Literature & Fiction | 34 Chapters
Author: Shravya Gunipudi
“It is weird that I still meet my mother almost every day. I am 35 years old.But that is not why it is weird. It is because nobody else has seen her since 18thSeptember, 20 years ago.Because, that is the day she died.”Meet Ria, the charming woman with an edge. Her life is nearly perfect.Or so it seemed, until one fateful day an accident wipes out parts of her memory. Suddenly, she starts to experience strange visions involving repressed child....
“Are you really that desperate?” he asks, cocking his eyebrow like he just won the ‘Comment of the Year’ Award.
“Excuse me?” I look at him angrily.
“You heard me! You are pathetic!” He shakes his head at me. “Get out of my house.”
I glare at him.
My fists clench.
“I am not paying you anything,” he says, “Do whatever you want.”
But instead of punching him, I reach into his bulging shirt pocket, pull out a wad of cash and say in my most professional voice, “Thank you, Sir. That should cover your cable bill for the month. Oh, and I appreciate the generous tip.”
He looks at me, confusion written across his face.
Then, he grits his teeth.
“What is this? Are you a thief now or did you just want an excuse to touch me?”
I sigh, turn around and start walking away. This client is just not worth talking to.
Yes, before you ask, I work at a cable company. My job is to collect money personally from defaulters. Generally it is only from the women but I suppose there must have been some sort of mix-up. It isn’t glamorous work, but at least the pay is good.
Okay, fine, I admit it. I hate what I do. Especially when the clients are this repulsive.
I turn around and look at him.
“How do I know you aren’t stealing my money and that you really are from the cable company?”
“I have a badge, sir!”
“So? You could be a prostitute with a stolen badge for all I know!”
I fight the urge to kill him and instead, continue to stare at him like an idiot. It has finally happened. Words have failed me. If only my husband could see this now!
As I look away, it hits me.
This man is accusing me of selling my body. He is accusing me of being a thief. What is worse is that I am letting him get away with it. A wave of feminism surges through me. Women do not deserve to be treated this way. If this was a man in my place, they would be bonding over chilled beer or at least a cup of coffee before ending this on a peaceful note. But this man is trying to take advantage of me because I am a woman. I refuse to let him.
Gritting my teeth, I turn back and barge into his living room.
“Look, mister! You have no right to insult me that way!”
“It is not my fault that you work at that disgusting place. I haven’t been able to watch a single thing for more than two weeks.”
“Well, if you weren’t so cheap, maybe we wouldn’t have had to cut the cable connection!”
“Look who is talking about being cheap,” he snorts. “You are in my house, begging me for money and I am the cheap one?”
“Look. I don’t appreciate this. You have called me a lot of names just because I am doing my job. I could call the company and have you removed from the customer list.”
“Oh, really?” he challenges. “Then you really will be out on the streets doing god knows what. Customers come first. Remember that… No matter what you end up doing.”
His double innuendos enrage me. Over my dead body, I think. If I were to sleep with someone for cash, which is what he is implying, I would definitely be very choosy.
Err, I mean, I am married!
Married women do not sleep around.
Looking around frantically, I find a glass of water on his dining table and pick it up.
In a moment of rage, I hurl the water at him. For good measure, I also throw the glass at his face. Even though he ducks, I feel proud.
“Jerk,” I spit. Not very original, but at least it’s something.
As I am descending the stairs, my face burning with anger, paranoia strikes me. What if he is dangerous? What if he chases me and kills me in the middle of this empty street? There isn’t a single house or person in sight. Who’s going to save me? Oh my God, does he have a gun? You can get those weapons anywhere these days!
That is when I start running. At this point, you have to know something. I have always been terrible at sports. I failed in PT class, was never picked in games period and often faked an ailment during Sports Tryouts. So, needless to say, running is not my thing. But I manage to get into my car, panting, my hands shaking so badly that I can’t insert the key properly.
A sudden knock on my window makes me freeze.
Without looking, I scream loudly (Also not my thing so you can imagine how weird I sounded) as I force the key in and floor the accelerator at once. There is a sudden jolt, the car rams into a tree, the safety balloon bursts, I feel a shooting pain in the side of my head and before I know what has happened, I blank out.
Death is my last thought.
When I open my eyes, everything is hazy. But eventually, as I adjust to the surroundings, I see that I am now in a white room. For a second, I think I am in an asylum. Oh my God, I gasp in my head. I have finally been diagnosed as insane. But then I realize it is actually a hospital. I close my eyes, trying to remember what had happened.
No memory, whatsoever. I have no recollection of what put me in this room.
Realizing that there is no point in stressing over something that I have no clue about, I start looking around instead. Out the glass pane, on my right, I see my husband on the other side. He is talking to someone, smiling. The person he is talking to is the doctor. My doctor. I know, because he has a stethoscope around his neck. This is proof enough that I haven’t lost my mind completely. Yet.
I relax a little. Just then, something happens. The room starts to spin, very slowly at first but then it gains speed. I panic, looking around, desperately hoping that my husband turns my way so that he can help me. Is this what death feels like, a horrible merry-go-round?
Clutching the sides of the bed till my knuckles turn white, I start breathing heavily.
The terrifying sound of my own heartbeat is replaced by a piercing noise. Instantly, I turn to face the glass window. It is slightly cracked, almost invisible. But then, it starts spreading like the branches of a tree, getting bigger and bigger till the whole glass looks like a spider web of cracks. Then, it shatters.
I flinch, expecting the tiny bits to come and cut me into shreds, but nothing happens. I finally open my eyes slightly.
It is my husband. I sit up and hug him tight, sobbing. I then realize that his face is very unfamiliar to me and that sends a jolt down my spine. Feeling awkward, I pull away. The spinning has stopped. Everything is back to normal.
“The window… Spinning… I… Thank you, Anuj. You saved my life”
He smiles but even though I can’t recognize his face, I can tell he is disappointed.
“What happened?” I ask.
“Nothing, sweetheart” he says, kissing me on my forehead as I try not to flinch. “Thank God you are safe.”
It is then that I see his office tag. A very silly detail under the circumstances, surely, but I am drawn to it.
‘General Manager,’ it says, ‘Offshore Technologies.’
Under that is a photo from when he was younger.
But the name on the tag isn’t Anuj.
It is Jay.
On the ride home, I am mostly silent. As weird as it sounds, I am very angry at being discharged so quickly. It isn’t fair. The doctor dismissed my case as a ‘Minor Concussion’ and gave me a stupid neck belt. I always wanted to be one of those survivors who narrowly escaped death.
How come scenes from movies never happen in real life?
Picture this… A gorgeous girl is in an accident, her guy paces around, worried. The doctor looks hopeful yet scared. But somehow, at the end, after enduring trauma, she miraculously survives and the guy rushes in. The movie ends with a passionate kiss and the promise of forever.
What do I get? ‘You’re fine. In fact, you can go back to work from tomorrow onwards!’
I look out the window, trying to distract myself.
“Where is my car?” I ask Jay. He looks at me for a second, then turns back to the road and clears his throat.
“It is in the garage. I’ll get it home as soon as possible.”
There is something in his tone that makes me doubt if he is telling me the truth.
“How do I get to work?”
“I’ll drop you, sweetheart. How is your head?”
“It’s okay. I just have a headache, that’s all.” I smile, gulping down the urge to exaggerate and make myself seem horrendously ill.
Am I that sympathy deprived? I try to think back to my childhood, back to when I was a teen. I lived with my aunt and uncle after my mother died. I remember my father having to sell off our house. He lost his job and we had a lot of debts to pay. So he gave me away.
I turn to my husband. But he isn’t at the driving seat. He is at my door, patiently holding it open for me. We are here.
I get down and look up at the neat little mansion. I remember it well, the way it looks from the outside. I try to picture the inside of the house. Slinging my bag around his shoulder, my husband holds my hand and leads me in.
“Dhruv has been waiting for you,” he smiles.
It takes me a moment to fit that name with the role it has in my life. Dhruv is my son. Somehow, after the accident, it feels like all my memory is there, but it has been jolted out of its place. The bits of memory are floating around in my head and it is up to me to put each part back where it belongs.
“Dhruv…” I smile, looking at the little boy running towards me. He has slightly long brown hair and adorable honey eyes. He is wearing a little red shirt and his favourite pair of jeans. As I gather him in my arms, my eyes closed, I can tell without having to think, that this boy means the world to me. He is the reason I am still here, my sole purpose of wanting to survive.
His lovely, thick brown hair, his tiny baby fingers, his chubby cheeks; all these details are not alien to me. Every little fact about him is engraved deep into my heart.
“Mommy, are you sick?”
I look at his wondering eyes and smile.
“No, Dhruv. I am absolutely fine.” I put him down, pat his head, “How about I make you some cake just to prove it?”
Jay looks worried. “Are you sure you’re up to it? I thought we would go out for dinner…”
I look at my son, who seems more excited by that offer than mine. A wave of jealousy passes through me and I want to say ‘Well, I was planning to make a triple layered chocolate chip cake,’ just so that my son will take up my offer instead. But I smile and say “I think that is a better idea. Let me go up and get ready.”
“Want some help with that?” my husband offers cheekily.
I laugh but run up the stairs quickly to avoid having him come after me.
He is my husband, I know. He is entitled to see me naked. But it feels weird. I am unable to feel a connection to him. Small yet significant details about him are engraved in my brain… like both of us being orphans. But I need that little missing bit that connects my intimacy to him so that I can feel like we belong. Besides, when I called him Anuj at the hospital, though he was sad, he didn’t seem to be surprised. Nor did he correct me. If someone who knew me called me anything other than ‘Ria,’ I would bite his head off. So why did my husband not care that I called him by another name?
As I go downstairs, dressed in a simple black top and a pair of jeans, my hair left open, I see my husband and Dhruv on the couch, fast asleep. Did I take that long?
The time is only 7:30.
I raise my hand to wake them up but I can’t. It’s cruel. If you saw them, you would never be able to disturb them because they are that adorable together. So, instead, I just stand and watch. My husband, his dark hair, light complexion and sharp features and a miniature version of him locked in his arms. They are both strikingly similar. My boy is going to grow up to become a show stopper. Girls all around the world will chase him and he will be super cool and say “I am a one man woman, ladies. Sadly, you are not that one woman!”
He will look like his father. My husband has the looks to turn any woman’s head around. If only I could…Blushing, I turn my attention to the television. Tom is chasing Jerry around someone’s house. Taking my heels off so that I don’t make any noise, I tip-toe towards it to turn it off. That moment, my attention is drawn to our family photos on the wall-fitted shelf above. In most of the photos I see Jay, Dhruv and I, looking happy and content. But in two of those photos, I am with someone else. A name instinctively pops into my head.
I look away before I can get a clear look at his face. I don’t want to see it. But I know it so well; it is already there in my head. The man’s face is very familiar. I feel myself panting, my breaths shallow.
What is happening? There is a piercing noise in my head. Like a hundred trains stopping at once.
Then, a vision.
Icy streets, snow piled up everywhere.
We are at a station, the trains moving and halting. People are rushing because, as always, everyone is late. But I only have eyes for you.
“So…” you say, glancing at your train. You sigh sadly and I take the opportunity to tell you what I think.
“Don’t go,” I whisper. “Please…”
You look at your train again. The passengers around us are moving faster. Or is it just my imagination? It feels like there’s no time left. Like, we’re all in a hurry. But for what?
“I have to,” you tell me, your thumb tracing my lips.
From the corner of my eye, I can see your wedding band. Our wedding bands.
I nod and lower my head trying to stop myself from saying anything else.
You kiss me and smile, taking a few steps back.
“One last kiss,” I try to joke, wiping a tear away.
“Babe,” you shout, now so far away from me that I just can’t bear it. “Just two weeks. Then, I will be back again and you’ll be so tired, you’d wish I was away longer. So, you better enjoy your solitude until then.”
I laugh, waving.
“I will be waiting.”
The memory ends there.
I am shaking. The intensity of the emotions haunts me. It felt like I was really there, my mind taking me to visit a place that I already was a part of but couldn’t recall. Why can’t I remember any of this? Why does this memory feel entirely new?
“Ria?” I hear my husband whisper behind me.
I turn around, instinctively looking at the couch to see if Dhruv is awake.
My son is still sleeping. Jay looks at the photo in my hand and then at my face.
It is only when he wipes a tear away from my cheek that I realize I am crying.
“He died, didn’t he?” I sob. “Anuj.”
There is a moment of shock on his face. But it quickly passes and is replaced by relief.
He is laughing now.
“Oh, Thank God,” he says, hugging me, crushing the photo frame between us. “It has finally happened.”
But he ignores me. I put the frame back in its place, worried that my trembling fingers will drop it.
“I have to tell your Uncle. I just have to!”
He rushes to get the wireless. Memories of my uncle come flooding at me. I feel love. It is powerful, that emotion, I begin to realize.
“Talk to her,” my husband says into the phone, running back into the room, a couple of minutes later.
I take the receiver, the worry on my face evident. It feels like I am talking to a stranger.
I try a smile. “Yes, it’s me.”
“What do you remember, sweetheart? What do you remember about Anuj?”
“He is dead.” I say, my voice cracking.
I don’t even know the man but my heart is consumed with grief.
“How do you know that?”
“I just… I just remember that,” I remark, knowing that my Uncle wants me to tell him the way I believe the accident happened. But the memory is too personal to share. I need to find out more before I can pass on that information.
I sense disappointment in his sigh.
“Take care, okay? I am going to talk to Jay now.”
I hand the phone to Jay and walk away, overwhelmed by emotion.