Shobha Apartments – Eji Pura, Bangalore
Sekhar trying to park his car in the designated parking lot allocated to him. Anyone witnessing the scene can easily make out, it’s a struggling premature driver execution. After a trial of half a dozen back and forth placements, somehow he manages to get it down. In a sigh of relief, he gets out of the car to collect his backpack in the trunk and starts moving towards the elevator. As the elevator flowing down from the storey 23 by tripping out the count one by one in its last name, he glances his hand watch to realize it’s 20 min past 9 PM. He hops into the arrived elevator and punches on the level 19 in anguish “Again, I missed to catch up for the dinner planned at 9 PM. Its a hat-trick of misses, Sharadha would kill me today for sure. Monday – Meeting, Tuesday – Traffic. What should I tell today ??” As he lost in his thoughts elevator door draws out, in sync with a lady husky voice “Level 19”. He regroups his thoughts to walk into a door that is been decorated in the traditional Indian art with an embedded typographs as ‘#19-120, Sekhar and Saradha’s Nest’. Before he knocks up, Sharadha opens the door and moves in without any acknowledgment. Sekhar drops down the carried possessions at a side and unshoes to enter into the bedroom through the living room, as Sharadha already flown to the bedroom. “I sincerely tried to keep up the time Sharadha, don’t make a deal out of this. Please !!”
‘It’s not about you. Today I got scolded again from the school principal because of Achu. This is the 8th time in the last 3 weeks. I never got embarrassed these many times even when I was schooling’ as Saradha speaks out in a deep voice, Sekhar laughs out loud “It’s not anyone’s fault. We are stuck in an awkward generation, the paradigm of control dramatically shifted to the opposite side when we are supposed to have it. We are at the receiving end as a kid and as a parent too. Beleive me, this is happening to all the parents. So chill out”. ‘Easier said than done, you escape every time with a lame excuse. I am the one to receive the embarrassment’ Saradha responds furiously. Without any fade out of mischief, Sekhar asks “What did he do this time ?? Same thing ??” In a worried tone, Sardha explains ‘Yes, again he was caught playing with that marble maze toy while the class was on. I thought it is useless to break the toy again, as he eventually buys out a new one with the pocket money. What kind of obsession is this ?? All other kids are crazy about digital games, mobile apps, and funky things.
“He liked it, as I did too when I was a kid. You are over-thinking. Where is he now?? Did you eat anything??” Saradha nods her head and signals towards Achu’s room in response to Sekhar.
Achu’s room is filled with creativity, vibrancy and scribbling all over the walls. The entrance wall of the room is occupied with a king-sized hand painted deer baby holding the name “My Chanchal” in scribbled letters. The left side of the wall hosts the posters of Indian superhero “Jai Hanuman” followed with a series of other Indian mythological characters mimics. A framed wall hanging that depicts “certificate of appreciation goes to ‘Achyuth, Class IV’ for being a healthy baby” cannot miss anyone’s attention amongst all the atmosphere. Achu in his queen size bed is painting a futurist modern art in a block of cardboard when Sekhar and Sharadha entered. After a wink of observation, he drips down his head and continues painting as if he never saw their presence.
Sekhar approaches Achu and sits next to him, Saradha is curiously watching the duals from the entrance of Achu’s room. “You know what, I never told this to you before. I too like that circular marbled maze game you play. Your toy got only one marble right ??” Achu acknowledges by nodding the head. “Mine got three. One has to draw all the three to the center circle to win a game. Look here it is !!” Achu is excited to receive it from his father and quickly examines to grab the nuances of the new collection. The orange tone of the toy instantly looted boy’s attention. “But I warn you, this toy has a curse. If you continuously fail for 5 times, you would be stuck in a maze. That maze spans across 7 different worlds. You have to win a game by cope-ing all the 3 marbles to the center in every world to transit to another. So careful !! if you are failing to win after 3 times, stop playing.” In a trembled voice Achu inquires “When can I resume playing in that case ??” “After 2 days, understood ?? Also, don’t take this to school.” Sekhar tells in a soothing voice. “Ok, daddy !! when would Chanchal coming to our house ?? you promised me long back”. “Soon Achu, I would get your pet deer for you” Sekhar chills up the kid and lights out to move to their bedroom.
“Sekhar, What was that ?? Why you are feeding this non-sense ??”
“I know about the difficulty of that maze game. You can’t revoke the obsession unless it organically stems out from him. It’s just a story, eventually, he believed him it and would stop playing after 3 failed attempts. The urge to crack the game may come down soon as well. So Don’t worry” Sekar explains. “This is bad. You are teaching him a wrong example. Saradha yells out”. After an hour of heated arguments, the end cards of the conversation between the couple came up with a standard blocker from Sekhar “Do you have any better idea??” and the couple drifted to sleep carrying a ton of silence and a GB of pain.
A pitch dark space, no trace of light and the total visual is blacked out. In that darkness, Achu is slightly feeling a kind of moisture in his right cheek. As he gradually regaining the senses, he feels a series of affectionate licks on his cheeks. Instantly he opens his eyes to break the sleep sees the first light of the day. “uff, it’s Chanchal, he jumps out of bed”. A deer baby with pure eyes, dazzling skin, and infectious cuteness is standing before him. Without any delay, Achu takes a passionate hug to invite Chanchal into his life. In a clueless and exciting mania, he runs all over the house to find his father. To his shock, no one is around. The total house looks intact as it was before he went to sleep. Immediately he dials through a couple of numbers from the landline, but nothing works. In an inviting voice,”Chanchal! Chanchal! come on, let’s go out to see the neighbor aunty”. Chanchal comes down from ache’s room and accompanies him in an obliging manner.
The kid opens up the main door and walks out through the corridor of the Level 19 and starts knocking on their neighbor’s door. As no one responds, he starts knocking all the house doors one after other and shouts out different names in a sequence for half a dozen of times “Lakshmi Aunty! Prathap uncle ! Nikki ! Watchman uncle !” . After an odd trials, he reaches the elevator. Buzzing the down button doesn’t bring the elevator, he gifts the elevator door with a disappointed kick and the Chanchal follows his master too. Both take the staircase on to come down.
They don’t find anyone or anything in their transit. All the floors are empty and depict as if only these two are around the place. Once they hit the ground floor, Achu runs in despair towards the apartment main gate.The total place looks different. His eyes tried to consume as much as it can to feed in what’s happening around him. All that boils down to destructed concrete buildings, shattered houses, broken window glasses, thick and dense smoke groups and military tanks.
Chanchal ran into the street first with Achu following her. In their trek of demolished concrete blocks and war waste, they witnessed kid’s dolls, blood-stained clothes, watches and even gold. Nothing was curious to them to grab on, tired beings hopped on to a stationed military tank. “What is this Chanchal ?? This is bigger than my dad’s car. See it has a funny nose too. I wonder with this kind of nose, how can it move without poking into other vehicles ?? anyways, maybe it is made for poking into others. What if we poke into its nose ?? Ha, Ha funny right. come one! let’s sit on its nose such that it’s poking reduces.” In a joyful mode, both crawl on to the military tank gun and settles down in a comfortable position. Achu grabs the three marbled maze toy gifted by his father last night from his pocket. Suddenly the fact strikes him “Chanchal, my father warned me last night. But I thought he was playing smart to control me. So I tried winning this maze game even after the allowed sequence of failures. Here I am, stuck in the real maze. This doesn’t end here, we need to cross another six more different worlds to get back to real home.” Achu breaks out pathetically. Poor deer stands on the tank gun and slowly walks towards him to console by licking his cheeks. In a split second, it loses balance and fells down from the tank. Achu in that shock loses the maze toy. the circular toy rolls over and runs down away from them crossing the street. Both Chanchal and Achu quickly cope up and starts running behind the toy.
The roll slowly gathers momentum due to the downward slope to speed up its pace. Chanchal almost catches up with the toy, but eventually, it falls into the slit at the edge of the road. The slit is eased enough to allow the toy to drip in as it has a gap of about 5 inches from the road. Achu reaches the slit in a gasping breath and tries to peek into the slit. He sees nothing but dark. After a close observation, he hears few kids voice through the slit. “Anyone there ?? It is mine. Give it back to me” Achu shouts through that small passage. After a couple of voice posts, he hears back a gentle girl’s voice “The gap is above our height, Papa and Mama are talking with God and they are not here now. I don’t know how to give it back”. Instantly, Achu tries again to see through the slit to see the girl at the other side. It’s dark, nothing much or nothing less. “Ok, tell me how to come over there, I would come and collect it.” he echoes back into the passage.
“Papa said, he would come back soon. Wait for him please!”
In a despair, Achu responds to the voice “Please, Please understand. That maze toy is important for me. Without that, I would get stuck here forever. At least try to throw out through the passage” after a pause he continues in a brisk voice “No, No, No. Don’t throw it. If it’s broken, I am gone. Help me please!”
The girl’s voice in a sweet tone replies “Hmm, if you keep walking in the downward slope for another few steps, you can find a locked watch shop. Come and knock on the shop shutter for 3 times. I would open it for you”
Achu enthusiastically runs down and obliges as she said. An 8-year-old girl opens up a small passage of the shop shutter that is good enough to allow him and Chanchal. “Is this your pet ?? I never saw petting deer” she giggles and brings the maze toy to Achu.
“This is Chanchal, my mate. Not pet !!” Achu echoes in a serious voice.
“What is the difference? one and the same right ??” he proudly answers “No, Mate is someone you feel being with even when they are not present physically with you. Chanchal was with me even before I met her. So, she is my mate. Not pet” and queries her back “Why you are hiding here?? why is this place got surrounded by so much of destruction ??”
She takes him to a room that filled with more than 20 kids in a traumatized condition. “I am haseena, these kids are our friends from neighbor households. Donno what’s happening around. A few days back, My papa came up with bruises and injuries, all of a sudden we started fleeing from one place to another. Mostly the dark underground bunkers with no adequate food and water. In fact, we started as a group of 34 kids and 8 elders. We are left with these 20 kids and my Papa and Mama. Elders went into brought in warm clothes, food, water etc., mostly never returns. You know when Reshma was crying days for her teddy, her dad went to bring teddy for her. Neither the teddy nor he returned back. Sometimes, we hear a big whistle kind buzz running over our head and bombing sounds. Don’t worry !! those are not bombs or plane attacks. I checked with my father, actually, this is an exam for everyone. Once we complete these days of darkness, we move to a new world. The people who left are already moved to that new world which has lots and lots of whatever you want. I, Mama and Papa are going there soon as well. You know, yesterday my dad left sufficient food for all of us that lasts for few days and went along with Mama to see God and ask for the transit soon. My father, probably returning soon.”
As she completes, the door of the shop shutters gets shackled by a bunch of strangers. Mostly all of them are covered from head to toe in a black attire. Black stoned monsters with a handful of deadly weapons. When all the kids are stuck in a shock, Achu slowly whispers in her ear “What is this place called ??” “SYRIA” was the answer. He trembles and loses the maze toy in that shaky moment. The toy hits the ground and slowly the three marbles reach the nucleus of the circular board.
Game over !! Achu and Chanchal disappear.
What about the kids stuck in Syria ?? Do they disappear too ?? Not sure, how to answer this. Yes, or No – both are deadly !!
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