|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
Suspense Short Story – The Woman of the Desert
Her footsteps fell lightly on the dusty track beneath her feet. The air was filled with the smell of sweat and determination, clouding her senses as she tried to absorb the pulse of the activities around. Colour and life flitted past her, forming a blurry kaleidoscope of images, each with their own story to narrate. Her delicate, almost fragile frame was carried forward by the sea of bodies surrounding her in the crowded market, as she tried to find her footing amidst all the jostling and shoving.
“Are you okay, ma’am?”
The voice had a calmness about it that made her look up immediately. She found herself staring into a pair of warm brown eyes, etched with kindness and concern. Feelings of which she had never been a recipient, causing fear to grip her insecure heart in its deathly vice. Panic rose up within her, tasting like bile. She pushed the man aside and began to run.
“You dropped your Cell Phone!”
He shouted as she tried escaping him by pushing past a wall of humans, determined to purchase their necessities and head back home. However, the minute those words slipped past his lips, she froze in her tracks and turned around, eyes scanning the crowd for the man, with frantic desperation.
He walked towards her with the same expression of compassion. However, his face changed when she quickly reached forward and grabbed her phone out of his outstretched palm.
“Hey, I’m no thief you know. I wouldn’t have called out to you if my intention was to steal your phone,”
He said, slightly flustered and annoyed by her hostility. His tone softened when he looked into her young face. It reflected a maturity someone her age shouldn’t have possessed. She trembled like a leaf in the wind; yet her face showed hard lines of suffering and despair.
Sensing her resistance, he took two steps back. She stared at him for a moment or two with an unfathomable expression on her face, but within a moment she had melted into the bustling crowd.
“Fresh Tomatoes! Juicy Mangoes! Come treat yourself to this wonderful produce!”
Fruit sellers shrieked around her as she quickened her pace in a desperate attempt to leave the market. The phone sparkled in her clammy palm as she sped past the vibrant stalls, not stopping even once to bask beneath the heady rays of the summer sun. Only once, she made the mistake of looking down at her precious gadget, and that was enough to make her trip.
No soft voice reached her this time around. She opened her eyes to see cautionary stares from the locals around her, sending chills down her spine. Angry whispers drifted past her ears as she struggled helplessly to get herself up.
“She must be a thief, look at the way she is clutching that phone.” She heard a woman openly proclaim to her equally suspicious neighbour. “Maybe she killed the owner, her hands are red, and she is shaking. She must be the spawn of the devil,” whispered another standing quite close to her.
“Enough!” boomed a familiar voice amidst the cacophony she had caused. She found herself face to face with the same man who was trying to help her. For the first time during the day, she allowed herself to breathe.
Only for a moment.
“Give me your phone. I will look through it and see if it is stolen property,” he said, his voice echoing through the sandy streets of the market, now eerily quiet as all eyes were glued on her.
Her lip quivered as beads of sweat rolled down her delicate face. However, her grip on the phone tightened and her face flashed with a sharp adamant look. Her back was arched in a posture that seemed like she was ready for battle.
The man raised his eyebrows in surprise. With his voice lowered, he continued,
“You must be new to this place. I won’t hurt you, just hand me that phone and I promise, no harm will come to you.”
Her grip remained firm, but her expression softened. The atmosphere was charged with tension and curiosity as the crowd wondered who she was. She looked down at her soft palms. Years of pain and torture had caused them to become tough and calloused. The jagged lines on her palm were caked with dirt, their tips disappearing into an uncertain future. Tears began to rain down her cheeks and her heart grew heavier with the burden of remembering her past.
“I won’t hurt you, no one will hurt you,” he whispered, the tenderness of his words caressing her until she turned numb with grief. She attempted to place the phone in his hand.
It fell to her feet like a tonne of bricks. She turned around and watched the astonished mass part for her as she walked past them, the sun scorching her back. She willed herself to forget the man she had left behind. She erased all thoughts of the interfering crowd.
Her pace began to quicken as she reached the end of the market. The voices behind her turned into incomprehensible murmurs as she broke into a run. Her soles began to bleed but she could scarcely feel their sting as she hurtled past, her surroundings almost a blur. In her mind’s eye, she could see the man reaching out to the phone lying at his feet. Her heartbeats accelerated as she imagined him place his fingers on the metallic buttons. After what seemed to be an eternity, she felt the vibrations. They touched her a second before she heard the sound rip her from within. A deafening boom rattled the ground and threw her across the desolate sand. He must have pressed the green button, she thought, feeling her limbs sink into the ground.
Through a curtain of tears, she saw his warm brown eyes staring at her. They filled her with a sense of deep, dark remorse as she reached out to the fading image smiling at her with affection.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered with her eyes shut, wisps of her hair blowing across a face that was tainted with regret as her painful words swept through the lonely dunes of the desert.