‘No, Priya. I’ve allowed you the tattoo because you came first last term. You are not going to be able to repeat that if you start becoming late for school, dragonfly.’
‘Ohkay. Five minutes more of snooze, please?’
I had laughed at her vivacity. My little one, my Anupriya, was turning into a mirror image of her mother. While that lady chose to leave us early for God’s abode, dragonfly and I had stuck together. Or so it seemed to us, but God had other plans. How I’ve been writhing in pain all these years, away from Priya, crying for her every day, hoping to find her in the unlikeliest of places. I had become her father and her mother and amazing, as she grew up, a curious role reversal had started to occur; she had started to become a mother to me – making sure I ate with her and did not skip a meal, ensuring I took my cholesterol pills every night, removing my glasses when I fell asleep in bed while reading. I cannot lie: I was proud of her, equally excelling in academics and dance. Even with the loss of the one who brought us together, we had managed to still become complete once more.
The Dutta household resembled a Tower of Silence after they had heard Jennifer’s story hitherto. She seemed to be immensely tired and spent to the core of her heart narrating the gruesome events. Every time she described herself reading Cy’s text “I am innocent,” her heart shattered into a million pieces. She broke into inconsolable tears at the end. Cy, her Cy, was still in jail. She was fighting for him and their love, scraping around evidences based on Cy’s research and TMJ posts. She and their lawyer would produce them at each hearing in court and try to inch towards proving him innocent. But redemption was still in a faraway corner of the courtroom.
Shekhar and Tara were stunned at this revelation. This was beyond their expectations and the normally smart couple seemed at a loss of words this time. Tara, the tough journalist, was sceptical about Jennifer even though her heart started melting knowing about Cyrus. Shekhar on the other hand was more logical and he inclined to believe in the story as he had read about Cyrus Daruwala being arrested for the minister’s murder. It was an unnerving situation to handle when little Roohi finally broke the silence.
Shekhar rushed out of the kitchen as soon as he heard Roohi screaming from her room. He had checked on her a few minutes ago, peacefully asleep clutching her side pillow, her cherubic face gleaming in the peeping morning sun through tastefully done curtains of their bedroom. He and Tara had been hugely thankful to Jennifer last night for accepting their offer of moving into their home and looking after Roohi, whenever needed.
Roohi was wide awake on the huge four-poster bed in her parents’ bedroom. Her forehead glistened with a tiny film of sweat even with the air conditioning on. Tara almost flew out of the attached bathroom in her robes when she heard Roohi’s shrill voice cutting through the smooth humming of her shower. Despite both her parents flanking by her side, Roohi seemed to stare blankly at the wall before her.
‘Ki holo shona, what happened?’ Tara tried to be as gentle as possible with her princess.
James had invited me to a party at his place. He said it was a debut party for someone. Since I was not alone in Bombay anymore, I decided to take my new friend Marie to his party as a plus one. We reached his place at Parel on the particular evening. Marie was more excited than me as she was about to meet James for the first time. A man servant ushered us inside the huge duplex apartment. I had come here twice before, though I doubt if he had recognized me. He led us directly to the floor above where I had never been in my earlier visits. As we entered the hall through an unusually bolted door, it felt as if we had stepped into a different world altogether. It was an extremely strange and eerie hall for a debut party. The entire room was lined with cages as far as I could see. They had live snakes. And frogs. And baby alligators. The hall was dark except for soothing matted lights above each cage. I wasn’t absolutely dumbstruck, knowing James, but I surely had forgotten about Marie. As soon as I spotted James under the light of a cobra cage, I turned to Marie for an introduction. But she had vanished into thin air.
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I was confused as to what astonished me more: The weird debut party by James? Or the disappearance of Marie? It was dark, but I could gauge at least thirty more people in the hall. Marie could have sneaked into the other side, though it was more likely for her to have fainted by this time. I had not revealed to her till now that James was a reptile supplier for the Hindi movies. She was crazy about movies and the tall heroes prancing around trees. I had just mentioned to her that James worked in those movies and she was ready to come to the party with me. Marie was actually a distant cousin of mine. I had stayed with her and Aunt Lily for a month in their tiny flat in Colaba when I arrived from Calcutta six months ago. As of now, six months later, Marie was my only friend in Bombay though I had known James since childhood.
Write a story in which a character lives alone in a desolate environment—the woods, the desert, the mountains. Describe your character going about the day, and use that action as a backdrop for revealing the reason why he or she has chosen to retreat from the world. Then, have another character enter the scene, describing how he or she arrives. What happens next?
Length: within 1500 words.
The journey back from Ajmer Sharif to his isolated shelter was uneventful, though Anas was apprehensive at every moment he was away from his dera. He had the inkling that a storm was brewing somewhere, but he was unsure of the ways it could affect him. His annual pilgrimage to the Ajmer Sharif being over, he is back to work now. The dawn looked splendid as he peeked out of the tent. Despite being raised in different parts of the state, this is his longest stint living in the Thar Desert. The sunrise each dawn has been mesmerizing him for the past seven years that he has spent in this desert. Anas made it a point not to miss the dawn for a day. The advent of each morning made his heart flutter just before he opened the little tent door to a riot of gold and red on the dunes outside. He lived in a quaint corner of the Sam Sand Dunes, quite close to the Pakistan border. The rising sun never failed to paint the dunes in myriad hues of gold, orange, yellow and red. He savoured the sunrise each morning with a cup of lukewarm water and a piece of jaggery.
After the morning rituals, Anas set out for the stable nearby where his camels rested. He has five camels at present, three adults and two young ones. Why, it could even be called a mini camel farm! He reared them from calves to adults and sold them later, replacing them with other new born calves. And he occasionally bred them too. He was aware of the different breeds of camels which were reared at the Government Breeding Center in Bikaner. He knew that the Mewari breed is well adapted for travel and produced the highest quantity of milk, the Kachchi breed is short and stout, the Bikaneri breed is the strongest and heaviest, and the Jaisalmeri breed is the tallest. Of these, Anas needed only one breed though. He bred and reared the Mewari camels only and sold them for travel and carriage. He had started this business about seven years ago when he had only two camels. He required an isolated shelter for breeding, away from localities and intrusion for a reason which we will ponder on later in this story. Searching for a deserted corner in the desert itself wasn’t an easy task though. People from the small villages scattered over a span of hundred kilometers from Jaisalmer to the Pakistan border are ever curious of any outsider floundering in their territory. Anas had to skip the eyes of such people, acquire permission from the border police and then create a shelter for himself and his camels quite near the border. Instead of building a house for himself alone, he preferred living in a strong tent like the Arab Bedouins.