(Reading Time: 10 minutes)

She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The bloodstained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her silk blue scarf. Inside the cafe some music played and her eyes drifted over the hustle bustle of Connaught Place through the window that dampened the maddening noise of a late Delhi evening. Look what they’ve done to my song, Ma! She hummed. She took a sip of her coffee and let it go cold in her mouth before gulping it down. For a moment she almost forgot about the man sitting opposite her. A man so extraordinarily inscrutable that she had given up the effort of understanding why he did what he did! The man shuffled on his seat and looked at her. A smile flitted across his face and he figured it was time for him to leave. He reached across the table and ran his fingers over the blue scarf, caressing the edge of the knife underneath. He then grabbed the knife along with the scarf and casually transferred it into the pocket of his coat. “I figure you don’t need to keep this”, he said. Mira looked at him as though broken from a reverie. She didn’t say anything but just looked at him smile a final smile. “Who are you?”, she asked. The man exhaled before spreading his arms in a mock theatrical gesture. “Call me Crow as I said, I am just a part of you – uncurbed”. The man turned around and made his way out.

If I could find a real good book, I’ll never have to come out and look at, what they’ve done to my song Ma, she pressed her lips on her shoulders and hummed.

***

Calvin stared at the blinking cursor for a while. Lighting a cigarette he gave one final read to the story that he was going to send to his editor. Being a freelancer suited him more, but the expenses of life demanded a more stable source. The election time was on and while every newspaper was looking for something sensational to print, Calvin merely wanted to expose the truth behind the facade that certain politicians put up. It wasn’t a very safe thing to do, he had seen his city gradually being corroded from the inside by elements so fantastically masked that it was almost impossible to gauge the poison within them. After some covert discussions with anonymous sources he conceived of a story that would in all probability get the attention it needed. The editor was sceptical, but an impressionable article meant more prints. He stubbed the cigarette and let out a deep breath. He buried his face in his hands and only the touch of Mira’s arms around his shoulders made him look up. “Are we a go?” she asked. “Definitely”, he answered as he bent his head a little and gave her a kiss on the lips. She looked at his face and tried to study what it expressed. “This could be big”, Calvin said standing up. He sighed and made his way towards the wardrobe. He stopped midway and looked back at Mira. He knew she had perhaps been able to sense that inexplicable moroseness about him. “Ah! It’s nothing”, he said, “only the anxiety I believe.” Mira walked up to him, she held his hands and said, “It’s alright. It is only the truth that takes the most from us and you don’t have to put a veneer on that fact. Your heart doesn’t have to be strong all the time, sometimes you can just let it melt”. Calvin looked at her; it was incredible how just some words from her could make the entire world around him liveable, with all its melody and malady. He couldn’t help but grab her waist and pull her close to himself. She felt his heart thumping against hers and his gaze so intense that all the substance from him seeped into her through the airless space between them and she could do nothing but draw her lips towards his and lose herself in the madness of a kiss that leaves the lips of lovers raw. Calvin traced his fingers over the side of her face, down her neck until her heartbeat was on his fingertips and his hands moved up her thighs on a path he had traversed a million times in the darkness.

A week later Calvin and Mira sat in a restaurant in the heart of Delhi. The story had been printed and expectedly enough – caused quite a furore. Stories spread like wildfire in the Indian media, but the good thing for now was: that it hadn’t yet been blown so out of proportion as to make it seem senseless. Mira was cheerful and Calvin, as his was his wont, thoughtful. The dinner was served and a few drinks down they sat talking about nothing and everything. The crowd got dense and then gradually thinned and when they stepped outside onto the street, everything was covered in a thin cloak of the December mist of Delhi. “I think we’ll miss the last metro, Cal”, Mira said wrapping her arms around his. He put his hands around her waist and suggested they call a cab. They slowly walked inside the circles and soon enough the huge tricolour fluttered in all its glory against the backdrop of a grim starless sky. Only the moon hung low, stray clouds flitted over her now and then. And the tricolour fluttered.

The cab ran smoothly over the deserted road. Through the mist, the moon shone right in front of them, aggrandized tonight. Lost in the sky and shining for them. Soon the feeling of being madly in love on a cold night under the sky that seemed lonely got so tangible that the wrapping of fingers was only a miniscule gesture to acknowledge the most beautiful thing on God’s earth: Love. Calvin and Mira almost didn’t notice the blaring horn behind them and only when the wagon screeched to a halt ahead of the cab, were they broken from their transitory advances into heaven that they had shared without the need of a single audible word.

In Mira’s memory it was in a series of flashes that three men stepped out of the wagon and waved the iron rods they held in front of the cab driver to scare him enough to unlock the doors and flee away on his scrawny legs. With brute strength, pulled them both out of the car and threw them into the wagon. They sped away leaving abandoned the cab, and with it, Mira’s life and dreams. Soon enough, their phones were snatched and they found themselves struggling fruitlessly against three men who bound their hands and looked at them with eyes that showed no human emotion. “So he is the writer”, said one pointing the rod at Calvin. The one next to Mira scanned his eyes on her, as though devouring her with his mere look, “And this one?” he asked. He knelt down in front of her and moving his coarse hands over her face said, “Looks like a bonus”. He laughed as Mira jerked her face away with disgust. “Please”, she said. He held her face and roughly tugged it towards him. Bringing his face close to Mira, he took a sniff. “The girl has had alcohol”, he said laughing and then slapped her across the face. “Get away from her”, Calvin shrieked and the men laughed. Mira whimpered and begged to let them go. But the men of course, had other plans. Mira and Calvin both by now knew that exposing the truth had got them a reward that they never had wanted. Through her welled up eyes she watched as one of the man took a swing of the rod and bashed it across Calvin’s skull. Her scream choked up inside her throat and her mind went blank with shock as she heard Calvin’s body thump on the floor of the wagon. Her senses were already so numb that she only felt a wave of disgust as the man next to her pinned her on the rattling steel, mounted himself on top of her, unbuttoned her jeans and in some beastly frenzy violated her, deaf to the mumblings and whimpering and pleading of the girl who lay shocked and as helpless as a child beneath him. “Leave some for me”, the driver said and chuckled. Somewhere in the distance the tricolour still fluttered.

Mira was admitted to a hospital and lay unconscious for days and in her absence what was left of Calvin returned to the ground. It was all a haze and a distinct feeling of sleep-walking through time until one day in January she found herself sitting at a Starbucks cafe with heart and body broken to such an unfathomable extent that she could not understand how it was possible for her to still breath. Look what they’ve done to my brain Ma!.. They turned it upside down and I feel like I’m half insane Ma! She hummed. The bruises underneath her clothes and scars on her neck were the visual remnants of the malady that had transpired. She was still lost when a man came and sat opposite her. She looked at him blankly. The man smiled: a smile that said, “I will not harm you”. She relaxed her fingers from her handbag and looked at the man she had never seen before. “Spare yourself from wondering who I am or what is my purpose”, he said, “All you need to know is that I come with no wrongful intentions towards you.” He took a breath and glanced at her. “I cannot contrive of words good enough to console you, all I can say is that I perhaps feel a need to help you”. Mira studied him, confused, “How do you even know who I am?” she asked.

The man chuckled softly and said, “Finding things out is what I do. I know who you are and what you suffer from”. For a minute Mira wanted to get up and leave but there was something in the softness of the man’s voice that intrigued her. “And what is that?” she asked. “Loss, most of all”, the man replied, “struggle against a ghastly memory and an incomprehensible present”, he added. Something moved inside her and she bit her lips. It pained him to see her the way she was. “I figure I don’t need to tell you that I knew Calvin”, he said, “I knew him enough to tell he was a noble man and it is my duty to finish what he set out to do”.

“What is your name?” Mira asked. The man sighed and said, “Call me Crow, if you have to.” He paused for a while and then said, “What I am here for is to do what you need and want.” Mira chuckled, “What I need and want!” she said. “Crow!” she said emphatically, “What I need and want is to kill those men.” Crow looked at her wordlessly for a while. Mira caught his eyes and in them she saw a faint flicker. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “If you see us humans in view of the galaxy that we live in then it is not too hard to understand that all we are is just specks of dust, some noble and some ignoble and we just float, biding our time. The ignoble fraction when left in lawless abandon will soon form a dust storm of utter chaos, leaving the rest suffocating, unless we take a stand. That’s what Calvin was about, a man with love for words and a dream of ridding the society from its muck. And you, Mira, you paid the price for being born what you were, a woman. None of human rationale can reasonably explain and defend what happened to you because it was that wrong of those men to violate you as they did and that needs to be set right. Forcing oneself on a helpless woman is hitting the bottom of a morally depraved abyss”. Mira looked down and wondered, “So you proclaim to be the white knight?” she finally said. Crow laughed, “As ridiculous as the idea of making an ocean by pouring buckets sound, when the need be, it’s the first drop that marks the beginning. And the beginning is what matters”. He gazed at her for a while. “I don’t expect or ask you to agree with me or to even be a part of it. All I needed was to tell you these things, for I will do what has to be done, what I had already decided. I just ask of you to wait for me here this day next week in the evening, but there is something that I do want from you”. Mira turned her eyes on him in surprise. “That scarf”, crow said, “The one you use to hide your scar. The most important thing for you to do is to accept what happened. The more you try to reject it, the more difficult the struggle gets. The more you hide it, the more difficult it gets to live with it.” With that Crow stood up, Mira stared at him and said, “I can’t understand what you are about”. “Stories, Mira,” Crow said, “Look around. It’s Lutyen’s Delhi. There are stories floating all over. That’s the beauty of it. I just found one that needs to be fixed.”

***

“… I am just a part of you – uncurbed.” Mira sat for a while, by herself after Crow left. Maybe it’ll all be alright Ma, maybe it’ll all be okay, Ma! She hummed. In the passage of minutes she strangely felt herself lighten. Something drained from inside her soul and by the time she was out in the street her heart was beginning with the process of mending itself. With unconscious steps she made her way towards the subway, as she waited for the metro to arrive in the now breathable station of Rajiv Chowk, her mind played a gentle tune and she embraced herself tightly, trying not to let her trembling lips betray her. She entered the compartment that halted in front of her and took a seat. There were a few passengers on board and as the metro made way she noticed a boy, who must have been in his early twenties,  in the seat opposite her looking out the window, as though in a stupor.  She continued gazing at that boy until some noises from a short distance from her distracted her. She turned her face and saw three other boys in gaudy clothes looking at her and mumbling things amongst them. She heard them laugh and the derogatory comments that they uttered. Mira tried to dismiss the nuisance but a part of her wished she had Crow’s knife with her. The boy sitting opposite her got up with a sigh and stood in front of Mira leaning against the pole. It took a while for her to realize that by standing so he was blocking the view of the three behind him. Mira looked at him and as she scanned his face she realized that his eyes seemed tired from the mere fact of being open for a long time. The other boys got down a few stations later. He took out his phone and flicked his fingers over it; he stared at it for a few seconds and with a shudder over his lips put it back in his pocket. “Mayur Vihar”, the mechanical voice chimed in the silence and there the boy stepped down.

Now alone, Mira closed her eyes and thought of the many things that filled up the world around her, of the imperfect world that she lived in, of the beauty that it contained and the horrid figures that lurked in the shadows. Of which she had seen both and what was left for her to do was to decide which she would live her life by: the melody or the malady. “Suffering isn’t such a terrible thing”, she remembered how Calvin would quote Dostoevsky, “Go and suffer for a bit…don’t try to be too clever either. Surrender yourself directly to life, it will carry you straight to the shore and put you on your feet.” She sat in the silence with her thoughts and memories, “Now that I will never see you again or hold you like I wanted to one last time, I will carry you inside me and outside of the ragged edges of what remains. Like a sunny morning and a moist evening, I will carry you. In the music under the stars and songs with no words, I will carry you Cal”; she kissed her farewell into the glimmering lights of Delhi through the glass in front of her eyes.

***

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