Soft strings of pearls drizzled from the baby blue sky, making the grass shimmer. The golden rays of the sun bounced off them, leaving a riot of colours in its wake.

Ayesha had never been a devout believer. Neither was she unnecessarily vocal about her atheism, nor was she very reverent or religious. Everyone at home used to bow their heads once daily and light an incense stick in front of the tiny puja-room by the kitchen, but she never did. Although her new father-in-law acknowledged her individuality and choice of belief, her indifference was precisely the bone of silent contention between them.

That morning too, the dawn of Krishna Janmashtami, when the rest of the country bowed in subservience, love and prayer, Ayesha hurried about the house with her wet hair in a towel, off to work. However, today, her father-in-law felt that it was an important day and the lady of the household must bow her head once.

“Ayesha dear, today is Janamashthami…. won’t you ask for the Lord’s blessings?”

It was a small thing and she decided it wouldn’t hurt to help another’s belief. She went to the puja-room, lit a small diya and touched the feet of the lovely baby Krishna idol.

After finishing off breakfast, the old man settled down with the newspaper, and both husband and wife scurried off to work. After dropping her husband at his office, Ayesha set off towards her comfy office in I.T. Park. As usual, the traffic was crazy. It took her 20 minutes to crawl through the ten-minute drive. As she was negotiating a hairpin bend in the parking lot, she was hit with a sudden spurt of nausea, it felt like the world did a spin. In a moment, her stomach tied itself into knots, trying to churn itself out and her chest felt like it was squeezing itself. Her vision turned fuzzy and she started to feel disoriented. Somehow, she managed to park, staggered out and dropped right there against the pillar. The parking lot was deserted, there was no one to help. As she stumbled around for her phone, she felt her field of vision diminishing. Maybe she was dying...

Out of the blue, a kind hand softly touched her shoulder. It was a tall, dark-complexioned young man with short curly hair. He was standing against the light, and anyway Ayesha’s vision was blurry, so she couldn’t see his face clearly. He had in his hand a suspicious, long and slender straw-coloured object.

“It’s all fine, no need to panic. Here, have this. It will make you feel better.”, he said, as he handed her a plastic glass of yellow viscous liquid. She had been working here for a year now, but had never seen this man. Should she trust this stranger? What was in that glass? She knew a lot might happen if she drank that juice, but her mind was clouded. She instinctively pushed her doubts aside and took a sip.

It was sugarcane juice, fresh and masala marke, just the way she liked it. She shut her eyes and gulped down the whole glass in one breath. Immediately, she felt better. Her vision cleared and she began breathing easily. Her stomach seemed to straighten out, purging the nausea, and her chest felt light again.

When she looked up to thank the young man, he was gone. Just as silently as he had come. She looked around, but it was as if had vanished into thin air. Two security guards were coming her way. Just where he had been standing, he had dropped what he had been holding - an exquisite, elegant, foot-long flute. At its extremity, a red thread was tied around the flute, with two radiant multi-hued peacock feathers attached to it.

Who was that man?

Author: Shashmita Sanyal

Editor: Rhythm Pujara

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