Tossing to her left, Sanya suddenly became aware that she was in fact not asleep. The first sign of that was a sound. It was a creak! A very inaudible one, but there nevertheless. Confusion reigned as Sanya’s mind struggled in the no-man’s land between the powerful but stark state of conscious wakefulness and the peaceful yet impotent state of deep sleep. Was the creak real? Or was she imagining things? Was it her hyperactive subconscious conjuring up things by mish-mashing unconnected happenings in real life and painting a mental picture of things to come?
As dusk cast its sly shadow over the Central Business District, Sanya entered the teeming Bangalore Metro subway station on Mahatma Gandhi Road and maneuvered herself to the ticket aisles. The station was experiencing rush hour, with harried office-goers returning to their homes or boyfriends for the night. As she swiped her smartcard at the turnstile and pushed through, her Lumia began to buzz. It was another ‘Friend’ request on Facebook.
Taking out her phone from its leather pouch, Sanya peered at the impertinent device, one eye on oncoming human traffic. There were three requests. The first two were from unknown male profiles. Or at least, they appeared to be males from their names. With no photos on their profile pages and corny introductions, theirs were the typical requests from single boys looking for quick no-strings-attached relationships with willing females. Boys! If only they would evolve! Sanya was only too familiar with such requests and did not waste her breath on them.
The only reason she even chose to look at the third ‘Friend’ request was that it was from a profile having a girl’s name and had a profile photo. The profile belonged to a ‘Ramona’. The throbbing in her head was threatening to return. Sanya flung her phone into the open bag by her side and mildly massaged her temples. Ramona could wait till she got back home.
The mirrors on the wall were oddly swinging from side to side in the form of a horizontal ‘8’. There was a strange haziness in the restroom that Sanya had not seen before. The lights embedded in the false ceiling seemed to pulse hypnotically. With a start, Sanya realized that the restrooms at Skyye did not have lights in the ceiling. Craziness had descended.
Sanya got off the elevator on the sixteenth floor and strode purposefully towards the end of the causeway. Sanya had been here a zillion times before. Skyye was a contemporary lounge bar with all the trappings of modern-day indulgence and opulence. It served as the meeting place for Sanya and her friends after a long hard day of Psychology and Behaviorism. On days, it also served as her haven of solitude when she needed to unwind and reflect internally. On that day, it was neither.
Dodging late afternoon traffic on Lavelle Road, Sanya’s cab swung right into Grant Road, a tony neighborhood in the Central Business District. As she looked up, a familiar sight greeted her – the towering UB City skyscraper – on her right. Pausing to let a gray BMW sedan pass in the opposite direction, the cab cut across the road to enter the mall complex and approached the glassed entrance.
The cab driver had just begun to lean across the window to converse with the security guard when a flash of green in front of the car caught Sanya’s eye. It was Tej’s Chevrolet! The dent in the rear bumper was unmistakable. Before she could react, the fast-moving hatchback had disappeared around the rear end of the mall complex. What was Tej doing here at this time? Furrowing her brows, she barked an order to the cab driver to follow the hatchback. The cab circled the complex to reach the entry ramp of the parking lot in the cellar.
Paying the cab driver, Sanya ran down the spiraling ramp with more than the usual abandon, her mind racing. Level -2 would always be sparsely occupied at this time and that was where Tej would have parked his car. Easing into a light jog, she looked around swiftly across the expanse of Level -2. The Chevrolet was nowhere in sight. Time was of essence. Tej could wait. Sanya turned and headed towards the bank of elevators towards the north end of the parking area. She had a lot of questions for Anuj. Questions he had not answered two years back.
Her sleek blue Nokia Lumia almost fell off the table, vibrating with an urgency that Sanya Rawat had seldom seen. The university cafeteria was sparsely populated, with the odd yuppie group milling about with no express purpose. The late afternoon sun made the vintage glass windows sparkle like vertical walls of shimmering water.
As she uncrossed her legs and bent over to read the incoming number, Sanya’s heart jumped a beat. The number was unknown, yet oddly familiar. She was sure she had known the number, but just could not put a face to it. Sliding the touch-screen interface, she pressed the phone to her ear as she reached for her mug of coffee on the triangular table in front of her.
Traumatic moments passed. The woman’s convulsed sobs wreaked her young but weakening body as she tried to see reason in what Goddess Chasca was ordaining for her. Suddenly, a searing white heat ripped diagonally across her back. The pain was so acute that the woman collapsed to the wooden floor, unable to bear the agony which seemed like the stab of a thousand red hot daggers dipped in frog venom.
The capitán stepped back, the blade in his right hand dripping with scarlet red plasmatic fluid. “Bring her to the table!” He had so much to achieve.
As the mercenaries around cackled their approval, the capitán reached out to grab her lower back and yanked her closer. He was immediately greeted by a flurry of punches as the Aymaran commander lashed out with both her hands across his face and drew blood. Enraged, the lust-filled conquistador blotted his bleeding face with his right hand while his left shot out forward like a battering ram, sending his quarry crashing backwards into the nearest wall as she tripped over the extended boot of one of the conquistador’s henchmen.
It was a huge balding man whose scalp shone vulgarly. “That was for the sling, you filthy whore!” swore the man as he took a deep swig of bitter ale from his goblet.
It was so not like la amo – her love. Why had not he returned? Why had not he sent a horseman to relay news of a successful repulsion of the garrison? Was he wounded? Was he still alive? The Aymaran woman tossed her dark mane and saddled her faithful steed as gory images of a slain warrior of Cochabamba tormented her.
The ride to Quillacollo consumed her from the inside. Who was this outlander who portrayed himself as her ‘man’? Was she to trust the people of Cochabamba? Was she to trust the elders? As the Incan sun began its final descent for the day, the Aymaran woman broke her galloping steed’s pace and trotted up to a tavern that looked garish yet mysterious from the outside.
The old woman was bent over with age and disease as she hobbled on the dirt roads leading to the village square, shielding her eyes from the noon sun. She carried a grotesque stick for support that creaked with every alternate step. The worn out cloth bag at her shoulder slung low with some rotten vegetables that were reeking of waste. As she ambled past the village square, two officers of the garrison watched her and chuckled.