He relived those periods of his life as he stood looking out of the window. Today too he got the uncanny feeling that he was being directed, as if he was just following a script with no power to change a single comma. He felt rebellion rise within him in a furious tide. This was ridiculous! He was a man not a toy train that could be shunted to any track by a manipulative dispatcher pulling levers! He was the master of his life; he was and he will be! This has got to stop, he declared to himself vehemently!

His desperation fueled his resolve.

Continued from Happily Ever After (I)

With a semblance of illusory control wrested back from the unseen usurper, he felt a tad calm. Turning crisply on his heels, he grabbed his car keys from his desk and walked out of his office leaving his cellphone, laptop and briefcase behind. He had no idea where he was going or why. All he knew was the fury that roiled within him. He would put it rest today, once and for all. Enough was enough. He left his office almost at a run.

At that hour of the day, traffic was light. He thanked God for it. He had no patience to deal with heavy traffic right now. Driving fast and surely, he soon found himself racing down the near deserted highway. He still had no idea where he was going but he was in a mighty hurry to get there. He floored the pedal and the car flew.

A couple of villages whizzed past the gleaming black hood of his car. He had entered undulating, hilly terrain. Driving through the winding roads was exhilarating to him. As he topped yet another hill, he could see the whole valley spread out. He parked at a wide shoulder and got out.

The valley lay spread before him painted in blue, green and an nondescript dun. A single road, the same he was on, ran through the valley. A small house stood all alone to the north but it looked abandoned. Moreover, who would live here, miles from anywhere with no other houses around? Pranav ignored the house.

A small pond lay glistening by the road at the bottom of the bowl shaped valley. The still water held the sky imprisoned on its glassy surface. Blue, the water was blue from the sky dissolved in it. For no reason, Pranav began walking down to the pond. He didn’t think of the weary climb back to his car. He thought of nothing; just looked at that pond. He had to see it from close. And he had to go to it on foot. He just had to.

The pond was not deep. Pranav stood for a few uncounted minutes staring into its depths but it refused to divulge it’s secrets. Feeling tired and a little dejected, he sat down on the wild grass, close to the water’s edge. The wind was stronger in the bowl of the valley, coming at him cooled, from over the water. The abandoned house stood to his right, across the pond. He sat looking at it idly.

His mind was blank. If someone had asked him what he was thinking, he wouldn’t have known what to say. He felt like a sponge, waiting to absorb whatever fell on him. He had no idea what he was doing out here in the middle of nowhere, nor how long he would stay. He was just there, devoid of purpose, or will. Strangely enough for him, he was deeply at peace. He felt as if he would never need anything again. He couldn’t imagine ever feeling hungry or thirsty. I think I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown a part of him suggested maliciously. He stretched out, unmoved, chewing the sweet hardy stem of a grass. A few minutes later, he dropped off into a deep sleep, the sun watching over him from the blue, blue sky.

He awoke when the sun had long begun his descent. He felt refreshed and alert, with a heart for any calamity. He looked back up the road to where he had left his car. The climb didn’t daunt him, on the contrary. Dusting his clothes, he glanced again at the house. Something arrested his glance, he couldn’t say what. Maybe the angle of the sun revealed a curtain, maybe it was something else. The house no longer looked deserted to him. Surprised, he began walking towards it.

What on earth are you doing?– a part of him asked. Shut up!– the other part said rudely. Don’t say a word!– it commanded imperiously.

As he drew near, he saw the neem tree halfheartedly shedding its yellowed leaves. The house looked lived-in but he saw nobody around. He went up the few steps that led to the veranda before the front door. He pushed the door and found it unbolted.

Surprised, he walked in, at once hesitating and sure. His instinct led him to the only occupied room in the house. When he parted the curtains at the door of the room and stepped in, he saw a woman. She was sitting at a desk in front of the open window, writing. She was so engrossed that she had no idea he was standing a few feet away from her.

His sharp intake of breath broke the spell for her. She stiffened. As she turned her head around, he walked closer to her. There was neither fear nor astonishment in her eyes. She wasn’t startled to find a stranger in her house. She looked at him without surprise, as if she expected him. Her inexplicable delight shone out of her eyes like the light from a hundred suns. With child- like wonder Sneha clasped her hands together and said, “You’re exactly as I expected you to be! And you’re here!”

“You!!” exclaimed Pranav. He had never met this woman, but he knew her; he recognized her unhesitatingly. The last piece of the jig- saw puzzle fell into place silently in his mind.

“You are the one who’s been turning my life helter-skelter all this while! Here you sit weaving impossible, unreasonable and illogical scenarios for me to follow at your command! I am fed up of your high- handed interference!

“I may be a character in your story but I will stop your pen. I will marry you and make sure you never write another story again.”

Sneha smiled radiantly to see her plan work perfectly. Her last story was concluded.

They lived happily ever after, wrapped up in her story.

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Note: This story is my humble tribute to the master story teller O Henry whose penchant for incorporating an unexpected ‘twist’ in the end became his signature style.