The Loneliest Wallah (III): The Night Watchman
by Dave Prager
Originally published on The India Tube
“Up here!” I shout down to the street, waving my phone to get the attention of my party guests. I also get the attention of the neighborhood guard, who looks up from his post across from our flat. He sits next to our street’s iron gate, which is closed because it’s after eleven—the dangers of the Delhi night, you see, can be kept at bay by an unarmed seventeen-year-old guard with a whistle. Which is why this guy is hired by the neighborhood association to sit all night, every night, no matter how cold it may get.
My guests see me and wave back. They file out of their auto and past the guard and into my building. The guard watches the girls pass while I disappear back into the warm yellow light. Then he settles back in his seat, a cracked blue piece of weather-beaten plastic that once stood proudly in a hospital waiting room. He wraps his grey blanket tight against the cold wind, sits under the dim naked light bulb hanging from the tree, and waits for the opportunity to do his job.
His job consists of two tasks: closing the gate at eleven PM, and opening it when cars come by.
I come back to the balcony to guide more friends to the party. The guard has started a fire using scrap newspaper and plastic chai cups as fuel. I watch him stamp his feet and smell the toxic fumes and wonder if he knows they’re toxic. But it probably doesn’t matter to him, because it’s cold in Delhi in the winter, except for in my apartment, where the wine is flowing and the glasses are clinking and the sound of our laughter drifts over the guard’s head and into the night.
Some time later, I return to the balcony once more. The guard is sleeping, his head slumped left and his body cocooned tightly in the blanket, but not for long: my friend pulls his car to the gate and honks twice to rouse him. It’s well after two AM. A stray dog, sleeping nearby, doesn’t even look up.
The guard trudges to the gate. He opens it. He watches the shiny car glide past. He closes the gate. He wraps the blanket around his body. He trudges back to his seat.
Upstairs in my apartment, somebody turns the music louder.