“I…must have…lost…” she was half-trembling. He grabbed her cold hands that were desperately seeking his touch and kissed her forehead as he embraced her in his arms, “Look, what I found.” he said showing off the half-broken pocket radio which luckily had its antenna intact. “I think it’s working.” he ran his fingers over the output speakers desperately trying to turn it on by rotating the broken knobs endlessly.
“Not like that. You’ll break it.” she replied paying heed to the cracking sounds of his hands working on the radio, “Guess what? It’s already in bad shape.” as she got it in her palms and started examining.
“So, I got it to the expert. Now, let me know it if works,” he replied as he tried to slip-out his fingers from her palm.
“No! No!” she yelled landing an immediate reflex slap across his temple. She clutched onto his hands all the more tightly, “Where the hell are you going?”
“To find a phone or something.” he rubbed his head in pain, “Darcy! Look in my eyes. Listen to me when I say this. Don’t lose hope, there has to be a way. It’s just messing with us playing hide and seek. We need to find it.”
“It’s been an entire day, Roger. You’ve gone like a hundred times and come back empty handed and a bit more bruised each time,” she ran her hand over his temple feeling the fresh trickle of blood. She had just accidentally slapped a fresh wound right in its heart. She had submerged in guilt again, she felt putridly horrible, “Roger, there is no hope for us. Neither for this town, nor our country, nor this continent or I suppose the whole of mankind.” she began to sob, though Roger stood unfazed by it.
“Darcy,” he held her head between his palms, “Always remember. As long as there is life, there is hope.”
She smiled, “Roger that!” she signaled as she rested her head on his chest.
Just then they felt it again. The tremors! “Hold my hand, let’s head for the table.” he said as he dragged her and ran as fast as they could.
“Please, don’t stop this time. End it! Once and for all! I am tired. We are tired.” she screamed hoping, that for just once in her life, her yearning be answered.
Life had been too cruel to Darcy; born to a Catholic couple in central Delhi, she had kick-started life itself on the wrong note. Her premature birth had resulted in her mother’s demise during her delivery. Her alcoholic father who craved for a son, never treated her well, for he considered his innocent child as his wife’s murderer. Most nights after he was dead drunk, he cursed her, “You know why I named you Darcy? For you brought all this darkness into our lives. You…are ‘the dark force, the dark one’ …that has ruined my life. I hope you never see light in your life.” words a bit too harsh for a little girl to hear on a daily basis.
But perhaps there was some truth to her father’s prayers, for at a tender age of six, she started having trouble at school with reading. She was later diagnosed with Stargardt disease; a dreaded condition causing progressive loss of vision to the point of total visual impairment. It took just three years in her case. Even before she hit ten, she had lost her eyesight completely.
“My fate!” she whispered to herself rubbing the lone tear that ran slowly across her cheek as they sat under a huge stainless steel table in their orphanage dining hall. Most of the furniture had already been reduced to rubble along with the dead bodies of those who failed to escape crushed under it. However, this colossal table on the first-floor hallway, barring a few dents had stood its ground through the multiple quakes.
“Mrs. Dixit, you were so damn right. This mansion will not fall.” Roger said aloud as he gave her a hand-shake and stood up to see a couple more buildings in the distance crumble and getting reduced to dust and being dumped into the ever-gushing waters.
‘Ashiyan’ which meant shelter was an orphanage situated on the outskirts, far from the hustle-tussle of the city. It was one of the highest peaks in the city, thus the only visitors it ever witnessed were the people who drove all the way to dispose of their unwanted assets; foster kids or unfortunate orphans. Then, there were that handful of good-hearted couples or families who were kind enough to drop by once in a while with goodies, lighting up the otherwise monotonous and mundane routine of the orphans.
Ashiyan orphanage was one of the oldest buildings around, built by a very righteous man in some very desperate times. Mrs. Dixit’s late husband’s grandfather was one of the unsung heroes of India’s freedom from the clutches of the British. He wasn’t a war hero, nor was he a freedom fighter, but he was the one who cared for those who had been deprived love, care, and shelter. The ones’ who had incurred losses, the ones’ who were left behind neglected had been taken care under his wing in this very building.
Only the other day Darcy and Roger were busy watching the live telecast of the Commonwealth games; a historical landmark for the host nation, which was taking place in their neighboring state, Delhi. Mrs. Dixit’s words of wisdom resonated through Darcy’s mind as to their relief the tremors began to lose steam expeditiously, “These games are a symbol of forgetting and forgiving the past, shaping our present tactfully with sound minds, and taking necessary steps for a better tomorrow.”
“The tremors stopped.” Darcy was relieved, “We survived again. Wish Mrs. Dixit hadn’t stuck to her roots and fled at the sight of trouble!” she had sarcasm in her tone.
Yes, Mrs. Dixit, maiden name Diana, was a British who had married Mr. Dixit, an Indian. Their love was an example of how humanity knew how to trespass boundaries and breach borders. They had been the best inspiration for young Darcy and Roger to believe that love never had any terms and conditions, nor was chained by any form of restrictions.
“Wish she hadn’t left,” Darcy said with a painful smile.
Roger was just happy to see her smiling face; it was the only source of light for him in the collapsing world. He looked back at Mrs. Dixit; their mother like figure, the one who ran the place for two years ever since Mr. Dixit’s untimely demise at the hands of a road accident. Roger had just shaken her hand; it lay motionless in a corner with the rest of her body except her head which had been brutally smashed under her favorite book-shelf. After being widowed, she had spent a bulk of her single life-consuming books, and in the end, she was consumed by books. ‘Irony of life.’ Roger thought. He had kept this fact from Darcy. He hadn’t told her that her body lay right in front of their eyes. He rather believed in letting Darcy think, that she fled abandoning them when the first earthquake hit. He believed it would be less of a pain in her case.
It kind of reminded him of a 15-year-old Roger, who had landed in the orphanage about three years back. Born to a Hindu lady who had married a Muslim guy, which was dubbed by his society as a heinous crime; his Abba had given him a Christian name for he wanted ‘Roger’ to be a symbol of their religious diversity. Alas! He grew up unable to listen to any of their stories, for he was born deaf. People called them cursed for denying and mocking the Gods. But that didn’t matter, for they had spent a decade and a half in utmost joy. But destiny had dire plans, and one unfortunate day, all hell broke loose.
It was summer vacation. Roger’s father was at work. His mother, a housewife, was busy in the kitchen preparing lunch. She accidentally slipped. Her head hit a sharp granite corner, got busted open like a watermelon. She bled profusely. Unable to get up, she screamed for help. But her outcry fell on deaf ears as they drowned with her final breath. Roger who was seated in the hall, playing video games heard none of it. His father found the loss very difficult to cope, a week later he stumbled to a heart attack. Next, there was a sudden surge of blood relatives who cared all of a sudden, for Roger’s Abba had assets to be disposed of. Another month later Roger had been deported to the orphanage by his cousins who conveniently grabbed all the assets from the hapless boy.
He remembered it as fresh as yesterday. The worst part of his memories was that all along his cunning next of kin believed that they had outsmarted the innocent deaf boy. They used to discuss their plans in front of him, assuming the deaf lad wouldn’t follow a thing. But they didn’t know, born deaf, the boy had an intellectual prowess in lip-reading. He could have resisted, he could have fought for his rights, but little did he want to be with the pack of those bloodthirsty hyenas. With a heavy heart, he quietly complied. He could never forgive himself for being deaf, for it had mercilessly robbed him of his mother and consequently his father. He had lived three years in the orphanage with the ever burdening guilt of having the blood of his parents on his hands.
“Run!” Roger shouted as another tremor shook the place. The intensity was more than ever. A huge chunk of the ceiling above fell on the steel dining. The four legs gave in. The table collapsed. Roger had a sense of it coming, as he had pulled out Darcy well beforehand. They survived yet again, as he grabbed her hand and ran for the terrace. He could see her shouting out something, but he had no time to read her lips. Now was not the time to talk or debate. His last refuge, the table, had fallen. And so with it, had his hopes.
They stood almost a couple hours under the little portion of the aluminum sheet canopy covering the terrace that had somehow miraculously held its place despite all the atrocious calamities that had unfolded over the past few days. Roger could very well remember reading in the newspaper about a year back.
“Is mankind digging its own grave?”
It was the title of an article across many tabloids criticizing man’s foolishness to dig deeper into earth’s crust in search for crude, water, and metals. The recent horrendous rise in the frequency of earthquakes across the globe had been deliberately ignored, for the corporates were feeding the media and leaders alike. And then a year back, there was this discovery of a meteorite that would be brushed by the earth. Now, rather taking measures on how to keep it away, the moronic ‘superpower countries’ considered it their ‘Eureka’ moment. They voted to authorize a launch onto it, to harness and decode the mysteries within. The wheel had been set in motion almost a year back. And then a fortnight back the D-day arrived. Alas! Man’s arrogance became the architect to his own downfall. The mission went horribly wrong. The meteorite’s trajectory had been accidentally altered and it was to impact us in a few days. Attempts to destroy it fell flat on its face, as multiple miniature meteorites rained across the globe. Largest ones crashed in the Indian Ocean, while another big chunk wrecked Antarctica. Anarchy was upon us!
It had been a disaster beyond anyone’s worst nightmare. The meteorite rain had devastated the already loosened tectonic plates. Multiple earthquakes were triggered, they triggered the tsunamis. And one after another the world fell recipient to a whole buffet of natural disasters in a very alarmingly unnatural time frame. The gigantic geological calamities and the horrendous hydrological disasters had cast outright metrological mayhem that swept the face of the earth as human population was weathering away like a crumbling castle of cards.
As for the great Indian sub-continent, multiple earthquakes with epi-centers switching places randomly and briskly like a chameleon changing colors had demolished centuries of architectural landmarks on its wake. The land sunk deeper a few feet each day. Our Indian ocean had started to consume her motherland as within the first three days, all the coastal states were under water with the death toll numbers shooting steeper than the Bombay stock markets ever did, during its record peak times. Roger stood terrorized as he remembered the news flash on television two days back; the last thing he saw before electricity died a permanent death.
Roger, as a kid had a small hand-sized crystal ball replica of the Taj Mahal. He often used to immerse it in a water tub to check its durability. Also, he kind of enjoyed seeing it drown only to be the ‘Superman’ to save it each time. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined his little game being mimicked in real life, as the sight of the Taj Mahal’s top dome crashing under the impact of its two side pillars and the entire monument collapsing under the wrath of the waters was still lingering fresh in his head. As the waters were washing their feet rushing back and forth he said, “It looks like we are gonna have an outdoor pool on our terrace soon. The kind we always dreamt for our checklist for life.” he tried to ease the tension for the waters had been crawling towards them, a few feet at a time.
But as he observed over his shoulder he could see Darcy talking to the waters kissing her feet. As he read her lips, he realized she was uttering the same lines repeatedly, “Stop it! Stop it! I told you some many times now. My decision is irrevocable. Even if you touch my feet a thousand times I will not forgive you! For you…For you…took away, my dad.” Roger hugged her tight. A tear ran down his cheek. He remembered her story; the one she narrated the first time they met three years back.
Darcy going blind had left her father shattered deep down. The only perk of turning blind, their relationship had been on an upswing. After years being in the dark, one day her father decided to treat her to a little trip. And so they took off to visit the southern tip, Kanyakumari. She was finally spending a fun day at the beach with her father who was dancing for he was heavily drunk. Alas! It was just the wrong place, the wrong day.
They were playing hide and seek and lost track of time. The dusk had become a distant companion and the beach was almost empty. It was her turn to hide and his to seek. She had struggled her way inside a stationed fishing boat, confident that her drunk father wouldn’t find her in there. It was too dark, he had strolled his way into waist-deep waters, and then there was a rush of high tide. The tides roared in and silently slept him away. She sat in there for over an hour before stepping out and crying hopelessly. Nowhere to go, she slept the night in that boat. Next morning as she stepped out, she landed on a human body which had washed up shore overnight. As she ran her fingers across, an agonizing deep grunt escaped her lips. It had been seven long years since that dreaded trip.
“I think we should go up,” Roger said snapping her back from her trance.
“Where to now?” she gestured hopelessly.
“The tank. It has the height of almost half a storey.”
“What for Roger? Can’t we just die? It’d be so much easier.” she replied, “Let us just re-unite with our families. We’ll have so much fun up there. That way you can meet my parents and you know…” she said faking a blush.
“Although I couldn’t read all of that. But, I do recognize that tone of blush. I am not falling for your suicide and unite in heaven plan.” as he swept her off the floors and carried her up the half-broken ladder to the top of the tank which was barely a few feet across in size.
An hour later as they stood admiring the moon; the only entity that could boast of not being touched by water, they felt another tremor, “This is it.” Darcy let out a frightful cry. But, it lasted only a few seconds. They were relieved, but respite was short lived for the breeze was getting colder by the second, freezing them now.
“You know the Himalayas are melting as well. This is indeed Armageddon. Nature vs Man, and nature is about to knock us out cold!” Roger remarked, “But, you know what? I feel less like Bruce Willis and more of DiCaprio now.”
“Have you lost it?” Darcy gestured grinding her teeth fighting the chilling cold.
“Dear, I meant the movies. We, on this little slab, vast chilling waters around us, more like…”
“Titanic.” she whispered with a smile.
“Bingo!” he said reading her lips, “But I’m not gonna be so heroic nor stupid to stay suspended in the waters for you. Naa…we stay atop together. We either live together or we drown together.” as they could feel the water brushing their feet again.
“I think we should jump.” she said gulping her fear, “Rather waiting for the water to rise and kill us slowly, why not end it in a flash?”
“No!” he replied firmly for he had read every word she said this time, “Darcy, you are a bit lucky in those regards. Over the past few days, I’ve seen things. And it has been gut-wrenchingly frightening. Yet, I refuse to give up…even now.”
“I see. But Roger, I have heard things too. And they’ve been soul-sickeningly deafening.” as Roger suddenly realized, her trauma was far more than he could ever comprehend.
“You win.” he replied silently, “On the count of 3 then?” he said holding her hand, “No wait, let’s make it ten! That’ll give us enough time to do that ‘flashback our life in a moment thing’.” he tried to joke but Darcy wasn’t buying. She looked pale as death itself.
[Slow elaborate counting by Darcy.]
[A bit rapid by Roger, for his himself rued his idea now.]
“Wait!” Darcy interrupted his counting, “I hear something.”
“See, when it comes down to the moment, our heart naturally repels our mind. You cannot…”
“Oh, Shut up for once! Will you? I actually hear something.” she screamed to the sound of some juddering in the distance which was growing louder each second tearing through and deafening the rippling of the waters.
Roger turned around, “Oh my Holy Cows! It’s a God Damn chopper!” he screamed as Darcy left his hand and started jumping and waving them high above her head shouting, “Help! Help! We are down here.”
“Sweetheart, Sweetheart.” he whispered in her ear, “No need, for they are heading right towards us.”
A huge smile of relief escaped Roger’s face. In their last moments counting down to ten, he had been so occupied looking at her perfect face, that when the helicopter beamers were flashing across her face, he only thought it was her radiance that was growing in his heart.
The rush of emotions which makes one’s mind go cuckoo! Thank God for her ears!
He smiled deep down. “So titanic after all,” he screamed in her ears as now the chopper stood hovering a few feet above them making normal decibel conversation impractical to hear. They had laid down a rope ladder for them to latch on and climb back to life, “So this is my chance to let you go and become the Jack of the story.” Roger said making her grab the ladder.
“You melodramatic moron! Just climb after me, will you?” she said kissing him on his forehead. He smiled back ear to ear, for he probably didn’t get the abuse but certainly got the affection.
“So how long have you two you’ve been here?” asked an officer on board as he put a blanket around them.
“Roger cannot hear.” Darcy jumped in and replied, “He’s deaf.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I mean no disrespect sir, but who are you?” she asked the officer.
“Darcy, he is an officer of the Indian armed forces. In fact, a lieutenant colonel going by the insignia,” as Roger glanced over his broad shoulders. “And this beast, in which we have been rescued is an HAL Cheetah, if I am not mistaken,” Roger concluded as he could feel an imaginary collar rise up behind his neck.
“Very well, son. Very accurate. Although, this is actually the Cheetal, the newer, the better, the advanced version. And I mean no disrespect either ma’am, but girls usually don’t have such keen interest in army boys’ toys. Am I right?” the officer replied.
“Oh, it’s not that, Sir. You see…I do not see.” she paused realizing he’d have a stunned expression, “I am blind.”
“Oh dear,” he replied half-recovering from a momentary shock. It took him a while to re-group and ask, “And are the two of you in…love?”
“Absolutely, sir.” Darcy said burrowing her palms inside Roger’s palms.
“Wow!” he gasped, “You know, often at the army base we discuss how mankind has brought this upon himself. Too many experiments, meddling with mother nature, we dug our own graves. So, we deserve this doom,” he paused, “But today, I am convinced otherwise. The power of love, something this pure, is simply beyond words. After all, despite the grave, despite the tombstone engraved, a flower will still emerge,” he smiled deeply content, “We deserve another chance. And you, my kids, are our torchbearers.”
“You know. It’s usually very boring when people around me are doing rapid conversation, for I fail to keep up with it. Usually, in such situations, I indulge in food, keeps me busy as well. So…I’m damn hungry now. Is there possibly anything to munch?” Roger asked out aloud as both the officer and Darcy burst out laughing.
“Most definitely, son.” as the officer searched his supply bag and handed him an apple to nibble on.
“Sir, can I ask you something? Be honest with me. Is there any hope?” Darcy asked addressing the elephant in the room, “Where are we heading to?”
“My dear children, we are heading to Saichen; the highest terrain battleground on this planet. Usually, the most unsafe place to be, but now perhaps the only safe haven in the country. And about hope…to the best of our knowledge, most countries have drowned or are in the process of becoming non-existent soon. The only thing we can do is find higher and safer terrains and keep moving. If doom is certain, then it will eventually find us. We are just trying to delay the inevitable. But, if there is even the tiniest glimmer of hope at the end of the dark tunnel, then we latch onto it and sail to the other side to start a new chapter in the evolution of mankind.”
Darcy put her hand around Roger as he was still grating out pieces from that apple whilst staring out into the dark. She remembered what he always kept saying, ‘As long as there is life, there is hope.’ Roger wrapped his arms around her as she rested her head on his shoulders hoping that tomorrow the dawn will ring in good news. And even if not, she had no fear, for she was where she belonged, in his arms. Her perfect place to live, her perfect place to die.