Tuesday, February 17, 2015

BELIEF - A Short Story

"The final days are here!" shouted the man in the TV.  "Only 5 more days and if you are found without the ring, you WILL go blind!"

We had been hearing about this a lot during the past few weeks. The first time he said about it was about 3 weeks earlier.  He had said that God was angry at the people of our city.  Because we had hosted a comedy act.  A comedy act that was filled with harsh language and sexual innuendos.  The young guys found it hilarious, but the older guys took offense.  They felt it was putting a dent in our culture.  Of course, there were other comic acts of this sort, but this one caught the attention of the media due to the attendance of famous people in the audience, and before you knew it, it had become a huge controversy.  There were debates on TV between people who supported the act as an expression of freedom of speech and people who called the entire business as public pornography.

Then, a week later, HE showed up on the TV.  He said God spoke to him "last night."  God told him he was angry with the people of the city.  That he will give them exactly 1 month's time, and everybody who were sorry and wanted forgiveness were to wear a ring with a symbol on it that signified his forgiveness.  And anybody found not wearing the ring at the end of the 4-week deadline will go blind.

"Their eyes will ROT!  Their eyes will lose their function and become USELESS!" the man shouted.

I looked at my 2 friends in the pub with me.  They both watched the TV, then looked at each other, then looked at me, and we all burst out laughing.

"Can't believe this thing is still going on!" Satish said.
"I actually saw my neighbors wearing the rings!" added Danny.

We left it at that.  We had already talked a lot about it the past few weeks.  We prided ourselves as being atheists.  Rational thinkers.  And this was just one of the millions of other crazy things we have seen people claim and believe in.  We changed the conversation to other things.

Every Saturday, after work, we leave our vehicles behind at our company's parking lot and head to the nearest pub and have drinks.

On that night, I had had too many drinks and decided to go home in a bus.  I decided I would get my bike the next day from the office.  Satish and Danny decided to catch an auto as they stayed close-by.  I headed to the bus stop and had to wait for about 10 minutes before I got a bus.

I noticed an empty seat right next to the door.  I managed to move my drunk body to it using the railings for support and sat on it with a thud.

At first I didn't notice it, but then it caught my eye.  The hand.  The hand of the guy sitting next to me.  He had 2 rings on his ring finger.  Not just any rings, but THE ring that the man in the TV had claimed God wanted us to be wearing.  It was a silver ring with a bright red S carved across it.  I was confused why he wore 2 of them.  I looked up at him, and the man wore black shades.  Not a Ray-Ban, but the one that I remember seeing welders wear that came with side shields.

May be it was all the drinks, but I nudged him playfully, and asked him why he had 2 rings on.

He turned towards me and looked at me for a few seconds.  At least, I think he was looking at me.  The shades made it impossible to see his eyes.  Then he came a bit closer and said,
"You have to be careful.  There are a lot of Chinese knock-offs around.  I just wanted to be sure."

"Chinese knock-offs???" I blurted out satirically.

He told me he had ordered one from the official website of the man in the TV, but he was sure there was foul play by the distributing company.  I asked why.

"Well, I got my first ring about 2 weeks back, then this happened day before yesterday," he said removing his shades.  And my face contorted into a grimace.  Again, I was drunk.  His eyes were red as peaches and there were crusts around them.

"See?? So, I realized that God was sending me a warning.  A warning that the ring I had was not real.  If he hadn't send me the warning, I would've gone blind on The Day without even realizing why."  He was smiling now.  But he looked scary as hell with the red eyes.

Luckily, Just then, it was my stop.  I got up from the seat, keeping myself as far away from him as possible.  My face contorted in the most disgusting manner possible, and I got out of the bus.  Then I walked to my home making sure I didn't fall into any of the ditches on the way.

Reaching home, I saw everybody, my parents and my sister, sitting in the living room and watching the TV.  It was the news and they showed The Man and videos of people walking around wearing the ring.  The news reader was repeating that there were only 5 more days left.  I smirked and both my parents turned around and scowled at me.  My sister giggled silently.  Without another word, I turned around and walked into my room.

My parents were very religious.  They had been uncomfortable about this whole going blind thing.

I removed my shoes and jumped right into my bed and went to sleep.

Next day, I woke up at about 11 a.m., and there were about 35 messages in my Whatsapp.  I checked it and the first thing I went to were Carol's.  Her last message read:
"
Are you up yet??  9:30 AM
"

We had a lunch planned.  I messaged her back that I will pick her up at her house in an hour and rushed to get ready.

After stealing the keys of my sister's bike, I rushed to pick her up and then we headed to the restaurant, Mango Tree.

After lunch, she told me she had something for me.  A gift.
"What is it?" I said excited.
"You shouldn't refuse it!" she said.

As soon as she said it, my excitement flew out the window.  I am not someone who usually turns down gifts, so this has to be something I don't like.  She took out a tiny box from her purse and placed it on the table.  It had the huge red S trademark on the lid.

"No way!! I am not wearing that!" I said.
"Okay, just keep it with you so that when you change your mind, you can wear it.  You have no idea how troublesome it was to get an extra one!"

I thought for a moment.  I knew she wasn't going to let me go easy, so I took the box with the ring and dropped it in my pocket.


Next day, I reached the office early.  I had to come in bus as I had left the bike at the office on Saturday and couldn't pick it up on Sunday.  As I sat in my cubicle looking through the account of a client, I saw Satish walk into his cubicle which was next to mine.  I walked over to his cubicle, and he looked at me with shifty eyes.  With just a "hi" he sat down and started to log into his computer.

"Whats up with the gloves?" I said noticing that he still wore the gloves which he normally wears when he rides the bikes and takes them off.

"The AC.  Its pretty cold." he said dryly.

And that is when I noticed a bulge on one of the fingers.
"Wait a minute!! Are you wearing the ring??" I blurted out.

Satish sighed for a moment, then removed the gloves and showed the ring.
"Comon man! I thought you didn't believe in this crap!! You really think God is going to find that you are not wearing it and blow up your eyes?? I thought you were an atheist!"

Satish sighed again.
"Think of it this way.  How can we be sure that there is no God??  So, don't you think it's safe to just wear the ring.  I mean if there is no God, then nothing happens, but if we are wrong and there is a God, still you wont go blind because he sees the ring and leaves you alone.  So, this is like an insurance.  Its a win-win!"
"Comon! That's a cop out!"
"Well, in this particular situation, this logic applies well." said Satish and turned to his system.

I sighed and walked back to my cubicle.  I, Satish, and Danny have been friends for more than 5 years.  We prided ourselves as being atheists.  Rational thinkers.  But I always knew Satish was just pretending.  Deep inside, he was very religious.  To be fair, I shouldn't be interfering with his beliefs.

As the days went on, I realized that the entire city was in panic.  I began to see almost everyone wearing the ring.  Almost everybody in the office had one on.  I began to unconsciously look for the ring when I was out and I realized that almost everybody I came across wore one irrespective of their religion or their beliefs.  It seemed that I and Danny were the only 2 people who didn't wear one.

On Tuesday when I reached home from work, the TV news was on and everybody was sat watching it.  It showed a politician distributing free rings to the poor.  I sighed and walked to my room.

On Wednesday when I reached home from work, I found a ring box in my room.  I thought it was the one that Carol gave me.  My mom must have taken it out of my trousers and kept it on the table, but it turns out my dad had ordered rings for us through Flipkart.

"That's the only way to be sure they aren't fake!" he rationalized when I asked him about it.

"Thank God we got it.  I was almost worried we wouldn't get any!" my mom said in relief brushing my sister's hair.

"I am not wearing this shit!" I shouted.

My parents scowled at me.  My sister giggled.  I stormed to my room and threw the box on my table and went to sleep.

On Thursday, I arrived at office and headed towards the lift.  I saw Danny get in, and I bolted to make it.  As soon as I got in, I caught Danny remove something from his finger and put it into his pocket.  I almost felt my heart break.

"You too???" I exclaimed.
Danny had a guilty look on his face.
"It's my wife man! She's gone crazy! She said I either wear it or she's going to go back to her parents'!"
I sighed.
"She made me promise man! I am just doing this for her, you know.  Of course I know this is crazy! As if we will all go blind if we are not wearing a ring.  Ha!"
We both laughed uncomfortably.  The people in the lift who could clearly hear our conversation turned and scowled at us.  They all wore the ring.

Then it happened.  My eyes started to itch.  By the time I went to lunch, Satish and Danny began to freak out.

"Your eyes are red man!!"

They didn't actually tell me, but I can almost feel that they were just looking for an opportunity to tell me to wear the ring.  May be they were just waiting for the other person to say it first.  They both sat silent for most of the lunch.  They didn't even look at me.  My eyes started to water, and I struggled to complete the lunch.  By the time I went back to my cubicle, my eyes were finding it hard to even blink.  My eyelids felt like sandpapers.  Everybody I passed by looked at me in horror, then they would look at my hands searching for the ring, and when they didn't find it, they looked back at my eyes in even more horror.

Sitting in my cubicle, I tried to work, but I kept hearing people murmuring.  Sometimes, I could clearly hear them say things like,
"Did you see his eyes??"
"He isn't wearing the ring!!"
"That's what you get when you don't listen to God!"

Then I would see them get up from their seats and try to get a peak at me.  Some would walk by my cubicle trying to get a closer look at me.  When I would turn to look at them, they would turn and walk away in a hurry.

An hour later, I get a personal chat message from my team leader asking me to leave for the day as he felt I "wasn't fit to work today."  I didn't even stay to argue.  I was really uncomfortable by then and just wanted to leave.

Frustrated, I picked up my bag and said byes to Satish and Danny.  They both quipped a quick "bye" and turned back to their systems as if they were super busy.  More people jumping up and looking at me realizing I was about to leave and that was their last chance to see my eyes.

I left the office and drove straight to a clinic and got in to see a doctor.

"I think I have conjunctitis." I said.
"You mean conjunctivitis." he corrected me with a patient smile.  I felt at ease that, at last, there was someone who would listen to logic.  He then proceeded to check my eyes with a smile on his face.  As he did so, his eyes casually shifted to look at my hands, then his smile somehow became weird. His face looked as though he was struggling to keep the smile up.  I swear I even saw a drop of sweat traveling down his forehead before he wiped it off with his forearm. He finally wrote me a quick prescription and quickly showed me to the door.

I went to the pharmacy and handed over the prescription.  The guy there looked at me, then at the prescription, then back at me.  He went to the back, then whispered something to the another guy in there.  Then that guy looked at me with a look of fear on his face.  Before I knew it, all the four guys in the pharmacy including a guy who was in the back were all staring at me.  The guy handed me a bottle of eye drops and said,
"You are lucky.  We just have 2 of these left" he said taking out a box from under the counter and placing it on the table.  The box had the S trademark on its lid.
"I didn't ask for this!" I said.
"Its in your prescription." he said holding up the prescription slip.

I felt my blood boil.  I thought I was going to punch him right then.  I tried to stay calm,  paid him for the drops, left the ring box back on the counter, and walked away.  I heard him calling from behind saying, "Sir!! You forgot the ring!! Tomorrow is the last day!"  But I kept walking and didn't look back.

At first I felt like going back to the doctor and giving him an ear full, but my eyes were starting to hurt really bad, and I just wanted to go home and lie down.  So I drove myself home.

At home, my dad was at work and my sister at class.  I walked into my room keeping my head down, and shouted towards the kitchen, where my mom was, that I wasn't well and was going to bed.  I locked my room's door, put some of the drops into my eyes, and went to sleep.

I woke up in the middle of night and panicked because I couldn't open my eyes.  I felt them crusted shut.  I forced them open, then put in a few more drops, and tossed around in my bed.  I got up a few more times during the night and put more drops.

Morning, my eyes hurt even more.  Lids like sandpapers grinding against my eyes.  I wore my shades and went out to the living room to get breakfast.  I quickly grabbed my breakfast from the table and walked back to my room, but I got a glimpse of my parents and sister watching me in shock.
"Why are you wearing shades??" my mom shouted at me.

I didn't answer her.  I went into my room and locked the door.

I spent the day listening to music and eventually falling asleep in the afternoon.  Then I woke up to someone knocking on my door.  At first I ignored it, then I heard her voice.
"Open the door! I know you can hear me!"

I sat up.  My parents hated Carol.  In fact she hadn't stepped into my house in the last 4 years, and here she was.  I put on my shades and walked to the door, hesitated for moment, then opened it.  She looked very worried, and one look at my face and she looked even more worried.  I only opened just enough for her to squeeze herself in.  My parents and sister who were sat in the living room were straining their necks to get a glimpse of me.
"What?" I said.

Carol, with her shivering hand, took away my shades and let out a cry.

"Relax! Its just conjunctitis!" I said turning away and walking towards my bed.

"Oh my God!! Where is the ring I gave you??!!" she said walking to me and punching me on my arm.

"Ow! Stop it!"

"I warned you about this!! Its not too late.  You just have to have it on before tonight, and you will be fine!" she said.

"ConjuncTIVITIS" I said correcting myself and ignoring her.

Just then, there was another knock on my door.  We both looked at it.  Then, before I can stop her, Carol walked over and opened the door.  And my uncle walked into the room.  One look at my face and a rage came over him.

"What the hell is wrong with you??? Your parents are worried as hell!!" He shouted.

I just looked down at the floor and hoped he would just leave.

After a few seconds of silence, he turned to Carol and said,
"Why don't you tell him to wear the ring?!!"

"Sorry uncle.  I will make him wear it." she said sounding guilty and scared.  I looked up at her, then at my uncle.  He scowled at me and then said,

"I will be waiting outside in the living room and will not leave till you wear it!!" he said, then scowled at me a bit more, then at Carol, and finally stormed out.

As soon as he walked out, Carol began to cry.
"What??" I said.
"You have to wear it! Now they are going to be blame me!"
"No they wont!  After tonight, they are going to know that its all just a scam!"
"Either you wear it or its over between us!!" she said wiping her tears and sounding stern.  She sounded pretty serious.  After a few minutes of consideration, I decided to wear it.  I remembered what Satish had told me.  This was going to be a win-win.

"You guys are all crazy, you know that?" I said as I wore the ring.

After I wore it, she dragged me out to the living room where my parents, my sister, and my uncle sat.

My mom hated Carol, and when she saw that Carol had convinced me to wear the ring, something that she couldn't make me do, it didn't seem to go down well with her.  She got up and walked into the bedroom without a word.  My dad smiled at Carol and made us both sit on the couch.

"You are going to stay here till tomorrow morning," my uncle said; ordered.  I nodded; defeated.

"Good thing I messaged you," my sister whispered to Carol and they both giggled.

It was the most boring evening of my life.  There was always somebody in the room.  Making sure that I didn't remove the ring.

The TV news was filled with programs about people praying to God and preparing for the big night.

I don't remember when I fell asleep on the couch, but when I woke up, surprisingly my eyes weren't crusted shut or painful.  They felt normal.  I looked about and saw Carol sitting on the couch next to mine.  She came over and hugged me, then quickly let me go when she noticed that my mom had walked into the room with our breakfast.

Carol had stayed the night, slept in my sister's room.  My uncle had stayed over too.  We all had breakfast together, and when we turned on the TV, The Man was back.  He was filled with joy and said,
"Last night, I had a vision.  God has forgiven us.  He saw how everybody was obedient and fearful of him, so he has decided not to hurt us.  All those people who didn't listen to him need to thank those who did, because if it wasn't for them, you wouldn't be able to SEE me right now!!"

I couldn't help but burst out laughing, and everybody turned at me and scowled.  I cleared my throat and tried to look serious.

Danny called me up later and said today we were going to meet up at his place in the evening as his wife had gone to stay with her parents for a few days.

Evening, over the drinks, I made fun of the entire incident.  Satish and Danny laughed along, but I knew they were faking it.  Hell, Satish still had the ring on.  We started talking about the stuff at office, and Danny was switching the channels on the TV when he came across The Man.  Suddenly, Satish and Danny stopped talking and had their eyes fixed on the screen.  Danny turned up the volume.

The Man said, "God just spoke to me!! He is angry!!! A lot of people are making fun of him and doubting him that hes not powerful enough to do what he said he will do.  He is angry at you, THE DOUBTERS!! Tonight, he is going to unleash an evil spirit on you and kill all those who doubt!! Repent and you will be saved!!!"

Satish and Danny turned and looked at me with horror written on their faces.  I looked back at them blankly, then I burst out laughing uncontrollably, but this time, I laughed alone.

Satish stood up and said, "I think its too late, guys.  I will make a move."

"Its just been an hour!" I said.

"I think I am going to bed.  May be we should call it a night" said Danny with a weird smile and avoiding eye contact with me.

"Oh comon guys! You can't be serious!  Are you guys afraid that the so called evil spirit is going to come kill me??" I said laughing.  Just then, we heard some kind of weird whistling noise from Danny's living room.

Both of them looked towards the living room turning white with fear.
 

***

- Rejo John
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