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She looked down into the valley, almost searching for something, her hand firmly holding the tree, as if she’d fall and be surrounded by eternal darkness.
She sat in the chopper till its blades came to a complete stop, unbuckling her seat belt only when she was convinced that she was back on land.
It wasn’t the flying that she was afraid of, it was the height. She had an extreme fear of heights. A fear that she tried to overcome, to the best of her abilities, but somehow that was one fear she never completely managed to get rid of.
The Manager and the Secretary rushed to the helicopter as it stopped and the door opened. She ignored their outstretched hands and got down from the chopper.
“Welcome Madam Chairman,” said the Manager.
The She-Devil, Iron Maiden, Frozen Bitch, she had many names. But ‘Madam Chairman,’ that’s what they all called her to her face.
In fact, that’s what almost everyone called her. It had been a long time since she had heard someone call her by her name.
She owned one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing company in the country. The third largest in the world. Only in this country, they had around 23 factories that made various products, and employed more than 40,000 people.
She started from scratch, an unknown name in the business world and built up an empire in a brief span of around 30 years. Hers was a story of sheer ruthlessness, that had shaken everyone in the business world, who had watched her rise to fame.
The Manager stared at her in awe. This was the first time he was meeting her personally. Even at the age of 60, she made a formidable figure. Dressed in a crisp saree with a sober background and an understated border, she stood with her back straight and moved with a grace which would belie her age. Her greyish hair, with no pretence of hair dye, pulled back severely into a tight bun.
“We were quite surprised that you wanted to come and see this land yourself, Madam Chairman,” the Manager continued waving his hands at the large expanse of land. “This is it. All 25 acres of it, just the right amount of land that we need for our new factory. Of course, we have other places, but since you wanted to see this one first…”
She looked around her as the Manager continued to speak, almost ignoring him. The sun shone at her from the clear blue skies as she breathed in the fresh natural air that felt so different than the clogged air of the city. Her gaze fell on the clump of trees casting its cool shade on the ground below.
The shade of the trees created a feeling of calm under the otherwise harsh sun. He had knelt down on his knees with the ring in his hand as she coyly rested her back against one of the trees. Then, he had held her hand in his and confessed his undying love for her. “I will cherish you for eternity if you will only be mine,” he had said as she nodded with a smile.
He had slid the ring on her finger and kissed her, very lightly at first and then insistently, with passion. She always remembered that kiss, even after they got married. Somehow that kiss remained embedded in her mind, perhaps because it was her first and the most loving one.
“Would you like to see the rest of the land, Madam Chairman?” the Manager’s voice interrupted her trance as he tried to lead her further on.
She started walking without looking behind, the Manager and the Secretary in tow.
A glass shattered under her feet as she strode firmly ahead. She stopped and looked down at the empty beer bottle lying on the ground right near her feet.
He had come back drunk that day. More drunk than ever before.
“You are f**#%# bad luck for me. Since you came into my life, all I have had is bad luck. My parents died, my business is gone. You even lost your own parents. All because of you…” he had screamed as she backed away from him towards the door.
She had tried to placate him, reason with him, but to no avail.
“Let me work. I have a Master’s degree. I can get a good job with a good salary. It will help our finances,” she had pleaded, but her cries of despair had fallen on deaf ears.
“Your degrees are worthless. YOU are worthless. What makes you think can earn money? The only way you can earn is by selling your body… and even that is not worth anything,” he had raged as he smashed the beer bottle in his hand on the door beside her, the slivers of glass flying everywhere, some digging sharply in her face.
She cowered in fear and shrunk to the floor in a ball, not making a sound, hoping his anger would subside.
“The youngsters, Madam Chairman,” The Manager’s voice came from behind her. “You know how they are. They find an empty place, they sit and drink. But don’t worry, we can always get the place cleaned out as soon as we make our decision to buy. Once we have our people here, these things won’t happen,” he continued.
She brushed past the Manager, as if not hearing him and came to a stop a few paces away from a small broken house in the middle of the land. The house was blackened by the sands of time, portraying a very dismal picture of doom.
“Let’s sell your house in the village”, he had said, “that will give us enough money for me to restart my business. Then we will live like kings again”
“No. That’s the only thing I have left. It belongs to my parents, I can’t sell it. I have memories. We have memories!” she had cried.
“Screw the memories!! Memories won’t feed us. And your parents are dead. They didn’t do us any good when they were alive, might as well they do us some good now that they are dead”, he had exclaimed
“Don’t use such words about my parents. I am not going to sell the house,” she had said firmly.
That was when his fist smashed against her face. When his heavy shoe had come down on her stomach as he walked out leaving her on the floor writhing in pain. That was when she had decided to leave him, his city and his world and go back to her village and settle down in her parents’ house.
The Manager cleared his throat as he stood behind her and began to speak again.
“This is just a ruin. It has been abandoned for ages. The last owner had sold this place off in a hurry for a throw away price to the current owner but that was such a long time ago. How I wish, we had bought this place then, it wouldn’t have cost us such a bomb now. But don’t worry Madam Chairman, we will bulldoze the house and you won’t even know it ever existed,” said the Manager with a wide grin on his face.
She turned around to look at him and there was something in her eyes that wiped his grin off the face. Looking him up and down, her eyes, devoid of any expression, briefly rested on the Manager’s paunch.
She started walking again, away from the house towards the lone tree standing at edge of the land.
The Manager pulled his stomach in with an embarrassed look, as he rushed to keep pace with her.
“Madam Chairman! Madam Chairman!” the Manager shouted, as she went dangerously close to the cliff’s edge and stopped just a few inches away from the tree.
When she had reached the tree, he had already been sitting there for quite some time, if the half empty bottle of whiskey beside him was any indication of that.
He had shoved some papers into her face.
“Sign these”, he had commanded.
“Are these divorce papers?” she had stammered
“Divorce? Hah, you won’t get rid of me so easily, you bitch! This is the sales deed of this land. I have sold it off. As soon as you sign these papers, we will have sufficient money to restart my business,” he had gloated
“I am not going to sign these papers. I told you, I will not sell this land,” she had said, as she started to move back to the house.
He had grabbed her hair, pulling her back and she had pushed him. Pushed him with all the strength she could muster, catching him completely by surprise.
His hand was still grabbing her hair, as his foot slipped on the edge of the cliff. She had grasped the tree to save herself from being dragged along with him. Then, she had turned around to look at him. His face was inscrutable, surprise, astonishment and fear written all over it at the same time. As his hand started slipping, she had held on to the tree. She had watched his body fall down into the valley. Holding on to the tree, she kept staring down at his shocked face till it was out of her sight, finally disappearing into the blackhole of darkness. She had steadied herself as she had looked around her. The sales deed papers were strewn everywhere.
“Sign these and we will have sufficient money to restart my business,” he had said.
She had hastily gathered the papers and had started walking towards the house, her back straight, never looking back ever again.
“There is nothing beyond the tree, Madam Chairman,” said the Manager as he stood behind her. “Just an empty bottomless valley. If someone falls down there, we will never be able to find his body,” he said with a laugh.
She turned around and gave him a look that shut off his laugh just as soon as it had started.
“So, Madam Chairman, what do you think?” he asked meekly
“Buy it,” she said.
“You know that this is almost twice the cost of the other lands which we have shortlisted, right, Madam Chairman?” said the Manager.
“Buy it.” she said.
“Okay. So this is where our factory will be then,” said the Manager, indicating the secretary to take notes.
“No,” she said.
“But…then what will we do on this land?!” asked the Manager, a bit taken aback.
“Nothing,” she replied calmly
“Ummm… okay and the factory?” enquired the Manager
“It will be built on one of the other lands you shortlisted,” she said in a firm authoritative voice.
“So would you like to see those lands, Madam Chairman?” asked the Manager, as the Secretary stopped taking notes.
“No. Get the Managing Director to choose one,” she said.
“And you don’t….”, the Manager continued.
“Go Away! Now!” she said, with strong authority in her voice.
Without saying another word, the Manager motioned to the Secretary, as they started moving back towards the car. They both turned around every now and then to look at their Madam Chairman, as she stood beside the tree.
“So we are going to buy this land and not build a factory on it, isn’t that stupid?” asked the Secretary in a rather surprised voice.
“If that’s what Madam Chairman wants, that’s what Madam Chairman gets,” said the Manager with a frown on his face.
“But it is stupid. What a waste. Sometimes I wonder, sir, how do these rich people become so rich when they are so stupid? How do they make their fortunes!” the Secretary continued shaking his head from side to side.
“You know what they say, my boy,” the Manager said, grinning at the Secretary as they turned around for a last look at her.
She appeared to be looking down into the valley, almost searching for something, her hand firmly holding onto the tree next to her, as if she would fall down the cliff and be surrounded by eternal darkness.
“Behind every fortune, there is a crime”
A version of this was first published here.
Picture credits: YouTube
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Engineer by profession......writer by passion 🙂
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