As the sun neared the horizon, more and more folks gathered outside the gates of the town. Soon, the night market would begin, which happened here every no moon’s night, and there would be haggling going all around, fires would be lit, and as the night would escalate, so would the chatter. The market was famous; folks would come here from distant places, a few regulars, and mostly travellers, making purchases for their businesses or selling their goods.
A young looking girl with beautiful features looked curiously at all the hustle-bustle. She was dressed in a choli-ghagra and had just bosomed her purse after counting her money, a thousand rupees. She was sharp, not like most folks who ended up wasting their money – buying stuff that they cannot sell at other markets, raising bets they possibly cannot win, smoking chillums, and playing cards. She was here to start her business, tonight she was here to buy, and some other day, here or some other market she would sell her goods, to earn some profit.
A man, as white as milk, was selling magical dolls. ‘Carry them with you, and they keep bad luck away,’ he advertised. Another man was selling time glasses, saying that they could stop time, if you know the spell. ‘A twenty for the time glass and a two hundred for the spell,’ he shouted. A woman was selling flowers; claiming that the scent of these can bind the angel of love. There were numerous such artefacts, and numerous such claims.
She stopped by a woman selling chillums. ‘Take a drag from these chillums,’ she said, ‘the smoke from these pipes can open the doors which should always remain closed; can bind the strongest of the Djinns!’ She looked paler than the smoke from the pipes. ‘I would buy these chillums to start my business, there are many who would buy these,’ she thought.
‘Here, try this one,’ the woman said, handing over a chillum to her.
She took a drag. Things melted in front of her eyes. A thought occurred to her that she should sell her anklets, these would bring a handsome amount of money; but those were gifted by her father. That was the last thing she would remember of him. It was for the best that she still had those on her, she thought. She missed her father badly; after all, he was the only family to her. Her eyes moistened at the thought of her father – she could never see him again.
The smoke vanished in thin air. Coming back to her senses, she thought, ‘I must live by one rule, and I must buy only what I can sell. There is a debt to be paid off, the sooner that happens, sooner I would be free.’
‘This is good stuff,’ she said, ‘how much for one?’
‘A hundred,’ the woman replied.
‘I would buy twenty, but I don’t have that kind of money. Either give me fifteen for the price of ten; or give me all you have on credit’ she said.
‘You seem new here! I don’t sell anything on credit, nobody does!’ the woman said, laughing while she took a puff from her chillums, ‘Do you see that man there, selling the dolls? He has been here from past two-hundred years, never been able to pay his debts. The Collector lends you a thousand rupees to begin with, but he won’t tell you the secrets of this world,’ a vicious smile appeared on her face, showing her stained teeth.
‘What secrets?’ she uttered as fear gripped her heart.
‘You have to pay your debts to the Collector before he lets you free. Many of us get frustrated, unable to clear off their debts, but in a few years, they start liking it here. So, some day, even if they make enough to pay off their debts, they never go to the Collector. They visit different markets on a no-moon’s night, just because they do not know anything better, and wander from places to places. This world is good, my dear! There are powers beyond your imagination! Come with me tomorrow and I will show you how what this world has to offer. Come to your first trip with me, I will teach you how to possess people, the joy of which is thousand times more, compared to the drag from this pity chillum!’
‘No. I don’t want to do that. The reason you wander is because you are bound by your greed. We pay our debts to start anew, with a clean slate, in a new life. I would not possess people, rather I would buy fifteen of these for the thousand I have,’ saying that she made her first trade in a market where the buildings lay in decrepitude where none had paid off their debts as far as anybody could remember.
The woman saw her leave. ‘I hope you make it to the other end, dear! But I know you are no better, no one is! You will come to me again, someday! I am sure of it,’ she thought.