‘What’s going on, Satram?’ I asked with a slight quiver in my voice, as I looked on through the balcony.
‘One of the guards found that man fallen unconscious just outside our walls, sir,’ he replied, ‘He is probably dead.’
‘What was he doing there?’ I knew the answer, though.
‘Just what he has always been doing, sir.’ Satram’s tone abruptly shifted its focus to the disgust he had for the man, ‘Stealing a brick from our compound wall, while probably reciting his slogan, as usual..’
‘..just one more brick!’
‘Aye, sir! Just one more brick.’
Everybody knew him as The Crazy Old One. All he was known to be doing was to wander aimlessly on the streets. Ragged and unfitting clothes, and untidy and messy grey hair is how I used to know him. I couldn’t have cared less for him, but then, he should not have desired to have his hands on my palace.
I was everything a man would want to be; I had everything a man would want. However, unlike you would have asserted, riches were never my thing, magnificence was. And if I were to be rich, I wanted to look so gloriously. If I had a car, it had to be the most beautiful one out there. If I had a garden, it had to have the most exotic flowers anybody could have ever seen. And if I had a palace, it had to have every possible goddamn luxury to complete it. Anything lacking in the way of that grandeur had to be made mine. The world’s definition of splendour had to be made mine.
‘I have never seen anything like this in my entire life.’ I will never get over the words of the Russian photographer my cousin had brought with him a few years back, ‘This palace is like a dreamland. No man can pass through this lane without getting jealous in his bones after witnessing this absolute majesty.’
Indeed, no man could; not even an imbecile who knew no calculations of the society. He had become a joke all around by the time I came to know about his obsession. He would stand still there in front of my palace for hours, just looking at it and smiling like a child handed over its favourite toy. The guards tried all the means they had to shoo him away, but he would keep coming back. A lot of speculations were there around as to what reaction I would have to such creepiness. After all, a small rock beside a pile of gold might just spoil the fun.
I kept watching him through the balcony. He rarely moved, and even less skipped smiling at this so-believed bride of his. I had seen people astonished by the beauty of my palace, ranting about it in awe and calculating how many more lives of theirs they would have to sacrifice before they got to own such a mansion. But never had I come across any obsession as great as that of The Crazy Old Man. Maybe, somewhere I felt his was as great greed as mine, and that’s why, I wanted to see where this greed took him. My guards were finally asked not to harm or disturb the man, until he caused harm to the property.
‘A brick is missing.’ Satram came to me one morning.
‘Brick?’ I was not accustomed to hearing about anything so small, ‘What kind of a brick?’
‘A brick from the compound wall is missing, sir.’
‘And you think this is something worth wasting my time on?’
‘No, sir. What is worth telling you is that somebody is believed to have tried trespassing the property.’
‘Who would trespass the property through a space so small as a single brick? A rat?’
‘The night guards saw him removing and taking the brick with him.’
‘Yes. He was repeatedly mumbling – just one more brick, just one more brick.’
I wasn’t as shocked though. I would have done the same had I been outside those walls. The only thing, I would have been sane enough to take down the whole wall at once.
The guards were again asked to keep their hands folded, and that eased the way for that night to become a routine. Every night, that man would come, remove one more brick from the compound wall, and take it away with him. But, even after adequate space got made for him to pass through the wall, he didn’t attempt to put his foot inside. He kept taking more and more bricks away. You can never trust madmen, seriously. But, no, I slowly started realising: he never intended to own my palace. He was probably building one of his own, a replica, with the help of those bricks.
Honestly, the idea of existence of another such magnificence itself made me jealous, even though I knew for sure nobody with all their guts could build what I had, let alone that crazy oldie. Maybe, it wasn’t his ambitions that made me feel insecure, but it was his love for my mansion. What if his love for it ends up subduing mine some day? What if he becomes more worthy of it than I ever was? How can it be? It is mine; everything about this mansion is mine alone and nobody in this world can dare to even dream of boasting of it.
‘Satram, you once told me about one of your neighbours who was sent behind the bars for having burgled into Mr. Sampath’s bungalow.’ I had to do this.
‘Yes, sir,’ replied Satram, ‘but what happened?’
‘Can you please deliver these to him for me?’ I handed over a bunch of keys to him, ‘Tell him, his fortune awaits him.’
‘Wha..what does this mean, sir?’ Satram was, for all the obviousy reasons, shell shocked.
I kept my eyes closed and signalled him to leave with my last words, ‘Also, send all the night guards on a paid leave for one day. Tell them, they deserve it.’
The next morning, the servants found the lockers open and all the valuables stolen. The suspicions were aimed at one obvious being. A few people had also witnessed The Crazy Old Man leaving his so-called ‘mansion’ at midnight. After all, he was a bloody nobody, who wished of possessing what was mine.
He was brought to the courtyard, beaten up mercilessly as he pleaded for life. I kept witnessing this dreadful sight from the balcony, guilt crawling up to my head through all the veins as I tried defending to myself, ‘A man with a good heart does not long for what is not his.’
In the half-conscious state, he was spared and left back to his ‘mansion’. Amidst all the emotional conflicts, I sneaked out a little time to chuckle to myself: sit back and relax, you are the only one; this mansion is the only one!
..only if I were not wrong.
‘One of the guards found that man fallen unconscious just outside our walls, sir,’ Satram’s words had a certain grief, as if they had already adjudged me a criminal of that man’s life, ‘He is probably dead.’
I walked out of the mansion and went up to the lane outside, as the guards cleared the way for me. There he lied unmoving, with a brick clutched in his hands so hard as wouldn’t allow anybody to take it away from him so easily. A guard brought the brick for me. It was hard lifting it, but wasn’t heavier than my guilt either.
‘I shall do it, for you.’ I told The Crazy Old Man under my voice, ‘I shall finish what dream you had started building.’
The locals guided me to his mansion. It was not a crowded place. Just a corner in an open ground. A few pieces of wooden rods, metal roofs, plastic sheets and clothes – all picked up from scrap were put up together to build this small world of his. It was clearly attempted to be given the shape of my mansion. I tried putting the brick to wherever it fit, but hell, it didn’t fit anywhere, simply because there were no other bricks there, like, at all.
‘Where did he take all of them then?’ I puzzled myself, ‘What did he do with all those bricks? He wasn’t smart enough to sell them for sure. Where are they?’
‘Sir, why is there no wall on this side?’ Satram drew my attention to one side of the mansion, which was open to the ground.
‘What side is this?’
‘It’s the back of the mansion.’
I looked at the open ground for a while, and then asked him, ‘What is at the back of my mansion?’
‘A scrapyard, sir.’
The back of my mansion looked at a huge scrapyard, layered with all the filth there could be. The long stretch of the scrapyard rarely saw any man walking across it, unless for throwing more garbage at it. I recalled how I was so disgusted at the sight when I first built the mansion that I had ordered there not to be any window or door at the back of the palace. I didn’t want to believe in any reason that downgraded my mansion’s value.
I walked up to the wall. The tons of garbage had ended up spitting dirt all over the wall. The golden colour of the wall could hardly be recognized anymore, except for in one corner. A few bricks were piled up together in that corner to conceal the dirt beneath them, to make the wall look as magnificent as it truly was.
‘No way, this cannot be.’ Tears rolled down my cheeks as I slowly moved to that corner, mumbling repeatedly, ‘A man with a good heart does not long for what is not his.’
‘..but what about loving what is not his?’ That Crazy Old Man told me in my ears.
I put the brick upon the others, trying to match my love for my mansion with his, ‘Just one more brick!’