BACK TO DARKNESS

Divyank Jain

It was 1 o'clock in the night and the road was tightly busy. They stopped outside a seventeen-storey hotel, gleaming as passing vehicles’ headlights reflected in its front window glasses and doors. Ravi, who had come to that part of the city for the first time, liked all the tall buildings in this city though he liked the hotel more. With the pride he had lately acquired in belonging to this city, he saw himself in the huge entry door of the hotel before turning to the left, following his uncle down the ramp.

Down there, in the dark narrowness, was a collapsible gate, over which a board was hanging and tiny glittering green lights were attached to it to form the name 'RANJAN-PALACE'. But the way it was poorly written manifested that this hidden place was not owned by the hotel's management but a much less affluent one. A watchman with a stiff face, white beard and khaki shirt slid the iron bars open for them, gave a reluctant bow to his uncle, spat in the corner, and stared at Ravi from under his thick white brows until they passed the slope and entered into a darker side, inclining their heads.

The blinding blue light from the hanging tiny bulbs came sudden and hard on Ravi's eyes as he walked in, afraid to surpass his uncle's shadow. His uncle, 39 years old, recently divorced, and not much taller than him, winked at a waiter. The waiter with a tray in hand smiled, showing his teeth in blue. His hair was blue too. Until he went away to the people on the left, swinging the tray over his shoulder, balancing it merely on three fingers of his small right hand, Ravi couldn't move his eyes from the glasses placed on it, clinking, spilling out something.

They walked up to the corner which was familiar to his uncle, and Ravi discerned that from his carefree walk towards the particular direction while the tiny blue bulbs illuminating the entire hall turned into red, so slowly that his eyes could not spot the change until it was done. Now, the blue shirts of waiters racing across the vague hall with trays in hands were red. The walls were red, and the carpet under their shoes was red too. His uncle's broad face looked terrifyingly reddish. Ravi checked the skin of his right fist, red!

"The most peaceful place in the world," the uncle guffawed, standing under the spinning chandelier that was sending gold coins onto the red carpet. Ravi watched them circling while his uncle's laughter reverberated in the empty corner before there was complete silence again. His uncle smoothed his hands on his pants and sat down on the leather sofa which was made for three but it didn't make a big difference because his stout uncle left no space for anyone else to sit there. And no one was coming to this corner. Ravi's knees were touching each other, his elbows were on them.

"Here, no-one's gonna see you, boy," his uncle said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry!" He winked. Ravi leaned a little backward trying to make himself comfortable.

A waiter came, placed the water pitcher on the table. "He's eighteen," said his uncle and laughed. "He looks younger, though, doesn't he?" he said, looking at Ravi's rounded face.

"Yes," the waiter replied, not bothering to look at Ravi. "What'd you take, sir?"

"Are you new here?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you ask the same thing to everyone who wants a little time of in-disturbance?"

"No sir, sorry. We have all sorts. What kind do you like?"

"That's how you drill our ears with your piercing voice? Now go to hell and send that one here. That small one."

"I am sorry, sir."

As the waiter went away, Ravi’s uncle turned to him and said, "Don't be that person ever."

"Yes, he behaved strangely." Ravi guessed.

"No, he behaved exactly how a waiter should behave and how they trained them to… but don't be that person ever."

"What do you mean, uncle?"

"Be strong! When someone says 'go-to-hell,' punch in his face no matter how hard your knuckles hurt afterwards, ha-ha. Punch right on their nose!"

As the red light turned pink, the other waiter came and leaned over, sheepishly smiling.

"A light-one for the beginner and I'll take the same one, but harder," said his uncle and made a queer growl, grinding his teeth while pronouncing 'harder.’ The waiter went away. Although he seemed disturbed by Ravi's presence, Ravi was more disturbed than anyone else in the entire hall.

"How old are you really?" his uncle asked.

"Sixteen."

Ravi watched the waiter walking away, not manly.

"You like this city now?"

"Yeah," Ravi caught his uncle's eyes observing his shy skinny hands.

"What d'you like about this city? Surely not the traffic." His uncle cackled manly. "No parking space but so many cars."

Ravi said, "I like the buildings, they are all so tall, and.. also the people, their attire and they are so fast."

"Here, the girls are faster than cars. You like girls?"

Ravi stared down on the floor.

"Don't be afraid. I am not going to tell anyone whatever happens here between us and I believe you also -"

"Sure, uncle."

"Then, look at me."

Ravi looked up and then down again.

"Tell me, d'you like some cute chicks from your school?"

Ravi nodded.

"How does she look? Taller or puffy?"

He didn't answer.

"Is she hot?"

Ravi promptly looked up into his uncle's eyes. Then, he felt something peculiar about looking into them. He lowered his eyes again.

After a minute of bizarre silence, the waiter came back with a tray and put down all the glassy stuff on the table. Ravi saw it, his eyes bulging out, shoved backwards, and caught the waiter raising a brow at his uncle. The uncle, not looking at the waiter, said, "Later, come later," and waved him away. Ravi thought the waiter was asking for something.

"Isn't it hot here?" the uncle asked after a while.

"Yes."

"You can put aside your jacket." His uncle slid out his jacket and hung it on the back of the sofa, spreading out his legs to relax. Slowly, Ravi unzipped his jacket, opened it. All the while the uncle's eagle eyes were checking him out, noticing each nervous moment of his body. Ravi sat there hugging himself afterwards.

"Drink it," his uncle offered. "You'll feel better."

"But it's cold." Ravi touched and pulled his fingers back.

"Every cold thing makes you feel warm afterwards and every hot thing cools you down. Remember that." His uncle laughed and touched Ravi's neck. A sudden vibration crossed his entire body. "You are already hot, boy." He winked at him.

Ravi shifted his eyes to the table to take hold of the glass carefully, his hands shivering. Picking it up, he looked down into its floating redness. He had always wanted this day to come once in his life, but not like this, not with his uncle whom he had considered a father figure after his own father's death. In regretful nervousness, he looked at his uncle who had gulped down the glass-full and waited for him to do so. Ravi closed his eyes, leaned a bit forward, lowering his head, tasted it. He shook his head hard immediately, trying to forget about what the damn thing had stuck on his tongue. His uncle swallowed another as if the bloody thing was made of honey.

"You don't wanna try this now, but after a few shots, it will become sweeter than the sweetest thing you remember," his uncle said and drank another glass full. His eyes were now pink while his forehead shone in the pale blue.

"Boy, here you need to learn new things and you need to learn them faster."

Resentful, Ravi took another sip. It tasted gingery and a bit better than before.

"So, tell me about that girl. You like her body?"

Ravi looked at him sharply and said nothing.

"In love with her?"

"No."

"Good! A man should never love."

"W-why?"

"Love is not for the man. The man is made for different kinds of drinks, not for love. And there are many thousands in this world." His uncle raised the glass, smiling but not showing his teeth this time.

"Don't you miss aunty, uncle?" Ravi dared to ask after a while.

"Why should I? She ditched me for another man. Yeah, I am telling the truth, now. This damn thing makes you spit all the truth." He put the glass down on the table hard. "I am happy that I am divorced. Free now. Look! I can do anything and there are a lot of things to do in this city." He winked again at Ravi. "Now we are both alike, boy, and there are a lot of new things we could try right here."

Ravi, not answering, looked at the clock. It was a quarter past 1 o'clock. He hoped it would be a bit faster when his uncle placed his firm hand on his thigh, smoothly.

"So, what were you saying about your fucking girlfriend?" Ravi looked up, shocked. His uncle's eyes were red, his hairs hanging ahead of his forehead.

"I... I don't have one, uncle."

"You are lying, don't you? Young girls would die for such a cute face of yours." The uncle touched his left cheek, rubbed it with his harsh skin. "They would want to rub their cheeks here, ha-ha."

As his uncle inched closer, Ravi pushed himself backwards with his uncle's hand pressed on his thigh. He dared not to remove it.

"When a girl does so, you must know what to do next. Do you know where you should touch a girl?" He felt his uncle's hand inching upward slowly. "You know what they hide in here?" Ravi shivered as his uncle's sturdy hand touched the main part and pulled his hand back, raising his brows, admiringly. "You have grown up, child, don't you?"

Ravi, bewildered about what he should do, took hold of another glass and emptied it as fast as he could. "You are becoming a man now," his uncle announced and refilled the glass. "Drink it!" Ravi looked down at his big hand, caressing his thigh, again.

"It's time to try my taste. Drink this one, boy." His voice rose.

Ravi took it and finished it. He felt his throat was melting down with it and the uncle stared at him for a while.

"Yeah! Now, It's time to try another thing. A brand new thing for you."

The uncle, excited, called out the same waiter after he had finished the whole bottle. The waiter came with another bottle and looked at Ravi with envious eyes. Before leaving, the waiter swayed to Ravi's right side and tiptoed to touch something on the roof. Not until he slid the navy blue curtain wide open from behind, had Ravi noticed it.

Now, with the fabric walls around them, it looked like a dark, rounded room, which was getting hotter and hotter with Ravi's breath. He felt wet in armpits too and was also shivering though, but only in the lower part of his body. He had dark presentiments. As soon as Ravi sensed his uncle leaning over him, he backed off, desperately wanting to get rid of his shadow.

"So, you never touched a girl?" his uncle repeated looking at the wrinkles on Ravi's forehead. And, Ravi, faint as he was, wiped the sweat away.

"Answer me, boy."

"No," he said.

"You know how to touch a girl?"

"No."

"Open your shirt."

"What?"

"It's too hot? No? Come on, open it."

His uncle opened the shirt and then removed the belt. Even though Ravi felt something blocking his eyesight, he could see his uncle's hairy belly in pink, inflating. "Now it feels like home." The uncle declared as he picked up the bottle to guzzle it down. While pouring it into his mouth, he put his other sweaty arm around Ravi's shoulder, pulling him closer. Ravi stared at his arm until his uncle put down the bottle with a thud.

"Open your shirt, man. You are sweating like hell."

Ravi, lowering his eyes, touched the fabric of his shirt. His pink hands, initially, failed to find the buttons even though he could measure their distance with his eyes. With great struggle and a humming sound in the back of his head, he opened all the buttons, one by one. He felt like falling asleep. Then, he felt his sweat freezing. Suddenly, he shuddered as his uncle placed his hand on his naked shoulder.

"Now drink it."

"No," Ravi said, "I must not, uncle."

"Drink it!"

His uncle pulled him closer. He could feel his warm breath on his shoulder and chest.

"I do.. wan...uncle, please," Ravi said looking down at his shoes.

"Of course, you want it boy. Don't be shy, now. I am your friend now. Let me teach you everything about girls and their bodies. Don't be shy. Be the one who can survive in this city as I did." his uncle said, sucking his lower lip. Ravi felt his fingers fondling his shoulder, then his nails scratching his chest and then, there, his uncle pinched something hard. Ravi hurled away. Trying to wake himself up, he said. "No, uncle, please."

But his uncle held the glass in one hand and grabbed Ravi's head from the back in another to make him drink the whole of it, forcefully. "You must become a man, tonight." His deep voice echoed in Ravi's ears. Half the wine gushed out from his mouth, and down on his bare chest and then he heard it dripping on the leather. He tried to push his uncle's heavy, hairy hands back, but he couldn't. He choked and finally, with all his force, jerked his big hand away, throwing the glass down on the floor.

The thirty-nine-year-old man growled and threw his nephew down on the sofa. Ravi, light-headed, felt he was flying downward in a swirl. He saw the big square of his uncle's face floating and coming down closer to his belly. Ravi felt cold there. He felt cold in the knees. He felt cold all over. The skinny legs trembled, then, he writhed hard under the great pressure, though he felt very small against his uncle. Tightly closing his eyes and clenching his teeth, Ravi managed to fold up his right knee and then they both wrestled. His hands couldn't repel him away. Ravi slipped and rolled from the sofa down on the red-carpeted floor and hit his head hard on a table leg. He shook his head. Now he felt like waking up again.

His uncle struggled to stand up straight, and limped towards him, but stumbled upon the table. The half-filled bottle rolled down, pouring the wine all over the carpet. His uncle stood up, heavily strode towards him. Ravi heaved himself upright at the moment. As his uncle came closer, Ravi drove him back with both his hands, though it only threw Ravi backwards. His uncle, balancing on his trembling legs, shook his head like a bull, trying to walk steadily, he roared, "go to hell!"

As the red lights turned blue, and his uncle came closer, Ravi lifted the bottle off the ground and smashed it right in the centre of his uncle's heavy face hanging on an unstable neck. He saw something darker running down from his uncle's nose and upper lip. Ravi stepped further for another strike but his uncle walked backwards and toppled over the table, his body laid on the table and head on the ground between the sofa and the table. His evil eyes were staring at nothing.

Panting, Ravi glared down at his stained fist. He put on his shirt and jacket, then removed the curtain slightly. No one was there except for the small waiter who was playing something on his phone with earbuds plugged in. The waiter looked up at Ravi with a blank look as if he was deaf. For a moment, he seemed to stare at Ravi but he uttered nothing and lowered his eyes and went back inside.

He noticed that there was no light now as he came back and sat down on the sofa in the dark beside his uncle and waited for more than two hours thinking about something.

The uncle woke up, baffled as he found his body in an unexpected position with his nephew's stinging eyes on him. He stood up, touched his nose with the tip of his fingers. Looked at Ravi again and then down at his shoes. Then, he started sobbing and kept sobbing and weeping while he put on his shirt and jacket and clasped the belt. After wiping his cheeks, as he found Ravi still glaring at him, he lowered his eyes again in shame and sat down on the sofa beside Ravi and there he cried even harder. "I miss her. Ravi, I utterly miss her every single day." His uncle choked.

Ravi grabbed his shoulder and lifted him. "I hate myself," his uncle sobbed. "I would kill myself."

Ravi, not answering, walked him to the door and then out of it. The watchman stood there, not yet sleepy, glared at them both coming out with his hateful dark eyes under white brows. As his uncle passed, brushing his khaki shirt, Ravi saw the bloodstains on his upper lip and nose. The old man spat and then smiled. Ravi smiled back and kept smiling until he was out.

It was dark and cool out there and the road was empty. Ravi could take his uncle back to his house easily. Not looking back at the tall dazzling building which Ravi liked the most in this city, he kept walking straight towards the darkness spread out there. He didn't hate it, but he no longer belonged to it. He thought it was better not to think about the city, its lights and its buildings. Ravi wanted to think about the first-morning train back to his town.

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Divyank Jain is a 26-year-old writer based in Udaipur, India. Although a teacher, he loves writing and reading. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines such as Notions of Living, Notions of Healing, Chariots of Rebellion, Radiate Lit. Journal, Activemuse, Listreamazine, Together Magazine, Star Gazette Magazine, and The Firefly Review. He is currently working on his debut novella.