Shiv crouched on a thin checkered cloth on the dusty ground and took a deep breath from the hand-rolled joint. One more deep drag and he inhaled the medicinal smoke deep into his lungs.
“Pass it over here.” Hanuman picked the edges of the joint with the tips of his fingers and smiled, his eyes were bloodshot red and he took in deep puffs while holding tightly on his long wooden staff. It was a fairly thin staff that seemed to shine at the shaft and bent at the top.
Shiv loosely hung his elbows on his knees and looked around, a well-dressed man walked on the grassy field cautiously avoiding the dung land mines of the cows and opened up a plastic bag of water-soaked lentils and some ripe bananas. A beautiful white cow took notice of the well dressed man and ran off to his direction.
“Your turn.” Hanuman passed the joint to Shiv.
Shiv took a deep drag and released a slight smoke from his mouth allowing it to bridge to his nose. Shiv like many people from the outskirts of the city was named after some of the old gods and goddesses in their scriptures. There was something different about him though and Shiv knew this, his mother had reminded him so many times over his youth. “You are not like the other children in the village.” Shiv thought that it was the way he looked, he was of a very good height, always a head over most. Shiv had light hair almost blondish, swirling hazel eyes with a dot of gray in the center and a light copper toned skin. He loved wearing his white pin-striped slacks with a nice black belt with a spinning dollar sign.
This however was not the reason why he was different. Shiv realized this when Hanuman asked him why he always clean, especially when he wore white slacks, there was never a speck of dirt on him. Even when Shiv was younger, his mother praised his cleanliness, while the other village children ostracized him after their ears were pinched hard almost bleeding. “It was all Shiv’s idea!” They screamed. In fact all of the little games and pranks in village was masterminded by Shiv but he was always clean.
It had been long time since he had been in the village, the same village that he had grown with his friends, where his mother used to walk on the crooked roads with her head covered by a pink or green cloth carrying a steel basin filled with broken rocks and handful of sand, where he used to drink milk heated over a family clay pot after his grandmother had milked their own cow. He had taken a job as a rickshaw driver in the city, the numerous high-rise buildings, vast amount of cars, trucks and the new train that connected passengers to the next metropolis but it was still dusty! Just like home.
It was in this new city that Shiv’s difference became more obvious. The city where he would spend half of his day smoking some of Hanuman’s chronic as he herded his cows. Shiv took another quick drag on the joint and passed it on to Hanuman. He turned toward the well dressed man. The man wore black slacks and a stripped tie over an ice blue shirt. He had hopped onto his gold-colored Maruti Suzuki SX4 and zoomed down the road spewing some dust in the air. Hanuman loosened the white cloth around his head and wrapped the loose end around his face, covering his mouth.
Shiv looked at the white cow in the field and he swore the cow winked at him. He closed his eyes and looked at the cow once more. The cow had disappeared. “Hanuman what kind of stuff are we smoking?” Shiv asked.
Hanuman chuckled. “Good stuff isn’t it?”
Before Shiv could reply a woman called for his attention.
“Bhaiya I need to go to HUDA City Center.”
Shiv looked up at the woman, she was fair, as white as milk. Her eyes were a crystal blue but she had jet black hair. Her features where sharp but very soft and her voice was very hypnotic as if she was singing a lullaby to a baby.
Shiv pushed his knees up and took a deep breath. He pulled out his thumb and forefinger. “Two hundred rupees.”
“Two hundred?!? Are you mad?”
“It is a far distance.”
“It is just over there.”
Shiv looked to his right. “Well if it is just over there, you can walk it. Why take a rickshaw?”
The woman folded her arms. “Ok, but we need to get there fast.”
Shiv pumped his legs pushing him into a standing position. “Jump on.”
The woman jumped onto the seat on the rickshaw and wore a large pair of sunglasses as she rested under the canopy.
Shiv smiled at Hanuman amazed at his luck and pushed the red rickshaw onto the road.
“I’ll be waiting here.” Hanuman waved at Shiv and continued smoking his joint.
“Leave some for me!”
“You better hurry back.” Hanuman chuckled.
Shiv stepped on the peddles and steered the rickshaw forward. He gathered speed and he could feel the wind blow into his face. He was amazed at how light the woman was, it was as if she was made out of air. As he moved forward the wind started getting stronger. The trees bent and leaves flew in all directions.
“Strong wind today madam.”
The woman did not reply she just hummed a low tune.
Shiv looked back at the woman and he could not help realize that her skin became fairer. “That is some strong stuff….I need to get more from Hanuman later.”
A truck passed them and it was filled to the brim with dust. Shiv thought that this was going to some construction site somewhere, there was always some digging and building going on. The city was growing and more and more people from the outskirts found jobs in the city just like him.
Maybe it was the wind or that the sand was overflowing from the carriage of the truck but Shiv noticed that the sand poured out from the truck in droves, it seemed like the sand jumped like passengers hopping off a train onto a platform. The wind scattered the sand and created a miniature sandstorm. The woman shrieked but Shiv smiled. The sand came close to him but it did not bother him one bit.
Shiv pulled his passenger through the roundabout and past a row of buildings, commercial complexes that were no more than three stories high, a nearby hotel and a small shopping arcade that was full of cars parked on a dusty lot. He swore that sand from that lot crept through the streets and joined the sandstorm around him.
Maybe it was the effect of the chronic but Shiv noticed the sandstorm did not subside and it only hovered around him. In fact the wind was only present around him. In the distance it was calm and quiet except for the incessant honking of shiny cars.
“Are we near?” The woman asked. Her voice was still sweet but there was a sense of anxiety.
“Nearly there madam.” Shiv replied with a slight smirk in his deep voice.
In the distance not too far from the destination of Shiv and his passenger. A tall round structure stood. It was magnificent with rails connected to it and trains buzzing in every few minutes. On the ground next to another busy roundabout. A burly man sat on a fork of tree branches. He dangled his feet in air. “Do you see them?”
A woman leaned against the tree with her arms hidden a green silk shawl. Her eyes pierced into the distance and she could see every single movement. The sugarcane vendor churning out juice like a machine a hundred meters from them. A motorbike losing balance after an abrupt turn into a rocky intersection two hundred meters from them. The red rickshaw surrounded by a whirling dust storm. “Esen is busy.”
“How far are they?”
“You are very impatient Nigel.”
“Don’t make me come down there!”
“Not far now.”
Nigel jumped from the tree and looked at the distance. “I don’t see anything. Where are they?”
“Are you ready Nigel?”
Nigel snickered. “I always am.”
“Look over there.” Zakhira raised a long finger in the nearby distance. The dust storm approached and inside it was the dull red rickshaw with Shiv and his woman passenger. “Get it over with.” Zakhira turned around and walked toward a nearby patch of grass. She bent down and felt the smooth fiber of the green sprouts against the rich dark soil.
“Are you not going to stay and watch Zakhira? Zakhira?” Nigel turned around and Zakhira was no where to be seen. He chuckled boisterously. “Ah you better be ready.”
Shiv approached the metro station. It was a beautiful beige color and some sharp decorations which stood three stories high. There was gaps in the structure and several pieces were still bare grey. Around the structure were little rickshaws that surrounded the structure like flies around rotten meat. Overhead a train was arriving and it swiftly zipped out of the platform onto a concrete railway.
Shiv had never traveled on the train, he had no reason to do so. But he heard tales from Hanuman. He said that the train was a double-tailed beast with no head. “It is dumber than an ox!”
The woman tapped on Shiv’s shoulder. “Stop here.”
Shiv looked around him and there was an empty corner lot on his left. In fact she had told him to stop exactly at the corner of the intersection still quite a distance from the Metro Station. “Madam?”
“This is far enough.”
Shiv hopped off his seat and arched his back before turning to the woman. He noticed that her complexion was really light as if she was almost transparent. He rubbed his eyes. “Madam we are near the station, don’t you want to go there?”
“No.” The woman graciously stepped down from the passenger seat and ran her fingers through her hair. “This is where we have to be .” She pulled out a small clip from her hair and handed it to Shiv.
It was a clip that had four lines, it was very shiny and glimmered as if they were diamonds. Shiv looked puzzlingly at the clip, it was clearly worth more than two hundred rupees but he could not pawn this easily without arousing suspicion. He wanted cash. He looked up at the woman and she turned translucent.
The woman walked close to Shiv and whispered in his ear. “Esen.”
Shiv pushed her back but his hands went through her and he lost balance, falling hand first on the ground. What is going on?
“Is this your rickshaw?”
Shiv turned around and sat on the ground. He looked up at a large man who was definitely taller than he was. He seemed to be as tall as the trees. His arms where of tree trunks and a bushy red hair flowed all over his body. “Yes. Where do you want to go?” Shiv pushed himself up but fell back on the ground. “Ow!” he noticed that the large boot of the burly man pushed against his chest.
“We are not going anywhere.” Nigel chuckled. “Show me your power!”
Shiv tried to pull the large foot from his chest. This guy is strong!
“Come on!” Nigel screamed.
Shiv repeatedly tried to pull the boot from his chest but he could not budge it an inch.
Nigel pushed his boot deeper and he could feel the ribs of Shiv crack underneath him.
“Nigel!” A voice whispered in the air. It was a sweet voice almost like a lullaby and it calmed Nigel. “Don’t kill him, we need his power.”
Nigel scoffed. “What power? He can hardly get up from my boot. Even Zakhira would have wiggled her way out of this by now.”
“You dare defy me?”
“No Esen…I won’t do that, but why do we need him? I can take down a whole army by myself!”
“Not even you can stand up against this boy when he awakens.”
Nigel spat on the ground. “Is he really that powerful?”
“I have witnessed his latent powers, it is still weak but it will grow when he meets the witch.”
Nigel shook his head and picked up Shiv.
Shiv breathed raggedly, the lack of air had brought him in and out of consciousness. “Unhhh.”
Nigel slapped Shiv. “Wake up Shivie boy!”
Nigel slapped harder and this time it almost cracked Shiv’s neck. The pain brought him fully into consciousness and he took deep breaths. “What? Who? What do you want?”
Nigel pulled Shiv close. “What did that woman say to you?”
“The woman that gave you this!” Nigel squeezed Shiv’s clenched fist which held the wavy diamond clip. “Tell me!”
“Ess….es…” Shiv swallowed a sour lump in his throat. “Esen. She told me Esen. Shiv looked at the clip in his hand and it started disappearing. He squirmed and screamed but no one paid attention to him. The burly man who held him continued to chuckle. It was so loud that Shiv thought lightning struck him. Shiv tried to kick himself free but he could not feel anything, in fact he felt that he was not moving at all. Shiv looked down at his feet and his feet seemed to disappear. “Help!” Shiv screamed. Shiv waved his hands frantically. “Something is happening to me! Please help!”
“There is no use fighting it.” Nigel pulled tighter on Shiv’s shirt. “You are coming with me now.”
In a matter of moments Shiv and Nigel disappeared. The rickshaw still stood there at the dusty corner facing the large structure of the metro station. Its chipped red paint and rainbow-colored seats served as a reminder that Shiv, the woman and Nigel were not apparitions.