A Flower

I smelt a flower in the wind

With the fragrance of untold dreams

And I knew it could only be you

So I looked, high and low

In every nook and every corner

Until I understood

You were right there with me

And while I waited with bated breath

I felt your touch

On my neck

And I turn to look at you

You are beautiful, like the setting sun

Your eyes brimming with innocent joy

Your smile like the warmth of the hearth

On a rainy day

And when you hug me, I feel you burn

Like my own dear star

Let us burn bright tonight and burn away

 

 

Lost And Found

I love you

Like the fresh dew of morning

I love you

Like the sweet rain of summer

I love you

Like the soft light of morning

I love you

And today, I miss you

I miss your touch, your voice

Your sweet breath on my neck

Your body snug in my arms

I miss you

And I love you

Like a storm in the ocean

I love you

Like a fire, bright on the hills

I love you

With all the lightning in my veins

I love you

——————————————————————

PS: I’ll try and get back to short stories ASAP 🙂

Escape

When I woke up, the clock showed 14:00. It’s 2 in the afternoon and yet the room is dark as night. I stood up from the bed, searching for my phone on the table. A hand grips mine at the wrist and stops me. The hand is hot, like a stove, and covered in scabs and bruises. I look up and scamper back towards the wall. The face is twisted and deformed and running with blood. “”I’ve come for my pound of flesh”, I hear the being say. In my mind I know that I have not borrowed but my mouth cannot form the argument. The being smiles and its skin stretches and rearranges itself into a blood-red mask. The skin is hideous to behold but far less so then the eyes. The eyes are mad and rimmed with a darkness no human thing can create. It’s eyes lock onto mine and it smiles. It’s mouth does not curve but I see the maniacal laughter in its eyes. “I’ve come for my pound of flesh”, it says again. I dare not look at the door and give away my plan. The door opens outwards, I know I can open it and escape. My hands close over the phone ever so slightly and I ready myself. I throw the phone towards the being to distract it and dash towards the door. Escape.

The being is far too fast for the likes of human legs. It springs like a tiger and in a split second has me pinned on the wall with its left hand around my neck as my feet dangle below me. I try to shove it away with my hands but it does not even faze the being. It places its right hand beneath my heart and pushes in. “Death has come for its rightful part in your birth” it says and its fingers pierce my flesh. I want to scream but all that comes out is the taste of my blood on my tongue. I cough out blood, covering the room with a bright red hue. Red rivulets of my blood run around its eyes and I can see the mania running wild again. Then it opens its mouth and laughs, the booming laugh of a cruel being. I cannot stand the pain; my mind crumples.

When I wake again I see her sitting beside me, cleaning my wounds. “What happened” she asks, her face awash with tears and sweat. I want to tell her, believe me I do, but I know she won’t understand. She hasn’t seen those eyes, hasn’t heard that voice, hasn’t felt the touch of death. “I had an accident”, I tell her. She bends down, rests her forehead on mine, and softly sobs.

A Note

Afraid to confess his feelings, he kept an unsigned note to his friend. It read, “I am in love with you. Give this to the one you love. If I get it back, I’ll tell you.” And he waited for her reaction after school.

She hugged him tightly. “You are the one who wrote this aren’t you?” she asked of him. He nodded, too dumbstruck by his luck to say anything. Now they could hug just like in the movies. Well, his mom kissed him too, even though he was 10, but with this girl it felt different.

She smiled in her open way and he felt so happy. She took his hand in hers as they walked down the street. Her home was first and he said good bye like he always did. She stood for an extra second and said hurriedly “Meet me at 5 behind the tree in Granny Emma’ field.” He nodded happily, content to let her choose their first adventure.

As he walked down towards his house he remembered when he had first met her almost 10 months ago. Ugly Lucy, who had been in the same class for two years, was picking on him and she had rushed to fight Lucy. She had hit Lucy on the head until she fell, then she sat on top of her and kept hitting her until two teachers had broken their fight. She had a split lip and black eye that looked very, very painful and Ugly Lucy had a broken nose and a gash on the top of her head.

Most of the children kept their distance from her, the one who bought Ugly Lucy down was dangerous, but he stuck to her glue and they became fast friends. They were together for almost everything they did.

He reached home and didn’t mind one bit when his mom kissed him. He was just too happy.

At 4.30 he told mom he was going out to play with and once he promised he’ be back by 6, he was allowed to go. Granny Emma lived right on the edge of town and could be right spiteful if she saw kids around. She’d throw any knick-knack she’d get her hands on and so to get to her field you had to cut a long path around her house. Granny Emma was unpredictable.

He got there a little early and found her already waiting. “What do you want to play?” he asked her. “It’ a special game” she said and took his hand and led him to the small copse of trees. “What is it?” he asked, curious about what she had hidden so far away. She giggled and said “It’ a special cat.” “A cat?” he thought to himself. He liked cats, they were okay.

She sped on ahead and neared the Red-Red Shack or at least, that’ what the kids named it. It was all red from the rust accumulated over the years. She went on inside and followed her. It took a few seconds to look around and he cried out when he saw it.

There was a small cat, with it’ legs all bloody, attached to a heavy piece of wood. One leg was nailed to the wood and the others seemed broken.

A sob escaped his lips. She looked at him and said “Don’t feel bad, it’ a feral cat it would attack you if it could. I threw rocks at it to catch it. Now it won’t hurt anyone.”

He looked into the cat’ eyes and saw the terror he felt reflected in them. He stood in shock while she took out a piece of glass and made towards the cat. “It makes very good sounds” she said as she poked the cat with the glass shard.

“Don’t you like it?” she came near him and asked. He heard the cat’ pathetic little cry and vomited over her.

She screamed and began to cry. “YOU HATE ME TOO. JUST LIKE MY MOM AND DAD. JUST MY BROTHER AND ALL THE OTHER SCHOOL CHILDREN.” The shard slipped from her hand as she punched him.

He ran out, running blindly until his foot hit a stone and he fell, seeing stars.

He got up and ran, not caring if ran into Granny Emma herself. He ran and ran, screaming all the way until Policeman Earl found him. Earl knew him and his family. He took the screaming child directly to his home. He saw his mom running towards him and he broke down in tears. He hugged her neck and cried, repeating all the while, “She killed it momma, she killed it”

 

In a ride

I hear a silence in my heart

It misses a thumping beat

As she lets down her hair

Down it flows like a cascade

Of silk, of satin

Of the dark night

Pulsing with a sigh of want

Spreading out in the air

Your eyes that glaze

With love and delight

Asking me to come, to touch

To sweetly caress

With my hands, my eyes

I take your hand in mine

Looking ever forward

Tomorrow is hidden, far away

Tonight there is you

The Morning Whirlwind

The morning sun shines brightly through the windows of the Delhi Metro as I try in vain for some rest after my journey. I change lines at Sikanderpur to travel in Rapid Metro Gurgaon. The Rapid Metro is a short track that loops back on itself. I get down at the Vodafone metro station. Its 10.45 a.m., past the peak hour, and only a few others get down with me. I swipe the metro card and as I walk through the gate a girl enters my field of vision. She seems dressed for another corporate job in the great Gurgaon cyberhub. She’s wearing a stark, white shirt and black trousers; dressed like just another cog in the great corporate wheel. What sets her apart is the fact that she is sobbing, sobbing her heart out. Big fat tears roll down her sharp cheekbones and down her face. It makes you wonder what it is she is crying about. There she is, a breathtakingly gorgeous woman and she is crying her eyes out. You sometimes hear about it but I’ve never seen a gorgeous woman bawl in public. Her tears are rolling down like rain even as she is oblivious to every eye in the station on her. What would make a woman cry like this? Surely it is not for some lost trinket; no woman sobs for a lost earring. So it must be about a man, or a woman considering the changing sexual identities. However if it about a man why is she sobbing about it? Don’t gorgeous girls like her have a posse of ever-ready men around her-always ready to please and ready with another gift? I’ve never seen gorgeous women cry, have you? Nevertheless, my heart goes out to her so I come up behind her and tap her on the shoulder. She whirls around and her face goes incredulous with shock. You see I know her and her name is G—-. G—- hugs me tightly and then she screams at me, “You bastard, how you dare go away for two weeks and not even contact me?” ”Okay, okay just listen to me” I begin to say. The office called for some urgent work in a rural area and I had to leave at a moment’s notice. I haven’t even contacted my family for two weeks; my office just told them I’d be gone. I know I have email, WhatsApp and what not but a 20 hour workday to meet a schedule doesn’t leave you any time to sleep let alone chat with anyone. I have this speech prepared and ready to go but I take a moment to just look at her. G—- places her hands on my shoulder and socks me in the balls with her knee. O God! The pain is paralyzing and I crumple to floor. She looks disdainfully at me and says, “Serves you right” as she walks away. O dear God! This woman has an immediate way of expressing her displeasure. But even as she walks away I can see a smile tugging at her lips as she wipes away her tears. G——-, you see, was crying for me.

Victory…


Throw-ball is a game that seems like a deceptively simple and slow cousin of volleyball; two teams across a net with a ball between them. The objective is to catch the ball thrown by the other team and then throw it back. The catch being that the ball can be caught only with the palms and the throw has to be one-handed. And of course, a three second time limit between catching the ball and throwing it back to ensure that you do not take your time. All of this serves to make the game a little more fast paced and exciting to watch.

The throw ball match starts around noon. It’s the third match of the day with the girls of Bethel church vs. the girls of St. Peters church. They have already played a practice match before to size each other up and the Bethel girls are confident of a victory. They have practiced long and hard for this match. The winner will be decided from the best of three sets. The Bethel team wins the toss and the game starts with the Bethel team’ serve. A few minutes into the match the Bethel team seems wooden. Practice and all apart they are not really moving with response to the ball. Damn it they have practiced a lot but at this critical moment it does not seem to be bearing fruit. The other members of the Bethel contingent are all gathered around cheering them up, trying to boost morale but it seems more and more a lost cause. A few minutes later the set is lost 12-15. The Bethel team calls a timeout and all the Bethel members try to encourage the girls telling them to move more. The second set starts and it is evident that the Bethel team has mostly overcome its earlier inertia. Instead of having a deer-in-the-headlights look the team looks confident and morale goes up. Set 2 is going faster and the Bethel team is ahead with the score at 8-10. The Bethel team gets a serve and Ann goes out to throw it. And the score is now 8-11! Ann, blessed Ann, fires salvo after salvo leading the Bethel team to win the second set 15-13. The final set. The Bethel team is playing well but not scoring well enough. They are behind by 6 points with the score 5-11. The team morale is flagging and the lead is looking insurmountable to all but team member Jerin who keeps exhorting her team with, “It’s only six points. We can do this, we can beat them”. And miraculously enough the lead closes and they are 13-13 until the team drops the ball and Bethel is behind by one point at 13-14. Ann serves and Bethel equalizes the score. The next point will be the game point. Ann serves, St. Peters catches and throws the ball straight into Ann’ position. Ann catches and throws the ball and we know that this could be it but the ball touches the net and falls into her own teams half. Bethel loses the final set 14-15. They have lost this match and are out of the reckoning. The Bethel team is all breaking down and crying. Their shoulders droop with the burden of defeat as the hours of practice seem utterly wasted. They may have practiced a lot but Lady Luck has favoured their opponents.

The second event is the tug of war. The Bethel girls’ team has an abysmal record in this event. Each team in the event has nine girls. In an event that is usually won by the heftier team, the members of the Bethel team are far from being favourites. These are the same girls who played the handball match and more than half team weighs less than 55 kgs. Their first match, by the providence of Fate perhaps, is against the girls of St. Peter church; the same girls who beat who beat them at throw-ball a few hours ago. This match will also be decided on a best of three basis. The first set starts and the strength of the St. Peters team is evident. The Bethel team tries and even looks like it may win but they do not. First set goes to St. Peters. They exchange sides for the second set and get right to it. It looks like St. Peters is going to win again but this time the girls of Bethel have discovered a new fortitude within themselves. They refuse to give an inch and give as good as they get. What possesses these girls to fight now with a new found strength we can only guess but the strength shows its result. They win the second set. The third and final set of the match. First whistle, both teams pick up the rope. Second whistle, the teams tighten their hold on the rope. Third whistle, both teams pull the rope with all their might. At first no team is giving an inch until St. Peters begin to move backwards pulling the Bethel team. The Bethel girls’ team is facing another loss. The members of the Bethel contingent are screaming their encouragement telling them to pull the rope with all their might but it doesn’t look like a happy ending. But at this critical moment when loss is only a few short steps away the girls of the Bethel church reach a new found resolve. They are going to win. Perhaps it is the team spirit they discovered while practicing. Perhaps it is simply a desire for vengeance after their narrow defeat a few short hours ago. Whatever it may be it is a welcome relief from the impending loss. Muscles straining, sweat pouring down their forehead the girls of the Bethel team march backwards pulling the St. Peters team closer to their defeat. And they have done it! They have snatched a victory from the jaws of apparent defeat. These girls will go on win the Silver in the event. You may beat these girls but you can’t keep them down.

The final event is the 4x100m relay for girls. The first runner is one of the youngest in the contingent, Jobina. The pistol fires but she is tad late to start and falls behind. By the halfway mark, Jobina is neck to neck with the race leader and by the time she passes the baton the Bethel team is clearly in the lead. The next runner is Chinnu and at first glance you would describe Chinnu as a little on the healthier side and you question yourself whether she can run and give us the win. But when the baton passes into her hand she races forward putting a hole in your doubts and increasing the lead the team already had. The next runner is Swathi who, as described by a spectator, runs “like a dog” which is not derogatory at all but refers to the desperate nature of Swathi’ 100m dash. She keeps the lead and passes the baton to Sherin. Up until now we’d only heard the term running like the wind, for the first time we see it up, close and happening. Sherin of the indefatigable smile is smiling like a school kid getting candy because she knows she is going to win. What she doesn’t know is that she has left all her opponents far behind. By the time Sherin finishes the race other teams are only receiving the baton for the last 100m lap. Sherin crosses the finish line and is enveloped in a team hug. The Bethel team has won.

You see these girls week after week and they describe themselves as common, ordinary, average and you believe them. It’s only when you push them to win that you see their fortitude; their fortitude in getting back into the game after a loss, in winning an event against a stronger team and in giving their all when it counts. These are the girls of the Bethel Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakhyam

Freedom….

HE RIDES THROUGH THE NIGHT

He’s at his friend’s house in the heart of the city. The exams are finally over and he can now relax on that count. He has been a consistent high performer and this exam will be no different he knows. What makes today special is the phone call he received from his father’s lawyer in the evening. And like another one of life’s paradoxes the call has changed everything yet nothing. He feels locked in, almost claustrophobic with all the emotions building inside him. He needs to escape, to run free and he knows the perfect way.

He stares at his friend’s bike with longing. The bike is a vintage beauty; brought in 1986 and passed down to his very lucky friend. It is a Yamaha RX-100. It hasn’t got the speed or styling of the latest bikes but by God the bike is a beauty in its own right. The sound and vibration as the bikes revs up is a drug he can never get enough of. He looks long at the bike and then walks back into the house.

Inside is a mess of tangled bodies and empty bottles. His friends lie in disarray throughout the room. The room’s distinct smell of alcohol and smoke bears witness to the party that ended a few hours ago. He has had his share of alcohol but he hasn’t been able to sleep. His body is a little tired, his mind a little hazy but the call has churned up a ton of pain inside him. And the pain has made any attempt at rest impossible. He needs to find his friend and get the key.

He finds his friend buried under another guy on the sofa. His friend is hugging a bottle of Smirnoff and snoring away to glory. A smile creases his lips as he sees the blissful expression in his friend’s face almost as if his friend were hugging a childhood toy and not a bottle of vodka. Such bliss has always seemed out of reach for him and he envies his friend this peace that he manages to find in his alcohol induced sleep but he has more important matters to attend to. He searches his friend’s clothes for the bike’s key and finds it in the right pocket of the shorts. He grasps the key triumphantly.

Tonight he can feel something pushing him inside to ride the bike. It is like a voice from another world is whispering to him of sweet promises that he will realize tonight. Then he is standing beside the bike and it is only then he realizes that the bottle of Smirnoff is in his hand. He smiles at the bottle as a thought overtakes him to do something he has never done: drink and drive. He gets on the bike to do just that.

He can feel the bike’s vibrations down to his bones and it is an undeniably good feeling. He is roaring through the town making his way to the highway. The highway with its smooth, unending road and the promise of freedom beckons to him like some sweet seductive mistress. Today he is determined to find freedom; he knows will die if he does not. He cannot let the pain free yet, not yet. He must reach the highway first.

He takes the turn and voila, he has reached the beginning of the highway near a petrol pump. The pump is closed but he knows that his friend filled the tank last night so that is one problem he won’t face. He turns into the highway and stops on the side. He opens the bottle of vodka and takes a deep drink of its contents. Then he puts the bottle down between his thighs, holding it tightly and then puts the bike in gear and takes off.  And as the vodka races down like liquid fire, burning his throat he lets the pain run free. Now he can finally let it all go.

The bike is racing away in the night. He is seeing if he can literally outrun his pain, his emotion; if he can run free of the pale spectre of his past rising up like a hound, hungry for his blood. For he knows that his past will drag him down, will kill him if cannot be free. Unless he can render powerless the memories that are his existence will be in vain. He pushes the bike to its limits wanting the rush that comes with speed, the rush that comes when you play hide and seek with Death. The cold wind stings his eyes and carries away the tears that form as he remembers.

He remembers the photos he saw of his parents’ wedding. What catch his attention are his mother’s eyes. They seem to sparkle and almost hum with excitement and life. Even then, 25 years ago, his father has been a successful man; a man of means with friends in high places. His mother had been an orphan living with her brother’s family. For any woman it would have been a ‘dream come true’ but even more so for his mother who had not imagined that she could ever marry such a ‘big’ man. The joy in their life was real, very real. And then, after three years of marriage, he had come into the world; another soul to partake in the family’s joy.

He tips the bottle back taking a long sip even as the bike continues on at top speed. His grandma told him this story, the story of his parents before he was born. The memories are growing stronger, more potent. He doesn’t know if he can summon the courage to face the memories but he knows that he must. He must relive the story and then finish it. His eyes are on the road but he does not see it. His mind has gone back in time.

His remembers the first time he saw his mother cry. He cannot remember anything about himself but he can still hear the sounds. The sound of his parents locked in a verbal duel. Then he hears the sound of flesh striking flesh and his mother is lying on the floor, staring directly into his eyes as blood trickles down the side of her mouth. And then she screams as her husband kicks her again and again in the stomach. Her stomach, her chest and then her face. His brutality knows no bounds. Such savage and vicious kicks that you would think he was abusing a dog and not a human. His father stormed off angrily as his mother lay in a crumpled heap, her tears now mixing with her blood and flowing down her chin. This pattern repeated itself over and over through the years though the violence was nearly always confined to his parents’ room. His father would close the door and then horrific sounds of violence would shatter the silence in the house. When his mother came out her face and arms would be unmarked but she could only hobble along the wall, like an old woman. All of this was done was done without a drop of alcohol. Occasionally his father would turn on him and give him a taste of the savagery. He still has scars from the belt buckle he was hit with when he was ten. His mother’s family reported him to the police but his father had his finger too many pies and too many friends in the right places. No one laid a finger on his father.

Even so he was mostly left alone. He was the only heir of his father’s little ‘kingdom’ and his father brooked no resistance from him. For every rebellious act he did his mother would pay the price. He was expected to be the top scorer of his class. The only time he stood second was in when he was in class five and when his father heard this he had gone into a fit of rage. And again none of the rage was directed at him but his mother had been unable to move for three weeks. After that he always stood first.

The Smirnoff bottle is half empty now but he barely notices it. His face is a mask of desperation as he allows his past to surface and find him again. His eyes have a wild look as he lets the horror of the past loose upon himself, as he remembers.

He remembers his last day in school. There had been a grand graduation ceremony which his father had attended. His mother was not allowed to leave the house. So his father watched proudly as he gave the valedictory speech and had numerous honours heaped upon him. After the ceremony had been a small farewell party. It was during this party that someone had bumped into him. He had seen the other guy around; he knew his name was R—-. R—- was the school comedian, the guy who joked about anything and everybody. That day R—- made the mistake of joking about the absence of his mother from the ceremony. The next thing he knew was that someone was pulling him away while R—- lay on the ground, his face drenched in blood and looking like someone had taken a hammer to his face. His nose lay at a crooked angle and his skin had split in several places. When the hospital report came in it said that R— had lost partial eyesight in his right eye and that he had a broken nose and was missing six teeth. His father pulled a lot of strings and got R—-‘s family to agree to an out-of-court settlement. He went to see R—- in the hospital. Most of R—-‘s face was covered in white bandage and his right eye had a patch over it.  Then R—- looked at him through his left eye and he saw fear; the same fear he had seen so long ago in his mother’s eyes as she looked at him from the floor. He had become his father.

The realization of what he had done shook him to the core of his being. He knew he had to go far away from his house, far away from his father. So, for the first time in his life he prayed. He prayed not to any specific God or religious creed but he opened his heart and begged to be saved from the future he had glimpsed; he did not want to become his father. And thus came the first blessing in his life. Apparently his father had been shaken up by what he had done to R—-. So his father decided to send him away down South to do engineering. He still had a lot of connections and friends in the South. Any other future mishaps would be easier to cover up there. And so he was sent away, his prayers were answered. He never knew if his mother found out about R—; his mother hadn’t talked to anyone in the last eleven years.

The bottle is almost empty now, only a quarter of the vodka still left. It has been four years now, four years without the stifling presence of his father. For the first time he has been able to make friends here but even they don’t know the entire truth. He has found a small measure of happiness but his father still cages the core of his being against any lasting joy. No more. Tonight will change everything. Tonight he is facing his demons and one by one quelling them. He does this because he knows that from today he is free. His father’s lawyer had called to tell him that his father had died last night.

The lawyer had called in the evening right before the party. The servants in the house had found the bodies early in the morning. His father had been stabbed thrice in the heart. His mother had been lying in a pool of her own blood; the veins in both her hands were slit open. It was obvious, at first sight itself, that his mother had killed his father and then used the knife upon herself. Tomorrow there would photos and articles in the paper about an important man who had been killed in a metro city by his own crazy wife but he would know the truth. He would know who was really crazy. What the lawyer had told him only confirmed his suspicions. He had known because his mother had called him that night before she cut her veins.

His tears stream afresh as she remembers his mother. His mother has been a mute spectator for the last eleven years. The only sound she made was one of whimpering when her husband attacked her. He remembers her soulless, vacant eyes. The eyes that held such life and joy in those photos of her marriage had lost all hope. Her eyes were haunted by the cruel reality thrust upon her; her husband had loved her until she gave him son. The birth of a son had been the sole motive of his father and his mother had fulfilled that just fine. He used to wonder if his mother hated him, if she hated him for being the cause of her pain. He had never known until his mother called him.

When he saw his father’s number flashing on his mobile phone he had wondered why his father was calling. His father only called the day exam results were announced to confirm that he was indeed the top ranking student in his college. And he had been, all through the engineering course. But yesterday night it had not been his father on the phone. As soon as he said hello over the phone his mother’s clear and soft voice had talked to him. How long has it been since he talked to his mother? O God he had almost forgotten what his mother’s voice sounded like.

His mother had only said a few words: “Son, I love you”. He had forgotten how gentle his mother’s voice had been. Even now it is hard to believe that his mother had talked to him after eleven long years of silence. His heart had yearned for her voice even when he forgot what her voice sounded like. Her voice had been as beautiful and as welcome as rain on a dry, parched land. I love you. It was the first time that he had ever heard these words from his mother. She might have used only three words but the words had conveyed to him her entire soul. In the last moments of her life his mother had been able to say what she had not said in 21 years of his existence; she has fulfilled the debt of her motherhood.

And in his mother’s voice he had heard a beautiful and strange note, the note of freedom. He knew that if he looked into her eyes at that instant, his mother’s eyes would be shining with hope. And not hope for herself but hope for her son. Like some great seer from the past she knew that her time had come. She had killed her husband so that her son would live free. She killed her husband so that her son could finally find freedom from the oppression and tyranny of his father. She had freed his life; she has fulfilled the debt of her motherhood.

His mother has opened a path to his freedom and the entire night he has been trying to seize it. His mother has set him free in this life, now he must free himself from the memories. He wants to be sure that he fulfils the hope he heard in his mother’s voice.  His mother’s words are a balm to his soul, healing his lovesick heart. He never knew he needed the words so.

He raises the bottle to his lips for the last time. The last few drops float around in his mouth and burn their way to his stomach. Ah! Sweet release. His chains are being slowly broken; his burdens are losing their hold. As he flies through the seemingly endless night he knows that this night, his night, has not been in vain. The sweeping wind is raking through his hair and body, chilling him outside even as the fire rages inside. He screams raucously out of the sheer pleasure of the glorious oncoming of freedom. Freedom is coming and he is rushing to catch it because he knows that this may be his last chance, his only chance.

He glides on in the night, realizing, for the first time, what the words “soaring on the wings of eagles” means. His soul is free from its cage, the cage of his father. His soul is flying free. He turns the bike around, just before he crosses the state border. He is on his way back to his friend’s house and the bike is still doing top speed as he rounds bend after bend. In a little more time he reaches petrol pump from where the highway began. The area is pitch-black in the moonless night without any streetlights to illuminate the way. The road to his friend’s house lies on the left and he takes the turn without a thought to reduce his speed. And then the bike’s headlight illuminates a most frightening sight: in the light he can see the mournful eyes of a cow staring back at him. His mind forms one coherent four letter word as he desperately tries to swerve the bike away but he is going too fast. He hits the cow at full speed and feels the sensation of weightlessness as he flies. Then his body hits the ground and all grows dark.

When he opens his eyes all he sees are blurred shapes swirling around. The surroundings are white and he can see light all around. It takes him a full minute to focus on the blurred shape and realizes that it is his friend, the one who owned the bike, standing at his hospital bed. His friend sits down near him and tells him what happened. When he had tried to swerve his bike to avoid the cow it had actually saved his life. The bike had turned partially and hit the cow sideways, not head-on. Everyone from the doctors to the friend himself agreed that this simple fact had saved his life. He had flown off into a clump of tall bushes on the side of the road and that had saved him from any life threatening damage. However the accident had still fractured his left arm in three places, broken two of his ribs and damaged his right ankle. One does not drive at high speed while drinking copious amounts of alcohol and get away unscathed. His body is broken but his soul is still free; and he knows his body will recover in time. His friend’s mother is sitting there beside the bed and she tells him that she had tried contacting his parents. She had been put in contact with his father’s lawyer who told her about his parents’ deaths. He looks at her and he can see tears form in her eyes as she tells him all this. And then for the first time in his lifetime he trusts a human being with all his secrets. He tells her the truth of his father. By the time he reaches the end of his narrative both his friend and his mother are crying. He has two people who are sharing in his pain. He may be an orphan but he is not alone. That is when he realizes that perhaps these tears that they shed are not the simple tears of a human being; they are the blessings of God. And like a far away echo he can still hear his mother saying: “Son, I love you”.

Hope?

SHE STILL CAN’T BELIEVE IT

A true story

The car speeds along the highway, doing at least 80 kmph through the light early morning traffic. It is only 6 a.m. and they hit the road half an hour ago. There are two cars in the entourage, one an SUV in which seven hopeful souls have managed to fit in and the other a sedan travelling behind it which carries another four. All of them are praying that there be no traffic jam at the inter-state checkpoint, notorious for delays running into hours. She is travelling in the sedan.

The wind blows across her soft, feminine features, pulling at her hair which lies in a careless bundle on her shoulders, framing her face. Her face with its big, brown eyes, a high forehead and nose for which she has been relentlessly teased in school. Her embroidered, black churidar matches perfectly with her almost angelic colour. She is watching the beautiful scenery in the early morning light. A part of her is taking in the beauty while another part is tensed, nearly hopeless about what lies ahead; the stories she has heard are not encouraging.

In the SUV the mood is much too different. There is a slight current of tension but a general air of bonhomie prevails. All of the eleven have good academic grades but this recruitment test for M————– has arrived right before their last semester-end university exam. Most of them don’t know if going today will do any good; without any time for preparation all they can hope to gain is a little more exposure. There will be nearly a 1,000 participants and all of them will be good competition. Well, life isn’t always fair so no use worrying about what you have no control over.

They cross the inter-state checkpoint on time without any delays and the eleven heave a collective sigh of relief. Now there will be time for breakfast. The drivers are quite familiar with this city and they stop at a Hotel Anna. The eleven pile out of the two cars and head for the hotel.

She gets out quickly, wanting to join her crowd of friends. She is a gregarious person and loves most sorts of company. She selects the order for the entire group and sits down at a table. A guy from the SUV sits down across her and starts talking with an air of insouciance. She looks at him and wonders how he can be so flippant about something so important. This recruitment is a big chance for him, for everybody. She glances across to the other table where another friend is eating quietly. He is the other extreme and has been working hard the entire exam season. He’s the best prepared for the test; she wonders if he ever takes a break.

With their hunger sated for the moment they return to the vehicles. There is yet another hour of travel left before they can reach the college where the test is being held. The college is on the city outskirts and is another one of the innumerable colleges that seem to spring up like weeds around this city. The going is slow. They have to keep asking the way every now and then, taking a left, then a right then another left hoping to reach the correct place. A wrong turn could cost them precious time.

They finally manage to reach the college, half an hour before their reporting time and take their time to look around the campus in amazement. This is a world apart from their college. This college has buildings more suited to some medieval castle (complete with gargoyles) than a twenty first century engineering college. The sport ground is so huge they wonder if this college backs up as a residential colony. Once their initial amazement is over they head for the auditorium where they get a first glance at their competition: nearly a thousand students in all hues and colours.

Her hearts dips a little lower at the sight of these many faces. She knew that there would be a nearly a thousand students but it is easier to deal with statistics than actual people, especially when everyone is tough competition. She can hardly control her despair in the face of so much confidence that is displayed by everybody here. They probably do not have semester-end exams to worry about.

Here they are made to wait for another 2 hours before their batch can go for the test. The time arrives, their names are called and they all file out to the lab for the online test. In the test lab she finds herself between the flippant chap and the hard working chap. Both of them are brilliant in their own way and she can see them tackle each question with confidence. Calculations and counter-calculations are done on both sides and all she can do is stare at the screen. She is the academic topper in the eleven but finds it hard to find solace in that fact. She does each question to the best of her ability not for an instant believing that her best is going to be good enough to crack this test. The questions look deceptively simple but are laced with hidden traps. C and C++ programming language code floats off the screen as her brain fights to make sense of it, trying not to let her emotions overwhelm her. In 45 minutes the ordeal is over and as they all file out of the lab she can hear everyone discussing each question in its minutiae. Each opinion tells her what she has done wrong and how badly she has done. All the despair catches up with her, her eyes fill with tears but she never lets them roll down her cheeks. She dislikes crying in public; for her tears are a private matter. So she holds them in and decides to busy herself with studying for the last semester-end exam the next day. At least she can be confident with that subject. So she asks the hardworking guy to help. She knows he never takes a break.

Everybody else decides to tour the place a little more. They have 2 hours until the result is announced and there is a lot left to see. They roam around taking in the stunning greenery in the campus that is a far cry from their own barren wasteland. They enter some of the buildings, strolling through indoor courts and marvelling at the classes (though they are stopped by guards at the main ‘palace’ gate). The most beautiful sight, though, is a bunch of peacocks on the far side of the campus lying in the shade of trees. The national bird has a good population here. So they tour and return to the auditorium to find her waiting for them.

The organizers said the results would be out by 2 o’clock but it is 4.30 by the time the result sheet arrives. The moment she has dreaded has finally arrived. This result sheet with all the names of all the people who cracked the test is a final nail in her coffin. She knows her name will not be there but she finds a small measure of solace in the fact that at least one of her friends will get it. The names are called out one by one, college by college. Her college has the least number of participants so she knows only one or two will be selected. No matter whom it is she has to bottle down her own feelings and be able to congratulate them. So she readies herself and then only one name is called out from her college, S——- That is her name they just called out!! She can only stare at the organizers in disbelief. There is another test left but she never expected herself to cross the first round at all. As she walks to the lab for the second test she feels bewildered and still in shock and she is half-scared if her friends will hate her for getting through especially since she had no hope of getting it. She is the only one from her college who made it and so there is not even a familiar face to wish her a simple all the best. As she enters the lab it strikes her that she is not, in the least, prepared for this, busy as she was drowning her sorrow in another subject. Yet as she attempts the first of the two questions of the second test she feels a confidence and joy descend over. Perhaps some of her friends have prayed for her now and sent their wishes upon the air to her. All is not yet lost.

When she comes out all her friends surround her and congratulate her. She is the shining star of the moment and she loves every second of it. She can still scarcely believe the fact that she is the one who got through. She tells her friends about the second test and she knows she has done her best. Is it good enough? She still cannot answer that for sure but now she can hope. As they prepare to leave and get into the cars one of her friends hands her a bar of chocolate as congratulations and as she takes it she can think only one thought “Chocolate!! There is no better way to celebrate.”

Night….

NOVEMBER 28th

The cold November wind whips through the street, cutting through cloth and skin as if it were a blade. He has been standing here for some time now, hidden in the dark, feeling naught but this hard, cutting wind. He smokes a cigarette, a new found habit, in a wasted effort against the numbing cold, exercising his hands so that he can feel them when the time arises. The glowing end reminds him of the fireflies he has seen so many times in his grandfather’s home. For one moment he thinks of his dada, so full of love and life and then harshly focuses back on the present. What has begun must be finished. He finds himself listening to the sound of the traffic on the main road. The revving of countless engines, snatches of shouted conversation and the horns which only the Delhites seem to use with such reckless abandon. He smiles a little at how the city is always moving; the pulse of the city never seems to tire or lack enthusiasm. He waits on a quiet deserted street which is more of a byway between two buildings sitting with their backs to each other. His bike is parked nearby at the base of the street light which, thankfully, does not very much illuminate this particular street. The darkness both a warm blanket and a suffocating weight.  He thinks of how the movies skip the waiting and go right to the action and here he is stuck in the interminable waiting. Each move of his watch’ cold metal needle is one minute closer to his goal.

She disembarks from the Metro, her pink sweater accentuating the slight blush on her cheeks. She is talking animatedly with her friends, having returned from a shopping spree celebrating a friend’s birthday. All the dresses and shoes, not to mention the college gossip, provide enough fodder for a lively conversation. There is about them an air of laughter and mischief as they walk the steps towards the exit. A cold wind rushes to meet them but the chill is easily borne in the company of friends. Then like petals falling from a rose her friends separate, each moving towards their own home. She starts walking towards her home sharing the distance with another girl who lives in the building next to hers. In a few minutes, with the air of insouciance undiminished, she reaches the dark byway that sits between two buildings sitting with their backs to each other.

He knows that she will take this route, she always does. Through this short street and then the first turn to the right lies her home. And he sees her approach wearing her favourite pink sweater. The already heavy weight in his jacket grows heavier. The cold metal is cutting into him. He starts to walk, his gait hurried and undisciplined, his anger making control impossible.

She can feel something amiss. She has used this street since time immemorial and she has never felt this feeling of dread lay upon her. She picks up her pace wanting to move out of the street as quickly as she can to the warmth of her home. Her hands are shaking from the chilly wind while the cold sweat of fear dampens her brow. She urges her legs to go faster. Then her head snaps upwards as a long silver cylinder enters her vision and comes to rest over her heart; she stops dead in her tracks.

The gun seems to jerk with all the effort it takes him to hold it upright. It has to be right over her cold unfeeling heart. He locks eyes with her, his eyes almost boring into hers in the dim light that filters through into the street. Her mouth is open in shocked surprise, her incredulity writ large on her face. No one ever imagines themselves ever under the barrel of a gun. His gaze drills into her as if trying to tear apart the curtain of safety and reveal her soul. What does he hope to find? He wants to find her remorse, her tears, her longing for him. He wants to see the pain he has felt and lived with for the last month. He wants to find remnants of the love he always thought she had for him. He wants to know that he has not been the only one suffering under the separation. He wants to see what he always wanted, all his feelings reciprocated. He needs her to love him, to see his dreams come true. What he sees however is not what he wants but what truly is. Beneath that stark fear he sees indifference and not longing; an indifference to his presence and an indifference to his existence. As the realization slowly sinks in he feels the edges of his self and his anger slowly burn and fall away. A pain like he has never known overtakes him and he feels his mind slipping into the black oblivion of melancholy and madness. His hand is shaking uncontrollably; his despair is turning his whole world dark. The trigger……his finger……….he must……he shouldn’t…. His thoughts are blurred and disjointed; different times and places that have forced him here all collide and confuse in his mind. And in this madness he hears a strong, unhurried voice teaching him of the responsibility that comes with handling a gun; his father’s voice from when he took his 15 year old son to the shooting range for the first time. And he cannot shoot, cannot pull the trigger and end a life even though a part of him wants to. Home. Family. Father. He has a home that he has to go back to and parents he has to face. As long as there is a home all is not lost.

Then he does the hardest thing he has ever done, he pulls back the revolver and leaves her be. And then, though he has no idea how he reached there, he is trying to push the key into the bike’s ignition. His entire body is shaking from the strong pent-up emotions as if in a fever. He manages to slide the key in and then the ignition has caught and he’s off, he’s off to home.

It’s a miracle that he managed to reach home in one piece what with all the madness within. He rings the bell and his mother opens the door. She asks him why his mobile was switched off and where he has been to both of which he makes some lame excuses. His father is waiting in the study and when he looks his father in the eyes he knows that his father knows. His father opens the beautiful hand-carved wooden gun case and waits for him. He puts the gun inside then shuts it and takes the bullets and keeps them in the proper place. It is then that he notices the bottle of whiskey on the desk. His father only takes the bottle out on a few special occasions. His father notices him looking at the bottle and then says “I knew I would need it one way or another. I’m proud of you son.” And then for the first time in a long time he feels the stirrings of peace in his soul. His burden is lightened; he is finally home.