The winter breeze froze my cheeks as I tore through it with my vibrant demeanour. I strode with vengeance as if I was out in a battle field. There was blood and gore everywhere. I was drenched with the carcass and death just missed my door. It loomed predominantly at my threshold as every inch of my body ached as I escaped through the rear window of the storage at the basement of the hotel. It was my aperture to freedom. I was alive and it came as a surprise how I cheated death and lo! I was breathing.
I ran as fast as my legs could manage and could see that night had fallen . There were police cars around the hotel patrolling and managing the crowd and media. Huge swirls of smoke bellowed through the windows of the hotel with frightening sounds as the terrorists blew themselves up killing along with them the visitors and diner my eyelids were heavy with exhaustion and fatigue couldn’t carry me any more. I kept on running and finally collapsed on seeing a police personnel rushing towards me.
After two hours I opened my eyes in a hospital. I could see Amit sitting next to me on the bed holding my hand, comforting me. It was almost late in the night and the silence of the corridors calmed my frayed nerves. The doctors attending me said that I was alright and a little rest and some counselling would do me good and make me strong as before. They congratulated me for putting up immense tenacity at the face of an imminent disaster. Tears rolled down Amit’s eyes as he hugged me. “I had almost lost you” , he said. I was in such shock that any word could not distance me from the terror I witnessed today. It was an unique day. It seemed I was on a ride alone on a curved road and every corner was a new beginning and a new end to me. Nobody knew what happened today with me except myself but it won’t be long before the beginning and the end effect the lives of the people existing in my life.
The day had begun as usual with my morning walk alone. Amit was too lazy to take up this fitness regime and was busy reading his morning papers when I reminded him of my meeting with my friend at la plazo resort for lunch. He was happy that I remained a loyal friend to my childhood pal. Sushi was my closest friend although she stayed far away but we met once an year and renewed our commitments. This year we decided to meet at my city Pune . Our children had left their nest and we girls had overcome our midlife crisis with ease. Post menopause talks were over but we were still high on talks on what was left to achieve. Sushi was an interior designer in Hyderabad. I was a an achiever in my own right. I was a teacher and was basking in my glory . I was a freelance writer writing on various topics ranging from relationships to healthy eating.
I was in a happy phase except with a little worry. I often saw a man with hollow eyes in my dreams and the visuals scared me. The vacant eyes stared into my soul as if reading my inner thoughts. I had revealed this dream to my husband but he tried to dilute my fear and rebuked me for taking a dream so seriously but I was not eased and kept thinking about the hidden message the eyes conveyed to me. I knew it was dream but the re occurrence of it belied all logic. I often saw myself surrounded by eyes . They do not hurt me. They appear magnificent and larger than their real self. They sought of guard me. I often question myself as to why that was so. In my conscience I knew there was a mystery and it will unravel itself very soon.
After Rahul , my son left for America for higher studies I took up a teaching job and was quite content with it. I was always an independent girl but Amit was a conservative man with regressive ideas about raising children. He always wanted the mother to be the abode of sacrifice, always willing to be there for the kids. Rahul fortunately grew up to be quite urbane and motivated me to utilise my talents to pursue my dreams. My marriage to Amit was of course a love marriage but it hardly grew on it. It became a silent compromise to keep the marriage ,the moment I realised that Amit was a fanatic and had least respect for other people’s religion and ideas. He imposed his will on me although I never gave up my self worth and respect for myself. That self discipline stood me through tough days and I came out unscathed in future. We now have a amicable relationship after twenty five years of turmoil and frequent skirmishes .
Amit drove me to the hotel where my friend was meeting me for lunch. Meeting Sushi was like revisiting the past. We both were feisty girls who lived life to it’s fullest. Our free spirit was indomitable and infectious. We hugged like long lost friends and immediately started off with our gossip rounds. We seemed like teenagers giggling and laughing although we were past our prime. Sitting by the pool we were so happy that we could make it despite leading busy lives.
“How is your neighbour, Mr. Verma ? I said
“Oh! That pot bellied” Sushi replied. “He still finds me attractive with all my sagging breasts, you see “
“Samina, How is your new fancy?” Sushi said.
“Common on, I have sobered down. My son’s going to marry his girlfriend. She is cute and is a civil engineer. ‘’ I said. “keep me out of this dating business. Men don’t seem to fascinate me”
Hearing this Sushi had a hearty laugh for she knew I never left an opportunity to flirt with old men whom I find so worldly wise . I had quite a few clandestine affairs behind Amit ‘s back. My lack of attachment kept me grounded and men love this about me as I was always a safe bet.
Our talks laced with wit humour and a bit of self righteousness and of course jealousy led to growling stomach and we decided to have a sumptuous lunch. As I was ordering the lunch I heard a loud explosion with a thud sound. I turned behind and so did all the diners. To our surprise we saw a gun man and a man lying on the floor in a pool of blood. We immediately realised that there has been a siege and the gun man was a terrorist. There was chaos with people running for cover. I hid Sushi behind me as the man lined us and hurdled us in the room. There were three of them and we prepared to say our final prayers. Death was imminent and there was no escape.
I was numb with fear and my mind was blank. I remembered my son Rahul but instead found myself staring into the eyes of the terrorist. He had those same strange eyes. They were deep set and callous. His masked face was staring at me as he pulled me by my hand roughly and shovelled me in a storage room at the basement. I followed his instructions and remained silent. He held the nozzle of his gun to my head and tied me. I knew that was my end. He left me there for sometimes. I could hear the voices of men outside the room. It was dingy and cold there. I was trembling like a leaf and was fast losing all hope to save my self. I could hear gunshots at regular intervals. The hollow eyes played on my mind. I knew it was following me like a devil.
After a while I saw the masked man enter the room. He hit me so hard I almost collapsed. The inhuman act devasted me but all I wished was to escape this ordeal. Finally the man left. All I could see was his eyes and they were cold. After sometimes while I was still writhing in agony another man entered and he was the same man with the familiar eyes. Slowly the man removed his mask and standing before me was my past lover Yusuf. He smiled and held my face . “ Samina, You are not a muslim. You are a disgrace to our Allah” Later he untied me and helped me climb the ventilator and escape.
Yususf had been my child hood friend which blossomed into love as we grew up. He was an introvert and very religious. He lost his family in the Mumbai riots which changed him for ever. He was a bitter man and his mercurial temper scared me. I could not calm the hate he had developed in his heart and his fanatical ideas drove us apart. The final farewell was sad, for Yusuf loved me but I did not want to commit to a venomous mind. We fought our demons but the battles never found closure.
I found love in Amit and withn months we got married . It had never been a smooth sailing but I still moved on and Yusuf became a distant chapter of my life which still lingered on my psyche as the eyes of the dream.
Lying on the hospital bed I felt like a cheating wife of a loyal husband who was blissfully unaware of the frictions marinating in my mind.
The media coverage of the terrorist attack was widely covered through out the world. Around hundred people were feared dead along with the three terrorists who blew themselves up before being caught. My friend Sushi was gunned down .I was the lone survivor of the attack who managed to flee. I couldn’t help thinking about Sushi and her family.
Watching Amit that day lying besides me holding me in a tight embrace who could fathom that the man who courted me with flowers, had fangs too. His domineering and jealous nature cost me my job. I lost my free spirited self and metamorphosed into someone I could not recognise. Rahul was the umbilical cord which I held on to, till age matured me into a person who could camouflage all range of emotions. When ever I see a beautiful sunrise; I miss my self. My friends became my soul sisters who helped me sail through.
I was awake but the pain dulled my thoughts and I drifted back and forth from consciousness.
That morning before I left to see my friends I got I call from my mother. She said someone anonymous was inquiring about my whereabouts. Sweat drenched my shirt as a cloud of fear engulfed me. He would destroy my already fragile marriage. His last words on parting as I stormed out from his disarray life was “ Samina, I will never let you forget me. You are not being fair”.
Amit held my hand and whispered “The camera footage in the room will help identify the murderers. It has been confiscated. They just want to question you . It is a simple procedure. Don’t worry. You will be fine”. I could feel the sliver of pain run down my nerves. A nightmare had just begun. I had played the riskiest part of my life in the storage room. It was theatre. A lone act given by me and my former paramour, enough to scorch my marriage.
In captivity after the first terrorist was done with me I immediately recognised Yusuf as he removed his scarf. He accused me harshly of bringing disgrace to my religion. “ Yusuf” I cried and fell in his arms.
“Samina’ , How are you? “ He kissed me lightly and hugged me.
“I regret having left you, I am so glad I have met you”. I said with tears in my eyes.
“Samina , You leaving me and marrying a Hindu broke me. I want to kill him. Teach them a lesson. Samina I am going to die today. Pray to Allah for forgiveness. “He said nervously.
“Yusuf, you cannot escape from here alive”.
“I know that but I am happy to meet you before I martyr.”
“Yusuf, I want to tell you something before we part again. Rahul, my child is our child. You can hate me but Rahul is a devout muslim and looks so much like You. I was pregnant when I left you. I never betrayed my religion, Yusuf. I just wanted to end the venom that was destroying our relationship. You were so consumed with revenge that it was affecting our lives. The days I spent with you are very sacred even today”. I said lovingly
The orchestra of our conversation ended in Yusuf kissing me fervour sly and as he cupped my breasts I felt a pang of desire in my thighs. As he stroked and played with my nipples, ecstasy rose in my heart and we made love like hungry lovers. I just wanted to absorb him. We were in an inferno. The exhilaration left us tired and later he helped me to escape through the ventilator. That day I realised I was a philanthropic lover.
It was almost mid night when my phone rang. “Hello” I heard the familiar voice from the other end.
The hollow eye stared back at me, as he said ” Samina , You threw a pebble in my pond and the ripples aroused my consciousness. I want to live for you and for my son. You hindered me once and now you have redeemed me I want to atone. Fate does not let us choose our ending, we do”
Yusuf was a fugitive. He had committed a grave crime. My marriage was going to shatter, the police are going to question me, grill me. I had struck the match and that was participation. The nightmare had indeed begun.
I quietly twisted and removed the blue sapphire ring Amit had given me on my wedding anniversary this year. I touched the pale skin the ring left behind. Yusuf had been following me for quite sometimes and he knew I would be meeting Sushi that today. He had it all planned and I?
All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am…..I had found religion and that was the most dangerous thing. But yes! I wanted to manipulate and see how blue my sapphire was.