Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Jessica’s Fairy Tale

Jessica looked at her father, almost on the verge of tears.

“I don’t want a new mommy.” She said looking at Radhika with fear. Rajaram was uneasily looking at Radhika and Jessica. He had anticipated some friction from his five-year-old daughter but the sheer pain in Jessica’s voice shocked him.

Radhika’s face was unable to hide her surprise at Jessica’s straight out no.

“But honey, I thought you liked Radhika.” Rajaram asked gingerly. He controlled his emotions and tried to be as gentle as possible. It was essential for him that Jessica was ok with this. She had already told Radhika that Jessica had the veto power on their relationship.

“I don’t want a stepmom.” Jessica repeated herself closing her eyes. Tears started to stream from her eyes. She kept uttering the same phrase punctuated by sniffs and gulps.

“But Jessica…” Rajaram started before Radhika stopped him. She kept her hand Rajaram’s shoulder.

“It’s alright Rajaram.” Radhika said and stooped to face Jessica. She wiped Jessica’s tears and spoke softly.

“If that’s what you want, I won’t be your new mommy. I am sorry that we hurt you like this.” Radhika said.

Jessica opened her eyes and finally a smile spread on her face.

“You promise?” Jessica asked looking from Radhika to Rajaram. Rajaram never thought Jessica’s smile would hurt Rajaram but for once, he couldn’t help himself. He steeled himself. Jessica came first.

“Yes. We promise.” Rajaram said.

“Yes. We promise.” Radhika said. She stood up and looked at Rajaram. Rajaram could see in her eyes the pain he was feeling as well.

“It’s alright Raja.” Radhika said, her voice on the verge of cracking up. Rajaram tried to convey all his love through the silence that was expanding between them. The last time he had felt this pain was when Jessica’s mother was gone.

“Yay!” Jessica’s voice broke the silence and brought back Rajaram and Radhika to the reality. A reality in which they weren’t together anymore.

“I’ll leave.” Radhika said wiping a tear from her eye. Rajaram nodded. He knew this was the last time he was seeing Radhika.

“Don’t resent Jessica, please.” Radhika said softly to Rajaram. Jessica was now perfectly happy and had already started playing with her doll.

Rajaram nodded again, facing away from Radhika.

“Jessica. I’m going. You take care. I love you.” Radhika said and hugged her. She tried to fill the hug with all the love she had for Jessica. Over the past few months, she had come to love Jessica as her own daughter. Leaving her was as difficult as leaving Rajaram.

“Where are you going? We are to go to the park. You promised you would take me today.” Jessica said confused.

“You want to go to the park with me?” Radhika asked uncertainly.

“Of course! You promised. See, I got ready for this too.” Jessica said and showed her the frock she was wearing. It was the same frock Radhika had gifted Jessica a few weeks back.

“You like me?” Radhika asked tentatively.

Jessica slapped her forehead like Radhika was making no sense to her.

“Of course. I love you. Why would I want to go with you otherwise?” Jessica said matter-of-factly.

“And you want me to stay?” Jessica asked.

Jessica nodded.

“But you don’t want us to get married.” Rajaram added. Rajaram looked at Radhika and she looked as flabbergasted as Rajaram was feeling.

“No.”

“Do you wanna share why?” Rajaram asked curiously.

“I don’t want her to turn into an evil-stepmom.” Jessica said as it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“So you are trying to protect her.” Rajaram asked, this time amused.

“Obviously. I don’t want anything bad to happen to her.” Jessica said confidently.

“Ok. So, let me get this right. You want me and your daddy to stay together but not get married.” Radhika asked smiling, finally catching up on the joke.

Jessica nodded in agreement.

“Can we please go to the park now?”

“Yes. Just one more question honey.” Rajaram said.

“How would you feel if Radhika lives here with us?” Rajaram asked.

Jessica smiled the biggest smile Rajaram had ever seen.

“That would be so AWESOME!!” Jessica said shouting at the last word. “Will you live with us?” Jessica asked Radhika.

Radhika looked from Jessica to Rajaram, incredulously.

“Huh! I… guess… Yes.” Radhika said laughing.

“Yay!” Jessica shouted and hugged Radhika.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

To Keep the Flame Alive!

The charms were fading after 10 years of marriage. It had been 3 years since they had had a romantic dinner, the two of them. The sex too was more about getting it done than the enigma that it was during the time the two were dating. Still, it had not stopped completely.

Other than that, they were just two strangers living under the same room.

“Shashi, can you submit the bills this month.” Anjali asked.

“Hmm..” Shashi grunted without looking up from his phone. There was a time when Shashi and Anjali’s house had a no-mobile-on-the-dining-table rule. They would look at each other while eating smiling abound. Now, Anjali sat beside him and opened her mobile phone and replying to the messages.

“The kids.” Shashi said without looking up.

“School.” Anjali gave the monosyllabic reply. Rehan and Anshika were 7 and 3. Anshika had just started school.

Shashi and Anjali both left for office. In the same car, they travelled for over half an hour but no one spoke a word. Anjali dropped Shashi at his office and then left for another half an hour of travel. Their offices were at a triangle from their home and they both took turn every day in taking the car. This meant that everyday, one person was suffering. ‘A perfect metaphor for marriage’ — Shashi had joked when he had suggested this a long time ago; a time when he used to joke.

“Hey Shashi. Good morning.” Anvesha said with a beaming smile. Shashi looked at her and smiled back. Anvesha had joined the team a couple of months back and was under training. Once trained, she was to join Shashi’s team.

“So, what are your plans for the weekend?” Anvesha asked.

“Huh! Weekend?” Shashi asked.

“Oh my God! Don’t tell me you have forgotten it’s a Friday?” Anvesha asked in a squeaky voice.

Shashi smiled sheepishly.

“Ok. So, I was planning to check out that new place. Do you wanna join?”

“Alright.” Shashi said.

“Great.” Anvesha said.

Shashi messaged Anjali that he would be late and went on to his work.

“Hey Anjali.” Jayant softly said as Anjali was settling on her seat. She checked her phone and read Shashi’s message. Unsurprised, she kept the phone down.

“Hi Jayant. How are you?” Anjali said smiling.

“I’m good. A couple of us are planning a weekend getaway. You think you can join?”

“Ooh.. What’s the plan?”

“Same old. Go to a nearby resort, get smashed and forget how much we hate the weekdays.” Jayant said with a wink.

“Sounds fun. Who else is coming?” Anjali said.

“Uhh.. I have asked you. Will ask others as well.” Jayant said putting his hand on Anjali’s.

“Alright. I’m in. You ask others.” Anjali said putting her hand on his.

“You know Shashi. I have never met someone as sweet as you.” Anvesha slurred as she leaned on Shashi. The two had a dinner that moved slowly into drinks.

“Really Anvesha. I thought you would have met plenty of such people.” Shashi said grinning. Anvesha smiled at that.

“If only they were like you.” Anvesha cooed. Shashi opened the door of her house and helped her enter. Anvesha looked at Shashi longingly and then leaned towards him. Shashi looked at the whole ordeal and then picked Anvesha off her feet in his arms.

“Oh my!” Anvesha said as Shashi took her to the bedroom.

The doorbell rang and Anjali opened the door. Shashi entered smelling of alcohol and perfume.

“You’re late.” Anjali said.

“Huh! Yeah, sorry.” Shashi said and moved towards the bedroom quickly. Anjali followed him as he went into the bathroom.

“Shashi. What happened?” Anjali asked once Shashi was out. He had been able to remove the smell of perfume and alcohol to an extent but not completely. Shashi didn’t meet her eyes.

“It happened, didn’t it.” Anjali said, her breath held.

Shashi looked at Anjali and decided that lying won’t help. He nodded solemnly.

“Bitch!” Anjali said and roared with laughter. Shashi looked at her with anguish. Anjali looked at his puppy face and gave him a kiss.

“Now, tell me what happened.” Anjali said sitting on Shashi’s lap.

“As you had predicted, she got drunk and came on to me. Heck! She almost jumped on me to try and kiss me. And by God! Was she drunk. I had to pick her up and throw her on her bed.” Shashi said as Anjali played with his hair.

“I told you she had a thing for you.” Anjali said and hugged Shashi.

“I shouldn’t have taken that bet with you.” Shashi said sadly.

“Yup. And now, we go for the weekend trip.” Anjali cooed.

“Who else is going on that stupid trip?” Shashi asked.

“Jayant has asked me so he must be going at least. He said that he will ask others.” Anjali said.

“You know he won’t. No one else is going to be on that trip.” Shashi said sarcastically.

“I don’t care. The person whom I wanted to take is going now.” Anjali said and pulled Shashi’s cheeks.

“So, what next?” Shashi asked.

“Well, it’s your turn to set the bet.” Anjali said. Shashi smiled.

Despite the monotony of their relationship, the thought of cheating never occurred to either of them. The only thing that the two still had was the faithfulness the two had for each other. That, and their love for betting.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Purgatory

Biswadip screamed and fainted.

“Finally! I have been waiting for you to be up for some time now.” A sweet voice spoke. It was a little high pitched but Biswadip couldn’t discern whether the voice was male or female.

Biswadip opened his eyes to a dim lighting.

“Thank God the lighting isn’t sharp. In all the movies, they show that people wake up to bright lights.” Biswadip blurted.

“Well. I guess you can thank the God for the idea. But I was the one who adjusted the light to your perfection. Along with the room decor, it took me almost 5 years of fine tuning.”

“Huh!” Biswadip finally was up. He looked at the room. It was his own room along with a few modifications. The things that needed fixing were fixed, there were a few things he had wanted to get added. Those were added.

“You like it?” The voice said excitedly. Biswadip couldn’t still find a source of the light.

“Where are you? Who are you?” Biswadip said confused.

“Oh! I am sorry.” The voice said and bubbles started to form infront of Biswadip which then translated into a cloud. The cloud started to take a human shape. Biswadip couldn’t recognise the person but it was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.

“You are beautiful.” Biswadip said.

“Thank you. I was hoping to take a shape that is pleasing to you.”

“Taking a shape?”

“We don’t have a shape in general. However, we attempt to take a shape that is pleasing to the guest.”

“Guest?” Biswadip finally was up and looked around carefully. He realised that this was not his home.

“Oh yes. You have been our guest for the past 5 years. However, only now have you woken up.” The woman said smiling.

“What is going on?” Biswadip said panic rising in him. The heartbeat increased and he got up from the bed looking for a door.

“Oh you poor soul. Please let me show you a video.” The woman said and the wall in front of Biswadip turned into a giant television.

“Welcome to purgatory. You favorite place before you find out where your future lies.” The video started with a light blue screen and a deep voice.

“Purgatory?”

“We call it Limbo as well.” The woman suggested helpfully. The video had automatically stopped when Biswadip spoke and started again when the room became silent.

“You are here because you finished your life on Earth.” The video continued.

“I am dead.” Biswadip whispered. The woman nodded smiling.

“How?” Biswadip asked.

“Shh.. See the video.” The woman hushed Biswadip.

“This place is adjusted to your every need and wish. It is supposed to be your stay until you get your judgement. After that, you will be sent to heaven or hell as per the judgement. Hope you like the facilities. For any requests, just ask and Shaila would be at your service.”

“That’s me.” Shaila said smiling.

“How long have I been dead?” Biswadip asked.

“You have been here for the past 5 years. It takes different time for each person to wake up. Some take a few seconds, others more. There is a girl five cabins from here who is yet to wake up. She died almost 2000 years ago.”

“And how long before I get my results?” Biswadip felt weird asking about whether he would get heaven or hell but he didn’t even remember much as of now so this seemed the most prudent of questions.

“Oh! They will be here any time now.” Shaila said as the television flickered again.

“Hi Biswadip. Your results are decided. Please get ready for your travel.” The TV said and then closed.

“But I have just woken up. How did they it so fast?”

“Oh dear. You really didn’t think our service would be slow.” Shaila said and giggled.

“What do I do now?”

“You just have to cross that door. You will reach your destination.” Shaila said pointing towards a door.

“I don’t understand. If I had to spend only this much time here, why take so much effort on this room. Why are you here? What are the services for?” Biswadip asked confused.

“Because dear, it is up to you as to when go through that door. Today, tomorrow, next year. You can choose to stay here as long as you want. When you want to see your decision, you can go through the door.” Shaila said.

“Okay. But then, why would any evil person go through that door? If they know that they will go to hell.” Biswadip asked.

Shaila looked at her smugly.

“Most people believe that they will go to heaven. Besides, curiosity comes into play. Don’t you want to know what was the sum worth of your life? Finally, humans desire change. This place becomes boring for them — to the extent that they would rather go to hell than stay here.” Shaila said.

“Oh. Okay. Can I stay here for sometime?”

“As long as you want.” Shaila said.

“What has been the longest stay here?” Biswadip asked.

Shaila smiled.

“Goodbye. Let me know if you need me.”

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Lost and Fighting

The brightly lit room reminded Zeenat of the last time she had seen Rajendra. Three years had passed and as much as Zeenat missed him, she knew that it was for the better that the two of them were not together. She had been nothing but a rot in Rajendra’s life and the best thing he ever did was to throw her from his life. She did wish she could change but now, even she didn’t believe that she could change, let alone anyone else.

Zeenat picked up the medicines that were assigned to her and gulped them down in on go. She remembered the days when swallowing even one pill was impossible for her. Now, she was a pro. The medical facility had taught her this, if nothing else. This place where Rajendra had left her after the attack she had last time. When she had accidentally killed his mother. How could he forgive her for that?

She slowly moved back to the room assigned to her. For three years that has been her schedule and she had followed it diligently. If she couldn’t give Rajendra her mom back, the least she could do was penance.

“Hello. Rajendra here.” Rajendra picked up the phone. He was absent-mindedly working on some modifications on his earlier presentations. He wasn’t going to present them so he had to ensure that the person who was going to do it doesn’t make a mess of it.

“Hi Rajendra. Her reports are with me.” Doctor spoke from the other end. Rajendra immediately shot up.

“What does it say?” Rajendra said with a nervousness.

“I think it is time we shift her.”

“No doctor. I can’t handle that.” Rajendra said sweating. He had thought the doctor might say something like that. He had prepared his whole speech for the moment.

“Last three years have been hell for me Doc! I can’t increase the pain for myself. You will have to find some other arrangements.”

“But Rajendra, this is getting more expensive by the day. The alternate is going to be cost-effective.” Doctor tried explaining.

“Cost isn’t an issue doc. I can get the money. But I can’t… ever since mom died. You have to understand. She’s the one. Only one.” Rajendra said his voice cracking up.

“But…” Doctor said his voice faltering.

“Any other news. Any good news.” Rajendra said changing the topic.

“If you can take it as such. Her life expectancy has increased. If her care is taken properly, she should be able to live a long life. The medicines, while not able to treat her psychological disorder, reduce the physical burden on her body.”

“Hmm.” Rajendra grunted.

“Actually that’s why I was saying that expenses would increase more. And it seemed that shifting her would be a good option.”

“No doctor. Shifting her is not an option.”

“Ok. By the way, will you be coming today?”

“To see her?”

“Yes and take the report as well.”

“I will drop by the evening.”

“Alright. Bye.” The doctor kept the phone hoping to convince Rajendra in person. He then went to the room to check on Rajendra’s patient.

“How’s she?” Rajendra asked.

“Stable. Maybe someday you will have her back.” Doctor spoke. Rajendra smiled.

“If only I could get both of my women back in my life, it would be back to being perfect.” Rajendra said.

Doctor nodded unable to say anything. As a doctor, he had learned that sometimes people should be left with their hope, as impossible as it maybe.

“And you are still adamant about Zeenat?” Doctor asked.

Rajendra looked through the glass window longingly. Then he steeled himself visibly.

“Yes. That’s her place.”

“Alright.”

“Doctor. Can I hold my mom’s hand?” Rajendra pleaded.

The two entered the room they were standing in front of. Rajendra’s mother was attached to multiple tubes and machines. Rajendra held her hand gingerly as if trying to grab a hand made of sand.

“The tubes are mostly for feeding. Her recovery is almost complete. I don’t know what will happen after that. Coma is something even we doctors do not understand completely.” Doctor repeated this line for the hundredth time.

Rajendra kissed his mother’s hand. He could still vividly remember the day Zeenat had that attack. When Zeenat had blacked out and his mother had tried to save his wife. While she was able to save Zeenat, Rajendra lost both of them that day. Her mother almost died and Zeenat went into a complete psychotic breakdown. All she would utter is that she killed Rajendra’s mom.

“I still feel Zeenat should be here. We can take better care of her. And how long will you work from home Rajendra?” The doctor said.

“Home is my work place now Doc. I won’t leave Zeenat for a second. She’s the love of my life and my mother didn’t save her so that Zeenat spends her whole life in the hospital.”

“She doesn’t even realise that she’s at home.” Doctor insisted.

“No she doesn’t. But the day she wakes up from whatever it is, I’ll be there, holding her.” Rajendra said with finality.

Doctor sighed.

“I am getting one more nurse assigned to your house.”

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Tree of Life

The time was moving slowly but it didn’t mean anything to Juniper. She had seen time since ages and its pace didn’t affect her anymore. In fact, she had become used to the current pace and hoped that it remained this way for some time. After all, she could finally understand humans a bit due to this pace.

Humans were fast creatures. By the time Juniper understood something about a human, the person would change both physically and mentally. Fickle minded and fragile, that’s how Juniper had perceived humans since ever. This change of pace had helped her look at humans in a better light. Apparently, some of them can slow down and remain calm. Juniper kept looking at the individual sitting under her branches.

Rakesh had lost all sense of time. He didn’t know when was the last time he had left this place. He was tired of the world and decided to find its meaning before dying. Now, neither was happening. For some reason, his body was sustaining itself without any food and water. He wasn’t even getting tired. Just in a void! The only solace was the tree which was giving him company for the whole duration. He had not yet started talking to the tree, thank God for that. However, the tree was a companion in his journey to the truth. However long it took.

Juniper turned her branches slightly to get more sun. It helped her live. She did not understand how it worked but for some reason she felt tired without the sun. The human needed nothing. Earlier, Juniper used to think that humans needed to move so much to survive. She had seen glimpses of humans eating plants and other animals but this individual defied her understanding. ‘Was he different?’ Juniper thought. Maybe this wasn’t human but some new being different from humans. That made sense. Nevertheless, she was fine with trying to comprehend this being as well.

Rakesh had a million thoughts in his mind. He had thought meditating was going to be easy. Emptying the mind of all thoughts and focusing on a single point. Ha! He might as well start flying. Rakesh hasn’t opened his eyes for so long, sitting in the same position, but nothing close to an empty mind was happening. If anything, his mind was fuller. His imagination had start forming ideas and thoughts that he didn’t even understand. Ideas of humans flying in giant boxes, moving around in metal containers, and so many of them. When Rakesh had left his tribe to find the truth, he had known only 15 of his mind. 8 in his group and 7 in another tribe. He had expected more in other places but the idea that the whole world is filled with humans was absurd. Rakesh knew his mind had turned to mush. When he thought of logical problems like communication and travel, his mind was people talking on devices that aren’t connected to anything. Rakesh then tried to shut his mind. He wanted the answers to his questions and not succumb to madness.

Juniper had over the years formed a circle around the individual. She started doing it when he began to glow. It made sense as he radiated some thing as the sun. This meant she was never tired. This also protected him from other creatures, curious creatures who were fast, too fast for Juniper to react. The energy also showed her images that reflected some of the things she could glimpse in reality. The images were slower and helped her understand what truly was happening. Juniper didn’t understand how that was happening but she took it for granted now, as she took her own life.

Rakesh felt a sudden charge of energy. He didn’t know what it meant. He was tempted to open his eyes to see but the feeling lasted just a second. He decided that it was nothing. And then his mind went blank.

Juniper was getting attracted to the energy that the human was glowing with. She tried to touch him with her branch. A shock went through her and she went numb. Before her slow senses could comprehend, flashes of signals went through her. She began to grow faster and before she could stop or understand, the human was gone. She had devoured him. She felt a rush of guilt when a voice came from within.

“Are you God?”

Juniper couldn’t recognise the voice, never heard him before. However, she recognised the energy.

“No. What’s happening?” Juniper said fear pervading her voice.

Rakesh’s mind opened to a vastness. He couldn’t feel his body but instead felt infinite. He felt another presence too. Afraid but giant.

“Let’s find out.” Rakesh said and searched for the second presence.

Juniper felt his touch. It was soft and soon the two consciousnesses started to move around each other. Like a binary star, they moved and interacted. Years of knowledge passed, centuries of communication happened, all in a single moment.

Finally, Rakesh opened his eyes and Juniper could see everything.

“Are you sure this is the place?”

“Yes. This is the tree of life. It is said that this point here is the origin of life.” The girl replied.

“You really don’t think life began with this.” The boy laughed.

“You remember the earthquake 5 years ago. This tree was at the centre of it. And yet, everything five kms of here is like garden of Eden. And it’s growing. There is something incredible about this tree.” The girl said.

“Or something sinister.” The boy said shivering.

“Either ways, I’m going to find the truth.”

Juniper and Rakesh looked at the two individuals.

“5 years since we met.” Juniper sent to Rakesh.

Rakesh sent back warmth. He had spent more than 15000 years in search of the Truth. He found it not alone but with someone to share the knowledge as well. Without Juniper, his journey would have been a futile one.

“Hopefully, these two find the truth as well. Together.” Rakesh shared with Juniper.

“And hopefully, faster than us.” Juniper teased. Rakesh laughed and the two consciousnesses moved faster around each other.