Ross awoke with a start. It was a bitter January night, and thunderstorms, howling winds, and odd headaches oppressed him. Winter seemed endless. Strange, blue-black flames threatened to engulf him amidst the dimness. They rippled and danced.
“Gulp a flu caplet, bro,” Archie recommended as he awoke. Ross obliged. After the sudden death of their parents in a car crash, Archie assumed the role of guardian to his younger brother. Both were on the cusp of adulthood.
Splits of canary-yellow light seeped in from the rusty streetlamps and illuminated their parked bicycles since the gloomy house didn’t have a garage where they could store them. Ross’s blanketed frame appeared shadowy. The heater’s warmth comforted them.
When the room brightened with morning, Ross opened his eyes, and a quilt of worry enveloped him. Since Christmas, it had been one long countdown until the big race. Good results would ensure his selection in the national cycling team. It would soon be make-or-break time.
When afternoon arrived, Ross and Archie hopped on their bikes and started pedaling. The beauty of the winter landscape was overwhelming.
“Feeling drained,” Ross said tiredly, even before they finished warming up.
“Take a rest, baddie,” Archie advised.
After seeing a roadside teashop, Ross decided that it was a great idea and stopped to perk himself up with some tea. Afterward, the two rode slowly toward the bazaar. Church bells tolled. A herd of lively goats marched past the two, their bells ringing in unison with each toll, echoing throughout the laidback streets of Darjeeling.
Ross returned home with a headache and chills. As the evening grew darker, his fever returned. “Take it easy, pal,” Archie recommended.
But Ross’s anxiety loomed largely. While Archie studied, he walked toward the side door, which opened onto a balcony. The chill immediately cut into his flesh. Streaks of light enlivened the dark space.
Ross gazed at the other side of the road when the figure of a female suddenly caught his eye. She was clasping a viola, fully embracing the instrument with her whole body. It breathed with her; moved with her. It was an extension of her.
The woman’s shapely figure rhythmically waved with her song. Her smooth movements touched a chord in Ross’s young heart.
Then, she disappeared as swiftly as she had arrived.
The following morning was cold and windy, but cloudless. “Feeling a bit ill, bro,” Ross said in a feeble voice.
Archie glanced at his brother. Ross looked peaky, his eyes glistened. He refused to eat, slept through the morning, and canceled his daily training session, so they decided to consult the local doctor.
Walking into the physician’s chamber, they noticed it was old and dingy, its lights too dim, and its ceiling too low.
“It’s simple flu,” the doctor diagnosed in a drawl after a brief examination.
Suddenly, the lights went off, so they quickly left the grotty little room.
On the way home, the distant hills looked surreal, shrouded in glassy darkness, but the far-off lights promised snugness.
A beggar sat on the pavement. He looked confused and directionless. No one was around to give him alms.
Ross’s fever persisted for more than a week, so they decided to contact a specialist.
As Ross sat in the padded chair at the specialist’s office, his upper body slumped. The doctor looked at him and said, “You have told me nothing about your past.”
“I’m a cyclist doctor. I was on drugs, but now I’m sober,” Ross replied.
The doctor spoke in a low voice, carefully measuring the volume and cadence of each word. “You’re HIV positive.”
The entire room slid into an abysmal pit.
“We’ll have to wait to know more,” the doctor added.
Life was tumultuous, but Ross couldn’t run away from this. With an HIV-positive diagnosis, he had only emptiness in front of him. He didn’t know where he was headed. He was sure of nothing.
Solace was hard to come by, as an air of anxiety hung over Ross’s restless mind. The lamp on his bedside table glowed with a dim blue haze that entranced him.
He couldn’t sleep, despite taking antidepressants, so he walked outside onto the balcony and gazed at the eastern sky’s beauty, which was tinged red, while Archie was still fast asleep.
The morning air had a nip of freshness, with a piercing, cloudless sky that framed the blue-green hills that dominated the topography for miles around. Ross stood there, frozen with awe.
Cycling was his passion. It was his way of life, his sole reason to live.
Then and there, he decided he’d never give up on his goal. His training would become more strenuous, and he’d strictly adhere to a more rigorous schedule.
Finally, the day arrived.
Ross was already disappointed in his qualifying time and resulting starting position when immense fatigue set in amidst the course’s rolling hills.
Still, he persisted. “You can pull this off,” he frequently whispered to himself.
Relying on the sheer strength of his mind, Ross passed many riders. He was in the peloton, with ten kilometers remaining and a sharp incline ahead. His body was at its breaking point, which was screaming for his mind to listen. He wanted to give up, although it would have marked the end of his dream.
“Come on, bro!” Archie shouted from the sidelines.
“You can do it! Remember your training,” his coach cried out, cheering him along.
Ross mustered all the strength he could and completed the race. As he rolled across the finish line, Archie and Ross’s coach rushed to his side.
“Congrats, bro,” Archie yelled, kissing Ross on the cheek. Tears trickled down Archie’s cheeks.
For the moment, Ross was elated. But eventually, he pushed his bike from the finish line, burdened with the unknown future that lay ahead.