A ghastly wind growled and pierced through the plinking sound disrupting its symphony. The trees trembled. Leaves and twigs flew in the direction of the demoniacal wind and landed on the muddy puddles. Light bulbs crackled and the neon lighting seemed dimmer. A weird noise cut through the window pane making Arunita’s blood turn cold. Her hands froze. She dragged her wobbly self to the window. Unfurling the blinds, she stared at the stark darkness that engulfed the exterior. Rain lashed like a hungry predator chasing its prey. A tree tremored and collapsed to the ground carrying with it an electric wire. The wire floated in the muddy water exuding electric currents. The lifeless form of a bird drifted away in the currents formed by the downpour.
She felt like someone wrenched her gut. A queasy sensation troubled her. The bulbs finally breathed their last leaving behind a trail of darkness. She switched on the flash light in her phone and looked around. A bottle lay unattended in a corner. She rushed and grabbed it only to find it empty. Her parched throat prompted her to stretch her hand and fill the bottle with the rain water. But she knew that it wasn’t safe. The once pristine rain water was now toxic. Leaning against the wall, she closed her eyes. She tugged herself against the ice-cold structure and sat on the carpet.
Images of her younger self formed before her. Despite the cloudy vision, the images seemed vivid. She sat on the floor with her legs crossed. Her gaze alternated between her mother and the empty plate. Her nose twitched at the sight of the fermented rice.
“Arunita, finish your lunch quickly. We must go the fields to assist your father,” she gulped a few morsels on hearing her mother’s stern voice.
She craved for some vegetables and eggs. But their village had hardly received any rains over the last three years. Their fields had become barren over time. She glanced at her mother and felt that she looked a decade older. Her once cheerful father transformed into a sour and surly man.
“Let’s go,” said her mother and held her hand.
She felt a stinging sensation as her mother’s rough skin rubbed against hers. Tears of despair rolled in her eyes. A sense of indignation overwhelmed her. She wished for a better life. Her muscles throbbed as she struggled to match her mother’s pace.
Minutes later, they reached the field. Ignoring the tormenting sun, men and women were huddled in a corner. Arunita and her mother made their way through the crowd. Her mother bawled, her voice reaching a crescendo. Arunita stood still unable to move an inch. It felt like she was rooted firmly to the ground. Her father lay on the ground with a frothy liquid oozing from the corner of his mouth.
“What did he do? How will they survive without him?” a middle-aged woman wept.
“The drought has robbed another life,” a man looked at the horizon. It felt like he was waiting for some divine intervention.
“Your father has left this world,” another woman hugged Arunita.
“We are all going to die. Slowly, one by one,” an elderly man’s voice thundered.
Arunita looked at the desolate land. The cracks on it resembled the cracks on her skin. The cows seemed incapacitated. Men, women and children were malnourished. It wasn’t the first instance when someone had chosen to take their life. And, it wasn’t the last. Children were orphaned and lives fell apart. It had to stop. They all deserved better.
Arunita bent forwards and held her father’s cold hand.
“Father, I will not let anyone else die. Our village will no longer be a victim of drought,” she spoke in a resolute manner.
Her voice didn’t show any traces of emotions. Tears rolled in those red-colored eyes. But behind those salty beads was a display of indomitable grit.
As the last log in the pyre burned, she embraced her mother tightly and whispered, “It’s going to be okay, mother.”
Her mother pulled her closer and the grasp around her hand tightened.
She felt incomplete. She knew that nothing would ever remain the same. Her mother needed her yet she decided to do the inevitable. That night, her mother tired from all the weeping, drifted to sleep earlier than usual. Arunika shoved two dresses in a sack and stealthily tiptoed out of the house.
“I’ll be back soon, Ma,” she let out a sigh and walked away.
A few months back, she had heard about the life in the city.
“Father, let’s move to the city. Life is better there,” she had said.
“The other side is always greener, Arunita. But this village is our home. I will never leave it for greener pastures,” her father had spoken with a certain cadence.
“You should have left this hell hole when you had the time,” she gulped the tears caught in the back of her throat.
A shrill noise jerked her to the present and she answered the phone.
“Are you okay?” the voice instilled calmness within her.
“I’m stuck in the office, Ajay. There is a disruption in power supply. My phone would soon be dead,” she almost cried.
“Why are you still at the office? You should have left the moment you received an alert,” said Ajay sternly.
“It’s dark. You know I’m scared of darkness. We shouldn’t have..,” she couldn’t complete the sentence.
“Be strong. This will soon pass,” his voice crackled.
“Help me, Ajay,” she cried only to realize that the phone was dead.
Slowly, she stood up and peered out of the window. Water had penetrated into the adjacent building. People scurried to the top most floor. Other low-lying houses were submerged in the water. Unlike her childhood when water was a luxury, it was now available in surplus. But not a drop of it was potable. Her gaze stabbed the darkness while she slipped into the past.
Life in the city wasn’t easy. She secured a position in the list of the homeless. Hunger punched her in the gut. Fear and regret had become her newfound companions. The thought of returning to her village crossed her mind on many occasions but she nipped it in the bud. She did every odd job she found and barely survived for six months. A Good Samaritan enrolled her in an orphanage. Two years later, a couple funded her education. Books gave her the much-needed solace. Education healed the sore spots in her mind.
Glimpses of her past made an appearance every now and then. But not paying heed to them, she drowned in the world of academics. She had developed a penchant for chemical formulae at an early age. The couple encouraged her to pursue her dreams. After receiving a doctorate, she went on to work at a research laboratory. She assisted a scientist who worked on producing artificial rains using natural substances. He was righteous and coerced her to use only conventional and safe methods to produce artificial rains. But the experiments didn’t yield any fruitful results. The thirst for instant success motivated her to approach another research firm.
On her first day at the new firm, a wave of nostalgia hit her. The pressure created by the vacuum in her heart reached the pinnacle and she struggled to stay afloat.
“I’ll not let anyone die,” the promise she had made to her dad echoed in the fissures of her mind.
Locking away the memories in a corner of her heart, she dedicated every bit of herself to the research. Lost in the world of chemicals, she had forgotten to eat on innumerable occasions. Her boss supported her efforts. Success seemed to evade her. But each time she failed she bounced back with double the grit. Her perseverance didn’t let her give up. A few years passed. Her team had finally made a breakthrough. They devised a method to create rains. A concoction of chemicals was injected into the soil. A pressure enough to let the particles saturate was created. Arunita and her team watched as the clouds painted the sky in the hues of grey. The clouds grew denser with every passing minute.
Her team gauged the process while she closed her eyes and took long, deep breaths to prevent herself from biting her nails off. Her patience bore fruit. The clouds disrupted and tiny beads landed on the window sill. Salty pearls left the confines of her eyes and surged down her cheeks. Tears had betrayed her many years back and their reappearance left her stunned.
“We shall now control the sky,” her boss had exclaimed as he uncorked the vintage bottle. The champagne coursed like a river.
She retreated to a corner and unlocked the chambers of her heart. Like the precious gems rolling out of a chest, memories unfurled themselves and played before her. Her father’s image formed before her and she felt his bruised hand on her head. His eyes misted while he smiled contently.
“You did it. And, I’m proud of you,” she felt him whisper.
Smiling through her tears, she nodded and tried to feel him. But the image disrupted like a shattered glass. She sat upright and faced the reality. Her father was gone forever. And, that was the truth. Thoughts about her father reminded her of her mother. She had left the village and never looked back even once. Wanting to make amends, she left for her village the next morning oblivious to what lay in store for her.
The dilapidated state of their little abode made her stop in her tracks. Where was her mother? Was she in trouble? Questions haunted her. Looking for answers, she walked through the same path she had travelled in her days of yore.
“Arunita.” she heard a voice.
She saw an elderly woman stare at her. The woman then covered her forehead with her hand and tried to get a better look at her.
“You disappeared. Leaving your mother alone to rot, you left. You are selfish just like your father,” the woman’s words boomed like the lightning.
Guilt choked Arunita. Truth struck her like a hammer and she couldn’t stand. The fierce sun rays and the ‘fiercer than the fire’ truth made her feel dizzy.
“Where’s my mother?” she mumbled, a few minutes later.
“She’s dead. Just like many others. She died two years after you left. She searched for you. Hoping that you would come back for her, she waited. But in vain,” the woman inched closer to Arunita.
Her red eyes and uncanny white hair sent a chill down Arunita’s spine.
‘Was she a ghost?’ The question left Arunita petrified.
The woman walked away. But seconds later, she paused, looked back and spat, “Leave and never come back.”
Arunita fell to the ground and felt her land for the first time in years. It was dry. But there was something comforting about it. Something she had missed over the years. She bent forwards and took a deep breath. The aroma felt the same. She was about to drown in the sea of her past when her phone rang.
“We found some harmful chemical residues. We need you here,” one of her colleague’s spoke in a hurry.
The artificial rains came with their share of side effects. She anticipated the residues. The estimate wasn’t alarming. But her colleague’s voice suggested something different.
‘Duty calling,’ knowing that her guilt would be deluged by work she left.
An eerie roar shoved her out of the reverie. She walked to the window and felt the ghostly breeze uproot everything around her. The rain waters had begun to drown the buildings around her. There was a dearth of air. She bathed in sweat and couldn’t breathe.
Stumbling, she found her way out of the room. Slowly, she put one foot ahead of the other and got down the stairs. A jarring wave hit her legs and she slipped. Tumbling along the stairs, she landed on the floor. Water had gurgled its way into the third floor. The city was drowning and she felt responsible. Holding onto the railing, she tried to stand. A throbbing pain stabbed her ankles. A tint of red in the water indicated that blood was gushing out of her system. Water thumped against her waist. She landed on her knees. With her right hand tightly curled around the railing and the left palm resting on the marble stairs, she slowly crawled her way up. She tripped more than once and her resilience hung at the edge of the cliff. But the desire to live urged her to retreat to her cabin. Her skin began to turn cold. A pattern of dark and starry lines flashed before her. A knot formed in her chest. Every breath was a shriek for help. Her pulse weakened with every passing second.
“Rains are supposed to be pure. These chemical residues are harmful. We should shut this project,” Ajay’s words rang in her ears.
They had received reports of skin disorders caused by the artificial rains. Some developed rashes. There was redness of skin and incessant itching. Pustules exuding water and blood were on the rise. But she turned blind to the plight of the victims.
“This is my dream project. I have invested half of my life into it. Moreover, the good things this artificial rains bring overpowers the bad,” she had tried to reason.
Driven by his dream to get famous in the world of science, her boss had given her a go ahead. She had not envisioned the possibility of a flash storm. Lives were lost. But she could do nothing about it. How she wished she could go back in time and undo everything.
“You shouldn’t have left your home. You are an unfaithful daughter and a self-absorbed woman,” her mind bellowed.
Shushing it by pressing her palms against her ears, she entered the cabin. She rummaged the cabinet for a medicine box. Minutes later, she pressed a ball of cotton against the wound. It turned wet in seconds and she replaced it with another gauze. But the blood didn’t stop. Did she nick any blood vessel? She waded through darkness. Something she wasn’t adept at. The stench of the metallic red and sweat made her nauseous. It felt like someone was whisking the contents of her stomach. She puked making it tougher for her to stay in the room. Conditions turned deplorable and she wished she could just break the window pane and fly away.
That thought instilled a glint of hope within her. She dragged herself to the corner and broke the window with a vase that lay on the table. Shards of glass penetrated her skin and she winced. Tiny spots appeared on her skin but the sinister darkness turned her blind. She peeped out of the window and let the wind hit her face. Those tresses fluttered in the wind and she felt free.
The respite was short lived. Water poured into the room through the broken window. The gnawing pain in her ankles made standing a daunting task. She sat on the floor and pulled her knees close to her chest. She wished for a miracle to happen. She wanted an angel to wave her magic wand and help her escape the self-created catastrophe.
‘Someone please help me,’ her shriek turned low as a whisper.
Relief helicopters and disaster management personals were extracting people stranded in their homes. She wondered if anyone knew that the rains had held her hostage. Did Ajay inform the authorities? Did anyone bother to contact her? Did anyone know her whereabouts? Questions strangulated her soul. She had no friends. Her social life was non-existent. She wasn’t the most caring person that she knew. The only thing that ever concerned her was her goal. Empathy was scarce. And, as she wallowed in sorrow and regret, reality hit her hard. She was going to die. Sooner than later.
“Who will cry when I die?” she wondered aloud and a ghoulish laughter escaped her throat.
She closed her eyes. Sleep enveloped her like a familiar blanket and she felt warmth rush through her. She lay on the bare, ice-cold floor abandoned and forgotten.
A ripple woke her up. She felt water on the floor. Inching towards the door, she ran her hand on the floor. Water had begun to enter the room.
‘For how long did I sleep? Is it the next morning?’ she tried to find answers.
There was no sign of sunshine. There wasn’t a slightest hint of light. She rushed to the window and yelled. Her voice shattered her eardrums but there was no response. Water levels reached up to a little above the thighs. She wondered if her team was safe. Unlike her, they had families. Someone waiting for them to return every evening. But she was a lone wolf. It made her feel unwanted. Her existence was a bane.
“These rains are harmful. They would destroy everything around you. Stop being greedy,” Ajay had warned her.
But she turned a deaf ear. As she struggled to live another day, repentance engulfed her.
She crept to the other end of the room and crouched. Her heart pounded against her chest, threatening to leap out into the open. Faint lines formed before her. She felt light like a feather. Water bolted towards her. Like a cheetah dragging its prey, the vicious wave caught her in its claws and swallowed her whole. Minutes later, she found herself under water. She flapped her hands like a trapped bird. Her hair wafted freely like the arms of an octopus. She tried to breathe. Every attempt was made to live for yet another second. Another current galloped towards her like an insane horse and like a hypnotized soul, she glided in its direction. Her head hit against the wooden table. Blood oozed out of her body. Her pulse became feeble. Images of her parents danced before her. She could feel them embrace her and she felt at peace.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered.
She felt her father stroke her hair and she drifted to an eternal sleep. She was finally free.
One week later
“The unlooked-for floods has crammed down half the city. It is one of the worst deluge the city has ever faced. Sources from the meteorological department say they had no evidence to predict the floods. A committee has been set up to investigate the cause and damage incurred.” A reporter announced.
Meanwhile, in another remote corner of the world, a zealous young mind worked towards creating edible artificial grains paving the way for another apocalypse.
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