Chicken Little was in the woods. An acorn fell on his tail. Chicken Little said, “The sky is falling, I will run,” Rumi read out to her four-year-old daughter Neha. “Will the sky fall on my head?” the little one asked worriedly. “Of course not. This is just a silly nursery rhyme.” The alarm on Rumi’s phone went off. “Sorry, darling. Mommy has work. Close your eyes. Good night. Sleep tight!” Rumi kissed her daughter and closed the door.
She opened the fridge and grabbed a milk carton. As she drank straight from the carton, she switched on the television to watch the 8:00 PM talk show that her husband Dev hosted. No matter however busy she was, she would always tune into her spouse’s show. It was their thing.
Rumi’s phone beeped. She had a busy evening with a project deadline looming ahead. She wondered if it was her boss chasing her, yet again. Rumi worked in software. While the pay was good, the hours and deadlines were not. It wasn’t her boss or a client. It was worse. The message was from her mother. The usual. “Rumi, please can we talk?” She ignored it, as always.
“Welcome to the 8 O’clock show! I’m your host, Dev Bhatia. Today we will be discussing the surge in crime rates over the past year. Cases of domestic violence, rapes, and dowry deaths are increasing. Women are not even safe in their homes. Are the measures in place to prevent such crimes sufficient? I will now address this question to the esteemed panel.”
Whatever the esteemed panel had to say remained a mystery. Precisely, at this moment, the screen flickered and went black. Rumi lunged for the remote and pressed the buttons repeatedly, but of no avail. A deep baritone emanated from the TV set.
“This is not a technical glitch or a prank. This is GOD speaking. I have an important message for humankind. You have looted, plundered, and destroyed one another and your environment. On top of this, all day long you complain to me. I am fed up. I have decided to end all life on earth. It will take a week to uninstall creation v1.0.
I come to you without a form or a name so that you do not find new reasons to fight. To reinforce my message, I will be sending signs. You will see shooting stars, sandstorms, earthquakes, and reddening skies. On the last day, there will be torrential rain. The floods will engulf the earth, marking the end of this era. You have seven days. Spend them as you wish.”
And with that, the TV screen came back to life. Rumi was shocked- what kind of prank was this? Dev’s puzzled face came back on screen. “Apologies for this. Someone seems to have jammed our network. Excuse me.” Rumi was flabbergasted. Dev, who was always in control, seemed to be lost. Astonishment was written on his face. She quickly surfed other channels. To her bewilderment, every channel had been hijacked and had played the same transmission. Rumi texted Dev. “I saw the telecast. How does one do a worldwide transmission? Tell me it’s a hoax!”
She reluctantly logged on to her late-night project call, which ended up being the least productive call of the year. Everyone from Brazil to Bulgaria had heard the news, but no one could make head or tail of it.
Rumi felt the onset of a headache. She headed off to the balcony. There, she stood enjoying the cool breeze and the serene sky. Why didn’t she do this more often? Without warning, the sky erupted. Fierce streaks of golden yellow cut across the velvety black. “Shooting Stars!” she gasped. Just like the prediction. What infernal magic was this? Her phone went crazy. Groups were flooded with pictures. And then followed the onslaught of religious texts. WhatsApp University reinforced God’s word. This was Armageddon. Mahapralaya. The end of the world.
Dev returned at 1:00 AM, exhausted. The couple exchanged uneasy looks as they went to bed. Rumi hoped that this was a bad dream. The next day she woke up early and eagerly checked her phone. It had only gotten more bizarre. She skimmed through the headlines.
Unknown Global Transmission baffles NASA scientists triggering mass hysteria. Is the end of the world imminent?
Heads of state across the world urge everyone to stay calm.
Former President claims rogue transmission is a sign from heaven that the election results were rigged.
Tech entrepreneur Eli Musketeer claims his company can manufacture rockets to evacuate to Mars in a week.
Rumi pondered. As crazy as this sounded, was everyone overreacting? “Papa! Mommy!” Why do you look so glum?” asked Neha cheerfully, oblivious to the crisis her parents were going through. “Nothing, darling. Let’s get ready for school.” After Neha boarded her school bus, Rumi made her way back to their apartment. She could see groups of people huddled and speculating. As to the topic of their discussion, there were no guesses needed.
Rumi continued to work on her project. End of the world or not, the show had to go on. Social media went bonkers. Every Tom, Dick and Zuckerberg had an opinion. Scientists claimed that the end of the world was unlikely as no asteroid was headed towards the earth, no unknown virus was discovered in the past few days, and the seismic plates were stable. They compared this to the Mayan prophecy that had predicted cataclysmic events for 2012 but had ultimately not materialized. Spiritual leaders, however, sounded ominous warnings, cautioning the mass population not to dispute God’s will.
In the evening, Rumi waited in front of her building for the school bus to arrive. Suddenly her line of sight became blurry. A gust of warm wind blew, bringing with it, thousands of grains of sand. A sandstorm in this part of the world? Unheard of! Her eyes filled with tears. The storm cleared, revealing the dust-covered silhouette of the bus. She saw Neha’s little form emerge from the bus. The storm had frightened her. Rumi held her daughter close, in a protective embrace.
Rumi returned to her desk. Dev had nicknamed it her “rumi-nation corner.” On an impulse, Rumi drew up her bucket list. To be fair, there wasn’t much one could do in a few days. She doubted if she could master the piano or visit Paris or go bungee jumping. Following the transmission, airlines were 200% booked. A travel agency had advertised, “Little time left! Make memories!” The irony.
Talking of memories, Rumi recalled her turbulent childhood. She was all of eight years when her mother had left. Her parents used to fight a lot. One day, her mother packed her bags. She had asked Rumi if she wanted to join her. She being daddy’s daughter, had staunchly refused. Her parents got divorced. She chose to stay with daddy and preferred to avoid her mother. Her mother had remarried and had had another daughter, Esha. “A daughter to replace me,” thought Rumi bitterly. Daddy had died a few years ago, leaving a void in her life. Mother had tried to reach out to her on several occasions, including her wedding, but Rumi had made it amply clear that she was not welcome.
She shut her laptop and switched on the television. The trending news of the hour? A religious leader had announced that God had appeared to him in a dream and appointed him as the chosen one. “God said that my island retreat, off the coast of Peru, will be unharmed. Join me to seek salvation.” Holy salvation tickets were sold at unholy prices. Only the rich could afford salvation. The pathway to redemption seemed to be governed by the laws of economics.
Every channel was flashing the question: “Is the end of the world here?” Dev interviewed random people on his show. “How do you feel about the world ending?” Some said there were scared. Some believed it was a hoax. Others wished they had done the things that they always wanted to do. No one said, “I wish I had worked more hours, or I wish I had made more money.” In the end, it seemed to boil down to people and their relationships.
Rumi introspected. She needed closure on one relationship. On an impulse, she informed her boss that she was taking some time off. What startled her was that her boss didn’t protest. Perhaps the melancholy had gotten into him?
Rumi set off in her car. The last time she had seen her mother was when Neha was born. She had come to see her grandchild. She recalled their last conversation. It was like a thorn lodged in her finger that refused to budge. “Why are you here?” Rumi demanded. “To see my grandchild.” “And from when have relationships mattered to you? You abandoned us and scripted your happy story! You already have a family and it’s not us!”
Rumi reached her mother’s house. She rang the doorbell. She felt a sudden rush of anxiety and turned to leave when the door opened. “Rumi! You are here!” Rumi followed her mother in. The house was decorated with bright wallpaper and sunflower curtains. Rumi felt pangs. She felt as if she was walking right back into her childhood.
“Tea?’” Rumi nodded. Mother and daughter sat at two ends of a giant marble table, avoiding each other’s gaze. Theirs’ was an uneasy silence. Too much time gone with too little said. Neither knew where to start.
“I’m sorry, Rumi.” “Too late, too little!” screamed Rumi. Her mother tried again. “Do you still write? I have your stories with me. I always thought you would be a writer. We even named you Rumi because your father loved poetry.”
“You don’t get to talk about daddy! You destroyed him.” “Rumi, daddy was an amazing father to you, but he wasn’t a good husband.” “Don’t you dare talk ill of the dead!” yelled Rumi. “He had an affair. I left him because of that. He let me go but wouldn’t let me take you away from him,” her mother continued softly.
“How dare you malign him? Have you no shame?” “Rumi, I had to leave to salvage my self-respect. I’m not defending my actions. But I had to do what I had to do. I couldn’t tell you then- you were too young to understand.” “I shouldn’t have come here.” Rumi stormed out; her eyes filled with tears.
She returned home. Neha had just come back from school. She took her out for a stroll, outside their building. It was dusk and the sky was a myriad palette of orange and pink hues. Rumi couldn’t remember the last time she had seen a sunset. She had been so busy with her work she had missed out on the little joys of life.
They visited the neighbourhood bakery to buy Neha a sweet treat. “Mommy, there is a man who always sits there in that corner. Can we buy him something?” Neha pointed out to a dishevelled, morose beggar. Rumi purchased a hot tea and snacks from the bakery and handed it over to him. His face broke into a wide smile. Rumi suddenly blurted out, “are you worried about the world ending?” “How does it make a difference to me? When I am gone, who is going to cry over my unmarked grave? Perhaps in the next life, if there is one, there will be better things for me.” Tears pricked Rumi’s eyes. She emptied her purse and gave away the remaining notes to the beggar. In the end, money was only paper. Paper that served no purpose when everything turned into dust.
That night Rumi tossed and turned. Dev was concerned. “Are you OK?” “Yes,” she lied. It was coming back to her, in bits and pieces. Daddy’s remorse. “I’m sorry Rumi. This is all my fault. I messed up.” She had refused to acknowledge this. She did not want to be disloyal even to his memory. She had seated him on a pedestal. Her father could do no wrong. Her mother was the villain of this story. Daddy had urged her to reconcile with her mother. It made sense now.
They were awakened at 2:00 AM. Earthquake! Rumi bundled a sleeping Neha up in a blanket and headed out of their building with Dev. The buildings stopped vibrating after a few minutes. Some random person screamed at the sky, “Lord! Stop this. We are scared.” Another memory. “Mother, I’m scared of the dark.” “Why do you worry? I’m here. Here, hold my hand.” Where did this come from?
The world was approaching the end of the week. Two days to go. It was time for the final countdown. The nervousness and anticipation levels peaked. On one hand, the daily doomsday omens occurred with startling regularity. On the other hand, miracles were occurring. The warring neighbouring countries of North Zumbria and South Zumbria demolished the wall separating them. People rushed to the opposite borders to reunite with their estranged families. An old grandfather, tears streaming down his cheeks declared, “I left when I was a little boy, I came back to see my village before I die.”
Many a rich person distributed their wealth to the poor. When you have only days left to count, what is the point of locking wealth away? The fear of the end seemed to have made them better human beings. There were confessions and reconciliations all over the world. Temples, churches, mosques, and other houses of God witnessed record queues.
Rumi noticed a cobweb at her home. In it, was caught a dead dragonfly. “Rumi, dragonflies are special. When you see one you can make a wish.” Mother used to say that. She glanced at the lifeless dragonfly. It had started to decay. This was death. A moment of non-existence. When one simply ceased to be. We come from nothingness, and to nothingness, we go. Our sojourn is short, so why nurse grudges along the way?
There are parts of our life that we refuse to acknowledge. We lock these unwanted parts away into a box into the deepest corners of our minds. One day, the locks get broken, leaving the box wide open. From then on, we can never go back to who we were before this. Rumi made her wish. This time she would act upon it.
She was back again, at her mother’s doorstep. Her mother opened the door. She was stunned to see Rumi and her family.” This is your grandmother. This is your aunt Esha.” Rumi introduced everyone to Neha. The little girl squealed as Esha maasi lifted her up.
Rumi’s mother looked quizzically at her. “Daddy was flawed. But he loved me a lot. He made a mistake. I only wish you had fought for me. For us.” “I wish too. I regret walking out every single day,” sobbed her mother. “I forgive you.” “I love you Rumi.” Mother and daughter embraced. They spent the whole day together. There was still a long way to go, but they were taking baby steps.
The final day. Rumi woke up with a start. Was today really the end of everything? But why did it feel like a beginning? She was determined to make every moment count. She spent the whole day with Neha and Dev and told them how much she loved them. She called up all the people she cared for. She laughed. She lived. She never felt happier in her whole life, as she did now.
The rains started in the evening. If the prophecy were anything to go by, there would be torrential floods. After an hour, a strange thing happened. The rain stopped. The sun came out. There was a huge rainbow in the sky. Everyone came out of their houses to admire this divine omen, a benediction, a blessing from the heavens above.
“Rumi! Can you hear me?” Rumi opened her eyes. She was in a hospital bed. Dev spoke, “You had an accident. You were in a coma.” “Let me guess, for seven days?” Rumi interrupted him.” Yes. Do you remember anything?” he asked.
Rumi strained her head. That night, after she had read out Chicken Little, she had opened the fridge and discovered that they were running short on milk. She had ventured out of the house to shop. In her hurry to get back, she was hit by a car while crossing the road. Her last thought has been, “the sky really did fall on my head.”
Neha rushed in. “Mommy, you are awake!” She wrapped her mother in a warm hug.
“Rumi, your mother is outside. She doesn’t want to upset you. Do you want to meet her?” asked Dev hesitantly. “Let her in.” “Are you sure?’ “Yes. I am.” Rumi nodded assertively.
A week later
“Humans are flawed. We search for happiness everywhere except the one place where we can find it. Within. What happens when you know your days numbered? Do you keep a scorecard of the grudges or the regrets you nurse? But that is such a petty way to live. Live everyday like the end is near, doing the things you always wanted, with the people you love the most. You will ultimately find that the end is no longer the end, but a beautiful beginning.”
Rumi smiled. Her essay was done. Writing had always been her first love but had taken a backseat when other priorities came along. But not anymore. She was taking a break to focus on the things that mattered the most to her. Her near-death experience had taught her that much and she was grateful for that.
She composed her email to Penmancy, the page she had newly discovered, on her endeavour to become a published author. “Here is my entry for the prompt, the end.” She smiled. This wasn’t the end. This was a beginning.
This story is also available at “Pint of a Story” by StudioCacofunny
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