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Fair warning: This one is long, truly it is. And it’s also very depressing. I had to take three long breaks while writing this, just to keep myself from going crazy. Also, for those of you haven’t read Ishu’s story from the hospital earlier, here’s the link:
EPISDODE 31: LUCKY
People think that emptiness is either black or white. It’s not. It’s grey. A unique, dreary, bleak grey. The shade sometimes lighten, like the dim lights filtering through a thick evening fog after a winter shower; or it darkens like the faraway ominous roll of thunder clouds announcing the storm. Sometimes it’s painted in rosy shades and sometimes in stark black background. But it’s never warm.
The warmth was everywhere around me. It was wrapped around me like a blanket and I could feel its softness everywhere it touched my skin; except for my head, that is, where the pain was concentrated. The lull of pain never faded, but the warmth came and went in intervals. And when it wasn’t there, it felt like life was being sucked out of me in slow, excruciating droplets. When it came back, I clutched at it with the maximum strength I could muster.
Every now and then, I would feel stronger and break out of the confines of my head, becoming alert to senses that were numb for long. And then the flashes continued. But this time was different.
“Yes Shivaay, she is sleeping now. But her head is burning. Send the doctor here please.” I heard the velvety sound pause for a few more seconds and then reply, “No, she’s afraid of hospitals. She’ll be okay here I guess.” Another long pause. He listened intently to whatever Shivaay was saying and sighed. Another very long pause. “Yes, I know. She got a bag and there were photos and a map in it. I think it’s him.” Desolation was clear in his voice now. But what is he talking about? I recalled the photos he talked about; they had led me to this nightmare. How does he know? Another short pause. “Is he there?” his voice had turned stone; cold and brittle. I gasped for breath at the venom dripping from the simple question. He heard it and muttered a “Hold on” into the phone before rushing back to my side.
“You’re awake? Ishu, are you okay?” his voice was honey-velvet again. It was quiet for a few seconds as time slowed and his fingers touched my forehead. They were cold as ice; or rather my head really was burning up. As soon as I thought it, it was all I could think about. The ache caught up with me and pulled me into the endless pain. As if through a thick curtain, I heard him murmur, “No, she fell asleep again.”
The pain wrecked its way through me, guiding me in a way. And I followed. It was easier that way.
I saw myself getting younger, glowing with my decreased age. As if looking into a mirror, I saw the smile fade away as a blank look took its place. An empty house and darkness all around cannot make a person smile after all. With some courage, I walked further towards the pain. With each step, the darkness lightened until I stepped into a familiar memory lane. This had happened before, so I went along with the ephemeral happiness.
Daddy called me from behind and I looked back with a smile. “You can’t be up to any good! What do you have up your sleeve this time?” he asked furtively. Mom glared at me behind him, “You, father-daughter duo can never be up to any good! What do you have up your sleeve this time?” I snickered at her imitation and hid behind Daddy. She raised an eyebrow at me and I replied with an endearing grin.
“Momma, I’m going to participate in the college fest tomorrow and then study for the exam day after”, I announced. Dad shot me an apprehensive look at this change of plans as we had decided to keep this a secret from my scholarly Mom. He faked a smile at Mom, who didn’t look too shocked either. She was used to our planning by now. She exhaled in a huff and said, “Since you are miles away from studies, I’ll let you go for practice only after you clean the house and do the laundry. Deal?”
I skipped to her side and gave her a hug, “You’re the best Momma!” Daddy tried slipping away to escape part of punishment, but I was quicker. “Daddy will help me clean this big house, right?” I asked exaggerating the ‘big house’ cutely. Mom finally smiled indulgently and joined in the fun, “Of course! Aiding and abetting in sneaking away is a crime too.”
He became authoritative for a minute saying, “I’m the head of the family. You can’t order me around like this.” And then Mom rolled her eyes at him and he dramatically sighed, “I’m a senior project manager in one of the most reputed firms of the country. And the two important ladies in my life are making me clean the house! What can be worse?” We laughed together, bringing our home alive. Then they faded away in the distance, leaving me alone in the greyness.
I searched for them throughout the emptiness and then the scene shifted again as I grew older by a year or two. This time I didn’t recognize the setting. I was walking through a dark alley, returning home perhaps. In front of me, the scene was something out of a thriller movie. A man walked to a figure lying huddled on the ground. Two cars and two men; one of each was unharmed and the other appeared damaged beyond repair. The wrecked car and man were lying a little farther away and it looked like one of those cases in which a car suddenly swerves, hits something solid like the wall and as a result turns into scrap metal. The door of the car was open so I assumed the injured man must have crawled out for some reason.
I walked closer to them, trying to see his face. The bulky man was standing near the other’s head with a casual stance. “What are you doing?” I asked harshly and he turned to look at me scarily.
“Leave”, his curt instruction didn’t register in my brain and he ignored me, walking to the undamaged car and talking to someone inside it. “Did he tell you the password? If this turns out bad, I don’t want it to be connected with the Oberois in any way.” The bulky man nodded obediently. I was still standing in the dark corner and after listening to this exchange, I staggered to the fallen figure. “Daddy?” I shrieked as I recognized my Dad lying in a pool of blood.
The other two men were shocked with my outburst, but I was too devastated to pay attention to them. I was watching Dad gasping for breath, choking up on more blood, too stunned to react. All of a sudden, all the bits of knowledge I had gathered in my life flooded my head. I tried giving him CPR and was about to call for ambulance when someone threw away my phone. Grabbing me in a chokehold, he dragged me away from my Dad, throwing me towards the wrecked car easily. The other man had come out of his car, watching my tear stained face with absolute shock and fear. Now, I recognized the round face as Shakti Uncle.
But then, I hadn’t known who the damned man was, and I hadn’t cared. Some movement caught my eye and I turned to see someone sitting inside the car, fastened into place by the seatbelt and resting her head on the airbag. Blood dripping from her hairline, my Mom’s face was barely recognizable in the dark. I frantically pulled her out. She seemed to regain consciousness for a minute, but the minute I removed my hand to get a phone from her bag inside, she fell down and hit her head again. “Momma!” I cried as I went to kneel beside her, the phone forgotten. I straightened her and let her be on the abandoned road carefully, all the while chanting “It’ll be okay. Everything will be okay”. Her breathing was shallow, but she opened her eyes a little and it looked like she would be okay for some more time.
Turning my focus to my Dad, I saw Shakti Uncle leaning close to him. But before I could go near them, the bulky man held me by my hair and dragged me back. I threw punches and kicks, but he avoided them easily. In my desperation, I cried out loud, I hit him, I called my parents with all the power in my lungs; to no avail.
Through the tears, I saw Shakti Uncle talking to someone over the phone in a rush. It looked more like an argument, but I didn’t care. The only thing I heard clearly was, “I never meant to do it! And it can’t be undone now. Bhaisahab, please! Just tell me a way out of it.”
A sudden light from a passing motorcycle pierced my tired eyes, and I shouted for help when I felt a hand shutting my mouth. Luckily the bike guy stopped, but not for long. I later realized that the bulky man had pretended to be calming me while Shakti Uncle explained that they had called the ambulance, and that they will take us to the hospital. The motorcycle guy left and that’s the last I saw through my swollen eyes. The bulky man let me go and I tried running, but my legs felt rubbery. I heard a feminine sound, “Ishu!” and I fell weak again. All this time crying and shouting for help, I had exhausted my energy and the labor caught up with me as I fainted and fell down.
A strong set of arms caught me this time, holding my broken pieces in place with such gentleness. All those days of waiting for my parents, hoping beyond hope that they might show up, or at least I would get some clue about where they were; it was all coming to an end now.
I had never known that they were living in the neighborhood itself; their grave possibly at the foot of a tall tree in the wilderness. I had never even remembered the last time I saw them before that memory which was filling in every cell of my body now. I didn’t even have the courage to handle the pain that came with reliving that night, running away from them as soon as I saw the beloved watch Daddy always wore, it’s ‘Momma and Daddy’ clearly etched in my brain. “Daddy!” I cried again, wishing for the endless pain to go away or at least for Death to be merciful enough and take me away from it. “Momma!” If only there was someone kind enough to end this for me, rewrite the fate that awaited me with basketfuls of agony.
After a while more, the headache was just a dull monotone in the background, having run its course fully. This new pain was emanating from my heart, clenching and unclenching with each pump of blood. For the first time in forever, I was grateful to the man who sent me the bag of cash. In his ego and/or guilt, he had revealed his identity to me, and that was going to be the worst mistake of his life.
“Ishu… Are you okay?” I heard the velvet voice again. ‘It could be an angel calling out to me and I wouldn’t know the difference’, I thought again. “But Om isn’t an angel”, I thought again through the mess that my head was. “He’s the son of the devil you are going to kill”, a small voice behind me reminded. I ignored all these thoughts, grateful for the warm support, and let the agony flow out.
The cycle of wailing and sleeping never ended. And every time she woke up to cry, it punched a hole through me. Not just one, but multiple holes in the same place: right through the center of my chest. Sometimes the words made sense like the repeated “Momma” and “Daddy”. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I asked my Great Wall of Shivaay to come to me. And of course Rudra won’t let him come alone. While I waited for Shivaay and Rudra, I made Maggi for myself. For once, I thought she would wake up to the smell of Maggi, but she didn’t. Watching her sleep like a lifeless body stole my hunger too and I eventually dumped the bowl out of sight.
More than fifteen hours had passed since Mr. Oberoi dropped her back. The clock was striking two when I was caressing her hair as she shed silent tears on the drenched pillow. Looking at her, I thought how awful it must be to not even remember the one day which changed your life. For me, there had been just one such day: the first time I tried drugs. I remembered the weird feeling in the beginning and then the freedom that coursed through my veins, mingling with my blood so intricately that it made my whole body feel weightless. Each and every bond that tied me to this world broke away within seconds, and I was left to float in the air, all alone. I remembered every feeling, every kiss of the poison tingling on my skin, everything else except for that day. I never thought about what I had done that day or what else was remarkable then. It made me feel guilty as hell for being so selfish.
I still felt the dry ache of longing for that poison, but it never overpowered me nowadays. The struggle was exhausting, but it was all worth it. My family had taken care of that. ‘My family’, I thought again. When I thought it, I wanted to say it out loud. “My family”, I whispered. It stirred her and I fell quiet again. I wondered if all the Oberois really were my family. Except for my siblings and Dadi and Mom, I had never felt any connection with anyone else. Particularly Mr. Oberoi. The hatred I had felt for him all my life was never as acute as now.
But this time, this hatred was shared by Chhote Papa too. I couldn’t believe they were the ones responsible for my Ishu’s condition. Sitting on one end of the bed with my legs crossed under me, I looked at her agonized features and wiped away the tears streaming over her cheeks again. She had clutched my shirt in her fists again, tightening her fist at times, as if wielding a shield. I wondered at the nightmares which held her captive. She was clearly in pain, both physical and emotional, but she couldn’t give up on those nightmares either.
My mind went back to the time I had decided on not telling her the truth. “Am I responsible for this too?” I asked her sleeping figure softly. My eyes stung and I pressed my palms to keep them from tearing up. She shook
her head to and fro violently, crying again, “Daddy! Momma!”
It’s bad enough that she had to go through something like that once because of my fathers, but having to relive that again is just too much. I admired her again, “She’s only crying for now. If anyone else would have been in her shoes, they would have given up on this pain long ago.” If it was me, I would have fallen weak at the first time itself.
On second thoughts, I was going through it now, even if it was a second-hand experience. Changing the track of my thoughts again, I worried about her health. The doctor had said she was just a little feverish from the trauma but she’ll be okay soon. “This can happen when some repressed traumatic memories are recalled. She should wake up soon. If she doesn’t, she will have to be admitted in the hospital for dehydration.”
“Why is it happening to her now? Is this normal?” I had asked the aged doctor anxiously. “Yes. According to what you have told me, it seems that she had episodic amnesia. People often repress traumatic memories and some people even modify their memories subconsciously to avoid the physical pain. It can be triggered due to certain things that remind her of it. Right now, there’s nothing I can do about it except for wishing she wakes up soon. I have given her a high dose injection for the pain, but it doesn’t seem to be working yet. When she wakes up, get her to eat and drink a lot of water”, he said.
How will she be okay if she doesn’t have anything to eat and keeps on crying? Even her voice had grown hoarse now, the bell-like ringing voice lost again.
In the past hours, I had put her to bed, cleaned her hands, wiped her tears, made her drink water, and comforted her, in that order. And yet she hadn’t waked up. I had only left her side a few times, going out to check on that bag downstairs and then the pit she had dug out before. There was only a golden watch lying in the dirt and some kind of wood or something visible under the mud. As I didn’t have the strength to make myself plow it out, in the end, I picked up the watch and walked back to the apartment slowly. Turning it over in my hands now, I saw an engraving at the back, “Momma and Daddy”; the words she had been bawling all this time. Her father must have loved her a lot, unlike mine, I thought bitterly.
All of a sudden I realized what could be worse than having to go through such a horrible experience again. The answer was… having to go through it alone. My resolve hardened: I wasn’t leaving her alone in this. Pulling her close to me, I hugged her tight murmuring, “I’m here Ishu. Don’t cry. I’m right here for you.” I pressed my fingers to her puffed up cheeks and waited. She quieted down after some time and slept in my arms, her gorgeous hair spilling all over my arms and lap. And that’s how Shivaay, Anika and Rudra saw us when they came.
SNEAK PEEK: Shivaay and Anika are scared for Om and try to explain something to him but OmRu aren’t convinced. Om says, “She won’t hurt me. But the question is do I want her to stop?”
Guys, this was a really stressful episode to write. That’s why I finished it all in one go. I hope all my readers read it completely. Some of you might even find it confusing too, that will be only natural as I wanted to show that’s the state Ishu is in. 😉 The next one will be full of drama. But before I set about doing it, I would like to know how many of you want this to be a tragedy? Like ‘Om and Ishu cannot ever be together’ kind of thing. And how many of you want this to be a happy ending for them? Like ‘everything is pointless and forgivable when it comes to love’ kind of thing. Let me assure you, I’ve thought deeply about both of these storylines and I don’t think I’ll disappoint anyone in either case. But that’s just my point of view. Also, I would like to go with the happy ending one, but story wise, it won’t be the better option. I know this was the longest and the most depressing one I have ever written, but please take some time to comment and let me know your views. 🙂