The sound of my hoarse breathing was plainly audible in the stark silence of the night. I glanced over my shoulders. The rapidly advancing silhouettes that I could see in the dim moonlight struck me for the time of the impending danger. My lungs were burning and my heart pounding like a gong. Yet my legs were running. I was running for my life-the Maoists were after me. I would not have given up running if I hadn't tripped over a stone. The swords that were reaching out for my jugular moments ago were now dangling over my eyes. Death was imminent, I knew. The satanic looks in their merciless eyes infected me with terror. With a fierce swing of the sword moments later, a man ripped my thumping heart open.
My body violently writhed in painful convulsions and I rolled off my bed, landing on the cold dusty floor. As I woke up with a start, I gasped for breath. A real nightmare it was! Another day was already on. After a wash, shave and quick dressing, I sprinted to the breakfast table. Mother had laid buttered bread and tea. As I dug in hurriedly, she asked, "Son, have you found a job yet?"
"No. I haven't got hold of anything worthwhile yet . I'm leaving now," I promptly answered as I munched the last bite. Before long, I was off on a mission.
The towering concrete expanses filtered the sunshine down onto the hard brick pavement already bustling with morning rush-hour activity, uncannily breathing out a palpable silence. I had a hunch that I would finally "get hold of something worthwhile" that day. My heart was already pounding in nervous excitement.
The office I went to was a big one, with glass doors. As I noiselessly walked down the spotless corridor, I looked back guilty at the footprints my unpolished shoes made. I looked around; everybody seemed absorbed in their own work. I stopped in front of an anteroom where many other jobseekers were quietly waiting. I too found a seat for myself. It was only after two long hours of patient waiting that my name was called out.
As I entered the room, I told myself, "Have a confident air. Don't fear. The job's yours, thumbs up!" In the well-furnished room, a middle-aged man seated on a high chair was playing with his paperweight. I greeted him with utmost politeness and also managed a wide grin. "Oh, hello young man! Please take a seat, Mr .," was his hearty greeting. "Abhisek. Abhisek Sharma, sir," I answered with all the confidence I could muster. Then started the interview. I boldly faced each question. We were just coming to an end when the telephone rang. Its clamour sounded rather eerie, bearing commiseration to an unhappy individual, whom it was destined to keep jobless. I could easily imagine an obese minister ordering my would-have-been (but not to be) boss. Really, as soon as the man held the receiver against his ears, his voice suddenly became submissive. He bore a clown-like countenance, showing his meek compliance. I knew what the answer would be, so I took off without looking back.
It was utterly frustrating. Frustration had haunted me since I graduated. And now, I was tired of routinely fluctuating between hope and despair. My eyes kept staring at the clouds for an elusive silver lining. I could see none.
Desperation goaded me to wander aimlessly. And as the hot noonday sun scorched the back of my neck it added insult to my torment. The street was now deafeningly noisy. Honking cars, barking people, roaring engines-everything, everybody seemed so disorderly. As I wandered down the street, a young boy caught my eye. Sunken eyes, unkempt hair, torn clothes and a stack of newspapers resting over his folded hands. The young street hawker was shouting aloud, "Daily Times! Daily Times!" He approached me and asked in a sore voice, "Oh brother! Do you want to buy one? It's just two rupee a piece." I tossed him a two rupee coin and got a newspaper; the boy walked down the street and soon faded from my sight.
I scanned the newspaper. Hackneyed news prevailed once again. Every news item failed to impress me. But there was a photo of a minister giving a speech that caught my eye. A nondescript caption followed it, but there was something special about that photograph which drew my eyes. I did not know what, but I could really feel the scene of the masses, the noise, cheers and clapping.
My mind ran down a vista of imagination as I, the Honourable Prime Minister, strode across the stage to the podium, the crowd burst into a rapturous applause. I was a special invitee to the program and was to deliver a speech. My eyes rolled across the hall. It was full of indistinguishable pink blobs of people's faces. "Am I dripping with nervous sweat?" I asked myself. No. So I started with trite civility. A deep cough. Then my voice crackled. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," I continued, "Nepal and her future rest on our shoulders. We are the flag bearers of our country, and today she desperately needs us. Our poverty stricken nation is plagued by anti-nationals, terrorists and money mongers." My voice reached a commanding intensity and the punch of my fist in the air added electricity. I could see the crowd completely mesmerised. "The threshold of the 21st century has been crossed, yet we are lagging a lot behind the other nations. Development has almost come to a standstill and there are a number of stumbling stones to be crossed. It is only possible through the collective effort of us all Nepali people, and for that, we must begin at the grassroots level," I went on, now in full flow. My inciting rhetoric continued for quite a while, leaving the crowd enthralled. The hall once again resounded with a thunderous applause.
A shrill police siren pierced the stillness of my vain reverie; my mind landed back on the real world. I could see a police jeep escorting a sleek black limousine carrying a minister. "Oh! What a life he has! Limo, money-black or white, who cares! If only I could be a minister," I sighed. The sky was reddening in the evening twilight and on the street was sparse activity. I was strolling around when I realised I had not had anything but breakfast. My starving belly dragged my weary legs home, where I stuffed myself with whatever I could find in the kitchen cupboard. After I was full, I succumbed to the day's fatigue. But I did not have a dream, nor did anyone or anything disturb my nap.
When I woke up with a long yawn, the frustrating day played back into my mind. Were my dreams at the horizon, near enough to be seen but too far to be reached? Would my well-preserved certificates decay before they finally came to any use? An emphatic "No" rang in my head, not if I go abroad. Or else, I will rot in this country and nobody will even smell it. "Yes, my future's somewhere else!" I thought as I scrambled into the warmth of my blanket. The clock lazily rang 11 and sleep crept in. Peaceful sleep till late morning was what I wished upon a star, and this, at least, was to finally come true. The next day was a Nepal bandh!