[A write up for ‘Freedom Mask’ organized by Rising Litera. Though this did not get selected, but what is the harm in sharing it anyway?]
Akhilesh was roaming dejectedly in the middle of the road, aligning himself with the white lines painted on the road to act as a diversion of sorts. He wanted to divert his mind elsewhere as his day was not going well at all; far from what he expected. Akhilesh worked in a multinational company dealing with finance and marketing for as long as he could remember. He was just a normal person with a normal job, living in a normal apartment with his normal wife. Nothing which he did or was associated with screamed abnormal from any angle. Akhilesh was a simpleton devoid of any complications or twists, which, according to many is a necessary evil to survive in a corrupted world such as this. His act as a whistleblower against his boss cost him his job and prestige. A few weeks ago, Akhilesh discovered a strange data thread in his spreadsheet making him susceptible to dubiousness and he decided to dig in further. What he discovered later shocked him to his very core and he decided to go against Naresh, his badmouthed senior.
As if the situation was not bad enough, suddenly the Gods decided to let it rain. With a little premonition, and almost no thunder, it started raining cats and dogs. Cursing profusely under his breath, Akhilesh grabbed on to his mobile and shoved the device deep within his pocket. His bag was already dripping wet as he had landed in a puddle before and there was no point putting his mobile there. He needed to vent his anger off by walking and therefore had decided previously not to catch any bus to home. His second hand car was sick and undergoing a life saving operation by Bholu, Akhilesh’s only known mechanic.
“Stupid decision I took today, could have saved my job back there, only if I had been quiet. But how could I?” he was weighing his conscience and job on a scale and ultimately decided both had equal importance.
As careless as he was, more so because of today’s incidents, suddenly he almost tripped over a box placed carefully at the middle of the road he was walking on. The box, rectangular in shape and brown in color, was placed in such a manner that it seemed it was waiting for Akhilesh to open and peek into. Grabbing the box with his bare hands, Akhilesh shook it vigorously to get an idea of its contents, the box was like any other cardboard box. Needless to say, he looked around in careful suspicion, if it was useless, he could at least use it to protect his mobile from the heavy deluge. But when he opened the lid, Akhilesh was in for a surprise; there inside the box lay a mask well cushioned and protected by gallimaufry of paper, cardboard and hay.
“A mask?” he smiled, thinking this to be a joke. “It must be the kids from the slums, somebody had left it by mistake,” he thought. Grabbing the mask he felt strange, the mask was heavier than it looked and was unlike any mask he had seen until now. He felt the coarse material from which the mask was made and did not have an iota of any idea for the mask was definitely not made of any plastic or fiber. The touch felt metallic yet the mask was far lighter for something made from any metal. There was no specialty about the mask; it neither had a smile, nor a frown. Nor did it have an angry face. Curiosity got the better of him and he tossed the mask around forgetting everything about protecting himself and his costly mobile from the heavy downpour. The mask covered a paper underneath on which something was scribbled and when he drew the box closer to his face to get a glimpse of what was written on it, he noticed the paper to be blank.
Little did Akhilesh knew, the mask was already working its magic. For on the paper were the words clearly etched, “The Mask of Freedom-makes its wearer do whatever they wish to. It brings out their truest, inner self.”
Finally, he gave in and decided to try the mask. No sooner had he worn it, he felt a strange feeling; as if he was on fire and his body conducting electricity at dizzying efficiency. Akhilesh let out a huge moan. The ordeal lasted several minutes and the mask had clearly latched onto his owner, Akhilesh felt liberating. He felt as if finally he was free; free to do anything he wished. Getting on the main road, Akhilesh signaled his thumb as a common gesture of asking for a lift from people driving their cars. After several failed attempts, he finally embarked on a shining new SUV, which was being driven by a woman in her mid thirties. The lady did not notice Akhilesh wearing a mask, instead she saw a handsome man in trouble asking for a lift. “Wizzcraft Marketing please” he smiled as he asked the woman politely to drive him to his office.
As the car reached the gates of the office, Akhilesh smirked, turning the car off. Lying inside the car’s trunk was the lady’s battered and bloodied body. He knew his boss worked late nights, probably shifting the company’s stocks and manipulating them to his own needs when nobody stayed to look. Akhilesh whizzed past the security guards with a smiling face who were ignorant of his misfortune this morning.
“You?” his senior almost let out a shriek. Then gulping hard, he said, “Look, I didn’t want to fire you,” “Then what did you want to do?” Akhilesh said, eyeing his boss contently. A fist fight coupled with a battle ensued and he was successful in killing his boss; a fatal blow to the head.
Next morning a devout devotee was bathing on the banks of the river chanting God’s name when a dead body washed up at his feet. He was holding a mask in his right hand. The mask had finally claimed the life of its wearer.