You are ten years old and have lived in the orphanage for half of your life. While you are not happy at the orphanage, you are not unhappy either. You have a friend, Akash, and you are content to share your routine life with him. You do not remember or miss your parents. The orphanage has a tie-up with a local government school nearby, where all the children of the orphanage study.
One day at recess, you are playing football with Akash when you see a couple walk through the school gate. The couple looks well groomed, their clothes stylish. You look at the couple, and a prickle of unease runs through your spine. Akash shouts, distracting your attention from them. You smile and run back, trying to dismiss them from your mind. However, a few minutes later, Murthy, the school peon, calls out for you. Pointing towards the couple, who are entering the visitor’s room he says, “They want to meet you.”
“What for?” You ask. Your tone is belligerent.
Murthy shrugs his shoulders and walks away. Dragging your feet, you enter the room. The woman rises from her chair when she sees you. “How are you, my dear?” She asks. You shrug, not willing to answer. You can swear her smile is fake, it doesn’t reach her eyes. You glance at the man who is standing by the window. With measured steps, he walks towards you. He stops close to you. Too close. You feel threatened by his closeness. You shuffle your feet, sweat trickling down your back. He places his forefinger and lifts your chin to look into your eyes. You want to object, to move away, but his eyes hypnotize you. Your feet are rooted to the ground.
“It’s him.” The man says, his voice flat.
You are confused by his statement as the woman joins the man. She peers closely at your face. She is wearing a strappy sundress, and your eyes are drawn to a tattoo that she has just below her collarbone. The tattoo is of a pentagram within a circle. Focusing on the tattoo seems to take your mind off the malevolence that radiates from them.
They move back a few steps from you, their eyes intent. You don’t know why but your heart starts beating faster. You know something bad is going to happen. They raise their hands, and together, they mutter an incantation. You see a blinding white light before you fall. You hear Akash’s screams before everything grows dark.
When you open your eyes a day later, you find yourself in a hospital bed. A woman is seated on the chair next to the bed. Her saree of homespun cotton says she is a peasant, but her posture is erect, and her hands are soft.
You try to sit up.
“Keep lying. Your body must be hurting from the attack”, she says.
Memories come rushing back. Of the couple, the light, and Akash’s screams.
“Who are you?” You ask, your voice hoarse. “Who were those people? Where is my friend Akash?”
The woman looks down at her hands before answering. In a soft voice, she says that the couple were evil people who had come to kill you. Your friend, who had followed you into the room, had perished in the attack, along with the couple.
You are unable to believe that Akash is dead. You had not known that he had followed you into the room. You want to cry and shout. But instead, you swallow the lump in your throat and ask, “Why did they want to kill me?”
The lady leans forward and whispers, “Do you remember your parents?”
You shake your head.
You catch a wisp of memory. A memory of a soft voice urging you to finish your juice. Oddly enough, you distinctly remember the taste of the juice. Sweet and clear, like water from a mountain stream.
You hesitate. You don’t want to share your memory with a stranger. You shake your head again.
The lady sighs and then proceeds to tell you the truth about yourself. A truth, that you had no clue about. A truth, that is going to change your life forever.
When she leaves, you see the angry welt of a fresh tattoo near your wrist. It is a small dragon.
You never meet or see the lady again.
That day you realise that you are different. You try to blend in and make new friends. You really do, but ultimately fail. After a few months of the novelty of being your friend, they drop you. Some abuse you, while breaking things off with you. Others ghost you, not acknowledging you. Years pass, and you turn from a child to an adolescent to an adult. The memory of Akash and his screams becomes a roadblock in every friendship and every relationship you tentatively try to start.
Somedays the loneliness seeps through the empty spaces of your heart, piercing, sharp. Your gift feels like a curse. You howl and curse, wanting to rip out that part of you that makes you different. After the rage and howling pass, you lie whimpering on the floor, shivering, spent with the volcano of emotions that have left you drained. Finally, you pick yourself up because no one can lend you a shoulder to lean on.
As you grow older, these episodes of rage diminish in frequency as you come to terms with the fact that this is now your life. Raging and cursing will not change it. You have to live with it. And you do, alone.
Until the day your eyes fall on her.
The monsoon clouds, pregnant with rain, play hide and seek with the sun. The air hangs heavy, humid, oppressing one’s body, pushing into the bones, and turning the soul grey. People grow irritable, cursing the clouds for failing to drench the parched earth. But the oppressiveness of the atmosphere does not matter to you as you cruise down the crowded street in your air-conditioned limousine. Your ears pressed to your mobile, you are busy finalizing yet another million-dollar deal.
Having realised that you were destined to be alone, you have devoted yourself to using your abilities to make money, lots of it. What started off as a means of survival has turned into an addiction for you. You like being rich, surrounded by luxuries. Having such vast sums of money has also made you powerful. Powerful enough to quash even a whiff of rumour about you being different. Your reclusive nature means you hardly bother with anyone who doesn’t benefit you or your business. Today also, your attention is hardly on the troubles of the common people struggling with the delayed monsoon when a reflection from a mirror falls into your eyes. Momentarily distracted, you turn towards the source and are dazzled by a petite young woman at a bus stop. The weak sun reflected by her bright yellow mirror work dupatta gives her a shimmering aura.
You cannot take your eyes off her.
“Mine!” Clamours your heart.
“Stop the car!” You bark at your driver. He complies instantly. Intent on reaching her, you get out of your car in haste, ignoring the honks of the irritated drivers behind. The clouds choose that moment to disgorge their load, and the rain falls in sheets as you try to cross the busy road to reach her. But you fail. You watch in alarm as she gets into a white car.
“Wait!” You shout.
But your voice is drowned by rain and the sounds of traffic. You sprint back to your car, unmindful of the rain soaking you. “Follow the white car!” You shout at the driver. “Which one?” The driver asks, bewildered. There are five white cars in front. You strain your eyes to catch a glimpse of her, but the rain obscures everything. You curse long and hard before slumping into your seat.
“Home”, you tell the driver, defeated.
You try to dismiss her from your mind. But you fail. Your driver is used to your idiosyncrasies. He doesn’t comment when every day, you ask to be driven on that same road, across the same bus stop, at almost the same time. You hope to catch a glimpse of her again. You know in your bones that you need her but do not know how to find her.
Months pass. You fail to find her.
It was a mirage, you tell yourself.
You are still working, still making millions, but it has lost its edge. You feel unsettled, and there is a storm brewing in your heart. You know, only she can quieten it. But where is she?
And then, one day, fate plays her hand.
Your private lift, the one that takes you directly from the basement to your penthouse, breaks down. You are forced to use the regular entrance of the building. You are irritated at the inconvenience, but it soon vanishes when you see she is arguing with the security guard in your building lobby. Today, she is wearing a blue outfit, the colour of the sky after the rain. You cannot believe your eyes. You stare at her, drinking in the sight of her. The security guard sees you and stands up to give you a salute. She turns the irritation on her face clearing as soon as she sees you.
“Good evening, Mr Maheshwari!” She says. “My name is Anita and my boss, Mr Malhotra sent me over with the Khetri mine deal’s papers”.
That she knows you by face is not surprising. Even though you are reclusive, the newspapers once in a while print your photos. You nod your head in acknowledgement at her words.
“Come,” you say gruffly, leading the way to the elevators. She follows you. Once inside the penthouse, you feel nervous. You cannot believe you are alone. With her.
“Mine”, your heart clamours again.
You try to control yourself as you wordlessly take the papers and sign. You can see she is curious about you and the house. Her eyes dart all over your living room. When you turn to hand her back the papers, your sleeve rides up, baring the tattoo on your wrist. She sees the tattoo and is intrigued by it. You can sense it by the way her eyes linger on it. You quickly adjust your sleeve, hiding the tattoo. She flushes at your action. Maybe she is embarrassed to have been caught staring. She takes the papers and murmuring a soft thank you, she leaves.
“Stop! Don’t Go!” You want to shout.
But you keep quiet. You know it is too soon for her. She needs to come to you on her own. The way your heart has recognised her, her heart needs to recognise it too. But at least you are not looking for a needle in a haystack anymore. You know her name, Anita.
It is not difficult for a man in your position to find out more about her. Within five days, your assistant has compiled a dossier on her. Her age, her address, and even her past boyfriends. Your assistant places the dossier on your table and leaves. You look at the dossier, tempted to know everything about Anita. But something holds you back. You decide you want to know more about Anita and win her trust the old-fashioned way. You make a note of her address and her place of work. And then, you lay siege to win her heart.
You engineer chance meetings with her. Slowly you start seeing attraction for you bloom in her eyes. One day you casually ask her out for a formal date. Blushing a pretty pink, she accepts. One date leads to another and another. You propose when you are almost certain she has fallen in love with you. She accepts.
That is the happiest day of your life. You hold her close. Her head resting on your chest, her fragrance tickling your nose, you feel the warmth seep into your heart. You feel complete, whole. For once in your life, you are not alone. “I will keep you happy forever!” You vow before kissing her passionately.
She gives a small laugh. “Who lives forever?” She asks playfully. “You keep me happy for this lifetime!”
Your heart turns cold hearing her words. Your secret, the one you have hidden from her, starts eating into your soul. You know you need to confess to her. But when you see her smiling face, you lose your courage.
“She will leave you the minute she comes to know”, screams your brain.
“She loves you! Haven’t you seen it in her eyes? She will never leave your side”, argues your heart.
After weeks of inner tussle, you finally get an opening to reveal your secret to her.
It is a warm winter afternoon. You and Anita go for a picnic. You lie down on the blanket laid under a tree. Anita sits next to you, reading. The warm sun, the fragrant flowers, and the birds chirping in the background, with Anita next to you, lull you into drowsiness. You are feeling content after a very long time. But soon, this peace is shattered. You sense Anita keeping the book down and picking up your right hand. Peeling back your sleeve a little, she asks, “Can you tell me about the tattoo? Why do you have it? And why do you keep it hidden all the time?”
Your heart thunders in your ears as you sit up. Looking into Anita’s eyes you realise that the moment of reckoning has come. You owe it to her and to your relationship to tell her the truth.
You pull your hand from her warm grasp and start narrating your tale. Of how you are the offspring of a powerful witch and a wizard. Of how your parents had been talented. They had brewed a potion that would make a human immortal. Of how your parents had died fighting against a group of evil wizards who had wanted the potion. How in desperation, just before they died, they gave you the potion to drink. You, who were an innocent child of five at that time, thought it was juice and gulped it down. When you were about ten, the same gang who had hunted your parents tried to kill you too. It was then you came to know that not only did you possess magical powers more than any wizard in the land, but you were also immortal.
Touching your tattoo, you look at Anita and tell her that the tattoo was branded on your skin the first day you did magic. The day, you unknowingly defeated the wizards who had come to kill you. Your special talent, you tell her, is to read minds. You have used it to win business deals and grow your business.
You see Anita’s eyes grow bigger with each sentence of your story. Your heart starts sinking seeing Anita’s serious expression.
“Have you ever looked into my mind?” She asks, her voice hesitant.
You shake your head.
“Because you are my soulmate!”
You are surprised when Anita starts laughing at this declaration. But her laughter has no mirth. “What a fool you are!” She cries, leaning forward. The shoulder of her dress slips down, and just below her collarbone is a tattoo. Looking at the tattoo, you feel lightheaded. The tattoo is familiar. It is a pentagram.
“Poor lamb!” Anita taunts. “Surprised to see the tattoo again? My life was destroyed the day when my parents died trying to kill you. The whole purpose of my life has been to find and destroy you. It is now payback time. I will take my revenge by destroying you.”
You are stunned by her revelation. You open your mouth to plead, to tell her that you love her. To persuade her to forget the past and move on. But before you can do anything, she raises her hands and mutters an incantation. You see a tear falling from her eye before there is a familiar flash of light.
This is not how it is supposed to end, you think as your eyes close and darkness drags you under.
When you wake up, dusk has fallen. The picnic blanket is still under you, scratchy under your back. You feel a sizzle in your wrist. Your watch as your dragon tattoo gets superimposed with Anita’s pentagram. Surprised, you turn your head and see Anita lying beside you. Her eyes are closed, her face peaceful. Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. Tears escape as you hug Anita’s inert form close.
The world grows dark as you sit there holding Anita’s hand for hours. Your wrist is throbbing, and your heart is aching. You ignore everything, you just want to drown in the darkness of grief.
You sense her before you see her. She comes and sits next to you on the blanket. You are somehow not surprised it is her. The same lady who had come to the hospital. The passing years don’t seem to have made much difference to her. She still looks the same.
“May I”, she asks softly, pointing to your wrist.
You hold out your hand. She inspects the tattoo minutely.
“Why?” You ask, unsure whether she will answer.
“Free me from this burden!” You shout, the gaping wound in your heart bleeding into your soul.
She stays quiet, her eyes filled with sadness. You slump back, drained. She sits vigil with you for hours. Just as the dawn breaks, she leaves.
“Anita’s tattoo merged with yours. Maybe that shows her true feelings.” She says before leaving.
You do not answer her. You impassively look towards the sky, where streaks of orange herald the arrival of a new day. The promise of a new day does not excite you, there is no hope left in your heart. For you can neither live without Anita nor escape this world. You place a tender hand on Anita’s cold brow before you walk away.
On reaching home, you again look at the tattoo on your wrist. The dragon is now encircled by the pentagram. Your heart throbs with pain.
Anita has succeeded in her revenge of destroying your life.
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