IN THE CLOUDS
By Shaurya Arya-Kanojia
Photo Credit: Eiko Ojala
IN THE CLOUDS
We’ve all seen different shapes in clouds, haven’t we? A tree, a bird, an open book… I even saw my aunt’s face once; she with her puffy cheeks, eyes that didn’t trust people easily, the slight downward curl of her lips, giving her a perpetual grimace.
But what I saw today was, by definition, outrageous. For the entire afternoon and evening, the weather was overcast. A thick blanket of grey spread out up above, blocking the sun. The air, however, was hot and humid. The kind of weather that is not just gloomy but, because you start sweating by the volumes just being outside for a few minutes, exhausts you.
And, walking to the train station after spending an afternoon at a relative’s house (for a lunch party), I was exhausted.
This relative – an uncle I see not more than once a year – was celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday. The party started off well. I met up with cousins I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. We exchanged stories about our lives, spoke about work, the market, how unbearably hot the summer was…
Somewhere along the way, the party became sour. Two of these cousins of mine, their friends, and I were standing in the corner, eating pasta and calzones from our paper plates and drinking fruit punch from the party cups. The discussion started with the new mall that had opened in the neighbourhood, from where it progressed into how “brand conscious” we were becoming, and finally – because discussions like these always lead to something unsavoury – capitalism. It was here that one of the participants said something rather provocative, which I took personally and reacted to unpleasantly.
As I walked to the train station, the anger still flaring in me, I couldn’t decide what propelled me to behave the way I did. Maybe it was the weather (the party was in the outdoors garden) or the tough week I had had at work.
But, not more than a hundred meters away from the station, I happened to catch a black figure in the sky. The heavens above were already suffused with a thick blanket and it was nearing seven p.m. Despite the already settling evening, the presence of the figure stuck out like a sore thumb. For a second, my anger was overcome with a current of fear. I felt my heart race. I stopped where I was, and a couple walking behind me ran into me. I apologised with a slight wave of my hand, still feeling that fear.
The interval between each heartbeat felt like eternity. When I did happen to stare into the thing the corner of my eye had detected earlier, I was startled. Of course, a stream of fear underlaid it. The image, dressed in all black from head to toe, was both repulsive and compelling.
The part of my mind I rely on for rational thought, which assesses situations than acting impulsively, kept reminding me it was nothing more than a cloud. Maybe an anomaly, for nothing else in the sky was as black as this one, but most certainly a cloud. Most importantly, being able to spot identifiable shapes in clouds wasn’t exactly an undiscovered phenomenon.
Another person, this one a man, ran into me from behind. As he collided, his phone dropped from his hand and landed face down on the concrete sidewalk. He glared at me angrily. Maybe he saw the terror on my face, because I saw fear reflected on his face as he grabbed for his phone and, without looking if the screen had cracked, put it in his coat pocket and rushed ahead into the station entrance. I turned and looked over at the black figure in the sky.
And I gasped.
The figure had come nearer. It was larger, closer (the other clouds were where they had been), and blacker.
And… it smiled at me. I couldn’t see the corner of its mouth move up, its lips curling into a smile. I couldn’t see the gleam in its eyes. I couldn’t see these facial movements because there was no face. Yet, I knew it was smiling at me. Just that moment, amid the chatter of people around me, the incessant honking of cars, a siren announcing the end of workday in a factory further up the road, and the unending noise of the city that seems to come from nowhere and everywhere, I heard another sound. A sound so shrill and sharp that it pierced through the fog of all other sounds enveloping me.
I thought to turn and see if anyone else heard it; if anyone else too was unable to make sense of the phenomenon in the sky above. But the voice of reason at the back of my mind kept repeating that only I was hearing it. Only I was seeing it.
Only I was its victim.
And there was only one way to rid myself of the vision of the strange man up in the sky.
I closed my eyes, even though I was terrified to do it. The world around me went dark. The sounds of the city could still be heard (the tires of a car screeched in the distance, momentarily startling me), but I tried to block them out. Taking in a deep breath, I tried as hard as I could to subdue the anger and fear I was feeling. I pulled in another breath, and, sure enough, felt a sense of calm invade my mind. I think I even smiled.
When I opened my eyes after an inordinate amount of time, my anger and fear at bay, a cool wind greeted me. My smile grew bigger.
I warily looked at the sky. The monster wasn’t there anymore. Its sudden disappearance didn’t surprise me. I shook my head, let the laughter bubbling inside of me out (causing the people walking towards the station to stop and look at me), and headed for my destination.
Shaurya Arya-Kanojia is the author of the novella, End of the Rope. He likes sports (cricket, mostly), eating out, and watching reruns of The Office and Everybody Loves Raymond. His social media handles include @shauryaticks (Twitter) and @main.hoon.ek.sharara (Instagram), and more about him can be found at https://www.shauryaak.com/