I was sitting on a table top rock, the size of a fool’s ego, when from my distant right came sounds of crunching of dry leaves. While I was making up my mind to lean back and discover the source of the noise, it had grown from being just enough to tease my sensations, to a level where one could not be curious about that anymore. Curiosity is inspired by things that evade you. This was something that happened to approach me. Therefore, getting louder and louder every time. So now that I had eventually stopped whatever I was doing just to take a look at the owner of the approaching footsteps, it was not out of curiosity but more due to my lack of ability to concentrate, now that I knew that I was not alone anymore.
I hate to be wrong. In a sense, I was still lonely. I would be all alone even in a Coldplay concert. What I meant was that now I had the unexpected company of someone and not some thing, as I had wrongly conjectured previously. Things in wildernesses like this is something to be bothered about. Curiosity or the lack of it which tends to carelessness has turned many a pass times into last times. Not that I was glad or anything to look at the man coming towards me either. He was not welcome in my solitude. Just as I was coming to a conclusion as to whether it would be too rude to start writing again by turning my back on him, he reached where I was sitting. But something irresistible about him kept me from doing so.
He finally put a stop to all my thought processes at that very moment by beginning the conversation. I decided to leave the part where I had to judge him for later.
“Do you have some water?”
“Not at all?”
“No, not at all.”
The water that I had was for me. I had got nothing for him. At all.
“That’s sad.” He took a pause as he sat beside me on the rock. This really meant that I would be devoid of the company of solitude for a while now. “I am feeling very thirsty.”
“Have you lost your way?”
He looked amused when I asked this question. I was on the verge of putting my foot down now. It was becoming increasingly difficult to not judge him anymore.
“No!” He exclaimed as if the answer was as obvious as it would have been if he were Google. “Why would you ask that?”
“For one thing, this is not a very pleasant place for merry making. And if you are not here by mistake, then whatever purpose you are to fulfill here requires you to carry enough water with you.”
As polite as I was, he did seem to be taken aback by my tone.
“I had, actually. But both bottles are empty now.” He mumbled in his stance of confusion.
“Sure, you had.” My turn to resound the obvious. “That’s why I explicitly said- enough water.”
He got up at this. I had successfully offended one more person. I was done for the day.
“Sorry! I did not realise that I was disturbing you. I would rather get going.”
He gathered his things in a hurry and had gone only a few steps ahead on his chosen path when I half-yelled, “I wouldn’t go there if I were you.”
“What?” He shouted back.
“You are headed towards the wrong direction. You should have taken the other turn.”
I went up to him as it was not advisable to shout like this with bears around. I don’t want them to come to me asking for water.
“If you would have taken the right, which you still can as you haven’t yet come a long way, you would have found a lake to drink water from. So, I reckon you should go the other way.”
“Thank you for telling me this. But there is no right turn back there.”
“You might not have paid attention. Happens, given the bushes are so thick. A path indeed goes towards the right. Only one has to look carefully. Given that you are not coming from the lake itself.”
The last alternative seemed quite improbable as the man was short on water. Anyone coming from the lake is anything but that.
“I am quite sure that there couldn’t have been a right turn.”
“How can you be so sure? I know this place. I have been here many a times. And I know that lake very well. If you are indeed feeling thirsty, you need to go back.”
“I would have if there would have been a right turn or a lake as you were saying. But there is none. Otherwise I wouldn’t have taken this left.”
“Do you mean to imply that I am lying?”
“Not in the least. But you can certainly be mistaken.”
“So can you. What makes you so sure?”
“The fact that I am here. The path that is on the left.”
I had definitely offended him pretty badly with my behaviour. In an attempt to get back at me, he had stopped making sense. How does his being here kills the existence of all other possibilities? Utter nonsense. But I chose not to extend the argument and I let him win.
I tried to be nicer. “I think I may have some water left. Let me see.”
I went back to where I was sitting. I lifted my bag and put it over the rock. The bottle was three-quarters full. He would know that I was lying. But how does it matter? Not that we were going to meet again. I took it out and went back.
“But you said you did not have any water left.”
“I had, as a matter of fact.”
“No! You didn’t. And you don’t.”
“What do you mean? The bottle is in front of you. There is water in it. You can very well see that.”
“No! I can’t.”
I had had enough.
“Okay look! You are thirsty. Can you just forget what I said before and leave aside your ego, as I have left mine? And drink?”
“I would have. But there is no water left in the bottle.”
“So what is this that we are looking at inside the bottle?”
“Anything but water.”
“Why not water?”
“Because I had believed that you really were out of water and that had killed the possibility then and there that you could have some of it left.”
Killed the possibility. Killed the possibility. The exact lines. Oh my God!! Did I know him? Was he? If he was then I probably knew how to deal with him. But how could he be?
“Huh! You are right. I actually got the bottle filled just now. So this indeed is water.”
“Anything but water.” He repeated. Like a robot.
He indeed was. Plan B.
“So I will go back and fill this with water. Meanwhile, please do not go anywhere. You can sit on the rock. I will be back in a minute.”
He nodded in agreement.
I sounded earnest. And he looked confused by my sudden change of attitude towards him. I had to compose myself.
I rushed back past the place where I was sitting lest he notices my excitement and grows skeptical. I could hardly stay still. I had to sit somewhere and I chose to sit under a tree away from his sight. What had just happened?
Irwin. But how can he be Irwin? He was a character I had created. How can he just crawl out of my pages? He can’t. He surely cannot. Am I going crazy? Am I imagining things? He was there all the while contemplating reality while I was unknowingly writing about him. All those times I thought I was writing fiction, I was not. I was penning down a reality I did not even imagine could exist. And I thought I was being so ingenious creating such a character. I had failed to realise that nature and its possibilities entails all that we could ever imagine and more. Although, I needed to ask him just to be sure but I would not. For I knew him all too well for what he was. And if I knew him well enough, he would not wait for long. As he was made to venture forward. Irwin, the explorer. I had to go back to meet the protagonist of my story.
I had to drink half of what was in the bottle to come back to my senses. I got up from under the tree and made my way back to the rock.
“Here! Take it.”
He smiled and took the bottle from my hand. He shamelessly emptied the bottle. There was a look of satisfaction on his face. He was now ready to continue for what he was made. I was feeling like a mother.
“Thanks! I would be moving now.”
“Okay. Could you just answer one question though?”
“What are you doing here? In this forest? I haven’t seen you here before.”
“I am not from here. I travel. This forest just got in my way. Now I need to trudge through it. Thanks for the water.”
He said as he was getting ready to leave.
“One more thing. Why do you travel? I mean obviously because you like it. But wh … why?”
“What’s there not to like about it? I have made myself a fortune and now I am spending it in getting to know the real thing instead of just reading others’ accounts of their journeys. Don’t you like to travel?”
“Yes. Sure, I do. But I don’t like to spend. I am more of a writer. I was actually in the middle of a story when you came asking for water. That bugged me. Sorry for that.”
“Oh! No issues.” He brushed off the apology with a single hand movement. And he came around to embrace me. In this moment, I felt like I had seen all that life had to offer. “You already over compensated for that. You don’t know how thirsty I was.”
“Is your name Irwin?”
“No! It’s Max. What makes you think I am Irwin?”
“Oh! It’s nothing. I just made up the name to know yours.” A tiny disappointment. Max. Not Irwin.
“Yeah! You would make things up, wouldn’t you? Writers do that. Fiction and all.” He teased me. I did not answer him back because I knew better. “What do they call you?”
“Nice meeting you, Arijit.” He held out his hand and we did the formality. Only I shook the hand more firmly than I should have. He turned around and left.
“Nice meeting you too! Perhaps we will meet again.” I shouted back. I tried to test him again before it was too late. Just to be sure.
“No, we won’t!” He tried to sound like he was kidding as he shouted back. But for all I knew about him, he meant it. We would not meet ever again. Yet in this moment, I could not have known anyone more than I knew him. Even he did not know himself better. He said I make things up and he was on pursuit of reality. How very wrong he was. How very wrong we all were. Are. Even though he contemplated things by reaching out to them, yet he was in a world of his own where no other possibility could exist than the one he was contemplating or the one he believed to be true. His assumed absolute reality was fiction in the larger sense. And what he adjudged to be fiction, could not have been more real. For a writer could reach such places with his pen, where even the all overlooking reality couldn’t reach. In this very moment I understood what Dumbledore had to say to Harry. Just because it was in my head, does not mean it was unreal.
Irwin. Not Max.