The Evening That Killed (Part-II)

(Read the Part -I Here)

Image credit: Pixabay

Never trust the rains. Not when you have lost a ton of outdoor fun as a child to twisting torrents. Nor if your classmate’s skull was squished like a melon under a passing truck when his bicycle slipped in a rain-fed mire. Or much later, if you stood under a dripping tree for hours waiting for the girlfriend who would rather frolic with the rich man’s son.

Cloistered together in the auto that evening, the normally wispy fragrance borne by Zenia swamped me with a bewitching force. The feeling hung like a thick mist in the cocktail of pounding rain and high-pitched drone of the auto, zig-zagging its way through a deluge of tail lights. Soon the rain started catching up with us through the flanks and worse, from a slit in the rexine roof at the top. The steady trickle turned into a watery wall between us as we had to shift farther away to dodge it. Looking through the corner of my eye I could see her sitting straight and gazing at the void ahead.

“What does the rain remind you of?” She sensed me watching.

“You tell me, Zenia. You are the princess in the chariot,” I said. “I don’t remember many nice things!”

She laughed heartily at that. “Am I a mushy fool out of Mills and Boons?”

“No, I am quite sure you are not. Yet, you vaguely remind me of a princess whom I met in a book somewhere or probably in a game that I played”.

“Do find out and tell me,” she quipped.

Zenia indeed reminded me of a forlorn princess under some jinx. But unlike the Princess who was abducted by the evil vizier of her father in an adventure game, and put on the terrace of a crumbling castle, Zenia was out there in open, free as a bird. Still, there seemed to be an invisible cage incarcerating her, whose bars were painful to touch and perceptible only to her. Was she hiding a thunderstorm behind that serene exterior? Was something chipping at her soul even as she walked, spoke, laughed, lived and looked grand? And just as in that game, was there an hourglass somewhere with the sand trickling down steadily for her too?

“I like the rain but it does invoke mixed emotions in me,” I said at last.

“And I had always wanted to run in the rain as a child, droplets nipping at my face like pins. Only, they wouldn’t let me do that.” Zenia said thoughtfully.

“Are your parents strict?” I asked.

“They were never there to be strict or anything at all when I grew up. They had died in an accident while I was still an infant.”

“I am so sorry!” I mumbled, feeling like a swine.

After a brief silence, she started telling me about her farewell in Tokyo and how she had received an i-Pod as a parting gift. She wanted me to try it. The music instantly lifted the soul. We started discussing music and we both agreed on Norah Jones. My favourite was ‘Don’t know why’ and she felt charmed by ‘Come away with me’. I wondered who she would want to go away with in the night, instead of me. The rain came to a stop with a suddenness as if cued. We fell silent again.

Zenia had a brother who was settled in Chicago and many thought she would go there for higher studies and eventually end up living there. At some point, I asked her whether that was true. She kept brooding for a long time at that and nodded her head saying ‘probably yes’. Even though I had known it all along, it hit my gut like a javelin.

“Never mind!” She said after a while. “Have you heard of Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq?”

“I would think so,” I said.

“Life cast me inshore, death took me away,
None a wish of mine to drift either way.”

As she quoted Zauq in a soft, modulated voice, she seemed alone like a tree under the night sky. The auto took the last vicious turn on the road.

Zenia was strangely subdued the following day at office. We didn’t meet till late in the afternoon when she needed my input in some document. Keeping to monosyllables till the end, she smiled wanly as she turned to go.

On the other hand, Nina, the queen of melodramas, was gleaming like a pearl. She was oozing honey and kicking off animated discussions at the coffee machine. Since I was also a bit distracted, I didn’t pay attention to the extra-curricular activities taking place around. However, just as I was about to leave for the day, Nina ambled meaningfully to my desk, something she rarely did, and asked me if I was aware of an SMS doing the rounds.

“Should I be bothered?” I asked.

“Maybe you should!” she said with a smirk.

I collected my bag and dashed for the favourite local train. I was eagerly pulled into the crowd with the usual round of rowdiness and back slapping. Yesterday, it had been Nilesh, the Big-Mouth’s birthday. He had a cake specially made for the ‘train-mates’. Everyone wanted to know why I had missed that.

“Oh, he is moving around with a model these days!” Someone let the cat out of the bag. That set the Big-Mouth going. The Big-Mouth who didn’t even spare the signal posts from his wisecracks.

“Oh, O! Now that you say, I know, I know! I’ve been watching and watching you well, my boy! I know, you have finally found someone you can flash off. Good for you, boy! You are getting older fastest of us all, aren’t you? Are you taking solid profile shots with your SLR, yet? ” Clearly, he had noticed me and Zenia rushing together at the platforms.

But the Big-Mouth had a heart worth its weight in gold. He’d leave no stones unturned in helping the distraught and the injured. For those, dead in the daily warfare of commuting in Mumbai, he just folded his hands though. Like me, he was also a father of twin daughters and he would shoot foam bullets at me. His bias was apparent to all.

I kept thinking of Nina’s smirk and the reference to some SMS that night. I remembered she had been barely able to contain the smugness in her face the whole day. Was the SMS, whatever it contained, a handiwork of hers? I kept running the faces in the office through my mind’s scanner time and again. Faces of Manish, Pranav and Ronil welled up among others, without presenting a credible source of felony, for reasons good or bad. I felt an urge to call some of them and find the hell about the damn thing, and possibly, have it forwarded to me. But I let the moment pass.

Zenia remained withdrawn for a few more days after that. Sadly, it rubbed a few egos the wrong way and she lost several followers to Nina who had transmogrified into an accomplished socialite. Eventually, I quizzed none other than Zenia one day when we took an auto again for the journey homewards.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said quickly. “I’ve been preoccupied with filling up piles of  application forms and then sending them overseas of late.”

“Which place it is going to be, then?” I asked.

“As of now, I truly don’t know,” She said thoughtfully. “Maybe I will go to my brother’s at Chicago and do it all from there. It should make life a lot easier.”

A tranquillity seemed to have settled about her that day and she seemed willing to speak about things that touched her deeply. She said she didn’t feel pain about passing away of her parents but sometimes she felt like crying for not knowing what they were like. Are the days brighter and the nights calmer when you are a daughter? She talked about someone in office, how she felt his eyes glued to her breasts even when she was miles away from him. I learnt that even though she was very much a part of the i-Pod culture, she remained grounded to her roots. She rarely missed her daybreak and bedtime prayers, the Fajr and the Isha. She would duly observe fast in the month of Ramadan and stay away from i-Pod and other distractions for the whole period. She was embittered by the hypocrisies and prejudices that people flaunted like medallions. Her niece at Bangalore was her abiding love and my daughters reminded her of them.

Somewhere along the stream of her confessions, she told me she would resign  by the weekend and will leave for Bangalore to be with her niece. Her tickets to Chicago were already booked for the coming Wednesday. She would probably never return.

I wondered how Nina would react to her departure. Probably go berserk with joy? I tried not to think about myself.

She did resign as she had said and slipped away quietly. However, she needed to settle some dues to the company before she could be finally discharged. I spent the entire Monday waiting for her listlessly. But she didn’t turn up at all and her phone remained switched off. But she appeared next day in the afternoon carrying a gift-wrapped box, calm and composed as in her earlier days. She walked straight to my cubicle and put the gift on my table.

“This is for you, so that you have a tough time forgetting me!” She was smiling hard. “And in case you are wondering how you will carry it home in a bustling train, we are riding an auto again!”

After a brisk farewell organised by the office, we set out on our last journey together. We realized we had chosen a noisy auto once it started moving. Also, something seemed to be wrong with its engine as it frequently missed beats and even came to a halt with a jerk on a busy intersection, to the annoyance of the traffic police. The driver was hauled up to a corner where a bunch of them checked out his papers and fleeced him of some cash. He returned cursing profusely.

“Is there a problem with the auto?” I asked him.

“No problem with the auto,” He rasped. “It’s the engine. Never trust a Muslim!

We sat there as if slapped.

He went on to explain how he had trusted a ‘Muslim’ with installing a CNG kit in his petrol vehicle. He had paid a hefty sum for kit but it was paying him back with hell, barely two months after the job. He also added that the others who got theirs from people of different creeds were laughing their way to the highway.

Somehow, there seemed to be an abnormally high and noisy traffic on the road that day. We had to speak quite loudly to be heard. After a while, I realized I had been getting repeated calls from someone. I fished out the mobile phone to check. It said, 49 missed calls; Home: 31; Manish: 18.  My heart skipped a beat. God, what could be wrong? I had trouble calling back Home and managed to get through after many, many attempts, my heart racing madly all the while.

“Where in God’s name, are you?” My wife was howling at the other end.

“I am fine and coming home! Is there a problem or something?” I asked.

“If you are in a train, get down fast and come by road! Bombs are blowing away the trains left and right and thousands have died!” The call got disconnected after that.

I looked at Zenia who was also reassuring someone over her phone, “Oh, I am fine…. I am fine. I am not in a train…”

Now I started calling back Manish and it took me several minutes before I could connect to him. “Sir, where are you?” He sounded agitated. “The first class coach of the train which you used to board daily has been blasted beyond recognition. It is all a mess of twisted metal, limbs, blood and dead bodies now…  I was in the coach behind it. I have been looking desperately for you! Sir, life is cheaper than turds in a gutter— I have a confession to make, forgive me today if possible. I was the fool who shared that SMS about you and Zenia in an auto…”

Suddenly, the agitated driver was also babbling with someone over his phone, “Bombs… Mumbai… Pakistan… Muslims… Terrorists!!

The thought of others who used to travel in that doomed coach struck me like a bolt. I frantically tried to connect to Nilesh but his phone remained ‘switched off’. I kept ringing Swami who was also part of the group and he picked up the phone after a long time.

“Hello! Mihir bhai? I can’t hear you —where are you now?” He demanded.

I told him where I was.

“Some bloody bomb went off in our coach!” His voice was weak with pain. “My ears are still ringing and I can’t hear properly. I have a deep gash in my head. Mihir bhai, Nilesh is no more. I am so sorry! I found him on the track after the blast. I couldn’t find his head.”

I kept staring at the mobile phone that had gone silent.

“Someone you know died?” The prescient driver asked with the wisdom of the netherworld. “What did I tell you, Saheb? Shouldn’t this Hindu-Muslim thing have ended with the partition in 1947? Why did we listen to that Gandhi?”

My mind wandered back to Nilesh who was lying headless somewhere on the tracks. The ‘Big-Mouth’ had slipped into that biggest mouth of all. I remembered when I had bumped into his family last year in a mall and he had introduced me to his wife and twin daughters, ‘meet the other one with twin dolls!’ His wife had eagerly invited us for a family get-together. Where were they now? My heart leapt to my throat. Did someone tell them? Or is life still the same for them, the evening just another page in the book of life? But, someone had already burnt the manuscript.

Zeina had been waiting for me to calm down. The auto’s engine had taken to a soft purring, cowed by the clamouring of the humans. I passed on the bits of news of the carnage to her; I told her all I could remember about Big-Mouth. She fought a battle with her eyes for a while but then let them go in the end. Sometimes, when I am thinking back of that day, I pull out my handkerchief to wipe away her tears from my fingers.

She said the end is unforgettable after all. Who knows whose tears one is shedding?


(This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional.)


  1. A gripping tale with a twist in the tail….you are fast becoming a master story teller

  2. quite a post. wasn’t expecting it to turn out like this in part II.

    brilliantly written again.

  3. It was so unexpected. After leading the readers on to look for some kind of intrigue you took a sudden diversion. I was expecting more of the reasons behind her sadness and a little more of her past though. I loved the ending. Looking forward to more fiction 🙂

    1. Zephyr, I assume I didn’t disappoint you much. I admit, I shortened the story a bit. I may pick up the thread yet again if you continue encouraging me!

  4. Wow! Totally unexpected end…..It leaves me shocked, speechless.
    Emotions described painlessly through out the story and at the end….it’s all there like a pile accumulated in each n every word, it just blasts out from somewhere and gives the reader in the face, heart, soul n mind!

    Brilliant work, Mr. Pandey! You are definitely a story teller.

  5. All the ingredients in such a perfect proportion, some that dissolve, and some that don’t, but amaze with their special individual taste;….. and then such a Bambaiyya flavor to the final dish…..

    Continuing the garden adventures :

    The Big Gardener
    Up There
    has his special flowers.

    Torrential showers,
    ripping winds,
    bent lives
    and flowing roots and stems
    of those
    that would have been
    one day,
    benevolent trees.

    Way into the night
    the garden gate
    creaks open
    and they
    walk out,
    amidst the storm havoc,
    looking unsucessfully
    for the gerberas and dahlias.

    The pseudo-tough lily ,
    bent under a
    tired weight on her mind,
    and he,
    peering through the
    now multi-holed umbrella,
    how he survived,
    while some stars
    simply disappeared from the sky….

    1. Many thanks Suranga, for the 7-Star compliment! Your poems leave me speechless with their far-reaching ripples and I end up reading them over and over again. May God bless you, please!

  6. Really? This is fiction? Now, that is difficult to believe.
    Uma bhai, You have a fan 😀

    1. D.Nambiar, most of what you read above actually happened and if you were to visit my home, I would show you the painting that saved my life.

      1. It is very believable, honest. Loved it.

        Oh! so the gift was a painting, eh? So perfect.
        Tell me the twin girls are also real. That sounds so beautiful :).

  7. The surprise factor was the hallmark , apart from the engaging , intriguing story. Worth the wait….

  8. This story took such a sudden and unexpected turn .. I had a lot of ends in mind but this one left me breathless as if someone has punched me ! If this is indeed true and not fiction you owe a lot to her for that day !

    1. I would love to know of those ends! In this case, however, the match was fixed. 🙂 It is loosly based on true events and I do owe a lot to her. Million thanks for appreciating.

  9. Unbelievable thrilling end Uma bhai……….you r a novelist not a blogger……..once started couldn’t leave was hooked……till the end, very good work……keep it going…….waiting for more……Uma bhai kya yah ek sachchi ghatna thi….???? Superb work…..!!!!!!!

    1. Thanks for the effusive praise, Samir. I feel honoured by the elevation. Yes, it is loosely based on true events. Its true I could have been blown away into oblivion.

  10. too unpredictable, the angle was neither acute nor obtuse, even holmes failed, dear watson. just brilliant !!!

  11. I wanted to say only one thing after reading this, “Oh dude!”

    What happened to Nina?

  12. Hi Sir, very engaging and gripping story indeed. Was totally hooked onto till the very end. I had commented on Part I that I had more likeness for Nina than Zenia, well this post went a long way in changing that.

    And one more thing, I don’t know whether I am missing something here, so this question might seem a bit silly to you. How would Nilesh know if you and Zenia were to reunite or part ways at the stations? I mean Nilesh was your ‘regular time’ trainmate. If you were to catch a train with Zenia, it wouldn’t be your regular train right? So in that way The Big-Mouth Nilesh would not get to see you and Zenia together at the station.

    You can choose to ignore this but your sentence, “He had surely noticed me and Zenia parting and reuniting at the stations.” made me think about it.

    1. Akshay, Lady’s and Men’s first class coaches are adjacent to each other in the local trains and the their gates are roughly ten meters apart. These coaches come to a halt exactly at the point where the foot over-bridge drops the commuters on the platform. Since Zenia also would take the same train frequently, oftentimes we would be rushing down the stairs just as the train would be pulling in. She would dash ahead then to her coach and I would turn to left get into mine. Nilesh was forever standing on the footrest of the gate of the coach. Further, Nilesh also alighted at the terminal station where I would stand near a pillar and wait for Zenia, to proceed for the next leg of the journey home.

      Now that you raise the question, I wish I had included it in the story. But then I needed to keep it short too, one of the reasons I scrapped the SMS etc, which was originally there.

      Thanks for the heart-warming feedback.

  13. Brilliant narrative with strong use of metaphors. But is this the end? I got the feeling from the comments. To me it seems like we are in the beginning of the story that will span 10-12 posts.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Sir. The Evening has already killed the chosen ones. Yet, if you encourage me enough, I am willing to pick up the threads and weave them further into the night!

  14. Great one, was eagerly waiting after the first one 🙂 Indeed you broken our expectations, because it was way way higher than what we expected 🙂 Keep writing 🙂

  15. Wonderful story. Though I have some reservations in what you are trying to imply in the end, it is indeed an unexpected, surprise end which makes it all the more interesting.

    1. Thank you for your precious comment, Sir. I am indebted for your interest. I may be on thin ice at the close, as you say, but surely, some meanings got frayed in the passage.

  16. Nice Story…..So why Zenia is leaving is something for the user to guess or am i missing something here? Unexpected Twists!

  17. This was amazing! You had me gripped till the very end! 🙂 I normally don’t have the patience for long “short stories” !! But yours is sure an exception! 🙂

  18. Super tale. I had read the first part earlier and you did not disappoint in the second. Quite the story teller you are!

  19. The entire story was very gripping, but it was the end that took me by surprise completely! You give such twists to the story, spare the hearts of the readers please 🙂

    1. Thanks for appreciating, Varsh. I am quite mindful of my readers’ heart. I have tried to paint the gruesome tale with a softer brush.

  20. How does one express appreciation without using any of the adjectives used already. It is so fine a post that it deserves some thought into the comment. I have always been a believer that however a post is, good or bad, if it has a great ending line – a clever line summing up everything, or a subtle something that is needling yet thought proviking, it is usually enough to make up for the whole post. Your post was riveting, and your ending was class. Loved it, Uma.

    1. You have encouraged me no ends, Neeraj. That assessment is worth its weight in gold for me. Now don’t forget this corner, ever!

  21. Part-II didn’t live up to my expectations, but was a nice read. A longer and detailed version is desired. How about extending this to a 10 part series?
    You should watch “Mumbai Meri Jaan” if you haven’t already.

    1. Shiju, I am sorry the second part did not live up to your expectations. I must admit, I have shortened the story forcibly to fit in a blog format. I may write a longer version someday and hopefully pass you test!

  22. Umashankar, there is no doubt about it. You are a master narrator and kept me hooked till the end of the story. My only grouse is that the linkage between the two parts was a little weak and Zenia seemed to have transformed into a different person whatsoever without any reasons given.

    What I loved about the story is the way you have handled prejudice. It’s brilliant and conveyed so powerfully and unapologetically. Looking forward to more. 😀

    1. Sudhagee, I am grateful for the approval. I believe the story needed to be a trilogy to do justice to the protagonist and also some other characters. As a matter of fact, I had to chop off quite a bit from what I had ended up writing in order to squeeze it all into two posts. I apologize for the intemperance of the blade!

  23. Seemingly simple tale but it wasn’t simple.
    I do agree with Sudhagee that linkage between the two parts was a little weak .
    Frankly, I was expecting a bit more. You know what I mean …..
    Above all, you are master of the language and display the core of complicated emotions with superb mastery.

    1. Sir, most short stories will but leave a few unanswered questions. It is both an advantage and a disadvantage of the format. In this case, however, a third part was sorely needed and I stand guilty as charged. I promise not to hurtle to an end in my future efforts.

  24. I admire your ability to write fiction. I did try my hand at short-stories while at college. In fact, thats where I realised what Bollywood calls formulas. People use formulas when they don’t have the talent and the brilliance to pull a free-winger out of their hat. 🙂 So doff my hat to always, impeccably written! 🙂

    1. Journo, I bow to your compliment; it gives me solace. I too hate formulas as evident in the story of a brief encounter with someone who somehow had a part in my lucky escape that day and remains memorable thus.

  25. I was not expecting it to end like this. I thought that Nina/ Zenia rivalry will continue and will take a surprising end. Brilliant narration and ending line is superb…

      1. I would say a tale without a twist is lame. I think with 2 back to back great stories I am looking for twists everywhere now…We shall now play ‘And we twist’ from ‘Love Aaj Kal’.

  26. The end was really unexpected and very beautifully woven in. The last line was the masterpiece. I have spent my growing years in Mumbai and have lived through many bomb blasts, riots and phone calls to find out how who was doing. I could almost visualize your conversation in the taxi in my mind’s eye!

    1. Many thanks, Rachna, for appreciating and identifying with the story. I’m sure you have many memories of frantically reaching out to people over phones during those calamities.

  27. Really liked the twist in the story to the reality of life…..the bomb blast……..But after the blast, as Mumbaikars call it the “Spirit of Mumbai”, life has to go on. Now waiting for the story to continue after the blast…….Zenia’s tryst with Chicago.

  28. the pace of excitement was increasing with each line… and then the unexpected ending and that last question…

    A fantastic read once again !!!

  29. US Pandey!!!! I am again thrilled with the end you gave… I was assuming something with trains but couldn’t relate to the terror strikes… I thought U have narratted a story where you lost your friend in the unfortunate journey on foot board of train…. but this is very gruesome…. and it is a good anthalogy (guess thats the right word!) !!!

  30. Today all of a sudden I remembered about the Part 2 of your story and quickly logged into check and I must say again brilliant narration and language. A rather unexpected twist in the plot, nevertheless well executed.

    Being a Muslim, I appreciate what you conveyed in the ending of the story as well. In India for everyone who associates Muslims with terrorism, there are at least a 100 souls who have the same point of view as you.

    I wish the so-called Muslims who have lost their way and do not value a human life realize that.

  31. Asif, before I started the story, I had the end in mind. Yet, it might have been a shock to some readers. Am I happy then, the end has gone well with most of my friends out there! And although most would have got the message I embedded in the story, I thank you for being forthright. Thanks again to you, for appreciating the narration and the language.

  32. Totally Smitten…awesome narration…seriously didn’t expect the ending.When I started reading, thought it would be another Giggling Gladiator kind of episode. I got a chance to access the internet after a month and couldn’t wait to see what new posts you have here.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Latha. I am glad you liked it so. Looking forward to receiving your feedback on ‘Going Blind’ and ‘Anothr Day like This’ too.

  33. finally managed to read the second part…
    brought back all the painful memories of the day…. felt as if I was there…
    Even after 65 years of independence, prejudice still remains in our society ! It is really sad !

    1. I believe I can feel your pain. Prejudice is known to have co-existed with humans since their origin. Incidentally, which independence we are talking about? We were delivered from the British clutches straight into a deathly stranglehold of parochialism and corruption.

  34. Man,

    You took us all on a merry ride, didn’t you? Midsummer Daydream!

    So this isn’t fiction after all – more like a docudrama. Am glad it had a happy ending and the story-teller lives on to tell many interesting tales.

    Read both parts – have said this before: I enjoy the way you give form and character to the people in your story.

    Waiting to read a big one from you … a book.

    1. Ha ha! It is an illusive line that separates facts from fiction: ask Julian Barnes. I am also happy I lived to tell the tale and so would be Zenia. Many thanks to you for your confidence in me.

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