On a bleak, windy February night, the past catches up with Raven Shine.
|Raven Shine glanced at his watch and yawned. It was quarter past midnight. Ominous dark-grey clouds hovered over the moon and cast creepy shadows.
Stifling another yawn, he decided to stop at the next petrol station. The trip from the city was hectic but successful. Raven was the owner of a leather goods store, and had recently ventured into manufacturing. He had wrapped up the trip after overseeing the delivery of the first batch of goods.
The wheels screeched as he gunned the car ahead. The bright headlights sliced through the dark night. A hare scurried across the road darting a furtive glance in its blaze, its fiery eyes glowed like a demon possessed.
The spiteful wind of a bleak February blasted down the windshield and made howling sounds. He thought how mysterious the night was; it deceived the eyes, making colors seem what they are not. One had to decide what is illusory. The night hid terrible secrets in its fold. He thought of his own and shrugged. The world was a dreadful place. Surviving through the ordeal of life was indeed a great challenge.
The lights of a petrol station loomed in the distance. Eager to take a break, he drummed his fingers on the wheel and hummed a tune. He smiled at his off key notes.
He stopped the car and hopped out. The station was nearly deserted. Entering the washroom, he wrinkled his nose at the filthy floor and stood over a grimy sink and splashed cool water on his face. It tingled his skin.
In the store, a pleasant aroma wafted from the coffee vending machine. Steam rose above the foam cup as it filled. Raven made small talk with the guy behind the counter while he sipped the much needed brew.
Refreshed, he returned to the still warm confines of his car and started driving.
His thoughts veered towards Sonal, his girlfriend. There was something about her behavior that was not quite right. Like she was hiding something. She would drift off when he was speaking to her, talk in hushed tones on the phone, all of which made him suspicious. Was she cheating on him? he wondered. They had first met at a local dance. She had glanced his way and it was lust at first sight. There was a raw sexiness in the way she threw back her lush cascading hair.
Raven was an incomprehensible guy. He was 32 years old, well built and his lopsided smile could charm anyone into doing his bidding. He had a shrewd and conniving mind. He was relentless and persuasive in his goal and frequently tread on people's feet. When he felt his survival was of prime, he didn't stop at anything. Sometimes he felt guilty at his ways, but it didn't last long.
Thinking of Sonal, he hummed another tune. She couldn't leave a handsome devil like me, he thought vainly. He put his hand on the rear view mirror to admire his looks. Something was shining. What was that!? A pair of oval eyes stared at him from the backseat. The blood in his veins turned to ice crystals. With a wild cry, he brought the car to an abrupt halt.
"Who the hell are you?" he shouted, fumbling with the light switch. He whirled to take a closer look.
"Neel?" he cried in bewilderment.
"Scared you didn't I?" Neel chortled. "Man! You have the heart of a chicken."
"How else am I supposed to react? You scared me shitless," Raven yelled.
"Calm down man. My car broke down and was wondering what to do next and then I saw you. I sneaked in here and decided to have some fun. Drop me at the next petrol station. The mechanic back there had left for the night."
Neel Robbins was his childhood friend. They had grown up together in the local neighborhood. With time they had drifted apart and rarely saw each other.
Raven peered at Neel's face and asked, "That's a nasty scar you got on your cheek. How did you get it?"
"Hideous isn't it? Slipped and fell right on my face. Bled rivers of blood."
Something about the scar disturbed Raven, but he couldn't quite place it.
"Come on up in front," he said, feeling uncomfortable with Neel's presence.
"I am comfy here."
Raven stared at him for a moment.
"Suit yourself. Tell me where are you these days?"
"Drifting. Wandering," Neel replied.
An awkward silence hovered between them like a cloud.
Neel was Raven's business competitor and had a similar leather goods manufacturing unit. Raven was new to the manufacturing business and was raring to flourish at it. A large firm advertised a contract for ten thousand pieces of leather goods. It would give him the right start. Business, he realized was sought mostly by unfair means. He started doing the groundwork and discovered that the prime vote for awarding the contract was in the hands of a man named Suresh Jaitley. Through careful investigation, he realized Suresh indulged in gambling, girls and booze. He preyed on Suresh's vices and stopped at nothing to woo him.
There were five other contenders, one among them, Neel's company. Neel had suffered huge losses following a fire in his factory. The incident smeared his name and people were wary to deal with him. The recession added to his woes and he became desperate. He quoted the lowest price for the tender, as he depended on the contract to bail him out and regain his reputation. Raven was aware of this, but he couldn't care less. He pursued Suresh relentlessly and fed him with his weaknesses. In the end, he bagged the contract.
Lost in thought, he saw a car leap out from the darkness without headlights. He swerved and fought to control the car, cursing abuses. Neel laughed raucously and this riled him.
"What's so funny man?" he snapped.
Quieting down Neel said, "You remember Shine, we were good friends once. Wonder what happened?"
"Life's like that. Friends today, strangers tomorrow," Raven replied nonchalantly.
"Yeah it's a bad world. Ready to pounce and kill. To slit your throat and eliminate those whose presence you feel threatened by."
"Why do you say that?" Raven asked in a wary tone.
"You know what I am talking about, don't you?"
Raven suspected Neel knew he had played dirty to get the contract. What else could he do, he thought. He didn't stand a chance before Neel's low quote and had to do something to wrest it.
The jagged scar on Neel's jaw was disturbing. Feeling ill at ease, he tried to remember what it was.
His mobile rang. Relieved at the diversion, he stopped the car and stepped outside. The cold air assaulted his face and chilled him to the bone.
It was Sonal. "When will you be back? I need to talk," she sounded distant.
"Hey Moonshine. What do you want to talk about?"
"I have something urgent to say to you Raven. I don't think I have time till you get back."
The mobile signal was weakening. He glanced at Neel who was staring ahead with a vacant expression.
Pulling his scarf closer, he said, "Listen, honey I will be there soon."
Her voice was cracking and he couldn't hear her.
"Got to go now, dumpling."
His heart sank. Of late, he was on the edge, suspecting she was tiring of him. She was 23 years old, lissome, with a gait that could arouse even the most feeble of men. A dusky beauty like Sonal came at a high price and uncertainty. She could drive him to the brink of insanity if she so chose. He had to keep the money rolling to provide for her lavish lifestyle. But it was worth the sweat, because life was fast and zestful with her.
"Women like her don't stay long enough in anyone's life. I will do whatever it takes to keep her," he thought with resolve.
He heaved into the car with a sigh.
"Terrible weather. Such a desolate and windy night," he said, glancing at Neel, trying to recall what it was about the scar that disturbed him.
"That your girlfriend? Quite a hot number she is."
Raven remembered the night at the dance when he seduced Sonal. He grazed her hand with a knowing look and she wordlessly followed him outside to his car. Their love making was violent and fervent surpassing the heat of the night.
Aneesh, her boyfriends wizened up and confronted her. She stayed back as she owed him for helping her in bad times. Raven wanted Sonal for himself and it caused him a lot of anguish to not have her.
The solution to his problem came, when one day Sonal broke up with Aneesh having caught him with another lady. Aneesh begged her saying the lady had tried to seduce him, but Sonal didn't stop to listen.
Later, Raven had gloated with malicious satisfaction that it had worked out well. One night, when his urge for Sonal was unbearable, he accosted a lady. After an hour of sex he was still not satisfied. Lying beside her, an idea formed in his head and he asked her to lure Aneesh and put up an act. He had timed it well.
He broke from his reverie and glanced at Neel. A strange feeling gnawed at the back of Raven's mind but he couldn't quite comprehend it.
"She used to be my bitch once, but left for a guy who had money oozing out of his ass. Must cost you a fortune to keep her. Did you send her as a bribe to Suresh?" Neel mocked.
Raven felt vexed at this revelation about Sonal, but decided to be quiet. He thought he saw blood trickle from the scar and felt a wave of nausea.
"Hey - wipe that wound, will you?"
"You are a low-lying, evil bastard, Shine."
"Watch your words Neel! I believe in winning. Look at where I am today. My methods may not be fair, but I am a winner. I have a successful business and a girl anyone would kill for. What about you? Just a miserable loser," Raven spat out.
He saw Neel looking at him with cold eyes. The blood from the scar was dripping. "Christ! Let me get you some cotton to wipe that."
There was a newspaper and a first aid kit lying in the glove compartment. Holding the steering, he managed to pull out a cotton roll. His gaze drew to the newspaper. Then like lightning, it struck him. His hands shook, his breath labored and his palms started to sweat. He remembered why the scar distressed him.
The picture of Neel with the bloody and rotting wound flashed in his mind. He remembered the report and his blood froze. His heart pounding with dread, he turned. "Neel..Neel you're dead," he quivered.
Neel drew closer and said in a slow drawl. "Yes...I am."
When Raven was young, he had seen a ruffian kick his pet cat to death. Unable to bear the torment of its death, he had pretended it never happened, thus blotting out the memory. Ever since, he had developed a knack of erasing bad memories as if they never occurred.
The local paper reported that unable to face his failures, Neel had consumed acid to end his life. Choking from the burn, he had fallen on a nail and it had ripped his cheek. Raven had read the report and for a while felt responsible for his death. He wondered whether he had gone too far in getting the contract. But with time Neel's death was quelled from his mind.
Unable to breathe, Raven clutched his throat, terror gripping his mind. Confusion and anxiety seized him and he pressed hard on the accelerator. The car shot forward with incredible speed. It came off the road and zig-zagged before smashing into a boulder. The crash was deafening.
The wailing wind stilled for a while, the chilly silence broken by the mobile ring. Raven's bloodied hand slid from his knees, and dropped on the mobile activating the receive button.
"Raven. I am sorry darling. I didn't want to do this on the phone. But I can't delay it any further," Sonal sounded apologetic.
"I have found someone and am leaving now". He heard the start of her car. "I...I don't love you anymore and...I am so sorry. You are a great guy Raven, but hope you understand."
She revved up her car engine. "Raven..are you there? At least say something please."
There was a long pause followed by her shriek. "Hey... who are you... ? how did you get in my car...?"
The last thing Raven heard, before darkness engulfed his life, was Neel's chuckle.