I nearly killed a person today. To be honest, it wasn’t exactly my fault. I thought the road was completely deserted.
Let me start at the beginning.
As it neared six’ o clock in the evening, I hurried out to the back streets of my area. They’re usually deserted or crowded with high hippies who believe half the things they see are because of the marijuana they’ve been smoking. It was the perfect cover for what I was about to do.
I started off small; just summoning a little flame on my palm. It wasn’t much, just around the size of a fist. It tingled a little, but it wasn’t unpleasant. I decided I wouldn’t go much further than that for the first day. I didn’t want to risk starting the Great Fire of the 21st Century.
I tried the same flame out with my left hand. Again, it was all fine. I thought, for a second, that I had it under control, but that feeling was swiftly banished when I tried growing the flame to a telephone size, and it expanded faster than a bullet, enveloping my whole body in a white, hot, smokeless embrace.
I couldn’t see anything; a major cause for my panic. In my overenthusiastic yet futile attempts to get rid of the fire, I must have launched a tongue of the flames across the road, because after I passed out and woke up, I saw a large black ashy mark right above a peacefully sleeping man.
I decided it was enough for a day, and raced back home before I was arrested.
I don’t know whether I can be classified as a superhero. I certainly don’t fulfill many of the ‘requirements’ that an average superhero is supposed to.
I don’t have a tragic origin story, for one. Which basically means that I don’t have a lost loved one that I want to avenge. My mother, though, passed away last year of cancer. Nothing like a car crash or something dramatic that can actually be a cleverly concealed murder.
My father has been at a mental institution for the past eleven years. He suffers from Alzheimer’s and doesn’t remember either my mother or me very clearly. But again, nothing that can be maliciously induced.
I do live at a ‘social home’, though; one box checked.
Superheroes differ in many ways. Which relative is tragically killed (thus motivating them to fight), their powers, their wealth, etc. etc. But one thing common to all of them, a universal trait, is their sense of morality. Every superhero is driven by a strong sense of right and wrong, and a desire, even passion, to fight injustice. I don’t feel that. I know I have powers that can be used for good, and I plan on doing that. But I won’t do it because of my moral compass. It’s the pressure. It’s the supreme pressure that I should use this power for good. To put it in the words of one of the patrons of my ‘social home’: “The ability to do good brings with it the responsibility to do so.”
It’s not like I have to follow such aphorisms, but somehow I feel compelled to do so.
I know I don’t want to be a super villain, though. They usually end up dead, imprisoned or turn into a superhero, which is the only happy ending for them. I don’t want to die or go to jail. And going to the trouble of having an existential crisis and turning virtuous at the last minute is too much work.
On a side note, I progressed a little in my practice today. The flame covered my entire arm, and didn’t balloon when I tried to intensify it. I considered this the first successful trial of my powers.
This whole flame powers thing is turning out to be a real struggle A real goddamn curse.
I didn’t want to risk going back to the same street again, especially since the hippie I nearly roasted recognized me the last time, so I decided to practice on a rooftop.
I won’t say I didn’t get the idea from Spiderman, because I did, but his powers and my powers are drastically different. I just chose a rooftop because it seemed like a nice deserted place.
The problem was which rooftop to choose. I briefly wondered whether to choose the abandoned food grain storage warehouse a few kilometres from my ‘social home’, but then remembered it had sloping roofs. So that was out of the question.
I tried to get up this apartment complex block, but the door to the terrace was locked, and I didn’t want the security asking me too many questions.
I finally settled on an empty house for rent a few streets behind my ‘social home’. It had a wide terrace made up of stone. It was also quite tall, so hopefully no one would notice anything amiss. Even if they did, they’d probably put it down to firecrackers.
Once I finished revising the basics, I decided to try something a little more ambitious. I shot a burst of fire up in the sky. Well, at least, it was supposed to be a burst; it was more like a long train that I could control only by clapping my other palm on this one.
By the end of the day, though, I had it figured out. I could now successfully shoot fire cannonballs.
My fire cannonballs got hotter and more concentrated. They were more like bullets today. I spent the whole of the day perfecting the art of shooting them at a particular target.
My targets were a bunch of pillows I had bought from the furniture store down the street. I missed the first pillow by a meter-and-a-half, but I was happy that my cannonball had gotten smaller. The second pillow was better; I missed only by a few centimetres. The third was worse. The fourth was better. And so on.
By the fourteenth pillow, I could shoot a six centimetre diameter bullet at a pillow from a distance of fifty meters.
I was extremely pleased with the progress I had made. Fire powers are not as easy to control as they seem like in movies and books, but my efforts till now had paid off.
I also checked whether I was immune to fire. I mean, I was immune to the fire I myself produced, but I wasn’t sure about ordinary, matchstick flames. So I grabbed a lighter I had stolen from the addict watchman of my ‘social house’ and flicked it open.
I touched the flame gingerly; with just the tip of my index finger. It stung a little more than my flames, but I could bear it. So I was immune. My powers may not turn out to be such a curse after all.
I visited my father today, in the hospital. It was spread over a vast area, with lush green lawns and tall white buildings rising occasionally. My father was in Block B; the second residential area.
I was driven by one of the caretakers of the ‘social home’, but she left after she signed me in, handing me some money and asking me to take an auto rickshaw back. It seemed she couldn’t care less about me.
I didn’t mind.
My bag was taken on entry, and I was only allowed to eat a sticky toffee that had been rotting in it for a few weeks before I was shunted off to the Visiting Room.
My father was sitting in one of the corner tables, the one to the very left. He said, in my previous visit, that it gave him a feeling of comfort and coziness unmatched by any other table.
I walked past the other white tables, shoes tapping on the white-tiled floor, till I dragged the white chair and seated myself opposite the patient.
“Hello, Dad,” I said. He nodded, eyes focusing on me. “Hello, son. How are you?”
His voice was bright, cheerful. One of his good days then, I thought.
“Fine, Dad,” I replied equally cheerfully. “How about you?”
“I’d be doing just fine if they didn’t keep me locked up here all day.”
“Dad, did I ever tell you that I had fire powers?”
I had told him. Every week, when I came to visit. He had never believed me, not once, and never remembered it the next week. It was a constant cycle, but one that I was glad for.
My father shook his head. “Fire powers?” He toyed with the sleeve of his shirt, where it was slowly beginning to fray. It was a favorite exercise of his when he felt the conversation had taken a boring turn.
“Yeah. I’m immune to fire too.”
“Oh, really? So if you were caught in a burning building, you’d come out completely unscathed?” He stopped touching his sleeve.
“I guess so, Dad. I don’t want to try it, though.”
My dad laughed. “You better not.”
We sat in silence for a while. Very soon, it got awkward, so my dad asked, “How’s school?”
It was a stock question. Normally, he would ask this to break a silence, like this particular instance.
“Good,” I said. “It’s all fine. I’m doing pretty well.”
We sat in silence again, till his caretaker told me I had to leave. I left, as usual, without saying goodbye.
I think I’m getting better at controlling the amount and intensity of the flames I can summon. I bought about ten more pillows and practiced shooting again today, with A+ results.
I also tried to summon a little fire away from me; not on my body, but it didn’t work. Seems like I still have a long way to go for that.
After I master that, maybe I’ll try flying like Iron Man.
On another note, I saw a theft today. My first chance to put my powers to proper use.
I was returning from my practice, along the usual route. About halfway through, I hit a particularly shop-filled street, which counter-intuitively, is almost always devoid of people. Anyway, I was coming along this road, and I saw a man buying some milk. He didn’t look suspicious; in fact, quite the contrary. Well-dressed, neatly combed hair, an expensive watch.
When the shopkeeper went to his storage room at the back, this customer looked around furtively and pulled a plastic jar at the edge of the counter towards him. With a little jolt, I saw that it was money.
I don’t think I meant to react. It just happened instinctively. My hand shot a small bullet. It was just an ember really, to sting his hand a little. Nothing too large or too painful.
Unfortunately, I missed, hitting the jar instead, puncturing a neat hole in it. The money caught fire instantly. The thief jumped back, startled and screaming. I made a break for it.
I wonder if my powers will ever actually be put to use. I realized that they’re not a very effective crime-fighting tool. They’re more of a psycho, instant-kill tool, and that's a little hard to control.
Powers like invisibility or flying or super-speed are easier to use if you’re not looking to murder anyone.
I wonder if all the hours I’ve spent struggling to explore and master the nuances of literal fire-fighting are all a monumental waste of time. Absolutely fruitless. Useless. Hopeless. Unserviceable. Unrewarding.
It’s a bit worrying how many synonyms for useless I know.
But in the end I guess, it all boils down to philosophy. Does everything have a purpose? Does everything need to have a purpose? And so on. They’re questions I’d rather not bother myself with.
So I’ve decided that I am going to perfect this. It doesn’t matter whether it’s going to be used or not. If I try hard enough, I may be able to find a purpose for it (maybe a BBQ stall owner).
In the end, the struggle has to be worth it. I’m not sure Nature would work any other way. Again, this is a philosophical question I’d rather leave to Michel de Montaigne:
“There is nothing useless in Nature. Not even uselessness itself.”