Shishir 2018, Short Stories -Sunil Sharma



By Sunil Sharma


He was stuck!


In the middle of a narrow flyover, suburban Mumbai on a manic Monday.


The car sputtered and died. The traffic on both sides was crazy. The honking was loud, aggressive, impatient, as if it would clear the way on a bridge packed with bikers and auto-rickshaws bent on breaking rules. Rage was manifest. People glowered - some muttered obscenities, others gesticulated. The February sun beat down on the serpentine chaos typical of Indian roads.


He looked helplessly at the costly automobile, reduced to a contraption of glass and fiber and wheels that would not budge an inch, like some obstinate beast. His pride and neighbor’s envy was a fuming hulk of machinery, obstructing the narrow passage.


More honking.


More curses.


Everybody in a tearing hurry as if their bottoms were on fire!


He had no idea how to start the monster.


And regretted not being the engineer that Dad always wanted in the joint family of shopkeepers. But he had dropped out, scared by the drawings, math figures and bad faculty.


Dad never forgot. Never forgave.


RIP, Dad!


He had seen some cousins tinkering with the bonnets and engines of their stalled cars on lonely highways. So he opened the bonnet and peered into the belly full of metal pieces and other marvels, beyond his ken.


Felt like an idiot of the first order.


And blamed the stars and others for his lack of intelligence.


Why was God not kind to me?


Why was I born with less IQ or whatever it takes to be an engineer?


He looked up into the smoggy sky but found no answers from the guy behind the clouds, nor even sighted the man with a halo that everybody wants to meet at least in a crisis or similar situations.


The sun tore into his red eyes.


No evidence of a divinity up there.


Bewildered, he persisted. Trapped in the traffic grid, just as immobile as the auto-mobile.


Then he decided to pray - for the first time in his adult life.


Prayers do deliver. Many gurus say this on TV.


He tried and mumbled most sincerely, intoning:


Gawd! Some miracle, please! Help!


He expected a drum roll or thunder or lightning as shown in some Bollywood films, exactly which ones he could not recall.




He did not give up.


Please! Gawd, help me! Please!


And stood waiting like a stranded figure on a burning ship or on a remote island in the Pacific, expecting a savior.


Send me some Superman. Or, Spider-man, please, Gawd!


He prayed - this time from a full heart; a believing heart.


And then, a voice: “Check the engine. It has heated up.”


The voice startled him - so did the piece of expert advice, totally unexpected.


He spun around and his jaw dropped. Some figure in white wings? With a halo?


No. Someone else.


Someone very ordinary, indeed!


It was the junkie who lived on the flyover, discarded by family and city alike; the solitary owner of the place where very few would like to risk living - in the open, prone to danger.


He had seen him often and disliked him. A guy he considered a low-life, not worth a glance.




His hero did not wear the mandatory innerwear on the outside.


He was considerate, this unkempt angel in an unlikely setting.


“Pour water on the engine. It has heated up in the summer heat. Coolant has dried up perhaps.”


The bedraggled outcast helpfully suggested. And most willingly gave the portly man his only possession---a plastic water-bottle.


Almost in a daze, the hapless man took the water-bottle proffered by the homeless man.


Did he have a choice?


The car owner carried out the instructions dutifully, never doubting the instructor.


And believe it or not, the engine started.


For the first time ever the car-owner believed in miracles. And the power of faith in the most unlikely of locations!


The relieved man - designer clothes, goggles and all - offered cash.


After all money can buy everything!


Again, he was shocked!


The outcast refused money and returned to his spot on the bridge.


As he started the car, he did not dare look at the junkie.


He felt very small before this poor man forced to live on the bridge---a man with a lost history; alone; abandoned.


Does he remember me?


Hope not.


Only two days before, he had rolled up the window of the car at the same spot, shooing off with cold eyes the bearded and thin man, a man he disdained as scum of the earth. Having the temerity to ask for water from motorists stuck in a snarl.


How dare they ask for water or money? No shame! Parasites!




Such persons should be sent to jail.


He always believed in strong laws against vagrants. Always a threat, such types. Often, they mugged or assaulted citizens, these folks sans any conscience or morality. A permanent danger to civilization. Must be put behind bars for the safety of residents.


He had glowered at the man and gestured violently.


The man had moved away, shaking his head in resignation.


He gave a side glance again at this man.


The latter was back to his little empire and his own world, detached as usual.


More like a stoic!


The junkie sat nonchalantly under the shade of a spreading tree, on a soiled newspaper, watching the flow, yet not seeing; tapping an empty water-bottle in a gnarled hand, lips pursed, torn T-shirt, almost invisible, on a hot and humid afternoon, ordinary like every afternoon, yet suddenly so extraordinary, taking on new meanings for him!


He smiled, this businessman, at the vagrant.


The latter waved back, eyes becoming alive, animated.


The car moved away swiftly.


The businessman, becoming occupied with other things and meetings of the day that required strategies and plans of other kind in competitive market…



Sunil Sharma from India, is a senior academic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist and fiction writer. He has published six collections of poetry, two collections of short fiction, one novel, a study of the novel and co-edited eight books so far. His six short stories and the novel Minotaur were sometime back prescribed for the undergraduate classes under the Post-colonial Studies, Clayton University, Georgia, USA. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award, 2012 and other awards for literary contribution. In 2015, his poems were published in the UN project: Happiness,The Delight-Tree. Sunil Sharma edits the online bilingual journal Setu published monthly from Pittsburgh, USA. An English teacher with more than 23 years of degree-college teaching experience that includes administrative one (as vice-principal and then as a tenured principal); freelance journalist with 15 years experience writing for the supplements of the Times of India, Mumbai, India.


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