120 Seconds

Day 1, Evening
As his eyes regained focus, he saw the crow flapping away. For a moment, he thought the
crow had winked at him. He wondered how the deal would work out.
He let an assortment of cars and bikes and buses pass. Each passing vehicle sent a shudder
through the slabs that made up the bridge. He counted about 20 shudders absently, then
stopped. The bright yellow stripes of paint in the middle of the road glistene d in the waning
sun. A wall that rose chest-high on either bank of the bridge hid the dark underside from
people passing over the bridge. A few kite-eagles dived into and rose out of the murkiness,
keeping its secrets to themselves.
Naman sighed. He cast a long gaze over the trees on the far bank of the river that flowed
along the bridge, his eyes unfocused.
“Well, that’s that” he thought, and kicked his bike alive. He had to find a petrol pump.

Day 2
The alarm on the stool beside Naman’s bed buzzed and jangled like it had every day, month
after month. But today, he put it to snooze, and ten minutes later when it jangled again, he
simply pulled out the cord and went back to sleep.
By the time his mother woke him up, it was 10 AM. He should have been in office an hour
ago.
He gave her a vicious look, and without a word, set to get ready for office.
“Are you feeling alright?” she asked.
He replied with a curt grunt.
“Didn’t you have office today?” she had concern in her voice.
“Yes mom, am I not getting ready?” he spoke in an irritated voice.
She left it at that and replaced the air-starved chappatis in his Tupperware lunch box with
fresh ones.
Like everyday he smoked a cigarette at the pan shop below his office building. Even though
he was late for work, he did not seem to care.

As he was butting out the cigarette, a small girl trundled up to him, one arm stretched out
carelessly, the other scratching her matted hair. She jerked the shiny steel bowl she was
clutching. The few coins in it clattered loudly.
Without a thought, Naman tossed whatever change the panwala had given him in the bowl.
It was a sum the beggar girl had never received in one go. With a twinkle in her eye that
seemed as out of place as the bright smile that livened up her emaciated features, she ran
back to her mother and siblings sitting across the road on the footpath. Their mother took
the money and hugged the little girl happily.
An even younger boy, jealous of the attention his sister was getting, grabbed a bowl and ran
towards Naman. He held out his bowl, but failed to catch Naman’s attention. He went
around and tugged at Naman’s trousers.
Instead of a firm reprimand, Naman simply slapped the little boy right across his face. The
under-nourished kid fell in a heap at Naman’s feet. Without as much as a second look, he
strode back into the office building, leaving in his wake shocked faces and the wails of the
child.

That evening, a cat had a horrible time trying to catch a crow that landed on the ground
after flying a few feet, hopped a bit, and then took off again as the cat came closer.

Day 3
The cord for the alarm clock had not been plugged in again. Naman was still in bed when the
RJ on his mother’s radio announced it was 10 AM in her best I-know-men-love-me voice.
His mother looked at him warily.
“I hope you have a good reason to be so indifferent towards your job. We don’t want any
problems just as you are getting engaged.”
Naman only stared at her, his face showing no sign of any emotion or comprehension.
“The hotel wanted an advance payment for the party right? I think you should clear the
advance today. Tell them the menu would be as we had finalized, too.”
The thought of more expenditure pinched him in the gut. He had lost his father years ago,
and so was paying out of his own pocket for his engagement. Even though Chinmayi’s father
had insisted on splitting the expenses 50/50, together with the engagement ring the
expenditure was turning out to be substantial. With the engagement just three days away,
Naman cringed at every last-minute expense that came up.

“Yes mom I will do it” he mumbled robotically and left for office.
Despite being two hours late already, he did not skip the habitual cigarette outside office.
He noticed the pan wala looking at him curiously. The beggar family looked at him from
across the road, the mother was incessantly mumbling, gesturing at him. The little boy was
prostrate in her lap, his eyes looking into zero.
As he walked into office and sat down at his desk, his boss walked over and, leaning in close,
asked if everything was fine at home. Naman nodded, with a smile.
“Guess there’s lots to do with the engagement and all coming up eh?” the boss laughed and
slapped Naman happily on the back, then walked back to his cubicle. Naman shrank into his
chair, his mind in a tumult.
At lunch that afternoon, he logged in to his banking website and transferred a meaty sum
into the hotel’s account. He quickly logged out, not wanting to see how much remained in
his account. It was depressing.
He leaned back on his chair, and out of the corner of his eye noticed the thick wallet of his
colleague lying on the table.
As he pulled out and pocketed five crisp five-hundred rupee notes from the wallet, he failed
to notice a certain somebody standing behind him had seen e verything.

As the sun began its westward descent that day, passersby on a road a few buildings away
from Naman’s office witnessed a scene that drew loud laughter from a bunch of kids playing
nearby:
A crow, as if in a daze, staggered and swayed in mid-flight as it tried to control itself. It hit a
billboard, toppled to the ground, limped up to its feet, then took off again.

Day 4
Chinmayi was in an upbeat mood in the morning. Her dad had enthusiastically applied
himself to making all the arrangements for the engagement. Her boss had happily granted
her a week’s leave, and had promised a month’s leave after her wedding, winking good
naturedly.
She sat her terminal, typing away briskly, as she ran a mad race with herself to finish all her
assignments. The report she was working on was not due for another week.
Her phone rang in her drawer, the muffled tune unmistakable. It was the tone she had set
for Naman.
She answered quickly.
“Hi! You at this hour? What’s happening?” she chirruped.
“Got leave from today.” His voice was flat on the other side.
“Wow! Really? Wasn’t boss fussing about it just a few days back? What did you do?” she
had a habit of asking a lot of questions when she was happy.
“Just. This and that. Meet up for lunch? Then a movie?”
She readily said yes. Later, as she said her goodbyes and again invited everyone to her
engagement, everybody said the glow on her face was worth a million bucks.
That afternoon, she noticed he was pre-occupied. There was still some time to go for the
movie, so they idly strolled around on the lawns in front of the mall.
Then, Naman saw a crow, sitting on the back of a park bench. Letting go of her hand, he
started walking towards it, taking long and purposeful strides.
Chinmayi freaked out the next moment when she saw Naman break into a run as the crow
flew off, shouting “Give it back! Give it back!” at the top of his voice.
As a curious and shocked group of people turned towards them, Chinmayi made a show that
he was doing it only to make her laugh, and holding his hand, firmly pulled him inside the
mall.
Once she was sure they had blended in with the crowd, she turned to him.
“What’s gotten into you?” she demanded.
Naman mumbled something she could not hear, and simply turned his back to her.

That afternoon, a bus hit a divider in from of Naman’s office. The driver said he was startled
by a crow which suddenly appeared out of nowhere and hit the windscreen right in front of
him.
Some passengers claimed they saw the bird flying away erratically, losing its balance again
and again, as if it was flying under a heavy load.

Day 5
The crow could hardly get off the ground that day. The bus hit had severely damaged his leg,
but thankfully the wings were intact.
Early in the morning, with a great effort, he had flown towards a tree opposite the office
and sat down on a branch. It leaned against the stem every once in a while to take the
weight off the broken leg.
As he sat there waiting, he thought of his flock. They must have disowned him by now.
He had done something no crow had done before.
There was a time when he would get goosebumps thinking this line. Now, all he felt was the
heavy realization of his naiveté. He had set out thinking himself to be a rebel, only to end up
with a broken leg, with a cat following him everyday like a shadow. She was being a good
vulture, he thought.
He felt the weight increasing with each passing day, and all he wanted to do was find
Naman and give him back what was rightfully his.
Though he waited out the whole day, it proved fruitless.

That night, like all nights, Naman slept peacefully.
His mother stayed up late into the night, worrying about the engagement the next day.
Chinmayi couldn’t sleep. She was much too excited and worried at the same time. Naman’s
behaviour had been very odd.
Her thoughts were broken into by the shrill tone of the landline phone in their living room. A
few moments later, she heard the gruff ‘Hello’ of her father, and then she slowly drifted off
to sleep, listening to him say “Hm, hm” every few seconds.

Day 6
Naman’s mother wept profusely. So did Chinmayi. Naman stood before Chinmayi’s father,
his eyes steady, his mind confused. The colleague whose money Naman had stolen stood a
little behind them. He had called Chinmayi’s father the previous night. He had asked him to
come and meet near the office so they could talk. Chinmayi’s father had asked everyone
else to come there too.
He was speaking loudly, almost shouting.
“…he said he had got leave! Is it not, Chinmayi? Turns out he was forced to take leave for a
few days. Late to office every day, and then stealing? Where is your shame boy? What has
gotten into you that you had to do this? You think I would let Chinmayi…”

Naman heard in silence, though the voices around him had retreated to the background of
his awareness. He thought of the choice he had been given, and how he had chosen what he
thought was the best option. “Just ask, and I will give it back” the crow h ad said. He cursed
himself for not asking how he will find him. If only he could find the crow now…
A faint cawing brought him to his senses with a jolt. He whipped around and saw a tired
looking crow hobble, stagger and fly towards him, even as a big bl ack cat stalked it.
Naman ran towards it and Chinmayi felt her world collapse around her. Why was he being
like this? She ran behind him.
“Wait Naman, please! What’s wrong with you?” she shouted behind him.
As Naman got to where the crow was, it ceased its futile attempts at trying to fly and looked
up at him.
“Give it back, please, give it back to me.” Naman managed in between laboured breaths.
For a moment, Chinmayi thought Naman had lost it, but she was aghast when she heard the
crow speak back in a very strange voice.
“It’s too heavy for me now.”
The next instant was a cacophony of sounds as the crow cawed in exultation as it soared,
free of its weight, the cat screeched in frustration as it lunged at the crow in vain, and
Naman collapsed to his knees with a long, pained wail.

Day 1, Evening
The light turned green and the avalanche of metal and smoke and noise moved like a giant,
hopeless monster, a few pieces broke off from it and blazed ahead. Naman purposely stayed
behind, starting slow and letting everyone pass. Soon, every car and bike behind him had
moved on ahead. He rode at a leisurely place, knowing that the next avalanche was at least
120 seconds away.
“120 seconds of peace” he thought to himself as he drifted along on the bridge.
He enjoyed this routine every day. The signal timer was set to 120 seconds. Enough time for
all the vehicles with him to move on. And as it was a one way bridge, there was never any
oncoming traffic. The river flowing along the bridge and its far banks provided pretty vistas
for Naman’s mind. He always felt peaceful when he commuted on the bridge.
But today, his thoughts were taken up by Chinmayi. He loved her so dearly. And they were
to be engaged in a week’s time.
It had taken him a long time to finally propose marriage to her; with his father dead a long
time, he was not sure he could afford all the expenses by himself. But his company had been
happy with him, and he was now doing ‘well for himself’ as people were wont to say.
He mentally ticked off the ‘to do’ he had made up; buy clothes, ring, train reservations for
some close relatives. Only the advance for the hotel was left. That was going to be a big
amount, he thought, but what the heck. I won’t get engaged again. He smiled at the
lameness of his joke.
Suddenly, faint puttering started up somewhere behind him. Before he could turn around
and try to find the source, a strange black man and biker appeared beside him.
The biker was very strange looking, dressed all in black and wearing a helmet that had a
beak like projection. The bike, or whatever it was, was all black too, with a curiously oily
looking paint job and a texture that somehow looked like crow’s feathers. The bike made a
funny puttering sound as it moved, its speed matching perfectly with Naman’s. The rider
wore a grey scarf around his neck and a large pair of shockingly red sunglasses.
“You seem to be enjoying yourself, and your leisure ride!” the rider said to Naman, while
the strange bike seemed to move on its own.
“What?” Naman looked at the stranger curiously, “And who are you?”
“I am crow” the rider said simply.
“Um, sure” Naman twisted his accelerator and tried to get away from the biker. But the
biker kept up with him effortlessly.
“I won’t push too much petrol into the engine if I was you” the biker went on, his bike was
so close, to someone looking from a distance it would have looked like the shadow of
Naman’s bike.
Naman began to panic. The biker talked on, his words were rough and somewhat drawn
out.
“You should have really tanked up on petrol after office like you were thinking then.”
Naman twisted the accelerator fully and raced ahead. The biker stuck to him, there was not
a moment he would be left behind.
“Um, if you don’t stop and pull up right now you are going to run out of fuel and a big
orange dump truck is going to run over you and kill you.” The biker made himself heard over
the sound of the wind.
Sure enough, Naman felt the engine going sluggish below him as it starved on the last drops
of fuel in the tank. He looked into the rearview, there really was an orange dumptruck a few
metres behind them.
He pulled over.
The biker smoothly came to a stop at the exact same spot.
“Alright man, who are you? I am straight so if you have any ideas I am sorry ok?” Naman
demanded.
The biker cackled.
“Oh sorry, sorry. I shouldn’t be laughing. So morbid of me, laughing like this the day you are
supposed to die.”
“What?” Naman felt a fear rise inside him. Was this guy a murderer of some sort?
“Well, as I said, I am a crow. Not just any crow, but the crow who had been saddled with the
responsibility of carrying of your soul and keeping it with me for thirteen days, after you die
under the wheels of that truck.” The man pointed at the orange truck as it passed them
harmlessly.
“Well, why am I not dead then?” Naman asked, thinking the man to be deranged. He started
contemplating stopping some passing car to help him.
“Um, don’t think about stopping anybody. It won’t help.”
Naman stared. The crow continued.
“Look, I am not kidding. You were supposed to die today, and being the chosen carrier of
your soul, I can hear your thoughts today. That’s how I found you.”
Naman thought it was all too surreal, and his mind refused to cope. But the crow had
spoken out his thought precisely. His head began to reel.
“Ok, so I am not dead. Why? And is it done then?”
“You are not dead because I did not let you. I have failed in my duties, and my flock will
definitely expel me for this. But I have always fancied myself a rebel. I never invaded a
cuckoo’s nest.” The crow said smugly, and Naman could not help but laugh at the crow’s
remark. It was very weird, but yet not alien.
“But it’s not done. I will have to take something from you though. I am bound by the laws of
nature, and though I have broken one hell of a rule, I still have to carry something of yours
with me for thirteen days as fulfilment of my duty to a greater God.”
“What part of me?” Naman was in a strange way enjoying this.
“Uhm, you have four choices. Since not your whole soul, I will need to take one of its parts:
your awareness, your conscience, your will or your intellect.”
“And what if I refuse?” Naman asked.
“Well, then you would have to die. I will make sure you will, I have connections in the right
places for that.” The crow said simply.
Naman laughed at the humor of the crow, and then at his own morbidity.
He thought long and hard. He couldn’t live like a vegetable, so awareness was out. Without
his will, he wouldn’t have what a man needs to feel alive; without his intellect, he would be
a sorry laughing stock.
Could he live without conscience? It was only a matter of right or wrong, and he won’t have
to feel guilty, for a long time!
He made up his mind.
“If you want it back, ever, just come to me and ask.” The crow said.
As the crow took his conscience from him, Naman felt his vision blurring.
He vaguely saw the black biker shape-shift into a crow.

As his eyes regained focus, he saw the crow flapping away. For a moment, he thought the
crow had winked at him.

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Sane and Dead

The darkness around consumes me as I ride through. Trees appear and again melt into the air…leaving behind blurry outlines of the moment of their existence. I hunt for milestones…markers to remind me of what is to come.
The city is 10 kilometres away.
It reveals its existence once very few turns, bright lights finding their way through the maze of trees, electricity poles and general rot. I ride in anticipation.
The road winds ahead of me. I agree to its path…with reluctance. Its not time yet. The engine throbs under me. Pushing it down to neutral, I engage first and jerk open the throttle, riding the wind on one wheel. I like the feeling of being in control.
She rushes into my thoughts with the wind. The whole pink-lips-pretty-smile-soft-hair-sweet-voice-warm-hugs of her. I turn around and salute with a finger what I am leaving behind.
The city approaches.
The lights claw towards me. I accelerate and rush headlong into an intersection of two highways.
I see fate rushing towards me on 18 wheels. I hope the front disc works as advertised…but decide not to use it.
Sadly, the trucker is not insane . He brakes, his machine wobbles embarrassingly for its size and takes down two cars with it.
I stop, stare, and ride on to get my fill of chilled beer for the night.

Frozen Motion

“…dont tell me to stop….tell the rain not to drop…tell the wind not to blow…”

The decades old Madonna number tinkled on on his cell phone.  Pralhad fumbled for it near his pillow, found it and pushed snooze. The red light streaming in through the bay window was too bright he felt,  but he was too lazy to pull the curtains across. Rather, there would be no point in getting out of bed, pulling the curtains and getting back in bed. He would much rather wake up in another 10 minutes.

But he could not sleep. Again. It was too hot and balmy. He lolled around in bed, picked up his phone and stared at it till the number on the screen changed from 07:03 to 07:04.  He got out of bed again and gulped down half a bottle of water in the kitchen. Then, remembering something, he came back and turned off the alarm on his cell.

He looked at the mirror. unshaved, swollen under-eyes, bored looking and boring looking, he thought. ” The day you find your face unattractive, you have done something wrong with your life.” He thought of the words a friend once had said to him.

The entire day lay ahead. The  routine passed through his mind. Bath-change-pick up keys from table-put wallet in left pocket-keys and phone in right-wear shoes-pick up bag-camera-go down 8 flights of stairs-open the cab car door-through bag on passenger seat-start the car-push out of door-head to the scheduled highway-park the cab at convenient point-pull out segway from under the tarp-putter along edge of the road and take photos of potholes and irregularities on the road-note precise location of said irregularity from read out on GPS-eat  packed cold lunch at lunch or mood-smoke a fag-then putter along on the segway again-cover the day’s 30 km stretch-get back home-pick up food and maybe beer on the way-park-drink-eat-sleep-wake up to Madonna again.

The routine had not changed for years. The alarm tone had not changed for months.

He would think of this everyday. He would leave it at that thought. He did not see a point in investing more thought and energy in this. He had a job to do.

It was 2256 AD.

As had been predicted in the centuries preceding, Earth’s population had inflated beyond hope. To save on space, buildings were built tall, straight and box-like. The pollution levels were absolute. On most days, the sunlight reached the surface through a multi-hued screen of dense smog. ‘Sunny days’ were   unknown.

A century-and-a-half ago, all ground traffic had been banned. People commuted in  electric cabs that moved on rails. Most people did not step on the surface for days, as the cabs could be accessed directly from their flats.  You just punched in your destination on the screen in your cab. And the time by which you had to get there. The Central Traffic Control System took care of the rest, maneuvering the cab smoothly through several hundred tiers of rail-bridges and a the cobweb like paths they took.

The surface roads were preserved under a program called Roots Legacy-an effort by the One Government to stay rooted to humanity’s past. The roads were preserved and kept in top-class condition. Nobody but the most elite could use the roads-it was considered a luxury because they could go wherever, however they wanted to. Not allowing some computer to decide their path for them. The offices of all the important people had shifted from the top floors in the 21st century to the bottom floors now- away from the blinding pollution.

Pralhad could also use the road. Not that he was big or important. He was small and insignificant actually. He was an employee of the Roots Legacy Surface Roads Maintenance Department. His job? To monitor the roads daily, take photos of irregularities, feed the GPS co-ordinates into the Maintenance system so that Bot Crews could go and do the repair work.

Splashing cold water on his face, he walked into the balcony and stood awestruck and staring. The sky over his city had turned red. Not the pretty twilight red. A burning, scarlet red.

“Atleast something has changed” he thought to himself.

His room was littered with DVD cases…a guilty pleasure he had kept secret. Nobody watched movies on DVD anymore. But he loved the simplicity of the whole thing. And he loved the movies. Women in short clothes, men driving around in vests, dancing in clubs…he wished he was born in the 21st century.

Change. “I want change” he thought.

The thought began to nag him. The word. Change. He had wanted a change desperately. The thought ate into his brain as he drove down to his designated stretch of road.

He wasn’t leading a wholesome life. His girlfriend, who worked in the Surface Pollution Control office, was not really that fond of him anymore, he thought. And he would get annoyed with himself over the thought. Why do I need her to be happy he would think. They fought each time they talked.

Getting down from his cab, he trained the lens of the camera on a ditch in the road. He adjusted the focus, zoomed in, set the markers which showed the depth of the depression and was about to press the ‘Click’ button when he stopped.

“Not today. Not again.” he thought. He flung the camera on the road, ripped out the location transmitter from the hood of his cab, pushed the throttle and shot out towards wherever the road would lead him.

After travelling a few miles, after the adrenaline had settled, his actions registered to him. He always had a knack for doing things out of the blue. But this was totally pushing it. What he had done had instantly made him a criminal. Absconding From Duty. Disagreeing To Register Location To System.

So what now? Run! So he pushed down again on the accelerator.

Sane and Dead

The darkness around consumes me as I ride through. Trees appear and again melt into the air…leaving behind blurry outlines of the moment of their existence. I hunt for milestones…markers to remind me of what is to come.

The city is 10 kilometres away.

It reveals its existence once very few turns, bright lights finding their way through the maze of trees, electricity poles and general rot.  I ride in anticipation.

The road winds ahead of me. I agree to its path…with reluctance. Its not time yet. The engine throbs under me. Pushing it down to neutral, I engage first and jerk open the throttle, riding the wind on one wheel. I like the feeling of being in control.

She rushes into my thoughts with the wind. The whole pink-lips-pretty-smile-soft-hair-sweet-voice-warm-hugs of her. I turn around and salute with a finger what I am leaving behind.

The city approaches.

The lights claw towards me. I accelerate and rush headlong into an intersection of two highways.

I see fate rushing towards me on 18 wheels. I hope the front disc works as advertised…but decide not to use it.

Sadly, the trucker is not insane . He brakes, his machine wobbles embarrassingly for its size and takes down two cars with it.

I stop, stare, and ride on to get my fill of chilled beer for the night.

Bodcount

The night air smelled sinfully sweet…or of blood and splattered guts. The breeze played its part…diffusing an ugly warmth to every niche of the city.

A sleek black Audi steered into a side street and stopped behind a tumble-down building. She stepped down from the car, ill-at-ease in the tight black skirt and much too aware of it. She tugged at it, hoping to gain an extra inch of decency. It refused to budge. She swore under her breath…too naive to realize the neighborhood she was in cared a fuck for correctitude…even in whore-clothing.

She walked to the main street and made sure the car was not visible. The locality was not used to the slick elegance of an Audi.

A beep from her watch said it was 11 PM. Making sure no one was around, she walked back to the car. She made a note in a small diary:

“Day 3. The trail has led me to the sorriest whore-hole I have ever seen. Hope to find the fucker today. Cant afford to rack up the body count any higher. The bastard will pay for all the blood he has made me spill.”

She knew she could not afford to arouse any suspicion from the regular beat-girls in the district, and hoped her blood red lipstick and 3 inch stiletto heels could help her commingle in the slutmush.

A long blade lay beneath her skirt. Glittering stones adorned the haft…spelling out “Tempter’s Girl”. She had vowed not to wash the blade till she found him. The stains would remind him of the men she had to kill…men he had set up to ambush her. So far, he had managed to be one step ahead.

A small visiting card from her ‘employees’ had the address hastily scribbled on its back. She flipped the card and read the name of the escort service again.

Rosie

New Day, New Girl

Hussies With Attitude

She smiled at the ignorant contradiction.

The sky glowed a dirty glow…her thoughts seemed to manifest themselves in more ways than one. A few girls lounged beneath lamp-posts, talking shop, hooked to Mary Jane.

Finding the building she was looking for, she stepped in the foyer. The building paraded its woebegone state-dog shit littered the floor. Spiders and lizards played an endless game of eat-and-shit on the ceiling. A small bulb glowed in some nook…its light muddled by the malodorous vapors.

Deftly avoiding the slosh, she got to the second floor. A long passage spanned to her left and right. Moldy doors lined the passage on either side…she could knock them down with a kick. She took to the left, studying the grubby numbers on each door…and came upon the one she was looking for. 222.

She instinctively drew the blade as a chill went up her spine. Readying herself to slash if need be, she knocked.

“New Girl, New Day!” she hoped it sounded like a hussy with attitude.

“Hold your titties sweety…comin’!”…the voice sounded far-off.

She saw the metal knob turn…and the door swung open.

“…am coming…will come again-“

He stood frozen, the link between his mouth and brain momentarily broken. She slipped inside and kicked the door close.

“Got you sonovahoe!” She pushed him down on the bed, ripping of his clothes with the blade.

He laughed like a madman…and pushed the blade out of her grasp. Pulling her closer, he stifled her excited body with a smothering kiss.

“You are getting better at our little game with every turn sweetheart …just three days this time!” he said, pulling her clothes off.

“My bodycount has gone up to seven you fuck…you are still at three! This time around, I won’t make it so easy for you. My turn starts tomorrow.”

——————-

Alice In Chains – Facelift – Love, Hate, Love