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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

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      Sunday, August 19, 2012

      Sunset Superman

        I looked in the mirror and realized that many years have passed and I felt more alone with each passing year. What was once whole now lies forgotten in the corner left to waste away till the end. A broken shell is all that remains behind yet the fires burn bright inside. I wheel myself to the window which faces the road. The curtains are drawn, yet the morning sun was already burning away the morning mist as it gently found its way into the room. 

        Drawing the window curtains aside, I saw that the city life was in full swing as the yellow school bus was picking up kids. A city bus wound its way through the streets and finally to the intersection near my house. The people who were in a rush to reach office hurriedly boarded the bus. The streets quickly became empty as it rounded the corner and disappeared into the horizon. The few people who were seen on the sidewalks were rushing through the open spaces either trying to reach home after disembarking from the city bus or trying to clean out their driveway of the debris thrown by the wild winds before the sun reaches its peak and they turned into crispy taters.

        It was one of the hottest summers which we had in the decade. Even from inside the cold room, one could feel the hot blistering winds whenever it used to barrel down towards the plains from the western desert as it find its way through the trees and shakes them till all the leaves on them had fallen down. The strong hot winds used to shake the house so hard that it felt like it might crumble any moment. Building a little courage, I managed to open up the window to see what’s happening outside. Looking out the open window, I saw a clear summer morning and a sun just peeking over the horizon. The dust and debris covered city casting magical brown light upon the land. The street and homes wore a deserted look even though it was very early in the morning.

        It seemed like one of those never ending journeys. The road called life had been long and hard. Looking back over my shoulder, all I can see is a dusty winding road broken every so often by an oasis. The hard journey has taken its toll on me as I tried to carry the burden which seems too much for it. I felt like I was another one of those mules which people sometimes run across in some nameless town whose inner fire had died while navigating this parched land. I was waiting for the one last gasp of breath before toppling off to the other side.

        A knock in the door brought me out of the thoughts I was in. Yellow light spilled into the room as John peeked in to tell me that the breakfast was ready and asked if I was coming down or not. I told him to head on downstairs and I’ll be there in a bit.

        Looking out the window one last time before I left, I saw the town had become quite deserted. After what seemed like a lifetime, I finally made my way downstairs. The constant chatter of others at the table could not keep my mind from feeling a little uneasiness I was feeling.

        I am an old man now and many countless years have flown by, yet the bygone age was so different from the one I lived now. Time and age which might have dulled my memory yet I remember some events like it was yesterday. Some events remain buried for what seems like many long years, yet flood the mind when something happens to release the memory. While I sit here in the bench under a maple tree of the old people’s home, I will write down my story of how certain events changed the course of my life.

        It was a cold winter night many years back. The winter chill seemed to seep into my bones no matter how hard I tried to keep warm. I guess it had been snowing since early morning. It had started with a light flurry and by the night rolled around, it had turned into a medium strength blizzard. The icy cold winds from the north were already rocking the city and hardly anyone was venturing outside. The streets and the shops wore a deserted look and most of the shops were closed even though shops usually stayed open late every evening to cater to the after office rush.

        I was pacing back and forth across the window waiting for the taxi to pick me up at six o’ clock pick up. The taxi finally arrived though very late, yet I was glad to see it arrive and didn’t bother to chew the driver out for making me wait in the freezing weather as it was my own choice to stand there in the first place. I checked my bags once more before I zipped them a final time and told the driver to put them in the trunk of the car. The remaining stuff was either in the taxis trunk or inside the moving truck. The storm damaged house was beyond repair and I had finally decided to sell it off to some house development company awhile back. Age had taken its toll and now I cannot even lift light bags without some effort.

        It took some time to double check the house to make sure that everything was shut off, windows closed, utility companies informed and the post office to route the mail to our new house. Locking the door for the final time seemed the hardest thing to do yet it felt like an old chapter had been closed. It was tiring and stressful, yet I felt relieved leaving this old house and its surroundings had just too many memories. The moving truck finally left for the new destination and our car followed not very far behind.

        Closing the door behind me, I walked briskly towards the waiting cab. Looking back, the warm yellow glow of the house beckoned me to come back yet I felt the urge to go and I turned around before I changed my mind. The constant chatter of the taxi driver kept my mind away from the sadness of leaving the house in which generation upon generations of my family had lived. The man who introduced himself as Tim talked just about everything under the sun and I really seemed to enjoy the monologue which consisted of how awful the teams were, the food joints, who bashed whom last night at the bar and how his wife always gave him an ear full for coming home late. Pretty soon, the suffocating cluttered feeling turned into a comfortable one and I must have dozed off and woke up much later at my new destination.

        It’s the last house on the street and a huge park is located next to it. It is one of those old fashioned neighborhoods and the house is as old as the town itself. A cobblestone road runs next to the waterway which runs through the middle of the town and it winds its way in front of the house and finally off into the distance. The town always seemed to wear a deserted except for the drop outs from the high school that used to frequent the Pops Soda and Chips store. They always seemed to be in the midst of a pool game or a game of cards and at other times they used to race down the main street in their souped up cars every so often before quieting down once more. The trucks that used to stop at the gas and food joint broke the monotony of the town even though it was for a short while. The blaring horns and revving of the engines could be heard a mile away and people eagerly waited for them to stop at the town with food, gossip and the extra income it brought the town. Gossip was exchanged before they began their journey once more.

        As always, I used to run up to the truck stops to see if there was any new job for me. The sweaty, tired drivers and their mechanical beasts always made me nervous yet I marveled at their beauty. The drivers seemed to know no fear and always stood their ground no matter how big and unruly the town crowd. I had moved to a strange new town and I really missed my family.  Each week I used to return back to my room head hung low, feet dragging and empty handed. Money was hard enough to earn and I really hated the missed opportunities. Despair grew in me with each passing week and I felt alone even in a crowded room.

        It was a Wednesday when the sound of a long haul truck woke me up. Pretty soon the truck wound its way under my window. A few words were exchanged with the mechanics in the garage and Jack got off and headed off to the saloon. The truck was separated from the trailer and led off to the garage. It wasn’t the regular company truck which had a warehouse here and everyone wondered what drew him to this town where these guys were a rare find. I was eager to know more as anything new would help in driving away the maddening dullness of this town. As soon as I entered the saloon, the smell of the food made my mouth water and the stomach grumbled demanding its share. A smoked filled dimly lit room greeted me and I could hardly see the crowd inside.

        After looking around a bit, I spotted Jim in one corner waiting for his food and drinks. His hat was lying on the table in front of him as he wiped the sweat of his forehead. The deep tan and wrinkled skin on a large built man seemed to tell its own tale it seemed. He seemed to be in deep thought and I hesitated to speak as I neared him. Gathering my wits, I said “Good to see ya here my friend. So, how goes things in your end of the woods?””Alls well as can be” He said. Looking past him, I saw that he had come alone. All I could see was a dense forest cover across the street and the street was empty except for him and his truck. After a moment of silence, I asked “What brings you to these parts my friend?” I asked as an afterthought. I told him that I was pleasantly surprised to see him as I had not seen anyone of my friends for many long years I ordered my drink, plate full of the daily special and started my hunt for a seat near Jim to plant my weary body on. 

        I had known Jim since childhood, yet he was always the type that kept to himself and mingled only when he wanted to. Today was one of those days which reminded me of my childhood days when the fireside talks and camping trips used to last from dawn to dusk. Time flew by as the food was finished, drinks ordered and drained to the last drops and the food joint emptied out till there was no soul in sight yet it seemed like we had not caught up on our lost lives. 

        I had come here to forget my past and I had never expected anyone I knew to wander down this long forgotten road which had drawn me like a street light draws a moth many long years back. Time had moved on as I lost myself in one nameless town after another until I finally found some peace here from my troubled past. It seemed like everyone had forgotten about me as I grew up and went my own way, made new friends along the way. Coffee was offered and gladly taken as we exchanged stories of our travels around the country once more. Curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask how I was located even though I tried my best not to leave any trace behind. I was told how I was asked about in every bar, highway stops and any other places that served travelers. He met a dead end at every place until a few people mentioned that they had seen me around these parts. Like a blood hound, he finally tracked me down to this place and it unlocked those memories that I thought I would never experience again.

        The old clock hanging on the wall down in the hallway boomed as the hand struck ten. It startled me out of the deep thought I was in and I only realized this by the fact that the juke box had stopped playing the same old songs I had heard for the last many years and the lights were shut off except for the place where we were sitting. Looking out the window, I saw that there it was partly cloudy sky; a full moon seemed to look down at the land as if looking for something. The star lit night made me wonder what my future holds.

        “You still awake?” I asked. Shaking his head he replied in the positive. I walked around the place to stretch my legs and find my way back home before I fell asleep here. Looking out the door, I saw that the street lights showed empty streets and the town seemed deserted except for the few drunks who weaved through the roads and the stray dogs that were busy chasing a few cars that passed through the town main intersection. The sounds of long haul trucks were heard humming by one the interstate highway and the sound of a blaring truck horn as it went flying past like a tornado woke me out of the half sleep daze I was in. The moon was rising higher and higher and sleep was overtaking me. Looking over my shoulder and saying that I’ll him in the morning, I somehow managed to make it to my house and I fell asleep as soon as I hit the sack.

        It had been a long night and it felt good to be awake. Looking out, I see that it is going to be another cloudy day. As I got out of the bed I ran my hand across my face and thought of getting a shave and a bath before heading down to a hearty breakfast for both of us. I needed some food to fill my empty stomach but that will have to wait a bit. As the day progressed further, I noticed that the sky cleared up a bit. In this lonely stretch of land, in some areas nothing could be seen for miles upon miles except for an endless stretch of trees. The town activity was in full swing and I could hear the sounds of people in the street as they went about their daily activities. The sun still seemed to glare at the land through the clouds and at other times through the tops of houses as it made its journey through the sky.

        It was hard to imagine that it had only been one week. I only realized it when Jim’s truck rolled out of the garage after a complete overhaul and a paint job. The beast looked mighty fine and it hummed like a brand new truck. After fixing up the trailer Jim finally asked me on a lazy afternoon if I could lend a hand in his trucking business instead of doing odd jobs in the small nameless town. After spending a little more time in the town, Jim told me that he had to go since he had realized during the stay at my place that he had to wrap up some pending business. I asked him several time what he meant, yet he kept mum.

        One fine day, he took his leave and I was saddened by his departure. Before he left, he give me a set of keys and told me to open the garage if I am willing to take up his offer. Life slowly yet surely resumed it normal course as I went to my regular routine to see what bounty the day would bring in and heading down to the town to spend my earnings to buy provisions. Life seemed a little emptier, yet it was expected and I got used to the solitary life once more.

        Time rolled on as months upon months flew by. Summer turned into autumn and the seasons repeated themselves till I lost track of time. I had all but forgotten about Jims visit and the keys he had given until one lazy spring afternoon when I was cleaning out the attic. As I emptied the cardboard box out onto the floor, I saw a sight which not only startled me but took my breath away. After a few moments, my hands reached out and picked up the key chain which contained half a dozen keys.

        Running down the stairs and almost breaking my legs a few times, I finally reached the abandoned garage located next to the old house. It took a few tries to find the right key to open the lock and it took some effort to open the rusty lock. The door creaked open as a startled bird flew out making me gasp out loud and fall backwards. Looking inside, I saw cobwebs everywhere and a thick layer of dust covering everything. I started to cough as a thin layer of dust started to float as I started to walk across the floor. In the distance I saw a dust covered truck coupled to a trailer. Walking across the garage, I saw tools neatly stacked on the tool shelves, the spare parts stacked on the shelf next to it and the floor bare. Everything was covered with a thick layer of dust. The garage was dimly lit except for a few pools of sunlight that seemed to flicker every so often. I eventually found my way to the truck. Wiping the dust off the windshield so that I could peek inside, I saw a folded sheet of paper stuck under the wiper. Opening the paper, I saw that it was a note from Jim addressed to me.

        “Dear Tom,


                  If you ever read this note, then it means that you have changed your mind and decided to chart out a new destiny for yourself. It must have been a hard decision as it takes awhile for a person at times to make course correction in their life when they are set in their ways. I am glad that you have decided to start a new life and accept the responsibilities that it offers. New adventures await you at every turn and new sights to see at every bend. I really don’t know where I’ll be or even if I’ll be around when you finally decide to head out to reclaim you destiny. Yet, I’ll be back to meet you one last time when the time is right.

        I had found this abandoned truck and the trailer it in a rundown condition in company warehouse. I got thinking that I’ll never need it and yet at the same time not wanting the company to sell it off either. It took many long years to get it in a brand new condition. I’ve fixed it up for you and here the keys are hanging in the ignition. The coffee pot should still be in the corner, though it might be a tad dusty by now. So go ahead and grab some coffee before hitting the road.

        With best regards,


        I sat there a little stunned and it took me a few moments to come back to my senses. I looked around wondering if Jim was still here and all I saw was an empty room. The emptiness weighed down on me and it made me realize how much I missed the guy. I had no idea where I’ll find him or where to look for him. It took me a moment to find a bucket, a sponge, a water tap, some soap, water pipe and a towel. It took awhile to clear the line of the rusty brackish water. Finally the truck was clean and shining like new.

        Time had stood still in this place and I only realized that it had flown by the fact that it was totally dark outside the only window and cold was creeping back into the room. Somewhere out in the town, a watchman blew his whistle and the town clock down in the city hall boomed and the hand had struck twelve. It startled me out of the deep thought I was in. The tobacco in my own pipe had burned to ashes and I got up to leave as it was late.

        As I walked off, I turned around a final time to look back and wondered what other mysteries this place held. My mind was in turmoil as it seemed to be stuck in a loop. The note made me think of the bygone era of what I had lost and what I had found. The journey back to my home seemed longer than the start. The empty dark streets devoid of all life sent shivers down my spine.  My house was dark and only the hallway light was on. I let myself in and went straight to the kitchen to see if there were any leftover. A bowl of rice and some beans was all that I could find and I finished both off in no time. Dishes were cleaned and put away. The sun would be up soon and it was time to hit the bed. I found my way to a room upstairs and took a long shower to wash off all the dust off me. The weariness fell off me and I felt refreshed. I sat awhile by the window and smoked the remaining part of my cigar. The sounds of long haul trucks were heard somewhere in the distance. Sleep was overtaking me and I fell asleep as soon as I hit the sack.

        It had been a long night filled with dreams of trucks and strange new towns and it felt good to be awake. Looking out, I see that it is going to be a cloudy day. As I got out of the bed I ran my hand across my face and thought of getting a shave and a bath before heading down to a hearty breakfast before planning out the rest of the day. I needed some food to fill my empty stomach but that will have to wait a bit till I got ready. As the day progressed further, I noticed that the sky cleared up a bit. In this lonely stretch of land, in some areas nothing could be seen for miles upon miles except for an endless stretch of trees. The town activity was in full swing and I could hear the sounds of people in the street as they went about their daily activities. The sun still seemed to glare at the land through the clouds and at other times through the tops of houses as it made its journey through the sky. As the day progressed, I realized that deep inside I really wanted to be behind the steering wheel of a semi once more. My body was tired yet my mind wanted to go on the road and reclaim my past.

        Time flew by and days turned into weeks as my rig ate miles upon miles of road. Yet, I never found Jim in any of my travels. It seemed like he had disappeared from the face of the earth. One day, the dispatcher called to tell me that it was rumored that Jim who was always fascinated by foreign lands had joined the shipping trade as it was more lucrative and no one ever saw him again. The heart grew heavy, yet I knew that I had let go of the past and move on with my life. Promising never to forget the helping hand he had offered, I started up the rig and headed around the bend.

        After travelling what seemed many long hours, my weary legs seemed to give out yet I drove on as the distant town lights grew brighter with each passing mile. The wind ruffled my hair and I pressed the horn to let out a long blaring sound as I passed by dozens of cars. The early morning sun sped its way through the horizon as I followed its path through one town after another. Looking over to the side, I saw long haul trucks humming along the highway and blaring their horns as they passed me by. Time flew by as day turned into night and once more in day.

        The jingle of an ice cream truck me woke me out of the daze I was in. The house, truck and everything else is all gone yet the nonstop writing had filled up the notepad. I learned a lot in my journey through the wilderness and the towns. It made me strong on the inside while helping me make quick decisions on the move.  The emptiness never got filled even with the passage of time though at times I felt like there was no one else to walk besides me and the one who lent his support was gone. Those days will never come back and the only things which I can hold on to are the memories which had kept me going till now.

        Looking upwards, I saw that it was late afternoon already and the activity in the park just down the street was in full swing. Alot of kids always used to come to the park to play baseball, football or any other sports activity which caught their fancy. Sometimes families used to come to the park for a picnic. You could always tell when a picnic was going on because the delicious food smells used to come our way at times. Usually I used to go up to the park and join a game in progress if they were willing to let an old man like me in or if they were short of a few guys. If I was feeling too lazy, I used to just sit on the sidelines and watch. Sometimes, if a few of my buddies from the old age house were there, I enjoyed my trip to the park even more. My buddies and I either used to just sit under the shade of the huge Maple tree, munch on snacks and just talk, play our own game or join a game in progress.

        Looking down the street, I saw the city life was in full swing. A city bus slowly wound its way through the streets once more and turned left at the intersection to head off to the town’s main center. People were in a rush to reach their destination and they either hurriedly chased the bus like mad dogs or waited for the next one. I really didn’t know how long I was lost in thought, yet a feeling of dread started to bother me. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t pin point the reason why nor shake this feeling off. There was something out there and I could feel it in my bones. Not eaten anything since the early lunch, I wanted to stop off at the deli located just down the street before going back to my room. As I got off the bench and into the black top road, I saw a sight which startled me to the extent that I gasped out loud. It seemed like a ghost from my past had returned to haunt me once more. Jim was driving his truck leisurely towards me. As the truck pulled up, I heard it purring and humming just like a brand new machine. “I’ve been waiting just around the bend for you and would you like to go for another ride.” was all he said as he handed me some coffee from the thermos and a sandwich he had in the cabin. It seemed like he hadn’t aged a single day since the last time we parted many decades ago.

        I knew what he wanted and I got up effortlessly without a word. Getting into the cab, we went silent for awhile. My breath quickened and heart started to beat faster as I realized that deep inside I really wanted to go once more on a journey that never ends. The truck ate up the miles as quickly as the swift winds above as we tried to make up lost time. The radio blared out same old songs as the radio jockey moaned and groaned about the same old stuff as the night before. Looking over to the side, I saw long haul trucks humming along the highway and blaring their horns as they passed us by. Time flew by as day turned into night and once more in day. The road was my new home and I felt alive as I searched for new adventures every day.

        Time flew by as the afternoon turned into evening and finally into night. John went through all the room to make sure all were asleep in their rooms. All were asleep except for one room which was empty. Yet, no matter how hard he tried he could not find Tom anywhere and no one remembered where he had gone off to. Giving up his search, he turned off the room light, closed the door and went to his room hoping that Tom will be back by morning. A siren was heard way down yonder and he guessed someone needed help.

        A new day dawned as the sun slowly made its way across the sky. The city life was in full swing as the yellow school bus was picking up kids and people were in a rush to reach office. Numerous city buses wound their way through the city roads. The few people seen on the sidewalks were rushing through the open spaces either trying to reach home after disembarking from one of the city buses or trying to find out where the paper boy had thrown the newspaper.  On a park bench in front of the old people home, a crowd had gathered in front of a bench where an old man who was sprawled like he was fast asleep. A lone policeman making his rounds notices the large gathering and makes way through the crowd to see what the matter was. Something looks odd about the posture, yet he tries to wake up the sleeping man up so that the he can shoo him away. An old weather beaten diary falls out of the old man hand as he rolls off the bench and onto the grass. The paramedics soon arrive and declare that this old man died many hours back, possibly in the late afternoon. As the paramedics wheel away the body into the ambulance, the detective who handled these cases flipped through the diary as he walked up to the retirement home for old folks to see if they could either identify the body, offer a few clues or maybe shed some light on who Tom was.


          Friday, August 17, 2012

          Vegetable Pakora by Manjula, Indian Vegetarian Cooking