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  • Ainesh Madan

Dancing in the Shadows (excerpt)

Everyone knew that the Kala Ghoda was a popular hangout spot for the Planetary Council soldiers of Delhi Mega. Women, except the ones that are there to solicit business, avoided the bar because the soldiers were known to get nasty very quickly. One would think that the protectors of a city would be relatively more civil when it came to social situations. This was not the case in Delhi Mega. Almost every Friday night ended with a brawl between two cops. The bar tender was then paid generously in cash the next morning for all damages. No issues raised.

The soldiers on this Friday night had decided to step out for a cigarette, which is why the five of them were in the parking lot. They were slightly intoxicated already, enough for their reflexes to be slightly dulled. “I am taking that dark-haired wench home tonight”, said Jaidev, tossing his half-smoked cigarette into the trash can. “You wish, you ugly-ass boot-licker”, replied Rakesh, fake-slapping Jaidev in the face. Jaidev responded by showing Rakesh the middle finger. Next thing he knew, he had been pinned to the wall by an invisible force.

Prakash had not felt this alive for a long time. There is a thrill that comes from eliminating soldiers of the Planetary Council that is incomparable. His daily yoga practice seemed to have really heightened Prakash’s capacity to deflect attacks from soldiers. It was honestly all too easy now. All he has to do was deflect enough attacks so that the soldiers eventually ran out of energy. And then he simply took them down one at a time. After he had shot three of the officers, Prakash decided to wait a moment before assassinating the remaining two. Perhaps he wanted to hear them plead for mercy. Or maybe he just wanted them to feel what all the innocent civilians they had mercilessly killed had felt. Either way, he felt it was important for them to stare down the barrel of a gun.

It was not Prakash’s style to say much when on a mission. But this time, for some reason, he felt compelled. “Haven’t you boys been trained not to be rude to each other?” Before one of them could respond, Prakash aimed the gun at his brain and pulled the trigger. The second soldier’s scream was loud enough to reach the end of the alleyway, but the music at the bar was too loud for anyone to have heard it. Prakash eliminated him with a swift stroke to the head with the gun’s grip.

Upon reaching home, Prakash jumped straight into the shower. There was nothing like a cold shower after a mission. On one level, it helped distance Prakash from the acts that he had just committed. On another, it prepared him for the next one by calming his nerves. What it did not seem to help with, however, was the nightmares. Ever since he was a child, Prakash had always had the same nightmare about a woman being tied to a railway track by a couple of men, and being left there to be run over. The woman’s desperate attempts to break free were useless as she had been hand cuffed to the tracks. Prakash would usually wake up with the sound of the train still ringing through his head.

For as long as he could remember, Prakash had always been alone. He had no parents, no siblings. He had grown up on the streets of Delhi Mega, making friends with the other orphans, and knew the city like the back of his palm. He was 23 when he got his first part-time peon shift at the local primary school. Soon enough, he had been promoted to work in the school’s administration, and was able to afford a modest place to live. But while he spent his days doing accounts on teachers’ salaries and arranging student files, Prakash spent his nights either training in martial arts through Youtube videos, or putting his combat skills to the test by taking down PC soldiers. He also kept a log on his apartment’s wall of the number of soldiers he had killed. It was currently 64.

***

The Rjv Chwk metro station is possibly the busiest metro station in Delhi Mega. With over eight trains connecting at the hub, it serves at least half a million passengers every day. This makes it a convenient spot for crime, which is why the station is always teeming with PC soldiers. Theft, groping, even assault, has been reported by passengers. That being said, it was hard to imagine that someone would attempt an assassination at such a busy station.

Stealth was not Prakash’s strongest suit. But he felt that with sufficient planning, he could pull off stabbing the chief operator of the Delhi Mega metros when he was out for his daily rounds. The plan was simple: get out of a crowded train at the exact door where the operator always stood on Wednesday evenings, and pierce the blade through his gut while exiting. By the time anyone realised what had happened, Prakash would have disappeared into the crowd. The busyness of the metro would become Prakash’s camouflage.

It was at Kshmr Gt, where Prakash had transferred trains to board the one leading to Rjv Chwk, that Prakash began to realise that something was awry. It was not the fact that people eyeing him strangely. Prakash was used to being glared at for his intense gaze. No, it was the fact that Prakash began to feel that the train compartment itself was shrinking. It was at Chndni Chwk that Prakash finally realised what was happening. There were people from different directions gradually edging towards him. He was about to be attacked.

Instead of immediately reacting to the fact that his plan had been foiled, Prakash decided to take a moment to think. He was lucky. He was close to a door, and all of the agents were at least five metres away from him. When the train reached Chwri Bzr, Prakash screamed as loud as he could and ran out at an angle to the train doors. Before the people at the station could start to rush into the train, Prakash had already reached the stairs. The people who were out to attack him were stalled by the crowd wanting to head into the train.

Prakash decided to use his legs to get back to his apartment. When he reached Prtp Ngr, Prakash decided he was sufficiently out of danger and stopped running. After some rest, he decided to gradually make his way back to his home. “How could they have known?”, he kept wondering. Upon reaching the floor on which his apartment was located, Prakash noticed something funny. The door to the lift, which Prakash never used, was slightly ajar. Instead of entering through the main door, Prakash decided to climb up the side of the building to peer in through the window in his bathroom. The only light Prakash always left on in his bedroom seemed to be casting new shadows on the walls.

Realising that his identity had been compromised, Prakash realised he had no choice but to flee Delhi Mega. Although he had never thought he would have to do this, Prakash decided to use the underground network map that he kept in his left shoe at all times. The difficulty, however, would be getting to the closest stop without being caught.

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