There I was, at last, the place where the devil indeed resided. They called me the Omniseeker, the nickname I have earned, searching everywhere to find the devil. I dug graves, sealed dead bodies without burial, performed black magic and even donated myself to be possessed, but nothing worked. The nemesis of the divine never greeted me. Everywhere I went, it hid in the darkness until I met an older man after burying a dead body in the nearby forest one day.
This older man, who decided to waste his last few years meditating, heard my desire and adored my passion. He told me to visit an abandoned orphanage called the Child’s Wail and promised me the devil awaited for everyone. It was nothing but a fancy name for a burnt orphanage that killed more than thirty children, and now the place is abandoned because visitors heard a child crying every night. I suspected it to be nothing more than a hoax from what I had seen.
So here I am standing before the burnt two-storage building covered in darkness while being pointed the way by the moonlight. The building was undoubtedly haunting, but I heard no calls so far. Approaching the nearly open door, I entered the pitch dark home to witness the magnificent evil that not only shows itself to some but calls to everyone who visits her.
The air smelt of burnt flesh, and beneath my boot, I could feel the bones of animals and humans alike. For once, I couldn’t control my excitement. After nearly spending years searching for the evil, here I was, a few steps from it. Covering my nose, I slowly paced forward before turning on the red light I carried everywhere, and for about a while, I heard nothing until I heard a child cry faintly from the first floor.
A smile appeared on my face, and pointing the light ahead, I took the stairs listening to the cry. With every step, the cry faintly disappeared, and when I reached the first floor, I saw a child who looked no older than ten, weeping, surrounded by dead bodies half-eaten.
Looking at me, the child calmly asked, “Can you please help me leave?”
Observing the carcasses, I asked, “Who is holding you?”
Looking at me as blood tears slipped on her cheeks, the child, in a shrill voice, replied, “The Devil!”
With a broad smile, I asked, “Where is this devil?”
As she stayed silent, looking into her completely white eyes, I asked, “I want to meet this devil.”
The child replied, “It’s within me. It made me burn this home with my friends in it and it feeds on them through me.”
Reaching the child by stepping on the half-eaten bodies, I finally saw the child’s face before I asked her, “Can you show her to me?”
Gawking at me, the child curiously asked, “Do you really want to see the devil, Omniseeker?”
Noticing me for a moment, the child opened her mouth filled with teeth like needles before saying, “I’m the devil, you fool!”
That was the last line I heard before being knocked down. However, I lived the next fortnight devoured one piece at a time every night by being punched by a thousand needles every bite.
Resting on the stairs that led to Ganga, Richa recalled how their chest numbers were called. Looking at the unending flow, Richa thought, “Now that you have done what you thought wouldn’t have been possible, do you have the strength to live with it?”
Listening to the water as the sunset, Richa told herself, “You should have told them the moment you lost your passion but you wanted to keep them happy…”
Coming from a family where all men served in the army, it wasn’t easy to follow some other path. For a long time, even Richa dreamed of serving her country but it was during her bachelor’s that she first felt her right knee hurt.
Presuming it might be due to lack of stamina, Richa neglected it for a while before she had to rush to a couple of doctors in order to get it diagnosed. As the pain worsened, the doctors became more clueless. Undergoing arthroscopy to find out the cause of her pain but that didn’t help except for the confirmation that the pain is caused due to the muscle atrophy in her leg and it grew weaker and weaker day by day.
Now here she was all by herself thinking how she could get out of this mess. Deep within she knew her foolishness is what brought her down in the first place but now there was nowhere else to go. Tomorrow if her father asked what she would do if not join the army, she honestly didn’t have an answer. All she knew was that this wasn’t for her.
It all boiled down to one question, “Do I have the strength to truly tell my father that I don’t want to throw my life away like countless others?”
Listening to the evening prayers, she closed her eyes and the next morning, she put her acceptance letter before her father before saying, “I’m done living up to your requirement papa. I will not join the army.”
While her mother looked at her as if she was seeing a ghost, Richa continued, “Over the years my perspective to serve has changed. I’m no longer worthy...”
Looking at her sternly, her father stood up to tap on her cheek as a faint smile appeared on her face as he said, “As you wish kiddo.”
It felt unbelievable to Richa as to what she just heard. She stood there utterly shaken, realising how many presumptions she fed herself about a man who never said a word about wanting her to serve. She even thought he would claim it to be betrayal but in reality, she was always free to do what she wished for.
There was never a need to live up or act a certain way.
It’s been more than two years since he passed away and not a moment passes by without recalling memories of him. They say we are rarely gifted with a perfect partner. I was until God took him away and now, the past feels nothing short of a dream that never happened.
Staring at the cloudy sky that drizzled through the window as we rushed home on a train, I thought about the time we first met, under a lovely tree covered by the unending bright blue blanket of the sky with white cotton clouds in the background.
He was a gentleman and understood me unlike anyone else. We had been together for four years before our families agreed and we got married. Everything was picture-perfect until his car crashed and so did my life.
Calling out to me by my name, my sister who is five years younger than me asked, “Do you want to give him a shot?”
Less than a year after the accident, my father vowed to get me married using all his power. In the beginning, it felt as if he cared and really wanted me to be happy but as time passed, it became more evident that he not only feared me being alone but also started to think of me as a burden to bear. Supporting him stands my mother, to whom being individual and independent seems either short-lived or unacceptable. I honestly don’t understand and I don’t care.
Then comes my sister, who is in such a rush to get married and settle down with no idea as to what she will do next. The little champ perceives marriage as a goal rather than inception. Now, I’m supposed to marry a guy whose first marriage didn’t work, only to pave the way for her. To piss my father even more than he already is, my mother declared she wouldn’t get my sister married until I’m remarried.
Staring at her with a tired expression on my face, I didn’t answer. Looking around, she said, “Have you ever noticed how we can compare the train to our life, sister?”
Presuming a sermon is on the way, I continued my silence as she continued, “If we perceive the passengers as people we meet in life, as much as we like the journey and our companions, sister, the journey will eventually end and we must bid goodbyes. Clinging onto the train might take us back, but the journey is done.”
And then, she added something that I will never forget, “Unfortunately, you were married to a passing cloud sister. Do not cling on to him. There is so much more to explore and live!”
I know, almost all of them who give me their enlightenment, do it in the hope to help me move on in life, but the way they do it is just awful. Sometimes I wonder, if it was me who died, would everyone I know also perceive me as a passing cloud in their lives and forget me as soon as it’s convenient? I agree, being stuck like me isn’t ideal, but categorising everyone as passing clouds with no sort of emotion or memory after their demise isn’t just bad, but also terrifying.
For good or bad, the least we can do is to honour them in our memories. I understand individuals strive to be happy but it shouldn’t be at the expense of not having enough strength to even bear the loss of a person. It is disrespectful to pretend that they were insignificant to keep ourselves optimistic. As much as I wanted to say this, I knew her young mind was not in any position to listen to my point.
Pondering over her question and her perspective for a moment, I thought, by her logic, how does it even matter if it is this guy or some other guy! I simply replied, “Yes.”
Honestly, I no longer have any preference except for the hope that he is good in terms of his character and in the process, I would make my family happy too. This was what they have been waiting for and at last, I would rather give it to them, to not only make them happy but also to stop getting life lessons from my kiddo sister. Apparently, I feel I’m nothing more than a passing cloud to them too.
Trigger Warning: Suicide
Naina stood at the edge of the water tank and closed her eyes. Her thoughts took her back in time to when she was in school.
In an old house, her aunt and cousin held young Naina before she was about to run away, not wanting to listen to them. As she looked at them with her eyes wide open, her eldest cousin said, “Your parents will always keep fighting because of your Zodiac sign! They are most unfortunate to have you.”
Gawking at her, Naina’s aunt said in a sad voice, “My sister never had a peaceful life. Her husband made it even more complicated but this kid just made it worse. Look at her…”
Turning towards Naina, she cursed, “She is like a dirtbag breathing life. Even her fate is ugly.”
They stared at her as Naina’s cousin suggested, “Let’s admit her in the boarding school that I’m working in mama. I will keep an eye on her and she can stay away from my uncle and aunt and that will offer them the little peace they are hoping for.”
The mother looked at her daughter for a moment and nodded in agreement.
There was silence and darkness for a moment until another memory popped up. Young Naina stood in a corridor, while a thin short woman stood beside her. Naina stared at her parents while they left the boarding school and the women beside Naina took her inside.
The next memory started with a phone ring and young Naina ran towards the corridor hopefully. The attendee picked up the phone to say, “Hey Naina!”
Feeling delighted that she finally got a phone call from her parents after many months, Naina rushed to the phone with a beaming smile before the attendee said, “Can you call Archana? Tell her parents had called.”
Walking away with a dim face, Naina called Archana. For days, the phone rang multiple times and every single time Naina ran towards the phone filled with hope to talk to her parents. But she never received a call. Adding to that, every weekend, Naina felt extremely disappointed when she saw other kids having a great time with their parents who visited once a week.
The next memory was about Naina’s birthday. The day when her parents finally arrived. Until then the only family member Naina ever saw was her cousin. Whenever she saw her, she gave a nervous smile and tried her best to avoid her. On her birthday Naina wore a beautiful pink frock her parents got her and they celebrated her birthday at the school canteen. Naina looked at her parents standing on her either side as she cut the cake. She glowed with a beaming smile on her face feeling loved for once.
After the birthday party, Naina and her mother sat on the lawn as her father spoke to the teachers. Staring at the sunset, her mother said, “Your father has not fought with me in the last three months even once. He was calm and caring. We are finally happy together…”
Listening to her mother spitting out cruel words without any self-reflection, young Naina closed her eyes.
Opening her eyes, Naina saw the dark blue sky and a blurry full moon covered partially by clouds. She looked at it for a moment and took a deep breath. Turning around, she realised she was standing on the four-story building. A thought passed her mind as to what would happen if she would just fly for a while in her last few moments.
But the destination of the flight terrified her. Even she acknowledged, “That would be messy!”
Still standing on the water tank, she let her memories absorb her again. The next memory she got was that of a girl saying to her, “Look! You should be thankful that I’m even talking to you. My mom strictly prohibited me from even smiling at you. Your father is such a bad person and so are you!”
Those words hurt her so much that she used to often wake up at night recalling them out of the blue. One night when she woke up terrified that she might lose her only friend. She took deep breaths before seeing her mother talking on the phone nervously.
When Naina’s mother asked her if she knew the directions to her school, Naina nodded yes.
A year later, when Naina returned home, her mother shouted, “Why do you always cause me so much trouble? You are just like your father!”
Naina stood silently in a corner as her mother yelled at her, “Why did you attend a stupid school function instead of studying? Is it that necessary to see kids dancing? You are such a brat! You are not allowed inside today! Much better leave me and let me live my life peacefully!”
That wasn’t the first time nor was it the last. Naina often stood outside their main door in wrinkled clothes and a torn bag. She could recall how her aunt, mother or cousin used to ask her, “Where are you coming from instead of the tuition centre? With whom have you been roaming? You are such a bitch. You are so unworthy!”
Truth and lies were both considered as lies and every word spoken to her is out of spite.
In the dark night, Naina crouched in her georgette white frock to slide the heavy lid of the water tank to see a dark rectangular hole. She bent towards the hole as the narrow waves of water reflected her face. She kept her legs in the cold water and felt a shiver down her spine. Looking at the beautiful blurry moon still covered with clouds, she jumped into the water.
In the cold darkness, Naina heard a different voice say, “A few days back her mother asked me if she came to the tuition and I’ve told her she didn’t for a couple of days. Imagine the trouble she might be in!”
And following that statement, Naina heard a couple of girls giggling until one of them said, “The funny thing is that my mom heard her mom yelling at her. Her mom was saying that she was roaming out with somebody. I mean come on, who would even look at her!” and the girls giggled even more until the teacher entered the classroom.
Opening her eyes underwater on the silent night that was lit by the moonlight, Naina heard a couple of girls teasing her by calling her, “Blackey! Blackambo!”
Walking past them in silence as the remaining girls screamed at the top of their voices, Naina wore an uncomfortable expression as she turned back to glance at the girls laughing at her.
Giving up, Naina suffocated in the dark water until one last memory hit her mind, “What have you given me except for misery and sorrow? Your educational loans, medical tests, day-to-day expenses have made me a pauper. I’m sick and tired of you and you are making my life hell.”
Recalling her mother’s face, Naina heard, “You are a burden that I cannot get rid of and after everything, you don’t even care if I live or die. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, your horoscope was right. You will never love your mother. You are such a heartless person and you don’t deserve a mother like me in a million years.”
Before giving up, Naina glanced at the moon one last time and could feel the clouds start to move away from the moon.
For a moment, she felt like she sat on the sand as the ocean waves washed her feet. It was so soothing and peaceful and not even a moment of her existence felt like it. Listening to the waves playing their tunes, Naina felt as if Mother Nature hugged her through the cold winds. In her abode, Naina smiled and so did the mother who held her.
Filled with love, Naina heard the mother say, “You look so beautiful, child. Keep smiling!”
Tears rolled down Naina’s cheek as she struggled to grasp a breath. She smiled looking at the bright and clear face of her mother that looked like a full moon one last time before losing herself. In a world where people are expected to be tough, a fragile yet beautiful soul gave up on herself after being rejected by her own.