fear and staring straight at the street where Hoodie now stood, right across my window. I must have been staring too long at him, for he made a sudden turn towards my window and looked sharply at me. I let out a gasp. His deep green eyes were staring at me. He had a scowl over his face. At least that's what it seemed like from the limited show of his face through the muffler. I immediately closed the curtains of my window over his face and ran over to my bed.
The next day I had a high temperature. I was not able to go to college to submit my project. I had to send Silvia, our house-maid and helper to submit my project at my college. I had very unsound sleep. Whenever I would fall asleep, I would get horrid dreams where I am running wildly on an unending street with the Hoodie running behind me with a knife and I would instantly wake up screaming and with sweat dotting my forehead. My mother would come running up to my side and put me back to sleep. Though the fever subsided and I was alright within few days, the dreams never stopped coming. I would time and again wake up from my sleep with sweat covering my face and body although I had stopped screaming.
It had been a while since I had seen Hoodie. Not that I had been waiting for him at my window but it was just that I had other things to look into. Hoodie slowly started disappearing from my mind and I had completely forgotten him. And so did the dreams which had Hoodie running behind me with a knife.
A large amount of time had passed by. I was in my final year of college and had much more to study. I had made up my mind to go to the city and had conveyed my decision to my family. They were not impressed with my decision but I insisted on doing what I wanted to do. They tried their level best to change my mind but I was adamant. At last they gave up and allowed me permission to go albeit reluctantly.
I had another reason to go to the city. Indeed, I wanted to go there for the wide range of opportunities that the city held for me with respect to my specialization in fine arts.
But I also had a beau whom I had been dating for 3 months now. He had me completely. And he was heading to the city and had asked me to join him there. He told me of the wonderful life there which captivated me instantly. I immediately made up my mind to go to the city. And also another reason was because my family, specifically, and society, in general, would not accept of my love with him.
'Jamie, would it be right if we just left everyone and went to make our life in the city?'.
Jamie looked at me with so much compassion that I could melt.
He said,' they would get around us with time. And I am not telling you to leave your family completely. We are just going to be away from them for a while. You will get a foothold in your career and I will be settled. We would have made a good life for our self and eventually get married and then we could come back. Then I don't think anyone would have a problem with that. Would they?'
I had to agree to that. In my household, only Silvia knew of my love. She was also very supportive of me. In fact in my whole family of 10 members, she was the only one who I could trust and share my feelings with barring just the thing about Hoodie.
A month later, I was preparing for my final exams. I had to prepare lot of notes and revise them which left me awake for the whole night. Silvia kept me company this time. I did not want to be alone. I had developed a fear of sitting up late alone. Silvia had brought a glass of hot chocolate milk for me and sat on the small sofa at the end of the room.
Soon, I had become totally engrossed in making my notes when I heard the rustle of dried leaves outside my window. I could feel the shivers running through me. I turned behind to look at Silvia but she was fast asleep. I slowly peered through the curtain to look down and there I saw Hoodie again. He held his arms around his chest tightly. It had been a nasty cold night that day. I was overcome by less of fear and more of intrigue now. I wanted to unravel the mystery of Hoodie. I decided to follow him.
I took my jacket and woolen cap and wearing my boots hurriedly I walked carefully outside the door of my house. The fear of getting caught was looming in my mind but the curiosity of knowing what Hoodie was up to had engulfed me completely by now. I sneaked behind him, walking at a pace slower than his but keeping up with him. I would hide occasionally at the bends and turns so as to avoid being noticed by him.
After a while, we ended up at the house of Mr. Kramer. He was our local grocer. He had been keeping unwell due to his various health problems. He was a rather rich guy compared to the meager way he lived. I was so sure that Hoodie had come to kill Kramer and then make a run for it with the money. I tracked Hoodie slowly opening the door of the house. How he managed to do that, I wouldn't know. And he walked towards the bedroom of Kramer. I tracked him from the outside of the house carefully hiding myself from his view. When he finally reached Kramer's window, I ducked down beneath the window of his room and watched from there. Hoodie, at first, stood watching Kramer with intent. Hoodie stood beside the bed next to Kramer with his face turning towards me. I could see his eyes brighten up. And then Hoodie did the most unimaginable thing I could ever think of.
He held his hand over Kramer's forehead and mumbled something. It wasn't audible. Then in a circular motion, he rubbed Kramer's head. The friction of his palm on Kramer's forehead created a kind of light blue smoke. I gasped in disbelief and made a dash towards the road and ran without stopping until I reached my house. I quietly ran up to my room and sat on my bed to catch my breath. My eyes closed, I was recollecting all that I had seen when I felt the presence of someone and opened my eyes.
Silvia was standing beside me, worry strewn across her face.
'Where had you been child? I was worried for you. I was about to wake your parents up when I saw you come into the room. Where had you been? Don't you know it's unwise to be out at this hour of the night?'
She was indeed worried for me. And now I was waiting to unburden myself to someone. And especially after what I saw today, I had to pour it out to someone.
I told her of my adventure starting from the time I had caught glimpse of Hoodie until today's episode. Silvia watched me telling the story in complete silence. But her expression was not like as how I had expected them to be. She was calm and patient as always.
After I finished telling my story to her, she just took my hand and held it firmly and started talking, 'My dear child, in this world there are many things that are beyond human understanding. Certain things are accepted and certain things are not. What you saw today was a miracle by this man. His approach towards treatment is quiet akin to the types we have heard of evil operating. Hence, this man has not come out in the open about it. He prefers to treat his patients in secret without their knowledge. He knows what he is doing is right but he also knows that in this town no one is going to accept him for the way he is.
Being different is not a liability but it's an asset. It could not be right what you do but you are also not wrong. It's just the way of life you have chosen. He has a heart of gold. In spite of knowing that this town will never recognize his abilities and knowledge, he still insists upon treating all of them with his powers.'
I was wondering how did Silvia know of all this.
She must have guessed as much from my expressions and so said, 'Remember the time when Joey was suffering from a terrible outbreak of bruises over his body and I had not reported for work. I was at home tending to my little Joey.
It was in one of those nights, that he came into my house and treated Joey in a similar way as you mentioned. He thought I was sleeping but I was awake and watched him work his magic on Joey. I immediately got up, startling him in the process. He was really scared; I could make it out from his green eyes. He just ran away from the spot. But his effects were there. Joey started to recover immediately. Within a week, he was alright.
I was ecstatic. I wanted to find this man and thank him profusely for bringing back Joey to me but as hard as I would find him, I was not successful. Then one fine day, I found a little note on my door-step. It was from him. He explained that he is one of us here in the town and we all know him but yet for reasons known he doesn't want to disclose his identity. He also requested me to not disclose about this to anyone.
He did not want a mistake on his part to ruin anything for him. He was happy with the way things were going for him. He was not hungry for any kind of recognition and fame. He was happy by just serving the people of our town thanklessly.'
I was surprised. What had I thought of him and what he turned out to be?
Indeed, if you know what you are doing is right then there should be no need to suppress yourself for the fear of not being accepted by the people. This had left a deep impression in my mind. I was very much influenced by his path of life. Like him, even I was embarking on a journey of uncertainty. I was not sure if my decision would be accepted or not. But I knew what I was doing was right. Jamie was right for me and there was no denying that.
Yes, people would be opposed to the idea of accepting my love as they would be with Hoodie's idea of treating people but that did not stop him from following what was right for him and so it should not stop me from following what is right for me. I was embroiled in these thoughts when Silvia came up to me and told me to get some sleep. I had my exams tomorrow.
Weeks passed by and with my exams over and results out, I was all set to leave the town for the big city. I almost felt as if a whole new world was reaching out its arms to me. I was excited. Also I had been apprehensive but whenever I would be caught up in the web of doubt and indecisiveness, I would think of Hoodie and his unending faith and trust in himself and that would help me inch forward towards my dreams.
The day when I was leaving town for the city, I had a very tearful goodbye at home. All of them were crying and so was I. I had forbid anyone from coming to the train station as then it would be difficult for me to leave all of them. So many years of togetherness had to be broken although for a little while. This made my heart break but also I was glad that I wouldn't be alone in making my dreams come true in the city. Jamie would be with me throughout my journey.
At the station, as soon as I met Jamie I ran up to him and hugged him, tears rolling down my cheeks. He looked at my face and wiping my tears said,' My darling, be happy for we are going to start a wonderful journey from today'. I smiled for what he said was all true.
We put in our luggage into our compartment and I sat down when Jamie said he would go out and get some refreshments for us. I sat waiting for him looking out the window.
As I saw people walking past by, I noticed a man with a coat and canvas shoes on. He was reading the morning paper intently. He looked like an ordinary man until I caught a glimpse of his deep, green eyes. Those eyes could never be forgotten. I tried looking harder at him when Jamie came next to me and sat beside me and said,' You know Oscar , we would have always lived our life in ridicule and hatred if we ever lived in this small little town. No one would accept our love. But in the city things are different. People in the city accept gay relationships and will not discriminate us. I think we would really be happy living in such an environment.'
I was looking at Jamie but my mind was somewhere else. As soon as Jamie finished talking, I again looked out the window to see if Hoodie was there and there he was now looking straight up at me and smiling a warm and kind smile. It was as though he knew me and knew what I was going to do. I smiled back at him.
The train started moving slowly and as the train caught momentum and moved away from my little town, I prayed a silent prayer thanking the powers above for making me come across Hoodie. For had it not been for him , I wouldn't have been able to realize my dreams and reinforce the faith in myself that I was indeed right in following the path that I wanted to.