A Letter To Nobody

Day 11

So, I’m quite certain that I shouldn’t send this email because you’ll probably think that I’m a crazy person and kick me to the curb, but oh well. I’m bored and can’t sleep due to waking up about an hour ago thanks to a lovely dream wherein you made yet another appearance in the theatre of my mind.

I am not the type who places any stock in dreams, or thinks that they have any deep meaning. More likely it’s just my brain struggling to make sense of all the random shit that I conjure up during the day in this boiling cauldron that is my subconscious.

This dream however, was interesting, in the sense that I don’t recall having any thought about this certain subject in relation to you, at least not in a very long time. Its been more like I’ve just assumed the combo of our rapidly advancing ages, your aspirations, and our apparent contentment with being alone would make this an impossibility, so I haven’t even bothered to contemplate it. Yet, there you were, carrying my baby.

The first flash of you in such a state was of some intimate moment between the two of us, each laying on our sides, facing each other in a bed I didn’t recognize. We were naked, but it wasn’t a sexual thing. More so it was the comfortable nakedness that only two longtime lovers could share. We were laying there, simply talking, as our heads rested on our respective pillows. For some reason it was hard to take our eyes off of each other as we talked, maybe there was just no other place worth looking in our minimalistic themed bedroom? Or perhaps our respective faces were the best possible thing we could each imagine getting to drink in to start the day? I know for me, yours has always been better than a cup of coffee. Although, for you….I know you’d definitely choose your Morning Joe over my mug every single time. Nonetheless, drink we did.

The Saturday morning light sliced through a crack in our bedroom curtains and lit up your smile even more so than usual. Now, I don’t remember what inane topic we were babbling on about, but what is important is that as you smiled, I laughed, and while doing so I reached my left hand out and placed it on your side, resting on that smooth curve just below your ribs that leads ever so gracefully towards your hips. My fingers gently traced their way down your silky skin, and it was suddenly quiet, save for the chirping of some random bird in our backyard. You still looked into my eyes, you still smiled, but your topic of conversation had faded away into irrelevance, you placed your right hand on mine and gently moved it down towards your swollen navel.

“Feel her?” You said, “She’s kicking again, this one is gonna be fiesty.”
“So, just like her mom then?” I replied, with a smirk.
You nodded…

And then I awoke.

Shaken

“You okay?”

His hands shook as he took a cigarette out of the crumpled boxed. His fingers, worn and covered in liver spots, were surprisingly delicate; a strange juxtaposition, when compared to his rough, low voice, even, despite the urgency of his tone. Their imperceptible tremble was highlighted by the way the cigarette shook between his nicotine stained fingertips. He looked quite unlike his usual self. Unsure, and shaken up, he looked like a man who didn’t quite know what to do with his limbs. His shoulders hunched forward, and elbows stuck out at an angle that couldn’t possibly have been comfortable, but he sat just like that, crouched on the sidewalk.

“Yeah, yeah I am. I think so.”

“Good.”

He handed the cigarette over to her, and picked one out for himself. He kept a ‘lucky’ one, she noted with amusement as she saw the tobacco peak out of the neat little rows of white filters. She wouldn’t have taken him for a man who believed in any superstition, but then, what did she really know? A sudden shiver ran down her spine as she suddenly realized what had just happened. Her shoulders tightened against her will, and she rolled them to ease the sudden pain. Her cheap, flowly jacket rustled against his arm, and she saw him twitch. But he didn’t move away. Another surprise from the man she’d never thought could surprise her.

“Would you like me to move?”

“We just survived a goddamned earthquake. I think I can survive you sitting next to me.”

She laughed. A hearty, loud laugh, quite unlike the airy giggle he reserved for her customers. It was an unwarranted sound considering their surroundings. A collapsed building, a tree uprooted, resting on a car, and people milling around, looking as dazed as he felt. Some looked at them now, annoyance clear on their faces. He didn’t say a word. Just signaled with the lighter he held in his hand, and she leaned in, cigarette between her pursed red lips. A deep drag later, she exhaled, the smoke from her mouth mingling with his.

“Thank you.”

He grunted back. Forty years of working at the store. His store. And he had never encountered a whore quite like her. Most stopped working the corner near his in a week or two after they first stepped into the store, and there she was. Back, every night. She always bought the same thing. A pack of lights and a bottle of water. She walked up to the counter with a flounce and arrogance that infuriated him, and smiled as she paid. He knew her smile as intimately as he knew his own, perhaps. Open mouthed, with a chipped front tooth, with a little bit of lipstick gone astray. He knew it well enough to hate it.
She was incorrigible. With her loud makeup, large hair, and clothes that felt like they were created to provoke his anger, not other men’s desire, she was an antithesis of him. He took pride in his near-punishing austerity. Faded blue shirt, faded brown pants with their pleated ironed out, and faded black loafers. He liked being slightly dull. Just slightly wane. He liked to think he represented himself well, with his calm, uneventful life.

And yet, he found himself sitting on a curbside with the prostitute he hated, sharing a cigarette after an earthquake.

He took a last, final drag and stubbed it against the pavement, letting the filter roll off into the gutter. Moving slowly as he got up, he dusted himself off and leaned against a lamppost for support. He suddenly felt old. Older than he had in years. Older than what he felt when his wife died. Older than himself. He scanned the front of his store for any obvious damage. None. He’d probably have to pick up things that fell off the shelves, though. He sighed at the thought. Too old. Too old for this.

As he shuffled towards the door, he heard the clacking of her heels. It was a sound he knew only too well, for it had been discomfiting him for years now, at exactly 9:30pm every night. He turned to her suddenly, causing her to trip and totter as she regained her balance.

“What the fuck do you want?”

“Well. It’s time for my lights and water.”

She smiled at him. Open mouthed, with a chipped front tooth, with a little bit of lipstick gone astray.

And for the first time in the four years of their torrid acquaintance, his lips twitched slightly.

There Is Something Odd About Odd Numbers

Honestly, I did not know what time it was. It wasn’t one of those moments when you can’t tell five in the evening from seven. It was one of those when you wake up abruptly only to see that it’s still dark outside, but you can’t decide whether you’ve slept too much, or not enough. Only, I hadn’t been asleep; just been suspended in a hazy daze.

‘Sir, I know these are tough times for you, but we need you to cooperate.’

‘Hmm?’ I looked up, bemused.

‘Sir, I know these are…’

‘Oh yes. Right. What do you guys want from me?’

‘Sir, it’s policy. We need to know what happened?’

‘I just came back from work. I don’t know what she did, and why she did it.’

‘Sir, these cases aren’t common. Was she depressed?’

‘Not to my knowledge, no.’

‘Was she on any medicines?’

‘Yes. Valproate.’

‘Was she sick?’

‘I wouldn’t call her sick.’

‘What would you call her, then?’

‘Many things.’

‘Sir, the sooner I know everything, the sooner we can let you go. I suggest you cooperate. Like I said, I’m sorry, but it is imperative that we know everything. Protocol.’

And then, seeing that I had no other option, I told the police officer everything I knew, or correctly, everything I understood.

Breakfast was always two pieces of brown bread with the same number of boiled eggs, and a single cup of coffee split into two. No knives; two forks, one on each side and two teaspoons of sugar for the coffee.

Over the course of four weeks, my entire room had changed. I was always told that life changes once you’re married, but this wasn’t the kind of change I had ever anticipated. But then, I tried my best to respect, and reconcile with the fact that her ‘ideal’ home could, and probably did, differ from mine. Despite all my efforts to be understanding and accommodating, the discomfiture caused by the fact that I came home to a different place every day left me, well, for a better term, discomfited.

She had disposed off with the solitary sofa, and replaced it with two chairs, one for each side of the bed and two little tables to give them company. She had a keen eye for details, which she exhibited with the efficiency with which she replaced the five ceiling spotlights with two tube lights in the time I went to office and came back.

I thought I knew what I was taking upon myself when I married her, but her idiosyncrasies, ranging from the larger, obvious changes, to the barely conspicuous ones, left me astounded.

‘Why do you keep changing everything? What was wrong with the sofa?’

‘There is something odd about odd numbers.’ She would say.

I agree that her behavior was mostly cryptic, but there was something about her, that made her the only mystery in my life that I preferred unsolved.

She also hated stepping outside the house. There was something about the world that rendered her incapacitated, and ironically, there was something about her that made the world nervous as well.

She ensured that the curtains were always drawn, and windows were always shut. I started using the back door to come into the house whenever I managed to get free early to avoid arguments. It wasn’t a home to me anymore. It didn’t feel like one. It was just a house.

Usually, however, I came home around half-past seven. She used to make me two chapattis and a one vegetable dish, served in two different utensils. Her behavior was not something I even pretended to understand, but I respected her enough to cooperate.

She had found her solace in even numbers, like I’d found mine in her.

Every night, we watched television. She always watched two shows together, flitting between the channels every few minutes, like a restless hummingbird. She shook like one too, shaking her right leg so fast that the entire bed vibrated under her. At the end of this entire exercise, I had no clue as to what was happening in either of the shows, but I had no ideas for a better evening. She resisted change. In retrospect, her routine seemed almost attractive to me. Comforting.

She was oblivious to my existence sometimes, but I was in love. I had convinced myself that deep inside, she cared as much about me as I did about her.

When we finally went to bed around eleven, she would tell me that she loved me exactly thirty seven times. Then, she would hesitate, and say it once again, just to even things out. A while later, she would remember that he hadn’t changed into her nightdress and would spend another hour fidgeting in the bathroom. It left me strangely desolate in the beginning, but soon I got used to it. ‘Routine is good’, I told myself. ‘Routine is stability. She is stability.’

She used to change into her pink nightdress, but once back, she would decide that green would have been a better option. Finally having brushed her teeth twice, she would come back to the bed, where she would lie, her eyes vacant, completely oblivious to my presence. That allowed me to shamelessly stare at her face. Only, I’d decided not to. Her nonchalance was more agonizing than it was fascinating.
Sometimes, she’d kissed me. Once. Then twice. She wouldn’t stop. Or maybe, she couldn’t. It wasn’t me who was driving her. It was her inability to control her own actions.

Our nights were extremely volatile, a hint of desperation coloring the way she clutched at me, and then the sheets, before she pushed me off and stared at the ceiling, just as vacantly as before.

I would usually get about two hours of sleep before the effect of her afternoon pills wore off.
She had been asked to take a tablet a day- 50 milligrams of valproate, but she couldn’t do it.

‘That’s all? One pill? That’s a bid odd.’

I used to chuckle at her failure to acknowledge the humor in her statement. She was a genius sometimes, and she had all the problems other geniuses had. She was completely oblivious to the fact. And maybe, she was simply confounded by herself, because she did exceptionally well at what she couldn’t help doing.

We had to specially order pills worth 25 milligrams each so that she could have two of them.

‘This is much better. A single pill wouldn’t have made me feel right. The more, the merrier.’ She used to laugh.

A soft, mellow laugh. It became my existence, that laugh. I gave up more and more of myself just to hear it again. I drowned in her. Then, the pills would have their effect, and in a few moments that were defined by both revulsion and distress, she would fall unconscious, with her lips still hung up on her smile.

At four, she would decide to shake things up again.

‘The bed is dirty. The maid didn’t change the sheets.’ She would complain.

‘It’s okay, love. We’ll wash them in the morning.’

She wouldn’t protest, but she would pace around the room, anxiously. Then, in an attempt to feel better, she would toy with the tube light switches.
It disturbed me for a couple of weeks, but I knew better than to get up in the middle of the night and argue. Thirty-eight cycles later, she would come back to bed.

‘You don’t want to wash your feet?’ I would ask.

‘It’s 4:07. Maybe later.’

At four thirty, she used to get up again and walk to the window to count the stars. It was beguiling to see her at work.

‘One, two, three, four…five twenty-six, five twenty seven…ah drat.’

And sometimes, when the clouds would hide some of the stars, she would wait, hoping to see an even number through the windows. She was different, but then, she was just finding her solace, like all of us.

This used to happen every single night. The first two weeks had been a lot of surprises, but by the end of the fourth week, I had grown accustomed to her activities. I was in love with someone disturbed. I did not know the cause of the disturbance, and I could not help her. I could just be patient. And so I was.

Sometimes, I would go to work in June, and come back in August. She used to flip through the calendar as if it were her favorite book. Time wasn’t her best friend. She often complained about clocks too.

‘I don’t like all the numbers in that circle.’ She would say. I had replaced all of them with their digital variants but she had a problem with them as well. In the end, she decided to stop all of them at 8:48 PM.

Four weeks isn’t long, I know, but I was in love, and I had grown accustomed to her. She had embraced my life like a tattered blanket covers a child on a cold winter night. I still felt cold, but she was all I had. Her idiosyncrasies had become a part of my life, and any deviance from this new found version of sanity would annoy us both.

I was working on a little PowerPoint presentation that was due at office the very day, when I heard a splat in the kitchen.

Akansha had dropped an egg, and on seeing me, she ran straight to the bedroom.
When she came back fifteen minutes later, I was done with boiling an egg and making coffee for myself.

‘Go and get another egg. I’ll make you breakfast’

‘It’s okay, honey. I’m okay with just one egg’

‘No. You always have two eggs. Go rush. I can’t go out.’

‘I’ll have something on my way. I’m late for a meeting anyway’

‘GO GET ME ANOTHER EGG!’ Her demands knew no end.

‘Stop screaming at me, Akansha.’

‘Stop being intolerable, then.’

‘I’m not being intolerable. You’re the one being intolerable. ’

She started crying again, and I as I rushed in to comfort her, which had by then become almost a reflex to me, she pushed me aside.
Haplessly, I fell down and hit my elbow on the breakfast table.

She didn’t even grace me a look as I curled up into myself in pain. I didn’t know what stung more- my elbow, or her complete nonchalance.
I knew I couldn’t retaliate. She resonated between strength and weakness, and I couldn’t tell one from the other.

My phone had fallen out of my hand during the fall.
The lock screen read 8:05

‘Shit. I’m late. I have to go, Akansha. I’m sorry. I’ll get an egg when I come home’

I came back from work at five past eight but I had to wait outside because Akansha had locked the door. My knocking was futile, and so were my cries of apology. Finally, I used my spare key to open the door. I always kept a key, just in case.

The house was a mess. The curtains were pulled down, and my bookshelves were no longer shelves.

I had come home to a disaster before, but this unprecedented.
The kitchen clock read 8:48. Like always.

The door was locked from the inside, so there couldn’t have been a break in. My next natural instinct was to search for Akansha to ensure her well-being. A few frantic minutes later, I found her in the bathroom tub, covered to her neck in water, murky with her own blood.

‘And then?’ The officer stared at my face?

I took her out of the water, I mean, the blood, and I rushed her to this hospital. She was breathing, by the intensity was decreasing with every breath she took. I had covered her wrists in large swabs of cotton, and that had significantly reduced the bleeding, but she had lost a lot of blood already.

Upon reaching, the doctor had informed me that he would need blood. Since I wasn’t a match, we had to put her on a list.

‘What about her family? And yours?’

‘Her parents are dead. My parents are diabetic.’

‘Well, in that case, we’d need to wait for her to be approved by the committee, but till then, we have to carry out some procedures that I need your consent for.’

‘I don’t care. Just get her back to me. Please’

I signed, hapless. Helpless.

I couldn’t help but cry outside the ICU, checking every few seconds for that red emergency bulb to go off. I was ridden with penitence, but I did not want to feel morose because I blamed myself. I was afraid that I’d already lost her, and I had bid her farewell, but more so, I was afraid of being alone. She was a tattered blanket, but she was my tattered blanket, and I needed her.

As I stood there, I made a mental picture of the Intensive Care. I knew that I’d have to remember this place for a long time. It was one of those moments when a child has to part with his broken toy, only that he doesn’t want to believe it’s broken.

The next thirteen minutes seemed like an eternity, and I hadn’t had plenty of those.

The doctor came out, and broke the news to me. It wasn’t the one I had hoped for, but it was the one I had predicted.

‘I’m sorry, Mr. Banerjee, but there was just too much blood loss. The wounds are fresh, not even an hour old. The problem is that she slit both her wrists. Most patients just slit one. That drained her blood at twice the pace. I’m sorry, really. We tried our best.’

‘Yes’

‘Was she depressed or on any medicines? We need to know before we conduct the post-mortem. Also, we need to inform the police.’

‘She just liked even numbers’ I told him.

He had a confounded look on his face.

‘I don’t know what you mean, but I have a surgery and I need to go prep for it. The nurse will prepare the body and assist you further. I’m sorry for your loss. I assure you we tried our best.’

And just like that, he was gone.

And with that, came a realization. I had been cooperative all this while, thinking that she needed my support, while it had been me who needed her all this while.

A few seconds later, I was in the deserted corridor of the deserted hospital alone. Sadly, I had to get used to this kind of ‘independence’.

The nurse came in ten minutes later and explained the entire scheme of things to me, but it was all a hazy blur. I just kept nodding until she said something that left my spine chilled.

‘What did you just say?’ I said, as I felt the blood drain away from my face, and as numbness took over.

‘Time of death, sir – 8:48 PM’.