The night for her has had different meanings at different times. When she was young, she would smuggle ‘Famous Five’s to bed and read on till her mother finished her chores in the kitchen and came to switch off the light. Soon she ‘grew up’ and was sleeping alone. In a narrow bed. But it was bliss. She looked at herself as the queen of her territory. Now, she read story books well into the night. And winter was especially her favourite. At ten o clock, when the factory hooter signaled the end of the day shift and the beginning of the night shift for the workers, her mother took the cue to warn her. But the night somehow gave her courage. Made her bold.
At the time of her school examinations, she was thrilled to stay up late and study. The excitement however, was somewhat dampened when mother permitted her to do so. Mother’s approval diluted the defiance. Sad and disheartened, she took to early nights.
Then her nights came alive once again when she had to attend to nightly conversations over the phone. The cell phone was hers beyond 8 pm and she convinced mother of its necessity for serious discussions on problems that she may not be able to solve. Mother, to her surprise, believed her. Those were magical nights. The dreaminess of adolescence and the magic of stolen night-time conversations was an intoxicating concoction.
Now, however, all these are things of the past. She preserves them in the silver wrapping of innocence. Now, her nights are haunted. She has seen too much, understood too much. The ten o’clock hooter now sounds like the ghoulish howl of some smoky monster, framed against the red sky of factory smoke. Her storybooks are gone. In its place is a fancy, compact net-book, the centre of the present, distorted universe. She stares at its screen each night till her eyes water and sting when blinked. Then she fears if she will soon turn blind like her maternal grandfather. Is blindness genetic?
Sleep evades her. The night guard strolls by, tonk tonking his stick on the street. She looks back to the bright screen, dislodges her hand from under the chin and googles the question,
“Is blindness genetic?”