‘Where did you earn that filth?’ he asked about the money.
I told him about the dying man, and asked him to help me understand the mysterious incident. ‘It’s quite simple,’ he said. ‘The man ran a marathon to pass on the baton to you.’
‘Why me?’ I asked.
‘Perhaps you’d live his life again. You are his heir,’ he said. ‘You might retrace his steps and that’s why he asked you to burn the book that had his life’s story – the story that might be of your life too. What right you’ve to learn about the naughty details of your upcoming life?’
And he laughed. I didn’t join him. ‘But who shot him?’ I asked.
‘Since the sack filled with gold wasn’t touched, so they were after the book,’ he said. ‘If I am righ, and I am seldom wrong, the man ran to save his book. And buried it.’
‘Save? From whom?’ I asked.
‘Once I went in search of fodder for my Rucio and wandered to a distant place,’ the smiling man said. ‘The place is ruled by a blind man who has ordered all the books to be burned.’
‘To be burned,’ I said. ‘But why?’
‘Perhaps he thinks that a book expresses the frenzy of a devilish mind,’ he replied. ‘When I reached the place I saw the blind man addressing his followers. He was holding a book in his hand. The man smelled the book and said that it had the smell of a woman’s lips. A woman, the blind man said, could never write a good book. He ordered the book to be burned, along with the writer.’
‘But I saw a man there,’ I interrupted him.
‘The story hasn’t ended,’ the man said, annoyed. ‘Next the blind man picked another book and inhaled its smell. Unwashed beard, he shouted… a male writer’s work. Hang him by his beard… hang him till death. But burn the book first… without reading…’
And he laughed after telling the story – a story that made sense to me.
‘Where are you going?’ he asked, with that old familiar smile still pasted over his lips.
‘On a pilgrimage,’ I replied.
‘But I haven’t seen a shrine in our part of the world,’ he said, swaying the stick to hit the slackening donkey.
‘It’s a voyage to find myself,’ I answered in a cliche. I was tempted to add that I was on a trip to atone for some sin; and to liberate people too. But I didn’t want to beat my own drum, and scare the man away.
‘A true pilgrim you are,’ he said. ‘At such a young age too. Here am I! A man who had maimed and mauled the earth for fifty years… yet, I don’t know who I am. But what is the need, eh!’