Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Different Paths

“You think I should pull the plug?”

“We suggest that you should think about it.”

Hardik’s mind ran over the conversation that he had just had with the doctor as he sat in the car and started driving. Sameera was sitting beside him but kept her silence. She didn’t know what to say anyway.

“I am not going to do that.” Hardik said finally. His mind had been wandering in the corridor of that hospital that they had left half an hour ago. He still couldn’t believe what he had just saw. Both of his parents, comatose, on a life support system.

Sameera nodded when Hardik looked at her. Hardik was slightly relieved to see that. Hardik knew it won’t be easy keeping up with the bills but he had made his decision as soon as the doctors had told him. He can’t do it. He won’t kill them. He won’t be their murderer.

Almost an hour had passed by when Hardik realised that he was sitting in his home. He didn’t know how he drove back to home or when he sat in front of the television which was showing news. The news of his parent’s accident was flashing in front of him and it was this news that had brought him out of the trance.

Some kids were racing and his father swerved the car to protect them and the car smashed in the divider. His father, who had never in his life drove rash and who told Hardik always to care for others on the road while driving, was now in a coma because of someone else’s mistake.

Sameera took the remote from him and replaced it with her own hand. Hardik saw his hand print fading from the remote but there was a deformation on it that wasn’t there before. He had held the remote too tight.

“You really want to take the risk.” Hardik asked nodding at the remote and then Sameera’s hand. In response, Sameera hugged him gently and moved closer to him.

“Where is Sameeksha?” Hardik asked.

“She is at school. She will be back by 2 pm I think. I decided about telling her when she comes back.” Sameera said.

Hardik nodded. It was the right thing. It wasn’t as if Sameeksha could do anything about it. Hardik’s parents loved Sameeksha to bits and so did Sameeksha. Hardik didn’t know how will she react to the news of her grandparents in hospital on a life-support system. Will she even understand the severity of the whole situation?

“I don’t think I can even tell her without falling apart.” Hardik said.

“They will be fine Hardik.” Sameera said and squeezed Hardik’s arm gently.

“I was thinking about those boys.” Hardik finally said looking at the remote again. “It was all their fault and yet, my parents are suffering because of this. Perhaps, they didn’t even realise what had happened and moved on to their next adventure.”

“Hardik…” Sameera started.

“You know, I was just like that. Indifferent, ignorant, arrogant. I used to drive my bike as fast as I could for as long as possible. I used to drive like a maniac. Do you think something like this might have happened with me too? Do you think I might have killed someone too?”

“No Hardik! You might have been fast, but you were never careless. You couldn’t have killed someone.”

“I did almost killed myself once. Only my helmet saved me. I was in the hospital for almost two days. Till today, I never considered how my parents might have felt then.”

“Hardik.” Sameera said softly but didn’t know how to continue after that. Hardik was in a zone and didn’t listen much.

“You will have to work Sameera. For us to sustain them, you will have to leave Sameeksha alone and go to work. I am sorry for putting this burden on you but I can’t kill them.” Hardik said abruptly.

“Don’t you dare call it a burden. I love them as much as you do. So does Sameeksha. If I could, I would give my life for them. We will do whatever it takes to keep them on life support for as long is necessary. I have hope that they will get better soon. I believe that.” Sameera said and gave Hardik a peck on the cheek.

“Thank you love. I will tell them tomorrow when I go to the hospital.” Hardik said and smiled slightly at Sameera.

Sameera gave him a tight hug. In her heart, she knew that she could give her life to protect Hardik’s parents if it was possible. For now, all she could was support her husband in the decisions he takes.

The morning was the bleakest one he had ever known. He woke up but felt that he had never slept. He had had bad dreams about this accident and then, his own accident when he was 17.

“You alright?” Sameera asked looking concerned.

“I had a dream about my accident. A very vivid dream. I don’t think I have ever had such a dream before.” Hardik said honestly. He had never been able to lie to Sameera and somehow, he had never felt the need to as well. She knew him better than anyone else, except for perhaps his parents.

“Its going to be alright. You get ready and I will prepare the breakfast.” Sameera said getting up from the bed.

Hardik nodded but kept to the bed.

“Daddyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!” Sameeksha came screaming and jumped on her father. Hardik flinched at the impact. They had not yet told her. Hardik and Sameera just couldn’t muster up the courage to tell her.

“Yes, sweetheart.” Hardik said in a strained voice. His stomach was still hurting from where Sameeksha had jumped. He didn’t understand why she had to wake him up like this every day.

“Today, will you take me to grandpa and grandma. They promised that they will make me the truffles cake.” Sameeksha said in a broken language but fast pace.

Hardik grimaced. He knew he had to tell Sameeksha sometime.

“Ok. Daddy has some work in the morning. I will come in the afternoon and then we can go to meet grandpa and grandma.” Hardik said without lying or telling the truth.

“Yayyy!!!” Sameeksha said and ran towards the kitchen, no doubt to tell her mother the plan for the day.

Hardik sighed and started to get ready.

“Don’t dwell on this too much.” Sameera said softly to ensure that Sameeksha couldn’t hear.

“I can’t stop thinking about my mom and dad Sameera.” Hardik said irritated.

“Not them, about your accident and those teenagers.” Sameera said plainly.

“Oh.” Hardik said guiltily. Sameera knew him a little too well.

“Take care.” Sameera said and gave him a kiss.

“Bye.” Hardik said and went out. Even though, he had promised Sameera not to dwell on the matter, he couldn’t help but think about when he had had the accident. He remembered how worried his parents were and how they cared for him. And that was all his fault. He was the one driving fast, he was the one who hit the other bike head on and he was the one who became a liability on his parents for over a month with a broken arm and collar bone.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have been so engrossed in what happened years ago. He would have seen the young boy who was trying to pick a ball from the road a little earlier. He might not have had the need to swerve in last minute and the accident might have been avoided. Alas! None of that happened. The last thought in Hardik’s mind was his family before his mind went blank.

“He is opening his eyes. Doctor! HE IS OPENING HIS EYES!!” Hardik heard a loud female voice trailing away.

‘Great! Two accidents in two days. What’s wrong with God?’ He opened his eyes in the hospital with this thought in his mind.

A doctor entered and started checking him.

“Do you know your name?” She asked.

“Hardik.” Hardik said finally taking the whole scene in front of him. The room was a small but private room. It was an AC room with another bed for a visitor presumably. The room seemed to have been in use for some time. He supposed that this was the only room they could find but he dreaded that it was not only a few hours that have passed. Perhaps, more than a day had passed since the accident.

“Do you remember how you came here?”

“Accident. I don’t think there are many ways to come here, are they?” Hardik said.

The doctor smiled. Apparently, sense of humor was a good way to prove that you are fine, Hardik thought.

“Bring them in.” She said to the nurse. “You are lucky. They are all here right now. My name is Dr. Sameera. I am your doctor.”

Hardik tried to get up to see what was broken in his body but was happy to see that no visible damage was present.

“How do you feel?”

“I feel fine for someone who had just had an accident.”

Dr. Sameera’s face fell at hearing that sentence.

“How long do you think might have passed since you had an accident?” She asked concerned.

“A day probably.” Hardik said smiling.

“Oh dear. Five years have passed since the accident Hardik.” Dr. Sameera said.

Hardik sat up with a start. He couldn’t believe that he had been in the hospital for 5 years.

“How’s my family?” Hardik asked immediately.

“They are fine and are coming.”

On cue, his parents entered the room. They looked young and dishevelled.

“Hardik! Oh you are back.” Hardik’s mother said and hugged him. Hardik’s father was standing with tears streaming from his eyes freely.

“We hoped but never thought it would come to reality.” Hardik’s father said to the doctor.

“And he woke up on his birthday too.” Hardik’s mother said while hugging him.

“Yes. 23 years old now.” Hardik’s father said looking at him with pride and relief.

“23 years?” Hardik said questioningly.

“Yes. Today you have turned 23 years old. This is going to the luckiest year for us.” Hardik’s mother said.

“But I am not 23. I am 38 years old. Where is my wife, Sameera and Sameeksha, my daughter?” Hardik said confused.

Both his parents were shocked and looked at the doctor.

“Tell me more about it Hardik.” Hardik started to tell her about his wife and daughter and ended at the accident of his parents.

The doctor didn’t laugh at him for which Hardik was glad. As he was telling the story, he could feel pieces of the story failing him. He had started to dread something.

“I am afraid that it was all a dream Hardik. You might have picked up the name from me probably. Other than that, I don’t think I can say more on it as of now. However, I will try to find out more about it.” Dr. Sameera said sombrely.

“As for the current situation, you have been in a coma for the past five years. In fact, on a life support for the first two years. It was your parents’ decision to keep you alive and it has come to fruition.” Dr. Sameera said.

“Oh.” Hardik said slightly crestfallen. No one in the room spoke. He looked at his concerned parents and the worried doctor.

“It was just a dream.” Hardik said while a single thought coming to his mind. The conversation he had with Sameera — ‘If I could, I would give my life for them.’

Hardik knew it was not real but Sameera did gave her life for his parents. They were in front of him, alive and well.

Finally, he braved himself to smile.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

2000 Year Long Journey

“For 2000 years!” Anish gasped and looked from his diary to Shivani.

“Yeah! Isn’t it exciting? We get to spend the rest of our life on a space ship.” Shivani said holding Anish’s hand and jumping up and down. Her voice had reached a higher octave while explaining to Anish about his birthday surprise. Anish looked at Shivani exasperated. While he had known that one day, he would have to be part of the generation voyage, Shivani had sped up the process by about 1000 times.

Project Generation was a 200 hundred year project that had been continuing for about 50 years now. The aim of the project was to expand human life beyond Earth. While, we have been able to successfully colonize Mars and the moon, the scientists had become ambitious and were hoping to go beyond the solar system. The initial phase was to send a rocket to Planet Zeta I. Even with the new modes of transports discovered, it would take around 2000 years to reach the planet.

“But why in this ship?” Anish said frustrated.

“Umm… Because this is the only one going to be launched in our life time dumbo.” Shivani said in a matter-of-factly tone.

“Of course.” Anish said miserably. It was Shivani’s dream to be part of the project Generation, a dream he had always supported. Now, it had come to bite him from behind. He had never thought they would plan the trip to planet Zeta I so quickly. Ten more years and they would be too old to go for the trip.

“The trip is next month. We have a lots to prepare and you have to sign this form as well. I will email them the document.” Shivani said and a form opened in front of Anish’s screen. He signed on the screen and saw Shivani happily tapping away their tickets to Generation ship.

“Love you! Bye.” Shivani said and went offline. Anish looked at the blank screen and opened a web browser to learn more about the trip. His mind wasn’t into it however. He was thinking about a problem that had bothered him ever since project Generation had come into existence. How will he hide his immortality in a closed machine with limited people?

— –

It had been 10 years since Anish and Shivani had been on the ship. They got married and had a child as well. Anish was still working on the age-old problem he had been facing since the past 10000 years — how to hide the fact that he was immortal.

Anish didn’t know how he became immortal, nor if there was some way of his death. He didn’t get sick, healed from every accident he had ever faced and hadn’t aged since he was in his early 30s. He had tried to understand his body by studying biology for almost 100 years but couldn’t understand the exact reason. For some reason, he was immortal in every way he could think of. And now, he was in a place containing limited number of people, each of them counted and taken account for every day and where everyone knew the other person. He had been able to use makeup to show some age for the past 10 years but he doubted that he would be able to continue it for the next 10 years. Moreover, he didn’t know what to do after 50 years or 100 years.

“Honey!” Shivani called him from the other room. They had been allocated dual rooms due to their child. The ship could easily hold 1 million people and was a city for all practical purposes. If it was not self-sustained in every way, everyone would have died within a few years. The ship got its energy from dual source of stars and atoms. Wherever possible, the energy was stored through the stars they passed by. Otherwise, nuclear fission was used to fuel the huge ship. There were fusion reactors as well but they were for the extreme condition to start the primary engine. It was supposed to be used if they fell into any stars gravitation field and couldn’t escape. The ship was built to last.

“I am here, love.” Anish called and finished reading the ship constitution. Being such a huge organisation in itself, it had its own set of laws and leaders. Shivani was head of the leadership council. That made it even harder for Anish to hide.

“I have a meeting in the afternoon. Will you be here then or will you go to the univ?” Shivani asked kissing Anish on the lips.

“I will go to the univ. Teaching is relaxing to me.”

“You didn’t sleep tonight as well?” Shivani said worried.

“Not as well as I want to sleep.” Anish said smiling at his wife.

“I have an important bill to discuss today. So, I will be late today.”

“Is it ‘The Bill’?” Anish asked jestingly. Shivani smiled at him guiltily.

“Actually yeah. Today might be the day.”

“Ooh! Best of luck.” Anish said winking at her.

“Thanks!” Shivani said and fluidly moved away.

Anish had been hearing about this magical bill from the past 5 years. He had been amazed at Shivani’s ambitiousness once they were in the ship. The girl who would trip at the thought of being at the centre of attention was not only leading the ship leadership but doing a great job at it too. She became the chief of leadership council last year and ever since then, she had been tweaking and discussing this bill and apparently, tonight, she will be putting it through the vote.

Anish heartily wished to know what was in the bill but Shivani held the secret to her heart and Anish was never a good snooper. Besides, he was already struggling with his own problem of immortality. He had come up with various ideas but none of them seemed to be effective. He opened his diary once again on his tablet to see if he might have missed any idea but was disappointed again. Each idea was as bad as the previous one, as outlandish and as unreal in application.

“Arrgghhh.. I should have stayed on Earth!” Anish shouted and regretted saying that immediately. He knew that every day spent with Shivani was worth it but he didn’t want to spend the rest of his days as a lab rat. Tired, he decided to go to the univ.

Univ was one place where he would forget everything and become the same person he was thousands of years ago — curious and carefree. Teaching came naturally to him, probably because of the years of information that he had in his mind. He tend to forget a lot of it but the incidents and the anecdotes stayed with him and he was able to bring them hypothetically in the class making him one of the most sought after teachers in the univ. Even before this ship, he would teach at various schools or universities where he could teach without bringing too much attention to himself.

Today too, the univ brought him peace of mind. He was glad for it too as tomorrow was his wedding anniversary and the last thing he wanted was for Shivani to feel that he was stressed. Teaching the kids gave him hope that he would probably be not treated as lab rat but like a grand old man who could tell them stories. He finished his classes elated and went home in a good mood.

‘When will you be back?’ He messaged Shivani.

‘Soon. The meeting is in full flow. I have never seen such fervour.’ Shivani replied.

He had returned around 10 from the univ and in two hours, it would be 10 years since Anish and Shivani had tied the knot. Their daughter was on a camp from the univ and would come tomorrow. It was better this way. He wanted to spend tonight with his wife alone. He still felt a pang of guilt that he never told her about his condition but he thought it was for the best. He decided that he would never lie to her but when does the topic of immortality come between a couple.

Anish waited for Shivani but dozed off soon.

“Anish! Anish!” Shivani shouted.

“Huh!” Anish woke up startled.

“You are getting old.” Shivani laughed in a chiming voice. Anish smiled.

“Happy anniversary husband.” Shivani said giving Anish a kiss. Anish looked at the clock. It was past 1.

“So, the bill passed?” Anish asked. He stood up from the chair where he was dozing off and gave his wife a long hug.

Shivani’s eyes twinkled. She gave him her widest smile and nodded vigorously. Anish smiled and went to open the wine he had been holding on to for this moment.

“Is this the third one?” Shivani said curiously.

Anish nodded. He had brought three bottles of vintage wine with him on the ship. The first was opened on their wedding and the second was opened when their daughter was born. When Anish saw Shivani’s zeal for this bill, he decided that he would open this bottle when she gets this bill passed.

Shivani was now bouncing up and down looking lovingly at her husband. She had never loved anyone as deeply as she loved Anish and yet, somehow, his calmer and caring love trumped her.

“Yum.” Shivani said taking the first sip. Anish shook his head hearing that.

“It’s wine, love. We don’t yum a wine.”

“Don’t tease me. I will make a law making it mandatory to say yum after drinking wine.” Shivani said sticking her tongue out to her husband.

“Of course. By the way, can I now know what the bill was about?”

“Sure. But first, what did you get me?” Shivani asked.

Anish went to the inner room and brought a packed box. The box was crudely wrapped and even from afar Shivani knew what it was going to be.

“How did you save so much money for it?” Shivani said opening the present.

“The only need I have is to keep you happy.” Anish said and sat down in front of her. Shivani had worn that pendant for their wedding, borrowing from the owner then. It was beyond what they could afford then but the lady let Shivani wear it for one day. Since then, Anish had been saving to give her the pendant as an anniversary present. It took ten years for him to achieve this goal.

“I love it.” Shivani said with tears in her eyes.

“Now, your present.” Shivani said dabbing her eyes. She gave him a paper.

“This is the copy of the bill.” Anish said plainly.

“Yeah… You were so curious to read it so as my gift, you get to read it first outside of the council.” Shivani said proudly.

Anish tried his best to keep his face from showing disappointment. As much as he loved Shivani, this was not exactly the present he had hoped for or expected.

“Go on… Read it.” Shivani said while looking at the mirror, admiring herself.

‘Should have brought that for myself.’ Anish thought to himself and started to read the bill.

**

Bill number 225 : Case of unique incidences.

a. If a person gets a disease that is incurable but non-transferable, he will have the choice to live in the society as he sees fit.

b. If a person gets a disease that is incurable and transferable, he will be quarantined and if he doesn’t cooperate, he will be left out of the ship.

**

“Don’t read like that. Skip to the part highlighted in yellow.” Shivani said irritated. She sat down in front of Anish excited.

**

k. If a person achieves immortality in any form, he would have the right to live normally except for these two conditions.

k1. He would once a month give test samples (in the same quantity as a normal full body checkup) to the scientists.

k2. He would not hold any position of leadership on the ship but can hold any other position of guidance (teacher, advisor etc.)

**

Anish read it and looked at Shivani.

“How.. What.. You..” He sputtered.

“Happy anniversary love.” Shivani said and kissed her immortal husband.

“You knew? Since when?”

“I think by our third meeting, I had an inkling. I did some digging and got the confirmation too. That’s why I wanted us to come to this ship. It is easier to influence a smaller group as compared to a larger group like a country. I decided to join the leadership council so that I could change this law. I have been trying to modify this law enough to get it passed for so long now.”

“But why all this?”

“Because I love you silly.” Shivani said with a fierce shine in her eyes.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Love a man! Really??

“Honey. Did you choose one this time?” Namrata asked Varsha softly. Namrata knew the answer her daughter was going to give but was hoping to be wrong.

“No.” Varsha said dashing Namrata’s hope. Varsha was in her thirties now and Namrata was worried now. Namrata wanted a grandchild to play with but Varsha didn’t seem to care.

“What was wrong this time?” Namrata asked. Varsha had been making excuses since the past ten years. Namrata didn’t understand but tried to be open about it initially but now, she was getting tired of Varsha’s excuses and anxious to get a grandkid.

“I don’t know.” Varsha said looking down. She really didn’t have any more excuses to offer. She hadn’t even seen them so choosing was out of the question.

‘At least she was being honest.’ Namrata thought to herself. Namrata knew that Varsha was one of those new-age career focused girls and Namrata was proud of her for that. However, Namrata was getting older and her priorities and wishes were changing accordingly.

“They are all good guys.” Namrata said kindly. Her sister had found a good repository of guys for Varsha and Namrata was confident that Varsha would definitely like one if she would just look at them.

“I didn’t see any mom. I just couldn’t do it.” Varsha spoke quickly wiping a few tears from her eyes. She knew it was stupid but she still couldn’t help but tear up. The past always brought terrible memories to her.

“Kicauph?” Namrata asked impatiently. Varsha nodded silently. She had not yet looked up at her mother.

“How long are you going to carry this Varsha? A. It wasn’t your fault. B. It was ten years ago and C. It isn’t that big a deal anyways. Let it go.” Namrata said.

“I know. I just don’t find any of them charming. Besides, Kicauph was chosen for me. I.. I.. loved him mom.” Varsha said.

Namrata was shocked to hear this. She had heard of rumors of such kind of behavior from some girls but she never thought she would have a case like that in her own house. A woman loving a man, even the thought was preposterous.

She had heard of a time when this used to happen. Women and men were similar and were considered equal. She even read a few fantasy tales where women were oppressed by men who were stronger and considered superior. However, Namrata believed that this was all wishful thinking from the writers. How can a man be as strong as a woman?

A six inch tall figure with a brain capacity no better than a dog, man served only one purpose — sperms. And they were plenty good at that. At least the ones that were kept in the market.

Each human birth had two or three offsprings — a girl and one or two boys. The boy would be around 2 inches and was immediately taken by the doctors to the farms where the boy would grow to become a man. It took the man around 5 years to grow after which the good ones were put in the market for sale to potential buyers. The bad batches were generally disposed off.

At the age of 15, she would get a boy of around 5 years as her coming of age present. She would then have to keep him secure and well for 3 years till she was 18. After that, she would mate with the boy and have an offspring of her own. As the life of each man was around 20 years, it gave the girl around fifteen years to decide on a particular man.

However, once mated, the man deteriorated quickly. On an average, once mated, a man would last around 3–4 years maximum. Thus, if a woman wanted to have multiple off-spring from the same man, they would time so that the first child is when the man is around 13–15. This was mostly due to the fondness and attachment women had for their men and their wish to let the man live a long life.

Of course, it doesn’t always happen always. Being such a fragile creature, men have to be cared for and accidental deaths were frequent. In fact, for over 40% of women, the first man doesn’t survive till the woman is 25. The average age of men was also around 15, despite the full age being around 20. Diseases, early mating and sometimes, sheer negligence caused men to die off quickly.

“Kicauph was just a man, sweety. Your aunt has sent so many options of better men. Pick one of them and forget about Kicauph.” Namrata said hearing these words not for the first time. They had had these arguments before as well. Varsha had never been this open about loving Kicauph before but Namrata had begun to suspect.

“He was my man, mom. It was my fault that he died at the age of 10. He didn’t get to live at all. All because I couldn’t listen to you.” Varsha said once again tearing up.

Namrata came beside her and stroked her hair gently. Namrata’s heart was beating fast. She didn’t know how to deal with the situation. How could Varsha love Kicauph like this and why did she feel so guilty about it.

“You were only 20 dear. And it was a split second mistake. Anyone could have made that.” Namrata said recalling the incident.

Varsha and Namrata had gone shopping after her college. Kicauph was in her purse playing with a toy Varsha had bought for her that day.

“So, have you given a thought to giving me a grand daughter?” Namrata asked.

“A few more years mom. I was thinking that if I mate when I am 25, Kicauph will get to live his whole 20 years.”

“Sheesh! You and your affection for that man. If I had you when I was 20.”

“Yeah. And you tossed your man immediately after that. Were happy with the result, were you?” Varsha said jestly.

“I had already decided to only have one kid. Keeping Bara was useless expenditure after that. I had a daughter to take care off, you know.” Namrata said with a carefree tone. She had never understood Varsha’s affection for men. They were simply tools. Why keep them after their utility is over?

Before Varsha could come up with a retort for that, she slipped on the sludge that was on the road and fell. Kicauph fell out of the open purse directly in front of the oncoming traffic.

Namrata could never forget Varsha’s scream and even she was affected by the sight. However, Varsha was shattered as if a family member had died. She cried and cried for days and went into depression. Namrata tried to cheer her up by bringing new men for her so that she could take her mind off Kicauph but nothing worked.

“But I made that mistake mom. I lost Kicauph and I don’t think I can become intimate with any other man.” Varsha said.

Namrata’s mind whirled hearing such words from her daughter.

“Give it a try. Don’t you think Kicauph would be sad thinking that you have given up happiness because of him.” Namrata said. She was feeling weird using the words thinking with a man but she could have a daughter not having a kid. If this nudges her daughter into getting a man, so be it.

“You really think so.” Varsha asked Namrata astounded. She had never thought this way.

“Of course dear. Kicauph loved you and would have wanted you to move on.” Namrata said going with the flow. Varsha thought of Kicauph as a sentient creature so Namrata would have to treat him the same.

“Maybe you are right. I will think over it. But I can’t make any promise.”

“Just look at some men. You don’t have to take any decisions right now.” Namrata said soothingly.

“Thanks mum.” Varsha said and smiled at her mother.

“Great. Then tomorrow we will go to my sister’s place. She has some good collection for her daughters. You can look at them.” Namrata said. Varsha nodded in approval and went to her room.

Namrata exhaled a sigh of relief and smiled.

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

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.