Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Dying Twice

“I decided that it wasn’t worth it and killed her.” Suvansh said.

“WHAT!” Julia screamed.

“Don’t scream Julia.” Suvansh said putting a finger in his ear pretending that his ears were hurting.

“How can you kill her?” Julia said, now crying. Suvansh took out a handkerchief from his pocket and gave it to Julia. She took it and dabbed her eyes. The tears didn’t stop however.

“I told you, it wasn’t worth it.” Suvansh took out his phone and didn’t look at Julia. The accusation in her eyes wasn’t something that he was ready to face. He had known that he would be facing this since Neha died. He had practiced this in front of mirror a hundred times to ensure that he could say the right words when the time came. Unfortunately, now that he was in front of Julia, he faltered. He was less scared of the police and courts than he was of Julia. Julia — his daughter, who was almost 12 years old now, had asked her this question multiple times but he had avoided it for long. Today, he finally caved.

“Please leave me alone.” Julia said and ran away from him towards her room. Suvansh called after her but she closed her door and he could hear her crying through the door. He knocked the door a couple of times but gave up after some time. He had always known that it would be a tough day for him when she found out that her mother didn’t die a natural death. Worse, he was responsible for that. He hoped that she would get over it.

Suvansh went back to his room and tried to remember the fateful night. He could feel the stub of the gun in his hand and the smell of smoke from the barrel of the gun. He wished that he could take time back and change everything to the way they were before he found out Neha was cheating on him.

Suvansh had came back home early that day to be with her two year old daughter. Instead of finding Julia with Neha, he found her with a babysitter. He wished he had not doubted his wife then. Instead of taking this casually, he called her to find where she was. Not knowing that Suvansh was home, Neha told him that she was with Julia. He waited the whole day for Neha to come just before Suvansh’s daily returning time. That night, Neha broke down and confessed to a six months long relationship she had with Abhimanyu — a fashion designer who lived in the same building.

Suvansh wished now that he didn’t get a licensed gun.

Before Suvansh knew what he was doing, he took the gun out and went after Abhimanyu. Neha went after Suvansh, no doubt in Suvansh’s mind, to protect Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu opened the door and Suvansh shot at him. Abhimanyu was saved partly by his quick reflexes and partly by Suvansh’s shaking hands. Abhimanyu jumped on Suvansh and grabbed the gun and the two began to scuffle for the gun. Suvansh pushed Abhimanyu towards the sofa but Abhimanyu pulled Suvansh with himself. Suvansh lost his balance and Abhimanyu took advantage and kicked Suvansh in the stomach. Suvansh bent due to the force and dropped the gun. Abhimanyu grabbed the gun and shot at Suvansh.

Neha had entered the house along with Suvansh but she was just a by-stander in the fight that was happening in front of her. She screamed when Abhimanyu kicked Suvansh. When Abhimanyu shot at Suvansh, everything went slow for Neha. She felt herself flinging towards Suvansh and the next thing she knew was a searing pain in her chest. She looked down and saw blood oozing out the punctured wound.

Abhimanyu ran from the house leaving Suvansh holding his wife in his hands as she bled to death. Everything became a blur to Suvansh after that. He called for help, someone came and took them both to the hospital. Suvansh felt that he came back to senses after hours when doctors told him that Neha was in a coma.

“When will she be ok?” Suvansh asked. Doctors looked at him sympathetically and squeezed his shoulder without giving any committal response.

He could never bring himself up to tell all this to her daughter. For the past ten years, she had lived with her comatose mother who was shot by an evil man and her father whom she had only seen depressed, sad and working. Suvansh was left with strands that day and a daughter whom he wanted to love and take care of. Unfortunately, these things were not enough to pay the medical expenses of his comatose wife and his daughter’s school tuition. His wife had died 10 years ago but he had hoped that he could save Julia’s mother.

He had to make a choice — to pull the plug on his wife or hamper her daughter’s education.

He knew he had made the right decision; Neha would have wanted the same. He just wished he could explain all this to her daughter.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

The Weight Factory

“It will be Rs. 5000 per pound, sir.” Garima said trying her hardest to not judge. She had started working in Platinum Gym since last month and she was still adjusting to the environment. Garima had been a fitness freak since childhood and now, she wanted to share her experiences and knowledge with others. More importantly, she wanted to fight against a new phenomenon that had risen in the world.

Three years ago, a new technology was discovered that helped the weight of a person to be removed permanently, without the risks of any surgery, called the Weight Transfer Therapy. Even more, the procedure was harmless and positively healthy for the body. The only catch was that this weight can only be transferred to another body. Several tests were done to see if the weight could be transferred to animal bodies or machines but they failed. It was related to genetic composition of human body and thus could only work through a human body. Even in human body, there were two types — A and B. While type A could give or take the weight from each other, in type B, the therapy only worked between two genetically related people.

“That sounds a little costly mam. Phosita gym takes only half the price.” The man said with a stern look on his face. Garima groaned inside.

“Sir, we are members of the original consortium and the quality of our machines are unparalleled. Additionally, other gyms don’t give the kind of guarantee that we give. In case of reversion, the next one will be free from us. No one gives this kind of service sir.” Garima recited like a robot. She had done this more than she cared to admit. Everyone wanted the new technology, hard work be damned.

The man looked at her with a constipated look on his face. Garima assumed this as his thinking face and waited.

“Ok. I will have a Gemini package.”

‘Really! You want to lose 50 pounds like this.’ Garima thought disgustedly but smiled outwardly.

“Please go to the receptionist and she will take care of the rest of the things.” Garima said and pointed the man to the door. Once he was gone, she looked around at the empty room containing several treadmills, dumbells, exercise cycles and what not. The gym was state of the art. The only thing it lacked was people to use the instruments. It was made a long time ago and now, these machines were more sunk cost than anything else. For every 5 people interested in gymming, 95 people were here for weight transfer therapy.

The people she hated the most were repeat customers. People who would lose the weight through this mechanism and then gained it back in a span of few months to come back again for the same process. The gym would have to find a new person to take on the weight. Although, she was amazed to see how many people were ready to take on the weight. People in need of money, college students in need of quick money and of course, health freaks!

That was something that shocked Garima the most. Many health freaks became Weight carriers. They would take on the weight and then reduce it in the next few months or so and then return for the next job. She found it detesting.

“Garima!” Karan called entering the room.

“Hi Karan.” Garima said blushing slightly. Karan did this to her. With a perfectly chiseled body, Karan was what attracted Garima to Platinum gym. He owned this franchise and would often encourage people to start exercising instead of weight transfer therapy. Unlike Garima, he had some success in converting the people.

Karan had a unique history too. Unlike Garima, Karan was really fat as a kid and had to work really hard to gain the body that he showed off today. Around 5 years ago, he started to get his life back on track and got the amazing body that made Garima drool. After that, he started his own gym until Platinum gym offered him their brand name to create a better facility.

“I have a unique case for you.” Karan said gesturing a girl through the door. The girl was extremely thin and almost starved. If not for her clothes, Garima would have placed her as malnourished due to poverty.

“Hi. My name is Rini.” The girl said smiling uncertainly.

“She is my sister. She has acute anorexia and she wants to become better the traditional way. Please take care of her.” Karan said giving Garima a wink. He left the two girls alone.

“Why are you not using the weight transfer therapy? For once, I see a person who should actually use it.”

“Honestly, I just don’t like it.” Rini smiled and replied tersely.

“It’s good. I hate it too. I think that people should put effort in what they are doing.” Garima replied enthusiastically. She rarely found people who shared her views on the matter. Karan was one and Garima was glad to know that Rini was similar.

“So, how should we start?” Rini asked.

“We will change your diet and have a few exercises to begin with. Once you have gained some weight, we will move towards building your strength. Are there any food preferences you have?” Garima asked. Her mind had already started to swirl with ideas. It was as if someone had started an old machine that had been out of use for a long time. All her knowledge was coming to her in pieces as she thought of the best food groups that would help Rini.

“Umm.. Not really. To be honest, I haven’t eaten in the past few years to know what the food tastes like anymore.” Rini said while checking out a running machine.

“WHAT!” Garima shouted.

“Oh! I thought Karan told you. I used to get the weight transfer therapy to gain weight and then didn’t eat at all to lose it back. I used to take micronutrient pills to get vitamins, iron, calcium etc. It has been years since I have eaten something. Though I do cheat sometimes for coffee- once a month or so.

Garima felt a pang of pity for the girl standing in front of her. She couldn’t believe that someone could do this and she didn’t understand Rini’s motives either.

“Why?” Garima asked.

“Not important. I won’t do it anymore.” Rini said.

“But didn’t Karan stop you? He wouldn’t have let such atrocity in front of him.” Garima said holding Rini’s arms. She realised she had been shaking Rini while asking the question. She immediately released her, embarrassed.

“You like my brother.” Rini said smiling. Garima nodded. She was feeling a little hot around her years and was sure that her cheeks were blushing.

“He is good. He takes care of me a lot. Although its a bit strange that you like him.” Rini said absentmindedly.

“Why?” Garima asked.

“You are so against weight transfer theory and his gym is the biggest factory for that in the city.”

“Yeah but it’s not because he likes it. He can’t fight the customer. He himself however took the pain to make his body like it is now.”

“Yeah. That’s true. He has worked very hard in the past few months.” Rini said.

“You don’t get this body in a few months Rini. He worked for 5 years.” Garima said.

Rini started to laugh.

“You are so naive.” Rini said in between her laughters.

“Why?” Garima asked defiantly.

“Karan has only started working on his body in the past six months. Before that, he was one of the most ardent users of the therapy that you hate so much. In fact, he was one of the first people to use this therapy.” Rini said.

Garima looked at Rini stunned.

“But he told me… Why would he lie?”

“Because he is of type B.” Rini said and winked.

“You! He transferred his weight to you.” Garima said waving her finger at Rini. “But he lost his weight 5 years ago. The technology came only three years back. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“We were the initial test subjects. In fact, Karan and I were the first type B who were found.” Rini said, now weighing her words.

“And let me guess. He was a repeat customer of the weight transfer therapy.” Garima spat.

“Yes, and because I was the only one who could take his weight, I had to stop eating altogether.” Rini said with a little longing on her face.

“He gave you an eating disorder.” Garima said now shaking.

“Hey. Relax. I am sorry I said anything. I didn’t think you would take it this seriously. I joke about it all the time with people close to us.” Rini said, now tense.

“He says he is running a gym but it is like any other weight factory out there. He behaves like he did it all by himself.”

“Well, he has been training since the past six months. Once we found out that I couldn’t continue like this, he really controlled on his food habits. He has really turned his life around.” Rini said.

“How are you so calm about all of this?” Garima asked trying to grasp the whole situation. She was mad at Karan and she was mad at Rini for being so nonchalant about the abuse she had taken.

“He’s my baby brother.” Rini shrugged as if that cleared everything up.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Medusa

This was the prompt for the story

Megha was haggard and scared. Yet, she couldn’t rest. Her forehead was bleeding and she could barely move as her leg had suffered from the molotov attack.

“Come out, you vile creature. You have no right to live.” The voice came from outside followed by loud banging on the door. Megha checked the bolt on the door. It was still there but she wasn’t sure for how long the door will hold. She picked up her phone and called her sister.

“I am surrounded. Please help.”

“Where?” Shruti said.

“Home”

“I am coming.”

Megha knew that Shruti was almost half an hour away from this place and she hoped to survive till then. She heard another thud sound on the door and shivered.

Shruti got into an auto and called Emily.

“Megha is in the house. The people have attacked her.” Shruti said as soon as she heard the ring stop.

“WHAT? How?” Emily asked with a panic coming in her voice.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Why can’t everyone just leave us alone.” Shruti cried.

“How far are you? I will reach there in an hour.” Emily said.

“I should reach in half an hour. Why did I leave her alone? Why didn’t she listen to me?” Shruti continued. She have half crying and half gasping for breath. It had been almost two years. Two years of hell that Megha had lived and she had lived it along with Megha.

“Be strong Shruti. Let’s save her first. Today is your last day in that horrible place.” Emily said and cut the phone. Shruti sobbed as she cut the phone. Shruti still remembered the fateful day when their life changed.

Megha and Shruti were going back to their home in the suburbs from the city. Megha was in a coaching class to study for an entrance exam and Shruti took tuitions for students of under class 10th. Shruti had the dream of higher studies but was unable to achieve it and now she was hoping that Megha would be able to achieve those dreams.

Shruti was both proud and a little jealous of her baby sister. Megha would be able to do graduation where Shruti had to content with a measly school education. In addition to that, Megha was the most beautiful girl in their community. Shruti was also hopeful that Megha will be able to find a good boy and get married once her studies were complete. Megha was poised to get the life that Shruti had aspired for herself. The death of their parents had left Shruti with no choice but to leave her dreams.

Shruti wasn’t an unhappy person though. She believed that the world was a good place and she and her sister would be able to carve out their identities in this world.

“How did your studies go?” Shruti asked Megha.

“Today was a little tough. I didn’t understand half the things said by the teacher. I will have to work till late tonight to catch up.” Megha said. This was their daily ritual. Shruti would ask about her studies and Megha would tell her that she would have to study till late night. The reasons changed but Shruti never asked or complained about the lights being on till late night.

“Today, its your turn to cook. So, remember that.” Shruti said.

“Oh yeah. Whaddya wanna to eat?” Megha asked. Megha cooked two days in a week. Shruti had made that rule so that Megha knows how to cook and also because on those two days, Shruti would wash the clothes and thoroughly clean the house.

“I think we can ha….” Shruti’s words were replaced by a scream as a car came and took Megha in front of her.

“SHRUTI!” Megha screamed as she was abducted.

Shruti ran towards the moving van but to no avail. She went to police station, filed a complaint and waited. She didn’t leave the police station for three days. After three days did the police found Megha.

Shruti saw Megha and tears flowed from her eyes. Her beautiful sister looked broken and could barely string three words together. She saw Shruti and immediately fell into her arms and cried. Shruti took her home vowing to take revenge on the people who did this to her sister.

It had been three days since Shruti had gone home. The news of Megha’s abduction and rape had however reached their already. Everyone from her community looked at the two of them with averted eyes. As they passed, they saw a certain revulsion in the eyes of the people who had praised the two for holding fort after their parent’s death.

Shruti hoped that it was initial shock from the people. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so. That night, Megha was dragged from the house in the middle of the night and presented in front of the community elders.

“She can’t stay here. She has shamed our whole community.” One of the elders said.

“But she is a victim.” Shruti said.

“She must have done something to entice those men.” A man said in a weak but steady voice. He was over 70 years old and was considered the wisest member of the community. Shruti didn’t believe that anymore.

“She was kidnapped right in front of me. There is no fault of her.” Shruti said facing the old man.

“This is what happens when girls are sent outside.” An old lady said. She was the only female member in the council of elders. Shruti couldn’t believe what was happening in front of her. The community that was supposed to protect them was accusing her baby sister. Megha was standing in front of them completely horrified.

“You will have to leave this place. We don’t want bad influence on our children.” The council said to Megha.

“Where will I go?” Megha croaked.

“That is not our concern.” The old man said.

“You can stay.” The old lady said pointing towards Shruti.

“No.” Shruti said. “We will both stay. This is our home and you can’t force us to leave our home.”

“Don’t force us.” Another one of the elders said. He was puffing on a chilam and looked ominous.

“You can’t force us to leave our own home.” Shruti said in a loud voice. She was never afraid of such threats. The past few years without their parents had made her tough.

“We can’t guarantee your safety here.” The old woman said. The woman seemed to believe that she was being kind.

“I don’t care.” Shruti said. The next day, she regretted it. Shruti had left Megha at home to go back to work. She had already skipped almost a week and they couldn’t afford that. When she reached home, she found out that some boys of the community had tried to rape Megha. When she resisted, they threw acid on her face. Shruti took a sharp breath when she saw Megha in the hospital. Her whole face was gone and replaced by scar tissues and it looked as if her face has melted. It took over a month for Megha to recover physically.

Megha left her coaching and stayed inside the house which was now reinforced to ensure her safety. No one talked to Shruti or Megha in the community anymore. Megha couldn’t even leave the house. People threw stones at her and shouted at her to leave the place. More than once, Shruti had found her words written on the walls of her house — ‘Witch’, ‘Slut’, ‘Whore’, ‘Leave us’, ‘Go away’.

Shruti herself wanted to leave but she couldn’t afford to leave the place, until Emily came along. Emily ran an NGO and helped Shruti and Megha shift to a different neighborhood, hopefully, a better neighborhood. The situation was getting worse in the community. Everyone had started blaming Megha for the bad things happening to them. She was being considered a witch now.

“Please. We will leave tomorrow.” Shruti told the elders. A child had died a day ago in the community and people were blaming Megha for that.

“We want justice.” The people were crying.

“This is not justice.” Shruti cried. Shruti wept and begged and finally the elders said that she should leave today itself. Shruti told Megha to pack everything and not leave the house and went to ensure that they can move immediately.

One hour. That was how long she had been away from Megha when she had gotten her call.

“Please drive fast.” Shruti said to the driver.

Megha saw that the door was almost broken. She slowly dragged herself towards the inner parts of the house. She hoped to hide in somewhere so that the people don’t find her. She knew that the only way of safety for her was that if Shruti could come in time. Megha picked up a knife and hid in her bedroom. She sat beside the door as she heard the door break.

Shruti reached her house and saw a large crowd in front of it. She prayed that they hadn’t been able to enter the house although what she’ll be able to do, she had no idea. She had only just realised that she was one person against a mad crowd out for blood. Yet, she ran towards her house.

Before she could reach the crowd, she heard cheers from the crowd. Her stomach dropped.

“No.. No.. No..” She muttered and increased her pace. She reached the gate and saw a burly man pulling her sister out of the house. The burly man stood behind Megha with a sword in his hand.

“NO.. LEAVE HER ALONE!” Shruti screamed and ran towards her sister. Megha looked at her and raised her hand towards Shruti. A small smile flickered on her scared face. A smile of hope.

Amidst all the cacophony, Shruti heard the slash of the sword clearly. Even before she could see the sword itself, she heard the sword passing through Megha’s neck.

Everything went silent.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Purposeless

I picked up a pebble and threw in in the ocean. The pebble jumped twice and then sunk in the water. The beach was crowded today. People of all age were on the beach, laughing, giggling and just about having the time of their lives.

A couple, elderly, probably around 75 years of age was walking towards him. I felt a pang of jealousy, looking at the silver hair on their heads. I ran my hand through my hair and a strand came out on my hand. Jet black! As always.

Damn!

It had been over 2000 years now. I don’t remember the exact time when I was born. I had forgotten most of the first 500 years of my life. And here they were, old couples walking hand in hand with grey hair.

“Bloody old people with their bloody white hair enjoying their bloody purposes.” I muttered and threw another stone in the ocean.

On an average a person lived around 80 years. The first twenty or thirty odd years go in finding a purpose. That is when a person truly starts to get older. Scary thought, isn’t it. Let me tell you something scarier — not finding your purpose.

It was fun for the first few centuries. I was alive while others grew old, weak and then died. The charm slowed down for a few years but started again during the dawn of industrial revolution. However, that lasted only so long and now, this new millenia really started to frustrate me.

I wanted out and there was nothing that I could do about it. I tried everything. Saved lives, traveled the world, learned to cook, invented a few things and became a voice artist for sometime as well. Believe me, I tried everything possible.

Unfortunately, not a single grey hair, zilch. I still look like a 20-something.

“Hey Suyash!” Sheena called me. I cringed. I turned hoping against hope that it is someone else calling some other Suyash. No such luck!

Sheena came running to me and gave me a bear hug. She had almost tackled me. That is amazing considering that she is a tiny girl.

“Hi Sheena.” I said trying to create some distance between us. I had met her only a week ago and boy if I had accidentally found a sick puppy. Let me tell you three things about Sheena.

One, she is accident prone. Trust me when I say that she is on a completely different obstacle course of life than the rest of us. She stumbles, fumbles and is outright idiotic. Two, I met her when she was thrown out of her orphanage for turning twenty. She immediately got attached to me like a flea to a dog. Three, in her twenty years, she learnt nothing about the world. She has seen the world through her books and all she knows about the world is what those books told her. Unfortunately, most of those books were fairy tales.

These three things combined meant that she couldn’t live through her entire day without being at some kind of risk. For the past one week, I have had to save her from thugs, thieves and even dogs. Really! Dogs. I leave her for two minutes and I come back to find her trying to feed a rabid dog. It was only my centuries of practice helped me aim towards dog with quick reflexes. I have no idea how she was surviving before meeting me but it gives me hope that she can live without me. Unfortunately, she isn’t leaving me.

“I missed you Suyash.” Sheena said while trying to still continue the hug.

“You had gone to change into beach clothes. It was just ten minutes.” I muttered.

“Whatever. So, I was thinking that maybe we should eat some seafood today. I am in the mood.”

“You are allergic to sea food.”

“Not all fishes. I can eat that small one.” Sheena said making a C with her fingers, trying to remind me of the small fish she ate a few days back. She is talking about Sushi. It was chicken sushi. Don’t ask.

“That wasn’t a fish.”

“But I thought we ordered fish.”

“I asked him to make the dish with chicken as you are allergic.”

“Oh. Okay. Chicken then.” Sheena said while picking up a pebble. She threw it towards the sea and it fell short of the waves. I shook my head silently.

“What! I am learning.” Sheena said and picked up another one.

“Don’t you have anything else to do?” I snapped. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate people. Even after thousands of years, I enjoy spending time with people but she is a torture. Can’t a man lament his immortality in peace. I know what you are thinking. Toughen up. Just 50-odd years and then I will be free of this person. Just because I have lived this long doesn’t mean my seconds have started to move faster. Those will be 50 long years.

“I had this appointment. Some interview or something. But I thought spending time with you would be more fun.” Sheena said as my eyes widened.

“You have an interview. For work?” I asked.

“Yeah. But it is like in half an hour or something.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Well. I don’t know… I didn’t think it was important or you cared.” She said and picked up another stone. All I could see was an opportunity to spend 9 peaceful hours in a day, everyday. I took her hand and made a run for it.

“It is not right. A girl should be independent. You should go for that interview.” She yelped but continued to move with me. To be honest, she didn’t have much choice. I was around 6 feet while she barely scratched the 5 feet mark.

“Where is the office?” I asked her while running.

“Dunno. Somewhere in the central city region. I have the address in my mobile.” She said and gave me the mobile. I entered the password (yes, this girl gave me her mobile password in the first two days — go figure) and checked the email. I could make there in 30 minutes but I had to get Sheena into a dress as well.

“Sit.” I said to her and jumped in the driving seat. I called a friend of mine who worked in the same building and told him to get a dress for Sheena — size small — and meet me in the ground floor, within 20 minutes.

“You really care that much.” Sheena said while stifling a yawn.

“Yes. You will get this job. It will make you confident and independent. You should do it.” I said absent-mindedly. I was focused on the road. I don’t think I had drove like this since 1998. And the only time before this when I had my heart racing like this was around 1800s. The horses in those times were something.

“I don’t have the right clothes. I haven’t brought my certificates.”

“Your certificates! Where are they?”

“At your house. I brought them yesterday with my stuff.”

“You brought all your stuff to my place.” I was shocked and yet not. I should have expected it from her.

“Yeah.” I called my maid and gave the phone to Sheena.

“Tell her where the documents are.” I said while zipping through a yellow light. I think it turned red by the time I actually crossed the signal but that is a problem for another day.

She told the maid and I sent the address to her Whatsapp (yes, my maid uses Whatsapp). I called my driver to bring the documents within 15 minutes to the location. He should make it. I live in the central part of the city. I bought the land around 1750 when the city was a village.

We had reached the office just 5 minutes before her interview. I literally pushed her to the washroom to change and for once, she hurried. Within 5 minutes, she was ready. Unfortunately, my driver was not here yet. This meant we were late. I told my friend to bring the documents as soon as the driver came with them and ran towards the lift.

The lift took at least 5 minutes to reach the floor where the interview was set. I hate slow lifts.

“The interview.” I said panting.

“Name?” The woman sitting with glasses asked me in a stern tone. Remember, I look twenty something despite my age. What can I say, I maintain myself, unfortunately.

“Sheena.” Sheena said. Full name Sheena. I thought bitterly. Suddenly I realised that all these efforts might all be in vain. After all, they will talk to Sheena.

“Yes. I am sorry but your interview is delayed by fifteen minutes. Can you wait for 10 more minutes?”

I gave a sigh of relief, surely audible. I thanked the kind lady and sat down on one of the chairs present for candidates. Sheena said beside me taking my arm in hers. I was too exhausted to even push her away.

Five minutes later, my friend was there with the documents.

“Don’t worry. She will get the job.” He said to me. I thanked him.

“Ms. Sheena. You can go now.” Finally the lady called her. I stood up before Sheena, my excitement barely contained.

“Wow! I really didn’t think we would be here today. Thanks for doing this for me Suyash.” Sheena said and without warning kissed me.

This was the first time we were kissing and I must say, it was good and I have centuries of experience. Nevertheless, there were more pressing matters at hand and I pushed her away.

“All the best.” I said to her but more to myself.

“Thanks.” She said her hand stretching to weave in my hair. For once, I let her. I was too excited.

“Hey! I didn’t know you had grey hair, Mr. Oldie.” She said laughing.

“What?”

“Oh come on! Don’t be scared. Its just one grey strand. I just hope it wasn’t from the kiss.” She said and ran to the interview.

I went to the washroom and saw it. A grey strand standing proudly and not just that. I had a wrinkle near my left eye. It wasn’t there in the morning. A tear trickled down my eye. I didn’t know what caused it — the race, getting Sheena to the interview or the kiss — but I got older. I had found my purpose in life. I just had to pin-point on it. Somehow, though, I already knew it was the third one.

“Not again Sheena.” I said annoyed.

“Sorry.” Sheena said as I picked her up. She had tried to bend to get a pebble and fell down. At the age of 70, it is not wise to pick stones just to throw them in the ocean.

“Wow! You are still strong.” Sheena said. I smiled at her. Fifty years have passed since that first grey hair came in my life. Fifty years, spent in caring for Sheena and in spending time with her.

I do feel a guilt sometimes that maybe I stayed because being with her aged me. But I don’t care. She loves me absolutely and these past fifty years have been amazing. I did fell in love with her. When, I don’t know. Sometimes I think I fell in love the first time I met her but I didn’t want to accept it. Other times, I think it was after our first kid that I truly felt those feelings for her.

Honestly, I don’t know and now, after fifty years of growing old together, I don’t care.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Gods amongst Us!

Akshat sighed and picked up the bag of the man standing in front of him. The man was standing between two cops who held him tightly.

“You can release him now. I will take care of him.” Akshat said to the policemen.

“Are you sure?” One of the cops — Salman — said. Akshat did not blame him but felt a little disappointed. Just because a man looks middle-eastern, people judge him all the way to Sunday. He did not like the direction the world was moving towards but he eventually made peace with it.

“I will be fine.” Akshat said to the cop. The cops unshackled the man with long hair and a beard. He was wearing something like a toga and was looking all around astounded.

“You do not understand.” The man said and grabbed Akshat’s collars as soon as he was freed. The policemen held the man again.

“I told you he is dangerous. Deranged!” The other policeman — James — said.

“Really! And what has he done? He is just afraid.” Akshat finally said a little irritated.

“We did a background check on him. No records. And between you and me, look at his face — long beard, dishevelled hair and that accent…” Salman moved a little closer and whispered — “… he might be a terrorist, you know.”

“How can you say that? You yourself are a muslim.” Akshat said incredulously.

The cop looked a little flustered and didn’t say anything.

“Anyways, I will take care of him. Sir, please come with me.” Akshat said turning to the man held by the two cops.

“You don’t understand.” The man said, his head hanging. Although dejected, he followed Akshat slowly. The cops left him but stayed put in case the man tried to do something.

“This is going to be your room.” Akshat said and kept the bag in the room. “I will be back in 10 minutes. You get comfortable in the meantime.” Akshat said and moved back to the reception area.

“I don’t understand why you do this Akshat. These people should be put in a normal mental asylum.” James said to Akshat once he returned.

“No, James. I feel that people like him need a different type of surrounding. Anyways, thanks for bringing him to me before someone hurt him.”

“Yeah no problem buddy.”

“How did you find him, by the way?”

“No big deal. He was standing in the middle of a crossing in a fountain, trying to call people and tell them that he is Jesus. First we thought he was drunk as the whole fountain smelled like alcohol but then we realised that he was a candidate for your place.” Salman said.

“I just don’t understand why people like him choose my religion to taint.” James said. He was extremely religious.

“Better than the situation with my religion buddy.” Salman said and laughed. He was not at all religious.

“Hmm.. Its alright. I will take care of him.”

“Okay Akshat. Bye.” The two said and left. Akshat came back to the room and saw Jesus still standing where he had left him.

“Jesus, Lord. Are you alright?” The man looked up and asked.

“Who’s Jesus?” Akshat was taken aback. Maybe the man in front of him really was just a normal crazy guy.

“The policemen said that you were calling yourself Jesus when they found you.”

“What? No! I was trying to tell them that I am God’s son. I am reborn to help them to salvation. My name is Yeshua.” The man replied.

“Oh. Of course. I forgot.” Akshat said chiding himself.

“So, you don’t think I am crazy.” Yeshua asked, still a little uncertain.

“I don’t. I think you are who you say you are but you have not kept up with the times, my lord.”

“I feel the same way. I am sorry, I don’t know your name.”

“Akshat.”

“What should I do then Akshat?”

“You should get an orientation. I have already assigned you a mentor and he will help you in understanding the current situation in the world.”

“Oh. Ok.” Yeshua said.

Akshat took him to a breakout area. Around 5–6 people were sitting in the area. There were two women — one was wearing a sari while another was wearing a long robe. The men were of various shapes and sizes. One man had a pet eagle which he was stroking gently. A couple of people were playing a video game on a television. One man had a Jackal tattooed in his arm with a big A on top of it while the other one was wearing a locket with a trident. Another television was showing news with two old men watching it.

“Thor looks mighty fine, I must say.” The old man with an eyepatch said.

“Yes. He does.” Another old man with long white beard and white flowing hair responded.

“Odin… Brahma… This is Yeshua. He has joined in today.”

“Great to see you boy.” Odin replied.

“You people are here, in a mental institution.”

“Hahaha… It is an institution but not a mental one.” Brahma replied. “It is more like a school for people with special origins. Akshat borrowed the idea from X-Men. You can call me Professor X too if you want.” He said laughing.

“You will be Beast, Brahma.” Odin taunted Brahma.

“But why?” Yeshua asked confused.

“They will explain it all to you in detail. I have some other work however. I will take your leave.” Akshat said and left.

“Bye.” Yeshua said and then turned to the two old men.

“So, I am not a prisoner?” He asked.

“Prisoner! Hahaha. You are cute.” Odin chuckled.

“No boy. We will train you to understand the ways of the world so that you can change the world in the way it can be changed.” Brahma said.

“Yes. The world doesn’t like Gods anymore. They usually come in the way of religion for most people.” Odin said.

“What do you mean? Isn’t the two things same anymore?”

“You died too young kid. The two things were never the same. God is what created the humans. Religion is what kills them.”

“I thought I killed the humans.” A man shouted in a husky voice. Tall, dark with a shade of blue around the neck and piercing eyes that could burn, the man entered wearing shorts and a t-shirt. He was puffing a joint and smiled looking at the three.

“You are back early this week. Yeshua, this is Shiva. He is the God of actually a lot of things but he prefers to be called the God of destruction.”

“I know. I heard.” Yeshua said, a little apprehensive. He had heard of Shiva’s temper and did not intend to be on his bad side.

“New kid.” Shiva asked the two and they nodded. “Relax kid. Its a fun world out there. You just have to adjust a bit.” Shiva said taking a long drag.

“What is happening? Someone please help me understand.” Yeshua said a little frustrated.

“You guys didn’t explain it yet.” Shiva asked.

“We were about to when you walked in.” Odin huffed.

“Go ahead then.” Shiva said and went towards the ladies. He kissed the woman in the sari and spoke something in her ear. She giggled and nodded and went back to talking to the other woman. Shiva then moved to the two people playing video games and started chatting with them.

“His wife.” Brahma said as Yeshua looked at him quizzically.

“Anyways, orientation time. Sit down kid.” Odin said.

Yeshua sat down in front of the two old deities.

“The world has changed and it doesn’t accept Gods. A lot of Gods when come on Earth are either chided or are considered crazy.” Brahma started.

“Come to think of it, this all started with you kid.” Odin said grinning at Yeshua. Yeshua looked down not meeting his eyes.

“Its not your fault. People are… ahem… complicated. You give them free will and they are going to make bad choices.” Brahma said.

“Yeah. So, me and Brahma decided to do something about it.” Odin started but got interrupted by Brahma.

“Alright! Akshat decided to do something about it. He started this place and asked me and Brahma for help. We were free too so decided to chime in. Old folks helping out the new Gods to understand how the world works so that they can change it without getting thrown into asylums or prisons or worse, getting killed.”

“And how does that work?” Yeshua asked curiously.

“You play the game as per the human rules and then because you are a God, you beat the bad ones. So, it is kind becoming a super hero.” Odin said.

“More like big impactful personalities.”

“Yeah. Take Thor for instance. He is trying to change millions of lives by taking a direction no one dared to take.” Odin said pointing at the screen, his chest puffed with pride.

“He is making electric cars.” Yeshua asked skeptically.

“Yeah. The boy can’t keep himself away from lightening for some reason.” Odin said, laughing.

“Similarly, Apollo first became the richest man in the world and these days focuses on removing diseases in Africa. Ra and Zeus are working together. They have created a company with the motto — Do no evil. As if anyone believes that.” Brahma said.

“So, basically all rich people are Gods?” Yeshua asked.

“What, heck no! Some went into art, others went into other fields. They just ensure that they give direction to the human society in a positive way. Everything remains the same, the only downside being you are not called a god anymore. Some will call you a genius, other will call you a miracle and many would call you a God’s gift but no one of us is called Gods anymore.” Brahma said.

“Except for that one guy.” Odin said.

“Yeah.” Brahma replied.

“Who?” Yeshua asked curious.

“There is this one god — I won’t name him — but he decided to go into sports and that too a game played by like 10 countries — cricket, it is called. Everyone of us laughed at him and now, he is the only one called God.”

“Wow!” Yeshua said.

“Yeah. Didn’t see that one coming.” Odin said.

“So, basically, take a week here. Understand the world, talk to a few people here who live in the society and then take up an identity that you feel you can pull off.” Brahma summarised.

“Any questions, kid?” Odin asked.

“One more — who is Akshat? I mean I don’t think he is a human.”

Odin laughed in a booming voice, Brahma too smiled. The others looked towards them expectedly.

“What happened?” The woman in the robe asked.

“Athena, he is asking that who is Akshat.” Odin said in between tears.

The others also joined in with the the two old men. Yeshua looked at them confused. Brahma finally said.

“We thought you knew, or at least should have guessed till now. He is your old frenemy.”

“Frenemy?”

“Friend and Enemy.” Odin said. “What is the name of this place, kid?” He continued.

“Morning Star Institution. But what does that… Oh!” Yeshua said and smiled.