11 June, 2010

Dark and stormy night

It was a dark and stormy night when she came to find me. I was sitting at my work desk, writing my daily report of the day's work when my ears caught a soft knocking at the front door, timid but distinct against the fury of the tempest.

Who could it possibly be at this hour and in this kind of night, I mused as I pushed back my chair irritably to answer the door. As I was about to slip back the latch, a small, seldom heard voice in the back of my head, which only spoke in times of danger, cautioned me to be careful. My hand hovered over the latch hesitantly. Could the stranger on the other side be a dangerous person? Even in the middle of a night like this, the very notion of a dangerous person wanting to take the trouble to harm a plain Jane like me seemed absurd. I peered out through the glass peephole in the centre of the door, but it was so dark outside that all I could see was a dark silhouette.

"Who's there?" I called out.

"Maze, its me." A woman's voice rang out on the other side, a voice so old and familiar that it was unmistakable even in the thundering rain.

All thoughts of burglars and stalkers fled from my mind as I slipped back the last latch and flung open the door. There she stood, a lone and forlorn figure on the doorstep. The torrential rain had drenched her from head to toe, the rivulets of rainwater gleaming in the dim light of the hallway down her back and formed a puddle at her feet. She had changed much, yet I could still recognize her as the dear friend from my school years. Her business suit was wet and hung limply from her tall frame, but it was obviously of an expensive cut. She held a small briefcase tightly in one hand. Even in my state of semi-shock, I could see that she was unusually nervous, for she gripped the handle so tightly I could see her knuckles shining white in the dim light. Her eyes, those fiery, piercing eyes which always seemed to dance with laughter during our school days were not dancing now as she gazed back at me. I do not know how long we stood there simply staring at each other, but it was Ling who broke the spell.

"May I come in?" she inquired tentatively.

I started. What was I thinking of, letting an old friend stand out there dripping wet and not inviting her in. But then, even old friends do not pop up at one's front door in the middle of the night, do they? Indeed it had been 7 years since I last saw Ling. As I led her into the sitting room and helped her out of her wet coat, all the old memories came flooding back to me. We had been childhood friends since the first year of kindergarten. We grew up together and shared everything between us until the year when brilliant Ling received and accepted a scholarship offer to study in the United State of America. Ever since that fateful year, we were never as close as we used to be again. Ling did try to keep in touch through letters, but there was always an intangible gap between us, I could sense her change even in those hurried letters scribbled between classes in her hectic university schedule. Maybe she could sense a difference in myreplies too. We slowly drifted apart. One year after she had left the country, our letters stopped.

Ling went on to fulfil her life long ambition of becoming a scientist. She specialized in genetic engineering and became a very capable and renowned name in her field. This I did not learn through her as we had lost all contact. Instead, I read about her progress in the various science journals. She was a brilliant engineer and received much praise in the articles on the progress of her career. In fact, Ling was one of the scientists in the team which succeeded in cloning the sheep, Dolly, I had not expected to see Ling again. How could a successful sought-after scientist like her find the time to associate herself with a humble, unemployed researcher like me?

As she sat on the sofa, she began to speak. I sat down opposite her. She had refused all offers of fresh clothes and heat coffee.

"I will not keep you long. My time is nearly up. I must be short and precise about my purpose in coming here." Her voice was low but clear. Lightning flashed outside and lit up the haggard lines on her face. She had obviously been through many struggles in the past 7 years.

"You must have read about my most recent project in the news."

I nodded. The proposal to clone an actual human had sparked a flurry of debates, protests and controversy. Ling had been working for the company who made the bold announcement. Gossip and rumours about the cloning project was splashed all over the newspapers.

"I ran away from the team," she stated simply. "I am ambitious, yes, I admit. But I do not want to defy God."

Again I started, this was strange and abrupt. I stared incomprehensibly at her, a hundred questions on the verge of my tongue unspoken.

"Yes, I stole our latest work. The data is in a diskette inside my case, and I ran away." She looked at me, hopefully.

"I'm dying, Maze. And I know you have no obligations to help me but what I'm asking of you now is not only for old time's sake, it's for the entire human race."

"You never believed in human cloning, did you? You never did approve of the idea, not even as a student...all those interviews where you spoke against your own work..." I whispered.

Ling closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "You're right. I never did. So now I'm going to put a stop to it before I leave this world. Take the diskette and keep it safe, Maze. Destroy it if the need arises. I leave the decision in your hands. Our word is not ready for such a discovery."

She got up from the sofa. "I missed you very much all these 7 years, Maze. I'm glad I got to see you one last time before I " She paused, never finishing the sentence.

That was the last time I saw her - the visitor in the middle of the dark and stormy night.

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