Ziel

“And that concludes today’s chapter on the classification of life forms. Everyone, please remember to do your homew-” Rrrrriiiiiing Ah, that sweet, sweet moment when the bell rings and you get to run out of the classroom, dash to your particular school van and await the journey that takes you home in time for your favourite animated show about capturing cute furry creatures in small balls. “Damn…” he said, “They rush out faster than a pack of stampeding Coelurosaurs.” The giggle that followed the remark enlightened Professor Murali to the fact that there was, in fact, one Coelurosaur still seated in the room. “What? You need me to give you a special invite, Mythili?” he said, “School’s over. Get going or you’ll miss your van.” Mythili looked up from her book and said, “Urgh… I’m not done reading this yet.” Professor Murali’s eyes scanned the pages of the book from where he was standing. “Aren’t you a little too young to be reading Stephen Jay Gould?” he asked. Mythili looked up in surprise. “How did you do that?!” she asked while closing the book and revealing its cover page. “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.” he read, “There are some books in the school library that I’ve read religiously… this is one of those books.” Another giggle. “Religiously.” she said, “Pretty ironic, coming from you, sir.” Another ring of the bell. “Go on now!” he said in a hurry, “You really will miss your van.” Her vision fell to the floor, the expression on her face falling along with it. “Aaah, I hate my van!” she said while walking out of the classroom, “Everyone makes so much noise. I can’t read anything.”

The ride home was unimportant. She could not read the book. To be unable to read a book because of the noise around you is sad… but to be unable to sit near the window in such a situation is even sadder. You cannot stare off into the blurry, poorly written, shoddily directed movie of buildings and trees that zip past you as the seat sends into your posterior, the force of every obstacle, large and small, that the wheels of the van encounter on the typical Bengaluru road. Instead, you are forced to stare down at the bags lying on the floor of the van and the occasional, blasphemous feet resting on top of them. No one talks to you. You are not interested in their topics of conversation. The latest hit by Selena Gomez holds no importance to you. All you want to do is go back to the wonderful world you were painting for yourself using that book as your paint brush and your imagination as your paint. Half an hour spent on a sad, unimportant journey.

She came home to peace and quiet. Dad wasn’t home yet and mom was probably in the kitchen, muttering something about how she had become a maidservant to everyone in the building. She stealthily removed her shoes and snuck into her room. “Back to Stephen then…” she said to herself as she took out the book and prepared to go back to where she was half an hour ago. But it was not to be. Another bell interrupted her. The doorbell, this time. “Strange…” she thought to herself, “Dad generally never comes home this early…” and then she heard a familiar voice that almost made her jump. “Aaah, it’s so nice to see you again, madam.” the old man said, “I hope you are all doing well.” She could hear her mother bringing him a cup of tea and saying, “Oh we are all doing very well, thanks to your blessings, sir.” Disgusting. Revolting. Preposterous. Intolerable. Insufferable. The list of words goes on and gets more colourful once we get to the South Indian swear words. I hope I have already made myself clear as to how much Mythili hated Mr. Narasimha. Everyone has the one thing in their life… the one thing they think off when they go to bed on a bad night and go, “God… please make this disappear… It’s the only thing I’ll ever ask you!” Mr. Narasimha was that thing.

She was not sure exactly what he was to her family. A distant relative? A friend of the family? Who knew? But she knew one thing for sure. He was the locust to her crop. He was the grinch to her Christmas. He was the negative force that balanced out literally everything that was good in her life. “And how is your little girl? I trust that she’s studying well and keeping her grades high?” There it was. She wanted to shout, “MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS OLD MAN!!!” but she knew that would compromise her location. So, she decided to stay hidden for now. “Ah, I think she’s already here.” her mom said, “I see her shoes there.” Mythili facepalmed. “That woman will be the death of me…” she though. “You THINK she’s here?” Mr. Narasimha said in that signature disapproving tone of his, “That is not good, madam. A mother must always know where her daughter is… in times like these, it’s very easy to lose your children to the evils of the world.” If you were next to Mythili, you would have probably heard the sound as her patience snapped.

Still, she wanted to remain there for as long as possible. She would only have to come out of the room if her mom called out her name. “Aah…” her mom said, “I’m afraid I’ve already lost her to one evil… She keeps insisting that she wants to become a – what was that? A palaeontologist. Sir, could you please explain to her that digging up old dinosaur bones won’t feed her or fetch her a groom?” Stephen Jay Gould was lying on her bed, destined to be ignored till this nuisance went away. “Mythili, please come and see who has come, dear!” her mom said using her signature come-here-now-or-you’ll-be-in-trouble voice. That was the signal. She had to surrender and come out of her room. “Hello, dear…” he said. He could see the hate on her face. It had almost become a tangible entity. She did not say anything. “Mythili…” her mom said, “What do you say to someone when you meet them? Didn’t Narasimha uncle teach you that long ago?” She forced a fake smile and managed a somewhat peaceful, “Hi uncle. How are you?”

The next few minutes are probably repressed memories. Something about Indian culture and how a woman should be in a proper society. “Now look here.” he said, “Don’t trouble your parents with all this nonsense. They have raised you and you should be grateful to them for that. Listen to them. Your mom tells me your biology marks are very high. You should become a doctor. That is the best thing. You can earn a lot of money. That is all I have to say. Now see… even after all this, if you still want to become a… dinosaur digger, you should get married. After that, if your husband can afford to let you follow your fantasies, you will have your mother’s blessings even if you do it.” Blah blah blah blah. She nodded and smiled and said, “Goodbye uncle!” when he went away.

That night, as she lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling, she thought about professor Murali’s’ words to her. That one time, long ago… “You must have a ziel in life!” He had said. She had nodded and said, “I’m a very enthusiastic girl. I have zeal.” He had laughed and replied, “Not that zeal. I mean, z-i-e-l.” She had frowned and asked, “What does that Ziel mean?” It was German for “aim”. “Have an aim in life and never let go of it. Never back down. Fight for it. Many people may tell you that it’s okay for you to not have any aim in life because you’re a girl. In fact, they may even tell you that that IS the proper thing to do. But I disagree. I think you should have an aim in life ESPECIALLY because you are a girl. So, Mythili… What is your ziel in life?” She recalled being at a loss for words. Back then, she did not know what she wanted to be. But all those years leading up to high school had not been in vain. She had discovered her aim. Palaeontology. That was the field for her.

She wished she could just break off all the invisible shackles that kept her from moving her hands. How is an artist supposed to make a painting if she can’t move her brush? All these colours were flying around her. All these brushes were embedded in her hair. All she could do was wear them like ornaments. She was not allowed to give them any more meaning than that. She realised that, one day, she too would be just another ornament in somebody’s home. A trophy sitting on the man’s trophy case right next to his engineering marks card and probably the even bigger trophy: his penis. Being born with one was his biggest achievement, after all. Talking about penises… She wondered what a penis would be like. All the other girls were giggling and talking about “porn” in secret and making jokes about sex and penises and breasts. She was totally out of the loop. But that was always the case when it came to what her peers were into. And so, with thoughts of penises, paintings and brushes, she fell into yet another painting… That painting which one can only see with their eyes closed and their senses shut off from the world… Stephen Jay Gould was nowhere to be seen.

The alarm on her phone rang. Without even opening her eyes, she reached for it, swiped the unlock pattern and switched off the annoying jingle. She then woke up and adjusted her shirt. Her eyes fell on a newspaper that had somehow found its way to her bed room’s floor. “Renowned Palaeontologist Jack Horner to speak at Town Hall this Sunday” ran the headlines. She instantly knew what she had to do. She had only a narrow window of opportunity. She dragged her body, which had still not switched on completely, to the hall. “Dad! Dad! Jack Horner is coming to Town Hall! He’s gonna speak about the future of Palaeontology in India! Can I go? Please please please please!!!” She said as fast as her tongue could twist. “Oh shut up and let him leave for work in peace!” Her mom shouted from the kitchen. “Ah, don’t listen to your mom.” He whispered to her, “She’s just angry about a few things that happened in her school.” Mythili smiled. No matter what happened, she could always depend on this one guy to get her what she wanted. “Oh, um!” He said out loud so that it could be heard by all life forms in the house, “Yes Mythili. You may go and attend his talk. Sunday, right? I’ll take you there myself.” And like that, Santa had to go to the North Pole. If he had spent any more time at his house, Rudolph would have asked him for twice the amount of money it takes for a reindeer sleigh to take you from Koramangala to Mayo Hall.

She was happy. There was still hope, after all. As she walked to her usual stop, she realised that the street was unusually empty. There were no people. There were no moving vehicles on the roads. She then looked at her watch and saw that it had stopped working. But more terrifying revelations were yet to come. Life hits you with its strangest cards just when you think everything is normal. When she had looked down at her watch she realised that her breasts were suspiciously larger than usual. This trail of observations lead her to check herself through the image reflected off a nearby glass building. “What in the world…” She thought, “THAT IS NOT ME!” Clearly, the woman who stood there was taller than the old Mythili. “How the hell does my school uniform still fit me?!” She thought. Then it hit her. This wasn’t her old school uniform. This one was new. It had been tailored to fit her new body. She heard a strange sound. It was like a rapid beating of wings. She looked up to see a helicopter taking off. “Hey!” She shouted, “HEYYYY!!! I’m down he-” she stopped when she saw something else in the sky. Her eyes widened. It was large. Long tail. Wide wings. “Impossible!” She said out loud, “A pterodactyl!” Her lips remained parted for a few more seconds as an indication of her amazement. Her first reaction to this was, “I’m dreaming! This is just a dream. It’s clearly something my brain has come up with to deal with my dinosaur obsession!” She then felt something hit her from behind, sending her face-first to the ground. She tried to get up but realised that there was something heavy pinning her down. She turned her head and strained her eyes to see what it was. She immediately regretted it.

The sickle-shaped talon on the middle toe was a dead giveaway. “Velociraptor…” She thought, “This is turning into a nightmare…” She struggled under its unnatural strength, trying desperately to escape. “Stop struggling, idiot!” She found herself thinking, “It’s a freaking velociraptor! This thing doesn’t even have to break a sweat if it wanted to outrun you!” Something tugged at her and she found herself being turned over. She was on her back now. She could see her predator in all its terrifying glory. Three toes on each foot. The signature large, sickle-shaped talon on the middle toes. It was big. Too big for a velociraptor. “This is definitely a dream!” She thought, “Actual velociraptors aren’t supposed to be bigger than a turkey. And they’re supposed to have feathers! This one looks like some movie knock off…” She then recalled something someone had told her. “You’re the kind of girl who dies first in horror movies. You’ve got a ghost staring you in the face you’re busy making a scientific analysis of it instead of running!”

It was hopeless. There was no point in trying to run. They weren’t called velociraptors for nothing. The morning sun glistened off its scaly skin. It was looking at her like a chicken looking at a worm. Bobbing its head, vaguely contemplating whatever its minimal brainpower allowed. Mythili’s mind had stopped racing. It was only a matter of time before it went for the kill. The leg moved, bringing its talon to Mythili’s neck. “Here it comes…” She thought. She was obviously scared. But it wasn’t seen on her face. She could feel the sharpness slowly sinking into her skin. It was a strange feeling. At that place on her neck, she was alive. She was more alive there than anywhere else in her body. She was able to hear her own heartbeat. She could have sworn she could feel her pulsing jugular as it pushed against the talon. A little more and it would give in. But there was no more sinking. The talon was frozen at that level. Just deep enough to make her feel the deathly grip of her survival instincts focused at that point.

The talon moved down her neck. It reached her shirt. She closed her eyes. She didn’t want to see the thing that was going to kill her. She felt a tug at her shirt. She didn’t know what was going on. She suddenly heard a wild shriek that finally broke the invisible damn that was holding back her fear from manifesting in her throat. She screamed and opened her eyes to see the velociraptor fighting off a pterodactyl. She didn’t know what to make of it. For a few seconds, she lay on the ground. Then, reason hit her and she forced herself to her feet. The two dinosaurs were still fighting. She ran as fast as she could. She could feel some kind of force pulling her forward and also downward. She then realised her chest was feeling lose. Looking down, she saw the reason for that. Her shirt button had been torn off. “What the hell is going on here?!” She thought as she ran. She briefly turned her head to see if the raptor was still fighting. Before anything could come into her view, something flew into her face. She screamed, fell and pulled it off her face. It was just a banner. It was torn up and dirty. The holes in it had taken out some of the letters. From what she could make out, she read, “Welcom* to te Foret of izards: Wald vn Eidechse*”

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