Leaning against the window pane, she sipped a steaming cup of tea slowly. A few late nighters from the street stared at her as they passed by, but she paid them no attention. She was gazing at the stars and thinking.
To the people of the vicinity where she lived, she was just a cranky old woman with lots of money, who didn’t like to talk. To the people who knew her past, she was a middle-aged lady who had suffered a lot in her younger years. To herself, she was…well, she didn’t know who she was, or why she was even alive, except as a promise she could not break.
She was alive, yes, but she was as good as dead. The pain she had once felt had left her incapable of feeling anything else. Her emotions had been locked up in a box at the very back of her mind, and the key to it lost. She was living, not as someone who wanted to, but as someone who was forced to, without any hope, without any life.
Yes, she was rich. Very rich indeed. She lived all alone in a huge bungalow. She had lots of money, but she never spent any of it. She lived only on the little money she earned by her writings, as she felt that this money was actually hers to spend. The fortune she had inherited, from a very close member of her family, was hers, yes, but only by law. She felt like she had no right over it.
She put her cup down on her desk and switched on the light. A sheaf of papers lay scattered on the desk, most of them covered by her small, neat handwriting. The light also illuminated a small framed picture of herself and her brother, standing in a park with their arms around each other. She had been only fifteen then. Her brother had left for abroad not long after. She had seen her brother only once since. He had been ill. Very ill.
She sat down and picked up her pen.
‘The last night…’ she sighed. ‘Tonight will be my last night.’ She smiled quietly at the picture in front of her. ‘I will not be late this time, brother.’ she whispered quietly.
If a stranger had looked in at her window at that moment, he would have seen a dark haired, dark-eyed, middle-aged woman writing fervently in the light of a desk lamp, completely absorbed in her work. But he would have no way of knowing that she was actually reliving her memories, while she wrote.
It was almost midnight, but Diya was still awake. She was bubbling with happiness. That day had been the best of her life. The results for the university exams had come out and she had topped! She could now finally enjoy next day, her 24th birthday, in peace.
Her eyes fell on a picture of her parents. They would have been so proud…if only they had been alive. They had died a year ago in a car accident and…She shook her head firmly. She had promised herself that she would not dwell on the matter.
The telephone rang. Who would call at this time of the night? she wondered, picking up the receiver.
‘Is that you, Diya?’ a voice asked at the other end of the line.
‘Deep!’ she exclaimed. Deep was her elder brother by six years and she hadn’t seen him since she was fifteen, when he had gone abroad to study. They usually communicated through letters and through the telephone.
‘How are you, Diya?’ Deep asked.
‘I’m fine, Deep.’ she replied. ‘Actually, more than just fine. Guess what, Deep. I just got the result of my university exams!’
‘And?’ Deep prompted her.
‘I’m at the top!’ she replied exuberantly.
‘Oh, Diya, that’s wonderful!’ Deep exclaimed. ‘Congratulations! Our parents would have been so proud...’ There was a short silence after this. Neither of them spoke.
‘Um, happy birthday, Diya,’ Diya could understand that Deep was trying to break the strained feeling between them.
‘I called to give you a present,’ Deep’s voice sounded mischievous.
‘Through the phone?’ Diya asked, puzzled. ‘What is it?’
‘Me!’ Deep cried, laughing. ‘I’m going to India.’
‘What!’ Diya cried, completely taken aback. ‘You’re coming here?’
‘Leaving in half an hour.’ Deep confirmed. ‘Be at the airport at ten tomorrow morning. Meet me, will you?’
‘Of course,’ she answered. ‘How can you even ask that? How can I not meet my brother after he comes back after ten years?’
‘Nine.’ Deep corrected. ‘Anyway, got to get on the plane. It’ll leave without me if I don’t hurry.’
‘And I’d better get some sleep, if I have to wake up in time to meet you tomorrow,’ Diya yawned. ‘Goodnight, Deep.’
‘Sleep tight, Diya.’ She smiled and hung up.
She stretched out her hands and checked the time. Two o’ clock in the morning. She sighed and shook her head slowly. If she didn’t work any faster, then she would have to wait another night. And that was one thing which was impossible for her.
She sipped her tea, which had grown cold by now, thoughtfully. Then she picked up her pen again and started writing. She had a promise to fulfil. And fulfil it she will.
The alarm rang shrilly through the early morning air. Diya groaned, switched the alarm off, turned over, and fell asleep again.
She opened her eyes and gasped. 9:30 in the morning! Oh, gracious, she had to hurry if she had to meet Deep at ten!
Someone seemed to have tampered with the clock’s speed. Diya was sure it struck ten much before it was supposed to. She hadn’t even finished breakfast yet. And it would take another hour to reach the airport.
At 10:15 the telephone rang. She hurried over and picked it up.
‘Hello?’ she asked, buttoning her dress with one hand while holding the receiver with the other.
‘Diya, you’re still at home?’ Deep’s voice came out strong and clear. ‘I’m already at the airport. Did you mix up the timings?’
‘No, Deep, I didn’t,’ she replied, flustered. ‘I overslept this morning. I’ll be there in an hour. Just wait another hour, Deep. I’m so sorry.’
‘It’s alright.’ Deep assured her. ‘The world end if you’re a little late. I can wait.’ He hung up. Diya finished dressing and dashed into her car.
She honked the horn impatiently. The traffic around her refused to budge. She could have reached the airport in ten minutes, if not for the traffic. But she had been stuck in that stupid traffic jam for half an hour now. It was 11:30 already. Heaven only knew what Deep was thinking.
At last the cars around her stirred to life and she shot towards the airport as fast as she could.
The airport was complete commotion. Police and ambulance sirens were blaring. The media was milling all over the place. A fire engine suddenly rumbled into view.
Diya suddenly noticed that the airport building was smoking and bright yellow flames shot out through the windows. She pushed her way through the crowd to the front just in time to see a figure dart in through the flaming doorway. Not a part of the fire brigade, just a normal person. She didn’t give it another thought and started searching the crowd furtively for Deep.
The fire brigade was busy. Two to three strong jets of water was now trying to douse the fiery flame. Many of the brigade were helping people to evacuate the area quickly.
At last the fire was doused completely. The building was still smoking, but there were no flames to be seen. The police were trying to maintain some discipline. The media was just getting in everyone’s way. The fire brigade was conducting a search through the building to check for trapped people.
Two people came out carrying a motionless body between them. It was the same person she had seen darting in through the doorway. Diya gasped. The brown untidy hair, the well-built body, the coffee-brown skin, - Deep!
She rushed through the crowd, pushing people aside, evading the media, and almost crashing into the two firemen who were carrying Deep.
Another fireman caught her roughly, but not unkindly. ‘Whoa, look out there, miss’ he said, then noticing the tears in her eyes, he asked gently, ‘Is he your relative?’
Diya nodded her head, unable to speak.
An ambulance stopped beside them and a doctor hopped out. He checked Deep’s pulse, then said, ‘He’s not dead...yet. But we have to get him to the hospital fast.’
Relief washed over Diya when the doctor said these words. So all was not lost. There was still hope.
Deep was laid down in the ambulance. Diya got up beside him and held his hand. A nurse was also there.
‘Oh, Deep,’ Diya whispered. ‘Deep, please wake up. Wake up, wake up, please, please, please, wake up.’
Diya paced the floor outside Deep’s ward slowly, her face expressionless, her mind a tornado of emotions. At last one of the nurses beckoned to her. Diya followed her in.
Deep was tossing on the bed, refusing to calm down. An oxygen mask was clapped over his nose and mouth, yet he was gasping for air. Diya was by his side in a trice.
Deep’s shuddering hand found Diya’s and he clutched onto her like a man who knew that he could not save himself but was still making a desperate effort to stay alive. Diya leaned in closer to him.
‘Calm down, Deep,’ she whispered, stroking his hair. ‘It’s going to be alright.’
Deep did calm down, and his tightly shut eyes slowly opened and fixed themselves on her. Then he slowly lifted a finger and tapped Diya on her arm. Diya’s eyes widened when she realized what he was doing. He was trying to give her a message!
Long ago, when both of them had been very young, their mother had taught them how to talk to each other through a series of tapping. Diya hadn’t used the code for a long time, but she still remembered it.
Deep’s was short and simple. ‘Live life, fulfil dreams.’ Diya closed her eyes and nodded. Two tears slowly trickled down her already tear-stained face. When she opened her eyes, she realised Deep was smiling. Then his hand went limp and his eyes turned glassy.
She turned towards the doctor who was shaking his head sadly. In a moment, the terrible truth hit her. Deep was dead.
Time seemed to slow down. Everything was blurry and confusing. She didn’t know where she was or what she was doing. She just knew that Deep was dead. Dead! No, he couldn’t be dead. He had just fallen asleep. The doctors were all wrong. No, Deep was not dead. He could not be dead.
The doctor and nurses finally managed to calm her down. She was escorted back to the airport by one of the nurses who was off duty. From there, she headed home in her own car.
If only she had reached the airport in time, Deep wouldn’t have died. If only she hadn’t overslept, had got Deep home before the fire, this...this wouldn’t have happened.
If only she had not told Deep to wait, if only she had told him to come home in a taxi...She buried her face in her hands. She had just told him to wait another hour. Just another hour. How was she to know that that one hour at the airport would be his death?
For a long time she stayed like that, sitting on her bed with her head in her arms. The light of the dying sun stained everything a deep red. Blood red.
Diya remembered Deep’s last message to her. Live life...fulfil dreams. Deep knew her dream was to become a world famous author. But now, even her will to live was gone. All she wanted to do was to...nothing. She didn’t know anymore what she wanted.
Deep wanted her to live. She knew that. And she had promised him that he would do as he pleased. She could not break that promise.
She would live. She would do her best to make her dreams come true. But in the end, her most wanted wish was to join Deep in Heaven.
She smiled softly. Gathering the scattered papers up, she read through the manuscript again carefully, making little corrections here and there. Then she sealed it up in a big brown envelope and dropped it into the nearby mail box.
Returning to her desk, she looked at the clock. 4:40 in the morning. The sun had not yet risen, though the sky was tinged a faint pink.
She extracted a tiny blue vial from a drawer and held it up against the light. The blue glass sparkled brilliantly.
‘Live life, fulfil dreams,’ she whispered, glancing at the picture again. ‘All but one, brother. And this is the answer.’
She looked at the vial in her hand. A medicine which could cure any illness in the world.
She uncorked the little vial and put to her lips. She needed only one drop of it. Her work was done.
She laid her head down on her desk, the vial still clasped in her hand, contented at last. Her eyes fell on the frame of the picture of her and her brother. There was just enough light to read their names engraved on the top, - ‘Diya & Deep.’ She smiled. She was finally going to see Deep again. She closed her eyes, just as the sun sent its first rays over the horizon, and fell asleep ... forever.