The Promise

As the door creaked open and a bespectacled 70 year old figure appeared, the little boy’s squeak of delight resonated in the hospital room. Sampath, cane in one hand and a present in the other, slowly heaved himself on the bed beside the child. On unwrapping the present, the boy’s face lit up with the brightest smile that Sampath had seen in weeks. “Another R K Narayan book! Thank you grandpa,” he exclaimed as he hugged Sampath. Sampath too had a wide grin across his face; with shaky hands he carefully lifted the book and began reading it aloud to the little boy. The boy and the boy-at-heart soaked themselves in the words of the book until the rays of the evening sun painted the room a shade of beautiful orange. “I will come back in the morning. Have a nice night’s sleep putta,” Sampath muttered as he closed the curtains before walking to the creaky door.

Hardly anything changed over the next few days – neither the dreary curtains, nor the faded bedspread, nor Sampath – who would prop his cane against the railing of the bed and begin reading as soon as the visitor hours began. The only change observable in the room was the boy – his condition seemed to grow worse as the days passed. His bones had become prominent, and his once chubby face was now replaced with sunken muscles. Intravenous drips of antibiotics were too harsh for a child of his delicate frame. Although each day seemed more tiring than the previous, he immersed himself in the world of characters that his grandpa created for him.

Sampath kept reading to him. The boy became increasingly engrossed as the stories progressed. He also had started to lose tufts of hair. He prayed to the almighty to give him strength, and promised his grandpa that he would stay until the book finished. The boy and his grandpa now looked similar – with prominent veins, bones, sunken cheeks and almost bald heads.

Almost a fortnight after the boy’s 7th birthday Sampath neared the end of the book. Over the days his voice had been losing its usual texture and became increasingly shakier. On an early October evening Sampath finished reading the last page of the last story. He turned around to pour himself a glass of water from the table next to the bed. His trembling hands dropped the glass jar and it shattered spilling water across the room. The boy took a deep breath as his grandfather went outside to look for a nurse. Sampath turned around worriedly as soon as he heard the EKG monitor beeping. He tried to run back inside, but tripped and fell because of his cane. Using all his strength he stood up and hobbled his way into the small room. The boy was smiling, although completely exhausted.

Sampath made his way to the bed as fast as he could. The boy’s lips parted to say a few words. “I love you Grandpa, it was a pleasure being with you” he whispered. “I love you too putta” Sampath whispered back, with tears falling on the boy’s cheeks. He sang his grandson a lullaby the last time. The lullaby calmed the boy as his vision dimmed into darkness. The grandson had kept his promise.

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The Lone Survivor?

Every step that I took hurt more than the last. Pain surged through every part of my body. I wiped my sweaty forehead with a charred piece of what used to be the sleeve of my shirt. The place smelt better than what it did a few days ago – the burning wreck was replaced by the smell of fresh violets. I felt a little soothed. I had absolutely no knowledge regarding my whereabouts or what day it was – the only thing I knew for sure was that I had to keep walking.

The western sky soon turned to a shade of purple that was closed to that of the bruises that covered my body. There was not a single human in sight. The only non-perishable food that remained in my sack was a couple of packets of crisps and the last of the three bottles of water. The little water that remained was enough to quench my thirst just once more. I had already consumed the raisins, apricots and biscuits. I looked at my bloody arm. Fortunately the blood had started to clot and this deviated my mind for a short while from the pain I had been in by walking without stopping in the needle-like grass. I had failed miserably in my desperate attempts to find another human being – from the crash or otherwise. Tired, exhausted and dejected, I decided to rest a little.

The otherwise rejuvenating sleep now became a source of constant nightmares. It seemed as though the crash replayed itself every time my eyes closed. It happened so fast and was so lifelike – I remember jumping out of the emergency window just in time. I didn’t even have the time to wake the lady sitting next to me. After the fire had calmed down a little, I had climbed the wing to see if there were any more survivors. All I could see was yellow oxygen masks strewn all over and charred bodies of people. I found a child screaming for help and got him out. He died in my arms moments later. Two hundred and thirty nine people including the crew of TransContinental Airlines flight TL-78– all dead! At this point I found it extremely hard to decide if I had been incredibly lucky or the most unfortunate to have lived.

After my futile attempts to sleep, I decided to keep moving on. But alas! My legs could take no more. I collapsed yet again, unable to get up this time. Non-stop walking, hunger, thirst, loneliness and wilderness had taken their toll on me. I sat down in the thorny grass, trying to regain whatever strength I could. Thankfully no wild beasts had attacked me yet. My gaze shifted to the eastern sky, which now had slowly started to brighten. I took out the sheet of paper that I had carried and marked one more line on it with the pen I had found in the sack. There were seven lines now, signifying the seven horrifying days spent without any human contact.

After finishing the last packet of crisps, I decided to resume my journey. Fortunately, a couple of hours of travel brought me near a stream. Although it was not the cleanest of water that I could imagine, I was more than happy to see it. Filling the bottles with the cleanest part of the muddy stream, I decided to rest a little again. I now had to sustain myself on the grasses and wild berries I caught sight of occasionally. Although I had no clue if those berries were harmful, I decided that it was worth a shot and filled my sack with them.

I sighed as the sun set. The uncertainty and the gravity of the situation slowly set in. I now started to doubt everything that gave me hope. A thousand questions burned through my traumatised mind. “Why me?” “Will I ever live to see any other human?” “Will I ever see my family again?” “If I am just supposed to die anyway, why am I dying all alone? Why didn’t I die with the rest of them?” Trying to ignore the thousands of voices in my head, I decided to walk a little more before it became it became completely dark. I got up with the last ounce of my strength but unfortunately my body couldn’t keep up with my mind. My feet had swollen and the pain kept getting worse. Ultimately I decided to give up all hope and sleep.

The next time I opened my eyes I was on a bed in some kind of a cottage. I wondered if I was hallucinating. Although my legs didn’t hurt that much, they felt incredibly heavy. About an hour later an old lady walked in carrying food and warm clothes and an interesting-looking bottle. “I assumed you would have woken by now. It has been two days since I found you,” she said. “I have cleaned your wounds and bandaged them for now. You are lucky I found you just in time. Drink this.” “What is this?” I asked. “This is Somras. Don’t say anything loud. Just drink it. Don’t mention anything to anyone” she replied. I was awestruck. The only words that left my mouth were… “So you mean…I am in…Meluha?”