The stairs were supposed to be slip-proof.
Vikram clearly remembered the real estate agent telling him that. The little man had pointed out the many desirable features of the flat he was going to rent; things like the large parking place, the modular kitchen – and supposedly slip-proof marble on the stairs outside the apartment.
Vikram had only fallen a single flight of stairs, just twelve steps, but the damage had been irreversible. Thirty seven and newly paraplegic, his life had come to a complete standstill. All his dreams, his plans, gone up in smoke.
He’d had no one to take him in, his parents had died years before, and he was an only child. In the end, an old college friend of his had taken pity on him – and so Vikram moved to Kerala, leaving behind his job, and the cursed apartment he’d so coveted.
It had taken nearly a year of rehabilitation to get used to his new mode of transport; a wheelchair. It wasn’t easy, getting around; most of urban India wasn’t a wheelchair friendly place. Hardly any public places had ramps for wheelchair users, and many places lacked a level floor; Vikram kept hitting bumps and sliding across uneven floors trying to cross shops and malls. Added to that was the cost of a state of the art wheelchair that gave him some measure of mobility, and the rent Vikram insisted on paying to his friend, and things had begun to get a little difficult.
Vikram had been insured, but in these three years, his savings had mostly disappeared into the black hole he now called his ‘health’.
He did still have his life insurance policy, though.
Which was why he’d arranged for a twelve day cruise to the Lakshadweep islands. Ostensibly it had been Vikram’s thank you for his friend and his wife, a little token of his gratitude to Bharat for taking in a paraplegic he had once known more than twenty years ago.
The reality was more bitter, though. Vikram changed the nominee on his life insurance policy to Bharat three years ago, back when he’d first moved in with his old friend, and now the time had come to make good on the thought that had always been in the back of his mind.
Just a few days ago, bhabhi – Bharat’s wife, who had now become more a sister to him than anyone else – had shyly told Vikram that she would be a mother soon. And Bharat had laughed and told him that ‘Uncle Vikram’ would need to be the voice of reason among the three of them, since Bharat and his wife planned to spoil their child immensely.
It had made Vikram tear up.
As he’d blinked away the tears and hugged Bharat in congratulations, he’d promised himself he wouldn’t be a burden on his friend any more.
While Vikram had been happy to remain a bachelor for years, Bharat had married young, and longed for children. With the years, though, he had accepted that perhaps, for him, it was not meant to be.
Now that Bharat’s cherished dream was coming true, Vikram wouldn’t be the one to drag him down.
He’d choose the perfect moment, and then he’d tip his wheelchair into the water. It would seem like an accident, and Vikram’s money would go to Bharat and his family, who had taken him into their hearts these three years.
As he watched Bharat slip an arm around bhabhi’s shoulders and smile at her, Vikram nodded to himself.
Despite all his careful planning, it proved difficult when it came time to actually carry it out.
Vikram clenched his teeth as he looked down at the sea green water before him. He was at the very edge of the pier, a little away from the rest of the tourist party waiting for their ferry back to their ship. Bharat had taken bhabhi back to the resort, she’d complained of a little sunstroke. Vikram couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. He knew what he had to do, he’d practised it in his mind often enough: jerk around and pretend he was having a fit and throw himself face down into the water. Once he landed in the water, he just needed to breathe in naturally.
You could drown in six inches of water. Vikram had fifteen feet.
Two children, playing tag, bumped into his chair. Vikram hadn’t put the handbrake on, and he flailed wildly as the chair began to tilt and roll toward the water—
Stop struggling! This is what you wanted!
He’d just let himself go limp when he came up short, tugged backward by a hand fisted in the back of his shirt.
Panting, and filled with equal parts relief and disappointment, Vikram craned his neck around to look at his rescuer.
Her eyes wide, a young woman stood behind him. Her hand was still outstretched in mid-air, and her face was immobile with shock. She was dressed in a man’s shirt, and something that looked like a lehenga, but was probably a skirt.
Who the hell was she? Vikram wondered, disappointment growing stronger in his churning heart and transforming into anger.
Featuring cross-dressing assassins, were-snakes, gods and goddesses, demonesses and asura kings, Dark Things Between the Shadow and the Soul retells age-old tales from Indian mythology—with a twist. Rearranging myth and legend to create new plots, these short stories will delight lovers of the unusual.
[music| Everything at once: Lenka]