The Watchman

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

There are no angels...only extraordinary human beings

The cold was especially ruthless that year. The old man hobbled along the dreary street shivering like the last leaf on a vine. He kept moving his tongue over his parched lips which were starting to bleed now. He wrapped his thin shawl a little more closely around his cadaverous frame, even though a little respite from the weather seemed a long lost dream. But he kept moving, for he had an appointment. He had seen a vacancy for a watchman’s place in the local paper two days ago. His wife was bed-ridden with cancer which had all but sapped out the life out of her. What kept her alive were the intermittent doses of medicine he gave her each day. Sometimes he wondered if she had any blood left in that body anymore. They were not rich which you would have probably guessed by now, and whatever little money they had accumulated over the years had dwindled to just a few coins in the piggy-box. He needed to find a job and this one seemed to suit a man of his age pretty well.

There it was. ‘It’ was a bungalow of some rich official whose watchman had suddenly left without any apparent reason. The old man though, attributed this to the Lord Almighty. He was a firm believer and he could readily vouch for the fact that the Lord always took care of his children and had sent that job for him. He stamped his feet on the stairs and reached for the doorbell. “You are late ! Where the hell were you ?” “I-I got lost sir.” Which was a lie but he was desperate. “Lost ? How many bungalows do you see on this street ?” “I…” “Don’t argue. Do you think you can stay up all night ? We don’t want any burglars partying in our house while you explore dreamland.” “No, no sir. I assure you sir, I won’t sleep.” “Yeah, yeah. Every tom-dick-harry says that. You listen to me carefully old man. If I see you close your eyes even for five minutes, I’ll kick you out. Understood ?” “Ye-yes sir. Absolutely.” “Now don’t stand there nodding your head like an idiot. Take this torch and get going.”

Bungalows like these usually had a small cabin near the gate. This one had a cupboard. At least it looked like one. It was dingy and suffocating but it would do for such a cold night as this. He sat down with a groan on the little stool inside the cabin. His knees weren’t as strong as they used to be when he was a young man. That seemed like another life. He was the youngest in his family. They were two brothers and three sisters. He was used to a life without the burden of any responsibility. Life, then, seemed to have infinite possibilities. He studied Science in the town college and did his specialization in Chemistry. He was a brilliant student, astounding his peers by solving complex chemical equations with a smile on his handsome face. He got selected for a scholarship offered only to the best students and did his Masters in Chemistry, all before he had turned twenty-two. But we all are but puppets in destiny’s fickle hands. Even before the light of glory had melted away, his father had a heart-attack and was pronounced dead an hour later. His mother was devastated. That was when he had realized the fragility of it all. Maybe destiny hadn’t had enough yet. His mother was diagnosed with some kind of tumor. They had tried to persuade her for an operation but she had refused to budge. “The Lord giveth; the Lord taketh away,” she had said. Within a few years, the sisters were married off to well-to-do families while his brother went away to try his luck in some big city. “I have my own life mother and I won’t ruin it for you.” Those words still echoed inside his head. Sometimes people left you when you needed them the most. But he had stayed. He had rejected several lectureship offers and had taken up a job at the local grocery store where he would always be available to his mother. In the nights he used to sit by her, reading some Chemistry journal while she slept peacefully. He jerked up on the stool. He had almost fallen asleep. Remembering those times tired him. Life had been a constant struggle even after his mother had taken her final breath. And before he knew it, time had passed him by. Now all that was left with him was his Chemistry.

“Chemistry, the mystery,” they used to call it while he used to reply, “Not anymore my friends. Leave that to me. You think about the new mystery.” “And what would that be ?” “Women my man, women.” And they used to have a hearty laugh over it. He had dreamed about working in a big laboratory with shiny equipment and state-of-the-art facilities. But it seems people usually wake up to reality sooner or later, and reality, unfortunately, isn’t that amazing. You may try to go to sleep hoping to continue that dream forever even though you know it’s not possible but it’s gone, washed away by some random wave of thought.

At 6 the next morning, he locked the cabin door and walked towards home. “I’m home.” Silence. It was unusually quiet. He was used to hearing mumblings and groans. He entered his wife’s room. Sunlight didn’t reach it well and as a result, it was damp all the time. He had covered her with whatever piece of blanket he could find. “Are you okay ?” She wasn’t moving. He took her shriveled hand in his. No pulse. He slumped down on the bed beside her, still holding her lifeless hand. He didn’t cry. Tears had dried up a long time ago. At least she was someplace better…better than he could give her. They took her away in the afternoon. He couldn’t have afforded a proper cremation. The house was empty now, just like his life.

He reached the bungalow at 9 o’clock sharp. “Good. Right on time. I guess yesterday’s little chat has found its way into your puny head after all. Take the torch and get to work.” The cabin, now, felt like a second home. He had to keep working to keep his sanity. He sat down on the stool and lit the old lantern. He looked around the cabin for the first time. There were cobwebs at every corner and dust had settled at the places where those spiders hadn’t been able to exhibit their architectural skills. There was also a notebook in a corner with a pencil sticking out of it at one end, probably used to sign-in visitors’ names. He opened it. The last entry was about two years back. Maybe the official had thought of it as a waste of time as well as money. He turned a few pages. The pencil had worn out but for a tiny nib of graphite on it. A long time had passed since he had written anything. He wrote a chemical equation, drawing the various symbols slowly, with the utmost care. He removed the pencil and stared at his handiwork. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. There was a glow on his wrinkled face. There are moments in life when you have this feeling, when you know exactly what you have to do before you become dust. This was one of those moments. He took the notebook on his lap and started scribbling.

This became his routine every night. He kept writing throughout the night until the lantern burnt low. He started bringing journals, bought by the money the official paid him. Food became a formality. He worked and worked, tore away worthless pages, starting anew. Nobody knew what he was doing and nobody cared. Chemistry was flowing through his veins maybe for the last time.

Several weeks passed thus. The official was satisfied with him as he had never seen him stealing even a wink of sleep. One fine morning, as he was leaving for a jog, he noticed that the cabin door was unlocked. “That crazy old man has forgotten to lock the damn door !” As he opened the door, he was surprised. The old man was fast asleep. Angrily, he pushed him hard against the wall but he remained unmoved. Then he touched his neck and knew…

“Hello ? Yes. Somebody has died here. Send an ambulance and make it fast !” Since he was an important official, the medics reached there in no time. After they took away the body, he entered the cabin. Stacks of notebooks lined the walls. He picked up the nearest one and browsed through the pages. “What the heck is all this ?” Instead of throwing away all that, he had the good sense of having them sent to the hospital morgue, to be given to the nearest relative of the old man, not that he had any.

The notebooks lay in the Morgue’s storeroom for a long time before a young doctor stumbled upon them accidentally, and decided to look inside one. “These are some kind of chemical equations.” He opened all of them one-by-one, turning the pages filled with meticulous research. “What was he working on ?” He had connections in the city’s Research facility, and one of his friends agreed to check them out…

A few months later, people throughout the country were greeted by the following headline in the morning paper:

“Possible cancer cure found !!” 

Submitted: April 28, 2014

© Copyright 2022 Sidiosyncratic. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:


unmasked delusions

WOW I don't know what to say..great!I've seriously never read anything like this, so exciting. It's very interesting so thought provoking. I was loved the summary of this, "There are no angels...only extraordinary human beings." I was hooked from the very beginning.

Sat, May 17th, 2014 8:35pm


Thank you Unmasked Dellusions :)

Mon, May 19th, 2014 1:13am

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