Amarnath Yatra – 2017

An unforgiving trek to meet The Most Forgiving One.

For those who wish to skip the detailed narrative, a short summary is in the end.

Lord Shiv, who shall be called as Bholenath, Mahadev or Bhole in the following post is known to have taken solace in one of the deepest recesses of Himalayas, far away from the human greed and chaos. The Amarnath Cave at 12,756 feet or 3,888 m altitude, it is said that He let out the secrets of immortality (Amar Katha) to His beloved wife, Parvati.

An ice stalagmite that naturally forms in a cave surrounded by snowy mountains is symbolic to the Ling that represents the Almighty Mahadev. While it is well known that finding God is never easy, I am about to narrate the experience that I had with my beloved fiance on this greatly distinguished trek.

Back in 2012 or around, I was introduced to trekking by a dear friend and vet, Kushal Dave. The child-like enthusiasm that drove me to the belief that if I could conquer a trek in a tropical weather, with cool rain washing off the summer sweat, set trails showing us the path to the top, which still somehow felt to me as an insurmountable 3-hour trek in the vicinity of my home, then I can also march through the snowy 3-day trek, about 2,000 kms from home, in an extreme environment that robs one of oxygen among other things like self-respect, dignity and arrogance.

Given the superior overestimation of my fitness, I consider it fortunate that the plan that I had made in 2012, to see Mahadev along with dozens of friends did not turn out well and the plan had to be cancelled. The next opportunity that showed up to my door was when it was favourable for me to attend to this mighty zest for the Almighty in 2017. My beloved, Anuja, packed her bags in her mind, 4 months prior to the trek. I could not be happier.

Arriving in Kashmir was an enchanting experience, as their airports, the systems and the unrestrained politeness of the local folk was charming and most welcoming. Amidst the stress that they are subjected to due to the political unrest between Pakistan and India, Kashmiris seemed to be unaffected and rather caring of the tourists. Tourists for them were nothing but the sole source of income, for Kashmir demands a sort of tourism that any other part of the world seldom does. Green plains, white mountains, blue lakes and white rivers, they form an integral part of the Himalayan paradise, suitably concomitant with unparalleled hospitality of the Kashmiris. 

Srinagar and Pahalgam saw us for the first 2 days where Anuja and I took our rest before we began with the notable two days of our lives. 

 Dal Lake @Srinagar

Of the two routes that reached the Cave, one was from Baltal, which was a one-day affair. A 14-km one way ascent to the Cave was famous for those having too little time for their devotion for the Mahadev, while was infamous for being monotonous, depriving the trekkers of the purest of views that the route #2 offered.

The route #2 was the harder (which of course, I chose, given my inclination for challenging bigger powers), started from Pahalgam and if done on foot, would take 3 days to get to see the Almighty. Blessed with picturesque landscapes, it was sinister and influential.

Day #1

Pahalgam – Chandanwari

We awoke at 3 am, for the simple reason that we should be among the first people to reach the base camp and to start the trek. The penchant for being early at the trek was tantamount to the one we had for getting ourselves registered (4 months ago) at the hospital and the bank at the earliest. The expedite actions allowed us an entry on the 1st day of the Yatra. It was a blessing for me. Although I knew that there would be thousands of Yatris along with us, I was hoping that the public toilets would be cleaner. As you can now imagine how seasoned a trekker I am to expect spotless and hygienic sanitation on the remote mountains of Himalays.

An evening before, Pahalgam was pouring rain droplets, small enough to be called as harmless, but for long enough to threaten the commencement of Yatra the next morning. We prayed for the rain to stop much like the nursery rhyme, but the rain did not budge. We slept on it.

Morning was dark, and the only sound that could be heard outside the room at 3 am was the monstrous gush of Lidder river across the hotel and gentle, much despised rain droplets. It rained all night and due to pilgrim safety, Amarnath Yatra could have been reasonably postponed. But, it did not.

Chandanwari – Sheshnag

Pahalgam

Pahalgam (2,740 m) is the initial base camp for the Yatra, while Chandanwari (16 kms away) is the next. Chandanwari (2,923 m) is the last point until which the motor vehicles go (and we went), where horses replace the cars and buses. A long queue for baggage checking and the entry pass verification saw several devotees, some of which exhibited their unwavering passion for the Mahadev in form of fake entry passes. Sadly, in the name of security, they deprived entry to such passionate devotees.

Bholes waiting for the Yatra to commence @Chandanwari

Thus began our ascent of the 12 kms for the day. Horse guides were swarming in numbers and it was hard to tell a pilgrim from a horse guide. Obeying to every instruction we had from the previous Yatris, we were ready to pull out our negotiating cards. And we did. We secured a pony for a certain amount, with an understanding that he would take us to the Holy Cave, bring us back to the base on the 3rd day. Filled with energy and positive vibes, we utilized the pony for our bags (10 and 13 kgs rspectively – again, aren’t we phenomenally smart?) and began the trek. Good we purchased the wooden sticks that helped us pierce through every sort of unholy mess on the ground created by men and horses alike.

The key highlight of the Yatra was spirited Langar-waalas (the ones who ran restaurants) serving hot milk, water, tea and delicacies from all around the country, all for free! That is right. You pay not a penny for anything you eat and drink. They are there for the duration of the Yatra (~40 days) – no less than Gods – enabling the pilgrims to safely and healthily complete the Yatra.

The rain had not stopped. Slowly, but surely, it guaranteed difficulty for hundreds of pilgrims who let it not hinder them…yet. The consistent drizzling had rendered the path muddy. One could not tell apart safe step for a ditch. But, like a herd, pilgrims rocked their trek. Several shortcuts showed up and people – dozens of people – would follow the shortcuts. Our first shortcut was an act of defiance towards the popular advice we had received – Do not take shortcuts. The temptation lay in fact that the shortcut was although steep, a shorter route to the top. We were safe.

The second short-cut we chose was an innocent blunder, where we were following a group of people who were hiking and suddenly found themselves holding on to slippery rocks and fidgety smaller rocks in order to ascend. It was then when we realized that we should not have come up there and then was the precise moment when we realized that going back down was far from sound an option. We climbed up towards a man who was resting on a big rock, which slipped slightly from its location. The destination of the falling rock could have been several dozens of meters downwards, taking along as many pilgrims along as it could. The fellow pilgrim had his heart in his mouth. Both of us shouted warnings to the pilgrims underneath to watch out in case the rock falls. Most of the pilgrims were busy chanting Jai Bhole while others were assessing the next rock to set their foot on. After applying my rudimentary engineering knowledge, I blocked the bigger rock with a smaller one under it. The rock did not fall, the pilgrim climbed up the the actual walking track and I followed.

Way to Pissutop

By this time, Anuja’s nimble and relatively smaller body enabled her to be on the track, waiting for me with bated breath. I almost reached the top and had just one climb to make, but without adequate support. Here is when, I rested myself, awaiting some help who would pull this clumsy, heavy pilgrim out of misery and someone did. Jai Bhole!

Championing the mountain – the pilgrim way! 

The end of this first patch of arduous trek came after 4 kms at Pissutop, where an Indian flag with a backdrop of milk-white fog attempting to mask the white-peaked mountains welcomed us. Truly a delight. Sheshnag, the day’s destination was now about 7 – 8 kms away. Anuja alternated between a horse-back ride and trekking, while I was more stubborn than her in wanting to reach the destination on foot and I did, not without challenges.

Foggy Pissutop. Sorry for the poor picture. Camera was inaccessible due to rain, phone was not good enough, as you can see. Place was heavenly.

Kilometers passed by and yet the distance boards did not seem to change. After every kilometer I passed, it still showed that Sheshnag was 6 kms away. Now, not only was the weather playing games with me but these men who put up the sign boards were, too. A winter jacket, preventing me from the rain helped cover myself but also was seeming too hot at some instances. The weather love was non-existent. Sweat inside, mud and rain and occasional heat waves outside. I was happy that Anuja was covering her distance as her horse sped her away, but the joy of walking along in this dream trek was somewhat compromised.

After another what felt like a couple kilometers, of upward trek in sticky mud on a narrow road occasionally dominated by horses, another Langar came up. I was glad that I would see Anuja again. I waited. I could not find her in the 1st Langar (there were 4 – 5 in all). I pulled up my phone to notice that there was no network on my phone. I cursed the Airtel salesman endlessly for coaxing us into buying their SIM card. My curses were interrupted by the grumbling noises from inside my stomach. I ate sumptuous food in far lesser a quantity than what I am known to eat (fatigue and tiredness) and then walked ahead to another Langars. On the last one, I found her! Happy were we both. She had not eaten a morsel yet and she was not wanting to eat, she said. I should have insisted. Sufficient carbs and water were the mandatory inputs for those willing to conquer the trek.

Langar where we had reunited after a short separation

The trek continued for another million kilometers in the same sticky mud where my shoes got stuck at every step and my pants and jacket were decorated with mud. Shoes were appearing more brown than it’s original olive green. Picking up a foot for every step was a pain, and the pain was not abated by the sore leg muscles that the trek had caused. I overheard people saying that rain ruined the trail and I got influenced. I remember vividly, stepping in ankle height mud and hiking in it for several hundred meters. The mud was now the new normal.

If this frustration was not enough, my walking stick that aided me to get through the worst now fell in the mud, too. Funnily, now is when my lid blew off and I got angry at the circumstances. Imagine – it shows how the only thing going right in my life at that point was that my stick was clean.

Nature pitied me and then showed me some beautiful sights like the Sheshnag Lake. Was I happy to see it? Maybe. Am I happy to see it when I am sitting comfortably on my relaxing chair and writing this post? Absolutely. This eerily clam and green lake at the lap of a snowy peak giving off a strangely calm vibe to the otherwise disturbed or excited pilgrims was a sight I’d happily die for. Sheshnag lake (3,590 m) is the highest lake I have ever seen in my life and the sight is just as good as a wallpaper.

Sheshnag Lake @ 3,590 m

Sheshnag Lake – Calm as Shiv Himself

Sadly, Anuja and i had to grasp the sight of this view independently. The few moments we spent under the watch of this landscape were of my complaining about the difficulty of the trek (such an amateur i am) and in taking some pictures with the lake in the backdrop.

Another 1 – 2 kms and we will be at the destination. As much relief this thought gave me, these kms were deadly. By the time we reached, i was parched dry in my throat. The cold environment had chilled every bottle of water i could find and thus making it unpleasant for consumption. Anuja was waiting at the entrance of the Sheshnag camp site, shivering in cold. Now, we awaited entry into the camp, rent a tent and sleep for 12 hours. It was nearing 4 pm.

Few moments before the Sheshnag campsite

The horse guide we had hired turned back on his words and objected on his wish to accompany us until the third day. He expected us, whose spirits had half-died in 12 kms of first day to complete 20 kms on the second. We ignored him and penalized him for his non-co-operation and sent him back. Now we had to get into the arena of negotiating with another horse guide altogether. With Anuja freezing, with my throat giving up, we stood our grounds and negotiated with one seemingly nice horse man, who also showed us to the best of tent owners, Majid. Majid showed us to a tent, large enough for 3 – 4 couples to fit in, floored with woolen blankets and equipped with rough pillows. We accepted it without much hesitation.

The view from our tent  @Sheshnag

Night @ Sheshnag

We changed into cleaner clothes, applied Vicks to our bodies and slept under 3 thick woolen blankets. My head was throbbing and she was shivering. We expected rest to cure it all. it was 6:30pm and Anuja was still jittery. I stepped out with the shoes untied (leading the laces to gather all sort of mud and mess along) to look for the camp hospital. I brought Anuja there, where she was instantly given an injection. Was she cured? No. Under several layers of blankets and warm clothes on her, she was not at comfort. A hospital with 6 – 7 beds was full with patients who were suffering from what the doctors repeated every time – High Altitude Sickness.

While she is having moments of extreme cold and rest, I was sitting there restless, praying for her good health. At one point, we decided to not continue further and that if she does not feel better, we shall return to Chandanwari and fly back to Mumbai. On top of that a doctor there told me that I was not helping her in any way and that I should bring hot beverages, which I then did. The cold outside was 4 degrees C. I walked over 200 m one way to get her some hot tea, which was not hot anymore, but consumable. After a few more minutes, she was injected with another medicine, which initially brought her miserable pain, but cured her after an hour.

In those hours that I spent sitting next to her, I witnessed patients coming in as cool as a Bollywood actor and as miserable as a fish pulled out of water. Whatever this High Altitude Sickness was, it was nasty and it came to people in all shapes and sizes, bring them to their knees. Shivering, unbearable cold and lack of breathing came along. Anuja was far better than most of the patients that came in. I felt proud of her physical and mental resolve. What an excellent start to the Day #1 of the Yatra, I said to myself. Rain had ruined it for several, but barely had it deterred anyone from the end in mind – reaching the God of the Gods – the Mahadev.

Majid was regularly following up with us in the hospital while doing his job as an owner of several tents. He wanted to be sure that Anuja and I are okay and that he will arrange better accommodation for us, no matter what. Later, when the doctor allowed her discharge, Majid welcomed us to his own tent, which was also his kitchen that was naturally warm as our bedrooms. A moderate dinner there was followed by a peaceful sleep, which Anuja deserved better than I. Majid had slept elsewhere to make room for us two while his father shared the tent with us. A help – a favour, we would never forget. Jai Bhole!

Day #2

Next morning, at 6, the gates open for the pilgrims to move ahead on their trek. However, a loud announcement echoed through the fabric of every tent that the Yatra had been temporarily shut due to bad weather. The bad weather could have been the endless drizzles that the night saw or the snow that fell heavily on our way ahead. We did not bother and fell back asleep like babies. The gates had opened up at 10 am, until when we were ready to go and had decided that now, we would both take ponies until the Cave (20 kms) and get down to Baltal (14 kms) the same night. We did not want to risk falling sick yet again for another night spent in the tents.

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Sheshnag – Panchtarni

The horse guide who assured us a horse had turned his back in the morning in order to find another customer who’d pay him more. (Possibly the only man we’d met on the entire trip who was unfriendly). Our day started with rejection by weather and by our horse guide. Majid picked up Anuja’s bag and we three went out to look for a horses for both of us. Another round of negotiations and agreements happened with a horse guide, who was ready to take us until the Cave. We were short on physical cash and requested Majid to accept a bank transfer after a day or two, for which he surprisingly agreed. Jai Bhole! He confessed that he trusted the two of us and were the nicest people who have rented his tent in the past few years. God bless him. Only nice people can see the niceness in others.

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The sun came out. Mahadev was looking at us, we could feel it. Every mountain that passed, every river that was flowing threw out the fragrance of the Mahadev. Har Har Mahadev! Sitting on a horse was feeling better than trekking on the same sort of mud. Although this was not the initial plan (I wanted to do the entire journey on foot), I don’t regret choosing this over the potential health hazard that Anuja and I could have ran into – again!

Kilometres passed by faster than yesterday. The only complaint today was the soreness that the saddle caused and God, was it nasty! The horse was too short for my size, thus having me bend my knees in an awkward position and denying my relief on my legs. As much as I wanted to take a break to stretch my legs, my authoritarian horse guide denied me politely. He had a long distance to cover and get back to Sheshnag before it turned dark. As happy as I was about inching closer towards the Almighty Cave, my inner self was being relentlessly critical. Among other things, i also noticed that our horses were particularly slower than almost every other horse. We were being outraced effortlessly by every other horse, thus igniting a suspicion on the horse- guide’s time commitment. In the end, we reached two hours later than what he promised.

And in these trying times, I refocused my thoughts on Anuja’s wellness and the beautiful white landscapes uncovered by the sun, which truly brought me a kind of peace that I seldom experience.

We took a halt twice in the 20 kms trek. One was at the highest point on the Yatra – at Mahagunastop (4511 m). The army men here insisted us all warm water to drink and were greeted gently and warmly. This was where the snow (in the peak of summer) had fallen to disrupt the Yatra schedule and delayed us all by 4 precious hours at the least.

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The shortage of oxygen was first felt when we got down and joyously jumped around in the abundance of snow, in the indomitable setting of snow mountains and relentlessly courageous army men.

A longer halt was to be taken after a 2 km decline at Poshpatri (Post Patthar), where was a splendid Langar that offered Dosas, Tikkis, traditional Indian meals and a lot more – a top-class Langar in every sense. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal – the food and hot water to drink and clean our hands with were an absolute delight. My derriere got a much needed relief from the steel-like saddle that hurt me endlessly throughout the journey. The energy that this Langar emitted was ultra-positive and it fueled us.

DSC_2441Langar at Posh Patri

A few kilometers ahead, a large plain land, guarded by brawny brown mountains was another base camp – Panchtarni (3,500 m) (a confluence of 5 rivers). It is symbolic for the 5 elements that Lord Shiv had left behind – Earth, Air, Sky, Fire & Water. Over here, the regular checking of bags was to happen and the Yatris had to walk for about 500 m through the camp on the other side to reunite with the horse guides. 500 m was not a challenge normally, but in a situation where oxygen was less and bags as heavy as ours, it commanded us to give in. We complained, but we did not give in. We managed to carry our luggage on the other side of the camp and then we continued on a path that was only 6 kms in length but hazardous to life!

Panchtarni – Holy Cave

A narrow strip of curvy land that inclined towards the Cave was swarmed with horses, palkis (2 – 4 men carrying Yatris on their shoulders) and on-foot Yatris. How easy it was for a single mistake to bring death to a Yatri so close to the Cave! Nevertheless, we had our faith in Mahadev and in the horses that guided us.

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In a matter of an hour, we could now see the Cave straight ahead of us. It had not yet sunk in the fact that we were almost at the pinnacle of the pilgrimage that not everyone is lucky to undertake. A pilgrimage that only a handful are fit enough to undertake and that pilgrimage’s main intention was right there in front of our eyes. And then another incident ruined the overly sentimental zone that we were in. The horses unloaded us. A kilometer incline away from the Cave. We had a kilometer long snow-paved track to hike until the Cave and climb roughly a 100 steps or more in order to take the darshan.

DSC_2467-01We kept our bags at one of the tents at the base, and we started. I slipped several times, aggravating my frustration and then is when Anuja snapped for the first time – totally ready to give up. After a bitter-sweet tiff, we agreed to chant Mahadev’s name and push ourselves – 10 steps at a time. We took over an hour to climb the distance.

P_20170630_164323The Holy Cave!

The last 20 – 30 steps were the hardest for we had to surrender our shoes and walk on stone steps garnished with ice-cold molten snow. Our feet were numb in a few minutes. We saw ourselves inching painfully towards the Ice Shivling. Another few steps and we can’t feel our legs any more.

The last few steps we crawled up to and there – an Ice Shivling over 6 feet tall took our breath away. We forgot who we are. We forgot why we were there. The enigmatic and mystic ice formation that could probably be explained by science, but the divine sense of blessing that gushed though in our veins will remain inexplicable. Every hardship, every mockery of fate, every single shock of adverse weather and health was forgotten the moment the Mahadev blessed us. The distance of 32 kms on a hostile land, in a hazardous environment was isolated and we felt one with the divine presence of the Almighty Shiv! Jai Jai Jai Bholenath!

I was overwhelmed with the kind of joy that nothing in the world can replace. I cried. An inability of being able to express the love and joy led me to shed some tears that I shed in the name of Bholenath! Although we could not spot the 2 pigeons who are said to live in the cave as the successors of those pigeons who had heard Lord Shiv’s tale to His wife about the secrets of immortality, we were pleased throughout.

A couple dozen of steps on our return, I asked Anuja to check how much money we have remaining, so as to know how to negotiate with the final horses that we would rent. Then she realized that there was one thing I had forgotten to offer to Bhole. With a sigh, I climbed back, with naked feet, my feet hurting now. Just when I reached the Cave, I overheard someone showing a pigeon and I saw them! I saw both the pigeons! Happiness of seeing them and sadness of Anuja not seeing them mingled with each other but I felt blessed all over again. After having second darshan of the Mahadev, I returned back with Anuja. We walked back until the end of the steps which is when I realized that we missed the place where we had surrendered our shoes. Travesty.

I climbed with my feet hurting to the point of being intolerable and lungs at the point of giving up, I collected the shoes, wore mine on wet feet and got hers back to the base. My legs were shivering until the knees – laughing at my foolishness.

After sipping on hot tea and warm water, we hired a couple horses and began our descent to Baltal (14 kms). They said that the road is good, well-guarded and well-lit. Thus, we were sure that we would not reach the base comfortably. Little did we poor Yatris know.

P_20170630_181458Us at at Holy Cave

Holy Cave – Baltal

After a steep descent of 3 kms, a 12 year old horse guide of Anuja’s horse and a senior horse guide of my horse went on shoulder to shoulder. Now, came a 2 – 3 kms patch of steep accent. I was asked to get down for a few metres to make it easy for the horse. I complained but I managed to make the steep climb with my worn out legs with 13 kilos on my back for about 15 metres and I was short on breath. Oxygen and fate were playing games with me now that the weather seemed okay. When I got back on the horse, the horse refused to move. The senior horse guide refused to budge. Horses had carried both the bags and Anuja without their guides complaining from Chandanwari until the Cave (32 kms) for once and now a horse guide was complaining that the horse was not moving because my weight along with the bag was far too much.

I argued for his logic vehemently and finally I got down and kept walking hopelessly upward – stopping at every few steps due to the shortage of breath and strength. I then saw that the horse was not moving even when there was no pilgrim or a bag on it. I was beginning to get worried as now, on the narrow road going upward with hundreds and hundreds of Yatris moving in a single file, I could not see Anuja anymore. Moreover, the dusk was nearing. It was 6:30 pm.

As I was trekking alone on the path, desperate to get back with Anuja, a miracle was bestowed upon me. Jai Bholenath! A horse guide with an unoccupied horse offered to drop me until the end of the accent – after which remains 7 kms of descent, which he assured I can do it without a horse, too. I agreed. Anything that got me closer to Anuja was acceptable to me. Steering clear through several dozens of horses, this horse was stronger and faster and sure-footed. By 8 pm, I reached the top. Anuja was supposed to be there because there is a camp where horses and people had place to stop. Earlier, I did not panic with the hope that she would be waiting there for me, but now, I had no reason to not panic.

It was dark, the trail was narrow with mountain on one side and valley on the other, Anuja was lost in an unknown land and I had to give up the horse. Darkness was pitch. It was hard to identify any face, as hard as it was to identify the nature of the trail. I pulled out the torch that was truly feeble in every sense and i started climbing down for 7 kms. I took out the laser light she had gifted me, the kind that forms a glimmering trail as it pierces through, but the batteries had given up. If only something were to go easily for us. If things were not wrong enough already, rain started to pour down. Muddier trail became muddier. I screamed for Anuja – no response. I screamed again and again and again – no response. A 12 year old boy was guiding Anuja’s horse in a condition so hostile that it made me eat my heart. And to pile up on the things that were going miserably wrong for us, a lightening bolt pierced through the sky – the kind that scares Anuja, and thus, makes me worry.

I realized that if I keep marching, I am not going to reach her at all. It was too slow a process given the luggage, the slippery trail and the darkness that prevailed. I was sure that at that time of the day, there was no economical sense for the horse guides to bring their horses empty – there were no mid-way base camps where pilgrims would offload, but I gave it a try.

With fear ruling my voice, I cried that I want a horse. I yelled a few more times; every shout meeker than the previous. I was losing hope the way I had lost Anuja. But then a girlish voice from behind asked – Want a horse?

I begged yes and without any cost conversations, I climbed up. I prayed up to the Mahadev who I knew was looking down on me, regardless of all the self-centred complaints that I was making. Jai Bholenath! I cried for Anuja for more times while we were on the way. The horse guides assured me that I would find her. It did help me and also what helped me was water that soothed my desert-dry throat. After a few kilometres of having the third horse, I saw the face of the horse guides. The girly voice was of a young boy and the one who guided my horse was a full-grown man.

After what felt like an hour, my worry for her was big enough to not remind me of the physical pain I was in due to lack of food intake and the saddle. First Langar was seen up ahead, where there she was – standing with eyes full of hope. We saw, and we hugged in an embrace of tears. We promised to not part ways ever again. The brave 12 year old boy had guided her safely.

After all the drama that I had gone through, with the setbacks that I had, I had guessed that she must have been waiting for quite some time. When asked, she said that she was waiting for merely 5 minutes! Such is the grace of Bhole! Jai Bholenath.

After another couple kilometres was a spot called Dumail, 2 kms from Baltal – but we were so tired of horse-back riding that we decided to pay them and hire a taxi to Sonamarg (15 kms from Baltal), hire a hotel, take a hot water bath (much much much needed) and sleep for at least 24 hours.

We got a taxi, who said he will try, but police will not allow entry. Yet again, things did not stop being right for us. We tried and at the check-post police indeed did not allow us to pass through (Mahadev’s grace once again – 10 days after our Yatra, one pilgrimage bus broke check-posts despite CRPF warnings and were attacked by terrorists. 7 lost their lives.)

We spent 4 – 5 hours in a tent in Baltal; provided with endless blankets and a bowl of burning coal to keep us warm. Next morning, we drove to Srinagar and comfort was back again in our lives.

P_20170629_095846-01Happy together at Pissutop

Summary:

The Yatra was full of challenges – hostile trails, unforgiving weather, horses giving up, getting separated in a threatening mountains, falling dramatically sick, threats of landslides, climbing barefoot on ice-cold stone steps, mercilessness of fatigue, disguised saving of life from potential terrorist attack and more, but Bholenath was right around the corner with an offering that rescued us from all the miseries and the divine memory of the Shiv Ling and the unparalleled landscapes remain in our minds.

As I write this post, over 1,80,000 Yatris have had their darshan. On 30th June, 2017, roughly 8,800 Yatris had their darshan, whereas on any other day, 12 – 14,000 Yatris are blessed by Bholenath’s darshan. Another blessing in disguise?

Win or Laws

Win or Laws
The transition from a mental state of hope to despair was grueling, taxing and exacting. Several years ago, a young woman had decorated opinions about being a lawyer for the National Court, the desire which fueled her zest to outmatch everyone else in her academics. Her career skyrocketed like a space shuttle without sufficient fuel to escape the gravitational force of struggle and rat-race and with an ambition of floating in an eternal weightlessness of success, riches and fame. The community that she grew up in was not encouraging in subjects of academics and career, owing to which Rita was more popular in circles dominated by white men and women. This formed a vital point for her community to issue her a cold disdain. 

Couple of years ago, she left her husband for reasons lesser known to the world. Rumours floated around saying that the loss of her baby girl drove the couple apart. However, the rumours were given only the credit that they deserved – not more, not less. Furthermore, her relationships with her friends remained square and invulnerable to her personal circumstances.

The flames of ambition of entering in the circles of the most renowned lawyers and judges were fighting against the storms of ennui and monotony. She was good at what she did – probably the best – but what she did was fight mediocre divorce cases, petty crime cases and cases related to family money that she wished she had, so she could run away and kick a restart to life.

She readied her bag to call it a day, when her boss, the man next to her father showed up at her cubicle. “Got to be somewhere else, champion?”

He always cheered her up. “Yup! Someone is waiting for me tonight and it must be getting cold. I better eat it before it actually does.”

Dan laughed heartily, he always did. “Well, I am sure that your dinner can wait. Come, see me in my cabin.”

They entered in his cabin.

“Here, have a look at this.” Dan slid a file across the metal-top table towards Rita.

Rita browsed through the file and made a mental note of all the key aspects of the case in hand. A murder case of the house-keeper. Time of death – early morning. Place of death – the living room. Potential suspect – Jake Douglas. Rita’s eyes widened. She looked back at Dan with sheer surprise and did little to suppress her shock. “Is this the Jake Douglas?”

“This is the Jake Douglas. The actor from The Night in the Train, The Bridge of the Blacks and Underside of the underside. This is him, Ms. Ferreira.”

Rita, shivering in anticipation. “And you handed his file to me, because?”

“Well, I will take it back this instant unless you hug it to your chest and run away.”

Tears softened her vision as she found this case as a breakthrough for her career. She was convinced that this case could be the fuel that her rocket needs. A case advocating an A-list actor in a murder incident would lift her up to all sorts of media: the newspapers, the TV, Press conferences and everywhere else. Owing to her size, she was in tears again, dreaming about the large area of the pictures that she will dominate.

She ditched her dinner and stayed back, burning the midnight oil. Meticulously, she studied every detail of the case and prepared herself with her meeting with the cop, Mr. Stan Morse later next day.

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Ferreira.”

“Call me Rita, please.”

“Alright. Listen, I don’t think there is any case in this. The housekeeper, an old lady who cannot run or fight back, was killed in the house, where only one man stays and it is that goddamn Jake Douglas.”

Rita did not respond to Stan’s comments. “Thank you for your inputs Mr. Morse, but I will refrain from making judgements at this point.”

Stan took off a bottle from his trousers and popped a pill as casually as candy. “PTSD,” he said. “Those rascals sitting on exorbitantly expensive and ridiculously uncomfortable sofas call it PTSD.”

Rita observed how Stan turned red, veins showed on the top of his balding skull.

“What do they know, eh? They sit in an air-conditioned room, counselling people in what they have never experienced. A fancy degree gives them the right to judge me? Do you know how a war feels like Rita?”

Rita nodded a negative.

“Bring to your eyes your worst nightmare, Rita and tell yourself that it is real. That is what a war is like.”

Rita brought her nightmare to her eyes. Her nightmare was not remotely linked with deaths or violence. Her nightmare was dying or fading away into death without achieving what he has struggled to achieve all her life – fame and respect. 

“Anyway, I am sorry for my outburst. It is just these goddamn pills.”

“Assuming that Mr. Jake is innocent, who is in the list of suspects? There is no one in this list I have. Has there been any advancements?”

“None. There is nobody who has entered the house or left the house in the last two days, except for his poor old black lady.”

“Thank you Mr. Morse. I will see you at the court hearing.”
As hard as it was, Rita had to bend over backwards to prevent her affinity to Jake Douglas from coming in her way of her judgements. 

“You know you are not a snowflake, right?” Jake’s words hurt like the friction from sandpaper. 

“I don’t believe I am, Mr. Jake. But thanks for the reassurance.”

“Ah cut the Mister and Missus crap, already. Let us get me some freedom, alright. Listen, I did not kill this lady at all. Now, go, save me or I will have you cut off from the case and would hire someone more attractive than that ugly ass of yours.”

Rita bottled her ferocity. She felt her affinity for the highly famed actor evaporate like fuel. “The police have found no other suspects as of yet. Little would you know about how things work in the real-life, so let me tell you exactly how this will go down.” Rita was riled up in fury. “There was a murder of a black old lady in your house during ungodly hours. The cameras prove that the only person coming in and out of the house for the last two days was your housekeeper, who is now dead. If your best defense is going to be that ‘I did not do it’, then pray to God that capital punishment is issued to you. That way you will die early and will be saved from the assured defamation that will be launched at you, while you get your ass raped in the city prison.”

Jake stared at Rita, holding his tongue. Rita was hardly sure about the reality anymore. A few nights ago, the idea of defending one of the most popular actors swept her off her feet; now, the same idea brought her back to her feet. 

“That is right, Jake. May I now kindly request you to shut your attitude up and let me do my job?”

“Sure,” he murmured. “You being my lawyer, I might as well tell you the truth, Rita.”

“I already know it. What I want to know is why.”

“You know how it is with famous people, Rita? People are greedy around me like it is their lunchtime. Why am I single? It is not my attitude; my attitude is the outcome. I am yet to find someone who loves me for me, not my money, not my fame. This housekeeper duped me into recording some words I spoke while rehearsing an act. She got it doctored and threatened me to go to the court with the tape and shame me for life unless I paid her her ransom.”

“Marvellous. And you decided to just kill her in your own house, with your own hands. Wow. Only if you were as smart as the Jake on TV.”

“Yes. I did it, alright. Because it’s easy. And I’m Jake Douglas. No prick can threaten me into misery.”

Rita prolonged her stare hoping for it to drill a hole through his chest. Emotions aside, Rita. It’s your job. Do it. 

“So, you’ll still fight for me? I mean, after knowing that I am the culprit here?”

“I don’t care what happens to this society Jake. This world has showed me only the ugly side of the moon. I am not letting it take away a stepping stone to success, too. I will fight and we will win.” It’s my first and probably the only chance at earning a name that they’ll regret they ever subjected to shame. 

Jake sighed.

“In the meantime, may I tour your house and look for information that could benefit the case?”
The tour took longer than she imagined. Superficially, she crossed ever corridor, every room and every corner to look for loopholes that could be used by the police or the opposite party. Mr. Stan must have taken care of it, she was certain. 

A small room at the corner, facing the garden was open and Rita took note of a childish bed with cartoons printed all over them. The size of the bed was too small for Jake to place his head on and she was aware that there isn’t any kid in the house. To crosscheck, she asked and he confirmed. 

“There is nothing there, Rita.”

She didn’t listen. She lit the room, the blue and the pink of the walls were coming alive. The walls made her feel confined to the room, crushing her presence between the four walls. Chocolates, comic books, toys and every thing that a kid would fantasise about. Except for one black book. 

Jake saw Rita storm out of his house, stomping away. He’d expected worse. “Rita,” he called out, but he got no response. “Rita, you said you don’t care about anyone, right? What’s wrong now? Come back here you-” he held his tongue and witnessed Rita fly away faster than a bird.
A week later, the court hearing began and ended. Jake observed the blinding fury with which Stan interacted with his lawyer. “How could you as a woman?” And “How is it that you could defend a monster like him?” And “Might as well you marry that insensitive son of a bitch!” And “I’ll make sure you end up a big fat black widow!”

The outburst was deafening and nothing like Jake has seen before. Stan’s eyes widened, his face reddened and his limbs shivered. Rita let it all hide under the rug until the jury was out, defending Jake innocent and due to the personal circumstances, the old lady killed herself. 

One branch of this success was celebrated by Jake, while the second one was a trade off for fame, name and endless popularity or the lack thereof. 

The night following the case, Jake met Rita upon her request. “How can I help Rita? Don’t worry about the payments. They’ve been made and I’ve added 30% as a variable fee. 

Rita was drowned in gloom as Jake could sense. She was fumbling in her purse as she spoke. “You think you’ve won, haven’t you?” She pulled out the book she took from Jake’s house. “Yes, I still don’t care about the sorry world that has served to pull my leg every time I climb. But I care about my world.” She shoved the picture from the book on his face. 

“This was my world, you god-forsaken son of a bitch!”

It took seconds for Jake to switch to an ’actor’ mode. “Rita, it was all a mistake. I swear I’ve left it all behind. I’ve realised that the more crime I do, the more I’ll end up doing. Believe me, the housekeeper was just there at a wrong time. She wasn’t supposed to come that day.”

A speeding white van came to a screeching halt at he mouth of the alley where they stood. A group of strong men abducted Jake and before he could realise what befell upon him, he was half way to hell. 

Rita stood there, welcoming the rain, cleansing her of her sins. With her arms outstretched, she peered through the falling tears of her angel at the sky. “I hope you know that mamma did this for you, baby girl.

The Hues of Death

The sunlight perforated through the large window that dominated the wall behind his plush leather chair. The humble wooden desk was the only thing in his room that did not comply with the decadence that he had inculcated in his lifestyle. It was not his house, anyway, he always thought, and gave in. A son of the mountains, he had survived the harshness of the savage beauty the mountains had to offer in the Alpine Europe. Facing minimal competition, Jimmy Kew had an easy way into the world until he stepped first in the warmer and a venal part of the globe – Gellet.
Air-conditioning was a must if he had to serve as the Branch Head of a major Multi-National bank, located in Gellet. How he ended up in India still throws him into a state of pondering. Pondering ceases when an illegitimate wealthy bastard comes across his way, to make use of Jimmy’s special services. Struggling to settle at an optimal room temperature, he nudged the Air conditioner every few minutes. However, today, he did not. The room was freezing – cold enough to enable a snow leopard feel comfortable. The only thing colder than the room was Jimmy himself. Dead.
In another part of the city, a real estate agent shut down his office, and examined his new possession in sheer privacy. In midst of the ruckus of the city that bore a population more than that of several countries, and away from the banal misappropriation of funds within the company, right now, he was in a state of zen. He admired wealth like many admired virtues, but he was shy to make a garish display of it. It was best for his profession to look modest. He wore a shabby black suit that fit him not, for it was borrowed from his cousin, starkly opposite in appearance. A face that the world related with humblest of raiment had today chosen an extra-ordinary selection, owing to the rules of the venue he had to attend. “Mr. Harman, you are looking stunning”, is what he heard all day, but he cared least to offer them an explanation to it. He knew that most of the people surrounding him were sycophants, who loved his money more than him. Of what use is money, if you can count it till the last penny? He quickly undressed his suit, unbuttoned his shirt and stared at the marvel that was now under his possession. He understood nothing of it, but he knew how much he paid for it. The overwhelming excitement that stirred a storm within made it harder for him to breathe. It must be the damned tie, he thought. His head started to get lighter, the more he kept his eyes open, so he decided to shut them down. Dizziness took charge. In a span of a few excruciating moments, he found himself lying on the floor of his office, with the shutters down, and the noise of the city drowning his feeble cries for help. This is why I never wear a tie.
Elsewhere in the outskirts of Gellet was someone who wore a suit by choice, and loved it to the skin. High heels that brought up her overall fashion quotient clacked across the hallway as she entered a house – no, a mansion, that lay its foundation on the pile of money stained by the blood and sweat of hundreds and thousands of honest men and women. Who’s fault is that if they consider this living anything but a competition for survival? It was her birthday, and the mansion was swarmed by dozens of men, decorating the walls and the floor and the ceiling and the pictures and the tapestries and the windows. The lady who led the decoration team briefed Mrs. Sharma of the idea that she is putting life into. Resha Sharma was pleased, or so her expression warranted. “You are sweating, Mrs. Sharma.”
“Oh, am I?” Surprised, she ached to reach for her napkin. At the acquisition of which, she ached to bring it up to her face and wipe the sweat off. At the completion of which, she ached to maintain her balance. At the failure of which, she ached to breathe. Succumbing to it, she ached to survive. Failure hit her like a truck. Dead.
“Three dead and counting, Mr. Freemont. Third one was found two days later, when his office shutter was forced open.”
“I hear you, Willy.” Svent Freemont had just returned from a long vacation that the Agency had forced on him. “You need to have a break or we might run a risk of being driven crazy.”
“I feel a little rusty with the practice, I admit. Would you be kind enough to brief me on the details of the deceased while we drive?”
Svent was filled in on the details. “What did you say the third one was doing in his office when he was found dead?”
“It appears that he was looking at a painting.”

They arrived at Mr. Harman’s office. “If not whatever that killed him, cholesterol would have grappled him down, sooner or later,” remarked Willy, finding comfort in blurting silly comments around Svent. Noticing Svent’s expression, Willy slid back into the usual discomfort.
“Why is the painting on the floor?” Freemont began his investigation with the employees that Mr. Harman had working there. The actual painting was cleared away by forensics as evidence.
“It is new, sir. I have never seen this painting before.” The others resounded the comment, and it satisfied Svent’s judgement that the painting was out of place, anyway. Rich, elegant, but out of place. It would rather be well-suited in a plush apartment or anything bigger.

At the mansion of Mrs. Sharma, the decoration was halted, and the mood swayed sharply from joy to despair.
“Where was Mrs. Sharma earlier today?” Willy led the investigation upon Freemont’s order.
A crying lady, her mother, responded, “She had taken off from her work today because it was her birthday.” Sobbing incessantly, the decoration lady picked up from there. “She had told me that she would not be home before lunch, as she had to attend an important event in the south of the city. However, she had dropped this from her purse today. Maybe this is where she had gone today.” The lady handed out a business card.
“Gellet Art Gallery. That is indeed in the south of the city. Thank you.”

Svent had formed an assumption, that would be confirmed only after learning about the death of the third person – Mr. Kew.
His body lay cold as ice on the chair, his face lying on the desk, screaming silently that he did not want to die.
“It is cold up here.”
“We did not touch anything in the room, except that we tried to bring Mr. Kew to life.” An employee at the bank responded. “And we failed,” he said, sinking his head into his chest.
“Was he in the office the entire day?” inquired Svent.
“He is hardly in the office. He is usually with clients or other business meetings.”
“Where was he earlier today?”
Mr. Kew’s secretary sped off to his desk, punched his nervous keys on the computer, fumbling to press the right ones, to open Mr. Kew’s appointment schedule. “It is blank.”
“How is Mr. Kew’s interest in paintings?”
“Oh, excessive. You’d fail to find a piece of wall in his apartment at Malabar Hills! It is covered with paintings – elegant ones at that.”
Svent smiled.

Svent and Willy headed towards the Gellet Art Gallery, and observed the dismantling of the exhibition that attracted the affluent parties from across the country for the 5-hour event.
The gate-keeper opened his eyes wide at the sight of men in suits and revolvers in their holsters. He ran off to alert the owner of the gallery – Mr. Eliah D’souza. Before the owner could be told about the guests, the detectives were at his door, widening the gate-keeper’s eyes further. Willy thought that his eyes might just pop out if he were to be shocked again.
“I am sorry to bring you some bad news, Mr. D’Souza,” uttered Svent as he approached his Eliah’s desk.
“Call me Eliah, please. And what might that news be?” Eliah gestured at the chairs, and the detectives took the seats. Eliah gestured the gate-keeper to find the door.
Willy pulled out three photographs, and placed them neatly under the owner’s nose. The owner studied the photos carefully.
“What about it?” Not a line or a crease on the aging face of the owner gave way for suspicion.
“Well, we are told that these people had visited the art exhibition early today. And, like you can see, they are lifeless. To cut to the chase, we are here to find out how you defend your innocence, Eliah.”
The assault was direct. Willy observed this to be one of the techniques how guilty criminals could be broken. But here, Svent was of the intention to smash the criminal.
“Defend my innocence?” Eliah laughed mockingly. “I own seven other galleries all across the country. I look after the dealings of millions in cash every single day. Do you know how taxing it gets, Mr. Freemont?”
Silence prevailed. Willy felt the weight from under, now rising on their back.
“I guessed not. If you believe that I am going to spare my time to defend myself over what appears to be a mere co-incidence, then you are mistaken, my sirs.”
“I understand,” Svent remarked, absolutely unsatisfied by the performance. “If you think that we are going to spare our time to dig the culprit out, then apparently, you are are not.” The detectives stood up, greeted superficially.
“One last thing, Eliah. We’d like to meet the artist whose paintings the victims were looking for, please.”
Eliah pulled up a card from his drawer, and allowed the detectives to take leave. “A junior artist, but a highly revolutionary one at that. His paintings are attempting to bring the unethically rich and the wealthy to their knees. Like the Stanleys and the Bradleys and also the McKennys. He was a goddamn minister, who was painted in red. It is marvellous, but he is a junior, still unsure of his footing. He seems to have taken a much bolder move, this time. Go fetch him.”
Willy moved ahead, cursing under his breath, only to find that Svent had taken a smaller pace. Svent was in the gallery, exchanging serious gestures with the gate-keeper, whose eyes seemed to have gotten smaller, and friendlier. Nodding their heads an inch, they moved away.
Svent responded to the curious eyes of Willy that were not able to form the question, with mere smirk.
“The artist goes by the name of Bastian LeMac,” said Willy, with anxiety in his voice. “But, he made a casual welcome to us.”
“Hmm,” responded Svent with a natural coolness, unaffected by the tidings.
“Sir, shall we not question him?”
“What for?”
“He could be the one who killed the victims!” Willy was flabbergasted, thinking that Svent was still in his holiday mood.
“The forensics had called,” Svent replied dispassionately. “They have assigned the cause of the murder to a substance that starts with a letter E. I cared not to remember the fashionable names these scientists give them. Upon a very small research, I found out that this substance is light, almost transparent, and has characteristics of oil.”
“Which could be applied on the paintings, to mimic the features of the oil!”
“Yes, my dear Willy. Now you tell me. Why would a junior artist who is struggling for earning his living want to risk his career and his life, while being at a loss to an ability to escape?”
Willy grunted under his breath. Why does this have to be so complicated sometimes? “Who is it, then? The gate-keeper? The owner? An extra-ordinarily co-incidental suicides?”
Svent smiled. “What is it exactly that you write in your notes? Come, let us go.”

At the art gallery, surrounded by the police, Eliah D’Souza had nowhere to go. His confident and charming appearance had allowed him to go through the scanner undetected once he thought, but he was wrong as pineapple on pizza.
“But sir, how?” Willy at a loss of idea. Although there were as few as these many possible culprits, Willy missed it. “Did the gate-keeper tell you something that I don’t know?”
“The gate-keeper made sure that Eliah was not to leave the gallery. What did Eliah respond when we asked for the painter whose paintings the victims were looking for?”
“The name of the artist.”
“Exactly! If he deals in millions like he said today, and that also across the entire country, how would he readily know which person was looking for which paintings in particular?”
Wide-eyed Willy remarked it as genius. “He had not taken even a minute to ponder over the name. Eliah plotted against the artist! But why?”
“Not our job to find out, I suppose. But I believe that Eliah might be the next rich that Bastian would have thrashed under his paintings.”

A Con’s Gambit

           The credit for the hubbub was due to the aluminium dishes across the hall, in the hands of murderers, rapists, thieves and con-men, who could barely keep their senses in check, while committing the crime. The meal was not anymore banal than the vapid grey walls that drank the whites from the lights, keeping the monotony of depression within the prison walls alive.

“Two months are up,” whispered Jake, without lifting his gaze from his plate. The listener knew he was being talked to, yet his reaction was absent. “Are we ready, Stuart?”

The deep blue eyes, had a fiery essence to it, barely repressed by the cunning smile that accompanied it. Stuart leered at Jake. “Yes, we are, Jake. I hope you have prepped Mike for this, too.”

“Absolutively, man. I trust in your plan, man. You are a nice guy, but there is nothing like being too cautious, am I not right? So I ask again – is your plan foolproof? Because I’d hate to be caught in the act, and get incarcerated. I’ve heard life in prison is worse than my wife’s chicken soup, and I have eaten that soup and I have been incarcerated; the comparison is only fair.”

“We need to get him to meet up at the yard today. Spread the word. His freedom is near.”

At the yard, the heat did little to energize the labourers, but did largely to deprive them of it. Only if life were as easy as the Shawshank Redemption, Jake thought. Mike huddled up with Stuart and Jake under a shade at the edge of the yard. Mike was a portly man, so much that his belly engendered a large shadow underneath.

“Yo, man. So, we plan to do it tonight, at 23:50. You have the watch safe with you, don’t you? Do you need us to reiterate the procedure?”

“I have the watch and negative, I am confident I will pull this off. My cue will be when I receive the key to my cell tonight. I unlock the cell quietly, without attracting attention, and march to my left, until the end of the row, turn left, towards the cabin of the prison officers. At midnight, the shift changes, and in an orderly fashion, the new officers replace the existing ones. One officer who guards the door will be replaced, too. I have to climb up the wall, plug myself between the two walls with my limbs outstretched and catch the new officer that comes out of that door unawares.”

Jake’s cynicism over Mike’s ability to accomplish the athletics was unrestrained.

“Ha Ha, very funny, Jake. I train cheerleaders for my living.” His gaze shifted at Stuart, now. “If you know what I mean,” he said with a wink.

“Get back to the damned plan!” You sick fuck, Stuart wanted to add.

“Now, I won’t have time to bide, as I’ll have to make the move before the fallen officer is found. Retreating back, walking past the corner through the yard where we are standing right now. It is on me to cross this yard unnoticed. The lights and the guards will notice squat when I make the moves,” he gestured in a ballet move. “At 00:20 sharp, the barbed wires up the guard walls would be deactivated, and will stay the same for a minute, which is my window to make the escape.”

Jake could not hold it back. “Mike, you weigh a hundred kilos and you are barely 5 and a half. I hope you are not overestimating your ability.”

“You don’t trust me.”

“You’re darn right, I don’t. I’d trust better on a dog who claims that he can talk.”

“How about a dog that sniffs and fucks your butt?”

Jake pulled a punch at Mike before Mike’s mouth shut. He fell down instantly, pulled himself up in a jiffy, with movements agile and quick. Stuart knew for certain that Mike would pull this off.

“23:50,” said Stuart, and left along with Jake. “You head to the location I asked you to.”

“If I had a million in my pocket, I’d wager them all on a fiasco that is waiting in the dark only to come out and laugh at us.”

“Enough of your pessimism, Jake,” barked Stuart in a repressed grunt. “I had enough. This will not fail. Your job is to facilitate the key to his cell, on time – not before, not after, on time.”

“Do you rather want to say that this must not fail?”

Stuart had the fire in his eyes all over again. “This will not fail,” he said with sheer deliberation, making sure that the argument is pulled to a halt at that instant.

“How prepared is Tim?”

“I wrote a code for him on the backside of the book that I lent him. That was the only communication that I have had with him. He knows that this must happen tonight. All he has to do is code it on the main computer, and keep it running for exactly a minute, feigning malice in the Head Officer’s computer. He is the IT guy, this must not be a challenge for him. At least not the kind that he cannot handle.”

“Head Officer’s computer?” Jake had his head blown up. His cheeks had turned red. “This is your fuckin’ plan, man? How do you believe that the Head Officer is going to ask for the IT guy at fuckin’ midnight? And tonight?”

Stuart smiled.

Tim’s eyes were swollen, not for the sleepiness, but for the lack of it. He was anticipating a summoning from the Head Office, expecting a solution for the failure of the computer to turn on. They were oblivious to the fact that the problem was a creation of Tim, himself, that he had planted on the computer a fortnight ago. Now was a chance for him to plant the code on the computer and facilitate Mike’s escape. A broad bridge to cross, but what was tough was imminent.

A familiar face stopped by at Stuart’s cell the very next day. “It was you, was it not?” the guard asked Stuart through the vertical bars that separated them.

Stuart spoke not a word for a few moments. His eyes calm as an ocean. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“A computer code, which deactivated the electric barbed wires last night facilitated Mike’s escape. Rings a bell?”

“Kind of. Sounds like poor security to me.”

“Listen to me, Stuart. That you are not a killer, but that you participated in a ploy to kill someone is enough of a reason for you to stay in jail, but if you are caught –”

“I won’t be caught. Not even if you rat me out to your masters.”

The guard stood there in silence, staring at Stuart in despair. “You know you do not deserve to rot in this cell for far too long. Why are you risking a longer term?”

“I am not risking anything. Even if he was to be caught last night, he’d not rat me out. I have a leash on him, that enforces discipline, instills obedience.”

Long fingers of the sun illuminated the prison cell, further illuminating the smile on Stuart’s countenance.

“Stuart, you have a daughter for God’s sake. Don’t you love her enough to want to go back to her sooner than soon?”

The words brewed a storm in an otherwise composed weather, uprooting the composure off Stuart’s face and wreaking havoc within him. He stomped up to the prison bars and grunted with all the strength he could gather. “I am doing all this only for her, do you understand?”

The sudden upsurge of emotions choked the guard’s words at his throat.

“Do you understand, I ask?” Stuart bellowed again, not truly expecting an answer. “Do you know how it feels like to have your daughter raped in broad daylight? Do you know how deep a scar like this can go on her life? Do you, officer?”

The guard felt the small hairs standing up on the back of his neck. Realization arrived at him gently, with the words that Stuart spoke.

“I am doing all this for her, goddammit. What do you know about this escape, eh?”

“That you freed a guilty man, charged of rape.” Cognizance hit him like a truck at full speed. “You,” the guard whispered, and choked. His eyes wide as a planet, hairs stood up as in fear. “You did not free him. You… you freed him.”

“Yes, officer. That is exactly I did. I rid this planet of a scumbag sooner than this frail system of justice could have. With the kind of money that he claimed he swam in, I’d rather eat him up before he was granted bail. And then what? Have another girl abused by his monstrosity? It does not take a scientist to learn that I have committed homicide, but given a chance, I’d do it again, officer. I’d fork that motherfucker’s eyes out alive for the life that he has decided for my little angel. Tell on me, get me hanged, I am telling you I would die in peace, knowing that I have acquired vengeance on my daughter’s abuser and there will be one less son of a bitch out there who’d act that act again.”

A heavy voice came out of the officer’s mouth. “Where is he now?”

“The last cabin on the banks. You’d have enough evidence to identify him.”

The officer walked away, with a confluence of morality and law at his heart. His footsteps sounded as weighty as his heart. For the rest of  Stuart’s term, he never saw that officer again.

1 of the 11

In relation to my earlier story, “The Boss”

https://muffledquail.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/the-boss/

 

The meadows were lush green, freshly kissed by the morning dew, leaving behind a glow that pleased Lenny’s senses. The sun had taken a break from a long, heralded assault throughout the year, and had given way to the cool breeze that carried the congenial rains on its back.

The visibility had taken a hit, the hills on the far end of the picturesque sight had vanished behind the thick curtain of rains, embellishing the view from his window, remarkably better. Lenny liked the hills, but he liked the misty curtain and the magical sleight of water and sun and wind even better. The other side of the coin got darker as the front got better. Tony and Alena did not permit him to go out into the world, deemed to be dangerous, that could swallow him up leaving no trace behind. Lenny obeyed their stringency until he was not young anymore, and developed a brain of his own.

He wanted to go out, he wanted to sit under the sun, soak up the brightness and find out if he can fly like the Superman. He wanted to get drenched in the rain, and learn if he can grow tall and green like the trees that adorned the yard outside. He wanted to climb the mountains, to know if he can really see the world from the top of it. He wanted to get to the top of the Klate City Tower and find out if it is taller or shorter than those faraway hills. All the places he wanted to go were spread across the city – the city he had seen from the backseat of their car. Isolation, lonesomeness and solitude, if compensated with an optimistic environment within his house, would probably have helped his mental health, or that he believed. However, the dark side of the coin was darker for him.

The reason what brought them to a decision of living away from the world, eluded him. All he was told was that “it is not safe for you, out there.” A house, far from the crowd, far from the society allowed seclusion to seep into him, and it carried gloom along with it.

On his eleventh birthday, Lenny decided to pull up the creaky wooden plank from the centre of the floor in his room. He had done this several times before, but with a hollow objective. The plank was loosely fit, and he knew it. His parents had never noticed it, and Lenny did not bother to apprise them. This time, his desperation assigned an objective to lifting up the plank. A shovel from the garage struck the soil beneath, with a glorious ambition.

 

“I am doing my job.” Tony asserted in a blaring tone so loud, shattering the windows around him in the dining hall. An army of sweat beads started marching down his balding forehead as his head was shaking uncontrollably under the weight of the anger that he felt within him. His fingers had curled into a balled fist, so hard that it could have broken the wooden dining table beneath his hands. Alena was worried more for the table, than for the anger, and she owed the nonchalance to the frequency at which he used to be a bear with a sore head.

“Stop being up in arms about this article, Tony!” Alena was ready with a catalysing tone, aiming to moderate the rising temper. “It is the Boss you are writing about. As it is, he is unpopular for taking several lives! Why are you so stiff-necked about wanting our little Lenny dead?”

The army paraded in a straight line, dripping itself from the furrows of Tony’s forehead. He banged the table, blowing off a gasket upon the mentioning of their offspring. He stood up at the table, leaving the food half-eaten, and dug his hand in his pocket. He slammed a roll of colourful bills on the table. “Who do you think I bring this for? Your ugly face?”

“Stop yelling for crying out loud!” Alena spoke up with a repressed grunt, spending most of her vigour in suppressing the indignation. “You will scare Lenny!”

Moments passed by when nobody spoke. The air surrounding the two found rest. “Listen, Alena,” spoke Tony with a voice with an unimaginable tenderness. “I am a reporter for the GNV News. The best channel in the country. It is a new assignment, and I cannot produce conventional news. In order to make a name and rise up through the ranks, they expect golden eggs. If I am to bring them the commonplace news about robberies and rape, I will remain indistinguishable, and if I remain indistinguishable, who is to bring food on this table, and who is to bring money for Lenny’s tuition?

“The Boss has his hands in the nastiest of businesses, and the network that he has built in Klate is the reason why Lenny is locked up like this. We don’t let him go to school by himself. We don’t let him meet his friends, if he has been able to make any. We don’t let him be by himself anywhere, anytime. I mean, how could we, Alena? Do you think we want this life for our kid? Soon, he will be grown enough to leave us. Do you think I want him to face the world for the first time at that age and not now? Boss crawls up under my skin, and stings me hard! I hate that son of a bitch and I will take him down, and I have a lot of material against him. One publication, and he will be out of Klate. We will be free.”

Alena felt a pang of fury along with Tony, but she stayed calm. Fire does not fight fire. Water does. She admittedly nodded. His heart, his intent was her weakness, and she deliberately gave in. Another side of her worried if they were slightly too paranoid about Lenny’s safety. She was also bothered by the fact that Lenny stopped protesting against locking him up in the house. He will understand when the time comes, she told herself.

“You got to be safe, Tony. You got to be safe for Lenny, and for me. For us, please don’t poke the dormant snake. Kill it while it is asleep.”

“Boss is no ordinary snake, Alena. He is a goddamn dragon.” Tony replied with a faint smile. “And he never sleeps.”

“You are not helping my anxiety.”

“Gun is in bedside drawer. Shoot that son of a bitch in his face, if it helps you.”

Lenny overheard the conversation, and quietly slid back into his room.

Months passed by. Night before the day when Tony planned to publish the article, a tingling sense of disquiet percolated his skin. A fusion of fear and ambition had rendered his heart shaking and his hands steady. “We are one day away from the news, Alena. One day.”

Alena was far more scared than Tony was, but his composure was contagious.

“I have booked the tickets for a faraway land. We will fly away tomorrow. Far, so far that the Boss will never be able to find us, in case he survives the media.”

Alena nodded, and reacted to the sound of the bell that chimed across every corner of the house. One man, in a dapper blue suit stood at the door, his tie a shimmering black, his shirt a sparkling white.

“What can I do for you?”

“Let us in.”

The cold voice delivered a chill to Alena, and the intruder barged in, making way for the man in a bright white suit, and a golden chain. The girth of the man was colossal, just able to walk in through the width of the door. His head was rich with hair, as white as the suit itself.

Boss.

He settled on the sofa, central to the room, facing the TV set directly. Tony protected Alena behind him, and stood at the corner of the room, next to the TV.

“What are you so afraid of, Mr. Neak? It seems like you did something wrong.” The chill in his voice was notably dreadful. Alena had Lenny in her mind, and she was shivering with fear – raw, pure, unadulterated fear. “Have you done anything wrong?”

Tony tried to pull out his phone from the trouser pocket.

“I presupposed you for a smarter person, Mr. Neak. You disappoint me.”

“What do you want?”

“You know well what I am here for. Your investigation is the reason I am here. In a way, you have invited me here, Mr. Neak. You called me here, today, among your beloved wife, your charming son. Would you not introduce me to them?”

“Dare you touch Lenny, you cold-hearted faggot!” The repressed anger blew up her top, and she verbally charged the Boss.

“Ooo, that anger! Don’t you find it attractive?” Boss asked his henchman, who loyally stood by his side.

“Not really, sir.”

“Then kill her.”

In a fraction of a second, a bullet split Alena’s head open, hot dark blood oozing out, running across her cold skin. She slumped onto the floor next to Tony, who stood there, helpless. He would have felt a burden of guilt, that his wife was dead, next to him, who had warned him of this, but his ambition had blinded his want for a safe and happy family. But, before the guilt began to settle in, another bullet spit cut through his chest, and another right next to the first one, and Tony’s eyes, wide and afraid, slowly saw only blackness – blackness of Boss’ filth.

“Which number were these?”

“10 and 11, sir,” the henchman replied.

“Good. I do not wish to make a 12 tonight. 11 kills a day is good. On target.”

The henchman took care of the bodies, as the Boss walked across the rooms, to find Lenny. Unlocking the door at the far end in the house, Lenny stood in the middle of the room, his hand steady as those hills he dreamt of. A gun held in his hands, pointed at the Boss, who laughed, and discredited Lenny of his ability to be able to pull the trigger.

“If you kill me little boy, a very evil man is outside, who is going to take you away and hurt you severely.”

“Only if he catches me, you bastard.”

The smile vanished off his face, and in a moment came a painful drill in his belly. His fingers that held the wound were stained with blood, that did not cease to stop. Another fire, and another blood leak.

“You’re my 1st of the 11,” Lenny spat. “And now, I am the Boss.” Lenny grunted, unleashing his wrath.

He pulled up the plank that he was standing on, and made way along the extremely narrow tunnels that he had carved over the months. Several bifurcations underneath had led the way to different places that he dreamed of going to. One to the meadows, one to the vicinity of the TV tower, one to the hills, and so on. He crawled towards his dreams, he crawled to stand up on those hills. He chose a path, that the pursuer could not find, and the Boss was still alive, except that he was younger, and driven by a disparate ambition.

The Purple Death

She waited anxiously. She sat on the curb, oblivious to her surroundings, which were full with nothing. It was close to midnight, and the vicinity was clear of people. She was alone, but yet she was waiting for someone…waiting for something…

As an honest academician, Chloe climbed the ladders away from the abject poverty that had cast an ominous shadow over her childhood, only to find herself at the same spot of penury. She was not among the ones who’d blame anyone else for any misfortune that came her way, but rather, she sucked it up. Her father had made severe financial blunders, which caused them dive face first into the ocean of debt, the surface of which felt like thin glass. A dull life with just enough money to live had started to eat her from within, and vacuumed her life out of satisfaction.

Teaching was not something that she saw herself doing, but to make her way through, she taught to the needy, and made money only enough to nourish herself and her small family. She did not complain, neither did she crib over her situation. She fought and she survived, but was robbed of any possibility that would make her happy from her heart. The happiness that appeared on her face was disconnected from what ran in her heart. Fighting for survival and then money, barely enough to keep her alive, made her feel as if she were a hamster running on a wheel. Ending exactly where it started. She was looking for a window out of which she can escape.

She got a job at a public school that paid her in meagre quantities. She was offered a position in a private school that promised her the money that she only dreamt of. However, she knew it in her head that her chase for money will ruin the future of public schools, and soon, there would exist none. Poor kids will remain uneducated, availing a monopolistic advantage for the private giants. Besides, her greed for money was lost. She didn’t think that she would enjoy it like the way she could have if she had more money ten years ago. She continued at the public school.

Frustrated, she went to a place where she usually went when she was low. A jewellery shop. She was browsing things she gave up hopes of owning. However, her desire could not be subsided. She ached for some necklace, or a ring, or a tiara or anything else that she couldn’t afford. The owner knew her and her tragic life since she was a young little girl, who wasn’t dried off of the joy and glee. His life was not as glorious as it was a decade ago, when he could take walk with a straight back.

“This is a new collection!” Chloe stated with a smile on her face, clearly joyed by the glitter of the gold, and the shimmer of the silver.

“It certainly is, Chloe! How are you, today?” The man spoke with an aging voice, rough due an overuse of cigarettes.

Chloe hoped he did not ask this question since it brings her back to reality from this magical land of gleam and shine. “I am doing okay, Mr. Brown.”

Mr. Brown could see the pain beneath her face every time he heard the response. He asked this question every time to read how she really is from her face. It only got worse from the last many times.

“Come,” said Mr. Brown, pointing his hand towards a staircase that led to the warehouse underneath the shop. “I will show you something that will make you lose your senses!” He locked the shop door from the inside and led the way downstairs. He walked with a limp, every step a shot of pain through her legs.

They settled in a room, big enough only to fit two people and a small table between them. However, the walls were full of shelves and drawers where Mr. Brown stored his jewellery. He took out an elegant black box from the topmost drawer on Chloe’s side and placed it on the table between them. He shut the light off, and turned on a small white light that was powerfully hitting the surface of the black box. Curious as to what lay inside the box, Chloe leaned forward towards the table. As the box opened, a magnificent glow of purple washed her face. Her expressions of joy could not have been described better than this purple shine on her face. Mr. Brown observed her face; he could not dig that deep in his memory to a time when he had seen Chloe his astounded.

Mesmerized and lost, Chloe’s amazement of the grandeur of the small purple stone was brought to a steady halt by My Brown’s polite interruption. “This is called as a Blue Garnet. I know it is purple, but that is why this is a special stone. It is blue by nature, but it turns purple every night. It is among the rarest of the stones! As small as this is, selling this will help me earn a fortune.”

“I am sure it would.” Chloe was yet to come out of the incredulity.

“However, there are many stories associated with his stone, Chloe. I need to tell this to someone. If I tell this to a prospect buyer, he will never buy this stone from me.”

Chloe was bewildered. “Why is that? What is the story?”

Mr. Brown cleared his throat. His grey hair shone brighter in the small light in the room. “This stone has changed several hands. I have learnt the reason why. As mesmerized as you were, other enthusiasts were trapped by the charm of this stone, but they bought it. The first owner of this stone bought it from a jewel exhibition in Mumbai. An enthusiast, wealthy businessman bought the stone with a blink of an eye. Now, as if this stone is cursed, the man’s car was slammed by a truck just when his driver pulled off the car out of the parking. The driver survived, the owner of the stone did not.”

Chloe’s eyes spoke of the horror that she felt.

“This stone was shipped to Dar es Salaam, to his only son, who inherited all his possessions. He sold it the First Lady of Tanzania. Her position rewarded her with a lot of money, and his work had her in constant touch with her. She bought it without having to try to sell it to her. The stone has a magical spell that lured the audience into falling for it. It is akin to Siren, who deceptively attracted the shipmen towards her, breaking their boats apart. She choked on her next meal the same day. It is also said that she was attracted to the stone enough to bring it with her everywhere she went.”

Chloe was smart enough to understand what is going on. “Mr. Brown, are you feeling superstitious about this stone?”

“If I were superstitious, I would not buy the stone off the grieving lady who came yesterday. Co-incidences are more powerful than superstitions. Superstitions are merely incidences that humans fail to comprehend.” Mr. Brown stated plainly, expecting her question. “Now, this brings me to the last known owner of this beauty. Mr. Grim. A connoisseur of rare stones and jewels, and more importantly, a man who ridiculed the curse that hovered over this multi-coloured stone. She wanted to sell away the stone, the blasphemy that made her beloved fall off the roof to death.”

Chloe was shocked and puzzled. Dumbfound as never before, her lips were parted and her eyes stared at the table where the black box was placed. Mr. Brown, with his stooped back, was putting away the box with careful steps on the small ladder, placed right behind Chloe. Grasped by the mystic powers of the purple stone, Chloe handled a box of jewellery from beside her in the shelf, and slammed it on the back of Mr. Brown. She smashed the glass and the wood on him and before he could gather his senses around what was happening, he succumbed to the possessed woman who out of desperation put an end to his life. She delivered the curse that the stone possessed.

Now, she waited. She waited on the street. Sitting under the gleaming moon, she waited for the end of the joyless life that she had invited for herself. Every person who has possessed this stone has died, she thought as she ran her finger across the stone, thinking of Mr. Brown who was delivered a release that he needed, now waiting for her own release that would set her free from the manacles of the joyless and unambitious life. “Superstition,” she said to herself, bringing a smile to her face as she ran her hand through the smooth surface of the stone. She waited..

The Untamed Fire

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”. I saw the leading man of the jury on the other side of the glass door as he led the jury that walked marching towards the court room, where I in all my solitude, waited. They held in their hands a piece of paper that would determine which turn the vehicle of my life will steer into. Whether it will crash into a wall made of solid steel or if will be lobbed into the skies of freedom and glory was a decision that will be at the mercy of what the jury believes in. To my dismay, I had given up the fate of my existence in the hands of those twelve people as well, for I could have been the lawbreaker, or I could not have been. Befuddling, isn’t it?

Accustomed to the burden of frustration, I spend my dull afternoons taking a break from the humdrums of the grey life that I have brought myself to. Perhaps I have more than what I deserve to have, but none of it makes me happy. I would not try to glorify myself by telling you what I am not. I am a salesman, who sells exercise equipment for the morbidly fat and the rich. The equipment is robbed of every possible utility, and is a device that aids me in earning some money off the desperate obese populace.

Some weeks ago, I sat at fountain that adorned like a jewel, alongside the curved path of the Central Park. An empty bench was reserved for me, it felt. A bunch of boys came to the path precisely ten minutes after me, glee on their faces, except one. That one boy reminded me of my childhood. As the only boy with spectacles on, he was bullied over by the other boys who followed him. Don’t mistake me for a nice person, for I am not one. I am bereft of sympathy and compassion. Life has filled me enough apathy to serve for this one life at least. I was the shortest in height among my fellow schoolmates who took the same route home. My belongings were tossed, placed on a tree branch high up and more. The days were as dreadful as I imagine them to be, today. My parents handed this matter to the teachers and the teachers put it on my parents. Ultimately, I was left alone to be exploited by my schoolmates. I went through similar emotions, if not same as this boy’s. However, I did not feel bad for the boy, but as the days passed by, the various forms of harassment that he went through had brewed a mixture of rage and anger within him, which blazed his eyes with a fire that I was not an alien to. He would have painted the park red if his physical strength matched with his inner rage.

Some days later, the boy approached me and sat by my side. “Why don’t you help me, sir?”

Surprised by the question, I dove into a pool of thoughts, swimming from one to another. One thought was about how I was as a child. Unlike this boy by my side, I never sought for help. I never thought that I needed help. I had perceived everything that happened in my life as something that is meant to be. My father worked for very long hours, my mom cheated on him and my babysitter barely took care of me. My mother fed herself a belief that I fell for her lies. Nobody needs a dentist three times a week and I was acquainted with that. Fights and violence dominated the small house that my parents could afford and it made me insensitive to both. Neither affected me. Sensitivity is like a lemon; once dried up, it is only worthy of debris.

As a child, I demonstrated violence in my own way. With barely anyone to supervise me, I was at the liberty of experimentation and at the mercy of no one. Fire. I love fire. I loathe cigarettes or any other smoke, but fire mesmerizes me. It fascinates even today, when I am over thirty, how almost the entirety of the object turns black upon burning. The wrappers of the Christmas presents were the subjects of my first experiments. They shrivelled, cowered and got supressed by the raw might of the orange-yellow power, rendering them ruthlessly of their purpose.

I did not stop here. The brutality of my actions climbed the ladder. I know these as brutal acts because I learnt the meaning of sensitivity from others, when I had already surpassed the barrier, time and again. It was too late until I knew that I was a monster! Do I regret any of it? No. Remorse alights from the train along with benevolence. I went to my front yard, and put a burning match inside the ant hill. The pleasure that I now know to be so sadistic was once a matter of joy for me. It fed my endless curiosity. I did not stop at ants. I lit roaches and lizards alive as well. If there were someone who corrected me while I was young, I might have stopped being apathetic, but then I would have been robbed of the ultimate pleasure that I derived from burning those little helpless bastards alive!

“Why do you think should I help, boy?” I responded after a while, taking a deep dig into my sandwich.

“Because you seem to care,” said the boy with barely any expression or hope for help.

I ignored the boy, for I don’t consider myself to be the best of the men one must seek out for advice. The boy went away, alone, dejected. His loneliness followed him unmistakably and was deafeningly loud. Being accustomed to seclusion, the supressed, quiet rage within him came an inch closer to the surface. It was an issue that went miles ahead of simply bullying. It scars the person for life. A human is nothing but an amalgamation of all the experiences that he has in his entire lifetime. There is a reason why I am who I am. Improper direction of right and wrong, insufficient childcare, limitless mistreatment and guiltless pleasures.

The scene repeated day after day, as I ate my lunch, I saw that boy get beleaguered by the boys out of his league. Still, sympathy is not the word that I would use to describe how I felt. I could not care less. As a matter of fact, I mentally tried to run away from the situation, as it reminded me of the unpleasant times from my past that bring me trepidation.

After some more days, he came and sat next to me for another time. For a boy that age, he spoke some words of a wise man. “For someone who could witness and tolerate the injustice on a young boy so casually, one has to consider this juvenile and unimportant.” The wrath that was bred within him was closer to the surface than the last time I had felt.

I was taken aback by his words. Maybe he was right. Perhaps I do not find this to be a big deal. Or perhaps it was only an extension of my unconcern for anything that goes around of me. How do I explain it to him? I tried.

“Have you tried talking to your elders about this?” I asked, surprising myself with the level of maturity that I had in my talk.

“You think I would resort to a complete stranger eating his lunch in a park before resorting to my parents and teachers? Do you see what they are doing to me? Do you see how limbless I feel when they are harassing me?”

His voice rose with every question that he asked. His face trembled, his lips parted and he sweltered like a pig. I simply stared back at his eyes and he calmed down, started staring at his shoes – shoe, just one shoe. The other was hanging up the tree in the park.

Agitated, I frowned at the boy’s situation. The realization hit me like a truck on my face that the bullied life that I had is not the one that I wish for this boy, here. It was one of the reasons why I grew up to be an ungrateful piece of being. A personality is at the mercy of how things are around you when you grow up. I am sullen, apathetic, unconcerned, indifferent, cruel and violent due to the circumstances that impressed me in my childhood were full of it. Do I love it? If I understood what love was, I would not love who I am, I am doubtless.

A sudden wave of anger swept me red. I noticed the boy feel empowered as my fury boiled within me.

As I stand now in the court, awaiting judgement, the echoes from my past still haunt me, but I feel that I brought about a change in this world. A world of shame was swirling within me, but my face had a happy curve on it. Never had I known what disgust means until today, when I helped prevent a boy from turning into who I am—a hateful and spiteful piece of wreckage. The solution is to slice down the roots!

“Six, five, four, three, two, one…”

“With regards to the case charged against you for the murder of three teenagers, we find you…” the pause between now and the decision felt to be the longest. “Guilty.” The voice came from the skies. Hazy, yet perceptible. For reasons I could not comprehend, it felt like a piece fell right in place. I felt complete.

The boy followed me as they took me away for a life in prison. I knelt down, and looked in his teary eyes, free of the rage. “How am I to live with this, sir?”

I sighed. I did this because this gave my life some meaning, some purpose. “I did this for myself, boy. You live like a man should. Learn not from me.”

“But,” the boy cried profusely. His words were unspoken, but yet heard. He felt the fire within him subside, as I saw the one he set on the boys roar aloud.