Who was he?

Every evening, I would get to see him. He sat beneath the old tree by the entrance of our college, staring vacantly at the ground, mumbling to himself.
His features were rugged, his clothes were torn, and his body was tanned, more perhaps from long years of adversity than from the sun. Our shrill voices would interrupt his reverie and he would look up. His eyes were blood shot and his teeth were stained with nicotine. He would stare at us until we passed him. I would look at him from the corner of my eyes and feel a strange repulsion. He hadn’t bathed for years and the stench of his body odour was repulsive. At times, I glanced at him. He would stare back, his eyes and smile mocking the repulsion on my face. He seemed to mock my inability to confront the horrors of his world, even from a distance. I was almost scared of him…scared of the facet of life I saw through him.
Occasionally, we saw him pick up his possessions and walk away. There wasn’t much- only a sheet he spread out on the ground to sleep on, and a bag that held a few clothes. The subsequent morning, I would look out for him, almost expecting the place to be vacant. But he always returned. In the mornings, we would find him fast asleep on the ground. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell if he was asleep or unconscious.
At times, we saw him at his meal. The meal was in all probability a discard he had picked from some rubbish heap. But it didn’t matter to him. He ate hungrily, licking the bones.
There was always a bottle of alcohol by his side. Occasionally, we saw him drinking from it. Even as he slept, the bottle was by his side. Perhaps it was the alcohol that numbed his senses enough to give him the courage to confront a destiny that had thrust him into the periphery of life. A life denied of dignity.
Meanwhile, summer gave way to monsoons. I wondered where he slept. In the mornings, I continued to see him at his usual abode, fast asleep. The rains picked up. It was impossible to sleep beneath the tree. The man disappeared. Days passed and there were no signs of him. Gradually, he disappeared from my thoughts.
Several months later, I was taking an evening stroll, brooding at the storms and torments in my life. I felt lonely and empty as I gauged my circumstances. The sharp barking of dogs broke my reverie. I turned to see the man sitting by a makeshift hotel, holding a bowl of food. Three stray dogs sat by his side and they barked as he held up a piece of meat, testing their patience. He finally threw it and the dogs chased the food, and then ran back to him. He laughed aloud. He then put out most of his food for them to eat, hungrily devouring what remained of it. At the end of all that food and play, he packed up and walked off, taking quick steps. The dogs faithfully followed him, wagging their tails and smacking their lips as the man conversed with them. He paused, looked at one of the dogs, and screamed, ” They are fools. All of them. But with fools, one shouldn’t argue. One should just let them win. What do you say?” The dog wagged its tail. The man laughed aloud, repeating his words, and walked on.
A little ahead, he stopped and spread out his sheet. Perhaps this was his new abode. He lay down and the dogs lay down by his side. He put his arm around one of them and went to sleep.
It was then that the loneliness and poverty of my world stared back at me. In my mind, I heard his laughter- the laughter that had always mocked my life.


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