(Author- Dheeraj Keshav J)
I woke up to the sound of the drizzle and the smell of rain as it kissed the dried up ground in the backyard. The window squeaked as I rubbed it with my fist to clear it off the mist. It was the perfect peaceful afternoon, until I saw Rocky racing across the yard in circles, digging and barking vigorously at the sky. It was unlike him. He usually liked the cold weather, probably because he was born on a cold winter evening. Yawning I got off the bed and freshened up with my stomach growling for food. The wood flooring creaked as I raced through the corridors and hopped downstairs with the smell of pancakes guiding me. We are a small family of four: Me, mom, granny and rocky. Dad left when I was little, and mom alone raised me doing odd jobs and little chores. Grandpa died shortly after he left, shaking the thin wire on which our family was walking on, and then granny moved into our house. I feel wet palms on my cheeks and a warm kiss on my head. “Good morning Maxyyy.” Mom always does that. She appends an extra set of ‘y’s to my name, and when asked about it she replies, “more ‘y’s more love.” Mom is the backbone of the family. She wakes up before the sun rises, cooks food, feeds Rocky, washes the dishes and also takes care of granny. For someone who is too lazy to even collect one’s clothes and put it in the washing machine, mom is sure a goddess. She hurries to the kitchen and brings a plate of pancakes. Oh, how much I love them. “Make sure it disappears.” She says with a wink and as she was about to sit down granny screams from her room at the corner of the house.” Get me my food woman.” I hate old people. They scream at the top of their voice, always in a hurry, always pissed off and they are slow. I don’t want to sound mean, but honestly, they are annoying. Mom stands up taking the support of the table with her palms with a painful look on her face. She gets up and holds her knees. Its been a month since her knees began to ache. The doctor advised her complete bed rest, but she doesn’t listen. It as if like she got used to this as if these chores have become her routine, her oxygen, her addiction. “Sorry. Coming.” She replies and looks at me. She smiles and races back to the kitchen to get granny her cereals.
Meanwhile, I looked outside the window having my pancake, being careful not to let the sauce drip from the top of it. Rocky was still doing his grumpy growls completely ignoring his bowl of pedigree. I reached for my tea, which probably has gone ice-cold by now and notice a bug in it. It was desperately trying to fly, but it’s wet wings gave in. I immediately took a spoon and carefully dipped it, trying not to hurt the bug and suddenly began to notice ripples being formed in the tea drifting the bug here and there. I was quick to realize it wasn’t the spoon. I could hear Rocky barking at twice the decibel level as before, and as I lift my head I notice a huge 18 wheeler truck racing towards the house. My eyes widened, and I wasn’t able to move. Mom came out of granny’s room and started running towards me screaming in a muffled voice not noticing the truck. I leaped up from the chair and yelled at the top of my voice for her to stop. She turned her head to notice the truck and the next millisecond the truck broke into the house and rammed into her. Its door was open and banged me in the head and sent me crashing into the wall. The noises went dim, and my vision went blurry as I lay there unable to move my limbs. I wasn’t feeling any pain, probably because I got numb. I tried to open my eyes as the lids began to give in. With great effort, I turned my head around trying to make sense of my shaky surroundings and noticed the truck. It barred through the other wall and crashed into the tree in the backyard. My eyelids weren’t able to keep up and were slowly blinding my vision and with my eyes almost about to shut in, I notice a hand with a red band weakly moving behind the truck. It was mom and before the thought could even translate into an action, I went blank.
I woke up with a head heavy and felt the lump on my head. My body had a thousand cuts and bruises, but the blood seems to be clotted by now. It took a few moments for me to realize the unbelievable that has happened and the accident plays in my head. It all came back slowly. The misty windows, Rocky barking, granny yelling, the kiss, the smile, the fly, the spoon, the truck, the accident and my last sight of mom. MOM. I leaped on to my feet and rushed across the broken beams and scattered pieces of wood and stop a few feet away from the tree where the truck crashed.
I suddenly get this cold shiver along my spine. I begin trying to tie up facts and probables to escape reality. But I move towards the tree with heavy breaths, and a pounding heard. The blood scattered on the tree’s bark, the shattered windshield of the truck, the smoky engine and the diesel spilling was definitely frightening but what gaped my mouth and widened my eyes was the horror that the body was missing. I went speechless, motionless and the worst, thoughtless for a second. Have the police come? Why didn’t they take me then? Did someone call for an ambulance? Is it a dream? Did someone take her body? A million unanswered questions. I notice the dangling open truck door, the one which hit me. Its top hinge was completely broken because of the crash and had my blood stains, dried up. I open it wide to check on the driver, and the horror hits me again. The body was missing and that unfortunately, that wasn’t the scariest part. It was the missing of the blood stains that shook me. The truck didn’t have any airbags which rule out the possibility of him being alive. Or did he jump out of the truck before the crash? After a quick pause, I realized that there were no screams of granny and I also couldn’t hear Rocky. I ran into the ruins of the house and carefully removed the heavy planks covering the door to Granny’s room not to disturb the fragile beams only to notice that even she wasn’t there and neither was Rocky. The phone lines were damaged and there wasn’t any electricity. I scurried to the streets only to find myself standing in what seemed like a post-apocalyptic scenario. Smoke is rising from distant buildings. Crashed vehicles, in where I searched for people and the same thing again. MISSING BODIES.
I ran to the nearby canal which seemed like my only familiar place now. I sat on the grass and watched the water painted with a hint of orange by the setting sun. I stared at the sky and felt the moist grass beside. It felt real. Something with which I was alienated for the past few hours. I tried to make sense of what happened, but not a bell rang. A misty peaceful morning turned into an apocalypse. I was out of thoughts, words, screams, sense and I guess, emotions as well. I wasn’t crying, but I was extremely terrified and sad. I felt like a madman. A psycho. A raged bull. And I scream. I bang my head, the ground, plucked out the grass. I jumped into the water and smashed it vigorously without an ounce of mercy. I went underwater and dug the sand beneath, crushed the shells and threw the stones till my arms went tired. As the water stabilized, I look at my face in the reflection. What have I become? I stared at my hands and legs and wondered how useless they were. I wasn’t able to save mom, whose tissues and blood I inherit. Is this why she gave birth to me? To die helplessly as her son watched by? Nine months of worthless shit! She was my universe, and now I highly doubt if the universe even exists. The thoughts grew deeper and deeper. Deep enough to find my hidden tears. I notice a tiny ripple in the water as a drop fell sliding down my cheek and slowly I broke down.
I found my lost emotions. I cried so loud so that the heavens would hear and mom would pardon me for what I did or what I wasn’t able to. Lost and muddled up in those cries was a question. The last and the most important one. ‘What does she want me to do now?’, a question for which I didn’t get an answer. An hour, a few and none. I climbed back to land sure of not wanting to go through the misery of thoughts again. So, I took the easier route. I suddenly realize the mom’s portrait I had in my pocket. I slide it out carefully not to tear the already wet and fragile picture. Mom, in her favourite black gown. All happy and smiling. According to the tales, dad gifted it to her on her first birthday after the wedding. And in the photo, I found my answer. The heavens found a medium. ‘Be happy with a smile as wide as the widest rainbow,’ she used to say. And I did. I accepted. I gave up searching for reality and accepted the unreal and found peace in the catastrophe. I was smiling amidst the souls of the dead and crashed cars.
Looking at the picture I notice that mom has put on some weight right now, her hair isn’t as lustrous as before. Her lullabies aren’t as soothing as before, and her knees barely support her weight. But I always ponder on this thought about how she could disguise all of this and mold herself into a different character time by time. What do I do without her for the days to come, if there even is a tomorrow? How to be without feeling those warm kisses and without helplessly staring at that beautiful smile? I miss her. I miss granny and Rocky. Our little home with patched up sofas and broken antennas. I lie down and watch the clouds go by and suddenly out of the blue lightning strikes across and travel the length of the visible sky. I wasn’t surprised given the past few hours. By what I have witnessed till now, I wouldn’t even be surprised if it were an alien invasion.
Meanwhile, I realize that my hand wasn’t cold anymore as if it became numb. I turn my head only to realize that my palm was missing. I freaked out and screamed as I witnessed my hand slowly turned into dust and floated by in the air. It was slowly crawling and consuming my hand. It all makes sense now. The accident and the missing bodies. The unreal questions being answered by the unreal. I didn’t even know if I was dying as there wasn’t any pain. I was far away from being surprised right now. I got adjusted to the surprising flow of events and immediately picked up the portrait only to notice the smile.
I know what I had to do. I slid the portrait back into my pocket and began to run. I ran as fast as I could like I never did on the grass by the canal. I screamed and yelled with mysterious happiness as if I have achieved what I was born for. I was running into an improbable tomorrow. Or yesterday? Or something in between? Into the cosmos? Into the oceans? Or more probably part of the breeze? I didn’t care as long as the grass under my soon-to-lose feet was wet and soothing and as long as the breeze scratched and opened up my bruises with stinging pain. Meanwhile, the ‘Eater’ consumed my arms, and my legs begin to turn into particles. Yes, that’s what I named it amidst the unnamable. I tumble over as I lose my balance but picked myself up and fell again. It finally ends — the run. I could feel something tingy as my face begins to vanish into thin air. I couldn’t see properly as an eye atomizes. I give out my biggest yell ever from the bottom of my throat with every molecule putting in its everything. I give out my most satisfying smile and look at the orangish-red sun, warmly kissing the Earth as I take my last blink. It ends. The race with death. As real as it could get in the most unreal way possible.