“Are you better now?”, I asked Soham. No, the question didn’t seem fair. Everything all around answered for him, out loud.
He had again twisted his arm, in a bid to pick up the glass on his own. As I started the usual round of physiotherapy, his face showed signs of relaxation, his eyes at the same time reflecting a heightened sense of desperation. At the age of six, when kids are meant to play, this boy struggled to pick up a glass on his own. He was helpless.
Done with the daily grind, when I turned to leave- he called out, “Di…”, and pointed towards the photo of the smiling kid kept on the table. He too wanted to smile.
That was bound to happen. I always told him that a smile would take away all his pain, pointing towards the happy kid in the photograph. It was a natural gesture, a natural thing to say when I would see him wincing at the sight of injections, medicines. He was a kid, after all, albeit in a different time; a kid who hardly ever spoke, hardly ever played.
I was baffled. I was brought down to the harsh reality, which I was trying to escape amid my chores.
“How can I make him smile, when I myself have forgotten?”
Wrapped tightly in woollens, my mind wandered to the earlier May- the May with the blazing sun. My dark self blended perfectly with the dark sky. Walking further, tears welled up in my eyes. In a fit, I fell on my knees and…..
“Why did they do this? For power, for money? This thirst for power, to conquer nature has brought us here. I too, will be soon buried under the sand with my parents, Soham’s legs and the parents of many others. How I wish nature had conquered me before it conquered my parents, how I wish I too was buried along with them…”
The flashes of that day, the apocalypse, the charred bodies of my parents and many others, their blood, had made me dizzy, and I just collapsed there. I woke up after a few hours only to my face and body swollen.
Time seemed to have stopped, but that was how it seemed, and was not actually. My watch – the only source of time had abruptly stopped too. I hurried to my shelter, in fear of getting late for the hospital. I couldn’t be late; the kids needed me more than I realized. Amid all the hustle-bustle, Soham’s gesture, his wish haunted me continuously. A smile…..
Home was a place which was now lost. Everyone lived in shelters. Civilization had finally completed its circle – like the primordial man, we too lived like nomads in shelters; only our coverage area was much smaller.
Reaching my shelter and looking at my watch, I had an adrenaline rush. I was one hour late already. I had to get ready as well. I sped up and ran. I couldn’t lose my job. It was my primary source and inspiration to survive. Reaching the hospital, I got to know that my supervisor was on leave. I rejoiced.
Standing at the threshold of Soham’s ward, I felt my nerves tighten, and my gut flinch. I had delayed coming here, as I was already late and was looking for reasons to escape. I even tried to exchange my duty with the fellow nurses, but alas, destiny had something else in store for me. I finally took the leap and crossed it.
As I entered, I found his eyes glued to the vista-less closed window; and fists closed, as if trying to suppress his desires, his emotions. While I was doing his check up, his eyes were glued to me the entire time. I could see the tense lines on my own forehead; such was my anxiety.
I finished my duty and left. He didn’t say anything, nor did I.
While walking back, I stumbled on something fluffy. It was a smiley ball. I knew what I had to do next.
I ran to the hospital, to Soham’s ward, only to find him sleeping. Stupid me, wasn’t it obvious; I had only given him the sleeping injection. His sleep was his escape, it was his solace. I had no right to take that way. Moreover, doing that could even cost me my job.
Time seemed to have stopped, but that was how it seemed, and was not actually. My watch- the only source of time had abruptly stopped too
I was back to my shelter in no time. I slept in early, clutching the ball. There was nothing much to do. My shelter had a TV, which either reminded me of the long gone golden days, or exaggerated the black days of today. So, it remained shut. I had two roommates, who were moody. Sometimes when the day was good, we would talk, but otherwise an eerie silence lurked around all the time. The silence was now a habit, a part of my life so deeply ingrained, that it eradicated all the words I had ever known. There was never even a need to clean my wardrobe, because it was mostly empty apart from a pair of uniform, three shirts, three pants, and a few other necessities. So, sleeping was the only thing left to do. It was my escape, it was my solace too.
Next day, I was earlier than usual and much quicker in finishing my chores. I had a much more important task on hand. Crossing the threshold today was a cake walk. I entered only to find Soham staring at the window, as usual. I kept the ball near his hands and started with my chores.
His response was as expected- he held the ball and looked at it. At first his eyes tweaked and he gave a puzzled look. He didn’t know what to do with it. He brought it close to his face. In a bid to imitate the face on it, he smiled, for the first time, though unknowingly.
I had forgotten what a smile was.
The poor boy got startled. I probably broke his reverie, his moment of bliss.
As he turned towards me, his gaze fell on his reflection, his smiling face. There I was standing with a mirror in my hand, to record this transient moment and make it a permanent memory for him. His smile widened, and so did mine.
“This is a smile.”
He hardly ever spoke, what could he speak. But this made him chuckle, a chuckle which spoke a thousand words at once. And this is how began our conversation.
The chatterbox in me was on fire again. I spoke about tons of things, and was reminded of a ton others while speaking. While I spoke, he just listened, smiled, and chuckled. His continuous light-hearted chuckles were an encouragement to speak more. Amid all the talks I also taught him how to play with the ball, which arose the child within me too.
At 21, I felt blessed, rather punished with memories… Nonetheless, these memories had become a yarn to spin stories for this boy. Words still escaped him, but his face showed that his mind was creating images, vivid images that were full of life.
The talk about the pre- disaster period made me nostalgic too. I told him how life was earlier- about family, parents, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts and the irritating gossip aunties, about how people were divided on so many levels- religion, caste, geography, about continents, countries, states and cities etc. I feel the only positive outcome of the disaster was the eradication of this divide. Education, films, books, TV, celebrities, cricket, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone; Paris, Simla, New Delhi among so many other things.
Six days passed like this. It was a blissful time. ‘Bliss’, a word which I was now elusive to had found its way back in my life, in my heart, and on my face. This bliss was however contradicted by a dread. Soham’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse on the sixth night. Looking at the helpless faces of the doctors, Soham’s earnest eyes, I engulfed him in a hug, to comfort him and to comfort myself. The night passed slowly.
I had managed to re-create the whole world for little Soham in just six days, much like God must have at the beginning of the civilization. It is said he rested on the seventh day. My creation existed only in Soham’s imagination, much to my chagrin, or looking at the current situation, relief.
“Did I do the right thing? Was he better off without knowing the beautiful days?”.
As the night ended and the clock indicated dawn, my apprehensions came true; Soham rested.
This story has been published in Vol.04 Issue.12 of our magazine. Find such stories and more in print and online.
About the Author
Deepika is an interior architecture student at CEPT University in Ahmedabad, with a passion for writing. Very quiet, her unspoken thoughts often find expression through her crafty manipulation of the alphabet. Her entry was shortlisted for the Jaipur Literature Festival and a few of her articles have appeared at Youth Ki Awaaz as well. Follow her at her house of reflections- http://letterlantern.in/wp/.