The Human Menagerie

“When you have nothing to go back to, you just stand there staggering, in a very perilous state I must add. Your discernment deprived of stability and troubling, oh! Very troubling for the ones you loved ” he spoke rapidly, followed by a convulsive catching of breath before he resumed. “But do not worry my comrades,” he boasted in his oily baritone voice, perhaps to instil what came across as a very false sense of security, “we are all there for each other. Always, oh yes! Always.”

An oblique applause characteristic of unexpressed disapproval followed. The orator who had previously bellowed as if his breath support came from the blowing of a French horn instead of his spasmodic windpipe, seemed rather quiet after what he considered a skilful exhibition of what he had to, or simply helpless for his incompetence, could offer. Many faces feebly bounced up and down against the comfort of thin air, thrusting their skull-like heads into their palm or drowsily bobbling it sideways onto their neighbours hunched shoulders. The raw-boned fingers of Horace Tennyson’s neighbour were bent into a fist as his head too, lay reclined against his frail bundle of intertwined fingers. They were creased by wrinkles sinking deep within the flesh, enough to make piercing wounds, observed Mr Tennyson. The skeletal fingers, contrary to the speaker’s sausage-like ones, hid from sight what Mr Tennyson deduced to be out of sheer boredom, the more expressive part of his neighbour’s hollow and shrivelled face, the mouth. It was unrealistic, he thought, his cataract-tainted pupils unfocused with dismay, that any man in his elder years would have his youthful visage fractured with resign and etched with lines of brutish agony. He had hoped for a single radiant feature in a face so dull and sulky, so deprived of life that in hopes of concocting an excuse in favour of himself, assumed that he would witness a smiling return to consciousness of his neighbour that would indicate otherwise. Mr. Tennyson delivered a deep sigh.

The audience, however, remained as silent as ever.

One could, except for the orator who stood grinning and in hopes of reciprocity from the audience, figure that their silence was very much typical of an audience’s response to being firmly struck with ennui. It was much better than lending an ear to the what a few minutes prior, were resounding attempts of indoctrination coming from the buffoon in front, thought Mr. Tennyson. He had been shoved into another one of those dispiriting community sessions with a psychiatrist cum motivational speaker. The only comforting feeling, frivolous as it may have been, arose from the triumph on successfully resisting the overwhelming sensation of resign in the environment. Left right and centre, his neighbour’s faces seemed so dreadful and drained of the capacity to feel any pleasure, it was revolting to even look at the sight of them.

“Give them credit-making it morbid-this place ,” he muttered incoherently as he scrambled for his handkerchief in the chest pocket of his striped suit jacket. The humid weather had added to higher blood sugar levels perhaps, for his forehead was covered with several more beads of sweat than before.

“Bitter people. Very foul. All of them!” he added wiping his brow.

“Want to get rid of me, eh? Going to let go that easily, eh? Over my dead body!”, he went further, cursing and swearing with aversive tones.

But in the midst of vexed temper and revulsion, inadvertently perhaps, in the agitated flutter of his sunken eyes, there glistened a sense of pity. He took another heated look at his neighbour, now shamelessly drooling, and then sighed. He couldn’t have thought of the whole scenario to be any less than a foul specimen of the social menagerie.

“Are you warm enough Dad?” said the young gentlemanly voice of a man as his fingers turned clockwise one of the many knobs below the ventilator, towards the widening strip of red stuck just outlining its ends. After glancing acutely at the car mirror, he replaced his left hand on the chromium-rimmed steering wheel in spite of what seemed to be an already firm grasp from the right. To his annoyance, however, the sound which responded wasn’t as polite as his question. Horace Tennyson had grunted. He sat reclined in the backseat and had momentarily turned his gaze, to face in front,  from the glass window which might have been as good as opaque with the perpetual raindrops whipping its surface. It had been half an hour since his departure from his previous place of tenancy, and that he had been glad of.

Overtly employed closeness in his voice this time, the driver went again, “How was it, Dad? I know things have been difficult but if you wish to —“

“Fair enough.” interrupted Mr. Tennyson in his hoarse voice, “go on.”

“Uh yeah, so how do you feel after the session?” he asked, then added, “Better?” in an underlying whisper as if he was expected to say that if he wanted an answer.

“Like being thrown from a fire into the frying pan” Tennyson grunted with an indignant look at the car mirror from which the driver removed his gaze at once. “Is-is that better?” he growled.

“Well its too bad that a frying pan is as good as we can get you.”

“We?” questioned Tennyson, his breathing now echoing in loud gasps, before he started to cough and pressed his handkerchief on his mouth.

“Well yes, if you insist, I.” his son completed. ”Any mind you,” with a slight hysteria now contaminating his speech. “None of my friends are spending this much on their—“

“Ah! Yes! None of your friends! None of those filthy friends of yours! ”, his face contorted with rage. Tennyson’s hands quivered even as he placed them on his knee, for his fingers shook uncontrollably.

“Stop the car”, he whispered, the words still uttered in shudders. “Stop the car,” it grew louder and then, “Stop the car! Didn’t you hear me! Stop the car !”, he shouted. His eyes had become bloodshot red and bestowed a murderous glare onto the car mirror and a feeble thud was heard upon his kicking the seat.

“Oh you trust me !”, his son’s voice raised, then a quivering gasp, “Oh you trust me I would! You old man!”

He shook the breaks. The car swirled to the right with a deafening screech and then seemed to stop, as both the driver and cursing passenger fell forward.

“Yes!-I’d rather die-stay here”, muttered Tennyson once again in incoherent sentences.

His son, whose foul temper seemed to recede out of concern with the supposed damages to the vehicle, stepped out immediately. His weight supported by his hand gripping the bonnet’s front, he crouched forward pushing his foot onto the tire to check its pressure, then moved to the coal-black plate above, running a smooth hand on its surface examining for any scratches. Mr. Tennyson had looked anxious but his son raised his eyebrows and glared upon hearing the clunk of the car door unlocking. Mr. Tennyson sat back. He smashed the door inside, pushing his foot on the accelerator, indifferent to the effects of suddenly speeding up, namely the engine rumbling and a man, the clear reflection of whose grotesque face in the shining mirror knelt down, spluttering phlegm on his white napkin.

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