Strangers in the night

There was still a little under an hour to go to strike the time when Cinderella’s coach usually metamorphoses into a pumpkin, as I trudged back to my night shelter, dragging one foot after another. Most shops had shut, save for a fruit vendors who were wrapping up the last purchases of the day. Traffic, though light, was pretty much there in your face, and unlike last night, when I made my way home in pitch-black darkness because of a power cut, the road tonight was pretty well-lit.

It was then that I saw him, this man, walking opposite to the direction I was taking, followed by a stray dog, trying to shoo him away without much success. The dog, probably hoping for a morsel to come its way from the man, who obviously didn’t have anything to offer. As we crossed each other on the road, the dog halted for a split second, and noticing my heavy shoulder-strapped bag, decided to take its chances with yours truly.

Having been around dogs – both the two-legged variety and the four-legged traditional ones – one can make out the symptoms of hope and happiness. The tail wags, the I-am-the-cutest-dog-in-the-world expressionistic mask is worn to perfection, all in the hope of either being petted or being fed.

I stopped for a while, not sure what I was supposed to do. Say hello doggy? Should I sit down with it on the side-walk – two perfect strangers, sharing each other’s loneliness and singularity, watching the last few stragglers of humanity pass us by in a bid to reach home, unable to of course speak a common language.

Maybe, I did get the dog’s intentions wrong – maybe all it wanted was just that, a little bit of my time. My eyes searched up and down the road – there wasn’t a single other stray dog in sight, which lent credence that it wasn’t so much as food for the body, as much as it was food for the restless spirit.

No, we didn’t sit together, though it did follow me for a while before it gave up on me too and charted its own path, maybe with someone else – I never bothered to check.

But aren’t we humans also equally opportunistic – nothing bad about that but when someone else becomes a step in the ladder, then you wonder whether you were just an opportunity cost for that person.

A houseguest said something that left me quite amused, something to the effect that she had managed to create such a “good” impression about herself with the local elders that her word would be counted more than mine, in case there was any conflict of interest between us.

Upto that point,I had treated her, my houseguest, with a mild indulgence bordering on annoyance – from that point onwards, all I saw her was as prickly heat, an irritant, which this houseguest had become. My amusement and mirth at her arrogance quickly turned into irritation, at her assumption – I had absolutely no intention of creating a situation where it was her word against mine. In any case, when a person refuses to acknowledge your presence publicly, you know that you are nothing but an opportunity cost for them. And the worst kind are those who brag about what they were, either professionally, or personally – this one just full of how she was a head-turner!

Yeah right, I said to myself when she disclosed that – my head hasn’t turned even once since the time I’ve known her, which is not more than a few days. But yes, I did turn – her that is, out of my house, asking her to make alternative arrangements now that she’s got the opportunity she came to this city for.

Cruel? Maybe, but I refuse to be your opportunity cost especially when you try to put on that smarty-pants act with me.

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