We were petrified of him, and his mere sight had us scurrying for cover! Surprisingly, my father shared a good rapport with him. I often spotted him chatting with the man as he returned home from work. I remember how I would peep from behind the curtains, as I watched the two chit-chat, ensuring my presence was never detected. And, the moment father entered our front yard, I would rush out to lock the gate and bolt it securely, lest the ‘devil incarnate’ followed father inside and attacked us!
Father rebuked us for letting our imagination run amok, but also found it hilarious! After hearing him out, I would retort, albeit in a quivering voice, how there would come a day when he would know the true colours of Goliath (yes, that was the name we felt was suitable for him). This would trigger another bout of uproarious laughter from father. I would leave the room with a scowl on my face, leading to more laughter from him.
Goliath had a proclivity for the ‘bottle’, as we grasped from the gossip sessions of the neighbourhood aunties. We had no idea then what was in that bottle that turned him into a raving lunatic. For, we would often hear him mount a scurrilous attack on his neighbours. Either that, or render a heartbreaking soliloquy, recounting the sorrowful journey of his life..
His house was situated at quite a distance from ours, yet we heard him each time he so much as sneezed! You can imagine how we would quiver when he bellowed during those ‘episodes’. Anyway, slowly and steadily, we all got accustomed to this ‘monster’. Father did play a big role in helping us get over our fear of Goliath.
Life, as we know it, has this uncanny habit of giving us jolts that shake us out of our slumber. One fine day, Goliath came over to our house with a box of sweets for the kids! He spoke so sweetly, and was on his best behaviour, it felt like a bolt from the blue! We felt a bit relaxed around him as a result, and decided that he wasn’t a bad guy, just a tad different than the others (at our age, a box of sweets could move mountains!) So, we all decided to change the moniker we had christened him with. He was now our ‘Santa’! We would greet him every time we ran into him, instead of running away; we spoke with him respectfully and life returned to normal – boringly normal.
Until one day, we woke up to find a huge crowd gathered in our street. There was a deathly silence in spite of the crowd. Our curiosity knew no bounds and we rushed outdoors to find our mother standing in the front yard along with some other women. They were all whispering among themselves. We inched closer to find out what it was all about, when we heard a horrid piece of news. Our Santa had been found dead in his bedroom!
We hadn’t spotted him for a few days and hadn’t given it much thought. He often disappeared for days on end. But, this time, it had been different. Apparently, he had ODed on the booze and had had a stroke. As he lived all by himself, there wasn’t anyone who could have rushed him to a hospital. His next door neighbours smelt something rotting and tried breaking the door. The police was called and, on breaking open the door, had been aghast at the sight!
I still remember how my heart thudded within my chest the entire day. That night I couldn’t sleep for a long time. The man, his face, and the deathly atmosphere of the day lurked in my mind for hours before I finally fell asleep in my mother’s arms. I couldn’t let go of those memories for long; in fact, I feared if I would never get over it all. He was quite a character, that Goliath/Santa. Even as I write about him today, his creepy visage comes to mind. I hope I am able to sleep tonight.