The morning light peeped in through the elegant glass window and slowly crept along the floor of a large and beautiful bedroom. Like an old man climbing stairs, it climbed up a huge bed and made its way to the eyes of the sleeping figure under a thin white cover, who turned around in sleep. Very slowly the room was bathed in bright light. The walls reflected a dazzling white. Silence wove its magical charm. It was as peaceful as in heaven.
The sleeping person woke up. He opened his eyes, threw aside the thin cover and pushed himself into a sitting position, took a lazy look of the room and fell back on the bed. The mattress was so soft that he sunk into it. Gazing up with sleepy eyes, he yawned. Lying on the bed and staring at the roof was an unaffordable luxury for someone like him so high up above the ordinary world. With thousands of things to look after, time was of immeasurable value. A lot of things could go wrong if not monitored and he had to keep them on track.
Brain winning over heart, he staggered to the wash room and took a shower. Cold water washed away leftover sleep and stale thoughts, bringing back the mind in total control. Wrapping a clean white towel around his waist, he stepped out of the wash room and went to the kitchen for a much needed drink. Filling an expensive glass with a clear golden liquid, he walked back to his bedroom and stood in front of a mirror. He was well-built, tall and exceedingly handsome. Huge muscles framed his chest, shoulders and arms. With a flat belly and strong, powerful legs, he looked like one of the mythical heroes. His light blue eyes and jet black hair gave him the look of a good natured and matured person. He almost looked like a man.
Emptying the glass, he dressed up in a robe and went upstairs to his work-station. This was where a considerable amount of his time was spent. Powering up the devices, he hesitated. All these years of hard work with utmost dedication, yet something gnawed at him. Maybe he needed a break. A break from the hectic work would be nice. Two days would be good enough. Things needed to be looked after and he couldn’t risk more than two days. It was very lonely here and it would be lovely to be among people again after a long time…
Opening a drawer, he pulled out a large world map and spread it on the table…
09:20 HRS. Ar-Raqqah, Syria
A tired looking doctor rushed inside M10. He was around thirty, with medium height, healthy figure, bearded face and eyes puffed from want of sleep. His clothes were rumpled, as if he had slept in them and yet an aura of cold determination radiated from him. War had ravaged the country. Power hungry people and their blind followers had wiped out laughter and happiness from the land. The once thriving city was now a pile of dust covered rubble, ready to collapse any moment. People lived in constant fear. Any day, any second could be their last. Thousands had fled leaving everything behind, yet many remained. The fighting factions had not considered even hospitals above violence. Twice the reception desk had seen brutal killings, its floor spilled with the blood of the unnamed. The bullet marks on the walls brought back terrible memories. The authorities had marked hospitals and rescue units in the region with codes in an attempt to secure their locations. Funds were low and medicines were limited, still they remained. They had nowhere to go.
The ambulance had arrived with civilians pulled out of rubble after early morning air strikes. The corridors echoed with the groans of the wounded and shouts for more pain-killers. Five stretchers were wheeled in the ward: two men, a woman and two boys. One of the two men was already dead. The woman was unconscious, bleeding profusely. Chunks of her hand were missing. Miraculously she was still alive, but only just. One of the boys sat dazed, so disoriented that he barely seemed aware of an open wound on his forehead. The younger one cried bitterly. His hand was a bloody mess and his black hair was sticky with blood. “We were eating. There was a loud noise. Our house broke and there was dust everywhere”, he sobbed. Pointing to the woman and dead man he continued, “They didn’t wake up when I tried. And Hasan is not talking to me.” The doctor moved in to comfort him, “Don’t worry, my son. I am here now. I will look after them. Sister, get the operation theatre ready. We don’t have time.” The doctor took a look at the mother. She wouldn’t last another hour. Even God himself couldn’t bring her back and he was just a mere doctor. He had to save those he could. The other boy was being taken to another operation theatre while a couple of nurses tended to the groaning man fighting for his life. Time was precious.
The operation was over. The doctor came out of the theatre pulling out his blood-stained gloves. He was weary beyond description. The last whispers of the four year child would haunt him forever.
“I will tell God everything…..”
01:12 HRS. Champaberi, India
Ominous clouds masked the pale moon, making the night even darker. Two figures walked cautiously on the road in the dead of the night. Both had their faces covered with scarves and blankets over their bodies. A village dog howled. The woman stepped on her blanket, stumbled and fell. The man came back and helped her to her feet after shooing off the dog. “Hurry up Radha”, he hissed in her ear. “Come on, let’s go. We don’t have much time. We have to go as far as possible.” With tears welling up in her eyes, Radha got up and covered herself properly with the blanket.
Mahesh looked around for signs of being followed. Radha had loved Mahesh from her childhood. Two years older than her, Mahesh was the only son of a poor peasant. From a very young age he had worked at her house as a servant. Mahesh was poor and moreover, he belonged to lower caste and she, a daughter of a landlord. Though she had never been to school, common sense and experience had taught her from a young age that castes do not mix with one another. But why, no one knew. Not even her father. With no solution at hand, they ran away from their village. Towards their dreams.
07:30 HRS. Outskirts of Champaberi
The sun had begun its slow walk to the other end of the horizon. Manoj was locking the door of his hut. He was already a bit late for the fields. His son had not yet returned from his friend’s place. “Maybe he has stayed the night there and gone straight to the zamindar’s mansion”, he thought and pulled the age old lock to check whether it was perfectly locked or not. Happy with the lock, he set out for his fields.
Humming his favourite song, his thoughts were full of work to be done. A group of men came from the opposite direction and blocked his road. “Who are you and what do you want?” asked Manoj. “Where is Mahesh?” one of the men asked in a rough tone. “I don’t know”, Manoj replied earnestly. “Why, what happened?”
The village looked desolate. Doors and windows of most houses were closed. A bleeding body lay on the road to the fields. Jeeps and bikes filled with men armed with rods and sticks set out of the village.
11:00 HRS. Rampura bus-stand, 15 km from Champaberi
Mahesh looked around cautiously and stepped inside a cheap road side hotel. They had walked the whole night and reached the next village. After a brief rest at Govind’s place, they caught the first bus to Rampura. Radha was very tired but they could not rest. Not now. Leaving Rampura was crucial. They had to put as much distance as they could between them and Rampura. Once Rampura was left behind, they would be free to disappear. Free to live their dreams…
“Hey Mahesh!” someone called out. Fear shot in his blood as Mahesh looked behind, ready to run. “Oh Gopi”, he heaved a sigh of relief. He had known Gopi all his life and in these twenty years they had done everything together. Gopi was like a brother to him. Mahesh walked towards Gopi with a broad smile. Something hit the back of his head and sent him sprawling to the ground. Dim shadows closed on him. Darkness swam over his eyes.
17:00 HRS. Champaberi
The old banyan tree was the center of activity at evenings. Children would play around the tree while the elderly would sit on ground in front of it and gossip about everything under the sun. Not today. A badly bruised body hung from its branches. The crows pecked at it.
Radha’s mother carried a tray of food as she walked to the room where her daughter was kept. Two maid servants followed her, laden with similar trays. “That insolent fool deserves no food for at least three days” she thought angrily. Her husband had caned Radha in front of the whole village. “Running away with that low caste scum Mahesh!” she almost spat. But that problem had been looked after. Muttering in an undertone about falling standards, Radha’s mother unlocked the door. An unearthly scream filled the mansion. The trays fell down with a huge crash. Food scattered everywhere. The ceiling fan strained under the weight of a body.
Life embraced Love in Death…..
A few damp spots on the map blotted the lines. In two days he had seen the world as it had become. He had seen a dead child washed up on a beach, humans killing humans in a frenzy; wherever he had turned his gaze, he had seen inhumans. A sense of failure crushed him. Wiping his tears, he rose from his chair and stuffed the map into his pocket. Leaving the door ajar, he walked to his bedroom. As he walked down the stairs, his mind was numb. He felt a sharp bolt of pain spreading throughout him. Everything else was a blur.
Opening the door of his bedroom, he staggered. Anger welled up inside him like a white-hot bar of iron in a forge. It was a storm of death and destruction, bound and strengthened by the injustice he had witnessed. He stood firm and closed his eyes. The storm raged inside him. He waded in the river of fury and began to shape it. The torrents of destruction resisted his shaping but with sheer power of will, he forced the waves and shaped them to his wish. He opened his eyes. The immense power of destruction surged through him as he held it in a delicate balance. Darkness cloaked him. "I am the storm", he whispered.
Placing himself in the center of the room, he prepared the flows of destruction. With that immense power coursing in him, he paused. He opened the map from his pocket and held it in front.
He saw a little child standing in a balcony. It was a girl of about five years. She looked around, standing on her toes to look over the railing which obscured her view otherwise. It was raining. She held out her hand in the rain and giggled in glee. Again, she held out her hand. This time she drank a few drops of the rainwater and he heard her speak.
The shock was so great that his control faltered. The flows of destruction teetered and tried to consume him in a flash. His anger drained away and he struggled to hold on to the flows of destruction. Slowly, with extreme caution, he let the flows unwound and dissipate. Weary beyond words, he staggered to his bed.
Sitting on the edge of his bed, he folded the map carefully and placed his head in his hands. “How?” he whispered. People called him ‘Almighty’; he felt weak. “Could I have prevented this from happening? Was it in my power?” he asked himself. He knew the answers immediately. No, he could not influence the course of events. He was the Clock-maker but even his powers were limited. He could only make the clock and watch it ticking away…
06:00 HRS. Marseilles, France
Abella woke up and went straight to the balcony like every other day. The balcony overlooked a street which would be full of people by this time. Everyday a big boy with headphones would jog on the street and wave to her, Fleur, her neighbour would leave for her yoga classes, the old man from the next street would walk his big fluffy dog and the ice-cream man would come with his van and her favourite strawberry ice-cream.
It was raining. The street was nearly empty. Abella stood on tip-toe to see if any of her daily friends were coming. She didn’t like when it rained because that meant she couldn’t stand in the balcony see her friends on the street. The sky was grey and gloomy with clouds. “Abella, come inside dear”, her mother called. “You will catch a cold standing in the balcony.” “Mumma”, she called. “Mumma come here.” “What happened dear?” her mother asked.
“The rainwater tastes like honey!”