She was on her way home. Her overcoat was making a huge shadow on the pavement under the blaring street lights. High heels are making that typical rattle as she walked purposefully with her hands deep in her pockets. It was cold; her breath was fogged, and her eyes were obscured by the hood of her coat. She is moving down the maze of alleys, a left, a right, another right and then down the street all the way to JOE’S CORNER. The delicious smell of his hamburgers hit her nostrils even before she has turned the corner and she felt ravenous. Joe was at the stove, turning patties over a skillet, tossing them in the air and catching them back in the skillet. She made her way into the shop and straight to the kitchen. Joe beamed to see her and nodded towards the booths in the diner. She smiled back at him and said “not today Joe, I am in a hurry”, and she moved the crisp note over the counter to him. He slid a juicy hamburger towards her; she was back on the road the very next moment with the burger in her hand. It was huge; she knew Joe makes her with extra love, adding more cheese, more fries and more of everything just for her. She was halfway through her burger, licking her fingers now and then when she heard another pair of footsteps behind her.
Not bothering with them she kept walking to her small apartment above the cottage that was used as a artists studio, he has let her rent the small room with kitchenette above it for the half the price, just for the sake that she will clean his studio once a week. She had agreed happily, and it was the place she called home now. She wiped her hands and mouth with the tissue paper wrapped around the burger when she was done eating and chucked it in the next bin she saw, near the last corner before her home. Something made her turn around and scan the deserted alley. There was no one there; the footsteps were gone. Back on the way she turned to the apartment street and rummaged inside her bag for the keys. She found them at the bottom and climbed the narrow spiral staircase that led to her apartment. She inserted the key in the lock when she felt a huge hand cover her mouth and another on her neck, holding a knife. She felt choked and struggled, but his grip on her was a vice like. She stomped her heel into his toes and added her weight to it. He let her go with a scream and lost his balance, to get back stable he grabbed her coat and dragged her down the staircase as he fell. She yelled and cried each time her head banged on each step till they finally lay in a heap at the bottom of the last step. She couldn’t see, the pain had blinded her. Sitting up immediately she felt the Earth under her slip, he was upon her like a snake, covering her body with his.
Not finding any way to get him off her as he tried to throttle her with both hands she yanked his jacket hard. All sight was losing her as she was getting short on oxygen with each passing second and suddenly she felt something under her hand, in his jacket pocket. It was a small knife, she extracted it from his pocket, he was busy killing her, and without notice, she drove the knife hard into him. His face was directly over her when she saw his eyes close in pain and mouth open in agony. It was a while before he let go of her throat, she scooted out from under him and sat up coughing. She couldn’t breathe, taking huge filling breaths she sat on the pavement, sweating and shocked. Turning on the spot, she saw him lying on his stomach, upper body on the last step and lower half on the sidewalk. Hot tears flowed from her eyes, the burger she just ate was back up in her throat, and she will throw up. She managed to stand up, still coughing and breathing heavily and ran to the dumpster where she just chucked the tissue and puked in it. She couldn’t stand straight till every last ounce of that burger was out of her system. Falling back on the sidewalk she crawled on all fours to the spot where he lay, immobile. Her frail body rocked hard with sobs; she was trying to say something, her voice seemed to come from far away, “OH MY GOD! I KILLED HIM. I KILLED JOE”.
She sat on the floor, broken down, shaking, shattered. She was sitting in between a kaleidoscope of broken glass; its fragmented powdery shards dusted the black landing around her. The Room of Mirrors was gone. There were no mirrors that would multiply her from one to many.
She was alone, sitting there, breathing heavy. Her breathing was ragged, and she pulled out her hair in agony that was not physical but mental. Her scream shook her; she screamed long and loud, her head turned upwards. Her shrieks reverberated around her making some Kinetic energy that was making a circle of sound waves around her. Encircling her, Engulfing her. The hot tears rolled down her face, they burned her eyes, but they were no more tears, it was blood that has broken the last glass, her eyes.
This room was her Haven and her Sanctuary. She could not hide more from the reality, her reality. She had made these mirrored walls to increase her strength manifolds. She has pushed back her monsters behind those walls. Now they were lurking out again. Their glowing red eyes are looking at her from every corner. Her cries were keeping them at bay. The broken glass dust was beginning to lift off the ground.
Soon enough her scream turned to a never-ending boom that was making the ground under her shake. The mirror dust had made a debris cyclone around her, making her the Storm Cell in the centre of it. She spread her arms and raised them above her head, and the wind rose up, lifting her up with it. She was Levitating, floating unsupported in the air. Her face turned upwards, and a bright blinding light was coming from her eyes, it was robust and white enough to make all the monsters close their eyes.
She convulsed once and let our a scream that was sufficient to make anyone’s ears bleed and go deaf. All those monsters retreated into the darkness, and she rose up higher and higher in the air, her outstretched arms seemed to control that whirlwind that was making the thin flimsy dress around her flutter and made her look like a white butterfly. Her hair was flowing behind her, making a halo of orange light behind her.
She was obscured from view by the glass dust around her grew so thick that it became impossible to see her. Her last scream was never-ending, and all the light was swallowing her up. And suddenly she went silent; the light was gone, the cry was gone, the wind and the storm had ceased. The glass was turned to fine sand as it lost inertia and fell back on the ground making a wispy sound. Everything went silent and still. Like Time had stopped. The monsters came out from the shadows to hunt her down and feast on her from all sides.
But in the middle of the space, where they expected to find the girl whose soul they had come to claim had gone. She was not there, only her dress remained, lay in a heap in the middle of the debris. She had done it. She had managed to escape the room in which was trapped for years. She had broken those walls, smashed those mirrors, escaped those monsters and left that darkness. Now it was light that she saw, and her soul, white, whole, content. She was Successful. She was victorious. She was liberated. Finally !
Eve was sitting on her bed, hyperventilating. It was her bedroom, her sanctuary. She could be alone here, have some Privacy. She raised her head slowly and looked around; they were everywhere. He was sitting on her couch and smoking a cigarette; his eyes were on her. The little boy with brown eyes and wearing the Blue jumpsuit was playing with a Toy Train on the carpet. Mrs Benedict was there too, going through her cupboard, sifting through her dresses, admiring her jewels. She turned and gave Eve an admiring look; her pearls were hanging between Mrs Benedict’s fingers, hanging loosely on them.
The little boy came up to her, and took her hand in his, tugging her along to come and play with his Toy Train. She was near tears, but his lovely face and the eager look in his eyes was enough to compel her. She got up from her bed and went to sit on the carpet. Her eyes were on Frank; he was puffing smoke, the nicotine-infused air was hitting her nostrils, it made her cough. He knew she was allergic to smoke. He has known her for quite some time.
Mrs Benedict came and sat down on the couch, next to Frank, her hand on his thigh. He looked at her and smiled; she smiled back, they both looked at her in unison and laughed to see her play with little Matthew. Matthew was squealing in delight; he was clapping his little hands, Frank and Mrs Benedict clapped along with him. She was crying; they can’t be here, they had no place here, they should go. She had told them all several times to leave her alone.
“Hey Eve, come on, now stop being so angry. Can’t you see we are all so happy to be together.”, Frank said and extended his hand to her, beckoning her to him. She licked her lips and swallowed hard before placing her hand in his palm.
“That’s our Eve, the smiling, charming girl. Don’t listen to what those doctors say, darling. You are perfectly fine. And so are we all.” Mrs Benedict beamed at her with these words. She wanted to believe her; she wanted to believe them all. She wanted to be in arms, to play with Matthew, to have tea with Mrs Benedict just like they used to and chat about anything and everything.
Just then she heard a knock on the door.
“Madame. It’s your tea”, called out Lousie from outside the door. Lucy, her maid.
“Yes Lucy comes in dear”, she called.
Lucy pushed open the door to the side of her body as both her hands were occupied with the tea tray. She placed the tray on the centre table that lay in front of the couch. Eve saw it had just one cup.
“Lucy, how many have I told you, bring another cup of tea for Mrs, Benedict, coffee for Frank and Chocolate Milk for Matthew”, she buffed the maid with a hint of anger. Lucy looked at her with sad, wide eyes.
“Oh Madame, you are seeing them all again”, the maid said with a miserable look on her face and started to sob.
“Are you insane? Lucy, tell me are you crazy? Can’t you see Matthew here, playing with his train? Can’t you see Frank, looking at me with love in his eyes? And there is Mrs Benedict, waiting eagerly for her Evening Tea. Have you gone blind girl ?”, Eve scolded the maid angrily. She had had enough of this. She would not take all this more and fire Lucy right now.
“But, but Madame, they all died years ago, in a car accident. Please try to be sane Madame; I don’t want you to live in that madhouse again.” Lucy said between fat tears, but Eve was no longer listening. She had gone white and pale; her eyes were unfocused. She was looking into oblivion.
Eve could hear the maid’s voice coming from far off, “The accident”, she could see Matthew smiling at her, Mrs Benedict looking concerned and Frank holding her when she lost all sense and saw black. It was swallowing her up; she could feel herself falling fast, into a bottomless crevice.
She was sitting in front of the mirror, setting her hair. She was dressed and ready, Her makeup was perfect with just the right amount of lipstick, making her lips look a Rosy Pink, the eyeliner was making her eyes look mystical and dark. Her hair was set in a high bun over her head, exposing her long delicate neck and slender shoulders. The gown she was worn was black, littered with Swarovski. It shimmered as she moved, catching light. Not a single piece of jewellery was adorning her form. She dusted her collar bones with her Poison perfume. The scent was enough to drive the toughest man to go insane with just a single whiff. She picked up the Invitation card once again. It was a scroll, done in gold and purple. It oozed richness and class. She unrolled it once again to read it. It was handwritten, the slanting handwriting was a scrolled in a straight line. She could tell the man had a taste. It was written in ink pen on recycled paper, not the gel pens and hotel writing pads she used.
I am a man unknown to you but you are not new to me. I have known you from many lifetimes. I have been near you countless times, but never let you feel my presence. This deception is my armour, not my shield. I have nothing to hide from you, but not yet. You will know me, the man behind this facade. I will be at the Masquerade Ball tonight, come, join me, and see the face behind the Mask. You are a mystery to me. I wanna unravel you. I am cordially inviting you to end my subterfuge and let me step out of the darkness into the light. All you need to do is decide to favour me with your divine presence. I promise, no more games, no more tricks. this is my final act.
Looking forward to seeing you tonight. A kiss on my lady’s hand. I have sent you a Mask as well, you are free to hide behind it, till you decide to show yourself. I like to play fair.
Venue: Ritz, Paris Time: 19:00
Your Secret Admirer
PS: I would be delighted if the lady comes wearing black.”
She rolled back the letter and looked at herself in the mirror. There was a mask in the box, she lifted it and freed it from its bindings. It was done in black and purple satin. She is going to meet this man, With determination in her eyes she wore the black mask and set out to Ritz.
She was holding onto him tightly, just like a Snake on a Sandalwood Tree, It Clings. She was breathing hard, hyperventilating, peeping out of his coat. The sliver of light falling on them through the slightly ajar door. He was silent, silent like the dead of the night. They both sat there for an eternity, no one dared to move or close the door shut and lock it up. Outside that door was a jungle, blood and fire rained down from the sky. He slowly freed himself from her arms and crawled like a feline cat to the door and places his eye on the gap in the door. He saw the street outside was deserted, he heaved a sigh and with a banged the door closed and bolted it from inside, turning around and sitting with his back to the door. They were both on the opposite walls of the small room, looking at each other’s blood and soot-stained faces. She ran a hand on the small cuts and scratched on her arms and legs, wincing and sobbing softly. Everything was fine an hour ago, she was on her way home from her coaching class, riding her bicycle happily, her earplugs stuffed in her ears, her iPod hanging around her neck. But, that seemed like ages ago, everything took a worst turn and now here she was, with this stranger, would have died if not for him. Thirst was making her swallow hard but her mouth was so dry that it ached to swallow. The only light in the room came from a high window above the door, a faint white moonlight, but it was soothing, just what they both needed. He wrapped her arms around her knees and lied down on the hard, cold cement floor, getting in a fetal position and closing her eyes. She saw blood stains on the door, the floor was covered in blood. Her eyes went wide as she scooted to him and saw the gash on his back. She shook him hard, she didn’t even know his name, by what name shall she call him. Anyways he was non-responsive, He has fainted.
The light was green, the bus was moving and had crossed the Zebra crossing as he looked at her retreating back vanish when she took a left turn in the first lane, and he was aware that with a sense of doom. He gripped the handles of the door tightly, telling himself that he has no business with her, she was just a co-passenger. He turned to get back to his seat and was about to sit when he saw something flash under the seat she had occupied minutes ago.
It was glinting in the sunlight, curious, he bent and crawled a little picking it up. It was a solitaire diamond ring; he has never seen one that big in his whole life. “Must have cost her a fortune? He thought,”Maybe it was a gift from someone, maybe from the one in the picture she tore away”. Suddenly he felt his heart fill with an Enthusiasm and he did a turnaround, grabbed his laptop bag tightly around his neck and arm and ran for the door. The bus was still moving slow when he got down and ran in the direction she had gone. Without looking this or that side, he ran at full speed dodging into people on the kerb road, saying a quick sorry to each shoulder he bumped into, taking the first left and squinting its length when he came to a crossroads. It was leading to three roads except the one he came from. He stood there a little breathless looking here and there for a sign of her which would lead him to her, but no, she wasn’t seen around. He climbed the overhead bridge to scan the roads from a height when he saw her emerge from a shop right ahead. He shouted loudly waving the hand in which he held the ring “Hello, Hello MA’AM, HEY YOU FROM THE BUS”, she looked here and there and then saw him up there. There was indifference on her face that was replaced by shock and then anger as she turned and walked real fast in the opposite direction. He saw her give him a dodge and got down the overhead bridge and ran after her.
He didn’t know why he was so desperate to return her the ring, to talk to her, to know what trouble she was in when she apparently wanted him to leave her alone. He ran at full speed as she too increased her pace but caught with her and snatched her wrist. She was made to turn in a circle with the impact as he went for a spin himself and they both fell to the ground. He was thrown to left and she to the right. He sat up and took few deep breaths holding the stitch in his side as she looked at him with obvious anger from where she sat up. They both got up simultaneously as he saw her come up to him. Her eyes were blazing with anger; he felt weak to see the smouldering eyes bore into his. “Who the hell do you think you are? Loafer! Romeo!, good for nothing stalker. How dare you follow me? A girl is never safe in this city. I will take you to the police and get you arrested for stalking” She said with hateful anger in one go as he let her talk, but he felt his anger boil up and surface when he showed her the palm of his hand and kept a finger on his lips, signalling her to stop talking. His action made her stop talking in reflex as she was hyperventilating in anger and he grabbed her right hand, and placed her ring in her palm, closing it back in a fist and threw her hand back to her side. She was speechless as she opened her palm again and saw the single, round diamond sitting in her palm.
She stood there looking at the ring as her eyes teared up once again, but this time he did not let her see his heart melt and walked back to the way he came. There was so much he wanted to say, to ask, but his self-respect was second to none, and she has just insulted him real bad without any mistake. He was walking briskly and went back to the red light and slumped on a side railing, waiting for the next bus. He never realised, but he was seething with rage. Looking at his watch, he cursed himself for being the impulsive fool. Now he will reach home late and miss the match. He has been waiting for the India-Pakistan match for so long. He had betted good money in this game. This was the only flaw in him, he loved to bet some money on matches, though he knew it was not right, the thrill to watch the game increased manifolds if he knew his money was on it. He was an ardent cricket fan and never had better money anywhere else in his whole life. The last match he lost all the money, but today he was sure to win. He was lost in thought when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He turned around to see who it was when he saw the same girl standing there. “You? Why are you back? I am a stalker and a Loafer and a Romeo Madam; please steer clear of me.” he spoke spitefully. She was quite as she held her head down and told a Sorry. It was hardly audible over the Delhi traffic, but he heard it loud and clear, the most heartfelt sorry it was which made him guilty instantaneously. He watched as two fat tear drop rolled down her face as she sniffed and wiped them off with a flimsy handkerchief. Looking up she gave him a weak smile and said “Thank you so much, I couldn’t afford to lose that ring; it was all I had to sell” her voice broke as she talked. “You saw me come out of that shop, I went to sell this ring only, but when I did not find it in my bag I was broken and that shopkeeper humiliated me as well. So when I came out and saw you, I was annoyed at the whole world. I knew I had lost it on the bus and had no hope to get it back. But thanks to you, you came back all that way to return it, and you missed your bus as well for me. And me, I am so ungrateful, I scolded you instead of thanking you” In one go she said it all and was resolved back into tears. He didn’t know what to say and how to react, “Do you always talk without breaks, not letting the other person speak ?” he said looking earnestly into her face and saw it broke into a warm smile as she wiped her tears, nodding her head in a no.
“Now that you have found your ring and I have missed my bus a second time, let us help each other. Would you like to share what is troubling you with me, maybe I can be of help ?” He said pointing to the bus that just passed the signal as she followed it. She looked at him as if sizing him up, deciding whether he is good enough to help her or share her problem with. An unsure look clouded the weak smile on her lips as she parted her lips and closed them back. He was quiet, he knew that this morning is not a typical morning, he knew some strange phenomenon had brought them together today, and he was waiting for the day to unfold itself as he looked at her keenly.