As an adolescent I was responsible for an accident that resulted in a good three-quarters of my friend's little finger getting chopped off. Right hand. We were goofing around, four of us, the victim on the enclosed window ledge in his room-we needed him to be trapped; I don't recollect the details of the scene we were supposed to be enacting. He was trying to interrupt us, some idea or improvisation had occurred to him, one that would perhaps have enriched the game, but I was impatient and released the catch in my haste, the window promptly landing like a guillotine upon the finger which happened to be lingering on the sill. A cross-genre fiction piece by Dion D'Souza
EXT. A FOREST – SUNSET
A FACE, middle-aged and male, lips quivering, forehead bathed in sweat, eyes widened in terror.
Let me live, my Lord! I am a poor man and have many children!
A LITTLE FINGER is seen against an indistinct background. LITTLE FINGER bends upwards slowly, tremblingly, straightens out, falls back, lifts itself, droops, raises itself, stops moving.
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As an adolescent I was responsible for an accident that resulted in a good three-quarters of my friend’s little finger getting chopped off. Right hand. We were goofing around, four of us, the victim on the enclosed window ledge in his room-we needed him to be trapped; I don’t recollect the details of the scene we were supposed to be enacting. He was trying to interrupt us, some idea or improvisation had occurred to him, one that would perhaps have enriched the game, but I was impatient and released the catch in my haste, the window promptly landing like a guillotine upon the finger which happened to be lingering on the sill.
He started screaming. A huge chunk of his finger lay on the table below the window, inside the room, where we stood, shocked, silent, muffled screams flying at us. It just lay there, an unreal object, trickling blood. Like a plump lizard’s tail, not wriggling. A beheaded pinkie, pollarded pinkie. Pointing?
It did not for long. My friend’s mother had the presence of mind to pick it up and store it in a plastic bag filled with ice; then she rushed to the hospital with him.
Thankfully, the sliced portion of the finger could be sutured back. For a long time after that, we remained very good friends. Our drifting apart, when it eventually happened, was very natural, and I can safely say that the scarred finger had had no role to play.
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Years later, I wrote a poem about Angulimala, a dreaded bandit and serial killer who was transformed by an encounter with the Buddha. The Holy One, in his serene wisdom, gauged that here was a floundering soul in urgent need of rescuing, one that could be aided to alight more quickly from the tireless wheel of life and death, spared the giddiness of a few additional and harrowing spins.
Angulimala had superhuman strength and a superhuman lack of compassion that allowed him to kill. And kill. And kill. When terrorised villagers started avoiding the forest route, he started barging into their houses. Birds nibbled on his fleshy prizes when he hung them from a tree, so he began accessorizing, stringing them together like a medley or bits of karma and wearing them around his neck. This proud, bold, peculiar and grisly fashion move earned him a new appellation, a rechristening that was only fitting because he had rendered wholly incongruous the name he was given by a pious and conscientious father who wished to shield his child from the signs and omens at the time of his birth.
So much for names determining or influencing a person’s destiny, you might say, so much for all the care and thought parents lavish on them. Well, in the end, Angulimala did end up living up to his name. But that came much later. As far as salvations go, this one, though attained prematurely, was no less hard won.
At the time of his maddeningly frustrating chase of the Buddha-he who had raced after and overpowered elephant, horse and deer!-the body count stood at 999. Presently, he was seeking his thousandth and final victim. It was a tough choice. Mother or ascetic. One imagines Angulimala, ensconced in his hilly hideout, eyes darting from one potential victim to the other, inwardly debating. Either way he would be going to hell. Still, at the last moment, he decided against matricide. Let her live, he told himself, little knowing that she had travelled all that distance to warn him about the mortal danger he was in.
Perhaps by then he was totally overcome by his bloodthirst/bloodlust, a past-life propensity for violence which had crept in and taken complete hold. And all this because he had to make an offering to his master. Little fingers. One grand of them. Or else he would not graduate. A ruse; an excuse.
One wonders if any of Angulimala’s scheming fellow pupils was felled by his sword; did fingers of their loved ones end up adorning their former star classmate’s neck?
It was a small world and what went around certainly came around, only much sooner.
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soar severed clean the cold practised blade it flew most ulnar most delicate darling darling precious air bones articulate & i pinned to the ground by a cosmic eruption my mind as if disintegrating to move to say yet what & what i said i did i failed it comes back it returns i must give must grant must yield bit by bit i disappear i reappear i reassemble who am i what am i light obscured by sliding clouds it is sorrow burden i must escape yet again six my finger entwined joint around joint never tell the hand reaching inside the purse the cold glass the tall spoon never never but am unjoined time time threatened it pours through me time & again i shall live i shall lie in the forest with its thick web of foliage & my blood seeping into the earth red the earth the sky red dust & bones what is my crime my reward i ask what is mercy prayer suffering sacrifice love compassion my finger dying & i as small as delicate in the world i only wanted i only wished went about my life my trade paid all my dues shards the labour of loving hands pieces pieces my children like a father i cared for them then the screen door drawn open & my heart already racing in my breast i shrank there on the futon my head on his shoulder & silence as a gunshot explosive the tilted kettle the weak tea why why my mute face pale & blank why then the thread ripped the throbbing again the leaves rustling the forest the cool dark & my voice on wind white light flowing through shattered fleshbone
[Dion D’Souza is a poet and short fiction writer living in Mumbai. His first collection of poems, Three Doors, was published in 2016 by PoetryPrimero. This piece is an offshoot of a poem titled ‘Angulimala’, which is from Three Doors and was inspired by a lesson in a school textbook. On revisiting the poem recently, the incident narrated herein came to mind. This led D’Souza to realise that he still wasn’t finished with the story of the notorious finger-chopping bandit turned ascetic.]