Copyright © Varsha Dixit 2017
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.
October 15, 2014
‘Save Lives’ Foundation’s Office, Kabul
A Caucasian man sat hunched on the scratched, green plastic sofa in a dinghy office that smelled of cleaning solution and wet floors. The smell of greasy kababs being sold in the small restaurants outside wafted in the office, adding its own scent to the mix. Low hum of office equipment were the only sounds around the solitary figure. Flags belonging to USA and Afghanistan hung on two poles in front of him. The man's head was bowed, his glassy eyed gaze fixed on the floor, his clothes wrinkled and stained and an unnatural stillness in his pose that would make an onlooker question if the man was breathing.
A pair of tan sandals stopped next to him. “Dr. Noah Collins.”
The man raised his head. His face was blank, his eyes red rimmed as if he had not slept for nights. His complexion lacked vitality, his cheeks were gaunt and his lips appeared to be stuck together as if he had no intention to speak ever again.
The other man, a local Afghani named Lala Pashtooni, extended a white envelope to the man on the sofa. “This and the box,” he pointed at the cardboard box behind him, ”belonged to Mrs. Collins.” The burly Afghani had a thick hooked nose, a long beard and was dressed in a Pathani Suit, the traditional garb of knee length shirt and loose pants. The hulk-sized man seemed to have trouble holding back his emotions as he swallowed rapidly and rubbed his eyes. “She was an angel!”
Noah gazed at the envelope and then at the box, his eyes as dull as unpolished metal “Is this all?” He asked his voice hoarse. “Alicia was here for almost a year.”
“Yes, this is all. Ms. Alicia never collected much. She only liked to give. Most of the things in the box are little trinkets and bracelets or paintings that the women she worked with made for her.'
Noah got to his feet like an eighty year old with chronic arthritis would. He took the envelope from the man and looked up his face suddenly clenched and his eyes glittered. “Are you sure Alicia is dead? She could have survived!”
Lala grabbed his hand and squeezed it “We are positive there were no survivors Dr. Noah. The convoy was ambushed and bombed. Everyone died in that ambush. All we found were charred bodies.” He swallowed heavily. “The jewelry in the envelope is hers, all that is left of your... of Alicia. The gold necklace you gave her. She never took it off!” The man took a deep breath and let go of Noah’s hand. “She is gone. She spoke so much about you. Her gray eyes would light up-”
Noah Collins did not let Lala Pashtooni finish. He went around the tall Afghani and picked up the box. “Thank you.” He took slow steps to the door of the office that opened into a narrow alley. Noah paused at the door. “Will you write to me if you remember anything about... about Alicia?”
“Yes, of course, my friend. Alicia may be gone in bodily sense but she will always live in our hearts as most cherished. She made every life she touched beautiful. I will pray for you.”
Dr. Noah Collins could only bring himself to nod. Speaking exhausted him. He stepped into a dusty street bathed golden yellow. The hot setting sun bathed everything in hues of orange and gold. Sounds of street vendors, peeling sounds of bicycle bells, car horns and local radio music made for a noisy environment ripe with smells and sights. Yet it did not dent the bleakness on Noah's face. His gait was slow and his shoulders slumped as if breaking under the weight of whatever he carried inside.
For the last two years his wife spent more time in this city than with him. A nurse by profession and a humanitarian by choice! And the very place, the very people Alicia had chosen to work with had cost her, her life. Noah and Alicia’s family had tried their hardest to convince Alicia to stay away from Afghanistan a hotbed for terrorist activity and crime but Alicia would never give up on what she cared for. The women and children of the villages her Non Profit Organization worked with.
A blue car with several scratches on it’s side waited for Noah at the end of the road. Getting inside, Noah sat back and rested his head on the maroon seat for a second. The old driver started the car ‘Hotel?’
Grunting, Noah raised the window with the squeaking silver handle that moaned at every turn. He opened the cream colored envelope and took out the folded necklace- simple gold and diamond heart on a fragile gold chain. He gripped his fingers around the pendant till it bit into his skin. Noah did not feel the sting. He was hoping to feel Alicia's warmth on it. He was disappointed.
The tears held back for so many days finally made their way down his cheeks and stained his neck and the front of his crumpled shirt. The driver afforded Noah some privacy by hunching further over the wheel.
Noah covered his face and sobbed noisily in his palms just like he had when he was seven and his first dog, Rudy, had died. He was crying for his wife whom he had known since they were in diapers. He was crying for his best friend growing up. He was crying for his prom date, for his awkward first kiss. He was crying for his past and for the future they had been robbed of. He was crying for Alicia’s parents, her younger sister and even her pet fishes floating in the rectangular aquarium they had set in the side of their kitchen counter.
And he was crying out of guilt! Noah had fought with Alicia before she had left for this ill-fated trip and had not spoken since. Alicia’s frequent and long trips to Afghanistan had driven a wedge between them. People remembered the last conversations with their loved ones. All Noah remembered of his last conversation with his Alicia was the loud slam of their front door. And he had been the one to shut the door. Alicia had still been talking! Noah fisted his hand against his teeth.
Noah felt like someone had taken a box cutter to his heart and shredded it to ribbons even though he knew better as a cardiologist. But one thing he was sure, he would never love again. It just hurt too damn much!
Two years later!
The chilly October wind coming through the back door did nothing to cool the resentment that singed Danika from her head to the sole of her sensible work shoes. 'Asshole!' Danika's mouth twisted all the way to the side of her face as she stomped to her rectangular desk decorated with small colorful souvenirs. Souvenirs her office folks had brought for Danika from their various getaways. On a good day simply by gazing at those souvenirs Danika vicariously felt like a world traveller. But today was not a good day!
She took a seat and bent behind the two 18-inch monitors, taking refuge. Danika knotted her hands in the ends of her fleece jacket even though she itched to hurl and break something.
An older lady with a top knot, wearing a loose red and white knee length wool dress, stopped by Danika's desk- Mrs. Jenny Silver, the front desk receptionist and mother hen to the eclectic seventeen that worked in the advertising agency. “You okay, love?”
“I have been better!” Danika bit her lips to control her panic. She continued to hunch behind the monitors.
“Look at those three!”
Lifting her head, Danika turned and saw three faces pressed against the glass wall of the break room that was close to her desk– her three musketeers. Sweet, sweet Jenna, crazy Caleb and the very mercurial Shanti. The three wore similar worried expressions.
Danika's smile was glum as she mouthed. 'I win! I got the cut!' Since last week there had been hushed whispers in the office that soon someone from the designing department was going to get the cut or worse still, the entire team would be laid off. Just for the heck of it, a couple of days ago, Jenna, Caleb, Shanti and Danika had played the 'draw the short straw' and Danika had eagerly drawn the first, hoping to win but she hadn't. 'Shit!' was her exclamation as she stared at the short, fluorescent green plastic tube in her hand. She had immediately proposed ‘best out of three’ but the rest of the drawees had disappeared faster than candy in a child's mouth.
Danika raised troubled eyes at Sarah who was still hovering near her desk. “It’s all over!”
“There is life outside this building and you need to find it!’
Says the Yoda in a dress! ‘No! No! This is my life! My work..’ Danika glanced around the office clamping her mouth trying not to cry.
‘Don’t cry because of a boss like you had. I’m sure you will do better outside.’ Mrs. Silver gently patted Danik’s shoulder. “You probably need boxes! Come with me to the supply room! Lets talk there.”
Danika got up her shoulders pointing down just like her chin. She gladly took the older woman's offer to remove herself from all the sideway glances directed at her.
Fifteen minutes later, holding a cardboard box full of loose papers and souvenirs, Danika walked out of the shiny glass door. She had forbidden the musketeers from walking her to the car for Danika knew that her composure was fragile as thin ice. “I hate Octobers! October sucks!’ Her voice trembled.
There wasn't much to her life other than work. I will have to get another job ASAP. Any job! Danika panicked thinking of her meager bank balance that could go in an overdraft any day, scratch that, any minute. The contents of the box seemed to mock her for spending innumerable hours at work and doing nothing much besides that.
Danika felt like collapsing on the pavement next to the red water hydrant often toppled by careless drivers and peed on by dogs. She felt as dented and damaged as the hydrant right now. This is all I had. I gave it my all. Asshole Craig and his fuck buddy Kelly Connor! May they rot in hell! Danika clamped her quivering lips, a telltale sign of impending waterworks.
Craig Hutchinson, the 'CEO', and his slimy Director Kelly Connor, who were sleeping together in spite of being married to other people, had stolen Danika's concept and jingles twice before but Danika had not protested much. She had tagged it as 'taking a few for the team'. But this time Craig and Kelly had not been satisfied with just stealing Danika's concept but had the gall to fire her citing ‘poor performance’. All because of the big fat commission attached to the project- commission that would have come Danika's way. Money she desperately needed for a luxury she had prematurely treated herself to – a brand new car. ‘I’m royally screwed!’
At the end of the block of 1600 Broadway, Danika turned left and entered a covered three-floor parking structure that smelled strongly of urine and greasy food.
Danika stopped next to her month-old red, shiny car- a red Honda Accord 2016; her only treat to herself in the last twenty seven years. Her anxious dark gaze and the nervous tic at the base of her throat were the only outward signs of the panic swirling in her.
Dropping the box onto the passenger side seat, Danika just sat there, her mind still grappling with what had just happened. Her cell beeped indicating she had received a new text. Danika feverishly reached inside her purse to find it. Maybe it’s Craig texting to apologize, to call me back.
Unlocking her cell, she saw the miniature picture along with the text. Danika recognized the number and turned as still as a statue. Shit! The day just got worse! Way worse!!
Soon more to come. . .
Note from the Author
Hope you enjoyed reading this. My journey as an author started ten years ago at a very emotional point in my life. A journey that is on going! A big thanks to each and every one of you who has read my books and has been a part of this journey.
To celebrate a decade of writing I have decided to share with you all a brand new unpublished book of mine. Do not tell my agent or publisher. . . ssshhh!
‘Danika’ is an idea that took shape in my mind last year. I toyed with it for several months and then decided to pen it. However, the end evades me. The book is three fourth complete. I’m hoping you all will motivate me to finish it.
I would like to thank, Dola Basu Singh, a very able editor who has helped me make this book better.
All mistakes in this book are mine. Please remember this is not a finished product that has gone through several rounds of edits by various professionals but truly a WORK-IN-PROGRESS. By sharing this unpublished book, I’m making you a part of this book from the very beginning. See it as I write it 😊
I will be posting a chapter or two on my website www.varshadixit.com. After few weeks I will be sending the free chapters through my newsletter to my subscribers. So don’t forget to subscribe on my website.
Do spread the word to others who might be interested. Please do write back to me through website or my Facebook author page, or Twitter. All links have been provided at the end of this post.
Go with love wherever life takes you. Thank you for being a part of my journey and good luck in all that you do. Happy Readings! 😃
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