Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Apart

The alarm woke Sidhant up and he cursed the day he decided to put his favourite song as the alarm. Now, nothing else would wake him up and he can’t listen the song without cringing. He checked his phone and saw Srishti’s message on his phone.

‘Good morning. How are you?’

‘Morning. Just woke up.’ He typed a quick message and sent it. His eyes were drooping again and soon he was snoring. His alarm didn’t find it amusing and rang at full volume.

“Damn snooze!” Sidhant cursed.

He yawned and stretched himself. There was a lot of work to be done today. His stocks were almost empty and he had to check the emergency systems as well.

Sidhant picked himself up and scratched fourteenth line on the wall — one for a day. It felt like yesterday when he would have woken up next to Srishti and gone to work. Then, one day, he woke up alone in his room, in his house, in this world. He tried to find people everywhere but none could be found. Most of the systems were working fine but if any system broke down, it remained so. Sidhant had learnt to fix a few systems that were extremely essential to his survival but other than that, he was as useless as Srishti used to call him when he was with her. Here, he had seen one house on fire that remained on fire till it was ashes as there was no one to fight the fire; he had also seen half the city’s electricity going out due to some failure. Luckily, his house was secure and comfortable till now.

Sidhant had cried for the first few days and had barely been able to hold himself together. Initially, he thought that he was part of some huge prank that was being played on him by someone. However, after one Sunday had passed, he started accepting that he was part of a puzzled reality. He was alone, in the whole city and probably the whole world.

His only solace was the mobile phone that was still receiving full signal. He could still message and call everyone on his contact list. He could even use the internet for most of the period. However, the speed was abysmal and no cat videos or video calls were coming to pacify him. Initially, he would talk to his wife for hours every day but now, it was only in the evening, for half an hour or so. She had her work and he didn’t want to latch on to her.

Sidhant went to the super market and picked a trolley. Today was a big shopping day. Whenever Sidhant had imagined an apocalyptic situation like this, he had expected zombies. He still expected (hoped?) that a zombie would pop up from somewhere and he would be able to use the bazooka that he carried with him. He knew he would be able to shoot the zombie in a second but at least he would have company for that one second.

Sidhant picked up a laptop as well. This time he chose a Macbook. He had a huge assortment at his disposal and he enjoyed the choices. He wanted to update his blog and email his wife. He had been delaying this email for a long time now but he decided that it was time. Sidhant picked up a few more items and came back to his house. He went to his study and sat down to write. His phone vibrated.

How’s the plan going?

Srishti’s message flashed. She would at least one ask this of him. Sidhant smiled painfully. The plan was immediately formed as soon as he had talked to his wife. He would try to find a way back here and she would try to do the same in the other world. At least that was the plan that they had decided upon. However, with each passing day, his resolve weakened. He still harboured some feelings for the home that was once his but he no longer had hope and didn’t even bothered to try to find a way.

He started typing the email-

Hey Srishti,

I love you. I miss you.

Sidhant stopped and looked at the words he had written. He knew the hardest part was to frame the words that were coming next.

I don’t think there is a way out. I think it is prudent to accept the truth as it is. It is time you move on. The book that I have written should be giving you the revenues and I hope those would be sufficient for you and the kids. I will continue to write and all the proceeds from them will reach you. However, it is time that you move on. I have missed so much that even if I can somehow come back, I don’t think it would be the world I left.

I have missed the birth of my kids. Heck! I found out that we were having twins through a message. I am trying to take care of them the only way I can but I am as good as a dead father. Please give them a real father.

It has been seven years now. I have loved you each day of these seven years and I know you have too. But it is time to move on.

Love, Sidhant

Sidhant read the letter once again and tears prompted in his eyes. She had been with him through these seven long years. She was the one who inspired him to write the book about his life in this place. In return, he was making her wait for a person who would never go back. Sidhant had stopped trying for almost a year. Even the solutions that the scientists sent him, he had stopped attempting. He would simply reply back that it didn’t work. While he missed his wife, he enjoyed the solace of the place — free of any burden or hustle and bustle of life. He didn’t miss his twin seven year old kids much as he had only seen photos of them and never even talked to them.

Sidhant stood up and looked around the room. The walls were filled with scratches, each denoting one day he had spent here. Perhaps, he had started to like this place.

Perhaps!

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

The Last Crime

Vaibhav plucked out a piece of meat from his tooth and belched. Everyone around him shuffled uncomfortably. Vaibhav looked around and smiled slightly. He knew that the uneasiness wasn’t because of his demeanour but because of his past. Or rather, what they will find out about his past. Vaibhav didn’t blame them but rather hoped that they would leave him alone once in a while. He liked the fame, especially initially but now, it was becoming tedious.

The clock ticked and the alarm rang. It was 1 pm and the official time for the government to pardon the year 1991. This was a good year, Vaibhav thought pleasantly. He had some good material to share this time, the 25th anniversary of the law, and he was hoping that this would be talked about for longer than the Kennedy case that actually went over 5 years. In fact, that was the case that gave him the fame that he was enjoying right now.

25 years ago, government passed a law that seemed utter foolishness to everyone. According to the law:

“Any crime committed 25 years ago from the date of closing will be considered null and no punishment shall be granted for it if the person guilty comes out and confesses the crime.”

The argument given for this was that due to this we might find out the reality of many unsolved crimes and this might help in the future. Also, if someone was wrongly punished for a crime, that person could be freed due to this law.

Initially, it was considered a joke. For almost two months after the law was passed, no one came forward. One of the reasons for this was claimed by the supporters of the law said that 25 years is a long time and some people might have committed the crime might have died or forgotten. Most people however knew that the reason was primarily expected backlash from the people against whom the crime was committed.

The first crime was claimed two months after the law was passed, give or take a few days. It was a car parking ticket fraud. Soon, similar petty crimes were being reported and being pardoned. It was no surprise the initial crimes were mostly against the government. Soon, however, bigger crimes also started surfacing. Thefts, accidents, murders all were reported at least once by the end of the year.

Rape and child molestation were two crimes that took the most time surfacing and not without backlash. The first person who claimed child molestation was found dead within 24 hours of the claiming. It was then that the law was modified to give the choice to the person to reveal the information publicly or in private to the officials. This was a monumental event and the number of crimes claimed shot up like anything.

However, this wasn’t the case for all criminals. A lot of people held pride in the crimes they did. A 65 years old man claimed over 100 robberies between 1965 and 1985. He was proud and almost celebrated for the crimes he committed. Soon enough, he became a consultant for police as well for the current robberies.

Vaibhav surfaced around 5 years after the law was created. He remained hidden for the first couple of years and only claiming the crimes to the officials. This changed once his daughter, Simi, wrote a book about those crimes and he gained fame. He had never expected that he would be celebrated instead of being crucified.

“Mr. Vaibhav, should we start?” The reporter asked breaking Vaibhav’s chain thoughts.

“Ah yes… yes… Let’s proceed.” Vaibhav said and put down the glass of wine he was holding. He took a sip before doing that. He knew that he wouldn’t get a chance once he began.

Everyone held there breath while Vaibhav sipped his wine.

“There was a triple murder in 1991 if you remember, around January I think.” Vaibhav began. Furious typing sounds started coming from around as people tried to find the triple murder of 1991.

“There were two such instances, 1991. One was a couple who was killed along with their son. Another was three teenagers were killed in an accident, but it can’t be called a murder.” A reporter with the fastest fingers and internet spoke.

“Really. My memory must really be getting fuzzy then.” Vaibhav said looking around imperiously. “I was talking about the triple murders in the Memory Love hospital.”

“There was no such murder.” Another reported said.

“Of course. It is possible. However, on 7th January, three newborns had died around the same time.”

“Yes.” A reporter with thick glasses said. He pushed his glasses on his nose and continued. “But those were death by natural causes.”

Vaibhav’s mouth twitched into a slight smile.

The mood in the room changed. Everyone had come to hear about murders, that was Vaibhav’s specialty but no one was prepared to hear about the death of babies.

“You… killed… babies.” A man whispered breaking the silence bringing out people from their trance.

“Should I start my story?” Vaibhav asked innocently.

No one said anything. Everyone looked at each other shying away from Vaibhav’s piercing eyes.

“I think I shall.” Vaibhav said and began.

“In the year 1990, a child was diagnosed with Krimm’s disease. As you might know, the cure for it was developed only in the past five years. Nothing could be done in 1990, except for a very vague and rare experiment. This technology was developed by a doctor and never found the light of day. In fact, it was used only once. It was successful in its attempt and saved the kid.” Vaibhav said looking around. Everyone was listening in rapt attention, all prior uneasiness forgotten.

“The only minor issue was that the cure required some certain organs from newborn babies and those organs were kinda necessary to live, you know, like liver, heart etc.” Vaibhav said his hand waving non-chalantly. “That obviously meant that these had to be procured. The good thing was that only three babies were sufficient for the process.”

Before Vaibhav could continue, he started coughing. His daughter immediately came to his rescue. She picked up a few medicines and helped him gulping them down.

“I am sorry but he is not well.” Simi said as Vaibhav tried to gain his voice back. The break seemed to act as a deterrent for the people who realised what they had been hearing till now.

“How could he be well after what he has done!” A woman said with tears in her eyes. Simi looked at the woman, her eyes flashing with anger. However, before she could say something, Vaibhav put his hand on her shoulder and whispered. “She doesn’t know.”

Simi looked at her strained but nodded.

“So, where was I?” Vaibhav said, his voice soft.

“You had killed babies to save some kid.” A man said disgusted.

“Ah yes. So, the process needed three babies. Thus, the doctor and his wife, also a doctor decided that their child was more important than three babies who were born on 28th December, 1990. You will be glad to know that the child was saved.” Vaibhav said.

“You are talking in third person.” A person with a rasp voice spoke.

“Ah yes. You noticed. Someone had mentioned a triple murder of a father, mother and a child. Incidentally, the couple were a couple of doctors as well.”

“They killed those babies.” The man with the rasp voice said in horror.

“Catching up, you guys.” Vaibhav said smiling.

“Then, you… you killed that family. But how do you know about all this?” Another woman asked.

“It is difficult to not know or forget when you see it happening.” Vaibhav said, sombre.

“But why didn’t you tell anyone?” A voice asked.

Vaibhav smiled and whispered something in Simi’s ears. She opened a laptop and showed on the screen a photo of an old piece of newspaper heading.

‘Father blames doctor for his new-born son’s death.’

Vaibhav looked around at the gaping faces and smiled sadly.

“Thank you for your time.” Vaibhav said and stood up to leave. “Also, there will be no more such meetings. That was my last crime.”

Saying that Vaibhav left.

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

Out of Depression

Apurv picked up a brick and slammed it against the sword that was swung against it. The force of the sword broke the sword and the upper half of the brick crumbled. Apurv went with the flow and turned in a circle and the next swing of the brick had its target as the swordsman’s face. The man holding the broken sword screamed and moved to one side. He was on the floor bleeding. However, Apurv did not have the time to look at the man. Apurv took another turn and threw the half broken brick at the man holding the gun a few feet away from him.

All this happened in a span of 3 seconds. The most adrenaline filled 3 seconds of Apurv’s life.

— —

“You really thought that I can’t eat the whole pizza?” Jason said stuffing the last piece in his mouth.

“The question wasn’t whether you could but whether you should.” Neha said yawning and looking at the watch. It was late and she was already done with the food almost an hour ago. Eating one pasta is not that hard a job. At least in comparison to a whole pizza.

“Whatever. I win. Now, we will go to the movie.” Jason said and immediately took out the phone to book it.

“Come on! At least book it tomorrow. Let’s go now. I am tired.” Neha said and got up. It was almost 12 night and the pizzeria owner was looking at them longingly. He desperately wanted them to leave.

Jason looked at her, stuck out his tongue and continued tapping on the phone.

“I am booking a cab doofus.”

“Oh Ok.” Neha said meekly.

“There are no damn cabs in the nearby area. Oh wait. There is one. Booked. Will take around 15 minutes though.”

“It’s alright. We can wait outside till then.” Neha said.

— —

It is never a good sight to see drunk men on the road. Unfortunately, this is a sight seen too often in the city. Why people drink so much and then roam around is something Apurv never understood. It had been almost 10 months now since he was driving the cab.

Brought up in a rich family, Apurv never felt the need to earn money. Bored to his wit’s end, he ended up having depression attacks. He tried gymming, Krav Maga, sports, arts and what not. Nothing worked. He wanted to do something, anything to get away from this. His solution, become a driver. No one understood it. Neither his parents, nor friends nor he himself. But he would drive the car on weekends and that gave him a thrill that he did not understand. Despite the fact that overall there is little action but the conversations with the customers somehow gave him a kind of peace that helped him with his solitude and depression bouts.

Apurv used to drive from around 12 in the afternoon to 8 or 9 in the evening. Then he would meet his friends for the nightlife of the city. After the weekends were over, he would go to his father’s business and for once he was enjoying the work at office too. His parent’s did not understand how it was working but they were happy that their son was happy. They had almost lost their son to depression and now he was fighting it. Fear of someone finding out the truth about him and him getting kidnapped still gripped them on weekends when he was away but they were learning to live with it.

Apurv had taken an early break from the partying today and had dropped his girlfriend home while going home when he switched on the cab service just to see if someone needed his help. The service blinked about 15 minutes from where he was. It was a little out of his way but he decided to take the detour anyway.

Apurv reached the place in only 10 minutes and the scene there shook him to the core.

— —

Neha and Jason walked hand in hand a little outside the pizzeria. 
“7 more minutes left.” Jason said as he gave a soft kiss on Neha’s lips.
Neha looked at him and melted in his arms.

“Give us a few kisses too bitch.” A man said in a slurred voice. Neha and Jason turned and saw three men walking towards them.

“They are drunk.” Jason whispered to Neha and the two started to move away from the three people.

One of them took out a gun and another took out a big knife.

“Don’t run sweetheart. We are not going to hurt you.” The third one said.

Even amidst the stress, Neha could only think — “Why does this man have a sword?”

— —

Two guys were in a scuffle. One of the two had a knife and he was almost at the other guy’s throat. Apurv swerved the car towards them. They immediately broke up. It was then that Apurv saw the girl.

Her clothes half torn, two guys were holding her. She was trying her best to fight the two but was failing miserably. Even from the distance, Apurv could see tears flowing from her eyes.

Apurv immediately came out of the car and moved towards the girl. He shouted at the two people and got their attention for the first time. One immediately took out a gun and took a shot at Apurv. Apurv barely escaped and that too probably because the guy seemed drunk. Apurv was panicking. He did not know what to do but he knew he had to do something. He picked a brick and threw it at the guy holding the gun. The guy moved but the brick hit him and he fell down. The girl took advantage off the commotion and ran towards one of the two guys Apurv had initially seen. His boyfriend maybe, Apurv’s mind registered.

Apurv turned towards the man with the sword. Why he had a sword, Apurv thought. 
Before Apurv could reach the man, pain ran through his body. His hand moved towards his back. A huge knife was stuck on his waist. He turned and saw a man grinning.

“I should have hit you with the car.” Apurv said and gave the grinning man a punch. Apurv’s old strength and technique was still with him. The man was on the ground in one punch. Apurv turned towards the other two.

The man with the sword was coming towards him.

Apurv picked up a brick and slammed it against the sword that was swung against it. The force of the sword broke the sword and the upper half of the brick crumbled. Apurv went with the flow and turned in a circle and the next swing of the brick had its target as the swordsman’s face. The man holding the broken sword screamed and moved to one side. He was on the floor bleeding. However, Apurv did not have the time to look at the man. Apurv took another turn and threw the half broken brick at the man holding the gun a few feet away from him.

All this happened in a span of 3 seconds. The most adrenaline filled 3 seconds of Apurv’s life.

— —

Over a year had passed since that day. Apurv did not change his habits much. The only shift was that now, he would start his cab around 11 and till 5 in the morning on the weekends. His outlook however had changed completely.

He had survived that night, but barely. Ever since then, he had decided to become stronger and understand the criminals more. He became obsessed with how the minds of the criminals were working. He did not have bouts of depression anymore. In a way, his life didn’t change but the way he looked at life changed completely.