PART ONE: RECOLLECTION
Present Day, Jan 2020.
Headlights flashed the front door- brown, oxidized. A smile mended my lazy face; hands laid on the cold metal handle. I rested my flushed eyes.
Fingers scratched the ground. Cold! I felt the frozen veins in my muscles, the intense artic wind rustling through my barren face. Ah! I felt the heartless artic chill.
Death- a word with mere cursed fate. I never did grasp its horrors, for me it wasn’t the synonym of life; rather its opposite. I adored that part of life; I wish if I could be free.
Sun rose up the horizon I lied there- numb… I lied there as everything changed.
My Chest underneath the marsh; blink-less pupils gazed the horizon… drowning in the swamp. ‘Ah! that pungent smell’. A tap on my neck.
‘Probably a twig scratching my skin. I mean definitely a twig. What else could it be?’ I said in my mind.
‘Shit!!’ I can’t move. My Lifeless body moved beneath the skyline- it was dark, every breath sipped in that jellied- filthy fluid. Gross!!
I can’t breathe, I can’t.
‘Am I dead?’ Words tickled inside the skull.
A brutal blow- rippled cheeks opened my eyes. I lied awake; the snow, that pungent swamp- I couldn’t feel now, stinky aroma of concrete surged through nostrils. I hated the smell. Drizzle moistened the steel tip, white light reflected through water, seeping by the dampened-fractured part.
Fuck, it hurts.
‘Wake up, you shit!’ he stood at my back. His jaws grinded against the other…eyes with murderous impulse… Shit! He’s scary.
‘Dinner ready,’ he said, walked away.
I closed my eyes.
A girl in a little peach princess gown, her hair pulled up into cute ponies. 0h! she was so adorable, probably eight years, smiling in someone’s arm. Her fluffy hand swung around in pleasure.
It feels like I know them. Those blurry faces, who were they?
‘Our shoes shred those prosy leaves
Your velvety palms clung with warmth.
Those starry skies. Oh! those delightful nights.
I wish I could feel again…
I wish if we could walk again, together…
those strolls of affection.’ Probably her mother singing, she stroked her hair kissing that cutie pie in her forehead. They were happy.
Lousy eye-lids slid off; gastric fluids eroded my abdomen. I conked off.
1:41 a.m. Breathless darkness escalated all over. A haunting silence. Shower had paused; drops leaked through moistened roof echoing the cold air.
Dried throat crawled for a drop. Oh! this warm sheet, the cosied cushion of cotton. I don’t want to get out. It’s fucking cold, for a thirty-year-old, the cold was excruciatingly torturous. Ah! this annoying hangover. I don’t want to soak my warm toes. Fuck!
Flooded floor. I knew it would hurt. Rip my warm toes. I loved you so long. I wish I didn’t leave the bed. Rajiv snorted like a whistle, laid like a corpse placed in a coffin, his wrinkles blanket- off white extended to the throat. Brown Indian face forsaken from the warmth of his blanket carved out like a stone sculpture covered with sheets at those archeology sites. Damn! It feels so weird. I couldn’t have grasp until today how could he sleep without swinging around his limbs all over the bed.
My brother is the real scariest thing when he’s awake. Believe me. He would beat hell out just for leaving a light on. Well, he is the educated one, that’s what they probably do. Tip-toeing the way to kitchen, the bottle of water on the table was as right as rain.
Took a seat, pulled a cigarette. Ah! the drag feels divine.
A surge of anxiety- painful screams, the collapsing buildings, my failed attempts. My heart palpitating, forehead sweating in warmth. Snaps of nightmare crossed my mind suddenly.
1994… ‘Nikhil, dinner’s ready. Now, stop listening to that evil T.V,’ Aai screamed; everyone rushed to the kitchen. Well, you rather miss a show than a week of taunting dialogues.
‘Neelima, don’t you think we should be rich?’ Baba sipped his dals sharing with his mustache; and then the annoying burp… as always.
Everyone stopped, Aai’s frowned face; I knew she wanted to kill him. He never realized, I guess, he used to ruin every good mood. It isn’t abnormal that I never had a smiling memory with my father.
‘What? I am telling the truth.’ He stopped, fingers holding the piece of chapatti wrapping the vegetables. ‘Who doesn’t love money?’
‘Well, I love my son,’ Aai looked him in the eye. Didn’t bother, it was then a routine conversation. I was five then yet nothing changed. Father wanting to sell me. Well, I would make one’s fortune, ain’t I? Aai wanting me by her side, Safe.
I wish I wasn’t born.
‘Our nation will never be like before said the CEO of SupPower. He also added On account of these extraordinary happenings people should not panic and can give a troll free call to their number if the situation gets out of hands,’ I forgot to turn off the radio again.
Baba always admired the British language. His extreme obsession was the result, me and my brother had to listen to the English news daily for hours. Well, that was the only good thing he did as far as I could remember.
‘Did you hear that? They would help us,’
‘I ain’t giving my son away, just that we can have money. Now you don’t ruin our dining Mukesh.’
I took another puff.
It was stormy, as Aai would say. I always hated when Aai shared my birth story. Grey clouds insulated the sky, strong breeze hovered the land. Aai aching in pain screams aloud, echoing the silent hospital corridors. Lights kept scintillating as the wind blasted the windows. My father was convinced- a cursed child to be born.
‘Well I knew you are my God’s gift,’ Aai would say smiling, sliding her fingers through my hair. I loved her sweet-calm smile.
‘You know Nikhil, in those painful screams, you just wish if you could die in peace but you know every mother prays for a healthy baby. We just want you to be safe than anything else.’
‘Neelima… Neelima,’ Malini aunty rushes to our cabin, slamming the door open. She stood holding the door knob- panting heavily, dressed in a vibrant green saree designed with glittery golden beads.
She wore her vibrant torn sarees, a shiny necklace and earring… she found somewhere, joined with yellow thread barely living up to its form. She never changed until her last breath. For all of the slum dwellers, she was just like a style icon.
‘shhh…,’ the nurse gave her an evil eye. ‘Don’t make noise.’
I still couldn’t resist but laugh, Aai impersonating the nurse and Malini aunty.
‘He is so beautiful. Have you thought of any names?’
Malini Aunty hated that nurse so much, in fact she never visited that hospital again; everyone in our slums were convinced by then not to ever visit that hospital.
Aai would always mention when baba used to carry me in his arms playing all day, never left me alone. ‘I would get so angry when he wouldn’t give me to love you.’ Aai would say. I wish I could remember that Baba. I wish I could erase everything about him.
A memory. ‘Please don’t go in there. I don’t want to remember. It hurts. Please I don’t,’ I wailed in my head. Sometimes it’s painful how the truth kept reminding who we are.
‘Stop it, Please… I don’t want to remember.’
1994. Ravaged home. Soaring ashes. A lone boy, standing midst blazing flames. Aai sobbing. Hands trembled, Sweating. Heart palpitated. My cigarette fell on the flooded floor. I couldn’t sense my legs.
A wintry evening. Baba in his white shirt- mud spots dotted all over, pants soaked in mud dripping from the ripped ankles, slammed open the front door; it was mostly a large steel plate tied to the tin house structure. The whisky in his body perfumed the whole house. Irritating. Something was wrong, the air felt heavy, his body leaned forward… limbs barely kept their pace. He was angry, he wanted something.
I knew what he wished, we did.
‘Mukesh are you home? What happened you are so late?’ Aai shouted from the kitchen. He rushed in.
Aai yelled. It was from the kitchen. Rajiv, I hustled. The door was locked. She was whining.
‘Mukesh, please don’t hurt me… Please Mukesh,’
I blanked out, it was dark, quiet. It was as if I was dead. I jolted awake in Aai’s arms, her hands stroking my hair, Rajiv sat next holding her tight.
‘Are you are ok, Nikhil? What happened to you Nikhil? What did you do?’ She cried again her face- blackened, as if she came from a coal mine. I stood up, ‘what happened here? Where is baba? Why is everything on fire?’ Eyes rolled all over the place, the tin walls, our clothes, Rajiv held to the radio.
‘Where is Baba?’ I couldn’t find him.
‘What did you do, Nikhil?’ Aai looked at me, her eyes couldn’t hold her tears.
I know something was bad. I felt the air.
‘Why would u do that?’ Rajiv was crying.
What did I do? I was scared I don’t know. Where is Baba?
‘This is all my fault. I should have listened. Everyone would have been safe,’ Aai whined.
I don’t know. I fainted.
Fire sirens wailing around echoed the slums, I was in Aai’s lap, I looked at her she was rigid, barely alive.
‘We found the body,’ someone said. Aai was still rigid.
Rajiv sat beside the stretcher they brought covered in a white sheet, he wept. What was happening? Why does it ache? Baba…Where is Baba?
I looked at Rajiv, I knew. My limbs paralyzed, breath was heavier with each seconds. I was losing consciousness again. I knew yet I didn’t want to accept. I don’t want to accept. How the hell am I supposed to? How can I? How can I lose myself again?
How did my powers let loose? I just wish to die.
Why is it cold here? Why’s the floor wet? I keeled over.