The Face Behind The Shadow

“Get off the road, you bitch”, he screamed, as he zoomed past the little girl, playing on the road with a stray dog, in his brand new Mercedes S class.
 
“Damn these zopadpatti kids. One of these days they are going to die in the front of my car and I will be the one in trouble for no fault of mine”, said Vikram, to no one in particular.
 

Vikram Malhotra was the envy of anyone who knew him. A dashing young fellow in his early 30s, he had built his business by sheer intelligence and a smart ruthlessness, that could only come from a long lineage of a a business family.

 
He had toiled hard throughout his youth, graduating top of the class from a renowned London University, before coming back to India and setting up his Advertisement firm.
 
And then, Vikram had never looked back even once as success seemed to curtsy in the front of him, wherever he went.
 
A sprawling apartment in one of the elitest parts of the city, some of the best cars in his garage and a beautiful wife who lit up the room whenever she walked into it, Vikram had it all.
 
He parked his car below his office. An independent office building which he had planned and built himself. Where he housed some 100 odd people, who spent their time converting his ideas into advertisements without giving a second thought to what time of the day it was.
 
He stood besides his car, admiring the impressive building. He was proud of it.
 
He frowned as he looked at that lone beggar who was sitting just outside the office gate.
 

A ragged old guy, wearing a skull cap, sporting a scraggly dirty beard. A beggar who spent his entire day sitting outside his office building asking for alms from the passerbys. It was difficult to make out his age, but he did look like he was done living most part of his life.

 
Vikram had often watched the beggar, smoking bidis while sitting there and throwing the butts on the pavement right where he sat. “Bloody idiot !! They want us to clean up the mess they make”, he used to think.
 
He had had his guards throw the man away numerous times, but he kept coming back. And the sight of him infuriated him. An ugly blotch on his otherwise spic and span lifestyle.
 
Vikram strode purposefully towards the old man, “Get off my property you asshole !!!”, he screamed at the old man.
 
“Its people like you who spoil my beautiful city. Chale aate hain bheek maangne apne gaon se. Get a friggin job !!”.
 
The old man looked up at Vikram, squinting through his old wisened eyes. His hand slowly outstretched towards Vikram, “Please give the poor man something, saab. Allah will protect you, always”.
 

“You and your Allah!!! If Allah was actually going to protect someone, you wouldnt be begging for money right now”, Vikram spat out as he turned around, motioning the guard, who ran towards the old man with his stick raised.

 
Vikram got into the lift on the way to his cabin, still muttering under his breath. “These idiots. They come from their small time villages, with their small time mentality and sit here amongst us begging. They wont do a single minutes hard work and expect us to pay for them”
 
Vikram’s mood changed as soon as he got into his office. The smiles on the faces of his young exhubertent staff always had that effect on him. And his work got him so engrossed with creative ideas that he was soon able to forget about everything else.
 
He never knew how the day had passed, as he glanced outside the window and noticed that the sun had disappeared. Most of his office staff had left other than the peon who had a small staff quarter for himself within the office premises.
 
Time to head home.
 
He packed up his bag and started walking towards the elevator. And thats when he heard the defeaning crash.
 
The huge window in his cabin shattered as a stone came hurlting inside his office.
 
Even as Vikram stood there, taken aback, the Peon rushed into his office.
 
“Sir, they are rioting out there”, he said, panic written all over his face.
 
“Huh? Who? What? Why?”, Vikram shouted, fishing for his phone trying to see if there were any updates. The “No Network” sign flashed back at him.
 

Vikram moved slightly closer to the window, as he looked down at the rioting crowd. There were clearly two sides there. The ones with the saffron bandanas and the ones with the green headscarfs, throwing stones and petrol bombs at each other. Swords, sticks and choppers…all sort of weapons being brandished in the air as they went for each other’s life.

 
The saffron, the green, the white of their clothes….. never had Vikram seen his beloved tri-colors being splattered with blood in the front of his eyes, in such a manner.
 
His blood froze.
 
“I have to get out of here. You lock the office and stay inside, make sure you dont let anyone come in and DO NOT VENTURE OUT and DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR FOR ANYONE”, Vikram ordered the Peon as he rushed down the stairs to the lobby with his Peon dutifully by his side.
 
He had to just make it to his car and then he could probably drive out of the back gate without being noticed by the rioting crowd.
 
He quickly moved out of the office lobby towards the parking, turning back to watch his Peon quickly downing the main shutter and locking it from inside.
 
Vikram slowly crept towards his car, noticing that the office security guards were nowhere to be seen.
 
“Must have run away the first chance they got”, he muttered to himself as he advanced towards his car.
 
He was about to reach his car when a bottle came flying in above the office gate and crashed against his car lighting it up as the burning fluid inside it started spreading all over the vehicle.
 
“F@ck”, Vikram muttered, as he desperately started looking for other avenues to make his escape.

 

He spotted the under-construction building just a few yards across from the backgate. But the crowd had completely surrounded his building. His office door was now locked and there was no way the Peon was going to open it now, irrespective of whoever knocked on the shutters.

 
The only way he could make a getaway was if he made a run for it towards the under-construction building. No one would bother with that. They seemed to be more interested in burning up buildings which were already occupied.
 
And thats what he did. He fled with all the strength that he could muster. He ran through the back gates of his office building, close to the rioting crowd, his heart pounding in his chest, even as a hand grabbed his shirt.
 
Fear gives you wings, they say. Probably they also give you strength which you have never known before. Vikram pulled himself away from the hand with this very strength and made his way towards the under-construction building, even as he felt his shirt being ripped off his shoulders.
 
As he entered the unfinished building, he suddenly felt himself being pushed to the floor from behind. Even before Vikram could open his mouth, a musty blanket was thrown over him.
 
“Stay there. Stay under this. And they wont find you”, said a voice.
 
Something was oddly reassuring about this faceless voice and Vikram saw no other way but to do its bidding. So, below the blanket he stayed.
 
Was it the stale musty smell of the blanket over him, or was it the sheer exhaustion from all the running, he was not sure, but somehow Vikram found his eyes closing as he lay there under the oddly comforting warmth.
 

He didnt know how long he was in there. He had lost the track of time. But he just lay there, unmoving, scared that even the least of the movements might alert the rioters and somehow they will come in and hunt him down.

 
After what seemed like an eternity, he felt the blanket being pushed off him. He still lay there, face down, not sure if he should just pretend to be dead, when the same voice spoke.
 
“Sir, you can get up now, they are gone.”, the voice said, in a comforting tone.
 
Vikram got up trying to squint through the darkness at the face behind the voice, managing to make out just a shadowy figure of a man sitting on his haunches in the front of him.
 
“The riots have stopped, but there is a curfew now. Lots of cops out in the street. You might have to wait till the morning before you would be able to go home”, the voice continued.
 

Vikram tried to look around him in the eerie silence which had set in after the screams had subsided. He nodded at the shadow. “Thank You. Thank You for saving me”, he said meekly.

 
The shadowy figure extended his hand towards Vikram. Vikram looked down at the hand to see it holding two pieces of bread in it.
 
“Here, take this. There is still some time till morning. Eat this bread. You must be hungry. Sorry, but I have only two”, the voice said calmly.
 
Vikram slowly took the bread from the hands on the stranger, touched by the kindness of the gesture, as the shadowy figure struck a match flooding the darkness with light as he started lighting up his bidi.
 
Vikram stared wideyed, at the face revealed, in the light of the match as the man took a deep drag on his bidi, “Dont worry Sir, everything will be alright”, said the old man smiling at Vikram, “Allah will protect you, always……”
 
Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction and so are the characters in it. This story does not intend to offend any religions or political parties. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, or the rioting idiots is purely coincidental.

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