Saturday, October 29, 2016

Control - A Short Story

When you grow up, the scariest thing stops being the monster that may be hiding under your bed. The thing that scares you the most is losing control over what little you have.”
- Anonymous

“I am about to go on stage now.” I shouted into my phone amidst the loud noise.
“Muah! So proud of you!” said Nikita. Nikita is my fiancee of 3 months.
“Ha ha. Its not 'that' big a deal. Everybody who has completed 5 years in the company gets one.”

No, really, it isn't. But I like to keep mentioning it to her. I am trying to build up some kind of a credibility here. Trying to bridge the gap between who she thinks I am and who I really am.

“Oh! I will call you later. Its my turn!” I say, hearing my name being called.
“Okay, call me once its over! Bye!” she says.

I disconnect the call and run to the stage to collect my token of appreciation. And then, just like in those slapstick comedy movies, I miss my step and fall down. The applause, that had been continuing steadily for the past 10 minutes, turned abruptly into a wave of laughter.

“Are you alright?” said one of my colleagues helping me up, trying to control his laughter himself. I nodded that I am fine, but I can't stop myself from blushing. The laughter continued while I walked onto the stage.

A few minutes later, I was out having a smoke. The embarrassment lingered in my mind. My phone buzzed. Its Nikita. She couldn't make it to the anniversary celebration because her mother came down with pneumonia. I realized my hand still shook from the adrenaline of the fall. I ignored her call for now. May be she will think I am busy with something 'official.' May be that will get me some more credibility.

I go back in. The buffet is open. I walk over to the vegan section. As usual, the vegan section has very few people lingering about thinking twice before they chose anything. Its almost like they don't trust the chef. Like they expect him to have mistakenly dropped some chicken into, say the gobi manchuri. By the time you find out, you are too late. Worse even, you might even end up enjoying the 'strange, but good-tasting' gobi manchuri and never find the truth.

I wasn't feeling hungry, but I noticed my manager eying me from the non-veg section. To avoid any awkward conversations with him, I pick up a plate and served myself some gobi manchuri. I found some of my colleagues sitting at a table nearby and joined them.

“I dont know how you vegans survive, man! Its the same vegetables every day!”
“Well, its just depends on how you cook it. I mean, I have had meat before, and I dont miss it!” I said and started eating my gobi manchuri proudly. My colleagues watched me amusingly, almost as if expecting me to throw up disgusted and then go get some 'real' food.
“It does look delicious. Lemme have some of that!” said John poking at a piece of my gobi manchuri with his fork. I felt kind of relieved. I was worried how I was going to finish all of it.
“Oh my god! This is horrible!” John picked up a tissue paper and spit into it.
“Oh, comon man! Seriously?” I know they are just trying to annoy me. The pricks!
Ravi, another colleague of mine at the table, picked up another piece and put it into his mouth, then almost threw up.
“What? Cant you taste it?? Its rotten!”

I start to hyperventilate. To say the truth, it has been some time since I really tasted anything. Its almost like my sense of taste just disappeared. But it didn't happen in a day. It didn't happen quick enough that I missed it. It was like a gradual process. At first I found food not that tasty, and slowly I lost the sense of taste altogether.

“I.... I have anopsia. I can't smell. I can't taste well because of that.” I said.
“What?? How did that happen??”
“I smoke a lot.” I said as if that explained everything and avoided their gaze. Its not a secret. Everybody knew about my excessive smoking. I took a smoke break almost every half an hour.

“Dump that thing in the garbage and get something else, will you?” John said pointing at the gobi manchuri, of which I had taken another bite absentmindedly.

When I first noticed my sense of smell fading, I panicked and searched online about it. It was one of the side effects of smoking. I know its bad, but smoking is one of my comforts. Especially at a time like this when my mother's health keeps failing and I keep running out of money. The stress just pushes me to smoke more.

A few hours later, I am on the first floor of my house. I am having another smoke. Thoughts running through my head. I come here to smoke because my mom can't get up here after her recent hip surgery. And she does not know that I smoke. At least, I 'think' she doesn't know.

My phone rings again. Its Nikita. I talk to her. I pretend like everything is fine. I am used to this. I have been pretending to her for months. That's the thing with arranged marriages. Its 2 strangers coming together. You dont see each other much. Except you talk on the phone everyday. And you control what the other person knows about you. I am sure she has her secrets too. I am sure she isn't ready to share them too. Then, when we get married, the secrets will slowly trickle out. These thoughts make me want to grab another smoke, but I remind myself that I am already smoking one. One at a time, I tell myself.

I wake up in the middle of the night hearing loud noises. Its like someone placed a huge speaker right next to my ears and turned the bass up. I am screaming, but I can't hear my own scream. I try to get up and run, but my entire body is numb. As if a live wire was running through me. I see my mom rushing into my room and holding my head up. Touching me. But I dont feel it. I dont feel anything. She tries to pull me up, but I fall right back down like dead weight.

Mom gets the neighbors to help her take me to the hospital. I ask them what was happening to me. But they dont seem to understand what I was saying.

By the time I reached the hospital, I had given up. I was used to the loud noise in my ear. The numbness in my body. I have given up trying to get up. The doctor asks me something, but I can't hear him. And he looks confused with what I am telling him.

The nurse finally gives me something, and I start to feel sleepy.

The next time I wake up, the noise in my ear is less. I still can't move my body. Its like my body is separated from my mind. All I feel is tingling and numbness throughout my body.

My mom is sitting next to me looking worried. In comes Nikita. I force myself to sit up, to pretend like I am fine. Like I am cool, the way I had been projecting, but I am helpless. She is telling me something. I try to tell her I can't hear her, but I hear myself wailing. As if I have suddenly forgotten to form words. After sometime, some of my colleagues come into the room. It was the same exercise again. They say something and I wail back in response. The nurse finally asks them to leave as the visiting hours are over. My fiancee leaves after giving me a sideways glance.

After sometime, they sedate me to sleep. When I wake up, I am happy. The loud noise in my ear is gone. I try to get up, but I cant feel my body. Shit. The room is dark. But I can hear my mom's snore close-by. I just need to wake her up and tell her the good news. I hear myself wailing again. Still no words. Shit.

I hear my mom waking up and asking me if everything was alright. I wail again asking her to switch on the lights. I hear a nurse come in. I hear her asking me to follow her finger. Dammit! What finger?? Turn on the light!
“I think something is wrong with his eyes,” I hear the nurse say. I hear my mom cry.

The doctor comes in a few minutes later, and he's thinking aloud.
“This is strange. First his hearing goes away and he's paralyzed, and now he's blind. Nurse, send these tests for me, please.” I hear him scribble something. I hear him comforting my mom that he will do everything within his power to get me back to the way I was.

I keep hearing my mom sobbing, then eventually silence except for the constant beeping of a machine. Like the ticking of a clock. The nurse would come in at times and give me injections. I can feel the prick of the needle. The numbness of my body has vanished, but with it the sensation that I even have a body was gone. I only feel the pain, the only reminder that I even have a body. Like the pain of the pressure ulcers forming on by back because of the constant pressure on it.

I dont know how many days has passed. Sometimes my mom will speak to me saying how even though I “cant hear” her, she just wants me to know that everything will be alright.

Sometimes I hear her talking on the phone. And once I heard her talking to Ms. Das, Nikita's mother, on the phone. She was telling them that it is some kind of a viral disease. I am sure she was making up stuff to save the engagement. But I haven't heard her speaking to them again since, and I haven't heard from Nikita.

The wailing that I used to do seemed to have died down. Its like my voice muscles just gave up one day. May be I wailed too much. Now all I could do to respond was a low grumble, like someone who was half asleep and in pain.

I had gotten back to my sleeping cycle. At least I think I am sleeping in a cycle. In fact, I dont even know how long I slept. Its all the same. The darkness. The unending beeping of the machine.

One day I wake up to voices. The doctor is in my room, and he is talking with another man.
Man: Does he know that his mom is dead?
Doctor: There's no way to let him know. His hearing's out and so is his vision.
Man: Its a strange disease. What is it?
Doctor: I have no idea. I have run hundreds of tests. It must be some kind of a rare disease, but none of the doctors I have discussed with or the literature I have referred to points to anything conclusive.
Man: Have you decided what you are going to do with him?
Doctor: Well, he isn't brain dead, and nobody is coming forward to take him. The bills are piling up, and the hospital management is getting restless. I have no idea what to do with him. I was expecting may be you did.
Man: Didn't you say he was married?
Doctor: No. Engaged. You can guess what must have happened with that.
Man: You know, I was just talking to Raghu, and I think he will be very interested in this case.
Doctor: (Sigh)
Man: What else are you going to do? This is the best thing for him. He will make sure he gets his medical.... eh.. things done, like feed him through the IV, anything. I think one of his men was a nurse long back, so that shouldn't be a problem. Its perfect!

A few minutes pass. I try to cry out loud. The news of my mother's death had finally sunk in. All that comes out is a low grumbling noise.

Doctor: What about the noises he's making? Wont that be a problem?
Man: Are you kidding?? That's exactly what Raghu wants! Trust me, this would be the best thing for him.


The next time I wake up, I hear a humming noise. I have heard this before. Its an engine. I am being taken somewhere. I can hear that I am surrounded by a group of people. Some of them talking about the “new guy.”

We stop, and I hear them huffing and puffing as they supposedly carry me somewhere on a stretcher. I hear lots of people. As if I am in the middle of a crowd. I hear people chanting. I remember the chants. They are prayers.

I hear the voice of an old man close to me who keeps crying “Please, help my son! We dont have money for food!” I hear the noises of coins hitting a metal plate near my head. “Thank you! God bless you!” the old man would tell them.
“God bless you, son!” I would hear strange voices telling me.

I start feeling hot. The sun must be up, and I can feel it burning my exposed skin.

“You will be rewarded for your sufferings in the afterlife!” another passing voice tells me.

I can feel blisters forming on my chest and my stomach.

The old man presses his finger hard into my burnt skin and shouts real close to my ears,
“Cry louder!! They need to hear you suffering or they wont give us their money!”

***
The End.

- Rejo John
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