The bus lurched over a large pothole and all the passengers braced for impact. Most of them were seasoned travelers and had perfected the art of balancing themselves throughout the tumultuous journey in a public bus.
Akif was one of them. Unperturbed, he barely moved as his long legs spread appropriately to steady his angling body against the inertia of the stumbling bus. This happened entirely unconsciously as his whole concentration was focused on the back of the girl with the long, luscious plait. She was sitting two seats away from where he stood, at an angle that allowed Akif to glimpse at the sharp jawline of her face, but nothing else. However, the whole of his vision was engulfed by the curves of her dense black plait.
It was hypnotic. It seemed to have a unique rhythm of movement quite separate from that of the brusque tumble of the bus, as if it were flowing like a field of corn in a swift summer breeze, changing shades as it did. Akif was transfixed as if a snake dancing to the waves of a snake charmer’s pipe.
The girl herself, sat eerily straight and still. Nobody else paid much attention to her, which wasn’t unusual for a tired bunch of people eager to reach home at the end of the day. Akif was the only one who was looking at her with unblinking eyes.
What was it about her? Akif was not one of those no-good degenerates who leered at girls in crowds. No, he was rather a normal guy on his normal route to return to a new home in a new city from a new job. This was his second week in that city and the loneliness was receding sedately. The empty apartment was tentatively turning into a home.
He felt no inclination or curiosity about the girl’s face or identity. All he could think about was the lush plait that undulated down her back languorously. It seemed other-worldly and entrancing. The intertwining tracks of hair seemed to travel down her curves with the pace and grace of a slithering cobra catching the glint of the setting sun. Each section was as thick as a python and as black as a panther. The jet-black waves crawled into a pool of hair in the gap of her seat and tapered down to a lethally sharp tip which hung at her heels.
Exquisite in its appearance, it reminded him of the royal princesses of India in his school history books, flaunting the length of their lengthy luscious mane as the symbol of their fertility. It beckoned him to come closer, to wrap his fingers in the ropes of its filaments and let his essence seep into its density. The bus lurched to a halt at a deserted bus stop and the girl stood up to leave. An irrational fear gripped Akif, the fear of losing something that he never had. He found himself wading through the sea of sweat and skin to reach the door before the bus started to leave. The urgency of his movements seemed to tug at his half-awake consciousness. A faint voice tried to question his actions at some faraway corner of his psyche but he paid no attention to it. All he wanted to do at that moment was to keep that plait of hair in the line of his vision. After a great deal of struggle, he succeeded in getting off the stuffed bus, which left him in a cloud of dust, standing by a desolated stretch of road.
The girl was a few meters ahead ambling ahead at a leisurely pace. Akif felt drawn to the plait, now with a renewed intensity as there was nothing and nobody to distract him on that dreary, deserted path. He started following her earnestly, his steps matching each swing of the billowing plait. He was thoroughly mesmerized by then. All he could see was the flowing locks intertwined as the serpents of the caduceus. The whole world seemed to be made of hair, the path he walked on seemed to be fibrous, he felt as if he was swimming in a sea of swirling strands and the girl’s plait was the only line that kept him afloat. The path twisted into a bend against some thick dry shrubbery with a few dead trees. With a few more steps the girl was going to disappear behind it. Afraid of losing her, Akif increased his pace and started jogging to catch up to her. He lost sight of her for a second as she turned the corner, but there was no sign of her when he reached beyond it!
He ran around the whole stretch of the road, yearning for even a glimpse of the black serpent plait but she was nowhere to be seen; it was as if she had vanished into thin air. He was bewildered beyond belief. It felt like somebody had snatched away his sight. He felt this irrational yet incessant sense of loss that could not be put into words. It made no sense. It was just some random girl with a long plait. Even if he could not explain it to himself, he could not stop feeling it.
He sat down on a stone with his head in his hands and tried to calm himself down. Just then, hot, stinging wind started blowing. All the trees in the area were dead and bare yet a lone dry peepal leaf flew to his feet. Astonished, he picked it up and turned it over in his hands. All blood left his face. The leaf had a message written on it with something red and sticky. “Run Away”, it sad. His hands started trembling and breathing became increasingly ragged. Still pining for the girl’s plait, he decided to continue on the path. He had to find her, he just had to. There was no other way.
As the sun sank into the horizon to make way for the dark, Akif stumbled along the dirt road with dead trees for company. Mirages of slithering plaits kept pulling at his legs. A dry throat, an empty stomach, nothing could slow his stride. His life’s purpose had coalesced into one goal: to find the girl with the plait and let himself be bound to it for eternity.
Meanwhile the girl with the plait waited for him at the end of the road. A dark dead forest lay beyond. Her hair was no longer plaited and black, but as white as snow and as sharp as needles. The obsidian plait was instead tied to her waist, the sharp tip, now, was the plume of her twirling tail. Another trap set, bait lured. The deadly python-plait never failed her. It was her most prized possession. Mother would be here any minute. The note on the leaf was a nice touch. Tell them to run away and they come nearer still. Mama would be proud. As the silhouette of her victim became clearer and clearer, her claws grew long and the shrubbery behind her bristled with footsteps echoing in the still night. She crouched behind a tree, ready to pounce.
Dinner was served.
…now that you’re here
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