Though I called Ashwa a friend, I had never seen his face, never needed to. We had met at Bedardi Bar and usually hung out on slow nights, drinking in silence. Our relationship had always been more about silence than conversation.
‘You know how precious death is?’
He asked, looking at the gyrating crowd around us. ‘It’s a nectar, a blessing, to die. To give up life, its memories, the baggage. To start afresh. You wouldn’t understand, Anantya. You with your moment’s breath, so full of life, wouldn’t understand. Death begets life. The fear of death clutches at your heart’ – he made a claw of his hand – ‘so that blood flows faster, pumping through your veins, making you run, feel the wind in your hair … without it, there’s nothing, nothing. There’s nothing but a long, long lonely stretch of road. There’s nothing but emptiness—’
The kravyad couple above us screeched, burst uncontrollable fireballs at each other.
‘Dude, don’t talk in freakish metaphors,’ I answered.
‘What the hell happened to Guru B? How did you know—’
Ssss. Maaki had picked up a fire extinguisher and sprayed the kravyads.
‘It doesn’t matter!’ said Ashwa, lifting his head to glare at me. ‘We should all go! Die!’
‘Who?’ I asked.
‘All of us. All. Our souls they’re so threadbare, so torn, so tired. How can freedom from life be wrong for us? I don’t want to wait anymore for death to choose me. is my dharma, what’s my duty? Can I never choose right? How can something that feels so right, so natural, so much like breathing again, like freedom, cause this pain?’
He clutched my arm.
His hands were stiff with sores of leprosy. Something crawled above us over the ceiling. ‘It was a mistake. Leave this, Anantya. Go live your life. Forget Guru B or I ever were.’
‘I would never—’
‘A mistake you need to forget. Before death will make a fool of you as it did of me.’
‘Why so grumpy!’ cried a voice, interrupting us. It was the same kravyad who had been fighting a little earlier, her face flushed with the fiery drinks she’d had, clinging with her vacuum paws on the ceiling, upside down. She scooped and stretched and pulled Ashwa’s cowl.
‘Let’s … ugh!’
‘Devil!’ she squeaked, falling onto the floor and scuttling away, screaming. I was busy staring at the man before me. Or, rather, at the ancient immortal before me.
I had seen Ashwa’s face for the first time.
It had once been a beautiful, regal face, now however, it was marred, by sores and ulcers and remnants of a leprosy attack. His lips were full of sore wounds. No wonder I had never seen him eat anything at Bedardi. As if conscious of my stare, he scratched on a bandage on his forehead, which was wet with blood. A maggot fell out from behind the dressing and onto his nose. He flicked it away.
‘Kali’s shit! You …’ I stopped, waiting for a word to come to me, ‘you?’
‘Am unnatural, yes,’ he answered, hurriedly putting his cape back on the head. He got up, to his seven feet of height. ‘Which is why death is right. We are all evil creations who shouldn’t exist.’ He rushed towards the back entrance.