This short story is dedicated to Sidharth anna, on his birthday.
Lots of love ❤
The characters in the story are fictitious and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.
It wasn’t an accident, he was deliberately set on fire! I thought as I scanned the headlines about a youth who was set on fire, at a bus stop in the heart of the city. And I can identify him. I was standing there in shock as I watched the unconscious victim being placed in a stretcher and taken in an ambulance and as the criminal sped away with his friend on a motorcycle, wondering if those beasts had a heart. Nobody noticed him. George Carlin was right when he said “The planet is fine. The people are fucked!” I glanced at the registration number.
TN 01 F 8090
“Atrocious!” said my dad, shattering my thoughts. He was watching TV and the same news flashed on the screen. I glanced up. “It wasn’t an accident, I am a witness and I know the criminal’s vehicle registration number. I think we should go to the police station!” I said. My father was taken aback. But his expression changed very quickly. He was silent for what seemed like eternity, a battle between his heart and head, and then he looked at me and said “That’s none of our business. The police will solve the case and arrest the criminal. It’s their job, not ours.” But what if I was the victim, Appa? Would it have been the same? I controlled the urge to say it out as tears welled up in my eyes.
Guilt kept me awake. A few weeks later, the commotion died down. The High court declared that it was an accident. The case was closed. But what about the person who almost lost his arm? What about his future that burned along with the flames? These questions will never be answered. The phone buzzed, shattering my thoughts. “Ice cream?”, asked a familiar voice. “Umm… I don’t really feel like having ice-cream.” I trailed off. “Okay then, I’ll call up Vedha and we’ll meet you at the ice cream parlor in 15mins”, he said and hung up. I couldn’t help but giggle. No matter how low I feel, this guy definitely brings a smile.
Zoooooom! He sped past everyone, almost knocking me off as he drove recklessly in the narrow and busy street. “Jerk!” I muttered and continued walking along with my friend. We were on our way to the Supermarket, as I was almost run over by this maniac. A few minutes later I heard a bike screech to a halt and realized that it was the same crazy motorist. He seemed to be going about in circles, in the same by-lanes for God knows how long. I wasn’t sure if he was showing-off or trying to get someone killed. As I cursed him under my breath, a young man who was walking ahead of us approached him and politely asked him to drive slowly as the road was busy at that part of the day and driving recklessly would prove to be fatal. “Who the fuck, are you!? I don’t give a shit. You hear me?” he snarled and zoomed away. Moron. I felt sorry for the thoughtful young man.
On our way back from the Supermarket I was drained off all my energy. “Vedha, let’s have Milkshake?” I said to my friend. It was a rhetoric question; I was already walking towards the Sundae shop. We sipped our chocolate milkshakes and walked briskly catching up on our daily gossip. As we walked back home, we saw something that terrified us. We had taken an isolated by-lane to avoid the busy Sunday traffic. A group of men were beating up the motorist whom we had seen earlier that day. I was shocked beyond words. I turned to look at my friend; she was horrified. I didn’t recognize any of them but the reason was obvious, the rear-view mirrors, indicators and headlight of the speedo-maniac’s bike were all shattered and the wheels were punctured. But the damage done to his bike was nothing compared to him. Apart from that there was a bike which was parked at the side.
TN 01 F 8090.
“I want the pendrive now!” Hari roared into the phone. I had borrowed his pen drive last week. Do you remember the little boys back in primary school who got pleasure out of annoying people? Hari, is not very different from them. Vedha, on the other hand, is more mature. “You didn’t turn up yesterday. Was that my fault?” I said. “I was expecting you to call and when you didn’t, I assumed you were busy!” he tried to justify. “You ASSUMED? Who asked you to assume? Besides you told me you would call me!” I screamed back. “Why would I call you? I asked you to call me and you….” “Fine! I’m coming.” I interrupted. “Do you always have to agree after arguing?” he said as I rolled my eyes and cut the call.
I borrowed my sister’s bike and sped through the crooked lane. I was frustrated. As I honked and took a turn, a motorist was speeding towards me and before I could react there was a head–on collision and I hit the ground. My body felt numb. What the hell is wrong with you!? You’re on the wrong side of the road, you idiot. Don’t you know where the horn is located pea brain!? I wanted to scream. Some passers-by came to my aid, among which there was a pair of sharp eyes. The face to which they belonged, looked very familiar. He helped me up and went towards the other motorist. There were a few grazes but I was fine. He held out his hand and helped the other motorist and when he was on his feet…. THUD!!! He slapped him across his face. I would have collapsed right there if it were me. The sound echoed in my ears. I’m sure he went temporarily deaf. I was elated. I couldn’t believe that somebody, with such a gentle pair of eyes, was capable of this. He returned to me and said “Are you alright? Shall we go to the hospital?” He was about my brother’s age. “No. I’m fine thank you” I said as he helped me lift my motorcycle and parked it on the side of the road. I think I sprained my ankle. The pain shot up my legs and I could barely stand. “Call somebody who will come and take you home” he said as if responding to my thoughts. It was more of an order than a suggestion. Oh my! I realized I hadn’t brought my phone as I was in a hurry. He somehow sensed my problem and offered his phone.
Hari was horrified to see me. The headlight of my motorcycle was shattered. “What happened!?” he said in an agitated tone. The kind gentleman, who offered to stay with me, bid me goodbye with a smile and left. As he left I couldn’t help but notice his vehicle registration number. The whole world faded except the number plate which seemed to be in spotlight. It was the same registration number that I had seen a few weeks back!
TN 01 F 8090
I narrated the whole incident briefly to Hari, as we had coffee. I handed over his pen drive to him. He chided me for driving all by myself. They fell in deaf ears. I was pondering about the affable gentleman, the whole time. I was baffled.
The waves seemed to be topped with vanilla ice cream. “Whoa! I can’t believe this!” said Vedha, as we sat on the beach the next day. I was staring at the waves unable to believe any of the incidents that happened in the past few days. And apparently, she couldn’t either. We just could not comprehend the events that took place. When I told Hari about this yesterday, his response was “That’s none of your business. You better stay out of trouble!” as expected. He was a male chauvinistic pig and considered me weak and vulnerable. Anything that happened to me was my mistake. He would always reach that conclusion first and then analyze the situation. “Was it the same guy? Was his bike stolen? Do you think he he’s got an evil twin? Are you sure he was not pretending to be nice?” Vedha shot her questions without giving me a chance to reply. “I’m lost!” I declared, getting up. “Okay, let’s forget this for now.” she suggested, sensing my uneasiness. “Oh no! There seems to be a medical emergency. Quick! Call the ambulance.” She said as I looked around. I found nothing but a pair of lovers in a compromising position. “What are you talking about?” I said, genuinely confused. “Isn’t he trying to give her CPR?” she said and both of us burst out laughing. “She is either already dead or soon she will be. He’s sucking the life out of her!” she said, making a disgusted face, as she got up. “Get a room, you two!” I screamed as we walked back.
We were chuckling and talking as we reached the road. “Let’s have ice cream” she said and started walking in the direction of the ice cream vendor. Zooooooom! A bike zoomed past us at about 120kmph/hr. Another over enthusiastic guy who believes he is in love. The poor girl was hanging onto him for dear life. “What… is… wrong… with… these… people?” said Vedha, pausing dramatically after every word. “I think he’s trying to induce her to break up at their destination.” I replied, as she giggled. “He’s going to be very successful.” She said and before she could complete her sentence, they sped past us once again. We stared at each other is disbelief. “Is this what I think it is?” she said, frowning. “Yes, it is. Adrenalin rush plus an allowance for fuel!” I glared. He seemed to be speeding up and down the service lane. It was very dangerous as there were a lot of elderly people and kids who took a stroll or played in the service lane. And with people trying to find a place in the parking lot, it wasn’t the best place to show off his driving skills to his girlfriend. I was irritated by now but there was nothing much I could do.
As we licked our ice creams something unexpected happened. A young man jogged to the road and stood there. I was clueless as to what he was trying to do. “Oh no! He’s trying to commit suicide!” I panicked. As expected, the motorist came speeding once again! Vedha shut her eyes tightly and looked away. Screeeeech!!! Silence… Thank goodness. I opened my eyes, hoping everyone was fine. He applied the brakes and the bike stopped inches before the guy. Very close! He took three strides and slapped the motorist. I had goosebumps. By now, Vedha was watching too. We could not make out the conversation. The girl, who got down from the bike left the place. After about 5 minutes, we realized that the guy on the bike was begging the young man who seemed to be having his keys. What happened next was unbelievable. The man snatched the bike keys and hurled it, into the second longest beach in the world. I smirked! All this was too surreal. As he walked back to his friends, I couldn’t help but notice the familiar face. He was same guy who helped me the other day!
“What is going on? I need an answer!” I said in a bitter tone. He seems like a school bully. Vedha was equally disturbed and her eyebrows proposed that she was deeply engrossed in thoughts. Hari was least interested. “Will you two just forget it and stay out of trouble?” said Hari. “Stay out of trouble! Stay out of trouble! Do you have anything else to say?” I mimicked him. “But you don’t seem to be following it.” He replied. “Of course, I won’t! I told you I was followed by a stalker once and you asked me to stop going out. Wow! That’s the best solution.” I said sarcastically. “I told you to stop going out ALONE, at midnight. That’s what any normal person would do! Stay safe. I’m being practical.” He countered. “So it’s okay if someone else gets raped?” I shot back. “They will take care of themselves. You just shut up and stop acting so dumb!” “Knock it off, you two!” said Vedha, raising her voice. “He just called me dumb!” I said to Vedha, silently hoping she’d defend me. “Not like she didn’t deserve it.” He said. “I really wish this argument stays verbal but he is asking for a punch on the face!” “Oh! Pleaseeee….” She begged us to stop.
“I thought you two were fighting.” said Vedha, as Hari and I laughed at her for spoonerism. “That was ten mins back.” He said and both of us chuckled. We were at her house. “So are you guys coming for Divya’s sister’s wedding tonight?” She enquired “Of course!” we said in unison.
“This is a very fancy place” I said. “Yeah” said Hari, he was looking for his guy friends. A few minutes later, a bunch of guys who noticed Hari came up to us and soon he was caught up in a conversation with them. Vedha was yet to come. So I had nothing to do. I decided to take a stroll as the wedding hall had a beautiful park at the back. I excused myself and left the place. I was an occasional introvert and enjoyed the company of myself. The weather was chilly and perfect for a walk.
It was pretty dark, unlike the front of the place which was full of serial lights, banners and flood lights. There was nobody except a single man, who was obviously standing there to prevent people from venturing into the park. He was enjoying a smoke. But I was perfectly capable of slipping in unnoticed. I quietly crept past him as he was distracted and entered the park. The pleasant smell of roses filled my lungs, a welcome relief, after the stench of the cigarette.
As I walked, I realized that the park was pretty big. Suddenly I heard a weird noise. It sounded like somebody stepped on a twig. The sound grew louder as I walked further. Some desperate couple making out I guess. Now there was a muffled cry, in addition to it. Looks like I was wrong. I was petrified. I caught my breath and silently turned around, fearing that whoever it was, would hear me. No! Be brave. Somebody is in trouble. And maybe you can save them. I turned around and took a deep breath. Nothing is going to happen to me. I slowly inched forward and pulled out my phone from my purse. I turned on the flashlight and pointed it directly at the sound. I was shaken! A pair of sharp eyes stared back at me. My heart was beating fast. The mysterious young man, was assaulting another man whose hands and feet were tied behind him. His mouth was plastered. I stared into his eyes for what seemed like eternity. I’m dead… No! Don’t be a coward! “What th.. the hell do you… think you’re doing!?” I stammered. It was the same guy who helped me when I met with an accident. Rogue. “How the hell did you get here!?” he replied, puzzled and annoyed. “Who are you and what are you doing to him?” I demanded. “I’m calling the police..” I continued as he grabbed the phone from me. The other man was running towards us. I was about to faint. “Oh hell! Who is this kid!? I was there all along…” he tried to explain to his friend who cut him short. “Nevermind! Keep an eye on him till I come back.” He snarled and took me by the arm to a cement bench. He was visibly irritated.
A thousand questions cropped up in my head but I couldn’t say a word. I was trembling. “Hey! You’re the kid who met with an accident, aren’t you?” he asked. I was dazed. I nodded as tears rolled down my cheek. “Why are you crying?” he said softly. I tried to control my tears. “Aren’t you the one who set fire to a guy in the bus stop?” I said, wiping my tears. He was taken aback. There was silence. “Didn’t you assault a motorist in a small by-lane after shattering his bike to pieces?” I waited for his reply but continued when he didn’t. “You slapped the guy who hit me! He was at fault but what if he was in a hurry?” By now I was breathing normally. I had reached a dangerously awesome level of relief after expressing myself. “Who gave you the right to slap the guy in the service lane? Why did you throw his keys in the beach… sadist!” I muttered the last word. It was barely audible. “And now… Were you mugging him?” I said, filled with rage. “They are not what you think they are! They are not innocent.” he growled. “And who do you think you are? Batman?” I said, getting up. “I’m going to go in and tell everybody!”, I said boldly. “And stop the wedding? Is that what you want?” he asked. I was puzzled. “How would that stop the wedding?” I said. “Will you please sit and give me an opportunity to defend myself before assuming things?” he said. I was unsure of what to do. There was no reason for me to trust this stranger. But he was the only one who can provide answers to all the questions that were gnawing at my heart. I slowly walked to the bench and sat down.
“Nithya was molested by a guy on the same bus stop where you saw me. The only fault of hers was to reject him. But that’s just the beginning. He followed her everywhere and threatened her. She was scared to death and spent a major part of her life indoors. But one day as she slowly started overcoming the fear and came out of her house, she almost became a victim of acid attack. Luckily, she escaped due to her quick reflexes. This is when I decided that he should be taught a lesson. A lesson, he’ll never forget. And yes, I set his arm on fire. But not in the intention of killing him because there are many other ways to kill me. I just wanted to scare him. I wanted him to feel exactly how Nithya felt. Terrified. So I started following him and collected details about him. I realized that Nithya was not the first girl. Many girls were victims of his torment. And I felt absolutely no pity for him after this” he stopped. Whoa! All this was too much for me. I did not know how to react. “Who is she to you?” I enquired. “Nobody.” He replied. “Nobody?” I asked and he laughed. “Should I react like this only if it happened to my sister or friend? This is exactly the problem with people. No problem is a problem unless it is their own! Initially I didn’t know her. But later I realized that we had common friends.” He explained. “Oh.” I muttered. “And the motorist in the by-lane – he belongs to that locality and that was not the first instance where he behaved like that. He has hit an elderly woman before. Bastards like him need to be dealt with seriously. Morons. And the guy who hit you – he was in no hurry! He’s my friend’s brother and it was his fault that day. And the guy in the beach – do you even know what happened that day?” “Yeah I was there the whole time and I felt like slapping him myself.” I replied. “And you still think I shouldn’t have acted that way? This is the problem with you people. You restrain from doing something because you cannot take the law into your hands as they say. But what is he doing? When someone is ruthlessly breaking the law and is a nuisance, I think it is perfectly alright to break the law for common good! It is anti-social behavior and unless we react they’ll keep doing it. Non-violence is an ideal concept. Disagree with me if you want to for all I care! And for your information, all bikes have spare keys!” I smiled as tears rolled down my cheeks. “I’m sorry…” I said. I was speechless. “I wish I had a brother like you.” I said. He smiled at me. “Assure me that you will tell nothing about this to anyone, sister.” He said “You can trust me on this.” I replied as I got a call from Vedha.
“I’ve been waiting for you for almost half-an-hour now. Where were you?” she asked. “I took a stroll. There’s a park behind.” “Wow. I’d like to see it.” She said. “Nah… There was nothing much to see. It was pretty dull. We’d rather stay here.” I replied. Hari appeared from behind a crowd and smiled at us. “Hey Vedha! When did you come? How come you guys aren’t talking about the mystery man?” he teased. “I just cannot reach any conclusion.” She said, in disappointment. “Maybe we should listen to Hari.” I said. “It’s best to ignore certain things. I think I was mistaken. It couldn’t have been the same guy in all the instances.”