A Sunless Day – Avijit Roy, Kolkata

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” Light,  give me some light in my dark days,

I wanna wake up in your world of love.”—- a popular song by Bob King is playing on the radio that Harry often enjoys when he works and he is now frying some bread on the oven in his narrowly spaced kitchenette ,furnished with only necessary items like some dishes, bowls,  gas-oven and a ten year old refrigerator. Harry has to serve dinner to his only son Simon who is just back from his evening games with neighborhood children. Simon is at the terminus of the first decade of his life and so incapable of helping his father in household chores. Harry lost his wife in a car accident a year ago. He was too severely wounded but somhow survived the fatal blow. The feeling of loss is still fresh with him and oftentimes it extracts tears in his eyes during his solitary meditations. Harry has to shoulder the responsibilities that once his wife had performed to his ease. Simon sitting at dinning table, drums on the empty plate with spoon and fork in two tiny grips to send aural message to his father of his unbearable hunger. Harry is not a great cook. He had to learn the art of cooking after his wife’s demise. It is not that none of his relatives ever suggested him to ponder over the necessity of the second marriage but Harry would only listen to them with bowed head and would only let out a faint smile to answer a negative.

Harry comes at the table with fried breads with boiled and salted eggs to have their dinner. He plated the items before Simon whose eye-brows wrinkle at the very sight of dark grey color and burnt fringes of the bread. He eyes at his father with such a morose look that Harry doesn’t take much time to understand the meaning. This is not the first failure for Harry in his culinary attempts.

” I know, Sim, it’s not tasty. But you know your papa tries to serve you his best! ” His words sound so pathetic that the boy instantly agrees with Harry to cheer him up and tears a good portion from the bread with his fork and mouths it and exclaims ,” Its great papa. At least better than the last one.” A light moment of laughter passes in between them. They share the food between themselves as a cup of cheer to their bygone happy days.

The clock shows eight at night when Simon finishes his home lessons. Harry is busy in washing utensils in the kitchen-sink when Simon runs to him with the euphoria of discovery and shows his father one of his drawings of a sunny morning with birds flying in the sky , houses ,trees—all of the structures and color ,unearthed from the child’s imaginative mine .

  ” Papa, look what I have drawn.”

  ” Wow, its great! Have you finished your lessons? Harry asks.

 ” Yes, of course.” Simon declares confidently.

 ” That’s very fine of you. Now go to your bed. I would be there in some minutes”.

Simon obeys his father with great haste for he knows his father would read him some interesting story in bed and he enjoys it immensely, though not to its fullest for every night he is lulled to sound sleep before his father finishes the story and in the next morning invariably he forgets all about what he had last night. Simon slips under the sheet in the bed waiting anxiously for his father to turn up.

Harry has a flood of memories of his past days with his wife in such lonely occasions as he is now in the kitchen. Finishing his washing he wipes his hand dry, turns the lights off and enters the bed room. Simon becomes impatient at the sight of his father and starts to boost him up,” Papa, hurry up. You are so slow. I have been waiting for a long time.” Simon utters the words in a single breath to exhibit his excitement. Harry smiles back at him and chooses a slender book from the bookcase set at the right corner of the room. The book bears the title ” The Selfish Giant” in glowing red letters with a horrible picture of a demon baring his deadly teeth, and red bulged eyes.

Simon has a special liking for ghost stories and he asks, ” Is it a ghost story ,papa?”

” Not exactly, but it is a story of a demon ,an Ogre” Harry rolls his eyes to create the visual effect. He places his spectacles on his nose  and starts to read out from the book, ” Every afternoon, as they were coming from school, the children…” Harry has merely finished reading of the second page about the Giant’s selfish nature and his cruelty towards the little children than he notices his son lying unmoved with eyes closed and chest rising and falling mildly with the effect of breathing. Harry takes the glasses out of his eyes, puts them on the bed side-table along with the book and slips under the sheet to hold his son close to him in affectionate embrace.

Harry falls reminiscence to his past days and tears start to roll down his cheek silently. Slowly He too embarks in the sail of sleep. Harry does not rise very early. He has a grocery shop in the West Coast Market that lies at a comfortably close distance from his house for him to cover it in fifteen minutes on foot . Fortunately Simon’s school is very close to the shop and the school starts at 9 in the morning. Harry sets out with his son and first reaches him in school and then turns toward his shop.

Harry falls reminiscence to his past days and tears start to roll down his cheek silently. Slowly He too embarks in the sail of sleep. Harry does not rise very early. He has a grocery shop in the West Coast Market that lies at a comfortably close distance from his house for him to cover it in fifteen minutes on foot . Fortunately Simon’s school is very close to the shop and the school starts at 9 in the morning. Harry sets out with his son and first reaches him in school and then turns toward his shop.

The morning travels in the country with the watch striking 7 in accordance with the preset alarm. Harry yawns up, struggles to open his eyes first and then rubs the sleep out of his eyes to discover his son still asleep. He looks at the window and finds it very queer. More than the alarm , the bright sun rays that pierce through the parting curtains of the big window illumine the room at such degree that it always drags him out of his slumber. But Harry notices with fallen jaw that outside it is still pitch dark. He once again looks at the clock , faintly visible in the dim night-lamp and unmistakably it is 7 in the morning. The summer sun should have been up with a dazzling visage by now. Contrary to that, no tinge of light is there outside. He hurriedly descends from his bed and rushes to the window and lifts his eyes up to the sky where only the twinkling stars are visible. He now notices the whole town has awakened to awe. It seems that the whole city has come  on the road and people are exclaiming at the inexplicable phenomenon, a starry night at daytime. The city seems to be wrapped in darkness, as if the night has been prolonged. Harry stands at the window motionless for some minutes to follow what is happening.

” Is it cloudy? Is it a solar eclipse? Harry asks himself to think it logically. No, nothing of the kind is possible. He can witness the dread stamped on every face. “Is it then the great lamp, the sun has been put out or simply it has forgotten to rise.” The proposition that he guesses, seems very childish and at the same time the very thought sends a shiver through his whole body. He pinches in his arm to feel if he is in dream. No , everything is real. He now concentrates in the movement outside. Everything seems to be natural, only if it were a night. He rushes back to the bed where Simon is still lying asleep. He turns the radio on and the broadcast is all about the horrific incident of disappearance of the sun. “Had NASA any information beforehand!”, Harry wonders and if they suppose had ,what they really could do except informing people and creating a greater panic! Harry sinks in an arm-chair set by the bed and rests his chin on his right palm to listen to the broadcast. “We the people. ” The president’s voice surfaces and Harry dives in the speech, “We should be together. We have come face to face with such a situation, that I know even the weirdest nightmare in the last night hadn’t produced to anyone. We have no sun today. I woke up with the call from NASA and they first broke the news to me. The satellites can’t trace our dear sun. We are threatened to be extinct. It may be the Judgement of Almighty God, our Father. His will is our yoke. We have to hold hands in this darkness. If the situations continues our scientists fear the nature will yield. The solar system that has a great role in our energy supply will totally break down. We need to fight the situation. So don’t get panicky, instead pray together for our salvation. I would further contact with you. In urgency call the number 277 and you will be answered.” The short speech is finished at such haste as if the president has read out a script and shakes off his office. The speech ends leaving Harry more tensed of their future. He is gripped by an unknown fear.  He turns the radio off. At the next moment he abruptly stands up and stoops over Simon and shakes him violently to extort him out of sleep. After two or three times of such recurrent effort, Simon wakes up but droops like an intoxicated figure and when his father in an urgent voice informs him, “Simon, listen to me. We are in problem. In big problem rather. There is no sun today. I don’t know if there would be any tomorrow or any other day. Its nothing easy today. Come along and look” Simon hardly understands his father and keeps his wonder in his appearance. Harry holds his hand , drags him to the open window and points to the sky which is almost grey black punctuated with twinkling presence of some stars. Simon wanders at the sight and casts a speechless look at his father.

It is half an hour passed and Harry comes out of his house alone leaving his son at home with some cornflakes at the table. He has assured Simon that he would return soon purchasing some necessary items for their survival. He steps on the road that has already over-borne feet of crowd and has left little space to move on. He elbows through the crowd having no view of the sideways. He struggles hard to reach his shop. He witnesses panic everywhere. Almost all the shops are shut down. He can hear loud announcements from government representatives for the public to embrace a normal life and return to their homes and works but their encouragements contain no confidence. People start to shout in their despairs . It is almost eight by watch and no sign of sun. Harry opens his shop , bags some vegetables, closes it again and hurries homeward. It takes almost an hour for Harry to compass that short distance. As soon as he reaches his door, his eyes meet with the standing figure of anxious Simon. Harry speeds up the steps that lead him  up to his son and he tightly holds Simon in embrace as if two souls are going to be parted. On entering, Harry traces sounds from radio that Simon has already turned on. An interview of NASA scientist is on air. He is being asked about the unnatural phenomenon and he replies, ” Look. (Pause). Look, it is impossible for us to explain matters. We are human beings. We have our limitations. We can’t even guess the scheme of ( after a little pause) God. The Devil is in work.” Harry slowly takes his son on his lap, while he sits on the bed.

 ” What may be the outcome of this”, the anxious voice asks.

 ” Anything. It is only to be guessed. None of us is immune to it. The worst is extinction of our existence. “

  ” Is that far is possible?”

 ” No doubt. If the sun is off, no photosynthesis is possible. Most of the trees will dry up though some trees would survive the bout”.

  ” Is there any remedy?”

 “Hope that there is our sun tomorrow. If it is not, there is little chance left for us” . Harry gets up and turns the radio off.

 ” Are you hungry? Harry asks Simon with a faint smile on his lips and Simon only shakes his head.

The road lights have been decided to keep off to conserve electricity and the decision sends a wave of bafflement in public. People start to run indoors for shelter. On the part of Government after consulting nutritionist, they advise the public not to intake vegetables or green items for they may be teemed with germs. With the disappearance of the sun it is feared the worms would have a free breeding. Harry listens to all the announcements and dissuades himself from preparing anything for themselves. Simon is hungry, so is Harry. Harry goes to the window to look outside. It has turned darker for the road lights have been suspended. Simon in slow steps follows his father to the window and tucks at his shirt end to share the outside view. The houses with domestic lights emitting from windows seem to be flamed eyes of some beasts. Harry kneels down before Simon, cups his little, innocent face in his palms and says, ” sim, you know it is our destiny. No one can escape it. Once when I was a boy I was fortunate to witness a solar-eclipse. You must have read it in Geography.” Simon nods to support his father’s claim. Harry continues, ” It was all dark everywhere. I was a child but I was not afraid, you know. I ran in joy to have such nightly feeling in day time. All these are heavenly matters. We can only wonder at them. You understand?” Simon again signals his agreement with head-nods. ” Good. I know you are very brave. We all have to fight. We would survive.”

Simon stares at his father as if spell-bound and at last he says ” Papa, I am really hungry”. An urgency pushes Harry up and he rushes to the refrigerator where some fruits are in store. He picks out some red apples still free from germs and wash them again and again as if some indelible mark is to be erased and then hands it over to Simon. ” Eat them , Sim. It’s safe, I think “. Simon receives them and they both share some bites.

People have started to feel chill as it was feared. Some plants seem to droop though the sturdy ones are still standing unaffected. It has already been four hours that the sun has disappeared from the sky. The town and the whole country have drowned in darkness. Cold wind has started to ravage upon the country. It was predicted earlier in the morning that the earth would only provide the warmth as long as it would last in the environment and then the earth would turn to the ancient icy ball. It is a clear threat to human existence. People seem to rush to and fro madly with warm clothes on to collect fuels to supply the domestic fire. Like savage race they start to collect dry leaves, branches whatever may prove combustible. Harry brings  woolen clothes out of the cupboard for Simon and himself. Simon has not been allowed to come out of the house since morning. Harry also finds it unnecessary to go outside. People’s din can be heard out of the darkness. It starts to shiver mildly. The warm clothes are yielding. Harry places Simon on bed with blankets wrapped over him, letting the nose and eyes free. He himself wears a leather jacket over the woolen clothes to fight chill. Harry collects all the books from the book-case and old newspapers to burn them in the fire-place. He also wants to go and collect some dry branches but he can well assume that he would hardly stand chance in fight with others for the precious possession of fuel. For a long time Simon remains mute. Now watching his father dumping the books for burning, he asks ” If you burn all the books what would you read me at bed-time?” At this Harry swings his head to the direction of his son and remains silent. Harry to divert the matter ,asks, ” Sim, turn on the radio.” Simon obeys.

“Now we are in Davidson Square.” a reporter claims, ” Its total dark here. The conservatory planning is on work but the question in every mind is how long they would stand it. People are seen mostly indoors. Its too cool outside . Reading of mercury stands at 4 degree Celsius and it is only 12 noon now and already 15 degrees below the normal. NASA has predicted a minus measurement within an hour or two. We have our President on phone line. ‘ Sir, people would like to know what steps your Government have taken till now?’ (A little pause) Then comes the President’s voice .  Clearing his throat he says , ‘We are mystified. We have highly any way out. The best of our scientists are in search of the sun in the universe. It may sound ridiculous but its painfully true. We have contacted the other foreign presidents. They are facing the same problem. Its now a global problem. How can such threat appear before us is still unexplainable. Who we are, what we are , now remains at the mercy of God. The situation is worsening, to tell the truth. Still I urge people to be calm. We are flooded with phone- calls. Sorry we can not answer them all. So it is through here I request you all, don’t be panicky keep faith in God. We will find …” The connection is suddenly snapped silencing everything. The radio develops stillness to. Harry moves to the radio and shakes it one or twice and no signal is found and he puts the mute box back on the table. So it is that the satellite signals have failed too disconnecting people with the world. Harry has no one to contact. He lost his parents early in his boyhood and now its a kind of relief for him to have no care of anyone except his son.

It is afternoon by the clock. Outside it has turned darker. The sky shows no difference. The celestial bodies appear usual except the most important one, the sun. The domestic electricity supply either has been stopped or failed. The houses have now become dark out lines against faintly lit sky. Harry has lighted a candle. The supply of candle is also dear. The chill has entered its minus course and it feels minus-ten degrees at least. Water has turned icy. Harry twice warmed some water condensed in ice chunks in containers on oven to supply their thirst but he knows it would not last for long. Taps have turned dry . Simon’s teeth are rattling in chill and he has laid down crippled. Harry moves his fingers through Simon’s hair in affection. Some drops of tears appear in his eyes . He comes out of the bed and goes to the fire-place where  his favorite books are lying piled ,waiting to be inflamed. He puts one by one Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare, Marlowe in flame keeping others in reserve to provide them warmth later. Harry looks back at Simon and discovers him still lying. He goes to cupboard to search out some more warm clothes but he finds all are already in use. Harry takes slow steps to bed . He has almost lost all physical strength in numbing coldness. He can not imagine anything worse than this.

The chaos outside has subsided. People must be exhausted or must have found it meaningless to stand and stare. Rather they have sprung to hunt down means to keep themselves alive. Some police cars are patrolling, invading the dark streets with their bright torches and headlights of car. No other movement of vehicles can be sensed. Police are not only trying to keep everything in order but also aiming to keep vandalism in check. Everyone now is like a swimmer tied in hand and feet , who is challenged to keep himself alive. Police in their loud speakers are heard to spread assuring speeches on behalf of government for the public and all know its only routine service. Harry wakes Simon up. It is already evening now by clock. Hunger has taken a great toll of them both. Harry feels his fingers are numb in chill and it is as hard as iron to move. He asks Simon, “would you have a cup of coffee?” The vague face of Harry against mild glow of fire-place is visible to Simon. His vocal cord only produces some weak piping sound to say a ‘yes’. Harry may arrange it as their dinner. The room has almost turned dark for the candles have almost been burnt. Harry goes to kitchen groping in darkness and being familiar to every materials of the kitchen for last one year , he unmistakably reaches for the match, tries to light the oven and discover that the cylinder has turned inactive in such cold weather. His despair comes out as a deep sigh. He can sense the approaching death and grates his teeth in fury. He returns to the room and inches towards the fire place to transfer the last installments of his books in the flame. He moves on the bed by his son and he hardly starts to explain the reason of no coffee, when Simon silences him with,” I know papa. Papa, tomorrow we will have a new sun , isn’t it? Harry smiles and says, ” Of course. And, we will go in a picnic tomorrow.” Simon does not seem to be too elated with the offer. Instead, he requests his father to tell him a bed-time story.” The story books are all in fire. He has to call up story from his memory. Harry knows somewhere in his mind that it would be the last story that he would ever tell to his dear son. He embraces Simon in affection. They both go under the blankets . the chill can be felt in their bones. The fire has come near to be extinguished. Outside it is pitch dark and all silent as if Harry and his son are the only two survivors in this darkling world.

” There was a king.” Harry opens his story. “He was a great king and he had a queen. His kingdom was as vast as the universe.” He continues the story for some ten minutes and then feels the still body of Simon by him drowned in sleep. He calls ” Sim, Sim” but receives no answer and concludes that he has fallen asleep out of exhaustion less physical, more mental. He keeps his head on a pillow and holds his son close to his breast. The room has turned impregnably dark. Only some dust of fire is visible in the hearth. Harry closes his eyes and remembers his wife’s smiling face as if beckoning at him and the contagious smile spreads through his lips. All is dead silent.

  Some minutes later the alarm of the table-clock shrieks out at 7 in the morning. Harry jumps to consciousness. His eyes are first struck with dazzling sunlight piercing through the window curtain and he feels his son by him sleeping in peace. He looks around the room and everything looks intact, even the book-case full with books. His forehead and face are beaded with drops of perspiration. He slowly puts his feet in the slippers and gradually heads towards the window like a new born child staggering on every step. On reaching the window he parts the curtain and broad sunlight showers on him. He peeps outside and finds life in every corner, the buzz that is natural with human beings, daily activities, bargaining and hurriedness–all that bring Harry out of his nightmare and transmit him into a blissful feeling. 

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