A Day In The Life of Tolek Naben
– Caleb Dali
Tolek Naben held his briefcase in an iron grip and with the same measured steps in which he had been walking, now for quite sometime, arrived at the taxi stand. The cars were haphazardly strewn over the area which was supposed to be a spacious parking lot. The garbage bins overflowing with litter complemented the nonchalance of the chaotically parked vehicles. Exactly as it used to be twelve years ago.
To the left of the visually repulsive space was a dingy old shop which sold all odds and ends of wares under the proud banner of ‘Antiques’ . Half of the artefacts sold there might have been of recent make, designed by modern machines to assign them an ancient look. Nevertheless, the shop itself bore the semblance of a past relic and had been largely successful in guaranteeing the authenticity of the within by the facade without.
The dear briefcase was lowered down on the pavement while its owner, for no apparent reason , pulled his bony fingers out of the pair of gloves he was wearing and slapped them twice before putting them on again. Arms akimbo, he stretched his entire body, face upwards, presumably to get a view of the half moon that half-heartedly decided to materialize in the darkening sky . The old, dim road light overhead blocked the view though, bathing in a soft glow the beau below. Due to the growing darkness, this shaft of light falling on his face might perhaps be the best glimpse we will ever get of him. So let us have a closer look:
His hair – well, hidden under a flat cap. As for his face, he had a high forehead complemented by firm-set jaws, a proud aquiline nose, small cold eyes and thin, cruel lips which always slanted a little to the left. His facial features may have bestowed him with a sinister look. But to tell you the truth, this man isn’t the villian of the story. In fact nobody is, for all of us are one at some point of time. Tolek Naben at his best was just a man and at his worst was but a man. And when he wasn’t either, he lived his life like a repressed expression.
Oblivious to our watchful eyes on him, Naben let out a great yawn and craned his neck to the other side of the street. His eyes momentarily hovered over a moss-laden old decrepit building which housed old decrepit people inside. In short, an old age home. However, with the passage of years, the elderly edifice had lost its significance for him. He had come to Turmank on business and business he meant. Instead of tarrying there any further, he picked up his briefcase and made his way towards one of the taxis.
On spotting a potential customer, the cabbie who had been leaning on the front door of a car enjoying his post evening cigarette enlivened with optimistic energy- a beef steak for dinner was guaranteed. He took one great pull at the butt, let go of the aged stick, and smothered it under the soles of his shoes until its smoldering tip died out and its last breath of smoke evanesced in the air.
Naben muttered something and after some moments’ lapse the yellow vehicle whisked our man away from our sight.
We next encounter Naben inside the cab, lost in a reverie. After having curtly replied to the driver’s queries and having provided no encouragement whatsoever for further conversation, the driver thought it wise (and safe), to keep shut. He was quick to notice that this particular passenger was allergic to the usual conversational hypocrisy of feigned interest which two impolitely polite strangers on their first meeting are often wont to display. Besides, this part of Turmank wasn’t particularly reputed for its friendliness after sundown.
The driver though not audibly connecting with Naben was nonetheless ocularly scanning the latter on the rearview mirror and this is what he saw :
The passanger lay relaxed, head reclined, eyes shut and with a faint strange smile on his cheerless face. Because our passenger maintained his deathly silence for almost half an hour and because his head wasn’t seen getting drunk in sleepy nods, let us assume that he had been thinking a great deal.
He could have been thinking of his hometown where, years ago, he had taken some thrifty decisions which propelled him to his present prosperous position, though at a great cost.
He should have been thinking of the driver and his plebeian way of life because it was his habit to look down on everybody who failed to match up with him ( or who he thought he was).
He must have been thinking of himself because he was the most important person in his life. Like everybody else.
The passanger might have been thinking of any one of the three, all of the three or none among the three. Honestly, it does not even matter. Enough with the trifles. Let us proceed.
The destination Naben muttered to the driver which had escaped our ears now meets our eyes as we see him getting down at a railway station. Having paid his fare and thanked the driver without meaning it, he made his way towards Platform No. 8. Sparsely populated, the dreary prospect of the platform, with its grimy floor, its broken light bulbs and the monotonous sound of a distant train filled Naben with a sense of utter lack of fulfilment, like one feels during a half-hearted yawn. At last, he deigned to sit on the edge of a rusty bench, careful not to soil his trousers as there was nothing else to do and he still had fifteen minutes come the next train…
Immaculate in his outfit, his incongruity with the dusty old aspect of the platform earned him an absurd air. And probably, so he did seem in the eyes of six noisy people who presently enter the scene:
A gaunt looking man with vicious eyes and a tangled mass of hair, his eternally jittery wife with a miserable infant in her arms (who could easily have been mistaken for a bundle of rags had it not been crying), a babel of bickering twins and an aged woman, presumably the man’s mother, who looked as if outrightly extracted from the antique shop erstwhile mentioned.
Out of bare courtesy, Naben offered his seat on which the ancient female landed with a thud only to be pestered by the two brats who entered into a dismal conflict to get a seat beside her.
The unbearable din created by the two kids, the chronic coughing of old woman and their repulsive litter of bags and baggages produced an inhospitable environment for our friend belonging to the refined circles that he stood apart at an arm’s length. Naben kept his briefcase on the platform, crossed his arms and gazing across the railway line stood like a setter on scent, resolutely making up his mind not to board the next train. He decided to sacrifice a few more minutes rather than having to face the ordeal of sharing a journey with such specimen of humanity. Our man reflected on how low their manners were to his and consequently how high his were to theirs; his strange smile widened.
The children were as noisy as their grandmother. However, what exasperated Naben the most was the blustering father who would bawl at anything and everything. He behaved as poorly as he was dressed, was slightly inebriated too and blinked his eyes in an unrhythmic succession, thanks to the alcohol.
The train finally arrived, halting with a great screech as if bent on drowning down the loud poverty of the noisy pack. The uncouth excitement of the party reached its climax. At this moment, it was the man’s response that immediately caught Naben’s attention. The man bellowed at his children to make them carry the luggage almost their own size. He jostled his wife, with the infant still in her arms, handing her a rather heavy rolled mattress, bundled up by a thick rope. Doing so, he yelled at her face to hurry. With nothing left for him to carry, he eased up a little.
‘How selfish’ Naben thought scornfully.
However, he quickly realized he had misjudged the situation by what followed next: The man tightened his girdle, lifted up the old woman from the bench, carried his mother on his back and trotting forward in unsteady steps, got inside the train.
The miserable sight of a drunken poor man in tattered clothes with his old mother on his back, his entire frame shaking under the weight of love he bore with all the strength he could muster and which he did with a lightness of heart grabbed Naben by the throat and choked somebody inside him who he didn’t even know existed.
Nobody clearly knows what happened to Naben next but surely the next train did not carry him away.
However, three sights worth noticing might as well be mentioned :
An abandoned briefcase on Platform No 8. A taxi speeding towards Turmank late that night. And a broken son climbing the crumbling steps of an old age home after twelve long years, with a worn-out face which no longer boasted of its strange curved smile.
About the Author : Caleb calls himself a twenty something interested in writing and music. A Day in the Life of Tolek Naben is a part of his upcoming collection of short stories titled Turmank Tales.