The sixth instalment in a weekly flash fiction series by author Laxmi Hariharan, titled Bombay Shorts, which traces the rise of an unlikely heroine from the streets of the megalopolis.
RECAP: Ruby Iyer is pushed in front of a local train in Bombay, and wakes up to find she has a new lease of life, with super powers. Her world is shaken even more when she meets Edward and now she is faced with rescuing the first victim of a serial stalker. What will she do next? Read on—
- Excuse Me, Please? -
The wind rushed by her, screeching in fury; or was that the girl she held firm in her arms? Her nails pierced Ruby’s skin, and she hung on as if worried they would both disappear in a poof! – If she let go.
Ruby knew what it was like to be afraid, to feel helpless, desperation lancing though nerve-endings; it hadn’t been too far in the past, when she had been there: only she had clawed her way out of that cesspool of despair, one lonely step at a time.
Yet, now when she had a little more, it seemed she was going to lose it all, again! No way! She had not come this far to squander what she had. Not when life was just getting a little more interesting: and it wasn’t just the man she had just met. No, it was this strange power which filled her, coursing through her blood, gushing into her corpuscles, firing up the mitochondria within her cells. That’s what came of having a degree in Biochemistry, she had thought it would never useful; but now, with all her senses on hyper alert, the lessons came flooding right back, to explain what was happening to her—inside her.
Trying to cushion their fall, Ruby locked her grip around the girl, encircling her completely: swinging their joined up figures so they spiralled over the tracks: then twisted her body as if she were an aerial acrobat, so that when they hit the ground a few feet away from the tracks, she took the full brunt of their combined weights. Just in time too: for right then, the local train thundered past, its hot dusty air booming out - an avenging devil whose fiery breath whooshed over them. The dense dust cloud it had disturbed, wrapping them tighter than a cloth around an Egyptian mummy.
Braced for impact, she was surprised when instead of the bone jarring rattle that came from crashing into stony ground, all she felt was a light thump—as if someone had patted her on the back.
The girl’s breath was hot, her body heaving as she sobbed, pressing her face into Ruby’s shoulder. Ruby patted her shoulder awkwardly. Damn!
She still found it very disconcerting when someone else experienced such bouts of extreme emotion—what does one say to calm down a person having hysterics? 'There, there, you almost died; but really you had nothing to worry about for I would have saved you anyway? Naah! That was sooo corny!
Instead, she settled for pushing the girl off so she rolled—boneless —to the ground, and swung herself up to her feet.
The girl lay there crying, almost paralysed with fear. Leaning down Ruby slapped her cheek thwack! “Enough! Pull yourself together!” She said sternly, and was relieved when the girl hiccoughed once, then subsided.
To her right, the platform was buzzing around the now stationary local. Like locusts through a corn-field, she felt the excitement of the crowd dismounting, the tension of those boarding the train, embarking on their journey: life rolling on, one stop at a time. Catching her eye, a man leaned over from the open doorway of the train: the space engorged with human flesh packed shoulder-to-shoulder, like asparagus lining a tin can, ready-to-be-devoured.
“Hello beauty! You want?” He rubbed his crotch, grinning ear-to-ear, obviously delighted with himself, while the man next to him snickered.
Asshole! Ruby walked up to the train, held up her hand smiling sweetly, fluttering her eyelashes. He blinked then looked to the—now silent—man next to him for confidence. Making up his mind he began to bend towards her, when Ruby grabbed his leg and heaved. He went flying, making a perfect arc above the empty train tracks behind her, and right above the heads of those closest to the platform edge on the other side, crashing somewhere on the outer-fringe of that throng.
“Bahut Accha! Who’s next?” She rubbed her hands, running them over her jean-clad thighs as if to clean them, then, placing them on her hips she looked up at the now silent wall of manhood. They stared down, each face echoing the blank look of the next—a white wash—not comprehending what had just taken place. As if in response the train began to move, pulling forward, gathering speed, faster than a racing hound, the dust rising to tickle her nostrils, swirling around her, pouring over her shoulders outlining her starkly, before being sucked back in wake of the final receding compartment. Then, the cloud of dirt dropped down abruptly, as if pins removed from the influence of a magnet and she saw Edward looking straight - at her.
Oh! No! Her anger melted away, faster than a chocolate ice-cream cone under a noon sun. That’s it, she had gone and blown it, and he was never going to look at her again after this. She walked the few steps separating her from the girl who having staggered to her feet, looked like she was going to burst into tears. “Be brave now, okay?” Ruby admonished her in a low voice, and without waiting for an answer grabbed her right hand, before sprinting parallel to the tracks for a few metres, gathering just enough speed to give herself the leverage needed to jump back, up onto the platform, landing lightly between a large saree clad woman with earphones hooked on: her eyes closed singing to an inner track, and an older, white haired man looking on in astonishment.
“Ah! Hello! Excuse please?” She swerved around him, surprised when the tightly compacted crowd parted to make way, staring at her as if she was an alien, a stranger, someone they did not recognise?
Her heart sank as she realised she was attracting lot more attention that she had bargained for, and when a young man stepped in front of her his phone raised to get a better shot of her face, she snapped into action, snarling at him, then pulled his phone from his hand, she threw it over her shoulder.
“Hey! My phone!” His indignant protest had her snarling, “f*!$ your bloody stupid—” when a light touch on her shoulder had her twisting back, and she looked up, at Edward’s superior height. Worry clouding his startling blue eyes he placed his hand on her shoulder gripping it with urgency, “get out of here!”
“Leave NOW!” He jerked his head towards a uniformed cop making his way through the crowd towards her!
Damn! That was the last thing she wanted, no way was she going to have to explain herself to anyone, just yet and definitely not until she had figured out exactly what was happening to her.
She thrust the girl towards Edward. “We have to stop meeting like this” that dimple on his left cheek peeked as he raised one end of his lips in a wry smile she had already come to recognise; her heart lifting in delight when she noticed that he did not let go of her shoulder, even as he replaced her grip on the girl with his. The girl looked from one to the other as if sensing the unspoken sparks that swung crazily between them, like one of those old fashioned Diwali rockets strung up on a wire.
“Go!” This time it was the girl who broke the chain that threated to bind them both.
With a quick nod, Ruby turned, hating that she felt so bereft of the weight of his hand when it dropped away. Some super heroine she was going to be if she became putty every time she met him.
She cut her way through the crowd of people—many of whom were busy filming her on their various device—running parallel to the outer margin of the station, she gathered speed, before jumping onto the counter of a tea-shop, then lithely clambering onto its roof before reaching up to swing from one of the slow whirling fans, and catapulted out of the platform, onto the clearing outside the station.
- To be continued
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