Sunday, 6 May 2012

Flight 3G 742

Plot Summary: Flight 3G 742 is bound to Raipur from Delhi. The plane crashes under unusual circumstances. 7 survive. An elephant poacher, a healthy French lesbian, a Bengali businessman, a small town man, a Malayali IT guy, an old man and a Punjabi south Delhi housewife. But people start dying. One of the seven is a cold blooded killer. 

* Prologue*
Flight 3G 742 is ready for departure’, the sweet mellifluous voice floated and bounced off the near empty airport walls of the new terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International airport.
Mohit turned the corner of the page and closed the book he was reading, ‘Al.An: The Origins’ and shoved it into his backpack, as he stared at the Punjabi family of four rush towards Gate – 57 to stake claim at the head of the queue.
‘Idiots!’ he thought, as he took out his boarding pass from his shirt pocket to double check if this was really the flight he was supposed to board. He mentally noted his seat number, 15C.

‘No bags for check-in, one hand bag. I would prefer an emergency aisle. Non – reclining, if that is available please’, Mohit had requested the pretty ticketing agent seated behind the counter in her royal blue jacket.
‘Certainly sir, I am just checking.’ she had replied, as Mohit gazed at the name badge pinned to her chest, it read Pooja Saniyal, as he took the airline hand bag tag and put it on his backpack.
‘Non – reclining?’ Pooja quizzed, surprised at the request. It wasn’t usual for a passenger to request for a non – reclining seat.
‘Yes! I don’t like being disturbed about reclining my seat to the upfront position while I am asleep’, Mohit replied smiling, as he watched Pooja punch some keys on her keyboard and waited for his boarding pass to be printed.
‘One hand bag, 15C, gate number 57. Straight and left.’ Neha replied as she handed over the boarding pass.
‘Is the flight on time?’ Mohit quizzed, as he took the boarding pass and smiled again.
‘Yes sir!’ Pooja returned the smile, as she ushered the next person in line.
While heading towards security check, Mohit took a glance at his boarding pass and checked for his seat and boarding gate number before pocketing it into his shirt again.
Mohit surveyed his fellow passengers who had lined up behind the Punjabi family, wondering who the lottery system of the airline ticketing system had assigned to sit beside him on the flight. The family consisted of identical twin boys, probably aged 7 or 8, who were busy playing tug – o – war with the mother’s hand bag. Mohit deduced from the fake Louis Vuitton bag and the high heels that the wife was in her mid-30s, liked to kitty party with her friends and probably liked to have rough sex. The husband was a plaid straight jacketed businessman, possibly taking the wife and the kids to his in-laws for the kid’s summer vacations, which Mohit deducted from the white Nike’s he sported and the tailored shirt and pant he wore. A ‘healthy’ French woman stood behind the Punjabi wife, dressed in a typical woman visiting India dress of a brightly colored salwar – kameez and clutching her ‘Guide de L’Inde’ (guide to India) firmly in her hands. Behind the French woman stood a plump Bengali man, dressed in grey trousers and a black blazer. The Bengali man spoke loudly in his heavily accented Hindi while muttering and cursing in Bengali under his breath. He was clearly not having a good day away from office. Behind the Bengali man, stood couple of men who Mohit figured to be from the state of Bihar or Jharkhand, as he spotted them loudly chewing tobacco in their red stained teeth and their gold pierced ears. He could be wrong, they could be from UP, he wasn’t sure. Mohit wondered what sadistic pleasure he derived from judging people at airports and why he did it, as he soon got bored of imagining his co passenger’s life and history. Whatever the reasons were, Mohit was quite enjoying himself. He waited for the queue of people to shorten. Not many people were travelling on this flight. Mohit figured there were about twenty people travelling on his flight.
The screen with the flight information read, ‘Flight# - 3G 742 – From – Delhi – To – Raipur. Status – Boarding.’
The female voice on the PA system broke through, ‘This is the final boarding call for Mr. Mohit Kaul, your flight is ready for departure. Request you to report to Gate – 57 immediately.’
Little did Mohit know that this would be the final call for him and most of his co-passengers.
Flight # 3G  742 was about to crash and burn in the middle of nowhere.

*Chapter 1*
Blackness surrounded her. Her head hurt and the pain quickly spread all over her body like a rogue virus. She willed her eyes to open themselves but her eyes refused to obey as they floated in clouds of tears brought upon by unbearable pain. The blackness cloaked her senses once again.
She was trying hard to yank the darkness off her eyes but was finding the fight to be physically draining. Her ears twitched as she heard the sound of vacuum with distant sound of a single loud wail. The dastard darkness enveloped her senses again.
When she finally opened her eyes, her guts fought against all her will and tried escaping through her open mouth. She realized she was lying on her stomach and something was weighing her down. Something was cutting into her torso. She willed her hands to move from her sides and crawl underneath her and felt the hard and cold feel of the seat belt which seemed to bite into her skin.
Her entire body screamed and she found herself gritting her teeth to stop herself from yelling out in pain, as she unbuckled her seatbelt and used all the strength she could muster to dislodge the seat off her back. As she turned and moved, a man fell on her like dead weight. She screamed, as she tried to push this man off her and that is when she noticed him lying there like a rag doll. Blood had coagulated around his missing arm and the blood on her face and clothes were sporting rusted brown blotches of drying blood. The very sight made her scream and crawl away from the body with the speed of a wild iguana, till her back rested and forced itself against a tree. She curled herself into a ball and started rocking back and forth as her body shivered in fear.
‘My name is Emile Dauphinois. I stay in 831 Avenue De Hambourg 230067 Marseille. I am in India. I am traveling to Raipur. My name is Emile Dauphinois.’ Emile repeated to herself in French, inside her head. Her body continued to shiver and rock back and forth. Cold sweat was beginning to unite and form beads around her neck and forehead and found it’s way down her back while joining forces with the tears falling from her eyes.

 This is your captain, Arjun Shekawat, speaking. We are currently flying twenty seven thousand feet above ground level. We are facing slight turbulence, request you to put your seat belts on. You might request our on board crew for any assistance.’ The flight captain gleefully announced before soberly adding, ‘Request on board crew to take care of safety precautions’.
Emile remembered the captain’s announcement on the on board PA system, as she tried recollecting the other events which transpired before she found herself covered in blood and shivering in fright. She puked some more and fought for air as the realization that she will die a lonely and painful death triggered a panic attack in her. As she concentrated on her breathing, she heard voices in the distance. Buoyed with a sliver of hope, she crawled, stumbled and walked till she saw the giant twisted metal bird. Smoke bellowed from its belly.

Shobojit Sarkar was seated on the ground, holding the bleeding gash on his left arm as he intently stared at his phone, waiting for the precious reception bars to raise themselves from the dead. As he knocked the phone on his thighs, urging and threatening his phone to do what he had paid good money for it to do, he finally acknowledged the mayhem which lay strewn across his field of vision.

Mohit remembered the weightless feeling which punched him in the gut as he realized that the flight was plummeting towards earth at an alarming speed. People were getting thrown about in their seats and loose luggage was hurtling down the deck. Mohit caught one of the hand bags right in his face which knocked him out. The next thing he remembered was running up to people to see if anybody other than him was alive as his fight and flight response system took over. As he encountered one dead body after another, the sheer emotional exhaustion which swept his being caused him to give in to the fatigue and he passed out on the cold grassy floor.  
‘Are you alright?’ questioned the heavy accented feminine voice in English. Mohit turned towards the voice and noticed the French woman looking at him with her giant blue eyes, like he was an injured cat. He nodded, and took the extended hand as he managed to pull himself on his feet. As he got up, he glanced skywards, cursing the big gambler and noticed the lifeless body of the stewardess hanging from the branches of a nearby tree.
Mohit mumbled something as he gauged the chaotic mess of contorted bodies and twisted metal seats.
‘Emilie’ she introduced herself, managing a weak smile.
‘Mohit’ he replied.
Mohit spotted the Bengali businessman angrily slapping his phone; one of the Biharis was frantically searching for something, probably for his mates, Mohit figured. Thank God there were other survivors, thought Mohit as he muttered a silent prayer. The Punjabi wife was standing in shock, expressionless, staring at the wreckage. Mohit followed her eyesight and finally saw the enormity and ugliness of death. It was not pretty. The French woman vomited again. 
The sudden agonized scream tore through the silence the survivors were participating in, as each of them slowly and unsteadily gathered their shattered senses and bodies to near upright positions, and assimilated the collective tragedy they found themselves to be unwilling participants in. Mohit rushed towards the cockpit. One of the pilots was alive and screaming. The cockpit door had torn itself off its hinges and was hanging like a loose newspaper flap. Mohit jumped in the air and tried getting a hold on the ledge of the door. But the stiffness in his muscles didn’t allow him to get a firm grip.
‘Help! Somebody help!’ Mohit screamed for assistance. Shobojit looked up at the crazy man yelling for help, but didn’t move. Emilie and the Bihari rushed to Mohit’s assistance. The Bihari hoisted Mohit into the cockpit.
‘Help’, the man’s voice trembled, as it pleaded. A quick glance at the bloodied badge pinned on the man’s chest told Mohit that this was the captain of their flight# 3G 742, Arjun Shekawat. His co-pilot was lying slumped in his seat. Pieces of glass shattered from the cockpit were lodged in his body like sprinkles on a donut.
‘It is going to be fine’, Mohit replied, as he unbuckled the seatbelt and tried putting his hands behind Arjun’s body to help him get up on his feet. But he soon realized that Arjun’s legs were smashed, the knee bone stuck out like a camel’s hump. The pain was excruciating as Arjun’s eyes flooded with tears and he screamed in pain.
‘I can’t move’, Arjun cried.
‘Hold on!’ Mohit let Arjun’s body slide back into his seat as he opened the cockpit door and looked around for water and first aid.  He could hear the Bihari hurling abuses at somebody about being a selfish bastard. He found the first aid kit and the miniature bottles of water and went back to attend to Arjun.
‘Here, have some water, while I think about how to get you out of here’, Mohit ordered before questioning Arjun, ‘The radio system is still working right? The distress signal should have gone out by now right?’
‘It is broken!’ Arjun mumbled as he sipped some more water and blinked rapidly to keep himself awake. Mohit looked at all the shattered dials. With the second half of the flight missing, there was no chance of finding the cockpit voice recorder and the black box yet.
Mohit realized that there was no way left for him to save the poor man who seemed to be begging for his life and crying in pain. He knew what he had to do, he couldn’t let this man go on suffering with no hope of relief.
‘I am sorry’ Mohit mumbled, as he undid the tie from Arjun’s neck and steeled his nerves.
‘Thank you!’ Arjun said resignedly, the thought of eternal sleep seemed to lure Arjun’s defeated spirits into her ample bosom.
‘I am sorry… I am sorry…’, Mohit kept mumbling his apology as Arjun reflexively tried pushing Mohit away and tried fighting for air. Finally the thrashing and the struggle ended. Mohit slumped back against the broken windshield of the cockpit. The emotion of having taking a living thing’s life was not a new one for Mohit. He was a poacher by profession, but taking a fellow human being’s life was an entirely different emotion than killing elephants and hunting game.
‘Everything alright?’ He heard the voices asking the same question in different tongues. One in Hindi and the other in accented English. He quickly lunged forward and started frantically searching for something in the storage lockers in the cockpit. He finally found what he was searching for. A Heckler & Koch P30, 90mm handgun. Post 9/11, commercial airlines made it mandatory for pilots to carry firearms onboard. He shoved the gun in his trouser’s waistband and pocketed the ammo.
Mohit looked out of the cockpit and caught Emilie’s eyes and shook his head ever so slightly as he informed her about the worst. The Bihari stopped shouting at the Bengali businessman and turned to see Mohit jump out of the cockpit and onto solid ground.
‘What happened?’ The Bihari inquired.
‘Both the pilots are dead. One of them was already dead and the other one bled to death. Distress signal has been sent. Search party should be reaching us soon’ Mohit lied.
‘My name is Pawan’, The Bihari said, as awkward silence settled amongst the strangers meeting under strange circumstances. Mohit nodded in acknowledgement and introduced Emilie. Mohit surveyed the scene again, the Punjabi wife was still standing in shock and the Bengali businessman was still busy urging his phone to pick up reception.
‘We should help others. I found some first aid and water’, Mohit suggested to nobody in particular as he started walking towards the broken metallic bird.

ETA for the search party to reach the crash site:  54 hours.

*Chapter 2*
After water and first aid was administered to whoever needed, which was every survivor of Flight 3G 742, Mohit approached the Bengali businessman who was still engaged in a heated conversation with his phone.
‘You want me to look at that?’ Mohit inquired as he pointed at the bleeding gash on the Bengali businessman’s arm.
‘Yes, please!’ The Bengali businessman replied curtly as he raised his injured arm.
‘My name is Mohit…’ He let the incomplete sentence hang in the air awkwardly as he tore the bloodied sleeve of the man’s shirt and washed it with a little bit of water.
‘Are you a doctor or something?’ The man asked in his heavy accented Hindi.
‘No. I am a wildlife photographer. The job is a lot more dangerous than it is made to look. I learned first aid when I was in Africa’ Mohit lied, again, as he clinically wrapped gauze around the man’s arm.
‘Sorry! My name is Shobojit Sarkar. I am not usually this rude, but I really needed to get in touch with my wife. My wife… She is expecting our baby and I had to go on this stupid work thing. They said I could be back in Delhi and be by my wife’s side in a couple of hours. They said it was important for me, if I wanted that promotion. After eight long years my wife is finally pregnant with our baby and I can’t be with her. I am such a bad husband. I am such a bad person.’ Shobojit retold his story, before breaking down. Mohit stared at the man sobbing in front of him like a child whose favorite toy just broke, he didn’t know what to do or say. He waited as he saw Shobojit wiping away the tears and composing himself.
‘I just want to see my wife and my baby’, Shobojit whimpered, as he held back the deluge of emotions which were threatening to flood his system again.
‘And you will. Help us with the others. Pretty sure people are already on their way to rescue us.’ Mohit consoled him with just a hint of hesitancy. The fact that Mohit couldn’t say this with a certain amount of conviction worried Shobojit, but he chose to ignore it.
The sun was fast setting behind the tall trees. Night would soon set in and along with it brings its own share of danger and horror of the unknown. As the mercury fell, the survivors of the ill-fated flight 3G 742 huddled closer. Pawan and Shobojit had arrived at an unspoken truce after Mohit had told Pawan and Emilie what he had heard.
After making sure that everybody’s injuries were tended to, Mohit excused himself and tried searching for his backpack amidst the strewn luggage in and around the crash site. The people were already treating Mohit as the go to guy, and it was beginning to annoy Mohit. Helping people was not Mohit’s profession. Making money was.
The rest of the survivors gathered together in a circle, some stood, while some sat on the wild growth, unaware of what was crawling amidst them. They were getting introduced to each other.
‘My name is Pawan and I was going back after visiting my sister. I had to take the flight because she is married into a rather posh family and she had insisted that I take the return flight instead of going by train to let her new family know that we do have some class.’ Pawan introduced himself in regional accented Hindi, as Shobojit translated what Pawan was saying to Emilie.
‘My name is Emilie. I am French. I am a teacher. I was traveling to Raipur to attend my friend’s wedding’, Shobojit translated this back to Pawan.
‘My name is Shobojit. I am soon going to be a father.’ Is all Shobojit managed to say. First in Hindi and then in English for Emilie’s sake.
‘My name is Simran…’ The Punjabi wife replied, before breaking down again, tears refused to venture out of their ducts to stain the already stained pretty face.
‘My name is Os-sss-wald. I am a sss-software engineer’, added the shy Malayali man, before quickly shutting up, embarrassed by his lisp. 
‘My name is Ram Prakash. I was going to see my grandkids for the very first time’, the septuagenarian mumbled heart brokenly.
‘And my name is Mohit’, Mohit said as he cut the old man’s sad story short before he continued, ‘The sun is setting and we are running short on water and we are going to need wood to make fire to keep the wild animals away, if there are any in this part of the world.’
‘I will go collect some firewood’, Pawan volunteered.
‘Shobojit, please go with Pawan. It is best if we don’t venture out alone without knowing what is out there. Emilie and Simran can help Ram Prakash sir in sorting out all the luggage and using whatever we can to make temporary beds. Oswald right?’ Mohit inquired as he looked at the confused Malayali man.
‘Yes?’ Oswald wasn’t sure why he replied with a question.
‘You come with me, we can scout the area for any nearby water sources’.
Mohit gave final instructions to Pawan and Shobojit as to the kind of material they required which would be most conducive to lighting a bonfire. And he instructed Emilie as to what would serve as good materials for beds and the arrangement to make for it, making it safe for all. He also suggested that they come back in an hour’s time and then decide on when and who will stand guard throughout the night.
‘If you sense any danger, leave everything and make a run and try coming back here’ Mohit instructed just as the four of them left.
Mohit, Oswald, Pawan and Shobojit headed into the woods, before splitting into groups of two and going in opposite directions.

Half an hour had passed and Pawan and Shobojit had gathered quite a pile of dry twigs and other assorted foliage while chatting away about the life they had so abruptly left behind, and what awaited them when they made it back. Pawan noted the logistical difficulty in carrying back their entire haul, back to the makeshift camp site. He offered that he make multiple trips since Shobojit was injured and had use only for one of his arms. While he was gone, Shobojit could gather some more wood. Shobojit agreed.

It had been more than forty minutes, since Oswald and Mohit had separated from the northie and the Bengali man. Oswald was following Mohit since he seemed to know what they needed to do, and in which direction to go. But Oswald was beginning to feel that they were moving around in circles. However, he chose not to mention his concern to Mohit. Night was falling fast and Oswald was beginning to keep pace with Mohit, who seemed to be following some sort of a strange trail, like he knew this place. Before Oswald knew, he lost sight of Mohit.

After almost thirty minutes, the women along with the muted assistance from the old man had managed to arrange seat cushions as improvised beds to rest. Emilie took inventory of the remaining water left and looked for food in the pantry. There wasn’t much. Simran noticed the same.
‘I hope Mohit can find some water, I think we can get away without eating for a night. People are searching for us as we speak. This is just for the night.’ Emilie spoke to console and instill confidence in herself than her newly found friends.
‘I go. Find something to eat.’ Simran offered.
‘Non! Non! Mohit said to stay with others.’
‘It’s okay. I find food. Worry not. I make good salad ji’, Simran offered again, this time with a big smile. She was beginning to find her old spring in her step as she put the afternoon’s happenings behind her.
‘I will go with her’, Ram Prakash offered.
‘Haan! See… Papaji also coming with me. You stay here. You make bed comfortable’, Simran’s smile widened as she found humor in instructing a fair skinned girl.
‘Some food sure wouldn’t hurt’ Emile replied, as she returned Simran’s smile.

Fifteen minutes later, the silence of the night was shredded with a blood curdling scream.
‘Please! Don’t!’ She pleaded feebly. The raised hands carrying the big boulder came crashing down on the bleeding temples of the poor victim.
And then there remained six.

ETA for the search party to reach the crash site: 51 hours.

*Chapter 3*
They all stared at each other in silence as they sat around the fire. Each one lost in their own thoughts, fearing the worst. Simran, the fit Punjabi wife, was missing from their semi-circle.
          ‘So what exactly happened?’ Mohit inquired.
‘I was having trouble breathing. So she told me to sit and take some rest and she will go and find something to eat.’
‘Then what happened?’
‘She told me that she won’t be long. She said she found something which looked like wild spinach’
Nobody said anything, as they waited for Ram Prakash to continue with his narration.
‘I waited, and then I started to get worried as she didn’t come back… And then…’
‘Then what?’
‘I heard her scream… I tried to run to where I thought her scream came from… I called out her name. I didn’t hear anything back. So I called her name some more. Then I got really worried, and I rushed back here.’ Ram Prakash finished his narrative.
‘So we don’t know what really happened to her.’ Oswald stated the obvious.
‘Maybe there are lions and bears in this jungle.’ Pawan offered a possible explanation. The heavy shroud of silence which covered the motley group suffocated Pawan. 
 ‘I never should have allowed her to go.’ Emilie said, stifling a sob as she rocked back and forth with guilt, refusing the cold tin foil with the pre – packaged food efficiently prepared by Taj – SATS for the passengers of Flight 3G 742. Ram Prakash passed the food to Mohit, who hungrily devoured the contents.
          ‘Maybe it was the naxals.’ Shobojit offered a counter theory.
‘There are a lot of them in jungles.’ Shobojit added.
Mohit remained silent, as the group looked at him eagerly for some sort of an explanation as he ate his food.
‘We don’t know what happened to Simran, whatever is out there, it is dangerous. It could be the naxals, it could be a wild animal. We don’t know. What we do know is that we have to survive the night and wait for day break and see… For all we know, we may not be far away from a village or a highway.’ Mohit gave his two cents and tried educating the group on their chances of survival, as he noisily licked his fingers.
‘What? What does that mean?’ Emilie questioned, as she saw newly formed frowns on the already worried four faces.
‘Nothing. We sleep now.’ Mohit replied, as he tried to dismiss Emilie’s questioning glance.
‘NO! YOU TELL ME! I WANT TO KNOW!’ Emilie screamed, as the anger and frustration poured out.

The feeling of being the odd person out, of being an alien, and being treated like a pariah due to the color of her skin and her foreign tongue overwhelmed her. These feelings had been festering in Emilie’s conscience from the day she stepped out of immigration and met the driver which the hotel, her friend had booked to stay had been kind enough to send. She had been forewarned by her partner, Susan.
Susan and Emilie had been fighting for weeks, Susan was not keen on Emilie going to India on her own. She had claimed that it was not safe for anybody. Emilie had initially laughed at the concerns which Susan had, and attributed them to Susan being insecure about their relationship. Emilie and Susan had been dating each other since college, and Emilie remembered Susan was never the insecure kinds. But when Emilie had slept with some guy at a college party and Susan had got wind of it, they decided to end things.
But that is the thing with love, especially when it involves two emotionally volatile people, the world and life can do their best to keep them far apart but they always collide like space-time singularity. They made promises which lovers make, and the following week after the incident which would never be spoken about, they moved into a one bedroom studio apartment. Just before Susan hugged Emilie goodbye at the airport, she repeated and cautioned Emilie about the dangers. Emilie smiled patronizingly and kissed Susan shut. As Emilie went past the security gates, Susan shouted out her undying love. Emilie smiled, and held back tears which were threatening to break free from her eyes.
‘Don’t drink water from outside. Carry your own mineral water. Don’t eat anything from any place which Indians call as being good and tasty. You will get the trots. I know your immune system and I don’t want you falling sick when I am not there to take care of you. Don’t look at people in the eye, especially men. I read an article online that Indian men are real pigs, just making eye contact with them gives them the idea that you want to have sex with them. I am worried Emilie.’ Susan looked pleadingly as she requested.
‘You are not serious? Are you?’ Emilie questioned, as she pushed Susan’s hair back away from her pretty face, as they lay spooning each other on the solitary bed. As Susan continued, Emilie wondered what most people in love wonder, why did Susan love her so much? Emilie didn’t consider herself to be a good looker, she wasn’t as bright or talented like Susan. She had pestered Susan on many an occasion seeking answers to these very questions and they had always ended up making sweet, slow, tender love. She missed Susan now more than ever.

‘Tell me! I want to know… Please.’ Emilie mumbled through the tears streaming down her face, as Mohit got up and brushed past to set up a perimeter around their ersatz encampment. He was beginning to lose his cool with the others and their barefaced fear and dependence on him. As Mohit broke sturdy and low hanging branches from a nearby tree and stuck them in the ground to mark some sort of a perimeter, the others in the group grappled with the problem of a woman indulging in the luxury of giving vent to her emotions. They did not know how to handle a weeping emotionally vulnerable woman amidst them. They felt like they should do something to console the woman crying in pain and anguish, but they didn’t know what to do, they didn’t know their helplessness was an attribute of them being men or them being Indian men. Finally Shobojit kept the tin foil with the food down and translated whatever Mohit had told the rest of them.
‘We will take turns to keep watch throughout the night. We will each stand guard for three hours each. That way all of us can get enough sleep. Since Emilie is the only woman in the group, she doesn’t have to stand watch. Ram Prakash sir can have the first watch. Pawan can have the second watch, I will have the third watch and…’ Mohit spoke as he looked at his wrist watch. The time was ten to nine. He then looked at Shobojit and Oswald as he wondered who would be the most alert in the wee hours of the morning. He wasn’t sure why he preferred the old man to stand guard than Shobojit. But something about that Bengali man made Mohit distrust him. He wasn’t sure if it was Shobojit’s callous behaviour in the morning or the fact that he didn’t really buy his story of a pregnant wife back home.
‘I will take the final watch.’ Oswald volunteered.
‘Okay! That settles it then. Whoever is standing guard is also responsible for keeping the fire going throughout the night. Good night!’ Mohit said, as he lay down on the cushions and ripped the plastic cover which contained the blue blankets bearing the airline’s logo embossed on its corners. He turned on his side, facing the group, the gun still stuck in the back of the waistband of his trousers, covered himself with the blanket and soon fell asleep. The rest of them except Ram Prakash followed suit as they tore through the plastic wrapping around the blankets which Emilie and Simran had found buried under a pile of hand bags.

    ETA for the search party to reach the crash site: 48 hours.

*Chapter 4*
The allotted three hours passed quickly as the waning crescent of the moon traversed through the sky. Ram Prakash whispered Pawan’s name as he tried to wake him up while not disturbing the others. But Pawan was ensconced deeply in the safe arms of a dreamless sleep. Ram Prakash poked him with the stick he had been using to stoke the fire, he was feeling sleepy, and hoped that Pawan would wake up soon. He was not young enough to stay awake or was he feeling generous enough to take another man’s shift. After much prodding and name whispering, Pawan woke with a grunt.
Pawan thanked Ram Prakash and sat down with his knees pulled close to his chest. He looked at the gold plated watch and wished the three hours would fly by as he poked at the fire with the stick handed over to him by the old man. He wondered if his sister was being treated right by her in-laws. He was sure that the debt he had accumulated to get his sister married would not get cleared for a long, long time.
The moon continued its lonely journey across the sky as Pawan slapped himself from time to time, buying him just enough time to have his head roll forward towards his knees.
Pawan was glad when his three hours passed by without any trouble. He did feel slightly guilty that he spent half the time sleeping than watching guard, but he didn’t care about it, especially now that his time was over and it was Mohit’s turn. Pawan whispered Mohit’s name as he tried shaking him awake. He didn’t have to try hard. Mohit was a light sleeper. He woke up with a start and pushed his shirt down over his flat stomach, but Mohit was just slow enough for Pawan’s alert eyes to catch a glimpse of the gun tucked behind Mohit. Pawan made a mental note to bring it up in the morning, when everybody was awake. He wasn’t sure as to how Mohit had managed to procure a gun, but the thought disturbed him. The exhaustion of a long and an emotional draining day and incomplete sleep soon had Pawan pulling the blanket over his chest and he slipped into deep slumber.
Mohit noted there was still another hour left before his shift ended. He had finished dissembling and reassembling the Heckler & Koch P30, 90mm handgun with deadly precision and silence. He tucked it back into the waistband of his pants.
He hoped he didn’t face a situation where he would have to use the weapon. It would prove counterproductive to his need to lay low. It would not be good for him if Irwin Chartoff got to know about his whereabouts, especially after he had stolen from his ex-boss. Mohit had been planning to make a run with the money for the longest time. The crash was the sweetest serendipitous thing to have happened to him. He reasoned that it would take the rescue search party at least a day to ascertain the location of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight’s black box, probably another day after that, for them to find the remaining wreckage. He just had to stay alive and keep the stash of money which he had bound together as books close to him. The gun would come in handy. He had managed to lose Oswald just long enough for him to bury the bag. Oswald had not noticed the absence of the bag when he met him again. He was too scared by that scream. He wasn’t sure what had killed Simran. He didn’t want to think about it as he put that thread of thought on the backburner.
The thrill and rush of the possibility of leading a new life excited Mohit. He looked at the sleeping face of Emilie and wondered when he would get a chance to have his way with her. He knew he was going to have a fun time with her. Mohit stood up and ventured outside the perimeter he had set up to answer nature’s call. Guided by the light offered from fire, he found a tree to relieve himself.
Midstream, Mohit heard the unmistakable crunch of a dry twig breaking, he turned around with the ferocity of a mercenary, the gun halfcocked and pointed menacingly at the intruder.
‘You? What are you doing awake?’ Mohit inquired.
‘Couldn’t sleep and I too had to pee. I saw you here and thought it would be safer if there was somebody close by. ’
‘Go on then. You don’t have to wait for me to tell you.’ Mohit replied curtly as he tucked the gun back into his pants.
‘Where did you get the gun?’
‘That is none of your business!’ Mohit replied, as he zipped his pants back up. Mohit’s shirt got caught in the zip, and as he wrestled with the shirt and the zip in the dark, one of the picket fences which Mohit had stuck as the perimeter, came crushing down on the back of his skull. The force with which Mohit was struck broke his parietal and occipital bones in his skull. Death was quick and instant.
And then there remained five. 
              ETA for the search party to reach the crash site: 42 hours.

*Chapter 5*
A few burning embers remained as proof of the once roaring fire. As daylight broke through the horizons and the moon fought eternal battle with the cavalry of first rays of the sun valiantly, life began to wake up from its sleep.
          Shobojit woke up with a start and suddenly realized that his nightmare was in fact his reality. He saw Oswald sleeping noisily and looked at his watch. It was quarter past five. His body ached in places he didn’t know if he should continue calling them his own.
‘Wake up!’ Shobojit commanded Oswald, which the malayali man blatantly ignored and turned over in defiance.
WAKE UP!’ Shobojit yelled again, as he violently tried to kick start Oswald awake from his inertia.
‘Ammey!’ Oswald cried out as he regressed to his five year old, pleading to his mother to let him sleep for five minutes more.
The exchange between Shobojit and Oswald also stirred awake the rest of the group as they rubbed their sleep away from their torpor crusted eyes. They slowly managed to get up on their feet and tried stretching their aching bodies as they moaned and groaned.
‘Why didn’t you stay up and stand guard?’ Shobojit quizzed Oswald, as Oswald twisted his hips and heard the sound of nuts being cracked from his back.
‘Nobody woke me up!’ Oswald defended himself.
‘Where is Mohit?’ Ram Prakash inquired, as he folded his blanket.
‘I woke him up at the end of my shift’, Pawan answered Ram Prakash’s question and let people know that he did his bit as he frowned at Oswald. He still felt sheepishly guilty that he had slept through most of his watch but didn’t share that bit of information with the others. He wondered if he should ask Mohit about the gun in private or in the presence of others. He decided that there was still time for him to make up his mind on how to proceed and let the matter rest.
‘Maybe he has gone to find water or something. We are almost out of it.’ Emilie said, as she pointed to her stash of empty water bottles. 
‘What should we do now?’ Pawan questioned, nobody answered.
‘Can you come with me? I need to go to the bathroom.’ Emilie requested Shobojit, who blushed a little at the request.
Shobojit stood and walked behind Emilie as they ventured a little distance away from the rest of them and then turned his back, allowing the requisite privacy Emilie needed as she tended to nature’s call. Shobojit wondered if he could find something to brush his teeth with, he could feel the slimy pale white plaque coating his teeth. He cupped his hands in front of his face and blew into it and stopped himself from chucking his dinner out at the vile bad breath which he recognized to be his own. As he lost himself in thoughts about his poor dental hygiene, he heard Emilie scream.
Emilie’s scream made the group run towards where she stood rooted. Mohit lay on the pebbled moss covered grassy floor, on his face. His hair matted with coagulated blood serving breakfast to all sorts of flies and creepy crawlies. Pawan joined Shobojit, who was kneeling next to what definitely seemed like a dead body. Pawan ran his hands on Mohit’s pants and back before he rolled him around. Mohit’s face was swollen from the blow to the back of the head. Rigor mortis had set in and his face was beginning to make way to go past the point of recognition. The other’s gasped collectively as they cast their eyes on the man who seemed to know what he was doing. Pawan continued patting down Mohit’s body with increasing worry.
‘This was not done by a wild animal.’ Oswald spoke, as he tried to look away from the body.
‘It is not there.’ Pawan worriedly exclaimed, as he suspiciously eyed the rest of the group. He was growing increasingly scared as realization set in that the killer was one of them. 
‘Maybe Shobojit was right. Maybe there are naxals in this area.’ Oswald continued as he ignored Pawan’s trembling voice.
‘What is not there?’ Ram Prakash inquired curiously, as Emilie still stood rooted to her ground, wetness permeating the insides of her dress from the involuntary loss of control over her bladder.
‘The gun!’ Pawan cried, as he cautiously stepped away from the rest of the group.
‘Gun?’ Ram Prakash and Oswald chorused.
‘Gun? What gun?’ Emilie questioned, as she tried understanding and assimilating what was being spoken in the alien language.
‘Yes! I know what I saw. Mohit had a gun tucked in the back of his pockets. I saw it last night when he woke me up. One of you killed him. One of you is the murderer!’ Emilie was not understanding anything what Pawan spoke, but she seemed to sense the accusation leveled at them. Oswald, Emilie and Ram Prakash huddled closer as Shobojit slowly stood up from his kneeling position and stepped away from Pawan and Mohit’s lifeless body. Each of them processed this new gigabyte of information.

ETA for the search party to reach the crash site: 37 hours.

*Chapter 6*
The five of them stood staring at each other as they furiously tried working out the mystery of who the wolf was in sheep’s clothing. What was the killer’s motive.
Oswald was a quiet and shy software geek with a lisp. What the others didn’t know was that he had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer of the liver. Pawan sure seemed like the kind who would do anything to make sure his sister lead a happy married life and was not troubled by her demanding in-laws. If there are no survivors, the government of India would award a much larger amount of compensation money to the family of the deceased. Pawan would surely benefit from it. Was Emilie’s xenophobia manifesting in uncalled for violence? Shobojit’s turn from being a surly man involved in a love – hate relationship with his mobile phone to being a willing participant in most of the group’s activities was worrying. Ram Prakash was too old and too frail to carry out any act of physical violence. But he was also the only one close to Simran.
The group ran through the permutations and combinations with all the factors they could think about under intense pressure.
‘Are you talking about this?’ Ram Prakash, the old septuagenarian, took a step back as he reached behind his back and pulled out the gun.
‘Wha?’ Oswald couldn’t help stop himself from letting out the reflexive question which escaped through his lips.
‘All of you on your knees and put your hands behind your head. NOW!’ Ram Prakash barked the urgency, as he watched people falling down on their knees as he motioned them with the barrel going up and down ever so slightly.
Pawan, being the furthest away from the gun and the rest of them tried making a run. He didn’t manage to go very far before the loud bang from the Heckler & Koch sent the birds flying from their safe vantage point and knocked Pawan off his feet. The hot slug of lead entered Pawan from the back of his skull and exited through his left eye. The mushy brain matter didn’t do much to stop the course of the determined lead bullet. The bullet didn’t just enter Pawan and do a tango through his brain, but it also instilled the fear of absolute death in the others. They knew that running away or fighting the old man was going to be futile. Shobojit shivered, Emilie whimpered and Oswald found his tongue tied as fear collectively gripped them in a fatal death grip.
Questions raced through the minds of the four, as they locked their fingers behind their heads. Their eyes firmly locked onto the ground in front of them.
‘Why?’ Shobojit found the courage to speak and ask Ram Prakash the loaded question, in Hindi, as he raised his eyes and looked pleadingly for mercy at the old man. The question made the other two look up at the man wielding the power on their destiny and the gun.
‘I was going to tell you that anyway. It is the least I can do for you’, He replied in English as he cocked a smirk which dripped with every bit of evil and senility the old man found coursing through his veins.
‘We shouldn’t be alive. When the plane crashed, we were all destined to die. By staying alive, we are cheating death. We are defying the will of the almighty. We are challenging God.’
‘You are mad!’ Oswald screamed, before breaking down into a fit of sobs as his mind raced towards all the things he still wanted to do. He had always kept his head down and done all the things his parents had asked him do. He didn’t go out and play with his friends after school, he went for tuitions. From a convent school, he graduated to the premier engineering institution. All through college he slogged through countless hours of work and assignments as he strived to be the best. He declined all offers of drinking and smoking. He was the first in their batch to be placed in the coveted day zero placements. For the next five years, he had climbed through the ranks of corporate hierarchy, putting in excess of 120 hours of work every week. Including Sundays. So when the doctor had informed him with cold, clinical aplomb that he had stage IV cancer of the liver, he found himself walking out of the doctor’s office in a daze. He didn’t know how to break the news to his parents. He didn’t know what he had done to account for thirty years of his life. He didn’t have much time, but he was hell bent on soaking every single experience which life had to offer on the limited time period he had.
Before Oswald had the chance to resign himself to his terminal fate, the Heckler & Koch ended things for him. Abruptly.
Shobojit and Emilie closed their eyes reflexively as blood and brain matter sprayed over their eyes.
‘One shouldn’t interfere with the bigger scheme of things. This is how things are supposed to end’ Ram Prakash prophetically proclaimed, before he raised his gun again and fired twice. As Shobojit shut his eyes tightly, he imagined a new born baby boy crying loudly and yelling ‘Papa!’
‘I did what you wanted me to do.’ Ram Prakash spoke with finality to the apparition of a dark man dressed in black and gold riding a buffalo as he raised the gun for the last time and pulled the trigger.

The director yelled, ‘CUT! And that is a wrap!’
Loud cheering went around the makeshift set the production crew had set up in the outskirts of Bombay, as the actors woke up giggling and backslapping each other.

Flight 3G 742 released amidst much fanfare on Friday the 13th, May 2011. It sank at the box office without a trace.

********THE END*********

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