To read the first part of the story, click here.
This is a guest post. The author chooses to remain anonymous.
At exactly half-past six, he would open the hall and would start cleaning it. His weapons being a mop and bucket of water and phenyl, he would clean through the hall that would be treated with the spit and semen of the men that took the seats. He had to clean the hall after every show because he knew many people would play with themselves during the movie and he could do nothing to stop them. At exactly fifteen minutes to seven, he would hear the murmur of people appearing outside Swagat Cinema. As he would step into the ticket counter, he would see the faces of the men who use the night to mask their intentions.
The audience came from various sections of the society and Swagat Cinema welcomed them all. There were laborers who toiled throughout the day and decided to watch porn for a change instead of drinking alcohol. There were college students who would sneak out of their houses and see their imagination become reality on screen. The audience also consisted of unhappy husbands who would watch a show and masturbate all night thinking about it. A majority of men also consisted of the people who would be visiting the red light area of the city and wanted to prepare themselves for the night ahead and there were some too, who, unhappy with their experience with a prostitute would find solace in the never-ending moaning of the actress on screen.
The initial months of the job, Prabhat was excited as he would watch cinema but as he got aware of the content, his interest in the cinemas on the screen faded, in order to kill time, he decided to read a newspaper inside the projector room. So every day, he would buy a newspaper while on his way to the Theatre and would read every single article while the movies where being screened.
‘Schrodinger’s Cat experiment’ he read the heading of the article while the audience continuously howled at the actor forcefully kissing the actress on the screen. The article was about a scientific experiment that was carried out by a scientist named Erwin Schrodinger. The experiment consisted of a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive material all sealed in a box. The experiment was concluded saying the cat was alive as well as dead as long as the box was closed. The moment the box was opened, the cat had to be either dead or alive. ‘Scientists say anything that they feel like and name it an experiment and think we will foolishly believe it.’ chuckled an amused Prabhat as he turned the page to find the matrimonial section. He chuckled again and turned the page. Marriages had never interested him and after turning forty, he had left all hopes of ever getting married, for him now the dream was only to enter the world of cinema. As the film neared its end, he picked up the mop and bucket and proceeded to the hall.
Standing near the door, he would see some of the people in the theatre. Passing comments at the actresses’ clothes, cheering the victory of the hero over the witch and dancing to any music that played. Prabhat observed that the corner seat was always occupied by the same two people who would always choose the corner seats. The men were never interested in the movie and would talk, laugh, and sit really close to each other and would occasionally touch each other inappropriately. ‘Must be really good friends’ Prabhat said to himself as he saw both of them giggling when one of them whispered something in the other’s ear.
As the present batch started leaving after the movie ended, Prabhat started cleaning the hall immediately so that the theatre was prepared for the next group of people. The hall was empty again and as Prabhat started cleaning through the mess, he saw a young man sitting in the middle row. ‘Oh, babu! Are you not satisfied yet? Get a ticket for the next show then!’ snarked Prabhat. The job had made him slightly cantankerous. The man didn’t reply. Prabhat walked up to him and asked him to leave again. The person looked up and Prabhat was shocked as he saw it was a young boy, hardly 19 years of age and his eyes were full of tears. Prabhat softened his tone immediately and asked ‘What happened boy? Is something wrong?’ ‘I want to die’ came the reply as the boy broke down into tears. The mention of death scared Prabhat. He asked the boy to follow him to the projector room and asked him to wait there until he makes the preparation for the last show of the day. He left in a jiffy and as the crowd was less for the last show the tickets were quickly sold and he made his way back to the projector room. He hastily set up the film reel and switched on the projector. As the projector began with its clicking noise, Prabhat asked the boy ‘Tell me what happened son? Maybe I can help you.’ The boy was sitting on a stool and kept quiet for a moment. He started crying and in a muffled voice said ‘I want to die because I failed my college exams.’ Prabhat didn’t know how to make him understand. ‘So what? You’ll not fail the next time. Why are you thinking about dying? Do your parents know about you being here?’ The boy shook his head horizontally. ‘I ran away from the house. I didn’t tell them about my results. They’ll kill me’ said the boy sniffling. Images of his own story came in Prabhat’s head as he saw himself in the same situation. Maybe he had taken the wrong decision. Maybe he shouldn’t have done what he did, but he couldn’t let someone else commit the same mistake. He held the boy’s hand and said ‘Listen to me son, nothing good will come out of the decision. Think about your parents. How will they feel if they know that you want to kill yourself?’ The boy was now looking straight into Prabhat’s eyes, teary-eyed. ‘Failure is not the end of the road. You can do so many things. Death is never the way out.’ he continued and told him his own story. The boy seemed calmer now and had stopped crying. ‘Where is your house?’ Prabhat asked him. ‘Nearby’ replied the kid.
‘Promise me you will go back to your house and tell your parents the truth and never talk about death.’
The boy nodded. He had a slight smile on his face. He got up the stool and headed for the exit.
‘Should I come with you?’ asked Prabhat.
‘No no thank you so much’ said the boy as he shook hands with him and left the hall.
That night as Prabhat returned home, he felt a sense of pride. He had saved the life of a young boy and also taught him the importance of life. Every night before sleeping Prabhat would act out some of his favorite dialogues which he would remember when he went to watch a movie every Friday morning. That night, he play-acted Rajesh Khanna’s monologue from the movie “Anand” where his character would speak about life being a stage. He slept peacefully that night.
A couple of days later, while a movie was being screened and Prabhat was reading through the newspaper, he found a small article on the second page. The article was about a young man’s body that was found on the river bed last night. Prabhat felt a chill run down his spine as he read the article. The man, in his early 20s, had drowned in the river and was unidentified. That is when Prabhat realised that he had never asked the boy his name. ‘Could it be him? But he promised he would go home? Why would he do it?’ Prabhat asked himself the questions to which he had no answers. He started thinking. ‘This can be someone else. Hundreds of people drown in the river every day. It can be any 20 years old. I am pretty sure the boy went home and told his parents everything.’ His heart slowly felt lighter. He thought about how the boy had started preparing for his exams and this was some other boy who had unfortunately died. There were no photographs in the paper either, so he felt more confident that this was not the boy.
Prabhat waited to read the newspaper every day the whole week to find out any news about the identity of the young man but he was never mentioned. The story had got lost in the crowd of other news like the Match Fixing scandal in cricket and the Miss Universe winner being a girl from India. Gradually Prabhat decided to believe that the young boy he had met in the theatre was alive and happily living with his parents.
“Schrodinger’s Cat.” he understood.