Gratitude: A Quarantine Story by Reshma Banthia Dugar

The blog post is a part of ‘Prologue’ — a special edition of Creative Writing Workshop by The Open Space Society. All About Jaipur is the digital publishing partner for the workshop.

Our mini bus swayed over the hill, throwing us one on top of the other, we giggled and tickled enjoying every moment of our journey. This was my holiday cum learning trip, as I had enrolled for a writing programme, and many aspirant youngsters like me from different places were put together. A student’s hostel situated in the midst of the Spithi valley was booked for us and we were to have a well reputed Language professor as our mentor, who had flown there already.  The world was facing a new kind of serious pandemic and we just happened to realize that our short holiday could stretch for a longer period due to the emergency lockdown declared. We couldn’t retreat so we might as well make the best of the time we had. 

Friendship already established with most of my colleagues I was so engrossed in the casual banter that I missed the hiccups our bus was taking, when suddenly all was dark outside and we came to a shrieking halt. It seemed as if we were inside a dark and dingy tunnel, not even a strand of light from anywhere. There was absolute panic inside our bus, sounds ofcries and moans filled the air.The bus had rammed into a dead endof the tunnel. Somebody switched on a torch and what a sorry sight we saw, everybody had been shaken badly, some fell down, some collided headlong into the front, others bruised by the shattering of the window glasses. I slowly got up and felt myself,I was lucky to be in one piece. Thunder roared somewhere overhead and we huddled together, frightened and paralyzed by the situation.

We managed to get out somehow and clinging on to each other walked ahead. Strange this tunnel had come to a dead end, looked around for an opening but found none.  With no network connection and surrounded by pitch darkness we felt helpless and frightened,I shivered with every roar of heavens above and just scrambled to a corner too afraid to move even an inch.

Susan cried uncontrollably, Rahul hit his torch hard to keep it glowing, Ameena knelt on her knees praying hard and I stood motionless not knowing where help would come from. Others were equally frightened. Time stood frozen, and I don’t know how long it had been when I discovered a little hole at the side of the wall. I rushed there and tried to dig into it, scraping a small clearance. I tried to squeeze in, and I managed. Before I could call the rest, the hole closed in, as if it didn’t exist al all. Thunder roared again and the wind soared loudly. Before I could grasp in my new surroundings I wasblown away. I screamed and shouted and tried to catch hold of the tree tops or anything that came my way but some supernatural force pushed me forward, and I glided in the sky. I was way above the clouds and onceI gave up struggling, I rather seemed to enjoy my super-sonic ride. It was as if I were sitting on a chariot, could feel my seat but not see it. I soared over the clouds and stars and then deep into the depths of the sky. I pinched my arm assuring myself of the present being a reality.

Finally, the darkness gave way to some light and once again there were clouds around. The clouds cleared and lo! What a sight it was, a city so beautiful straight out of some fairy land, a clock tower in the center and fort like citadels all around it. Baronial vaulted buildings sprawling across the landscape. Was it some lost city or was I in some magical land like Hogwarts, or yet on another planet? The lanes were all empty, no vehicles no men, only the wind blew, I could see clouds of air swiftly moving in all directions, but on closer inspection I realized that they didn’t bump into each other, rather they gave way to each other. Like vehicles they landed down over building tops or over the streets, allowing its passengers to step out or step in. Who were the passengers? A thought struck me, I stretched and felt with my hands, hoping to touch someone, our driver, maybe, I said ‘HELLO, who’s there? Anybody listening, where are you taking us? What land is this? Please answer me, please do!”

A hoarse animated voice said “be quite little one, my master doth summon you!”

I hugged myselftightly and tried not to quiver, “Who’s your master and why does he want me?”

“Quiet, I said!” said the automated voice again.

I was now over an ionic tower, who’s roof seemed to slide open to let us in. Down, down and down it dived until we reached a spacious hall, the surroundings beyond my imagination and understanding, all I could make out were tuffs of wind some dark some light and like big balls of entangled black or grey wool. Were they men or machines, I yet had to find out!

‘Here she comes, here she comes, the inconsequential earthling.” Suddenly many baritone voices, seemed to chant those words. Like a tornado, the force of their voices slapped my face and I could do little than control my tears.The hall echoed with their howling’s and the crescendo scaled to such a high pitch that I couldn’t take in anymore and I thought that I would just pass off, when an authoritarian coarse voice said, “Enough please! Every one, settle down.” The voice seemed to come from the front of the hall where a dark grey smoky mass stood coiled together, and the air around it was like that of a halo gleaming gold and radiant, must be the king, I thought. All sizes of the compressed air seemed to settle in their seats, the swooshing and swishinggiving way to a whispering stillness.It was then that I realized that I was dangling in mid-air, and each time there was movement amongst those aliens I swayed like a pendulum.

The high command said “we have brought you here for a purpose, we do not care much about you earthlings, because of your rapacious nature, the wayyou have mistreated your mother planet is a shame and very soon you shall have to repent. You want to reach out to us and take our home too, but first try and save yourselves from your destined faith of destruction.  If we wished, we could call it doomsday for you any time but we have a promise to keep for our earthly friend, Prof.Shinoy who once saved our ship and helped it to return to us without leaking its information to your highly malicious breed.

“How do you speak our language?” I asked nervously.

“We know all about you and your ways, our technology immediately translates our voices into your language,” another squeaky voice answered.

“Why have you brought me here, and where is this place?’ I asked.

“No more question, listen to me and do as you are told or be held captive by us.”

I shuddered at this.

“Your world is suffering, and I’m giving you a magical potion, all you have to do is reach out to Professor Shinoy and deliver it to him, and only him. We have chosen you to be our envoy, because you are innocent and god-fearing. You will not use it for your greed and will maintain the secrecy. Now it’s time to send you back to your home.”

I saw a bottle flying towards me and it landed in my hands. On it was written Anti-Virus Covid-19 and a phone number.

I was amazed at the turn of events,and then suddenly I was hurled upwards and all at once I shouted “Thank You! whoever you are, you are our friend and savior, and for that we shall always be indebted to you”.

The invisible grey asymmetrical beings began to move around and the blustery winds blew me away at great speed. Higher and higher I soared, into the clouds and skies. How long ii sailed I still haven’t a clue, days, months or years!

I landed with a bumpy thud on the ground near the same hole, from where I had scrambled out.I crept through it once again.  It was still dark inside the tunnel and I shouted out to Ameena and Susan. There was no reply, I kept calling out to them, wandering where they had all gone, where was the bus?

Torches flashed on my face and I shield away.

“Who is it?” the man in uniform asked.

” It’s me Priety”

“Where have you been, its been four days since our team has been on search for you.”

“I was dragged out from that hole, for a ride,” I said. I looked back, and to my astonishment there was no hole, i felt my hands over the wall, there wasn’t even a crack. How was I to explain, I looked down, I still held that bottle of “SOUMRUS.” Hiding it slyly, I vowed to fulfill the trust bestowed on me and keep it a secret too. More men in uniform and arms came runningtowards me, communicating on their walkie- talkie about their find.

“Where on earth were you hiding and what mischief were you up to, do you realise the gravity of your childish behavior, we’ve been on a nation- wide search for you.’

It was best to remain quiet for my adventurous reality was not to be believed, and what was to be believed could only be a dream.

I have had a most rare vision; you can’t even describe such an escapade; you’d be an ass if you tried to explain it!

— Reshma Banthia Dugar

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