Nisha was feeling ecstatic. Nothing made her happier than her early morning five-kilometer run. Today was extra special. She was back to running after a couple of weeks’ break. A break where she had relocated to Hyderabad and joined her favorite IT firm as a ‘Senior Manager – Data Science’. She had toiled hard for four years for this opportunity.
Thank you, Lord. Finally! Things are going according to plan.
With a tiny smile tugging at her lips, she took deep breaths of the cool winter air as she finished her warm up. Her long slender legs soon settled into their familiar rhythm. She was one with the wind and her heart was pumping at a steady pace.
The huge, meticulously laid out park was part of the residential society where her sister and brother-in-law lived. She had shifted in with them, with the hopes of finding an apartment for herself soon.
“You must be new. Haven’t seen you before.”
She ignored the baritone voice and kept running. The guy matched her step for step. Agitated at being accosted she sped up. So, did he. She slid him a disgusted side way glance and ended up noticing he was at least five inches taller than her 5’8”. His chiseled yet calm face was accentuated with a square jaw, proudly perched atop wide shoulders. His serene smile added to the allure of the face and somehow reminded her of, well………. Even his semi-dreadlocks were pulled back in a half top-knot pony tail. Man! Guys and their hairstyles these days. Involuntarily she chuckled at the comparison.
“So, I look funny?”
“No, you just remind me of someone.”
“If you can keep up, for four more kilometers, you can find out.”
Half an hour later she had to admit he had skills. He was not as winded as she had hoped. She did her cool down routine while he looked around enjoying the greenery and the park sounds.
Finally, as she zipped up her jacket he asked, “Who?”
She stared at him. She could so easily super-impose that face on his. The resemblance was eerie.
“What?” he asked smiling, at her expression.
“You really want to know?” she said looking down at her Nike Joyride, her one true indulgence.
“Yes!” he chuckled, “I didn’t run four kilometers for nothing.”
She lifted her head and looked him straight in the eye.
“Shiva! You remind me of Lord Shiva. There is a poster in my room. He has the same face or rather you have the same face.” Suddenly a thought struck her, “Maybe you modeled for it, Esha hmm…?”
He broke out into a huge grin. “You got me. Not many people do.”
Gotcha! Relieved, she chortled and said, “So when did you model for it?”
Now it was his turn to look at her. When she stared back into the swirly depths of his eyes, the color of burnt umber, she could have sworn she saw the universe reflected in them. She shook her head, blaming the mirage on the play of light through the leaves.
“I did not model for it. I am your Lord Shiva. The one you pray to every morning.”
Yeah right! “Guess I walked into that one didn’t I,” she allowed herself a sheepish smile. She should have been cautious. The guy sounded crazy. But, there was something, an aura of calm and decency around him. “But seriously, what’s your name?” she asked instead.
“The one who grants boons.”
“Yes! That’s me.”
“Okkkk!” shaking her head as if she couldn’t believe she was doing this, she said, “You know what, let’s say I take this giant leap of faith and agree that you are Shiva. Then the question is – what are you doing here? Don’t you have like a million other tasks to perform?”
He sighed, “Hmm…that is the eternal truth. Life or no life, duties remain.”
“So, why are you wasting your time here?”
“Oh, this too is part of my duty. We call this the human outreach program.”
She scrunched up her nose in disbelief, “Say that again?”
With a twinkle in his eye he replied, “Why don’t you come back tomorrow and find out.”
Saying that, he jogged out of her sight around the bend on the jogging track. Nisha shook her head and walked home. Weirdo.
As she neared her building, life demanded her attention back. Anxiety and happiness danced a duet, she couldn’t wait to start her dream job. She wanted to shower and rush off to her office.
The moment she entered the apartment she shouted, “Di! I’m home.”
There was no response, however she could hear the TV, so someone was definitely up. As she rounded the corner and entered the well-appointed drawing room, she saw that a news channel was broadcasting something about an asteroid.
“Di,” she called again to her sister whose back was to her. Concerned when she got no response, she rounded the couch to look at her sister and was aghast at her expression.
Her sister was staring at the Television and tears were rolling down her eyes. “Di!” Worried Nisha shook her sister by the shoulder. As if released from a trance her sister leapt up almost knocking Nisha over.
“We are all going to die!” she screamed. “Did you see the news Nishu. An asteroid is going to hit the earth in 120 days.” Then she burst into tears and covered her face with her hands. Nisha stood agape looking at her sister. Her brother-in-law burst into the room, hearing the commotion.
“What the hell? What happened Nisha?” He raced to his wife’s side, “Why are you crying Summy? What happened?”
While husband and wife sorted the issue, Nisha turned around to follow the news. The same news was being reported on all the channels, even the international ones. Slowly, Nisha sank onto the couch. The enormity of the situation seeped in. Disbelief and shock mingled with fear and rendered her inert.
This is real, not a movie. Oh My God!
The reporter droned on, ‘The asteroid is large enough to cause a Mass Level Extinction. The impact will send debris up in the air which will rain down all over the world and not just near the impact site. The dust and ash cloud will last for over a year, killing animal and plant life as we know it. Human survival is highly unlikely and 85% to 90% population would have perished by the end of the first year from the day of the impact.’
Nisha was no longer listening. Her mind had latched on to ‘120 days’.
No, no, no…. This can’t be happening. I have my whole life planned ahead. Job, love, marriage, children. Life can’t be over in 120 days, can it?
Her brother-in-law’s frantic voice finally penetrated her fogged brain. “Nishu! get me a glass of cold water.” She looked up and saw him carrying her sister in his arms to the bedroom. She looked as if she had fainted. Nisha jumped up and rushed to help. She got the glass of water and offered it to her sister who was finally coherent enough to sit and drink.
The three of them sat there, numb. Nisha inexorably thought of Varad. Is that why he is here? Does he know? Of course, he knows. He is God after all.
Nisha waited impatiently at the park for Varad.
“You are late!” she said accusatorily when he came. There was fire in her eyes. Her breath was choppy. “Since you are God, I suppose you know what is happening?” she poked him in the chest with her index finger. “How can you let this happen?” Her voice rose a notch in anger. “I was supposed to start my dream job yesterday. I want to know, what it is like to fall in love. Now I will never know.”
He gently ran his hand over her head, comforting her. Nisha’s fear subsided into sobs. All the pent-up emotion, the insecurities poured forth. Finally, she sniffled into her kerchief. He laughed, “Very good of you to carry your own kerchief.” His lame attempt at humor worked. Nisha have him a watery smile. They sat down on a bench. “Lesser people jogging today,” he observed.
“Duh? Obviously. Who cares about fitness when they are going to die in 120 days,” she said resignedly. “You grant boons. Grant us the boon of life. Turn the asteroid away,” she beseeched him. Today her sparkling eyes seemed haunted.
He noticed and smiled gently, “Do you know, this is the first time perhaps that all the Gods are working together; us, Allah, Jesus and others. But, our master stroke was to recruit Satan. We told him, what good is your ‘Hell’, if there are no human sinners. That got his attention real fast.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Nisha looked at him. Has he lost his mind?
“Nisha, forget about good karma, bad karma and all the mumbo-jumbo. The simple fact is that earth is over populated. There is an imbalance and sooner or later mass extinction was bound to happen. So, what if it is coming in the form of an asteroid in 120 days. How do you know you will live tomorrow? There is no guarantee.”
“But,” she cleared her throat and continued, “This is the whole human race. Surely, you can do something?” Her eyes entreated but her entire body language radiated tension.
“It’s really simple. Are earthlings worth saving?” He shrugged, “In our outreach program we are asking a simple question. What kind of future do you envision for your children? And you wouldn’t believe the answers we are getting.”
Like a mortal, too agitated to sit, he got up to pace. “They are lengthy and convoluted. All parents want their children to be toppers, have the best jobs, the best salaries. Tell me Nisha, how is that possible? You know, hardly anyone is bothered about their progenies’ happiness, contentment or teaching them good practices for future. Do you know how long some parents can drone on and on about their child?” He shuddered.
Then in a swift change of mood he smiled and said, “This brings me to an interesting dilemma. We did not anticipate that these convoluted answers would generate billions of Exabyte of data. We really need someone who is brilliant at data mining. Know someone like that?”
She arched an eyebrow and her mouth turned up in a snide smile, “You DID NOT anticipate. Really? Now I am beginning to doubt if you are a God or if this is a truly unusual recruitment process.”
“Ha..ha…I love your sarcasm, even in the most trying times.”
Despite all the uncertainties, she laughed, “So, if I help you with data mining, will you take care of the asteroid?”
“If you help with data mining AND IF the results indicate that the earthlings are worth saving, then I will take care of the asteroid.”
“How do you know I will not manipulate the results,” she challenged.
He laughed, “Once you see the volume, you will realize you have no time for manipulation. Remember there are only 119 days left.”
That remark immediately clouded her face, but she said, “Ok, come back tomorrow. It’s a good thing I know people.”
“I know you do. Question is, can you convince them to work for ‘Lord Shiva’?” he grinned and winked, double quoting his name. “Well, I for one am rooting for you.”
I can’t believe I am helping a God. No, not any God, my Lord Shiva! The thought halted her steps. She slowly looked up at the sky. So blue and serene at the moment, aren’t you? Looking at you no one will guess that a murderous rock is hurtling through space right for us. Spurred by the thought and frantically planning her next move, she marched back home.
Knowing people was the easy part, convincing them was yet another. She got in touch with her seven most trusted friends and appealed to their sense of doom or to their sense of adventure or their sense of doing something fantastical, in turn. In the end it all came down to; why the hell not after all what did they have to lose?
Next day, 118 days till impact
Eleven very anxious people stood with her in the park. Varad smiled as he jogged up to them.
“This is the group,” she said pointing to the group, “and group this is Varad.”
Two of her friends walked up to him and touched him hesitantly. He smiled. Both of them visibly relaxed as if a huge weight was lifted off of their shoulders. The others tentatively followed; while some looked at him shyly others hesitatingly shook his hands.
“So, how do we do this? We need access to your data,” she said impatiently. Now that she was committed to the cause, she wanted to start as soon as possible. I’m not giving up or going up without a fight down here.
Varad said, “You know, twelve people will not be enough to do this job.”
“I know. For once the goddamn pyramid scheme will actually be of use,” retorted Nisha, her professionalism masking her fear.
Varad raised an eyebrow.
“Never mind. Is there a tech savvy guy amongst Gods?”
“Of course! Who do you think we are?” Varad was affronted. “Chitragupta, Yama’s assistant, is the record keeper and is the most meticulous and tech savvy guy in our group.”
“Well then, let’s have him here. We cannot data mine people’s mind directly.”
Chitragupta was summoned. He appeared to be a regular chap, who would not have merited a second glance but for his eyes. They radiated old-world wisdom. He bowed deeply to Varad.
“They want to know how to download the data.”
“My Lord! We can….”
“No, don’t tell me. Tell them,” replied Varad, raising his hands as if fending off the words.
While the group and Chitragupta put their heads together and discussed the issue of access, Varad turned his inner eye to the world’s chaos. He could see protest marches and prayer meetings being held, all around the world.
‘It’s not prayers and protests that will save you,’ he thought and shook his head in dismay.
Finally, the group seemed to have reached a consensus.
“What did you do?” Varad asked Chitragupta.
“I have connected them directly to our servers on ‘the cloud’, My Lord,” replied Chitragupta.
And, that is how the salvation assessment began.
So dear readers, on one hand, think carefully about your children’s future and on the other, if you see people staring blankly into space or gazing at the sky, amidst all the chaos of the countdown, please do not disturb them. Instead, go ahead and protect them. For our future is in their hands…err….heads.
Photo By: Greg Rakozy
This is an entry for #Countdown, a Beaks and Claws club exclusive event. Check out the event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/room8/countdown/
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Find more from Shweta Singh here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/author/shweta-singh/