Name of Participant : Krishnakumar Muraleedharan
Company : Infosys Ltd.
Crawling Across the Wall
“The thing slithered around on the wall keeping its big bloody yellow eyes fixated on me like it was waiting for the right moment to strike. Those dirty but sharp claws made audible scratches on the wall as it moved. The tail moved menacingly as if it had a mind of its own.”
There was a knock on the door.
‘Who is it?’
‘It is me’ It was Timmy. He was a good lad.
‘What is it, Timmy?’
‘I am going to the store. Do you want a magazine or something?’
‘No I am fine, Tim. But if you insist get me a pack of Kents’
‘Cigarettes? You are not supposed to smoke.’
‘I know. Just joking. You go ahead.’
There was a chuckle from the other side of the door and I heard Timmy walking away.
“Where was I? Yes the thing. The one which has been around me, terrifying me since my childhood. The large ugly scaly reptilian which was now crawling up and down the wall, eyeing me. I felt like my end was near this time.
It was not this huge when I first saw it. That day we were playing hide and seek – me and my friends. There was a pond near the edge of the ground where we were playing. It was surrounded by an old brick wall – actually half-a-wall due to its wear and tear. The wall was overgrown by creepers. I selected that spot to hide, thinking that it would be the last place someone would look for me.
The place was not cosy. The creepers had thorns and they were brushing against my naked knees. I was wearing shorts that day. To make myself more comfortable there, I decided to uproot the plants. And with some effort I did. That was when I first met him. He was the size of my palm. Small and scaly, he was running around on the wall as if scared off me. But eventually settled down looking at me with those tiny yellow eyes. I was not really fond of lizards. But this guy with his puppy-dog nature amused me.
The first thing I did was to call my friends. I thought they would find it interesting. But they didn’t see it. They said there was nothing on the wall. But the reptile was standing there looking from one face to another like a puppy would. I thought they were pulling my leg. But no, they were serious. So I decided to step in. I had read about some lizards which use camouflage to blend-in to their surroundings – maybe this was doing something like that.At first I tried to point it out to them using a stick as I hated to touch the crawly. And then I used my palms to circle around the creature and show them where it was. That was when I realised that I could not touch the creature – all I could touch was the wall. It was like in a television. You could see the lizard crawling on the wall but it was just a moving picture. My friends thought it was another one of my practical jokes.
I told this to everyone I met – about the village pond wall and the moving picture. They did what my friends did – laughed it off.
I visited the pond the next day as well. The lizard was there. It seemed elated seeing me. It was not just a moving picture, it had life. It was recognising me. Maybe I was its only friend. I was the only one who could see it.
It seemed hungry as it jumped at a fly which sat on the wall. But the lizard stopped in midjump as if it hit a glass wall and fell. It shook its head and jumped again at the fly with the same result. All this while, the ‘real world’ fly sat on this side of the wall oblivious to those unsuccessful strikes. Even a fly couldn’t see my poor little friend. It was just a picture trying to get into the real world. I began to feel sorry for it. In grief I struck the fly and had it splattered over the wall.
Then something interesting happened. The lizard climbed up his side of the wall and in one swift motion he wiped out the remains of the dead fly. Then he licked his lips and looked at me in gratitude. I had discovered the way to feed my friend.
I had started visiting him frequently, spending less time with my friends. Flies were in abundance around the creeper vines. All I had to do was splat them against the wall so that the lizard could down them easily. My new friend had quite an appetite. And he was growing really fast. The palm-sized one had grown to the size of my arm within the first week.
With the steady supply of food, I saw his timid nature changing gradually. I saw him getting angry when I got tired of feeding him. He was not the cute guy anymore then. It was one of those days that I saw his new set of fangs. I thanked God that he was just a moving picture.
He had grown too big for the wall. He could barely walk around. But there was nothing I could do to get him to some place bigger. He was getting angrier too. The fly supply had almost diminished. So I tried other alternatives. I brought him any dead insect I could find and he greedily gobbled up their innards from the wall.
My hobby of collecting dead insects and staying aloof from my friends had started raising eyebrows. Teachers had started complaining about my falling grades. My parents even took me to a child psychiatrist. And as a result of all this I was forbidden from visiting the wall again.
I thought I would never see my friend again. I was wrong.
The bathroom wall had enough room for him. It was the wall facing the closet, which meant that I could watch him while I did my business.
Imagine my joy and surprise when two days after the ‘curfew’, I saw him on the bathroom wall. Somehow he had found a way into my world again.
I had decided to be careful about gathering food for him. No one had to find out that I was collecting dead insects again. It wasn’t easy though. My home was almost clean, so the chances of finding a creepy-crawly was very less. But I always ensured that he got fed well. There were concerns in the house about the time I spent in the bathroom, though.
The routine continued for years. He was still growing but the rate had slowed down. Maybe he was reaching adulthood like me. I had joined college and was instantly branded as the nerdy kind. Like a nerd, I joined the nature club and went on any field trips they had. It was just an excuse to find food for my friend. Each time I returned from the trip I would have polythene bags full of eatables for him.
His menu had extended beyond insects. Once I tried throwing a half-dead rat against the wall. I didn’t bother to stick it to the wall. He,as hungry as he would be, caught the rat right when it hit the wall and ate it in one bite.
Our neighbours’ dog was a constant annoyance. It used to disturb our sleep with its untimely barking. It regularly stole our newspaper and crapped on our lawn. The owners did not seem to listen to our complaints.
Getting the dead dog to the bathroom was the only hassle in my plan. My lizard friend cleaned him up in a few seconds. He wasn’t hungry anymore that day……
I woke up from my memories when I heard the distinctive sound of the key turning in the lock. Must be that attendant again. The big iron door opened.
Yes, it was him. A grim man. Does it cost that much to smile these days? You should be nice to the inmates, my friend.
He was pushing a wheelchair. It was for me.
The doctor’s room was big and spacious. The walls were ominously white, it could blind you with the perfect light. The attendant stood behind my wheelchair. The doctor sat across the table smiling at me.
‘So, how are we doing?’ he asked.
‘We shouldn’t have given him chalk, doctor. He is drawing all sorts of crap on the cell walls.’ It was the attendant who answered.
‘Hmm. I know. Let him do what he does. See, he is fried. He cant walk or talk. I am just trying to figure out what he thinks. Maybe the pictures are the only way. ‘
These guys think that I am just another cuckoo. Let them. I have never spoken to them or showed them that I can walk around, ever since they did something to my head. They say it’s part of the treatment.
I stared blankly at the ceiling. I saw my friend up there, staring at me. He had followed me into the doctor’s room, like a pet dog. The whole ceiling looked plastered in scales.
‘Again, what is he in for again, doctor?’
‘His is a strange case. Suspected for two murders. One was his neighbour and the other one his housemaid. The bodies were found dumped in a nearby pond. They found decaying bodies of some animals too. He had these delusions of some kind of imaginary reptile friend. He says he was trying to feed it. ‘ said the doctor as he took from the desk from underneath a polished stone paper weight, what appeared to be some sheets of cardboard.
The attendant snorted. ‘I will leave you with Mr. Lizardman, doctor. Ring me if you need anything.’ He turned and left, leaving us alone.
My friend had crawled down the ceiling and come to rest on the wall behind the doctor. His scaly tail was still twitching – he did that when he was hungry.
The doctor stood up and walked around the desk towards me. He arranged the cardboard sheets on my lap one by one so that I could see all of them together – those were photographs of something.
‘You drew these. Looks good to me. Can you tell me what these mean?’
Those pictures looked like chalk marks and made no sense. He said I drew those. I never did such silly doodles.
I stared at the pictures and then at the doctor.
‘Oh. Sorry. I have something for you – to cheer you up. Toffee?’
He turned around to take a box of toffees from his desk. That was my cue.
I had to stretch a bit to grab the stone paperweight from the desk. The lizard stood up and licked his lips in anticipation. He was really hungry. ”
‘Who is that?’ I asked.
‘Dad, it’s Timmy. Sorry to disturb you, but your editor had called. ‘
‘Alright, Timmy. I will call him back.’
This was annoying. All you do is promise to write a story for the magazine. They pay no advance and they say ‘no deadlines’, ‘no pressure’. But they call every hour asking ‘how is it going’ and ‘hope you can get it ready for next issue’ and stuff.
Now all I had to do was to proofread and send it to the editor. But before that I will have to let him know that the work is done.
I opened the door and saw Timmy walking up the stairs to his room, humming something. I dialled the editor.
As I waited for him to pick up, I saw a small lizard darting across the drawing room wall and hoped that was a real world one.