Chapter 4 The escapade in the past

Chapter 4
They ran through the thick foliage… he was stronger and taller, yet she was trying to keep up with him. he had to save them both… use whatever was ingrained into his head by his Armed forces father, right from childhood.
“Maanav stop please….” Nitya screamed and tugged at his hand. He dragged her behind a thick tree. The canopy of tall trees in the woods gave them good cover. But he knew something buzzed right next to him and splintered a chip off the bark while a few others buzzed haywire. He knew the enemy were closing upon them but their location wasn’t compromised…yet. He had to think and fast… Thankfully Nitya hadn’t realised that they were being shot at. Probably the adrenaline of the attack was still fresh and she had been cooperating so far. But she was just almost 11 years old and he wasn’t much older either. If he was alone he could have protected himself…
His father probably knew this day would come and had prepared him. But he wasn’t prepared for this baggage.
Nitya slid on the ground her back resting against the tree as her breathing became heavier. He sat before her on his haunches and held her thin but strong hands. “Nitya, don’t worry, OK? Remember the combat rule I always vouch for? Stay still…”
“b…but… is there an enemy…? I mean … why? Why us? We are just students coming for the camp…”
“I promise to tell you everything but for now just stay quiet. I shall come for you soon. You are safe here… just don’t get out unless I say. Got it?” He pleaded.
With emotions swimming in her eyes, she bit her upper lip like she always did when she was about to cry but tried to control her tears. She nodded looking earnestly at him, her eyes filled with trust.
His heart broke but he had to do it….
He left her there. He had just run ahead when he heard the blast and everything went dark around him….
“NITYAAAAAA……”
“NITYAAAAA…. NITYAAAAA….. NOOO NOOOOO…” He gasped and a strong combination of antiseptic redolence made its way into his senses.
“Bullet….? Maanav…? Are you alright, buddy?” Avinash’s voice boomed in his skull. Why on earth was the guy screaming?
His eyelids seemed to have a mind of their own and though he was desperate to wake up from the deep slumber tormenting him, he couldn’t… And then everything went dark.
After what seemed like ages, Maanav stirred and it felt as though a herd of elephants had run over his body. He ached in places he didn’t know existed. But the nightmare that he had… like he always did for the last so many years still caused his heart to pound and the very thought sent a shooting pain through his chest.
“Hey, buddy…” Shiv’s deep yet soft voice got him out of his stupor. “…got the needed rest? So it takes a gunshot wound to get you to rest, does it?” The big guy chuckled.
Maanav almost chuckled himself but the pain made him cringe in agony. The nurse helped raise the bed a bit. Clenching his teeth to get over the painful surge in his chest, he panted looking around his hospital room.
All his close friends were present. They were no less than a family. Shiv stood tall with his beautiful wife Padma. They had been through a roller coaster a couple of years ago after which they were married and had also had a son. Shiv had hung up his boots in the special ops and started a security firm Special Protection Services (SPS). He had kept an open invitation to the rest of them to join him. Anandi had done so, right in the beginning. She was the most secretive among them all. The scar on her cheek had an untold story which even Avinash didn’t know. All they knew was, the twins Avinash and Anandi were separated at 1 year of age when their parents divorced. Anandi grew up with their mother and had been through something terrible before she joined them in Sainik Shala at the age of 14. She always kept to herself but was a hell of a warrior and beneath the femme fa-tale veneer she was a deadly agent. Avinash was the swiftest and most agile of all of them and he could kill a man with his bare hands and his lean frame wasn’t the slightest indication of the same. He was rightly nicknamed ‘Razor’.
Shiv was the perennial shadow… he could blend anywhere. In fact, he lived his life like in solitary confinement and Maanav had barely heard him speak much, forget smile… Shiv had it tough as a child and finally got a direction in life when he joined Sainik Shala. He was the best operative among them… the brains in their group. However, his life changed when Padma entered his life… rather re-entered his life and the rest was history. Shiv was a calmer and a happier version of himself and Maanav chuckled looking at the dreaded operative turned family man.
“Something funny, bullet…?” Shiv asked in a mockingly stern voice. “…get the nightmare again?”
Maanav’s friends knew about his frequent nightmares. The nightmares always had Nitya biting the dust and he standing helpless… His stint in the Army and later in special ops gave him no time to think and for a while, the dreams were at bay but all of a sudden they had started yet again. He just nodded.
The doctor came around for his check-up and insisted on complete rest for a week to heal the chest wound that had punctured his lung and barely escaped hurting the heart and the spine during its exit.
Maanav rolled his eyes and as the doctor made his exit, he decided it was enough of rest.
“Don’t even think of it, Bullet…” This time Shiv’s voice wasn’t laced with mockery. “…you have never had the rest and if you want to continue working as an active agent this recovery and rest is crucial.”
Shiv never spoke in this manner if he wasn’t serious.
“Where am I though?” Maanav asked and every word took a tremendous ounce of his energy.
“Well Maanav…” Padma spoke. She always used their given name. She was like a home to all of them. “…You are in our Jawahar province in Gayatri Raje charitable hospital.”
Padma’s mother, the late Dr. Gayatri Raje was the queen of the province and had laid down her life for the people. Padma had denounced royalty and remodelled the hospital that she now ran with trusted aids.
“You are in safe hands, Maanav. So focus on recovering. You can then prance around as you wish.” Padma smiled and Maanav only nodded. They could defy Shiv but never disobey Padma.
They remained there for a few more hours and gradually left promising to return next morning.
In the night’s solitude, Maanav couldn’t sleep despite the heavy drugs infused through the IV. While the pain was contained, sleep eluded him.
It was years since he just lay down and stared at the blank pristine ceiling trying to count the number of rotations the fan blade probably completed every minute! But the nightmare he had after ages was still fresh. Nitya was his best friend…in fact his only friend. He was thrown down the memory lane.
Maanav’s mother had left him when he was barely a baby. His father was in the Indian Army and completely devoted to serving the nation and had soon become a Major and later a Colonel. However, as a father and husband, he was never around and his mother couldn’t handle it along with suspected postpartum depression. She had a paramour with whom she fled. Maanav never knew his mother and his father never spoke about her. She was still a mystery to him. Barring an old picture he once accidentally saw in his father’s drawer, there was no sign that she ever existed in that house.
Maanav grew up with a stream of nannies and he was forever the trouble-maker. His baba was barely there and now that Maanav thought about it, he felt he could understand the man because their home and Maanav probably reminded him of his wife.
Maanav had begun to revolt and seek attention right from childhood. No nanny lasted more than a month to 6 and he was a terror in school as well. His father hated to visit his school for complaints and given his position and rank the school authorities too stopped bothering him. Maanav barely made friends because he wasn’t the right friend model and parents seldom let their kids come closer to a troublemaker. The only place he loved was his martial arts class. He excelled at that and even more when his father added shooting lessons. Maanav was attracted like a fish to water. And he was the top performer within a year of joining. Innumerable medals followed… but he still had no friends. He had an early growth spurt and by the time he was 11 years old he was already 5’5” tall.
Once around his 11th birthday, his father forced him to accompany him to a meeting. That was strange because his father was barely home and even if he was, they rarely spoke. He was thrilled however to finally spend time with his baba.
However, his father left him in a park and walked into the foliage growth around. He didn’t follow anything till he saw a little girl having fun on the swing under the blazing sun!
He hadn’t seen someone enjoy by herself. She stopped swinging and looked at him. There was some kind of communication that transpired between them and he joined her on the other swing. That was Nitya. From then on, he looked forward to these trips with his father and soon realised that the man met up with Nitya’s father who was a scientist. Nitya and he forged a close friendship. For once he met someone who didn’t tease him for his crooked incisors or the extra height. Nitya didn’t ask him anything about his mother, nor did she ask him why he had studs in his ears. In fact, she said, he looked cool! Unlike his teachers who had long given up. His father hated it and he made it a point to flaunt it even more when baba was around.
For once in his lifetime, he had someone to talk to. Their friendship was cemented further because Nitya was an ace in karate and he could share so much about it with her. They went for a camp together and their friendship deepened.
Life was smooth sailing and though Nitya and he were curious about when transpired between their fathers behind those bushes or wherever they disappeared the kids couldn’t care less. He loved these outings with his father… mainly because of Nitya.
Then one fine day all of a sudden, he realised it was their last outing. He was heartbroken like never before. So was Nitya. She promised she would attend the martial arts camp soon National camp almost 2 years later. They were inseparable and he thought he was living the best phase of his life when right during the camp, things went downhill…
The camp that year involved a trek too. The small mountain range was a part of the Himalayan ranges and they had to take partners. For him, Nitya was the obvious choice. He also realised that Nitya was upset about her father being gone and he realised things weren’t going well for her. She was barely 11 but was very pretty and level-headed. He would have done anything to get her to smile.
The trek began and it was a competition between teams. They were given tasks to complete and the pair that reached the guesthouse first was the winner. The trek was short and barely a kilometre around the guesthouse. There were markings for the teams to follow leads and so they don’t get lost. A time limit of an hour was given to each team. Maanav and Nitya had a head start given their agility and strength. However, as they followed the flags they realised something was amiss.
Maanav checked his digital watch. It was a gift from his father and had features like a compass and a SOS signal that could directly reach his father’s regiment. His father was now leading the NSG squad and was currently close to Mumbai.
They were past an hour and a look around showed there was no other team in sight. How could that be? They had started almost together and it was then Maanav realised something.
“Nitya, do you see these flags? The red colour is different than the one the camp authorities had placed.
Nitya touched the flag and looked up at him widening her eyes. “Maanav, this… this isn’t their flag. It was cotton material… this is…”
“…Nylon…” He continued in agreement.
What was going on? Was it something to do with his father’s sudden show of affection recently and the watch for a gift? The wheels began to turn in his young teen head. He began to focus… just like his father taught him in the limited moments they spent together. Nitya watched wide eyed while he was an epitome of concentration… the world became silent around him and he could only hear his breathing. Just then he heard a ruffle… near the herbage close by. There was someone… and that wasn’t any animal. He was sure. This part of the range didn’t have wild animals especially the stealth ones… he knew that.
Yet, something didn’t sit right. It was then he saw… the barrel of a gun from the nearest bush pointed towards him… or was it Nitya…? He didn’t know. All that he knew was that it definitely was a gun and that adrenaline kicked in. He held her hand and dragged her along as he ran.
“Run… Nitya…”
They ran till their muscles burnt. There was fortunately no gun shot and that surprised him yet they ran deeper into the woods… was that the point? To get the prey in a net so the prey could be feasted upon quickly? Did he just make Nitya and himself vulnerable sitting ducks? Everywhere around them it was just the woods and the heavily pregnant clouds were threatening to pour their hearts out… For the first time in his life, he was scared. Not for him, but for Nitya. She never spoke a word but he knew she was scared and that she had trusted him completely…
Suddenly there were shots fired using a silencer and he dragged her behind a nearby tree. He felt the wood chip off but Nitya seemed clueless. She was tired and he knew she couldn’t run more. He was sure those people were after him… They obviously had nothing to do with an almost 11-year-old girl. But they sure knew his father. Everything began to make sense… his father’s over cautious nature, always looking over his shoulder and latest gift of the digital watch… Was it because of his profession? He didn’t know then.
The Watch… of course. He quickly pressed the SOS button and prayed that the signal would reach the concerned authority. Guilt engulfed him as he thought about how he endangered Nitya’s life. He made her wait there and decided to draw their attention away from her…
He ran and could feel the bullets zip past him.
He heard the helicopter before he saw it. He had to get closer to an open area. The trees were a hazard for the heli….
He had to do something soon… Nitya was waiting at quite a distance and the enemy… she was safe at the moment. But whoever they were, the enemy was closing in.
Suddenly there was blast behind him in the direction where Nitya hid. A huge ball of fire rose to the skies through the gap in the canopy of the tree covering and the deafening explosion rendered him nub.
No… Nitya… no… His heart stopped.
Before he could react a strong pair of hands held him and pulled him away. His instincts kicked him and he began to hit and kick the person but when he turned, he saw a man in army uniform.
“We have to make this quick… the commotion won’t last long” The man ordered into his ears.
“No… Nitya… she is there…” he looked at the still ablaze section in horror.
The man pulled him away. He was no match for the strong Indian soldier and the series of events rendered him weak….
“Sorry… Nitya… stay alive… please… never… forgive me…” were his last thoughts as he was airlifted and darkness consumed him.
©priyanayakgole
(Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

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