I was standing outside an auditorium in a dusty corridor on a summer afternoon. Obviously, the place had not been cleaned since several days. The dust had now become a part of the floor and the walls. It seemed that removing the dust now would rob the place of its essence. I suppose this very thought forbade the cleaners to broom the floor. It was tolerably hot that day. I understand that the expression “tolerably hot” does not convey much meaning as what may be unbearably hot for one may not be so for another. I have seen people working under sun barefooted when it is 42 degrees outside while I would be endlessly complaining about the heat sitting inside my air conditioned car sipping my cold drink usually falling sick if I would have to stand out in the sun. Not that I was always this way. There was a time when I would spend several hours out in the sun during the hottest hours of the day. But now my tolerance has gone down. So, it was a tolerably hot day for me while I was standing outside the auditorium.
What exactly was I doing there standing alone in that dusty corridor? Not much of fun there for sure. I had accompanied my sister to this place who was practicing in the auditorium infested with pigeons and their droppings. She thought that I had nothing to do at home and would be better off seeing her practice songs for an upcoming event. I protested initially saying that I had to finish off a book by Murakami but she still thought I had nothing to do. I gave in. We reached this pigeon hole. I wondered how could someone practice in such a place. But according to my sister this was the only place available for practice. I tried to listen to their music for sometime amidst the cooing of the pigeons who were loudly protesting against the human encroachment of their home.
After a while I thought it would be better if I take a whiff of fresh air before my breath starts smelling of pigeons. And that was when I found myself standing in that dusty corridor with ancient dust all around. At a distance of 50 meters I saw a boy of around 15-16 years of age digging the cemented road. I could not see why would someone employ him for such a task but there he was digging. His movements were rather slow and he looked bored but he continued digging the cemented road.
Just as I was watching him I suddenly felt a pain. It rose from my stomach and ended in my throat and stayed there for long. I was not alarmed by this sudden excitement in my viscera. I have experienced this pain several times. I knew what it was. It was the pain of loneliness. It has vicarious origins, never personal. It is not like I experience this pain whenever I see someone alone. Far from it! I have had it even when I see someone in the midst of a myriad of people. It is the loneliness of the soul. The soul can feel lonely even when amongst several people. Similarly, a person sitting alone in his room can be perfectly happy with his soul not feeling the slightest agony of loneliness. It is usually the eyes that give away the secrets of the soul but not always so. Sometimes it is the way the lips quiver that squeal on the soul, sometimes it is the unsure hands.
In this particular case, the boy’s soul was withering in its lonely existence. There was certain forlornness in his movements that conveyed the loneliness pretty clearly. I seldom fail to notice such lonely souls. It is almost like my eyes are always looking for them. And I am almost never wrong. I am not a person whom you can call talented. In fact, people usually cite me as an example when talking of a totally talentless individual. But I think otherwise. I think everyone has at least one talent. In my case, it is the ability to discover lonely souls. Not that this talent is especially useful. On the contrary, it fills me with sadness to see these lonely souls as their loneliness radiates special kind of pathos that engulfs me from all around and it requires great efforts to come out of the grief.
But despite being the discoverer of loneliness in others, I have never felt lonely. I enjoy my solitude. I do not have too many friends and I hardly go out. People think that because of this I must be gripped in lonely gloominess. Someone once called me a recluse. But I am not a recluse. It is just that I enjoy my company over the company of many others whom I find rather shallow and two-dimensional. Unfortunately, that excludes more than half of the people I know so I have limited choice. But loneliness has never managed to make me its prey though it has tried to do so several times. I am sure it has special hatred against me for detecting its insidious presence in others when they themselves remain oblivious to its presence inside them many times. It usually whisks past me, but that is about it. Never has there been an encounter between it and my soul. They still remain strangers to each other. All it can do is to make me sad about its presence in others. Just like the pain I felt when I saw the guy with a spade on that summer afternoon. I realized that I could not take away his deep seated loneliness.
I just stood there looking at him as I was rendered motionless by the intensity of the loneliness of his soul. I suppose my gaze was very strong as he lifted his head suddenly to look at me. I gave him a smile, trying to put up a small fight for him against his loneliness. He looked around himself to confirm if I was actually smiling at him. He did not want to take a chance by smiling back at me in case my smile was for someone else. It seemed it had been quite some time since someone smiled at him and also since he had smiled because his smile looked a little rusted due to disuse. He had difficulty working those muscles that had not been used since long. Finally a confused smile did manage to creep on his dry lips. My smile was becoming a little too heavy for me to carry it on for long. I decided to go inside before he noticed my uneasiness. I turned back to walk towards the auditorium where someone was singing Bryan Adams’ “Please Forgive Me”. I turned to look at the boy one last time with this song playing in my head. He had gone back to his digging and was no longer looking at me.