TT was sitting cross-legged on his bed, his hands holding an old book on his lap, eyes drifting through the words in grey over soft yellowish paper, and mind engrossed in a story from a land far away. The writing was artistic by the standards of the time of the book’s publishing, such that very few fonts in those days could afford on a word processor. Like all old books, it gave off a smell that held its own memories, and those of the reader.

That’s the thing with old books, he thought. They are like those old records on the cassette that made you feel all nostalgic just by their sensual stimulations — the signature on the front that reminded of the person who gifted it, the wrinkle on a page that was the product of a night with friends spent clumsily, the scent of that bookmark gifted by a special person, which hadn’t grown impotent over the years.

He was dressed in a t-shirt and pajamas, his hair swept to one side and untouched after a hot water bath; his coarse beard ever so slightly visible on his skin; his palms regaining their soft texture during this long holiday. The absence of work made him feel blissfully drowsy most of the time — a cocktail well suited to a leisurely, almost tranquil lifestyle.

The voice of a girl called out from an adjacent room, urging TT to come outside the house for a walk by the lakeside. Their abode took pride in residing on the periphery of a beautiful lake, marking its boundaries for long walks and talks, stargazing and introspection. TT let his lips stretch just fractionally wide in a smile that could hold your gaze for an eternity. He got up from the bed with his book, and proceeded to join Sarah outside.

The two of them walked for a while on the grass along the lake, inhaling the freshness of the morning breeze in silence. TT looked up to the heavens every once in a while, marvelling at the aesthetic pleasures that he was experiencing.

— -

“Kaka”, as he was fondly called, was perched on a branch of a splendid banyan tree overlooking a lake. He was a man in his forties, lately suffering from a couple of trivial disorders, but enthusiastic at heart and precise in his shot. His face was embellished by a thick moustache, protruding below his lips and curving into a gracious semicircle. While his expressions could be daunting, his body boasted chiselled features and his hair looked as young and well nourished as the child he was about to kill from across the lake.

Kaka was a professional assassin. Rumours in his village were that he possessed at least five guns that costed over a lakh, and at least a few different varieties of grenades and sharp knives. As for his present preoccupation, he had been hired by a high profile client to murder a boy deemed unnecessary for the proper functioning of the world. As is with such cases offering a lucrative sum, Kaka complied, and took his weapons and sight for sharpening. Now he was resting attentively with his eyes fixed on his target, his moustache obediently hanging by his jaw; poising for a shot emanating from between the tangles of the trees, hoping to pierce the concerned boy’s chest.

A girl was walking with the young boy by her side. He had one shot to make it count.

— -

It had started drizzling, and TT was all the happier for it. Light raindrops were splashing on the surface of the lake, disturbing the placidity of the water. The sound felt like music to his ears, and he could tell that Sarah enjoyed it as well. She had a wide grin on her face, possibly consumed in bliss and wondering at the harmony that she was in with her surroundings at the moment. It was serene and alive, calm and agile, sanguine and melancholic, all at the same time.

He thought about his parents, who it seemed had drowned themselves in sorrow and had never recovered in the last twenty years. He thought about his sister, a little too concerned about the world and believing that it could be made better for the less represented sections of the society. He thought about his dear friend, who had meant the world to TT for his compassion and understanding.

He thought about Sarah, always so hopeful, always so pure.

— -

Kaka switched onto a higher level of focus, his gaze cutting through the interlaced tree branches, his mind steeling itself to hunt its prey, his fingers clutching the trigger of his gun with a menace that could only belong to a murderer. He focussed; his target was moving.

And then he shot.

— -

TT bent down to touch a beautiful flower sprouting tenderly from the damp soil. He let his fingers caress its petals as he chuckled to himself. Life was good.

It had been twenty years since Sarah had been accidentally shot by a bandit at the exact spot where this flower had decided to bloom, but the ghosts from the past live long. He still imagined her walking beside him, just like on that fateful day. The rains were getting wilder, so he decided to get up and move in.

— -

Kaka didn’t remember where he had heard that idiom. But it couldn’t have been more relevant, as he reflected on what he had been hallucinating about in the last ten minutes.

Two decades earlier, he had been perched on a banyan tree just across the lake. Assigned to kill the boy, he had prepared all too well for the task. But he had missed.

The girl died instantly, while the boy was shell shocked. He turned pale, and couldn’t lift his gaze from a solitary flower sprouting by the lakeside as a downpour began. Kaka hesitated for a moment. He couldn’t afford to waste time missing another shot, and now that his target was stationary, he had no difficulty sizing it up and firing. One shot was decisive.

And now he lay with all the physical comfort bestowed upon him in the very house that the boy used to occupy. His mind though had never been the same. He was always in a state of restlessness, drinking till he could hardly reconcile fact from dreams, imagining the boy, older and yet guileless, and the girl walking beside the lake whenever it rained, horrified by the terror of the heinousness of his own deed.

He just had to pull the trigger once to end all the misery, but he was a little too cowardly to do that. Thinking thus, he poured out another glass of whisky and sat back in his reclining chair.

Graduate Student at Stanford University. Interested in Machine Learning, entrepreneurship and literature.