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I am an independent writer and multi-award winning blogger who writes on parenting, humour, fiction and general lifestyle topics. - Sid Balachandran

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Category: Fiction

Begin Again

Begin Again

Attention:

The following piece of fiction touches on a very sensitive topic, as well as might be slightly graphic in nature. I personally know a few of you who’ve gone through a similar situation before – so please do continue reading only if you want to. If you’d like to know what the story is about before reading it, please reach out to me via PM.

 


Monday, 3am

I lie wide awake, partially mesmerised by the dancing shadows of the trees on the ceiling of the bedroom. There is a feeble beep as the digits of the bedside clock chime the hour. Groaning loudly, I sit up on the bed and draw my knees up towards the chest. A sharp pain shoots across my lower abdomen, causing me to clench my teeth tightly. It has been six weeks since the surgery; plenty of time for a normal stitch to heal. But these ones refuse to; much like the wound in my heart.

 

I slowly get off the bed, and amble up to the window. The thick purple curtains are drawn back, exposing the soft, sheer voile behind them. Moonlight streams in through the laced translucent veil, illuminating the room in a shade of eerie silvery blue. On the other side of the window, I can hear the wind howling as it swiftly whistles through the almost-barren branches of the trees, making them sway to its beats. It almost feels like the world outside is teasing me about my insomnia, while everyone sleeps peacefully.

 

A sudden inaudible gasp escapes my mouth, as I feel a firm tug on the base of my pyjamas. My lips slowly curl upwards into a smile when I realize the source of this ‘attack’ ; it’s Dusty, our three-week old Golden Retriever puppy. The flapping fabric of my pyjamas seem irresistible to him for some reason. I watch him at work, shaking his tiny round head back and forth, little rolls of fat jiggling under his golden fur, as he tries hard to get a firm bite of my loose pants. For a few moments, his inane antics keep me amused; distracted even, from the memories in my mind, cascading like a turbulent waterfall. In some ways, Dusty is like a little kid – in constant motion, wriggling and jumping. At times, I feel he is a living storehouse of pent-up energy, just waiting for a chance to release itself on the world and everyone in it. Maybe that was why Rajiv had got him for me in the first place; to serve as a diversion from whatever we had gone through in the past. But, as much as I love spending time with Dusty, he will never be able to replace the part of me that I lost that day.

 

I bend down, taking care not to strain my stitches, and gently try to prise him away from my pants. On a whim, I pick him up and softly tickle him below his ears. Dusty looks at me with his small doggy eyes and licks the side of my face, as if to say everything will be fine. Then, as he starts to fidget in my arms, I release him back onto the tiled floor, where he scampers off in search of his next adventure. I turn around and gaze longingly at the bed that I had lovingly made this morning. It is now a tangled mess of blankets, sheets, pillows and Rajiv – my husband of six years. As I watch the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, I feel a sense of calm wash over me. Our marriage may have been arranged by our parents, but I sincerely doubt that I could have found a more perfect partner myself. Rajiv is everything that I am not – patient, emotionally strong and practical. But even so, the past few weeks have taken their toll on him too.

 

As the heartbreaking memories come flooding, I try to fight back the tears that threaten to burst through.  It feels like someone is reaching inside me and pulling my guts out with their bare hands. Slowly. Painfully. This is how every night has been. Since that fateful day when Anjali left us.

 

*****

 

Anjali. Yes, that was the name we had chosen for her. In a number of ways, she was a gift for us; an offering of sorts. Ever since I had been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, we had almost given up hopes of me falling pregnant naturally. But sometimes, fate is a funny thing. Against all odds, the night before we were to visit our fertility expert to discuss the possibility of an IVF, I discovered I was pregnant. It was one of the happiest days of our lives.

 

The first few months of my pregnancy almost flew by. Being a trained maternity nurse, I was aware of what to expect and as soon as my 12-week scan was done, we knew we had made it past the turbulent phase. Despite not knowing the sex of the baby, we made many plans. We bought everything for the nursery and imagined what our baby would be like. We decorated everything with gender-neutral colours. Together, we watched my bump grow, and felt our baby kick. Everything was perfect. Or we thought it was.

 

It was during our 24-week scan, that things started to unravel. Since it was a routine checkup, I had decided to get it done while at work. Dr. Salim, my boss and lead gynaecologist, had offered to do the scan since I was part of his team. I remember noticing the colour drain from his face as he observed the ultrasound results. My ‘perfect’ world collapsed when he told me that he suspected a case of congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) – a genetic condition where an abnormal opening in the diaphragm allows organs from the abdomen to move into the chest cavity, thereby constricting space for the lungs to develop.  

 

I also remember how Rajiv and I tightly held hands, fighting back tears as Dr. Salim explained CDH in detail to us and told us the baby’s chances of survival were less than 20%. But we unanimously vetoed against terminating the pregnancy. We had decided that we were going to give this baby every chance of survival. Dr. Salim thought it would help us relate better if we knew the sex of the baby and revealed that it was a girl. We named her Anjali. Dr. Salim was right. Somehow, giving her a name made us feel like she was a real person, fighting away resolutely inside me.

 

Months sped by, and we tried to stay positive. Dr. Salim and my colleagues did their best to boost my confidence; but the truth was that no one could say anything until Anjali was born. My labour was nothing short of traumatic – and despite all their best efforts, Dr. Salim had to operate on me to get Anjali out. As I slowly started to pass out due to the excruciating pain and fatigue, I waited to hear what every mother hoped for – the ear-piercing cry of a newborn. But there was none.

 

Hours later, when I regained consciousness, I found Rajiv next to me. His bloodshot eyes said everything that I needed to know. The doctors were struggling to stabilize Anjali on the ventilator and they thought the chances of survival were very low. I remember my parents coming in and all I could say to them was, ‘My baby is going to die!’.

 

Later that evening, a very somber-faced Dr. Salim came into my room and told Rajiv and me that there was nothing more they could do. Due to the extent of the CDH, Anjali’s lungs were underdeveloped and had subsequently failed. They had placed her on life-support so that we could say our goodbyes. I remember wailing loudly, as I wept into Rajiv’s shirt. Sometime later, Rajiv wheeled me into the neonatal unit where Anjali was kept.

 

During my career as a maternity nurse, I’ve seen my share of newborns being placed in the critical care unit. I had always wondered how the parents felt; seeing their new-born offspring lying in that transparent, rectangular box measuring 60 x 40 cms, and attached to numerous different machines by coloured wires of all sorts. That day, I knew how it felt. It was as if your association with the baby was solely through the intermittent noises and beeps that these monstrous machines emitted.

 

After they had completed the formalities, the duty nurses picked up Anjali’s almost-still body from the unit and placed her into my trembling arms. I remember asking Rajiv to hold my hands so that I wouldn’t drop her. As the nurses disconnected the wires and switched off her life support system, I felt a slight quiver as my darling daughter tried to breathe. Between tears and wails, Rajiv and I hugged Anjali and told her how much we loved her. For a moment, our baby daughter opened her eyelids and we got a glimpse of her dark almost hazel-brown eyes. A brief shudder later, she was gone.

 

*****

 

The gentle chime of the alarm clock snaps me back into the present.  Inadvertently, I glance at the date – 20th September 2016; 44 days to the date that Anjali left us. It is also the day, that I had promised Dr. Salim that I would rejoin work. But, I don’t think I am ready.

 

I had always dismissed heartbreak as a myth. But Anjali’s loss proved to me, that it exists. The pain is almost physical; except that there are no visible scars. I feel distraught and like my life has been ripped apart. I try to fight back the tears that have now started to flow freely.

 

If it were up to me, I would quit work. Somehow, I cannot get myself to go back to the hospital and see new-born babies everywhere. But I promised Rajiv that I would try; that I would make an attempt to get on with my life. ‘That’s what Anjali would want,’ he had said one day, as we lay awake in bed together. Deep down, I knew that nothing would help me cope with her loss. When Anjali left, a piece of me had gone with her. But I owed it to Rajiv to at least try.

 


 

At the hospital, a few hours later;

 

I sit opposite the nurses’ desk, waiting for Dr. Salim to meet me after his rounds. He needs to clear me, before I begin work again. Dressed in my freshly starched uniform, I look every bit the maternity nurse that I used to be. But that’s just on the surface. Inside, I’m an emotional wreck who would rather be anywhere else but here.

 

I clutch my coffee cup tightly with both hands, my fingers spread around the white Styrofoam like a couple of pale starfishes. My hands are almost numb, but I can feel them slowly adjust to the warmth that seeps into them from the cup. I’ve always found the maternity wing to have a strange combination of excitement and uncertainty. The cacophony of noises – newborns crying, parents celebrating, the staff shouting, the machines whirring – the familiarity of it all was soothing to me. Now, only silence lingers in the air. I’m conscious of everything going on around me, but I feel nothing.

 

On a whim, I get up from my seat and walk towards the nursery. Giant panes of glass cover length and breadth of this large room. I gently press my nose against the ice-cold panes of this partition. My rapid breathing starts to fog up the glass, and I strain my eyes to catch a glimpse. With the precision of a detective, my eyes scan the length and breadth of the room, taking in row after row of newborns. Infants, of various shapes, sizes and ancestries; all connected by one common thing – that they were all born in this hospital. Just like Anjali.

 

Living with the past is something that we all do. For the past always has an impact on how our future is shaped, whether we allow it or not. But sometimes, we need to move ahead and out of the shadows that threatens to obscure our present. Sometimes, we just need to move on.

 

The is a general saying that time heals everything. No matter how severe the pain or large the wound, eventually, time heals it all. I think I may have even said it once or twice to the families who had lost a loved one. I think I used to believe in that. But I don’t anymore. You never actually heal; you just simply learn to accept things, because you have no choice. But you will never ever be the same. Things will never ever be the same.

 

As tears start to well up in my eyes once again, I slowly walk away.

 

 

******

Although this is a work of fiction, it is inspired by the real tales of many mothers that I’ve gotten to know and have read about over the past few years. This is a tribute to every one of them. The title ‘Begin Again’ is synonymous with re-birth here. Any other resemblance to any personal stories is purely coincidental. I’m also apologising in advance for any inconsistencies in my medical research. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this rather long story.

 

Subbu’s Sacrifice

Subbu’s Sacrifice

Note: If you get a pop-up on your browser, asking you to accept push notifications from this site, I’d appreciate it if you could press that Allow button. No spam – I promise.

 

Subbu eyed the large nondescript clock on the wall. There was still an hour to go before the final bell rang signalling the end of the examination. Somewhere behind him, he could hear the padded footsteps of the invigilator as he slowly walked up and down the hall. Through the open windows, he could hear the whispering hum of the monsoon, as the raindrops plummeted to the otherwise water-forsaken ground. Oh, how he loved the rain. What he wouldn’t give to run out of this dreaded room and make a paper boat of the question sheet, and watch it float away. Well, sort of like his chances with this exam at the moment.

 

Somehow, he forced his wavering attention back to his desk. A single sheet with the college’s insignia emblazoned on the top right corner lay on its surface. He’d managed to answer a few of the questions from memory. But as his eyes scrolled down the sheet, his mind drew mostly blanks in response to the other questions. He was going to need a lot of luck if he was going to pass this exam.

 

He felt his body tingle as the nervousness started to set in. There was strong breeze floating in through the windows, but he felt warm. Suddenly, he was very conscious of the beads of sweat that were slowly creeping down the back of his neck. As they gradually slid down the arch of his back and melted into the stickiness of his off-white shirt, he shuddered. As if on cue, the tiny hairs on his arms stood up in salute. As a wave of goose bumps formed all over his upper body, he shivered from the sudden change in temperature.

 

Almost absentmindedly, he brought his index finger up to his lips – they were dry and rough, like the parched earth during the summer months. Inadvertently, he ran his tongue over them, gently wetting them in the process. His right leg shook restlessly, bobbing up and down like a toddler in a bouncy castle. He was going to need to calm down and think of a way to pass this exam.

 

Letting out an almost inaudible sigh, Subbu glanced to his right. Most his classmates were furiously scribbling away – the smooth nibs of their pens gently scratching against the rustling sheets of paper. Some of them even had their free hand over their sheets – as if to shield their precious answers from prying eyes. Somewhere behind him, he heard one of his best friends, Shiva, read the questions out loud, as if somehow the act would magically present him with the solution. A few desks in front, he spotted his other best friend, Vincent. He was staring at the sheet and muttering something. Subbu leaned forward to try and listen. And then he smiled as he realised his friend was uttering a prayer.

 

All three of them were in the same boat –  stuck in the middle of the sea, with no oars or paddles. And there was a storm brewing on the horizon. If only they’d studied instead of goofing around. Suddenly, Subbu knew what to do. He knew just the person who could help him.But he was going to have to sacrifice something in return – something dear and near; something that could potentially crush his heart.

 

“Dear God,” thought Subbu, crossing his fingers for some luck. “If you help me pass this exam, I promise to never go and watch a  Rajini movie the day before the exam again!”


BARATHON

Today is the final day of the #BarAThon; The prompt is : Promise


For the un-initiated, Rajinikanth is an ultra popular Indian actor. No, actually – he’s a phenomenon in India with a fan following running into millions. And even today, there are fans who will do ‘literally’ anything, to be able to watch the first show of any of his new movies. Go figure!

The Bakery

The Bakery

Huffing and panting, big Little Gary pulled himself up to the top of the hill. His face had turned a shade of tomatoey-red and his oversized shirt clung to his back, courtesy the sweat he had worked up climbing uphill. There was nothing more he would’ve liked than to sit down and take some rest. But he could not. He needed to do this. As if on cue, his large flabby belly sent out a loud rumble.

 

“Don’t worry, mate. We’ll be there soon!” he said, adjusting his shorts. Wiping the sweat off his brows, Gary started to walk downhill, taking care not to tumble-down as he usually did. He caught a whiff of the aroma of fresh-baked bread, even before he spotted the place. Willing his oversized body to go on, he covered the rest of the distance down the hill and stepped onto the narrow cobbled street. He took a moment to gather his breath. Sweat poured down the sides of his face, and he continued to breathe heavily. But a wide smile appeared on his flushed face, as he spotted the sign.

 

The bakery was huddled between a pawn shop and a money-lender’s office – both of them towering over this little outlet. Most of the space inside had been taken up by large ovens and shelves of appetising displays. Gary sighed as he saw the front door of the bakery. He was going to have to suck his gut  just to squeeze through it. For a moment, he hesitated.

 

Maybe, this was a bad idea, he thought. After all, he had been ordered by the doctor to eat healthy food and exercise well. But he had heard all his friends talk about this new place. They’d said that the bakery made the creamiest fondants and tastiest tarts. His stomach rumbled loudly once more, as thoughts of food took over his mind.

 

‘I’m only doing it for you, buddy!’ replied Gary rubbing his tummy, as he let the aroma of warm cookies lead him inside the bakery.

 

Gary patted his right pocket, and it jingled slightly  in response. His mom had cut his allowance, fearing that all the money they gave him was being used to buy burgers and cakes. Luckily, he still had a few shillings left.

 

‘What can I get you, son?’ asked the baker, glancing over the counter.  Gary paused for a moment, carefully eyeing the mouth-watering cakes on display.

 

‘What can I get for this?’ he asked in a timid voice, tiptoeing so he could empty all his coins on the counter. The baker counted the coins and frowned. ‘This one’s not giving me much business then’ he thought to himself.

 

‘You can pick one of those, boy’ he replied, pointing towards the lower shelf of the display.

 

Gary’s face fell slightly as he looked at what the baker was pointing at. It was a row of small cupcakes. ‘They still look delicious’ he thought, as he carefully observed them all, trying to decide which one to pick.

 

‘Oh, they all look so amazing! Can’t we eat them all?’ said a tiny voice inside his head. For some reason, it sounded like something his stomach would say. Ignoring the mystery voice, he picked the largest one of the lot. It was a small red velvet sponge, sprinkled with pink sugar dust. And on the top, there was a rich creamy vanilla frosting, with little chocolate chips in them.

 

‘You really shouldn’t be eating all this” said another voice – this one slightly gruff and sounding suspiciously like his doctor’s. You’re meant to be eating healthy!

 

Gary let out a loud nut nervous chuckle. He needed to ignore that voice and put on his beloved hat of ‘wishful thinking’. It always helped him tune out these idiotic conflicting voices in his head and focus on what he wanted.

 

‘If I lick off the frosting from this cupcake, it’s similar to a muffin. And Dr. Perry said that muffins are healthy!’ he muttered out loud, as he devoured the tasty cup cake.

 


BARATHON
Today is Day Six of the #BarAThon. The prompt is  : 'Wishful Thinking'
Me, for Her

Me, for Her

I remember when I first saw her.

 

She was dressed in a pink pinafore dress, her little baby hair clumped to one side, gently cascading over her eyes. Her mother tried hard to tie it into little pigtails on both sides. But she just pulled at them and it went back to the little mess it was. I watched her move towards me, wobbling to and fro, like her knees were made of jelly. I almost cried out in shock when she fell down with a thump. It was only later that I realised that she’d fallen on her diaper-padded bottom. I smiled as she suddenly sat up and clapped wildly as if falling on her little behind was part of her grand and elaborate plan all along.

 

She chuckled and clapped some more. She eyed me carefully, as she stuffed her chubby fingers into her mouth – all of them at once. I wondered if she was trying to send me a message – a warning perhaps, stating she wouldn’t hesitate to eat me if I upset her; which she did try one day, but I digress.

 

I watched anxiously as she gagged. And then breathed a relieved sigh, when her mother swept in from behind like a giant bird protecting her young. As she was hoisted high onto the shoulders, out came the fingers – sticky and yucky, as they grabbed her mama’s blonde locks. I remember her giggles as they glided towards me – it came in fits and bursts; from loud to soft and then loud again.

 

I remember thinking: ‘Oh! If only I could hug her!’

 

Someone must have heard me because my wish came true. Her mama put her on the seat and placed me on her lap. She observed me carefully – both curious and puzzled at once. I shuddered a little, as she ran her chubby little fingers over my every bump and curve.

 

And then I saw her smile – the silkiness of my Red reflected in the icy blue depths of her eyes. It was love at first sight.

 

 

We were perfect together,

Yet different to each other

Me, the tiny shoes for her feet,

She, the one who made me complete

 


 

BARATHON

 

Today is Day five of the #BarAThon - The prompt is : "Tiny Shoes'

 

Waiting for Mr Partum

Waiting for Mr Partum

“Good Morning, Mr. Patel. How are you today?” 

 

Jessica Simmons flashed her choicest smile, as the Finance Director for The Partum Group entered the building. The vertically-challenged septuagenarian nodded curtly in response, as he placed his small briefcase on the airport-security style X-ray scanner. ‘The man is inseparable from that vintage brown attaché case of his, except when he had to pass through the scanner. He protected it as if it held the keys to the country’s nuclear weapons.‘ she thought, watching him pick up the case and slowly walk towards the lifts.

 

She watched him walk over to the lift in the middle and wait impatiently for it to arrive. There were two other lifts which had already arrived and were empty. But having watched Mr Patel for years now, she knew that he wouldn’t use them. The man was a creature of habit and very predictable. Rumour around the office was that he was extremely superstitious and his astrologer had advised him that his lucky number was 2 – hence the preference towards the lift labelled ‘2’.

 

Letting out a chuckle, Jessica turned her attention back to the Sudoku column of the newspaper. For the past five years, she had always greeted everyone who passed by her desk in the morning. After all, hers was the face that most people who entered the prestigious Partum tower saw first. Though her official title stated Senior Executive Assistant, her roles varied from getting coffee for the bigwigs to making sure everything in the office functioned properly. Being the Jill-of-all-trades, Jessica was constantly in the thick of things. The 15-storied beautiful curved glass building housed over 1000 employees and she was frequently in the know about all the gossip across every department. From who slept with whom to billion-dollar settlements, Jessica and her team of confidantes ensured that she was in the loop.

 

So, she was the first ‘outsider’ to know when Thomas Partum Sr., the co-founder of Partum Industries, had a cardiac arrest while in the middle of a board meeting. She was also in the know when the board decided that Partum Sr’s Harvard-educated grandson would be the best person to take the helm and lead them into the future. And since nobody outside the board seemed to know much about this prodigal grandson, Jessica took it upon herself to ‘research’ and keep everyone informed about him. What she didn’t realise was how hard it would be to locate even the tiniest bit of information about this mystery Partum.

 

It was just after Thanksgiving weekend, and most of the office was still on holiday,  recovering from a bad case of having over-eaten during the festive weekend. But not Jessica. Rumour was that Partum Junior was expected to make a surprise appearance today. And Jessica wanted to be there when the new Managing Partner arrived. She was a firm believer in first impressions and wanted to make sure she escorted him to his new office. After all, she was due a promotion soon.

 

As she continued to work her way through the Sudoku column, she heard a commotion near the entrance. Tyron, the security guy, was trying to stop a tall man from entering the building. Pushing her reading glasses on to her forehead, she walked over to the security gate. The man in question was over 6 feet tall, with long, unkempt hair and at least a month’s worth of grizzly facial hair growth. He wore a black round collar tee and a pair of jeans that were faded and ripped. His boots had frayed laces, and the brown leather was creased and slightly caked with mud. But his eyes – they glistened brightly; cold and metallic, rivalling the most well-polished suit of armour. And there was something irresistible about them.

 

“What’s going on?” she asked, in a deeper baritone than she intended to.

 

“This man says he has a meeting with the VP, David Gilbert. But when I asked him to show me his confirmation, he says he hasn’t got any” said Tyron, eyeing the man suspiciously.

 

“You can call his assistant to confirm if you want.” said the man, pointing towards the phone on Jessica’s desk. Jessica frowned. The VP’s assistant, Ramona, was a firecracker and one of the few people that she did not get along with. If she had a choice, she would not call her. But, despite his shoddy appearance, the man seemed genuine. And she really needed to get him out of the foyer before Partum Junior made his appearance. She could not imagine the talking to she would get from her boss if the new managing partner crossed paths with such people.

 

“Let him through, Ty! I’ll ring up Ramona to confirm,” she muttered, as she turned around and sashayed back to her desk. Watching the man out of the corner of her eye she dialled the extension for Mr Gilbert’s office. Strangely, the call went unanswered.

 

‘That’s odd’ thought Jessica, as she redialed. She may have had issues with Ramona in the past, but she was a very good assistant. And she was certain she’d seen her earlier that morning. After the third attempt, Jessica hung up the phone. She turned around to address the man.

 

“What was your name again ….sir?” she enquired, carefully scanning him from head to toe and expressing her disapproval.

 

“Henry..Henry James” he replied candidly, with a smile that revealed slightly yellowish teeth.

 

‘My, isn’t that quite a posh name for someone who looks like a hobo’ smirked Jessica to herself.

 

Someone was going to have to escort this man upstairs. She looked around to see if she could locate one of her team. Whoever he was, he probably wasn’t important enough for her to chaperone him up to Mr Gilbert’s office. Additionally, she needed to be at her desk when Partum Junior arrived. She let out a loud sigh when she realised that they were all on leave. She was going to have to escort this man herself.

 

Asking Tyron to watch her desk for a bit, she started to walk towards the lifts. The scruffy man followed her, slightly limping. As the lift barrelled towards the top floor, Jessica observed the man. “That beard and awful hippie-like hair” she thought, shuddering lightly. “Why can’t people just practise some self-grooming?” she thought, as the elevator chimed out its destination.

 

Jessica quickly jumped out of the elevator and pointed out the reception to the man. Ramona was hunched over her desk with her headphones plugged in. ‘Aha!’ thought Jessica, ‘She’s been caught red-handed!. No wonder she didn’t hear the phone ring!” she muttered, making a mental note to send Ramona’s boss a memo. She contemplated staying up there for a few minutes to see how long it took Ramona to notice that they were there. But she decided against it. She needed to rush back downstairs to her desk. Partum Junior wasn’t going to see an empty welcome desk when he made his first appearance.

 

Waiting for the lift to come back up, she couldn’t help but glance over the shoulder towards the reception desk. To her surprise, Ramona was standing up and had a wide, plastic smile plastered on her face. She was also gesturing quite animatedly at the scruffy man. As she entered the lift, and pressed the “G” button, she heard Ramona loudly exclaim, “It’s lovely to finally meet you, Mr Partum. He’s expecting you!”.

 

As the doors to the lift closed, Jessica’s jaw dropped as she heard the scruffy man reply, “Pleasure’s mine, Ramona. Just call me Henry!”

 


BARATHON
Today is Day 4 of the #BarAThon. The prompt is : Caught Red-Handed
Roulette

Roulette

Neel felt the sweat beads start to form on his forehead, like condensation on a window pane. The air conditioning was at full blast, but the bright lights of the casino offset most of the cool air that floated through it. He could already feel the perspiration under his arms , soaking into his white shirt, making dark stain circles, as if announcing his fear. Nervously, he tugged at his shirt collar, as if to adjust his bow tie.

 

He was very conscious of the sweat slowly starting to slide down the sides of his face, dripping onto his black trousers. A tiny muscle twitched involuntarily at the corner of his left eye, and he nonchalantly rubbed the eye with the back of his palm. On a whim, he tightly clasped both his hands in front of him, weaving his fingers in and out of each other. The action had always helped him calm down when he was a child. But today, it just made him tense up even more.

 

Cautiously, he eyed the two men who stood behind the dealer, pretending to be disinterested in the going-ons at the roulette table. Almost seven feet tall and built like wrestlers, they were completely out-of-place on the casino floor. But Neel knew that they were there for him. They were there to keep an eye on him. If he so much as tried to run, the pair of them would pull him apart with their bare hands. Jose had made that explicitly clear before giving him the money.

 

For a moment, Neel wondered how life would have been if he had not met José. Would he still be in the position that he found himself in today?

 

‘Probably, yes!’ he exclaimed to himself.

 

He’d had his first brush with gambling and the sweet taste of success and money, long before his path had crossed José’s. He’d tried to give it all up. Many times, in fact. He’d even succeeded once. But like an addict, he found reasons to keep going back to it. The excitement, the anticipation, the unpredictability – all it gave him such a high; so much that there were moments when he felt that he could never care for anyone or anything like the way he cared about it. And slowly, everything that he had once cherished, fell by the wayside – his career, his friends, his family.

 

But through it all, one person had stood by him. His beautiful wife, Elina. There were times that he’d pinched himself to make sure that she wasn’t a dream; a figment of his imagination, created by the buzz of winning. She had the kindest pair of coffee brown eyes, surrounded by gorgeous eyelashes. There was a genuine warmth in them, that he had never found in anyone else. He still wasn’t sure how a guy like him had managed to get a girl like Elina.

 

‘Love is such a strange thing, isn’t it?’ he muttered, as the dealer announced for the bets to be placed.

 

He wasn’t devout by any definition of the word, but he found himself wishing for Lady Luck to be on his side tonight.

 

‘I promise this will be the last time I do this!’  he heard himself say, even as his inner voice chuckled at the lie.

 

He calmly ran his fingers over the roulette chips. He was about to place the biggest bet that he’d ever placed. The stakes were higher than ever. But there was no other way out. In order to win big, he had to go big. His future, Elina’s future – everything depended on it.

 

Neel closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. José’s menacing words still rung fresh in his mind .

 

‘Such fragile lives we lead, Neel. Look at you! You’re ready to sacrifice everything you have, for the odd chance that you’ll win and be able to pay us all back.

What happens if you lose? Are you sure you want to go ahead with this deal? Because if you lose, it won’t be just the money; it’ll be your life!’. 

 

He opened his eyes and blinked twice for good luck like he always did. His eyes scanned the roulette wheel, slowly taking in the position of all the numbers.Taking a deep breath, he loudly announced the number he was placing all his chips on. He smiled when he realised that he had subconsciously bet on Elina’s favourite number. He needed to win this to get her back.

 

As the roulette dealer spun the wheel and the little ball started to spin around in circles, Neel felt his muscles tense up. His mouth felt parched and he could sense a slight metallic taste on his tongue. ‘What if….?” asked his inner voice, trying to play devil’s advocate. “It’ll be fine. I will win” he repeated to himself.

 

Keeping his fingers crossed, he watched the silver ball slow down gradually. Suddenly, his phone buzzed. Muttering an excuse, he pulled it out of his pocket. It was a message from José .

 

‘Feeling lucky, punk?’ 

 

Before he could respond, he heard a loud yell from the table he was sitting at. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a woman jump up and scream happily. As his eyes scoured the roulette wheel to see where the little ball had landed, his phone buzzed again.

 

‘She’s mine now.’ flashed the message on his screen.

 


 

BARATHON

              Today is Day 3 of the #Barathon. The prompt is : 'Fragile Lives'
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