Updated: Jan 9
Mortality is a boon as it is a bane, and none are exceptions to its nature. However, the journey seems only complete for those who have served their purpose in life. What about the others?
“Devouring Flames” by Nikhila Kotni & R. S. Chintalapati explore what happens if characters set on a purpose do not fulfil their cause. It shows how death doesn’t bother about an individual’s pain, suffering, or desire.
Naina found her seat and placed her cabin baggage before resting beside the window. It didn’t matter to her what the others on the plane were doing as she was lost in her thoughts about her grandmother’s condition. There was a part of her that wished she had built a more affectionate relationship with her much sooner but now, it was too late to nurture a bond.
While she was lost in her thoughts, a little girl arrived holding her grandfather’s hand and sat beside Naina in the middle seat while her grandfather sat in the last seat.
Looking at her, Naina smiled but the girl didn’t. Wondering what happened, Naina extended her hand before introducing herself, “Hello little one! My name is Naina.”
She looked at her grandfather before cautiously shaking hands. A moment later, she faintly whispered, “My name is Kreeti.”
Hoping to cheer her up, Naina offered, “Would you like to sit beside the window?”
A faint smile appeared on her face and soon enough, they swapped their seats. Looking at Naina, her grandfather said, “Thank you magalu. You saved me the trouble of persuading you.”
Before Naina could assure him that no persuasion would have been needed, she heard, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome onboard Flight AI 812 with service from Dubai to Mangalore. We are currently third in line for take-off and are expected to be in the air in approximately seven minutes. We ask that you please fasten your seatbelts at this time and secure all baggage underneath your seat or in the overhead compartments. We also ask that your seats and table trays are in the upright position for take-off. Please turn off all personal electronic devices, including laptops and cell phones. Smoking is prohibited for the duration of the flight. Thank you for choosing Air Express Airlines. Enjoy your flight.”
As soon as the announcement was completed, Naina enquired, “Why is she sad? Doesn’t she like to travel?”
Her grandfather replied, “She has lost both her parents in a road accident recently. I’m taking her to my home but she doesn’t want to leave her parent’s place.”
Naina was heartbroken listening to him. While she turned to look at Kreeti as she peeped through the window, her grandfather continued, “I’m all she has.”
It took Naina a while to digest the information. Leaning back in her chair, Naina couldn’t help but wonder, “How can this little one live all by herself.”
After the first round of refreshments was served, Naina heard, “Good afternoon passengers. This is your captain Aakash speaking. First I’d like to welcome everyone on Air Express Flight AI 812. We are currently cruising at an altitude of 33,000 feet at an airspeed of 400 miles per hour. The time is 1:50 a.m. The weather looks good and with the tailwind on our side, we are expecting to land in Mangalore approximately fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. The weather in Dubai is cloudy with a high of 31 degrees Celsius. If the weather cooperates, we should get a great view of the city as we descend. The cabin crew will be coming around shortly to offer you dinner. I’ll talk to you again before we reach our destination. Until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the flight.”
Hoping to set her mind at ease, Naina closed her eyes but she couldn’t help but remember her grandmother again. There wasn’t even one person from her family who took care of her. The only thing they consistently did was drop money into her account.
She was adamant to not leaving India and neither was Naina’s family intending to return to India. At the age of eighty-two, Naina’s grandmother was in her weakest state and was hospitalized yesterday.
For good or bad, Naina decided to return home with her as soon as she recovered. It was about time she started staying with them and since Naina’s mother is soon going to retire, they can make the best of their time.
Turning to look at Kreeti to see what was doing, Naina could see tears in her eyes. Hoping to help, Naina asked her, “What happened little one?”
She didn’t answer. Listening to Naina, her grandfather asked the same question. This time, she replied, “I don’t wish to leave home. Let’s go back, grandpa.”
At such a young age, children usually cry so loud but she didn’t. Naina couldn’t help but think that Kreeti was hiding her pain. She could also observe that Kreeti’s grandfather was in no way to help her.
It was evident in his tone that he was sunken in sorrow when he mentioned, “We are going to a better place mom's magalumom’magalu and we will return soon.”
Naina could see that Kreeti knew her grandfather’s words were lies but she just didn’t say it out loud. Looking at her grey eyes, Naina wiped her tears while saying, “You have beautiful eyes, Kreeti. Tears diminish their beauty.”
In sheer disappointment, Kreeti replied, “My mom used to say that... I miss her.”
Naina couldn’t help but control herself. What could she say?
Meanwhile, Kreeti continued by asking, “Will I ever meet them? Will they watch over me?”
Looking at the black clouds, Naina replied, “I’m uncertain if they will return Kreeti but they will always be watching you.”
Her eyes widened as Naina continued, “Out of the billions of stars in this universe your parents are two brightest stars themselves. No matter what happens, they will always be watching you.”
Holding her little hand, Naina mentioned, “They will be your guide and cast light in your way when you are surrounded by darkness.”
Kreeti just looked at Naina. For no reason, it felt as if she believed Naina. Without saying another word, she put on her headphones and started listening to songs.
A few minutes later, Naina and Kreeti ate dinner following which Kreeti fell asleep. Leaning in her chair, Naina recalled her grandmother’s words, “Why don’t you come and stay in India? You have enough wealth. What more could you seek if not home?”
Before answering her question, Naina fell asleep too and woke up to the announcement that the flight had reached Mangalore. She could observe that Kreeti was still asleep and so was her grandfather.
Looking outside the window, Naina could see that the Sun was just waking up and the plane was reaching the airport.
When the wheels hit the land, the jerk was so hard that a few passengers hurt themselves and within no time they felt like falling again before Naina and Kreeti were devoured in flames that emerged out of nowhere.
This short story is available in paperback & ebook.