Chapter 67: When Calamity Strikes
Ranveer couldn't describe what happened to him in those next few hours before everything else turned into a smouldering, burning mass in front of his eyes, engulfing him in a deathly warp of fire, smoke finding its way faster into his lungs that he could exhale. He could not, even in his wildest of imaginations, imagine how a beautiful day could have such a terrible and fiendish end, or rather prove to be the end of his life.
Patting Ishaani's face had brought no result whatsoever. He rushed towards the bank of the river and cupped his hands, running back instantly so that by the time he reached, he had sufficient water in his hands to sprinkle over Ishaani's face. Doing the same, Ishaani wrinkled her eyes and groaned inaudibly, and Ranveer felt his madly beating heart relax a tad bit.
He pulled Ishaani into his arms and hugged her, his body and soul shivering alike, as he could feel her body heaving against his own. Kissing her over her forehead lovingly, whispering words of love and relief together, he separated her from himself gently. He saw that she was still unconscious, but alive atleast. He picked her up in his arms and hurried towards the car, praying against all odds that he could manage to get Ishaani to a hospital.
How exactly Ishaani came to be in the condition that she was right now, he couldn't fathom, but the only thing that rang in his minds like a warning bell was the sole word 'riots'. Cursing his luck as to why they couldn't have headed home hours ago, he could only pray that he could get her to medical help as soon as he could. His world now seemed fused into a mixture of fear and panic, Ishaani's condition only making his hold on her stronger, afraid that she would be snatched away from him any moment.
When he reached his car, a gasp escaped his lips as he saw the vehicle, the glass of the windows broken and the windshield cracked. The backdoor of the car remained open along with a fallen water bottle, and blood drops were strewn across here and there. Ranveer saw a huge shard of glass broken below stained with blood, and he got his answer. He looked inside the car and thanked his luck that the backseat did not have glass shards strewn on its seat.
Making Ishaani lie down, but making sure to have his handkerchief covering her bleeding wound, Ranveer rushed to the front and cleared his seat of the glass, piercing his palms at more than one place, but it didn't matter to him. Shutting his eyes as he turned on the engine, he thanked the Lord that it started in the first go and rammed at the accelerator.
He had barely made a swerve in the next lane when he met the most horrible sight of his life. A group of atleast 30-40 people stood in a mass, hurling stones and fire-lit torches in their hands, chanting and singing the same tagline. Two of the commercial complexes were set afire, while mayhem reigned. Ranveer knew that there was no way he could get himself or Ishaani out from the route without getting themselves killed.
He also knew that it was the sole and easiest route that would take him straight to the hospital, but now it seemed like a remote idea. Making up his mind quickly, he decided to take the alternate route that came out straight at Priamou Street, and heading back home would be way easier. Ranveer knew that Claudine had the necessary equipment to provide a temporary first aid to Ishaani and he knew that it was their best shot.
Ranveer did not know how many cuts and swerves he took in the next forty minutes, so frantic and focused his mind was at the same time. Ranveer realized that there were several sects at different parts of the district that were protesting and there was more than one place that had fires breaking out. Ranveer could distantly see the hospital during one of his sudden manic turns to avoid another group of frenzied protesters, and thanked his stars that he didn't head for the hospital, given that the area was enveloped in fumes of smoke.
He tried switching on his cellphone, but to no avail. He could not understand why he couldn't find his charger in the car and regretted to his dearest of taking Ishaani's request into consideration. He did not know whether he was angriest with himself or Ishaani, but he knew it could wait for they had to still encounter hell before they made it out.
He could not understand why life couldn't ever let them have a perfect moment, never let them have an easy life. It was as though fate and death had an unhealthy obsession in ruining their lives, and Ranveer couldn't feel more resentful. He knew that he was ready to fight fate and death together with love and emerge victorious, but his mind was burdened with so many worries that he felt giddy.
His world felt as though it had crashed to his feet, the bubble of happiness and perfection bursting instantly. It was as though Ranveer's fear had sprung to life; the only uncertainty that he had no control over - death. He felt his heart frothing with a twisted concoction of agony that suffocated him, his world spiraling out from his hand, not knowing what would happen a minute later.
The only think that kept Ranveer's panic at bay, however, was Ishaani's breathing, along with an occasional cough every now and then. He only kept praying in his heart that God would swap places, that the Almighty would let him stand in front of Ishaani's share of troubles and pain, and would let him fight death on his own and spare Ishaani and let her escape unscathed. No sooner had Ranveer prayed this in his heart than when he heard a soft, weak voice.
"Ranveer..." Ranveer looked behind to see Ishaani's eyes open and heaved a long sigh of shaky relief, elated at the fact that her eyes were open. He looked back at her with a frantic glance and saw her looking around the car in bewilderment, before their eyes met. She looked at him, pain clearly evident on her face, and he felt goosebumps erupt over his skin. He spoke in a soft voice.
"Sun... Sunny, it's going to be alright, I'm going to get you help." Ishaani looked at him silently, as a tear escaped her eye. She replied in a weak and hoarse voice.
"I'm sorry." Ranveer hit the break as he waited for another group of rioters to fade away into the opposite direction and he turned behind, tears now escaping his eyes.
"What for, honey?" Silence. Ranveer looked at Ishaani fearfully, feeling almost sick, before he called out her name twice or thrice. When she didn't respond, Ranveer felt his heart thumping harshly against his ribs and was about to get down, when she coughed. He heaved a sigh of relief again as Ishaani opened her eyes, and sighed.
"For getting us into this mess." Ranveer shook his head, as tears left his eyes finally, as he let himself break down in front of her. Ishaani ran her hand over his head in a reassuring touch, and he shut his eyes, trying very hard not to be sick. He opened his eyes after some time, now composed again, and gave Ishaani a reassuring nod. He was shaken and pale, but he knew what had to be done.
His heart still felt heavy, but a strange assurance washed over him as well. But with it, came a new realization. He noticed that the surroundings looked overly similar to him, and on scrutinizing closely, he realized that they had reached 13, Priamou Street, the library now in front of their eyes. Ranveer laughed uneasily, as he turned around and saw Ishaani trying to prop herself straight over the seat.
Ranveer quickly unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the backseat, helping a now nearly successful Ishaani to sit up on the seat. Ranveer heaved a sigh of relief, as Ishaani didn't look as bad as she had when she first collapsed in his arms, and on checking her back closely, he realized that it had already stopped bleeding.
Ranveer quickly brought her a bottle of water that was in the dickey of the car, and made her drink it. She coughed a little, but drank the water thirstily, nodding her head in thanks when she was done with it. Ranveer cupped her cheeks lovingly in his hand and asked her anxiously.
"How are you feeling right now?"
"Light-headed." Ranveer stroked her cheek lovingly and spoke in a firm voice.
"We're almost there, sweetheart, we're nearly home. Don't go to sleep yet, we are almost there. Keep... keep talking to me." Ranveer looked at Ishaani as her eye-lids were already drooping and he knew that it was quite a feat when she tried keeping her eyes open, even though it looked like her body was protesting otherwise. Ranveer had barely managed to collect his thoughts before a huge explosion occurred, deafening both of them.
Neapolitan City was now on fire, its flames rising brutally into the air, the smoke engulfing the entire area. The majestic cathedral structure now looked like a person set afire, the windows instantly shattering by the forceful impact of the explosion while they could hear the crashes and booms from within the library, indicating that the bookshelves were now beginning their ominous fall of crashes.
"No... No... No!"
Ranveer looked at Ishaani's horror-struck expression as he felt something break within him. Tears escaped her already-dry face and Ranveer felt his heart crush. He had to make a decision at the moment, choose from between his wife or the library and he knew that it was a hard call. He could not look straight at the library as his heart felt mangled at the savage sight of his temple. As if to make decisions easier, he felt something hold his collar in a bestial manner, and his eyes met Ishaani's, who now had a manic look in her eyes.
"Do something... please... please..." Ranveer looked at Ishaani uncertainly as her gaze now met his own fearful ones in a beseeching way.
"Will you be alright?" Ishaani nodded her head and Ranveer got to his feet.
"Yes... yes... go... go!" Ranveer turned back and gave Ishaani a final kiss on her forehead, speaking in an assuring tone.
"We will see this through, Ishaani, I promise. We will see this through."
Ishaani nodded her head as Ranveer now headed into the direction of the fire, his heart thumping wilder than ever. She felt the same light-headedness claim her that had abandoned her a few moments ago when the infernal fire had broken out. Before she even knew it, her eyes shut involuntarily, her head now falling limply to her side, a groan escaping her lips.
Plunk. Plunk. Plunk.
Ishaani felt something splatter against her face and she moaned. She could not understand what had interrupted such a beautiful nap, but she resented it loads. She felt comfortable in her nap, and she knew that waking up would only mean returning to pain and fear. How she knew this, she did not know, but the outcome was certain.
Even before she had any control, she felt herself returning back to reality, the pain in her limbs returning, along with an excruciating one in her back. What had caused her such agony, she did not know, but it wasn't pleasant even in the slightest. She opened her eyes and shut it again, as something too bright stood before her vision.
Bracing herself for the impact this time, she swung open her eyes and felt disoriented, for the sight before her was bizarre. The fire looked just as horrendous as it did before she lost consciousness, but now it was paralyzing. The fire roared mercilessly throughout the establishment, but it no longer lashed its whips of flames in dominance, but rather in a losing battle.
The memory of the past few hours soon returned to her, while she gasped as she remembered seeing Ranveer enter the blazing library, feeling her face drain away of blood. But what disturbed her the most was the realization that the water that she felt sprinkling on her face was not someone throwing it on her; it came from a heartless lash of rain.
Ishaani felt stunned as she saw heavy lashes of rain fall against the establishment, along with several more voices that were shouting instructions and commands out in the distance. Ishaani got down from the car, her energy somehow restored, even though she needed the support of the car. She did not know why she had the will to spend so much energy, but she did, and ran towards the fire, where now several fire trucks stood, the firemen trying to hose out the fire.
She did not know how her feet carried her there but before she knew it, she was now standing beside a fire truck and staring at the hypnotizing sight before her eyes, while some of the standby firemen were doing the same. Water and fire battled and conflicted against each other, fire trying to free himself from the grasp of the now-overwhelming rains, while the rains only lashed harder and harder, the few firemen continuing with their enforcements alongside.
Ishaani now stood completely drenched, shivering bitterly as her dress now hugged her figure, making it heavier for her to handle it. But she didn't care. Only one thought ran through her mind like a mantra, like a feverish desperation - Ranveer was nowhere in sight. The fireman noticed her presence and two of them caught her by the arms and made her sit in one of the paramedics van, handing her a towel and wiping her hair clean.
"Ma'am, please stay here. Is it that you are finding for someone?" Ishaani looked at the fireman, and spoke to him in a frenzied tone.
"Yes... yes... my husband. He's in the library, I think." The firemen gave her a confused look. "He is the trustee and owner of the library, you see. We... we... we were returning back from Athens when we got caught up and our car was vandalized at Naxou by the protesters. My husband... took the alternative route and we... we... were returning home when we saw the library catch fire... he... he went to try to put it off... I don't know..." Ishaani had now reduced to tears as her heart had a very sour and bitter feeling about the ultimate outcome.
The paramedic attendant rubbed her back soothingly as she quickly applied an antiseptic, covering the wound with gauze. Ishaani, however, couldn't feel anything, her mind on the sole focus of finding and saving Ranveer. The firemen gave her a sympathetic look and spoke in a strong tone.
"Ma'am, we'll find your husband. Please let the paramedics attend to you now." Ishaani noticed that the paramedic attendant was about to give her morphine, before she slapped her hand away.
"No! I don't want any medical attention until I know what happened to my husband!" The paramedic attendant was about to protest when one of the firemen handling the hosing came running up to them.
"The fire is put out! The rain has cut it out! The team is calling you for the search of casualties." The fireman with Ishaani nodded his head gravely, and looked at Ishaani in a determined manner, his voice polite.
"Don't worry, ma'am, we will find your husband!" Ishaani gave him a weak nod, and the fireman ordered his batch to follow him to the site. Ishaani jumped out from the van in spite of the paramedic attendant trying to keep a hold on her.
Ishaani's mind was now panic-stricken. She did not care about how cold or wet she was anymore, neither the fact that her body hurt immensely. All she could think about was Ranveer and his own safety, hoping against odds that he was alright. She felt guilty about the fact that she had put him through such an emotional turmoil, and she only prayed to the Almighty for his life.
She stood outside in wait, as the other set of firemen were putting off the last bits of fire, the area now completely filled with stifling smoke. Ishaani coughed in fits, as the smoke was now getting to her, even though she tried to resist it. Before anyone could notice her presence in the hustle and bustle of the night, the team of firemen from within the library came out.
But with them was no Ranveer, and Ishaani's heart sank. The fireman from before walked up to her and shook his head, the heavy equipment on him shaking as well.
"There is nobody inside. Are you sure that your husband was in there?" Ishaani nodded her head firmly, the dying sight of Ranveer vanishing inside the library burnt across her mind firmly.
"Yes... yes! Look, you have got to find him, please!" The fireman gave her a consoling look as he spoke gently.
"Ma'am, we've searched twice, but we haven't found a body." Ishaani looked outraged and threw her hair behind her in indignation as the rain whipped against her form. The fireman cowered before the murderous look on her face.
"Body? Body? That's my husband that you are talking about!" The fireman gave her an apologetic look, but he knew that he had to present her with all the facts.
"He could have abandoned you and fled for his life, if he isn't around nearby. My men have searched the area as well." Ishaani yanked his collar and pushed him away harshly, an insane rage taking over her.
"Get out of my way! I'm going to search for him inside!" The fireman looked abashed and made to stop her.
"Ma'am, you can't-"
"Try and stop me!" Before the fireman could get a hold on her arm, Ishaani ducked and ran into the library, her blood turning icier every minute and her heart cold. If she had sworn that Neapolitan City was the Heaven she had had the opportunity to work in, then today she was seeing Hell. The library lay in ruins within, bookshelves in pieces, tables and chairs in ashes.
Ishaani felt like death was over her shoulder, laughing at her helplessness, and the destruction in front of her eyes stabbed her heart every moment. There was a strange ominous feeling in the air as she stepped further, trying to take in her surrounding, even though all she managed to do was inhale more smoke. She scanned her eyes around the premises, but all she could see was ruin and impenetrable smoke, obscuring everything away from her in a thick veil.
Ishaani walked within blindly, coughing, retching and spluttering for breath as the smoke now overwhelmed her senses. She did not know how many times she stumbled or how many times she hit something, but as she made her way through bravely, she only hoped that Ranveer was not inside, for now she could see no chance that he would have survived it.
She cursed herself mentally for even conceiving of such a thought, but her optimism was now steadily fading away as the crude reality crashed around her, her senses suddenly giving up. Her heart however, only beat faster and louder, so that she could now hear it through her ears. She could only pray that the beating of her heart signified the fact that Ranveer was alive, but then again, her heart felt like it would stop any moment.
Calling Ranveer's name over and over again, Ishaani turned around desperately hoping for a reply, but in vain. She made a dash ahead as she felt she saw a movement, it resulting in her falling over, her arm hitting something sharp. She winced in pain as tears finally sprung from her eyes, her heart, mind and body giving up entirely.
She did not know for how long she remained fallen on the ground, sobbing and inhaling the ghostly atmosphere that now suffocated her, when something sparkled in her eyes. She looked up, hoping against hope, to try and find for the source of the spark before her eyes fell over the debris of two book shelves that were fallen ominously over each other, forming a hill. From between the gap came the glint, and Ishaani wiped away her tears.
Forcing herself on her feet again after several failed attempts, she rushed to the debris and her heart skipped a beat. Her instinct had been right as the glint had come from the ring that Ranveer had on his finger. She looked inside to see a body lying huddled, the hand falling out from the gap limply.
She tugged at the hand that now felt hot as a furnace and pulled it out. There lied Ranveer before her, his head bleeding copiously, while his clothes were cut and singed from dozens of places. Ishaani looked at Ranveer, a new panic rising in her heart as she shook him violently, forgetting her own pains and illness.
"Ranveer... Ranveer!" No response came and Ishaani put her hand over his neck to check for a pulse. She found none. Her head fell over his chest as she finally gave up, her strength now failing her. She sobbed over his chest as her restraint cracked, having no control over herself anymore.
"Wake up... please... wake up...You promised me that we would see this through... please..." Ishaani tried to pat his face, but it only resulted in his head to fall limply to the other side. His face had a very eerie look about it - disturbed yet peaceful, and it distinctly tore apart her soul.
The last thing that she remembered was staring at him in the face with her hand clutched over his shirt before she lost herself entirely to the pitiless darkness of the night.