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Without warning…


Four years later…

The screening room was a beehive of activity. Designers were scribling on forms. Models were getting measured. The screening was in full motion. Rania found herself a screening table and sat down. Piling her long hair on the top of her head, she stuck a pen through it to hold it in place. She waited for her assistant to bring her some forms. Her team was busy recruiting. Rania surveyed the room and chided herself on her attire. As usual, she was the most dishevelled person in the room. She cursed herself for wearing a washed out pair of cargoes and a faded T-shirt. After all everyone else was dressed more professionally and neatly. She was the rookie and it showed. Her assistant finally arrived and Rania put on her dorky black-framed glasses. At times her friends called her 'Spexy' because of the nerdy frame. But they were comfortable and durable.

Finally the models started pouring in. Rania assessed them and asked the chosen ones to read and fill out contracts. It was a fun process and she had snippets of conversation with the new people she met. She was down to her last model when she went under her desk in search of the contacts she had dropped. She wasn't anticipating the dust and cobwebs and cursed in frustration when she discovered her hands were covered in soot. She retrieved the contracts, dusted her hands and got up to her swivel chair. Her eyes fell on the shadow around her. She wasn't expecting the tall frame that was looming over the other side of the desk. She slid her eyes slowly upwards to the face and discovered in utter dismay that it was Mutley and her was grinning at her. Everything was the same except that his hair was shorter and the eyes were more brooding than ever. She was speechless for several seconds.

Mutley took the initiative to introduce himself. 'Aryan,' he said and extended his hand. Rania was about to take it when she glanced at the soot on her hands. Aryan noticed it too. He withdrew his hand but the mockery never left his eyes. Rania straightened up and went about her business. She had half a mind not to sign him but he was the perfect fit for one of her more innovative designs. Unlike before, she didn't delve on chitchat and handed him a contract. He just stood there and Rania realized that he had no pen to sign with. She was about to go on a pen search when Aryan without further warning pulled the pen out of her hair. Her long locks came tumbling down. Aryan intently stared at her for an instance and then signed the contract and left abruptly.

Rania was glad that the episode was over. She caught her reflection in a nearby window and discovered to her dismay the reason behind Aryan's mocking gaze. She had smudges of soot on her left cheek and the tip of her nose. With a huff she wiped it off and started packing up. She went over the incident and realized that Mutley hadn't recognised her.

Three days later as Rania got ready for the show she realized why Mutley hadn't recognised her. Her hair had grown longer since their first encounter and she had lost a lot of weight. She wasn't perfectly thin by far because of the curves that she so hated but she had certainly reduced. But her skin showed no sign of improving. She couldn't careless. She touched up on what little make-up she had put on and surveyed herself in the mirror. Not bad, she thought and headed out to the Pan Pacific.

Upon arriving she discovered that the Ballroom Green Room was a flurry of commotion. Rania was in the second half of the show towards the end and so she took her time in setting up with her crew. Her team was ready with the outfits. One of them was fighting with the make-up artist.

Rania started getting butterflies in her tummy. This was her debut collection and she was nervous. The rehearsals had gone fine and the program coordinator was great. He had helped her with the music, styling and other details. She was glad that the organisers had hired him.Rania left the Green Room and entered the Ballroom where she found a secluded seat at the back of the room. She sat down as the show began and tried to focus on the collections being presented. After a while she spotted Mutley on stage and unwillingly admitted to herself that he was indeed looking good.

Before she knew it, she was being called to the Green room to get her models ready. When Rania entered the Green room most of the models were ready. Her assistant came running up to her and declared that one of the outfits had split a seam while the model was putting it on. Rania was grateful that he'd brought an emergency kit and took out a threaded needle as she headed for the model. She discovered that Mutley's outfit was the cause of the dilemma and she had no time to appreciate how good he looked in midnight blue before he pointed to the split seam on the shoulder.

Rania stepped forward to tend to it but Mutley was too tall for her to reach up to his shoulder. 'Mu… I mean…can you please sit down for me?' she asked. 'Yes ma'am,' he replied with a grin. 'Please call me Rania. I'm sure I'm…' before she could hold her tongue '…younger than you.' She bit her bottom lip immediately. Aryan smiled and said, 'Only if you call me Aryan.' 'Deal,' she said relieved that he hadn't taken offence.

Finally everything was in order. Ten minutes to her scene. She waited nervously. Her team wished her good luck while some of the models complimented her outfits. Mutley simply came over, gave her hand a squeeze and left. Her scene finally started and she got up and headed for the back of the stage. Once all her designs were presented, she was called on to the stage. She headed towards the stage only to discover that the model who'd be escorting her was none other than Mutley! The co-ordinator had forgotten to mention the last minute change-in-plan. Rania was met with a smatter of applause as Aryan escorted her forward. After heading back when they got backstage Aryan hugged her without warning and said, 'You were great!' She was barely able to say thanks before Aryan was ushered to change and Rania began packing up with her crew.

After they were done, they returned to the Ballroom to see
the rest of the show. As the show neared its end, Rania debated over whether she should stay for the after party or not. But the decision was no longer in her hands when the show ended because she found herself surrounded by friends who congratulated her. As the crowd thinned she decided to call it a night and started saying her goodbyes when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Mutt- she resolved to think of him as Aryan from now on. Aryan. 'Leaving so soon?' he asked. She turned and faced him. 'I'm not much of a party-goer,' she confessed sheepishly wondering why he cared. He had rubbed her the wrong way although he was proving to be much more pleasant now. Nonetheless, she still had her guard up. But every time he appeared, she felt a queer sensation at the pit of her stomach. She wondered why she felt like that.

Pulling herself out of the reverie she planted an expression of interest and said, 'What?' 'You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?' he asked. Rania's blush answered his question. 'I was asking you to stay a bit more,' he said. 'And do what?' she asked. 'I don't know. Hang out. If you don't like it here, we can go and have a cup of coffee at Café Bazaar across the hall. I'm not taking no for an answer,' Aryan said. To tired to fight, rania let him lead the way.

As they placed their order Rania thought, he still doesn't remember me. Their coffee arrived and they talked little and mostly about the show but Rania found Aryan staring at her from time to time. 'Rania, that's an unusual name,' Aryan remarked. 'It means Goddess of the Sea,' she replied as she took a sip of her frothy cappuccino. She was oblivious to the little smudge of froth on the tip of her nose as she stared at the table. Aryan grinned and without notice wiped the tip of her nose as she looked up. 'Hey' was all she managed before he silently handed her the napkin with the little dot of froth. 'Seem's like you have a habit of smudging your pretty little nose,' Aryan said with a grin. Rania flushed crimson and stammered about her having to go. Aryan escorted her to the parking lot and helped her into her car.

Rania started the car and thanked him for the coffee. He started to say goodbye but then a queer expression entered his eyes. Aryan started to say, ' Hey wait. Weren't you…' but he couldn't finish. Rania had already pulled out and the last thing Aryan saw were her taillights as a realization dawned on him.

By Riyana


Banu stared in despair at the ever-stretching pool of water around her. It was of a greenish-grey colour; old chips packets and sewage materials flowing with it. It was sickening to watch and Banu felt like throwing up. She got a hold of herself and stared on, her brown eyes searching for a speck of hope somewhere in the waters beyond. There was none. Once again, for that day, she felt sickeningly hopeless.

It's been over four days since she and her family have been living in this little piece of dry land. It was a bit above the regular water level during flood and so they were pretty safe. For now, at least, until the water level rose. They weren't the only people there. There were at least four other families sharing the same piece of dry earth with them and a few older men too. For most of the day, they were huddled at a corner, desperate and hungry, hoping that by some miracle, all this water would just dry out. Or even better, just disappear. Sadly, that was the last thing that was going to happen.

Banu recollected the conversations of the night before. The men were talking about death.
"I should have been able to say my prayers now. If these are my final days, then I should start begging for forgiveness already!" said one of the older men.
"Death is inevitable. It will come to us when we're destined to it," commented another of the seniors. "It's just that I don't want my body floating on these waters!" A few elder men nodded their heads in approval.
"But we were supposed to get help. I've heard there are many people working to save us!" cried out Akash (one of the children from other families). There was sarcastic laughter coming from the group around while Akash looked around expectantly.
"You are still a child, Akash! You haven't faced the 'real' world yet!" said his father.
"Aye, if 'help' was anywhere near us, we wouldn't have been sitting here and talking about death!" said Banu's father.
"But I know!" Akash was insistent. "I've heard that the government will send us food and clothing and will even give us shelter. It's only a matter of time!" More laughter echoed.
"That's what was supposedly coming to us since the time I was in the first flood of my life!" an older member of the group said, throwing Akash a sarcastic smile and a knowing look. Many others laughed to this.
"The only people who actually get helped are the government officers themselves! None of this 'help' actually reaches us," said Banu's father. "Quit hoping for something that you'll never get." There were nods of approval from others at this. Banu couldn't hear the rest of the conversation. Her mother found her listening and scolded her for interfering in the men's business and took her away, where all the female members of the group were sitting. The women were all mumbling prayers of forgiveness and help to God, and were pronouncing verses from the Koran. Banu remembered falling asleep after a while.

The following morning was painful for Banu. She usually woke up to find herself in a little island with dirty water all around, her younger siblings crying, the men looking around and the women blinking their eyes in fear. But this particular morning, when she opened her eyes, she found her father holding her ten-months old baby brother in his arms. He was staring at the motionless body with an expressionless face. She spotted her mother, crying softly while another woman was trying to comfort her. A few other men were standing with sombre faces near her father. There was tension and grief in the air. It was apparent that something serious had happened.

It took Banu a few seconds to realize that her little brother was dead. A snake had bit him at the dead of the night and the baby had died in his sleep. Her mother was the first one to find it out and her wails awoke the others. Banu remembered herself stepping forward and taking a closer look at the small corpse. Her brother lay still and peaceful in her father's arms. She wanted to touch him, but the older men forbade her. Told her it brings bad luck to the ones alive. She stared at it and then found herself in tears. They trickled down her cheeks and seemed to burn them. She felt sickeningly hopeless and lonely.

Everybody wanted the body to be set afloat in water. There was nowhere one could possibly bury it. Banu's mother wouldn't let that happen. She wailed and screamed for her baby to be buried in the island they were living in, but that seemed quite pointless, especially when the people alive had no space to live. She talked fearfully of the devil that wouldl eat her son's corpse if he floated in water, of vultures and crows and was in hysterics. People tried to reason with her, but she only cried and begged with the others. Nobody listened to her. The body was afloat in water at noon and Banu watched it getting swept away by the current. It was so small, so delicate and so wasted. Her mother was now in a fit of wild tears and it was difficult to hold her back from jumping in the waters. Banu gave her a glance; she had no words of comfort to offer.

She was thinking about these while she stood at the edge of the island and stared at the waters. But Akash interrupted her. He had come up behind her softly and held her arm. She looked at him and he asked in a mild voice,
"Apa, won't we ever go back home? Won't they come and save us?"

For this, Banu didn't know the answer. She only knew that this country was screwed up, that the rich always got the better deal, that 'help' didn't ever come to the people who actually needed it, that the government was a cheat, that her hopes seemed dead and the worst was that she couldn't do anything about it all. She didn't answer him and looked again at the waters around her. For the third time that day, she felt sickeningly hopeless!

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya


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