The Last Wish – By Anindita Paul
Winner of 1st Prize in the Eclat Sci Fi competition- Techniche 12, IIT Guwahati
What is the most elusive of man’s wishes? Sang in melodies, promised in abstract, imagined in stories but still a mere figment of fiction and man’s everlasting desire. Lives change with time, so do the things men want to play with. Better cars, the next generation of communication media: these are the sci fi dreams of the present. But the following story holds the belief that as time flies, the basic entity and organisation (or contra) will remain the same with a few modifications along the way. Men will always lust after greasy foods and some hi tech alternative to cigarette may still come up but the fact remains that man will always find himself shackled in the chains of one or another for that is what it means to be human. But my story indulges itself in the one thing, the one gift that may break man free from these chains of imprisonment, the one gift that may change the way we view and live life forever. The greatest gift that man can envision.
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle
When the sun comes up in Africa, you’d better be running.”
The cheers reverberated from every corner of the stands. Flags furled and unfurled, a clash of different colours as the hands that held them. The vendors danced gracefully amidst the jostling crowd selling a milieu of greasy treats and drinks to soothe the hoarse voices as the spectators bellowed out the names of their favourites, immediately followed by whoops or jeers from those waiting nearby. The crowd was waiting in nervous anticipation. The last minute arrivals rushed to grab the remaining seats, stealing hurried glances at the tracks where the giants were assembled; always hurrying, always afraid lest the race started before they were in place. A hum of nervous energy floated in the air, sweat intermingled in the warm west midland weather but those that gathered there didn’t seem to care. Today seemed to be one of those momentous occasions when history could be written. They felt it in their hearts that it would be a day that they would remember till the day they died, a day that would change their lives forever. Only a few moments now remained: the tension was increasing. A man burst into tears unable to contain himself, a few even fainted .Above the noises of the unconscious being removed in stretchers and a few faint laughs that floated in their wake, the monologue over the announcements was reaching its end.
Far into the field, the titans were crouched, ready to pounce upon the open ground. Separated by white lines, they held a perfect line of formation; beautiful statues that looked as though Bernini himself had carved them out of marble, only the slow rise and fall of their chests gave indication that they were alive and the veins that stood out with the avid force of their concentration. They were gods in the stadium: each a Colossus on terra.
Perhaps a little disparate from the line-up, though no less impressive, was a black man. He was standing at the second last outer circle with his feet jauntily on the set block. His bald head shiny enough to reflect the sun like the rays shot from a newly cleaned pistol and a set of bright white teeth that peeked inconspicuously from between dramatically upturned lips. He seemed to be somehow less daunting than the others. Though his player card boasted the optimum statistics, he seemed to be overshadowed on the field. Perhaps it was the face that was ready to break out in wrinkles of laughter at the slightest flashed in the TV and captured across the pages of the papers that made him seem a little too friendly compared to his more intense competitors. After having broken through the ranks and scraping his way into the finals, the press dubbed this yesteryear’s “most promising athlete”, a “David among Goliaths”. However, there seemed to be something about him that disturbed even the most complacent of the snubs. A searing focus that could leave trails blazing literally, it seemed. But such new found attitudes and overemphasized presence was a common sight at the races, especially among the newbies. Soon the cameras turned to the favourite of the race who had just flashed a grin at the spectators sending in a wave of frenzy into the already pulsating mass.
The commentary was now over and the countdown had begun. At the starting line, hands were clenched into fists and the jaws set tighter. The chaos from the stands receded into silence. At the gunshot, the boom resounded in the deafening silence and one runner began ahead of his time. As soon as he realised his mistake, he began to stop, strained his ankle and skidded into the white line. A sharp pain shot from the heel as the tendon scraped over the bone. The others shot through the track, leaving him kneeling in a shower of dust.
Mr Finkler was in an exceedingly good mood. Driving through Highway59, he felt the day could not have been more perfect. The sun was shining brightly and the wind through his hair made it seem no less perfect than a Top Gun scene. He felt irritated that his boss had wanted him to put in extra hours of billing at the law firm. But he had outsmarted him. Showed him who’s boss. A couple of hundred dollar bills and the cleaning lady at the office punched in his card for a couple of extra hours of work. And why shouldn’t he? He certainly could afford it and after the way he had closed the Merrywater case earning his firm twice as much as calculated in terms of handling charges and profits, it was preposterous to expect him to work on a Saturday afternoon. Still if he got caught and with the frequent feelers his boss had been dropping about the promotion, it would damage his chances of making a partner. He shook his head and shifted his thoughts from the matter; it would have to be dealt with when the time came and concentrated on the journey at hand.
Ever since he was a kid, he had been in awe of runners. His earliest memory of a childhood was sneaking into his father’s room and watching his collection of old sports videos. His father had been an athlete in school and indulged in his passion by collecting the best athletes in history. There in his father’s study, smelling of leather and Cohiba cigars, he saw her for the first time: the chocolate coloured lady in blue shorts flying across the track. He felt lightheaded just seeing her run. Enthralled, he watched her as she shot over and across hurdles: graceful yet strong. To his eight year old mind she was a superhero. He had a picture of her pasted on his door with a name printed below in tiny printer ink: P T Usha. Watching her run made it seem like he had discovered a secret: a secret that was only between him and the poster on his door and it made him feel special. He carried that feeling with him well into his teens and even in Law College when he felt like he could go on no more, he travelled back to the days in his father’s study, when hidden from the world she whispered into his ears that he could fly.
On his way to the 1500 metres sprint, Olympics 3000, he had a feeling that his childhood had crept into his present and he could almost sing. But he contended himself with just smiling lest some crazy loon thought him a madman behind the wheel. What if one his associates saw him? He shuddered, then threw back his head and started laughing.
Seven minutes into the race and eight laps down, things were going as predicted. After the one false start, the other seven had conquered the track in a manner no less expected of them. A ginger haired lithe runner from USA had taken the lead followed closely by one from the mainland of China. The black man was trailing third.
The driver in the black on black BMW X10 was anxious. The traffic jam at the A452 Chester Road had already gotten him fifteen late. He had left his earlier job as a desk clerk in a shoddy establishment to take care of his ailing mother who was suffering from a rare form of degenerative disease. Treatments had taken away almost all the money that he had saved up and the bills were piling up. It became imperative for him to find to find another job. One day loitering about aimlessly and dejectedly from a day of fruitless search for a job, he saw a man stumble out through the doors of a local pub. Too intoxicated to even walk in a straight line he watched the man grapple in his pockets and take out a set of keys, then stumbled into the front seat of one of those glossy new sports cars and started the engine. The engine started with a gentle purr and banged into the bumper of the car behind. An incessant honk filled the area. From across the road where he had been standing, he had seen enough. In his last job, he had frequently watched his bosses get drunk in the late Friday night parties and boast sober enough to drive only to trail a mess until somebody saved them. He shook his head with a whiff of comprehension. The man, in his drunken haze, had obviously pressed the reverse gear instead of forward causing the machine to accelerate backwards. Sure enough he found the man lying unconscious with his head on the steering wheel. He caught a whiff of perfume and vomit as he secured the man into the front seat and drove him home. Next day, sober and grateful in his crumpled designer white shirt and torn cashmere pants he had given him a job as his driver.
This was the day after and his first day at the job. He wanted to do it without error. He knew the man sitting behind was important and what more, he was kind and generous. He had paid for his mother’s treatment in full and had also given him something extra so that he could now afford a full time nurse. More than anything, he wanted to impress the big man sitting in the backseat. So it was that in the blistering sun, the black car advanced keeping just inside of the speed limit but the driver was still anxious that his boss would he late.
When he made the last curve, he saw the red chevvy Camaro coming from the opposite direction. The glare of the reflection from the windshield blinded him for a second and then he saw something odd. The man behind the wheel seemed to be laughing. As he squinted his eyes to see the man clearly, the BMW ran over a loose stone and slipped. As the black car dented into the side of the Camaro, he saw the glassy eyes of the man, laughing hysterically inside, still unaware of what had happened. The BMW made two circles and smashed into the rails leaving a confusion of mangled bodies inside. The Camaro skidded at first and then tore through the air and careered into the emptiness beyond. Somewhere during the flight the glassy eyes jerked into the present, a grimace of shock and bewilderment etched into his face. The last thing he remembered was the machine in his office recording the extra hours of billing and with a wistful smile on his face, the car crashed into the cool waters below.
It was after the twentieth lap that things began to shake up. At the twenty-first lap, lightheaded and at the end of his game one of the runners deliberately crashed into another, thus disqualifying both from the race. A storm of protests broke out as some supporters began gesturing rudely towards the runner, a few that broke free had started advancing towards him but were soon dragged away by the security. Some whooped and cheered him pleased with the turn of events. The rest of the five had shot forward unaware of the drama behind, ginger hair leading the race closely followed by the Chinese and the black man. After the twenty third lap, the Chinese fell behind and at par with the black man. At the twenty fourth, the black man glided past the Chinese and began inching towards the American. The crowd was in delirium. Would the twelve time title holder fall behind? Would the underdog take the title from the titan? The media had gone into frenzy.
Cameras flashed from across the barricades as the bodies were removed in stretchers from under the debris. Even through the blood and dust covering the disfigured bodies, the skin colour could be made out. One was black.
The black man was now fast approaching the lead. The gap between the two closed within seconds and now the black man was running head to head with the white skinned American.
It didn’t take the crowd long to join the dots. There was the body of a black man under a signature black on black BMW X10 in what was the road leading to the Olympics 3000. It could be no other than the surprise entry of this year’s most awaited race. The only black man in the line-up and the smile that had graced the covers of many a newspaper. And he was fighting for his live in an ambulance mere hours before the race.
He was almost dead by the time they reached the hospital. And as luck would have it the chief surgeon to be operating on him was accounted for being an eccentric. In fact, most in the scientific community steered clear of him in spite of his many breakthroughs. Most considered him mad. That and an utter inconsideration for rules had stunted his career in many ways than one. It was abuzz that he had stumbled upon something new and that it was big. He refused to disclose the details and remained holed up in his office for days at a time. However, on hearing about the accident he had rushed from his office to the operating table even before the attendants. Apprehensions flew around but no one came forward to stop him as he began preparing to operate. At 9:05, he was timed officially dead.
The black man had now surpassed the ginger haired American and was running at the head of the race. It was the last lap. Halfway through the race, a sharp pain shot up from his leg almost stopping him in his tracks. A millisecond of hesitation later he continued running. As though his life was on the line, he ran. He left his past behind, and he ran. He ran till his legs could take no more, but still he ran. Chasing the end with the last iota of energy, he ran. Ignoring the pain in his body he ran like there would be no tomorrow, like there wouldn’t a next moment. He lived his life in the last moment of victory as he chased the finish line and dropped to his knees with the red cloth of victory around his body. He saw the crowd breaking loose and his agent running towards him. He had won the race at 01:26, a few seconds later he had breathed his last.
The doctor came out of the Operating Room whistling to himself. Tremendously pleased with himself. He declared the operation a massive success.
At 10:00, he held a press conference. He declared he had found the secret of life. No one believed him. Until exactly three hours and twenty six minutes later.
It was the beginning of a new age.
Written by: Anindita Paul,
3rd semester, (DUIET)
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