Neapolitan City

Chapter 1: When My Heart Missed a Beat

A beautiful April sun glistened over the roads of 13, Priamou Street. A man in his late 20's walked over the empty street, the mastics, date plums and black pines throwing their shadows on either side of the road and a soft, cool breeze blowing by. The man had his destination in mind, an old establishment that was getting larger and larger in his sight with every step he took.

Five minutes later, the man now stood at the threshold of the establishment while the name 'Neapolitan City' looked at him from the board with its somber colors of grey and white. The moment he swung open the door of the library, the smell of paper and moisture filled his nostrils with its slight discomfort, something that he had gotten accustomed to over the period of time. He took in the scent with a bit of pleasure as this place had now become a refuge to him. It was a place where he managed to come back to the crossroad of life and existence, a road that he had steered away from since a long, long time ago.

A small smile curled up his lips as he entered the library with the usual spring in his stride, his shoulders stiff, and his Armani suit's last gleams fading away in the shimmering sunlight. He walked towards the librarian, who gave him a soft smile, a mother's caring look in it. The librarian was in her mid-50, plump with strawberry blonde hair and kind blue eyes. Ranveer walked up to her and handed over his book, a tattered copy of 'Death on The Nile', while the librarian accepted it and recorded the entry in her computer.

"As usual Mr. Vaghela, you never fail to return the books on time."

"I know the value of time, Mrs. Brandt." Mrs. Brandt smiled at him but her eyes were questioning.

"But I don't understand, Mr. Vaghela. You are the biggest diamond merchant and business tycoon in Greece. I'm pretty sure that you can afford to make a library in that palace of yours. Yet you come here every week like a form of revered worship, in spite of all of your hectic schedules."

One would have considered this a very bold and nosy question on the part of Mrs. Brandt, but neither did she find it so nor did the said Mr. Vaghela. He only smiled at her drily, his lips curling as though he was not in the habit of smiling regularly.

"Being the trustee of this place, I think I do have the permission to visit as and when I want, Mrs. Brandt."

Mrs. Brandt cocked her eyebrows up at the cheeky reply from the tall, lanky man whose shadow loomed on her table like a towering pillar of power, his face blank and gaunt, his eyes having the shadows of some horrifying past, and his lips that could barely ever form a genuine smile. His smile had the quality of someone who had half a smile plastered on his face forever, unceasing and tireless, but never reaching his eyes.

"You are really one of the finest actors I’ve ever seen, young man." Mrs. Brandt gave him a shrewd look though her tone was not unkind. It held an undercurrent of badly suppressed sarcasm. Mr. Vaghela stared at her confused for a moment before it struck him.

"Well, what can I say? Everyone needs a hobby," said Mr. Vaghela sheepishly, yet with a defiance meeting her eyes.

Mrs. Brandt chuckled at him while the man let a small smile creep up his face. It still didn't reach his eyes. Mrs. Brandt was aware of the look but instead of saying anything further, she opened the drawer of her table and removed another book. Mr. Vaghela's eyes ran up to them and it was as though suddenly, something flared within his eyes - like a spark of fire that spelt the most passionate of emotions of life in that one moment. Mrs. Brandt entered the name of the book in her computer and handed it over to him.

"Here you go, Ranveer. I hope this meets up to your expectations." Ranveer looked surprised for a moment by the use of his first name, but it wore off as soon as it had come. Instead, he now stared at the book absent-mindedly as he stroked the cover page, a distant smile on his face, his mind in some past reverie that was pleasant and had memories worth surviving for. Surviving, yes, not living. Snapping out of his thoughts, he looked at Mrs. Brandt and saw her looking at him curiously.

"I really owe you big time, Martha."

Martha smiled at him, as he thanked her graciously once more before walking towards the shelves in the vast library that was two years older than half a century.

Finding his favorite spot vacant as usual by the end of the eleventh row by the window, Ranveer quickly walked up to the table and sat down, the hard chair far from the comfortable chintz ones back home yet much more preferable to him. It reminded him of days when life was so simple. When love was that simple.

Opening the copy of Wuthering Heights before him, he let his mind drift off in calm oblivion as he usually did. He shut his eyes and took in a deep breath, as though he was about to plunge into a water body, and all of a sudden, he was united once again by the strands of living and surviving. Opening his eyes once again, he stroked the opening phrase of the book while he now felt alive, alive not his own shoes, but in the shoes of a stranger. In these moments of blissful reading, he would no longer be Ranveer Vaghela, business tycoon and the youngest billionaire. No sir. He would be someone else, he would live the life of that person with grace as he left his shabby life behind for the time being.

He would no longer be bound by the constraints of his dreadful past, nor his lifeless present, where each day after the other was just a struggle to survive and feed yourself and wear good clothes. There was no life in it and his success was just a way of ensuring he had a purpose to survive. For he had died long, long ago and what remained of him right now was just a body. Neither soul nor life. He had lost his life to her three years ago, when she decided to walk out on him for good and lost his soul the day she was sentenced to be hanged.

He had wanted to be there with her on the day it happened, for all his power and money had failed before her will to die. She, on the other hand, had jotted down her last wish before being hanged as to never see him ever and Ranveer was barred from all access. No one knew what had happened that day and from what the officials had grudgingly spoken, the deed was done. That day, it would have been good if someone had forcefully hanged him too, but was there any point in it even? He was already dead, dead the moment he found out that she had died.

Ranveer read the book slowly and steadily, drinking in every scenario with greed and genuine interest. An uncanny memory kept floating up his mind, but he kept pushing it behind every time it happened so. As soon as he turned the next page however, his heart missed a beat. Not just a beat - several more. Ranveer looked up from the book, confused, for there was nothing on that particular page to have aroused such a reaction from him, yet there was something. Something about the air of the library which had changed.

His heart started thumping loudly in his chest as though it was clearly beating for the first time, like it had been dead and had forgotten what it was to beat all this time. He felt a strange elation bubble within him while his eyes darted around the library, scanning for the presence that had caused his heart to flutter after what seemed like an eon.

There was something magical and electrifying about the moment that was overhead, the power of which had paralyzed his mind to think anything because it was feeling. Feeling for the first time in three years.

In that moment, Ranveer knew that his life had changed forever. Though he didn't know how.
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