The Midean Rebel

I wrote this for a contest in the newspaper. Unfortunately, I didn't win but I didn't want the story to be forgotten. That's why I am uploading it here. I hope you like it. Please do share your opinion.

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1. Escaped

 

“We will kill him…”

Aastha woke up with a jerk. She found herself breathless, sweating in the dark. She switched the light on and looked at the clean, cheerless room. Clothes and shoes were never out of place. The walls were ever glum and white.

Aastha looked at the clock. It was only one. She eased back, thinking, and then she turned to the little eight-month old sleeping beside her. Looking at the baby’s clean, pink yet peaceful face, she felt relieved.

From the past two days, Aastha was being haunted by a series of nightmares. Her mind was plagued by the idea of losing her dear one.

Aastha pulled the gown closer to herself as she glanced down the huge window. The city of Midean looked calmer and more peaceful than in the mornings. In the mornings the town square would be overflowing with noise and activity. Presently there was no hustle or bustle, perhaps just an active, hooting vehicle or two. Sprinkled with gigantic buildings in the middle, Aastha could also see the little houses around them. Midean was like a phoenix- born out of the ashes of what was previously an Asian subcontinent. Midean had a handful of states which could provide resources for proper functioning. But it wasn’t always sunny in Midean. There were problems. Poverty. Hunger. Illegal trading. Strikes. Unemployment. They were only a few to name. People were pushed to work and at the end of the day, they were paid meagerly by the oppressive leaders. Crimefighters, the corrupt police service, did not allow them to breathe easy. They just added to everyone’s woes. Those who weren’t employed took up illegal activities such as trading, robbing, surrogacy (mostly women opted for this), extortion and many others. Time would change, or at least that’s what the parents told their children.

Aastha had never imagined that she would be standing atop a building in Midean, looking down. Like the hundreds of thousands of the unemployed, she too struggled a lot. Finally, a year and a half ago, she managed to find a solution. She just had to have a baby- but for someone else. A rich couple offered her a killing if she conceived a child. She had the baby through artificial insemination, got the money but the plan turned sour. In a desperate world, where the prices of oil, rice and wheat soared high, honesty, self-respect and happiness lay on stake. Sperm was donated by some guy, Aastha volunteered to take up the responsibility- what else could the filthy-rich couple want?

Cool breeze blew across the room. It was followed by a low moaning sound coming from the bed. Before it turned to crying, Aastha slowly crept back onto the bed. She took the baby in her arms and began to cuddle warmly. Aastha had no one and she had to survive- alone. But since the baby, there was a change in her. She loved the little one very much no matter what.

The little one was awake now. The boy’s big eyes roved around.

“Go back to sleep” she said but the baby was unwilling.

“‘Blooming flowers, whispers of dreams,

Oceans, seas and rivers and streams.

A very small hut on the sun-kissed sand,

Which seems almost invisible from the hilly land’” sang Aastha and the baby eyed her curiously.

 

“‘Cooing of cuckoos, cawing of crows,

I can hear them from where the barley grows.

A garden of pretty, red flowers,

And beside, stands a coconut tree which towers.’

 

‘The water tank stout, the hills lean tall,

The silver lining thin, the paarijaats* small.

 Waves lashing onto the shore with full might,

But the setting of sun’s a wonderful sight!’

 

‘Leaves rustle happily to the wind

It’s certainly no punishment for the one who’s sinned!

Eagles soaring in the free sky,

Out of shackles, determined to defy.’

 

‘Waterfalls, rivulets and lakes and springs.

Kittens, ponies and chickens and ducklings,’” she paused. “Are all found by,” she continued.

“‘The small, little hut on the sun-kissed sand,

Which seems almost invisible from the hilly land’” she crooned.

She turned to baby. He had slept in the middle of the song. Aastha placed him back on the bed. He was sleeping but he wore a gentle smile on his face which would put an end to Aastha’s worries.

But now, her loved one was being snatched away. Although the couple didn’t want the baby anymore, there were some people from Midean who wanted him. They showed interest in adopting. The deal was almost finalized- well, until now.

A few days ago, Aastha overheard them speak about a certain prophecy.

“The prophecy…it states that her first-born is going to bring down the Midean” she heard them speak.

“How do you know it’s her?” The vague question was clearly perceived by Aastha who was safely hidden.

“Her name is clearly written. Even the vagabond’s name finds a mention.” Aastha’s heart had begun to beat faster.  

“We get the child, then what next?” They must have been Crimefighters.

“We will kill him…” The hissing sound echoed in Aastha’s ears.

Aastha turned to the baby. She loved him so dearly. She had made a promise to give him away but she had given him the gift of life. The bond between the mother and child outweighed the promises.

Aastha had discussed the problem with her friends and neighbours. The gravity of the situation was understood. The prophecy was analyzed. The effects were listed. The plan was designed. The choices were made. The decisions were taken. Lives were put on the altar. Sacrifices were made. And following day was going to be the D-Day.

Aastha slowly crept back onto the bed. The boy was small and innocent. He was now seeing things, hearing things and understanding things. She didn’t want to lose him. Neither did she want anyone to sacrifice anything for him. She put her arms protectively over him-trying to soak in all the warmth. She loved him deeply and would do anything to keep him safe.

Humming the tune dreamily, Aastha began to imagine. She was a fair Midean where no one was penniless, hungry or oppressed, where thoughts and dreams were never caged, where no one had to do any ‘dirty’ work.

The humming stopped and now, Aastha closed her eyes slowly, drifting away into the land of wildest dreams.

                              **************************

“Commencing sunrise.” The announcement arrived.

It was a little over six but it felt like noon already.

Aastha was awakened by a high-pitched wail. She found herself sleeping gaping at the hungry baby. Aastha quickly gathered her wits. She cleaned her teeth, fed the baby, satisfied her own hunger with the tasteless breakfast ordered from room service and immediately, began to get ready.

She quickly stashed some food items into her backpack along with some clothes and diapers. She brushed her hair. And changed into a normal-looking dress (unlike the stiff ones she wore before). She did the same with the baby. She put on a large hat which made him difficult to recognize.

It was seven when Aastha, who had finished packing, was staring out the window again. The sun was overhead and the town square was bustling already. The weather was modified to meet workday requirements. The leaders of Midean loved to extract work out of everyone. Earlier the better, they felt.

The large, white light-emitting ball over the Midean Tower was not impressive at all. It was mechanical, dull and uninspiring.

           Memories floated in Aastha’s mind. It reminded her of her dear village. She had spent quite a major chunk of time there. Unlike the monotonous Midean, her village- previously a part of Karnataka, was beautiful. No one would modify the weather. Every morning was greeted by the sun himself. As the warm rays of the sun would kiss the land, the lazy villagers would be awakened. It would be followed by the chirping of sparrows and ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo’ of cocks. Farmers would set out to their fields. The sunflowers would turn east and the mild dew would glisten in the light. In the afternoons, the quaint little huts would be brimming with the aroma of traditional delicacies such as annasaaru, bisibele bath, jolada rotti and often, payasa*. These were the only dishes which had managed to evolve and reach the present generation of Midean but the other dishes where lost in time.

           Little boys would sneak into farms as they attempted to steal the delectable and only consumable fruits. The main boulevard of the village would echo with girls singing songs. But Aastha loved to sit by the sea and watch the sunset while she munched on the ‘muskin jola*’ singing her song. How she longed to relive those moments in her village!

           Aastha was hopeful to get back there.

           Although there was still an hour for the sign to come, she wished that the whole thing got over quickly. She closed her eyes and began to pray.

          “Cooooooooooooeeeeeee!” The alarm roared deafeningly breaking Aastha’s thought-concentration. She opened her eyes and peeped down.

          A huge crowd had gathered down-within five minutes. There was no noise.

          A deadly silence had serenaded the place. There were police Crimefighters deployed. Maybe that’s why everyone was quiet, Aastha felt. They kept a careful watch on the crowd. In the middle of the street, there were some people. Only the uniform-clad Crimefighters could be distinguished. They looked like ants. Aastha let out a shudder. People had come out for a reason. And Aastha had a hunch.

         “Coooooooooeeeeee!” The intercom was screaming again.

          Aastha turned to her baby. He was sitting upright, continuously hitting the bed with the remote. He was fair, active and small. He turned to her and gave a cute smile. A tooth or three were appearing. His eyes were brown unlike her’s. His dark newly-appeared hair was tucked under the hat which would even fall over his face. Nevertheless he liked the hat. He wasn’t named yet. His radiant face knew no qualms. Well, somewhere in the future this toothless, mewing child would be an important leader.

Aastha smiled.

“Can I have that?” she asked stretching her hand looking at the remote.

          The boy looked at her carefully and next, at the remote. He then placed the remote on her hand gently.      

Aastha sat down and switched the TV on.

          “…and reporting live the Midean capital.” The reporter’s voice boomed as the screen displayed the street.

          Cameras rolled, displaying the eager faces of the vibrant crowd. Then it cut straight to the centre. The camera focused itself revealing a man on screen. He was covered with blood. He was chained like an animal. His eyes were exhausted and his torn shirt exposed his wounds.

Aastha gasped as she looked at his face. It was him. He was the vagabond. The sperm donor. The actual father. He was thin, scrawny and pale. His brown, dejected and puffy eyes were fixed on the floor.  He was kneeling on the floor, panting, groping for some air in the packed street. He was early.

Two Crimefighters appeared on-screen and they pulled him up.

“No! No!” he cried as he resisted.

“You tell us about the conspiracy or suffer!” One of the Crimefighters growled, holding him by the hair.

A journalist came to the scene.

“You are being accused of conspiracy. What have you to say?” asked the journalist placing the microphone near the injured man’s mouth.

The Crimefighter stopped him. They were just about to send him away when the injure man stopped them.

“Wait! Wait!” he wheezed. “I have to say something…”

The guards looked at each other. One of them gave a short nod and the camera panned on the man.

“Three things,” he said panting. He would have fallen if the Crimefighter guards had not held him. “Firstly, I hate the tomatoes here. They’re too bright and taste awkward…”

Sarcasm with a hint of foolishness, Aastha thought.

“Secondly…” he spoke with difficulty. “I tell you Midean…you’re going down!”

The Crimefighters were about to escort him away when the journalist stopped them.

“What about the third one?” he asked holding the mike out.

“…run Aastha!” The words could barely escape from his lips as he was quickly whisked away from the camera.

Aastha’s eyes widened. Did he just take her name?

Aastha was shocked but she had to get a grip on herself. She quickly took the little baby in her arm and slung the bag over her other shoulder.

She slowly opened the door and looked searchingly to find Crimefighters. Phew! There were none.

Aastha clutched onto her baby as she closed the door behind her without making much noise.

She tiptoed her way to the fire exit. The coast was clear. One step. Two step. Three step. And Aastha slowly got down to the first floor. One more flight of stairs and she would be out. But, wait! There was a band of Crimefighters standing in the corridor, just a little distance away from the stairs.

The baby was quiet-busy with his mother’s hair which would often splash onto his face. Only the loud, cackling chatter of the Crimefighters reverberated all around.

Aastha slowly peeped. The hefty, hulk guards were still there, unaware of her. She looked at the stairs and then, back at the guards. If she headed to the stairs, then she’d be spotted and perhaps, caught. Should she walk? Or not? It was a gamble. She didn’t want to risk being caught.

“Coooooeeeeeeeee!” The siren blared out again.

“Commando two-six-one-foxtrot, come in.” Aastha could hear one of the guard’s walkie-talkie buzz.

“Yes, two-six-one’s here.”

“You are needed at the fourth floor.” Aastha heard.

Fourth floor! That’s where I was, Aastha remembered.

Maybe they found out about her.

“Copy that” the Crimefighter replied as he and his five odd-looking companions got prepared to leave.

Aastha moved back and the sound of footsteps echoed in the corridor. They seemed to be coming closer to her. She tightly shut her eyes and hoped for them to leave.

Few moments later, the massive rain of boots lashing onto the tiled floor ceased.

Aastha looked out- the men were gone. She confirmed it twice and only then she climbed down the last flight of stairs.

She paused in front of the door but instantly, she froze with fear.

“Wait!” she heard a hoarse voice from behind. It must a Crimefighter, she felt.

Aastha took a deep breath and turned back.

A dark, goliath Crimefighter was standing behind, carefully studying her.

“Coooooooeeeeeee!” The alarm screeched again. It must have been about Aastha. They must have found out that she was missing.

The Crimefighter looked above trying to figure out-why the alarm rang.

There was a squeaking sound and a gush of cold air blew over his face. Before he could realize what happened, the door closed with a thud.

The Crimefighter quickly rushed to the door and burst it open.

There was a huge mob. The large street and the adjacent ones were swarming with people. One thousand. Two thousand. Three thousand. Who had the patience to count? People-all of them, eager and angry, were curious to find what was happening in the town square. Some knew what was happening. Some were just furious with the Midean and Crimefighters. One of them, in a fuming state of mind, grabbed a club and thwarted it onto a car. Few were surprised. Few weren’t. Few joined him and launched an attack-with full force.

The confused Crimefighter squinted at the angry crowd trying to figure out-who was protesting and where. He tried hard to find Aastha but was unsuccessful. Aastha had quickly hurried away to safety.

The real sun was rising up from the horizon. The gentle hustle and bustle had turned into something ugly. As the temperature increased, the tension, the excitement, the curiosity and the disorderliness skyrocketed. Yes, an uprising had begun. The Crimefighters. Would they contain the violence? Or they would search for Aastha like a needle in a haystack?

A storm was brewing and was paving way for a dangerous rebellion.

Aastha. Her baby. They managed to escape from the storm-for the present.

But...?            

 

Meanings of some words-

paarijatas-small white flowers with orange stalk

payasam and rest-dishes

muskin jola-corn

 

 

 

 

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