Monday, December 14, 2020

Burden of Proof

 


I wake with a start, gasping for breath, drenched in sweat. Above me, the thin blades of the fan lie unmoving, as if holding their breath in solidarity. Inwardly I curse, damn power seems to out again, wretched start to the day. Beside me, Arun keeps up his rhythmic snoring, fitfully sleeping like a baby without a care in the world. Why do I feel like we exist in different universes? Mine filled with images from that cursed night that I cannot escape from, and his content, serene one that I cannot seem to even touch the periphery of.

The glaring neon on the bedside clock blinks 05:24 AM. Logic argues that I try and drift back to sleep. But my mind counters that any semblance of sleep is beyond attainment now. I swing my legs over and walk over to the island by the kitchen. The ice-cold water running down my parched throat soothes not just my thirst, but also lends some comfort to my charged-up nerves too.

Mentally, I run the day’s calendar through my mind. I avoid thinking about it, but the more you avoid something, the more it takes center stage in your thoughts and actions. Dr.Mehta would be expecting me at 8 AM for yet another of her psychotherapy sessions, a series which has not borne any fruit yet. I wish one of two things could happen. Either I could unblock the images and events from the fateful night when we lost Aisha and attain some sense of closure to what pushed her to take her own life. Or I could squash the niggling thoughts of it being a suicide and just go along with everyone’s view of it being ruled an accident.

But the images, they do not let me breathe. They do not leave me alone. And just like that, they come back to life, swimming before my eyes, torturing me with their existence. It does not matter if I am awake or asleep. They live within me, lodged deep in my gut, pushing themselves up to my throat, choking me with the accusations. Of knowing what I know and not doing more. The remnants of reality. The knowledge that someone else was up there with Aisha that day. A bottle-green sweater. A little out of sight, a little to the side. But there, in deep argument. With Aisha. Aisha in tears. And then a blur. As I reach out to pull her back. Pure reflex. I do not realize what is happening, what I am doing. But I am already too late. I see the flash of black as it flies out into the wind. I hear the thud; my mind registers it. But I am mesmerized by the black scarf, now fluttering in the wind, slowly making its way down like a kite cut loose. I remember Aisha and I running behind those during the blessed days of Uttarayan. Aisha always caught them first. Aisha, I realize with a start. And I look around. And they’re gone. Both of them. And all that’s left behind on the empty terrace is me. Heavy with the burden of existence. Dazed with the burden of bearing witness. Raging with the want to know.

And I finally lean over to look down at her. I can feel myself drowning. I am gasping, choking. I feel the weight on my neck. Except, I realize it’s at the back of my neck, massaging it, massaging my back, soothing words being whispered into my ears. And I wake up, slowly.

“ … drifted off. How many times did I tell you to wake me up?” I watch Arun look over at me, the concern evident in his gaze.

I am silent. Still caught between the two worlds.

“… bad dream. I really think Dr. Mehta is bringing up unwanted memories,” I hear him say.

“I need to get dressed.” I am curt. I know he wants me to move on, wishes me well.

Arun lets me walk past him, but I can feel his gaze on me as I walk away from him and his world of emotional comfort that I know I should be getting into.

*** 

It’s only 9.15 AM but when I step out of Dr. Mehta’s office after our session, I feel like I have lived a few years in the hour. I feel drained of energy. Like every last ounce of life has been sucked out of me. And yet, despite all of that, I am not a step closer to making peace with Aisha’s death than I was this morning. Making peace. Making implies manufacturing. But can peace even be manufactured? It’s either there or it isn’t. Not willing to work that one out, I plop down on one of the chairs near the nurses’ station, regaining some composure so I can pay for the service and be done with the day. The nurses all seem to be away, possibly an emergency. Must be one of those rare quiet time slots of the day. I close my eyes, resting.

“Service with?” I hear a voice. Must be a new one, I think. The others all know me, by my multiple visits in the past couple of years. I open my eyes. Indeed. I have not seen her here before.

“Dr. Mehta” I counter, offering her a smile.

“Last name, ma’am?”

“Tandon,” I respond. Soon, she would be a confidante as well. Recognizing my tell-tale signs of anxiety and knowing how best to soothe me down in a mature manner, the way only nurses are taught to.

“Got it. Aisha Tandon.”

“Nisha. Nisha Tandon,” I correct her, and then I realize the significance of the moment.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Nisha Tandon. That’ll be eight hundred please.”

I cannot speak. I feel my breath misting my face, I have to know. There could be a million reasons why she could have come here, to the only hospital in our vicinity, but suddenly hearing the name being read off a visit makes it important. I have to know.

Insanity takes over. I charge at her computer like a mad bull, pushing her aside and she falls off screaming, calling for security, arms flailing wildly. My fingers are pounding the keyboard now, my eyes scanning the screen like a raving lunatic. I hear the nurse whine beside me, holding her temple and I know I don’t have time. Aisha Tandon. My eyes zone in on her name; I feel them mist over. And I click.

And I realize it’s a consultation report. For a pregnancy. And it hits me squarely in the gut. Aisha was pregnant. How did no one know? Why would she not tell me? I could have helped her. Why did she not trust me? I cannot move. From the corner of my eye, I watch the nurse press the security button. And as they drag me away, my eyes come to rest at the top right of the screen.

Father’s Name: Arun Rajnath Thakur

And it all comes back to me in a rush. The black scarf. Aisha in tears. The bottle-green sweater blending into the shadows. His back to me. My arms flying out to catch her. Aisha listless. Her scarf finally coming to rest on a shrub. Me shaken, looking around, unable to digest the actuality. And then walking downstairs in a daze, watching the crowd, sinking into Arun’s embrace, leaving trails of tears on the bottle-green sweater. 
***

This short fiction is written for a dramatic writing prompt (below) on Reedsy




8 comments:

  1. Very gripping! Loved the ending! As usual very well written!!

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    1. Thank you, Shreya <3! I need to learn how to draw out endings next! :)

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  2. Beautifully written Deepa...loved reading it

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  3. Quite intriguing n well written Deepa. Your detailing around the setting, emotions n all is so precise. Thou I did feel a bit of dip towards d end🤗

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    1. That's the thing yaar. I am still very weak at endings. I just close abruptly. Bring it to closure quickly. I need to draw it out more.

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  4. My God, such a gripping story in your inimitable style keeping me on the tenterhooks till the last line.
    I wish I could pack so much suspense in such a short story.

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  5. Gripping story Deepa. Coming to ur space after a long time but by God what a treat to come to. Awesome!!

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