Dead men in the crowd

“Rahul, wake up!” Rahul’s mom shouted from the bottom of the staircase.

Upstairs, a boy awoke, in the middle of a heap of books- Chemistry, Physics, Programming and numerous others. He was about eighteen years of age, almost ready to go to college. Like more than half of his country’s student population, he was aspiring to become an engineer. He was good at many things, but two things stood out from the rest- studies and writing. But over time, education won and the writer’s pen was left behind. He often wondered to himself if he was doing the right thing, if he should take advice from a society that knew nothing. But these thoughts remained thoughts, and action was never taken.

Like every other day of every month, he brushed his teeth, took that super quick bath that made his mom suspicious, packed his bag with dozens of books, ate a meager breakfast, bid goodbye to his parents for the day and left for his coaching class.

Coaching classes were usually conducted in the evening, after school. However, for Rahul and a select few, the classes were held in the morning at 4 am, before school. For they were the genius ones, with potential to enter IITs and other prestigious engineer- manufacturers.

Everyday Rahul would stand at his designated bus stop and recollect what he studied last night before dosing off. Today, however, was different. Neither did the bus come nor did the formulae from the night before. Instead came a deep foreboding followed by a crashing panic. “What am I doing?” the voice inside his head shrieked.

The cause of Rahul’s emotional explosion stopped and stood beside him at the bus stop. He was dressed in a crisp, neat shirt and properly creased pants- just like the other corporate slaves. An IBM ID-card was clipped to his front pocket that read ‘Rajesh Kumar, Senior Programmer’. His shoes looked shiny and new, but the feet residing in them felt weary. The legs attached to those feet were ghastly thin and wobbly. The stomach above those legs hardly existed. The heart that powered this feeble body was frozen by the perennial cold winds from the office ACs. The rib cage that carried this cold heart could be easily seen from under the pale, white skin. The back that supported this gaunt structure was hunched, and the shoulders droopy. Suddenly, the fragile looking neck turned and his eyes bore into Rahul’s.

Rahul was shocked as those icy blue eyes made their way deep into his mind. Oh, those numb, lifeless eyes! Not one emotion in them- not pain, not agony, not anger, just nothing. He was a walking dead man, oscillating before office and home.

“And soon I will be too..” Rahul whispered.

A chalk flew out of nowhere and hit Rahul’s head. A pair of arms jerked him violently. “Wake up, he’s coming!” a voice murmured in his ear. Then came a sharp rap on his head and his eyes flung open.

“I just had the most terrifying dream!” he exclaimed to his glaring teacher. “And the idea for a great story,” he said after a pause. His eyes sparkled with hope. He now knew what he truly wanted- to become a storyteller.

-Pragya Arora

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