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#RubyIyer: BOMBAY SHORTS 26 – “What is the Cost of Being Me?”

Previously: Ruby Iyer is pushed in the path of a Bombay local train and wakes up with superpowers. As Bombay Vigilante she now protects its citizens from criminals… sometimes from themselves too. Yet, she is no match for her nemesis, she finds. Can she save herself? Now read on:

– What is the Cost of Being Me? –

The Rajdhani Express en route to New Delhi thundered by, taking with it the Hand plastered to its underbelly.

That was it; he was here and then he was gone. What was the cost of a person’s life minus the 21 grams, which his soul apparently weighed?

Someone, somewhere died; and the Earth continued rotating on its axis, one carbon footprint less.  Ruby looked at the woman she only knew as Madam Honeyjee.

“It’s a mother’s prerogative. We give life, and we taketh it away.” Her saintly voice grated on Ruby’s nerves.

“Your convent school education is certainly showing now” Ruby grimaced.

“Those nuns, bless their soul, did the best they could. Can’t say I was very grateful though. The concept of sin is one which I will take to my funeral pyre.”

“It’s a load of evil you bear on your shoulders, if your actions of the last few hours were anything to go by.”

Her comment seemed to have found it’s mark for the older woman snapped “Enough chit-chat now. Time to come through on your offer. Your life for his.”

***

Why were trains being allowed through the station?

Bloody hell, after all that effort in implementing a full barricade within a one-mile radius of the bomb, you would have thought they would have had the common sense of not allowing long distance trains through.

Well it was too late now: not that he was going to grieve for the death of the man who had just been shoved to his death. Vikram was more concerned with Ruby doing something stupid.

Like giving herself up in return for her friend: which was exactly the type of half-assed gesture, he had come to expect of her. Superhero – my foot.

He stood with both guns trained on the salwar-kameez clad woman; frozen with indecision on what to do next, when the wireless hooked to his belt squawked. It was set to the lowest volume, and yet, in the wake of the train just gone by on that empty platform it sounded louder than shots fired from an AK-47.  F— F— F—!

The salwar-kameez clad woman jerked, turning around to face him.

***

“Don’t!” Ruby screamed.

Still holding the helmet she broke into a run towards the woman, stopping abruptly when she raised her hand holding the detonator. Turning sideways Honeyjee looked from Ruby to the motionless Vikram. “Ah! No story is complete without a love triangle. It’s a pity this one is not going to get a chance to play itself out.”

Ruby did not reply, her eyes fixed on following the woman’s every move closely. “Don’t do it Honeyjee” she forced out the jee — a suffix meant to denote respect, in this case wholly misplaced.

Yet, even in these extenuating circumstances, Indian culture would have demanded she defer to age.

Throat parched with fear, running her tongue over dry lips, she said urgently: “he is innocent, you know that. Think of what you could do with my powers at your disposal. I swear, that everything you’ve seen and heard about me is true.”

“You don’t say?” Honeyjee sneered “what can you do anyway?”

“I am strong, like really strong.” Ruby hesitated, her eyes darting once again to Panky, who had been ominously silent since Honeyjee had come on the scene. She had to bring this all to an end very soon, or risk losing him.

“Matlab? (Meaning?)”

“Matlab, when I get angry I am much like a Bollywood hero—except I am for real. I can easily overpower an entire crowd of people, all on my own.”

“Hmmm!” she considered “hanh (yes)! I am sure I can adopt you. Find something for you to do. Certainly you are of more use to me than that—“ she gestured with her chin to the motionless Panky, “useless hijra (eunuch)!”

Ruby felt the anger explode at the base of her skull, bringing the blood into her eyes. She bit down on her lower lip trying to control it, curling her palms to fists at her side the nails biting into her palm, sent a sliver of pain shooting up her arm.

***

Love triangle? What was this woman blabbing on about?

The sweat trickled down his forehead stinging his eye before Vikram winced, then blinked it away. His forearms ached with the effort of holding a gun in each hand, trained at the almost saintly figure of the woman in white: the sunshine passing through the thin cotton to silhouette her figure in an almost ethereal light.

She could have been a saint or a sinner it didn’t matter for in his line of business they had the same characteristics. The end-result in either case was redemption. Freedom from guilt, sometimes from life itself.

“Vikram—”

He jerked to see Ruby call out to him, a plea in her eyes to follow her lead.

“—Take the detonator from her. Honeyjee” Ruby looked at the woman “give it to the cop, go on,” she coaxed. “You know you can do a lot with me. I promise I will make it worth your while. With someone like me by your side, you will be very powerful. I don’t know you or what you want, but whatever it is, I will do my best to make it happen.”

She was genuine, she meant every word.

Vikram realised with a start, she really would give herself up to save her friend. But he didn’t want her to do that.

Not when he had sensed something between them in their few meetings. Sure, there was chemistry; but more than that a recognition. Not that he believed in past lives or that crap, but really it was this nagging intuition that he knew her already.

There could be some interesting ground to explore.

Perhaps, because there was a chance, things could end here and now; it blew in urgency to face up to his feelings far more quickly than he would have liked.  Muscle-by-muscle, Vikram forced himself to relax, then lowered his gun, slowly, aware that his every move was being scrutinised.

With a casualness born of years of experience, he bent slowly to place both guns on the ground, before straightening with the same fluidity. Putting one foot in front of the other, he strolled towards them, breathing slowly.

Don’t look at Ruby, don’t.

He knew he would be lost if he did, pushed into doing something to save the both of them, which he was bound to regret later.

No, right now all he could do was make eye contact with this woman. That’s it, easy does it: yes! Meet my eyes there you go. See? I am unarmed, you have nothing to fear, relax now. Now just hand over the detonator and then we can go on—

—to be continued

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