Monday, June 28, 2010

The Atheist

It was going to be fun. Maybe. But it was also going to be boring henceforth. Routine life back at home, away from the University hostel seemed like a new life now, never anticipated; and the thought of getting back home – a new definition of freedom. The examinations were just done a week back. It was going to be her last day at the university. Also, it was going to be the last night with her roommates. They would return after the farewell function; some drunk and dimwitted and indecent. However, Megan was also happy for two reasons. One reason was that she was going to get home to her mom and dad. She was going to get back her room, her childhood friends and homemade apple pie. Second, she would get rid of all the boring lectures and lecturers, and was now eager to get into the world. A world which she was about to carve for herself. The world of architecture; which she was always interested in. After all, she had put in the years and her dad had put in the money. Anticipation of a pleasant future always made the patience in the present possible.

Megan and Sarah were childhood pals and Megan was the shy one. Sarah was always the one who strained Megan into drinking; and even smoking; also smoking pot sometimes. Megan was shy. Having no affairs and aged twenty two, she felt she was an alien; but she was unsure if she was happy or not. The prince charming watery fundamentals were still fixed in her mind, and she was happy just hoping for it. She somehow didn’t face reality the way it was. Hence she wasn’t sure, if her happiness – or dismay – was real.

The girls had bought dresses from the town a week back for the night. Sarah got herself the most neckline revealing dress which Megan had only seen in movies on actresses who always were in the news for their promiscuity. Megan hadn’t bought herself anything special. She just bought some artificial jewels to complement her frock, with some frills. Sarah, being what she was, thought it was too uninteresting, but she knew Megan wouldn’t budge on her idea about dressing sense. Anyways, all that was important was the night out. The girls and the guys night out – together.

The farewell was prearranged at a place known as THE WAY INN. The University being a standalone facility in the countryside of Rusthall; the only place for recreation – pool, beer and some music – for the locals, and the students of the University of the Third Age. Between the University and the Way Inn, was a stretch of road sided by trees and open land area and the distance between them was roughly a kilometer. The University would pick them up and drop them as and when a batch of ten students was ready.

The girls started dressing around at 6 PM and finished by 8 PM. No – 8:30 PM. Megan spent an hour and a half reading a book (the no-make-up-girl she was), until all the girls were done and then they boarded the bus together. Somehow Megan wasn’t so comfortable going, but since Sarah was with her, and so were the other girls, she felt alright. Jenny was the nerdy girl in the roommate group, who would laugh the next day if she heard a joke today. Megan somehow liked her, but always refrained from talking to her at length. This was because, according to the other girls, she was weird. Well, today was different and Megan sat beside her in the bus and they exchanged numbers in the brief journey. She didn’t care what the other girls thought – as they wouldn’t be there to nag the hell out of her tomorrow anyway. They reached the Inn at 8:55 PM and the sound and slight thumping of the music from the loud jukebox was resonant till the exit. Somehow this music was a little uncomfortable to Jenny and Megan, but they kept on that smile – to fit in. It was a full moon night - and the boys and girls felt like wolves, it seemed.

The girls reached there; and the boys were already waiting. There were couples, stags and some silly guys who hoped that they would get lucky. Megan stayed with Sarah, and included Jenny in the gang. Sarah headed straight to the bar and dragged the girls along; ordered a tequila. Megan and Jenny ordered for an orange juice each. Jenny looked ravishing for a change today; and the girls hummed to the music. ‘Summer of ’69’. Clich├ęd, but good to listen to once in a while. The guys were eager to make themselves visible to the girls now, and the party was getting started.

Mark – the University hunk eyed Sarah in a very naughty and flirtatious way. Sarah – now three shots down, was just getting warmed up by his looks. She headed to the dance floor, where Mark was now standing his ground – slightly moving his steps to the music. They started jiving together and started to dance rhythmically. Megan and Jenny just watched now as they finished their juice. The other guys were eyeing them, and they felt uncomfortable now.

“I am not feeling good,” said Jenny.
“Yeah, Jen – I understand. Ditto here.” Megan replied.
“No – I am feeling something in my head.” Jenny said in a tone which was as if she was lulling to sleep.
Megan understood once, that someone had mixed something in her drink – Sarah, the naughty one. She had claimed she would make Jenny drink once, and this was probably her prank. But Megan felt sober – no symptoms of anything unusual with her head. She was glad, but got worried for Jenny.

Jenny got up from her seat and went to the washroom. She threw up there, and Megan helped her. Megan went up to Sarah – who was now throwing herself all over Mark – and asked if she could help.
“Some lemon. Just give her some lemon. That shoul take da kic oud.” Sarah said in a tone that she didn’t want to be interrupted. She winked at Megan. Megan gave her a bad stare.
Megan didn’t know what to do. Jenny felt a little better after puking her guts out in the washroom – but she wasn’t feeling great.
“I think I will go back and hit the bed,” Jenny said, as she picked herself up from the chair on which Megan had assisted her to sit on.
“I will come with you.” Megan insisted.
“No. I am fine. Thanks Megan. It’s just a short walk. I think perhaps the fresh air and walk will make me feel better. Please stay. I will see you in the room.” Jenny said aloud so as to make each word heard; amidst the booming sounds which rang in her head. She then left.

Megan felt awful after a few minutes. She felt suffocated in the smoky atmosphere of the Inn. She felt it is better that she should go and catch up behind Jenny and accompany her to the hostel. The girl didn’t look that good, she thought. Sarah wasn’t even bothered as Megan informed her that she was leaving. In a couple of minutes, Megan was on the road, looking for Jenny. The cool zephyr made her cuddle herself as she walked.

She now saw Jenny around a hundred steps ahead. She wished to call out to her, but Jenny wasn’t that near. Megan started brisk walking now to get close to her. As Megan was catching up along the side of the road, Megan saw four shadows catch up behind Jenny. What would happen next was quickly running in her mind and every second now was much slower than a million heartbeats contained in her chest. She couldn’t help, and let out a shriek. ‘No.’

They grabbed Jenny and took her on the side of road amidst the trees like a mannequin being carried by those store boys in garment stores. Megan couldn’t see anything now, but hid behind a tree. She could hear that Jenny was silenced – she didn’t know just how, but could hear her moaning with pain. She was being raped, Megan guessed. She waited. If she went back, the guys would see her and chase her. She went blank. Soon, the voices and sounds of the struggle in the dry bushes stopped. Jenny was unconscious – and for all Megan thought she knew – dead.

Two among those men who heard Megan started to tread backwards from the fields. Megan saw them and didn’t know where to run. They were fast and agile. She regretted her decision of helping Jenny out. Mindlessly she started running towards the hostel, praying that some vehicle, somebody, anybody could just pass from there. She was afraid to look behind, but did. She saw those men chasing her; running now. Though petrified, she could now see their faces clearly illuminated from the moonlight. She ran faster, but somehow was sure they would catch up and kill her too, for she had now seen them in the act.

All of a sudden, she saw two men behind her and two in the front. She stopped, giving in to her fate. But they stopped right there and in fact hid behind the trees after a few seconds. She continued walking; confused. Why they aren’t getting me too, she thought. Silly thought. No time to think about this. Run!

She did run. And when she looked back, the men were still behind the trees. She ran until the air in her lungs burned. And then she ran some more. She reached the hostel.

Blurting the headmaster about the incident, the headmaster sent out his troop in his car – and called the cops simultaneously. The janitors, the librarian and all went to search for Jenny. They found Jenny half naked, lying on the side of some bushes. They got her and admitted her to the NHS hospital. The worst experience in life. The headmaster forced Megan to come with him to the police, since she said she had recognized the faces of two of those men. Even in this part of the modern village, the police were effective. They arrested the suspects and called Megan for an Identification Parade. They were out of State criminals who had taken place in the motel nearby. She confirmed their identity, and they were booked. All this continued until 4 AM in the morning. They headed back to the hospital, and Megan was now a little hopeful that the cops would catch the other culprits as well…

At 10 AM, the inspector who did the arrest called in Megan for detailing down the whole incident on paper. She was a witness after all – and a close escape. Her testimony would very much be held in court. She closed her emotions momentarily and went to the station with the cop. When she narrated the whole incident, the cop kept repeating the last part of the incident, where she said that they stopped chasing her and she ran away. She was sure this happened. She requested the officer to see the men once as she wanted to ask them some questions.

“Missy. Are you sure? Meaning – why do you want to talk to them?” said the cop.
“I need to know something.” Megan said, emotionlessly but still in a state of enigma.

She went towards the lock-up, her legs shaky, remembering the incident now as a close flashback, picture by picture. The men looked at her, and seemed surprised. She stood there just for a moment and then asked them, “When you could easily catch up on me and you knew I saw you; I could indentify you – you knew that. Why did you ever let me escape? I was alone. Scared. Why did you stop chasing me?”

The men were silent. They looked at each other and then laughed mildly in a grotesque way. The black man among them, looked at her, but somehow seemed to shy away from looking at her at the same time.

“I am not sure of what that was. Perhaps we drank a lot,” he said. He looked at his partner, whose eyes were now widespread with some kind of horror.

Megan was silent and in oblivion.

“Yeh, maybe we were too drunk,” said the other man, his body language suggested he had a chill down as spine as he spoke.

The cop though was not interested earlier to know, now was. He beat his baton on the bars of the lockup, as if forcing them to answer the girl.

The black man looked at the cop, and then at Megan. “When we started chasing you, you seemed alone.” He said, as he rubbed his eyes. “When you stopped, you weren’t alone. We saw almost five to seven men walking with you. And when you ran, they stood in our way. We just stood there, and then those men disappeared before our eyes – and you were out of our sight.”

Megan swore to never visit that road again. Who were they? Angels? Or maybe what she had only heard about – Ghosts. Why they didn’t save Jenny was another question which lingered her mind for years. Jenny wasn’t an atheist either. But Megan was. She still is.

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