Is She, Legend?

Creepers. The world had only creepers. As far as her eyes could see, there were creepers. Green, some olive, some withered, some drowned, decorated with silly delicate flowers. The view she had expected was nothing like the one that surrounded her as she took her first steps out, into the sunlight. The trees had probably been knocked over. Fifty two weeks and the world had changed beyond recognition. Was it real to begin with or had she slipped into a coma while she waited out her time, ten feet under?

The grass felt real. The breeze felt real. The fraying edge of her jeans tickled. The dew felt real. It all felt real. So did the gun. She hadn't planned this right. Being the last surviving person on a planet sucked.


Tiny Bullets

Though the sunroof was partially blocked, a few stray raindrops managed to trickle in from time to time. I prayed that this evening held no more surprises for us, but God wouldn’t listen to the pleas of a man like me.

The man to my right had his back turned towards me. He peered through the rain splattered glass of our SUV, at the cars that followed. From time to time, he turned his attention to the petite young woman balancing herself on the armrest of the passenger seat and the slippery leather of the backseat. Her sari stayed neatly tucked in on her right side, as she sprayed our closest pursuer with the AK47. Traditional indeed.

I remembered her from the old days. She always took the bus to college. She always took the same bus. I had been promoted recently. Pick pocket to delivery boy. This young girl getting a college education was way out of my league, but it never hurt to dream big. To an ordinary passerby, she’d seem like a harmless college student, ears plugged with her favorite music, bobbing her head to what it fed her. What an easy target, weak and pretty. Pretty girls were usually a pickpocket’s favorite. They wore unreasonable shoes. They’d rather lose their money than snap a pair of their precious ‘Jimmy Choo’s. Not Sonali though. She wore cheap shoes. Running shoes of the poor. Not Nike. Not Reebok. She wore shoes that she could afford to break.

I heard JT’s car crash into the divider. Score! Four more to go. What a chase! The sound made Karthik uneasy. Never before had a routine meeting turned into death race. It was a rainy day, wasn't it? Just like today. The day Santo met Sonali at the bus stop. The roads flooded later that evening. Oh the deluge! I was overseeing my new pickpocket’s progress. Sonali wasn’t wearing one of her favorite flair skirts that day. She wore a pair of cargos, rolled just above her knees, a yellow t-shirt and carried her black jhola. Her ears plugged. Her head bobbing. The bus stop was nearly deserted. It was just her and Santo. I watched from the opposite side as he slid his clumsy hand inside her bag.

A victorious smile spread across his face a little too soon. As he withdrew his hand, she grabbed hold of his wrist and looked at him over her shoulder. He tried to break loose but her scrawny grip refused loosen. The bus crawled up the steep slope. He struck her in the back and she began to fall forward, as the bus was meters away.

Sonali sat beside Karthik. Were we finally out of ammunition? Karthik got off the phone with Sanjog. Back up was here. Sonali didn’t have to defend the fort all by her lonesome self now. Karthik put his arm around her as she rested on his shoulder, dozing off. I caught myself staring at them and looked away.

That day, at the bus stop, I swore I could have run across the manic monsoon traffic and split open Santo’s head for throwing her in the bus's path. In the nick of time, she regained her balance, spun around and her foot caught Santo at the corner of his jaw. A moment later, she climbed the bus and left. I moved Santo to delivery thereafter. Sonali had been permanently blacklisted on the pickpocket list.

We were safe now. JT and Manmohan would we wiped off the map by midnight. Sonali was in the clinic, getting stitches while Karthik and I decided between beer and champagne. Beer it was. “I thought Tiny was bulletproof” he said pausing between gulps, “I keep forgetting that she has a human side too.”

“Deepak’s gonna have a ball clearing this mess with the media tomorrow”, I said, desperate to change the topic. He was the last person on this planet I’d want to discuss Sonali with. ‘What kind of a nickname was ‘Tiny’ anyway? You don’t name a girl ‘Tiny’, you name the huge, ex-con, bald hulk ‘Tiny’. Doesn’t this moron watch any movies? The lucky b*****d’, I thought to myself. “That’s what we have cops for, isn’t it?” he smiled, but it quickly faded away as he turned his barstool to face me. After he was satisfied that there wasn’t anyone else within earshot, he spoke – “Arjun, I’m tired of being the middle man. I’d like to go into the main production circle. With JT gone, there’s only Titan standing between us and the reigns of Bull Mechanicals & Co. You do understand what I’m driving at here, don’t you?”

I raised an eyebrow. ‘How drunk are you, Karthik? How drunk?!’ I wanted to ask him and had it been any other day, I would have, but I decided against rubbing a man in “high spirits” the wrong way given the pumping adrenaline and ease with which bullets flew by our faces. “How do I know that you’re not Titan, sitting here and testing a drunk, microchips’ supplier’s loyalty?” Karthik burst out laughed nearly knocking himself off the barstool, “I’m just messing with your head”. He set his beer mug down and wobbled towards the door yelling something about ‘not keeping the women waiting too long’…

I wondered whether Sonali was one of the women he was referring to. ‘No!’ That was the last thing I needed playing on my mind before I went to bed. Sonali was only his bodyguard.

Meanwhile, our guardian angel lay down on the roof of the warehouse. It had begun to drizzle but the rain was the least of her worries. She had received disturbing information via satellite. It was, but a matter of time, before chaos ensued.

To be contd.

Curiosity Killed Science

“Oh what a miraculous joy this is,
How child, did you survive?
How did you escape that house of sin?
Where all were burned alive?”

The pious woman let me in,
And sat me down on a cot,
Here, religion cluttered every wall,
And carving, plate and pot.

I examined myself in the mirror across,
My white coat, burned and black,
My body coated in bruises and soot,
Reminders of the attack…

My hunger calmed by broth and bread,
My feet not frozen cold,
I turned to meet those questioning eyes,
And out my story rolled...

“Curiosity is the devil’s curse,
You won’t hear a scientist say,
And I’ve been guilty of this vice,
Every single day…”

“What better way, to feed it fat,
Than join ‘The House’ on the hills,
Where people dressed in immaculate white,
Enjoyed scientific thrills…”

The visitors we were set to explore,
Separating them from their hide,
Oh! Disaster, we should’ve foreseen,
That lay in wait, inside…”

Her face, ashen in disbelief,
As I put my words together,
Goosebumps rose and never set,
It surely wasn’t the weather…

“The poisons it spewed, they filled our lungs,
And burned our eyes to tears,
It tricked our minds, with visions it played,
Bringing out our darkest fears…”

“Fearful yet stubborn, they refused to leave,
This demon they called their find,
But I knew better than to wait and watch,
So I left it all behind…”

“No sooner had I decided to leave,
The air itself was ablaze,
I flung myself through a window near,
The happenings that followed, a haze…”

I slept that night, in my mother’s arms,
The House, now razed to the ground,
The teams, they searched up high, down low,
But nothing unusual was found…

The Waiting

She’d driven her chariot all night.
The fog had begun to lift and with it his patience.
The faster she drove, the farther she seemed.
How time had droned by, every second making its presence felt!
Yet, tonight, the seconds seemed longer, (as if it were possible) as her night in pajamas, paced about from boot to hood to boot to hood.

In the distance, she caught the stars sneak upon the fog, but her smile beamed brighter than them all.
His palms were sweaty, if not from the pacing, then from the clouds conferencing loudly overhead.
She nearly flew out her seat, forgoing her wings as her feet kissed the clouds for what might be the last time.
He held on to the telescope as tight as a four year old could; peering through the mist and clouds, awaiting the signal from above.
As her wings began to lift away from her, a voice boomed through the heavens,
“Maybe not in this life either…”
And with it, the moment died.
Her feet retreated reluctantly, her wings returning, a tear drop escaped her eye and melted into the sea of clouds,
As her young love, stood below, soaking in the rain, another life born in vain…

“Who will save her?”

She overheard her father complain in the next room. How could he confide in that creepy excuse of a woman? The joint of weed that she had struggled to roll earlier, sat motionless on the windowsill, yet she felt it move in her direction. Had her mind begun to play tricks on her, even before she took to the drug? Nandini felt the crisp paper under her fingers.

She came to her senses, or whatever was left of them, when she began to stumble. Where was she? This wasn’t her friend’s room. Maybe she shouldn’t have had that last glass of vodka before leaving. The road and the street lights around her slowly began to make sense. She was in an alley. She was on her way to the ‘parlor’. “Some parlor that is”, she laughed.

Nobody knew why Jonathan’s bungalow was called the parlor. Some thought it sounded ‘gay’, others considered it cool, while the rest didn’t give a damn, as long as they had a safe haven to get high. Too strong. The drug was too strong for a drunk Nandini, but Jonathan’s place was only two blocks away. She would make it.

She made it. She did not remember how, she did not remember when, but she made it to Jonathan’s place. The mood was set. Psychedelic trance blared through the speakers, as her ‘friends’ moved to unknown rhythms of their own, swaying, faltering, trying to enjoy themselves.

Her hand was empty. Someone asked her if she’d like to try the hookah, but she refused. Where was her joint? Hadn’t she just begun? But she hadn’t. It had been fourteen hours since she left her father yelling and complaining in the other room. He didn’t even realize she was gone. Fourteen hours of a pure, unadulterated high, which would wear off unless she did something about it. “What am I supposed to do?”, she wondered out loud.

A dainty hand grabbed hold of her wrist as she began to sway forward. “Time to go home,” she said to Nandini. “No, I’m not finished yet,” she protested, trying to pry her hand free, but the girl wouldn’t listen. She dragged Nandini to a yellow Indica, just outside the gate. Nandini fell asleep on the backseat, as the car engine screamed to life.

Nandini woke up in her room, sober. Her skirt reeked of smoke, her kurta reeked of tobacco. Her hair reeked of a combination of everything that must have been smoked at Jonathan’s place. Nandini’s fingers were making their way through the knots in her hair, when her father stormed in. Yet another day began on a bad note.

Seventy-two hours later, Nandini found herself at the gate of Jonathan’s bungalow, again. She had been sober for two days too long, but every problem had a cure. The cure to her being sober was trapped in the paper bag that she was swinging. She ran through the garden and up the stairs, when she saw the girl again. The girl looked at the swinging bag and then, at a swinging Nandini. She stepped forward, Nandini stepped back. She grabbed the bag from Nandini’s hand, and began to run towards the fence. Everytime Nandini got close to her, she seemed to pick up speed. Was she just teasing Nandini?

The girl held her hand out over the fence. “NO! Don’t you dare do it, I’ll kill you..” Nandini lunged forward, as the girl emptied the contents on a stinking pile of garbage. The dry, crushed leaves tumbled off banana peels and instant noodle cups. Nandini sat on the lawn crying. Once her sobs reduced to whimpers, the girl helped her up. This time, Nandini did not fight her. There was no point fighting a stubborn freak.
A week passed, sober. Nandini sat on a creaking wooden bench, watching the waves crash against the rocky shore. The girl sat at the far end of the bench, keeping a close eye on Nandini. Nandini huffed and buried her face in her bag. “How dare this girl babysit me like this?”, she grumbled to herself. She breathed out loud and began to watch the rocks again. This was boring. Moreover, reality was painful. The thought of being so distant from her ‘perfect-make-believe’ world, for the first time in two years, was frightening. How long could this unknown stranger keep her away from it?

Two months passed, and Nandini finally warmed up to the habit of staying sober. She began selling decorative candles again. She began visiting her grandmother at the home for the aged. She began wearing colors other than grey and black. She began singing and laughing and joking, just like three years ago. She owed it all to her new friend. One afternoon, Nandini decided to introduce her to her father, and all hell broke loose again.

Nandini’s eyes blinked open with the soft hum of a mosquito in her ear. A freshly lit joint of weed sat motionless on the windowsill, yet she felt it move in her direction. She took a long drag and relaxed, as she heard her father complain in the next room. Her friend rested her head on Nandini’s shoulder.

“How do we cope with this new problem that she has brought home? Who will save her from this new imaginary girlfriend that she has created?”, he complained to the psychiatrist.

The End

Gaurav watched as the words disappeared before his eyes. He lifted his finger off “backspace” and stared at the neem tree outside his window. It was a cool winter afternoon. Winter afternoons were never cold in Mumbai. The green leaves swayed gently in the breeze and distracted him from time to time.

“If only I could get this one a happy ending,” he wished, looking at the tiny font in dismay. Then it happened. From a dark, distant corner of his mind, came a ray of light; a happy ending. The story had taken over. He could feel it make its way to his fingers. They rested on the keyboard, waiting for his inspiration to take the form of words.

“Gaurav,” he heard his bua (father’s sister) yell from the kitchen below, “The dishes won’t do themselves. All the curry has dried along the sides of the plates, get down here and scrubs them immediately, or I will throw your laptop out of the window.”

As it came, so it left. He cursed his bua under his breath. He didn’t dare speak out loud. Sometimes, he wished he had been sent to the orphanage, like his sister, Sukriti, after their parents’ passed away. She had received a good education and married into a wonderful NRI family. Unfortunately, she could not take Gaurav with her, but sent her bua money for his education and upkeep, until he was old enough to get a job. What she didn’t know was Gaurav barely got any of the money.

The only reason he was allowed to use the laptop she sent him, was because she would chat with him daily. Gaurav, the wonderful brother that he was, never uttered a word to his sister, about his life with his bua’s family. Three years later, he would turn 18. He longed to get a job and move out of this living hell, destiny had flung him into, to burn alone.

He sulked and got to work. He heard his bua grumble to her daughter, Prachi, about him not helping out with the chores. He ignored them and began thinking about his story. ‘What was it? That perfect ending!’
Prachi barged into the kitchen, “Kyon re? Tere haathon mein mehendi lagi hain kya? Ma ne thoda sa kaam kya karne ke liye bol diya toh zabaan ladata hain, besharam,(Do you have mehendi decorated onto your hands? Mother asked you to do a little housework and you back answered her, you are shameless)” she raised her hand to slap him. Gaurav was accustomed to such treatment. He ducked and watched as her hand knocked off a glass plate, onto the floor. Prachi stared at it, wide eyed. Obviously, this too would be blamed on him.

His bua raced into the kitchen and began examining Prachi’s hands, frantically. She threw Gaurav a scornful glance and huffed out the door, with her daughter. He sighed and got back to doing the dishes.

Prachi left for her ten day office picnic to Matheran. His bua sat blabbering over the telephone. ‘What a loud mouth she is!’ he thought to himself. After the dishes, Gaurav had to do the laundry, water the garden, walk the dogs, rake the little plot behind the house and heat dinner. All that time, he could only think about the ending. He wondered what it missed. Then, he felt it again. The story, the words, the inspiration, it was returning to him. It was giving him a second chance.

His bua entered the kitchen while he was still lost in thought. She absentmindedly stepped on the broken plate that Gaurav had forgotten to clean up. The pieces crunched under her slippers.

“Gaurav,” she barked at the poor frightened boy, “who the hell will clean up this mess? Your mother won’t come back to do it, naalaayak!”

She went on and on. Gaurav began to collect the pieces that lay at her feet. ‘Why did she have to do this? Every single day was the same – the insults, the abuses, the taunts. Why won’t she let me complete my story?! Goodness, was she loud!’

His hand moved swiftly. She stopped yelling. The glass fell from his bleeding palm. The cut was deep. Her’s was deeper. She fell to the ground, as he watched, baffled. She was choking on the kitchen floor.

“What have I done!” he gasped. He panicked and glanced around. There was no one. There was no sound.

He rushed upstairs and scrambled towards his chair. Gasping for breath, he glanced at the screen, at his story.

“Maybe now, you can give me a happy ending…”