The Enigmatic Game

The whiskey ran down his throat hurriedly. He could feel the chilled elixir flow through his veins. Thushar closed his eyes and felt the gentle evening breeze ruffle his hair. 

“Liar! Rapist! Shameless!” these words poisoned him more than alcohol. He gulped another neat drink that almost set his throat on fire. But it soothed his shattered ego. The wealth, which had made him haughty and supercilious, was gone. His best friend-cum-business partner, Raj, had betrayed him and usurped not only his assets but his pride and position too. To add on to his misery, a struggling actress, Sandhya, whom he had recently got acquainted with, accused him of rape. In a span of few months, Thushar had fallen from a 30-year-old flamboyant, free-spirited, millionaire to nothing! A plain nothing! His father’s hard-earned fortune and a business empire were crushed due to his immature, lazy and laid back attitude. His entire family condemned him and blamed their faulty upbringing. His girlfriend also dumped him. ‘An absolute loser’ was the title gifted by her. 

Thushar dragged his drunk body towards the balcony railing. The sight of the city at night from the 20th floor of his splendid penthouse was breath-taking. He peeped down, contemplating the peace he would finally attain. His left foot didn’t march ahead, as if stuck to the floor. His shoe was glued to a chewing gum which was attached to a Rupee 10 note. He gently plucked it out, wondering its whereabouts. Gandhiji smiled through the note. “From where did you find such courage, Mr Gandhi?” He mumbled. And your smile, wow! But I don’t deserve any sympathy; you don’t know what mess I have created out of my own life.” As Thushar turned it over, he found a number imprinted. He was curious. It wasn’t handwritten. Who would print his own number? He sat and stared at it, strangely being drawn towards it. An urge to dial the number stirred his restless mind. Without another thought, he dialled. And his life changed!

A voice message played. “Welcome to KRC. Are you fed up of your life? Do you feel it’s better to end it all? Then you are in the right place. Dial 1 to continue.” 

Thushar was perplexed. “What is this? KBC doppelganger, eh?” He wondered. The queer feeling urged him to continue. He dialled 1.

Thank you for your selection. Sit back and enjoy the game.

Game? Before Thushar finished his words, he started spinning. At first, he thought it’s the booze, but very soon he realized it’s for real. He spun so fast that he couldn’t even scream. With a jerk, he landed hard.

“Ouch! That was awful.” He screamed. 

“What happened, son?” his mother inquired.

Mom looked different. She looked quite young. ‘Maybe another botox’, he thought. But how did he land inside the house? His eyes fell on the mirror. He almost fell. Bewildered, he looked around. The calendar showed the year 2005. He had time travelled 14 years into the past!

“Is this a time-travelling game? Ugh! I already hate my past. Now, do I have to re-live it again?” Thushar lamented. He walked around, with a strange feeling, as if this day was of some significance. Just then, his mobile rang. His friends reminded him of the rave party happening that evening. He was asked to arrange money by his ‘usual’ stealing technique. Yes, he was habituated to stealing money from his father’s wallet. He sneaked into his dad’s room. Finding no one around, he quickly fished out some cash and as he turned around, to his astonishment, Farida, their long-term trustworthy maid, stood aghast.

“Baba! Wh… What are you doing?” she stammered. 

“Shhh. Don’t tell anyone, understand?” Thushar threatened. 

Unfortunately, his mother arrived. Seeing the cash in Thushar’s hands, she was shocked and when interrogated, Thushar cunningly put the blame on Farida. The family was astonished. Farida was always respected for her sincerity and faithfulness. She pleaded and begged. Her little children would suffer, she cried. She didn’t accuse Thushar. Maybe because she felt it would be futile, or because she loved him like her own son. As the police pulled her, she turned around one last time and pleaded him with her teary angelic eyes; those that would haunt him for the rest of his nights. Though Thushar felt terrible, he didn’t have the spine to confess the truth.

“Baba! Wh… What are you doing?” Farida stammered. 

Thushar jolted back to reality. Farida had caught him stealing. The past happenings had run before his eyes like a replay. Confused, he scratched his head. Now was the moment to rectify his misdeed and to relieve himself of those imploring eyes that plagued him day and night.

“I…I…” he couldn’t threaten the poor lady. She had always taken care of him like her own son. In fact, many times he felt she loved him and gave him more time and attention than his own mother!

“What’s happening?” Thushar’s mother entered.

“Mom, I’m sorry. I needed some money. So, I took it from dad’s wallet.” He lowered his head in shame.

“What? You insolent brat! You have started stealing too.” A hard slap landed on his face. But Farida intervened and saved him from another blow. 

“He honestly confessed, madam. Please forgive. He’s a kid, after all.” Farida pleaded.

Thushar hugged Farida. He knew how it feels to be wrongly accused. Wealth seduces dishonesty and deception, but it’s only love that can bring out goodness and virtuousness. He felt better and lighter.

Suddenly he started spinning again. He flew and fell on the balcony floor. 

“Ouch! Do I have to crash land every time?” he complained.

He was back to the present. 

The voice from the mobile said, “Congratulations for clearing level 1. Press 2 to proceed to level 2.”

Thushar enjoyed the game. Enthusiastically he dials 2. And spins again.

He opened his eyes and looked around. It wasn’t his house. Loud music deafened his ears. His friend Ravi called out.

“Hey, Thushar. Where are you lost? Come and enjoy the farewell party.” He pulled Thushar into the crowd. He remembered the college farewell party. He was 18 and notorious. His pride in his dad’s wealth and arrogance had attracted few sidekicks, but also shunned by many others, including Alisha. She was pretty and Thushar had a huge crush on her. But his condescending attitude ticked her off, which hurt his fake ego. His sidekicks oiled the fire of revenge within. This night, he had decided to teach her a lesson. Her coke was drugged, and she was stealthily dragged to a deserted classroom. In the unconscious state, she was raped by Thushar and his sidekick hyenas. 

Thushar shivered as he reminisced that moment. He had later learnt about Alisha’s failed suicide attempt, that paralyzed her forever. Even death hadn’t been kind to her. The mental trauma that her family underwent was indescribable. A case was registered against Thushar, as some of Alisha’s friends suspected him to be behind this. But his dad’s wealth and political and influential clout bailed him out without a scratch.

 But today, Thushar empathized Alisha. He fathomed the pain and shame one undergoes. He too was wrongly framed for rape. Ironically, he was saved when actually he was guilty!

He stopped his buddies from drugging her. In fact, when some boys misbehaved with her during the party, Thushar shoved them away. For the rest of the party, he was cordial with her, with no tantrums of a rich spoilt brat. She was happy and they exchanged friendly chats. She complemented him for being a gentleman and apologized for wrongly judging him. Somewhere within, he felt a pang of relief from the burden he had been carrying for years together. 

He closed his eyes as he spun around and reached his balcony. This time the fall was not that bad, or maybe he was used to! 

Congratulations for clearing level 2. Press 3 to continue.

Thushar could almost predict his next destination. 

The car zoomed speedily. The deserted wet silvery road shimmered in the dim streetlights. The rains had stopped, and the speed of the car kept ascending. 

“Slow down a bit, Raj. You are already high.” Thushar warned his friend. 

“Oh, Mr Scaredy cat! Meooww.” Raj mocked and all the friends roared with laughter. 

Thushar and his friends were on a road trip to Goa to celebrate his 25th birthday. It was midnight and the desolated slippery road romanticized the over speeding vehicle, which was driven by an intoxicated Raj. 

Unexpectedly, out of the darkness, vroomed a bike. Raj’s drunk brain couldn’t judge the speed and respond on time. The bike was thrown into the air and the motorist landed on the bonnet and then hit the road, where he lay motionless. Blood drained like a leaking pipeline. 

The car halted with a screech some distance away. The bewildered friends alighted and looked around. No witnesses. Relieved, they sped off without even checking the helpless bleeding man. 

However, this time, when life had gifted him a second chance, Thushar chose to rectify his mistake, which infuriated Raj.

“I will land in trouble if you get into this,” Raj screamed.

“But I can’t leave him here to die.” Thushar defended.

“Do whatever you wish to. But remember I am not with you.” Raj and his friends sped away, abandoning Thushar and the bleeding guy in the middle of nowhere. Thushar immediately called the ambulance, which arrived promptly. 

The man was saved, but having lost blood tremendously, he needed a blood transfusion. However, he belonged to a rare blood group AB negative and the hospital didn’t have it in stock. Fortunately, Thushar was AB negative too. Lying on the hospital bed, Thushar pondered. ‘Was this a mere coincidence that he shared the same blood group with the other guy? Or was he purposefully sent there to save someone’s life?’

A sense of fulfillment diffused into each cell. He felt accomplished; an intense feeling never experienced before. All these years, he lived only for himself. People assumed Thushar was rich and happy. Rich, yes, but happy? He never learnt what happiness was! Today he realized that true happiness is attained purely by giving! 

He closed his eyes, knowing it was time to go back. He didn’t complain about life anymore. He was ready to face life with confidence and valiance. 

Thushar opened his eyes. It was a bright morning. The warm dazzling sunbathed him with its gentleness. Fresh air filled his lungs, making him feel exhilarated. Such positive vibes had never visited him for ages. Was the last night episode for real or plain illusion of a drunk and fidgety mind? He didn’t remember when he returned from the balcony and when he slipped into a deep peaceful slumber. Whatever it was, he was at ease now. He was able to think rationally without any haste or prejudice. Life was not to be wasted, but to live meaningfully; not just for oneself.

The doorbell broke his chain of thoughts. He was startled to see Sandhya at his doorstep, the same girl who had falsely accused him of rape.

“I came here to apologize, Thushar.” Sandhya sighed, much to his astonishment. Seeing the perplexed expression, she clarified. 

“I hated you immensely. Revenge was my motive. And it wasn’t difficult for me to frame you, because your flirtatious flamboyant character was the talk of the town.”

“But why did you hate me?” Thushar snapped.

“I am Alisha’ sister.” She replied. “You had made her life in college a hell. She always complained about how you kept stalking her. During her farewell, her friends told me that someone had tried to drug her. I was almost sure it was you. That was when I decided to avenge her insult. But yesterday she told me that you had actually stopped some boys from doing so. Another neighbour also mentioned that you had honestly accepted the mistake you committed when you were young, which needs courage. She was your housemaid. She adored you and felt you strayed away in life due to lack of love and attention.”

Thushar was zapped. So it was not a dream! 

“I am withdrawing my case. I am sorry for wrongly accusing you and am ready to confess my lie in the court.” 

Sandhya left, but Thushar’s heart was pounding hard. The mystery was still lingering on his mind.

He had another visitor. It was Mr Nair, a very well-known advocate. Thushar knew he was the same man he had rescued in the car crash.

“I want to thank you immensely for your help. My family and doctor told me the pain you took to save my life. Having a rare blood group had risked my life further, but like God-sent you saved me again. If it was someone else, he wouldn’t even have bothered, leaving me there to die.” Mr Nair said.

Thushar gasped. Too much for a day to handle, he thought. 

“I was in a coma for a long time. I wanted to personally thank you. No amount of words can describe my gratitude. Recently, I read in the newspaper that you have been tricked by your business partner. Apparently, he was the same guy who ran over me that fateful night. Your testimony against him had enraged him; I have done intense research on him and have gathered enough evidence to prove him wrong.”

“What do you mean?” Thushar gushed.

“I want to fight your case, Thushar. You deserve justice. For a noble soul like you, your karma can’t let you lose.” 

Thushar thanked him profusely. He couldn’t believe it was really happening. His lost wealth and dignity had taken a U-turn towards him. He couldn’t thank his stars enough.

Just then, he remembered the note and the number. He ran to the balcony but couldn’t find it anywhere. All his search in the entire house turned futile. He redialed the last number on his mobile. But the only message that played was, “the number you have dialled is not valid. Please check again.

Thushar leaned back on the couch. He tried hard to remember the conversation last night. In a flash, he recollected the words spoken in the message. Welcome to KRC, KARMA REHABILITATION CENTRE. He jumped to his feet. So this was a rehab for his karma, a means for rectifying and restoring his past that had been damaged due to his reckless and apathetic behaviour. 

A magical and mystifying game had changed his life for good. Thushar wondered where the note would be.

Somewhere not very far, it has flown swiftly and landed in the wet hands of a partially drowning woman on a beach, who is mysteriously drawn in and curious about the imprinted number. And she decides to dial.
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Shilpa Keshav

Shilpa Keshav is a home-maker and a mother to two adorable kids. She loves spending her time reading or writing short stories or just listening to songs. But at present, all these are a luxury, as her 17-month-old son keeps her busy behind him! For her, writing is a detox that’s like a warm sun in a cold morning.

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