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Adventure Fiction Drama

I was running so hard that my lungs felt like they were going to burst. I looked up to see them standing in the distance, but they seemed so far away that I wasn’t sure that I could make it. I just looked down again & ran with every pinch of energy I could muster. I had almost reached them as I felt my head spinning & was about to collapse when one of them caught me & held me up.

When I finally looked up at them, I saw bemused expressions on the face of all my friends.

“What?”, I barked at them.

“We should ask you that. Why do you look like you just ran a marathon?”, asked a confused Sam.

“I… didn’t want…to be late….for the movie”, I said in between large gulps of air.

“We are on the first floor of the mall. You ran just a couple of flights of stairs, you ought to get in more exercise”, chimed in

Anita while stifling a laugh.

I just gave her a sarcastic glance & thanked Max who held me up all this while against his burly body. Then we headed in for our movie. We had just gotten to our seats when the movie started but my mind was on what Anita had said to me.

Anita was right about me being a couch potato lately. It wasn’t that I had been an athletic personality at any point in my life, but it had gotten worse now.

As a child, I was quite active. I used to play a lot with my friends, and no game was barred for me. But even then I couldn’t create an affinity towards any sport. So as we grew up, my friends continued to play sports while I naturally developed an affinity towards books.

I aced school to enter the best ivy league colleges. I completed my Bachelors & immediately went for my Masters. It was during my masters that I also met my future bride-to-be, Alicia. We were set up by friends for a blind date, but on the first date itself, I was hooked.

I had also managed to secure a high paying job with a multi-national firm, even before my masters’ was complete. And as my entire education was sponsored by my parents, I graduated loan-free with a good job & a girl on my arm. Seems almost like a fairy tale, right? Hey, even I thought so.

But, something was missing. And I realized this last night, almost 5 years after graduating.

Previous night

Alicia & I were spending Saturday night in the balcony of our apartment, drinking wine & reminiscing old memories. Neither one of us was an outdoor person, so this was indeed the best way to spend our weekends.

“What’s on your mind?”, asked Alicia.

I must have gone quiet for only a couple of moments, but of course, it didn’t escape her.

“Nothing…uhh...I just feel something’s missing”, I replied.

“Missing?”, she asked me as she sat up straight in her chair.

“Yeah. I mean, I know we have everything. Good jobs, no mortgage & each other of course, but still…”, I lingered off.

“…something’s missing”, she completed my sentence, but I didn’t say anything.

She waited a couple of moments before saying, “I know what’s bothering you”.

She had my attention at that & I sat up straight as well & looked at her.

“You need a purpose of your own”, she continued as she looked at me as well.

“What do you mean?”, I asked her, more confused than ever.

“Well, your affinity for studies have always been a predicament of your disinterest towards sports. And the idea of a masters’ & high paying job has always been more of your parents’ than yours. Now that you have achieved all of that, you are realizing that you don’t know what to do next. You need a new purpose, a purpose of your own”, she said, taking a large sip of wine at the end.

I deliberated that for a moment before saying, “I am also realizing that you are a lot smarter than me”

“Oh I thought you already knew that”, she said as she chuckled.

The laughter was followed by a few minutes of silence.

“So how do I find my purpose?”, I asked her, breaking the quiet.

“Now that’s something you would have to figure out on your own, my dear husband”, she replied as she got up to replace the empty bottle from the kitchen.

Present

“Earth to brother, the movie’s over”, said Sam as he nudged me.

I looked at him & then at the rolling credits on the screen. I got up, marvelling at my daydreaming capabilities. We returned to the mall & were window shopping while trying to agree on a place to grab lunch. But, our discussion was cut short by a blood-curdling scream from the middle of the food court. We immediately looked in that direction & saw a horrific sight.

A young bald man was holding an elderly woman hostage with a knife on her throat. As the crowd cleared a bit, we could also see a police officer who had a gum aimed at this bald man. Soon they were joined by more police officers who were also shouting at the man to put down the knife. But, the bald man held that knife even more closely to that woman’s throat, even drawing a few drops of blood. It was clear that this wasn’t going to end well.

It was at that moment, a man clad in a black jacket came near the police officers & asked them to lower their weapons, which the officers immediately obeyed. I was surprised & confused at that until I saw the flaming bird on that black jacket. He was a Phoenix agent.

Phoenix was a special task force set up last year by the Mayor to curb the increasing crime rate in the city. They were an elite unit of high IQ combat-ready officers who dealt with high-stress situations, just like this one.

The agent immediately asked the officers the back up a little & let him talk to that man. The bald guy also eased up a little & knife was no longer drawing blood. The agent then asked the guy to just tell him his demands & he would make sure that they are fulfilled. But the guy just kept asking the officers to go away.

“Hey man, why don’t you calm down. Look the woman has even peed her pants because of the stress”, said the agent.

The bald guy instinctively moved the knife away for a second to check on his hostage, which was enough was the agent to knock away the knife from his hand and force the guy on the ground.

The speed he displayed was unlike anything I had ever seen before & that brilliant idea to distract the guy, was unparalleled. He even apologized to the elderly lady about the crude lie, who just thanked him in return. He not only managed to save her but did so without firing even a single bullet.

The crowd dispersed as the bald guy was taken away by the cops. We also left for a nearby restaurant for a much-needed lunch now. As my friends laughed & discussed the takedown of that guy in mall, my thoughts were on the agent & the woman he saved.

As you can already guess by now, I was not very athletic or muscular as a kid. Result of which was that I was always picked on by bullies. But it never got out of hand because there was always someone who stuck up for me & saved me. I always used to think that when I grow up, I would also help people in need, people who couldn’t help themselves. I know, it sounds cheesy now, but to a kid, it was a determined thought.

But as I grew up, that thought faded somewhere behind the studies, college, friends, job & just every other aspect of my life. It was incidents like the one I saw today, made that thought prominent in my head once again. But I never could settle on a way in which I could use my potential to help people. And soon, the thought would fade away once again.

I was again brought back to reality by Sam when he said, “Earth to brother. What’s gotten into you today?”

“Sorry, I am just a little distracted today guys”, I said sheepishly.

Anita frowned a little & asked me,” Are you still thinking about that incident at the mall?”

Before I could reply, Max said, “That was awesome dude, Phoenix is the best thing that has happened to this city in a long time”

“Yeah”, said Sam, “Did you know that from next January, all the private corporations are required to have one of their employees working part-time as a Phoenix agent?”

My ears sprang up at that & I said, “What do you mean, how would this work?”

Sam took a sip of his cola & said, “Well, they would need to have one of their employees work part-time for them & part-time for Phoenix as an agent. This is being done to increase the size of Phoenix.”

Listening to that, the gears in my head started turning & I immediately stood up.

“I am sorry but I have to go, I have to talk to Alicia”, I blurted out & started walking away before anyone of them could say a thing. I know, I wasn’t exactly being a model friend on that day, but I had very important decisions to make.

As soon as I reached home, I went to Alicia, sat her down & said just one sentence, “I want to become a Phoenix agent”.

She looked at me, waiting for a sign of humour or sarcasm. But when she found none, she too said just one word, “What?”

Then I told her everything. My thoughts from the previous night, my out of shape body, the incident at the mall & also what Sam had said.

Hearing all of this, Alicia just smiled & said, “This is the first time you have your own goals, go for it. You know I will always support you.” I was extremely happy to hear that & I hugged her.

The next day, I went down to HR to get more details on this program & it was basically what Sam had said. But I had one big task now, my physical strength. The IQ test I could clear of my own accord, but the physical test would require a lot of help. I knew only Max would be able to help me with that.

“I think I might have a solution for that”, said Max after hearing out my plan. He rummaged around in his bag & produced a piece of paper.

“That’s the address for my old dojo. The guy who runs it was my teacher years ago & his name is Ramone. Give him a visit but there’s no guarantee, he is very picky about his students”, warned Max.

I thanked him & went to the dojo the next morning. It was a big & open space with a variety of machines & weights lying around. I asked someone for Ramone & he pointed me towards an elderly guy with a big white beard & a muscular body.

I went up to him & told him that Max referred me & I wanted to learn from him.

“No”, he replied simply.

“No? But why?”, I asked him.

“I know you corporate types. Coming here to either to build your body to impress women or to learn to beat up people. Neither of which I endorse. Besides, I can guarantee you won’t last even 2 days here”, he said & he got up, prepared to walk away.

“Not this time. For the first in my life, I have an agenda of my own”, I said calmly.

Ramone stopped & stared hard at me. He sat down again & nudged me to go on. I narrated the entire story that had happened up until now & he listened carefully.

When I was done, he went quiet for a full minute & then said, “Tomorrow 6 AM sharp, don’t be late”

A month later

I was cursing myself for this. I could be sleeping in a warm bed right now but here I was, balancing a football on my head at 6 AM on a chilly morning in the open.

Ramone came up to me & said, “The ball is still moving a lot, you need to remain still”

I got distracted by his voice due to which the ball fell off. I screamed with frustration but Ramone stood unflinchingly.

“Ramone tell me this, why am I running laps around the ground & balancing a ball on my head on a cold morning when what I need is more physical strength?”, I asked him, my voice full of frustration & petulance.

Ramone simply said, “Who said you need to be stronger?”

I looked at him like he was crazy, thinking that I made a mistake coming here.

He picked up the ball, placed it back on my head & said, “To be a Phoenix agent, you need three things. First is speed, to act quickly to defuse situations, so you run the laps. Second is discipline so that you are always ready for service, and that’s why you are here at 6 AM every morning in winter, summer & rains. The third & most important is patience, so that you always think calmly in stressful situations, hence balancing the ball on your head.”

As he said those things, I realized something else; it’s not just Alicia who’s smarter than me. Perhaps I should seek help for the IQ test as well. But I did learn my lesson that day & never questioned Ramone’s methods again.

6 months later

My sleep was broken by my buzzing phone. I saw the time, it was 2 AM, & picked up the call.

It was my chief & he had a situation. Two armed men were robbing a departmental store when a police officer had intervened. They shot the police officer & he was still bleeding. The problem is that they were holding the injured officer & the store clerk hostage. The situation warranted the need of a Phoenix agent & that’s where I came in.

I kissed my sleeping wife, immediately got dressed & went to the location.

The scene was as depicted by the chief. The officer was still bleeding, making it a time-bound situation & I knew what I had to do.

I walked up to the store window & called out to the robbers, “I am not a cop. I am unarmed & I just want to talk, let me come in”.

One of the robbers peeked through the window & gave me a long hard stare before shouting, “Hands where I can see them & walk inside slowly”.

I held up my hands as I walked through the door of the store. Once inside, I saw the clerk still behind the cash register, with the other robber’s gun pointed right at him. There had been a lot of shooting around & the store was heavily damaged. The officer was in a corner, bleeding profusely from his leg. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time to save him.

I saw a huge rack of items, right next to the robbers, that was barely holding up & could fall any moment now. A plan was forming in my head but I needed to turn away the robbers’ guns from the hostages.

“Okay, so as far as I understand, there was a demand for one-passenger chopper with a pilot. But I see two of you here, so who’s it for?”, I asked them.

The robber who had his gun pointed at the clerk immediately shouted at his partner, “You cheat! You planned to get rid of me & then fly away?!”

The other guy shouted back, “I made no such demand, it’s not true!”

The first robber screamed, “Liar!!” & pointed the gun at his partner. His partner, in turn, pointed the gun at him. This was the break I was looking for as I immediately sprang into action. I bolted ahead & kicked the base of the hanging rack & before the robbers could react, it fell on them & knocked them out cold.

I signalled the officers outside, who came in & took charge of the scene. The paramedics wheeled away the injured officer to an ambulance. It looked like my work was done so I headed outside. I saw a big commotion there, it seemed that Mayor himself had arrived at the scene, hearing about the injured officer.

When he saw me, he signalled me to come to his side & within a moment I was surrounded by reporters & cameramen.

The mayor continued his speech as he said, “People called me a fool for starting this untested special division but as you can see, it works very well. And I am told that the agent today is one of our newest recruits.”

He then asked me to come forward & I was immediately bombarded by a lot of questions. Towards the end, one of the reporters asked me, “So how did you decide to be a part of Phoenix?”

I smiled at that, as a lot of memories came flooding in. I took a moment & said, “I simply asked myself, so...what’s next?”

October 31, 2020 13:27

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