Literature & Fiction | 3 Chapters
Author: Chirag Ajmera
After losing the love of his life in a road accident, Yash encounters the Reaper, who wants him to kneel to his master, the Lord of Death. Yash, with a reason to live, refuses to kneel again and again and again. The Lord of Death has to take things into his own hands. Now, it’s a battle between the Lord of Death and Yash himself. Will Yash succeed in convincing Death about his willingness to carry on with his life?
Yash woke up on a hospital bed to the beeping sound of a ventilator. He could barely open his eyes. He had an oxygen mask on his face, restricting his speaking capabilities. He had little plugs tugged to his fingers on the left hand extending to the beeping machine next to his bed. He felt a severe headache and a strong urge to scratch his head. The physical wounds on his hands exerted the pain when he tried to reach the back of his head. And suddenly, the honking of the truck and him shouting Priya’s name flashed in front of him. He panicked. His breathing got heavier. He tried to take off the oxygen mask, but he couldn’t. He was experiencing a panic attack. He tried to get up from the bed. It was difficult given he was connected to the ventilator. A nurse passing by saw him and rushed to help him.
“Please don’t get up,” she said entering the room. She gently tried to put Yash back on the bed.
Yash felt a little ease as he saw the nurse comforting him. He gradually lied on the bed. The nurse checked the machine and found his pulse elevated.
“Nothing to worry about, Yash. You are having concussions due to head injury. Take some rest here while I call the doctor for you. Is that fine?” she asked.
Yash just nodded his head in acceptance. He tried to calm down.
The doctor came in with some papers in his hands and approached Yash with a smiling face. The nurse followed shortly after, and both of them stood close to the bed. Looking at the beeping monitor next to the bed, the doctor took Yash’s hand in his hands to feel the pulse himself. It was normal. He removed the oxygen cylinder from Yash’s face carefully, ensuring his hand or the mask did not touch the head injury by any means. Now that the mask was removed from his face, Yash felt a little lighter in breathing.
“How are you feeling, Yash?” the doctor asked.
“My head… my…” Yash could barely speak. He took a deep breath.
“It’s ok, Yash, don’t stress out too much,” the doctor put a hand on his shoulder.
The doctor turned towards the nurse and instructed her to give the patient a couple of medicines. He told her to give the patient some light food to ramp up his stamina.
“What do you remember last, Yash?” asked the doctor.
“Ahh… I don’t know, doctor. A car, road. A truck coming at us. Priya was driving,” Yash replied with pieces of what he could remember. And suddenly, he realised she was not around. He hadn’t seen her since the time he woke up.
“Doctor, where’s Priya?” Yash asked.
“It’s best if you take some rest for now, Yash. Don’t stress out too much,” the doctor tried to avoid the question. Yash figured something was wrong.
“Doctor, please tell me Priya is all right. Doctor, please. She is my wife. Please tell me, doctor, where is she?” Yash was concerned.
“I am… I am sorry, Yash. She was brought dead. There was nothing we could do,” the doctor replied.
“Noooooo…” Yash shouted at the top of his voice and started pulling his clothes. The words felt like a spear piercing directly through the heart. The doctor and the nurse restrained his hands so that he did not hurt himself more. Yash started kicking his legs on the bed and kept on shouting Priya’s name; all the while the other nurses out in the hallway came running to the room on hearing him shout. Yash started crying. He was in a lot of pain both physically and emotionally. The nurses held his hands and legs tightly to keep him under control. For a while, Yash wished himself to be dead. “Noooo…” he spoke out loud as he eased his physical movements. The nurses around his bed were still cautious and kept holding his hands and legs tightly. Slowly, Yash stopped moving and just kept on crying. After a while, he was just sobbing with tears in his eyes. The only sound in the room was the beeping machine next to his bed, signifying the one fact Yash dreaded the most right now: “the patient is alive.” Outside the room, his parents couldn’t stop crying either. They had lost their daughter-in-law last night. They couldn’t see their son in so much pain.
Yash hit the brakes really hard. He felt something out of the ordinary. The road ahead was empty. No road blocks, no bumps, no vehicles, nothing. It was an absolutely empty road but for some reason he stopped. ‘Was I sleeping on the wheel?’ he thought. He was breathing heavily. He felt as if he was waking up from a dream. He saw Priya sleeping like a baby in the passenger seat. ‘Maybe she is too tired.’ He glanced in the rear-view mirror. No cars approaching from the back either. ‘Why did I stop the car?’ He slowly stepped out of the car and closed the door. He felt a cold wind drifting outside hustling with the trees to make them do away the weak and dead leaves for good. As far as he could see, mother earth covered with wheat crops was struggling to keep up with the wind and not give up the produce it had given out against the hard efforts and trying patience of the farmers toiling on her surface. Though he could see a dot of light at a long distance, he could not make out, for sure, if there was any human presence nearby. He had calmed down. His breathing had slowed, and he understood the environment he was in. He was with Priya, heading home from a two-day holiday at the Magenta Resorts, after celebrating their three-year marriage anniversary. Their way back to home was a distance of about 180 km. He had been driving for four hours now. He felt something out of the ordinary. ‘Was I sleeping?’ he thought again. Not sure, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and a lighter. He lit one and put the lighter and the pack back in his pockets. He continued smoking looking at the vast fields of wheat under the glittering night sky. He heard the other door of the car opening up. He looked behind to see Priya getting out of the car.
“Yash, how many times do I have to ask you to quit smoking? I don’t like this,” she said as she hugged him in the cold wind. Yash threw away the remaining cigarette and embraced her in his arms.
“Sorry, baby. I am just trying to keep awake. I don’t want to fall asleep while driving.”
“It’s ok, Yash. But quit smoking. And let me drive for a while. You must be tired. You have been driving for four hours now,” Priya said looking at her wristwatch.
“Ok, my love,” Yash said.
And with that, they both exchanged their seats in the car. There was no moon on the horizon that night, which added more to the darkness of the night. For Yash, night was a time of introspection and creativity. He used to wake up late nights for his board exams and since then, night had been the time for his activities. He spent most nights doing his projects, assignments and studying when in college. During semester breaks, late nights movies and long drives with friends was his way of bonding with people and with himself. Today, however, he was not in the mood. He was apprehensive of something he felt a while before. The cigarette he smoked before made no difference to his mental agility. He felt tired and exhausted, physically and mentally. Resting his head on the side glass window, he was looking at the vast fields of wheat and occasional sources of lights. Out of nowhere, he heard a sudden honking from a large truck coming their way. He shouted “Priyaaaa…!!!”
Yash screamed waking up from the dream on his bed inside the hospital room. The nurses came in running to the room, to make sure everything was alright. When everything settled down, Yash saw outside the window. He saw the rising sun in the morning, but felt like ending his life right there itself.
Third day after the accident, the condition of Yash was now deteriorating by the minute. Every night, Yash was having these dreams in his sleep. Awake, he was constantly in pain. He had suffered a head trauma, which, as doctors said, could result into Yash collapsing into a psychotic breakdown, or worse, put him into coma. Dr. Roshan Ranjan, a pioneer in psychiatric treatments in Mumbai, visited Yash in the afternoon. After brief inspection of the patient, and a conversation with Yash’s doctor, Dr. Roshan suggested that Yash was close to a mental rupture and might collapse from reality permanently. It would be better to transfer Yash to a mental rehabilitation centre where he could be given proper treatment and care after further diagnosis. As easy as it sounded to the doctors, Yash’s parents were not in a good position at the moment. Having lost their daughter-in-law that week was hard enough for them; they were just hoping for their son’s recovery. While Yash was gradually collapsing from reality, it was not yet established that Yash had no chances of recovery. The decision, whether to transfer Yash to a mental rehabilitation facility or not, rested on his parents’ shoulders. The unconditional love of his parents obviated them to decide in favour of his recovery. The transfer was scheduled two days later.
He felt cold. He felt an unenduring ache in his body through all the joints. It was killing him. He tried to open his eyes. It was difficult. He could barely see where he was. He took a deep breath and got up. “Ahhhh…” he groaned. It took him a while to absorb the pain in his body. He smelled something burning. He opened his eyes. His capability to understand the environment took a severe hit after finding out where he was standing. All covered in blood, he found himself standing in an endless pool of it. His hands, his face, his clothes, everything seemed to be stained with blood. He looked around to find even more horrifying things one could never imagine. He saw patches of ash on the ground. Some of the patches still had small flames in them. He noticed the remaining bones of a burnt body. The smell of the burning bodies felt coppery and metallic in nature. It was repugnant to stand. A thunder cracked on the sky above him. It brought his attention to the red-coloured sky above him. There were clouds in the sky, which seemed to have different shades of red. He was confused and frightened at the same time. Standing there, with blood all over him, burnt bodies and ashes all around, and a blood red sky over his head, he had no idea if he should try to open his eyes and get out of this horrific dream, or look for a way out of the place, or to look for someone holding a secret camera hoping for someone making a prank video on him. As far as he could see, there was nothing but the blood and the smell and the ash all around him.
“Hello, Yash,” came a voice from behind and scared Yash to death. Yash, in a frantic move, looked back to notice a bald man standing about a distance from him in a completely black attire. Calm and composed, he even had a smile on his face. He was thin like a stick, and could be set apart even in a crowd of million people. He seemed to be weak and fragile, like he was having the last few moments of his life, and that at any time, he would collapse dead on the ground.
“Who the hell are you?” Yash asked.
“I am a Reaper,” the man replied.
“What?” Yash could not believe what he heard.
“I am a Reaper, an agent of Death. My loyalty is to the Lord of Death,” the Reaper replied.
“The Lord of WHAT?” he questioned again in disbelief.
The Reaper smiled casually. This was not new to him.
“The Lord of DEATH,” the Reaper said, stressing on the word death this time.
“And the place you are standing in right now, this place, it is called a Morgue. I am a keeper of this place.”
“So? Am I dead? Is this what Hell looks like?” Yash panicked.
“Calm down, boy,” the Reaper approached Yash.
“Calm down. This is neither Hell nor Heaven. This is a Morgue. This is a place between life and death,” the Reaper said.
“Because of the car accident, you are suffering physically and mentally in the hospital right now. Your chances of surviving are nearing zero as we speak. So, to end that suffering, I am sent by my Lord, The Lord of Death, as I said before, to extend you an offer.”
“What are you, some kind of prankster?” Yash was getting annoyed.
“Look around, Yash. Does this place look like a prank to you? This place with all the blood and ash and the blood-red sky overhead look like a prank to you?” the Reaper asked. Yash look around again. It was indeed a place no one could imagine in the wildest of their dreams. He looked at the man.
“Well, then what do you want from me?” Yash asked.
“Simple. Kneel before the Lord of Death,” the Reaper said casually.
“What?” Yash retorted in bewilderment.
“Kneel before the Lord of Death and put an end to what you are suffering in your real life.”
“You mean to say that I kneel to your Lord to end my suffering? And then what, I just go back to my regular life?”
“NOOO! No, no. Let me put this in a different perspective. By kneeling before my Lord, you will be accepting your death in the real life. You will be kind of dead.”
“Are you sure you are not on drugs?” Yash mocked the Reaper and turned about to walk away from him.
“I will find a way out by myself. Thank you,” Yash remarked.
“Stupid Reaper. Or whatever his real name is,” Yash said.
“I am not falling for this prank. I am not THAT stupid.” Yash kept on walking away from the Reaper.
The Reaper kept looking at Yash walking away from him. He wanted do make Yash remember him the next time they met. He turned to smoke and disappeared from there. Yash walked for some time before he spotted someone lying on the ground far from him. “Hey!” he shouted at the person, but he got no response. He noticed it to be a lady wearing clothes similar to what Priya was wearing when they were heading back home from the resort. He ran to her and sat on his knees on the ground. He panicked and turned the lady towards him. “Priyaaaa…”
He woke up screaming her name again. On a completely different bed in a completely new place, Yash was feeling scared to have woken up from a dreadful dream. He was sweating like a pig. His headache was even more severe than before. He groaned in pain. For a minute, he felt like hitting his head with a sledge hammer to kill his headache. He controlled himself. He saw the patients in the neighbouring beds sleeping. A couple of patients were disturbed by his screaming. It was around the middle of the night, or dawn, as Yash tried to figure out the environment around him. Everything was dark except a dim light at the main entrance, but bright enough to be able to see at the end of the hall. In a general ward, patients were given medical treatments for those having some kind of mental issues. Yash was on a bed allocated to him at the end of the hall. He had a window nearby. For the first time since his arrival, he approached the window to look outside. It was his first night at the mental rehabilitation centre.
The clock struck 0700 HRS in the morning. Yash, awake on his bed, was startled by the buzzing alarm in the ward. Since the time he woke up from the dream, he had not really been able to sleep. Last night, upon his arrival at the centre, Dr. Roshan Ranjan put him on a 15-day course of medication. Of course, the first dose of medication had hardly done any good to him. His headache was still consistent as it had been the previous days. His physical wounds, equally painful, restricted his movements a little bit. With the alarm buzzing so loudly, he noticed two nurses coming in through the door, all dressed in white, and standing in the centre of the ward. They were talking among themselves. A few patients started to get up from their beds. The patient next to Yash took a look at him as if Yash had been responsible for all the pain and agony in his life. Pale and fragile in appearance, the old man started walking towards the two nurses and stood near them silently. A few other patients stood behind the old man forming a coherent line. An old lady near Yash’s bed noticed him all confused.
“Don’t you want to have breakfast?” mumbled Mrs. Patlani. Yash turned towards her.
“What?” asked Yash in confusion.
“Don’t you want to have breakfast?” she repeated. Yash just nodded in agreement.
“Then go and stand in the line,” she had a pretty smile this time.
Yash quickly composed himself and started walking. He stood at the end of the line and took a look around the ward. A few patients remained seated on their beds. ‘Maybe they don’t want to eat.’ Yash thought. The two nurses took a careful look around the ward, and then one of the nurses started walking towards the end of the line. Once there, he took position behind Yash, took a whistle out of his pocket and blew it. The other nurse at the beginning of the line started walking towards the door. Yash took a look at the nurse behind him.
“C’mon, buddy, start walking. We have a long day ahead,” the nurse said. With no intention to reply, Yash turned around and marched ahead for his breakfast. Like students in primary school, the patients marched towards the canteen to have their breakfast. One by one, all the patients took a plate and started putting food on it as per their appetite. And then they proceeded to take a seat at the tables in the canteen. At the end of the line, Yash took some time for himself to decide whether to have some food items on his plate or not. He picked up two aloo parathas immediately, but felt a little unsure about poha. He was never very fond of having poha, but lack of other options would make him have some to satisfy his hunger. The nurse behind Yash nudged him a bit, “Why are you taking so long? Move ahead, buddy. We haven’t got all day here.” Yash, a little annoyed at him for speaking twice without any provocation, took a deep breath. ‘Not today,’ Yash supressed his anger and quietly walking towards the end of the canteen. Subconsciously, he chose isolation over the company of any other person. A new place often does that to people. And Yash was no exception. The other patients had already occupied their seats. Seated in pairs, some patients were murmuring among themselves. Some chose to enjoy their meal rather than the company. The two nurses were standing at the door waiting for the patients to finish their breakfast.
“KNEEL,” Yash heard a whisper. In a berserk move, Yash pushed his plate across the table and stood up from his place. He looked infuriated. The plate fell on the ground and created a loud bang. The nurses, hearing this, ran towards Yash. Everyone around stopped eating and started looking at Yash. The nurses approached Yash, one on each side, took hold of him by his arms and walked him outside the canteen. One of the canteen workers came outside the kitchen only to find a plate and half-eaten parathas scattered on the floor. She picked up the plate and the parathas and went inside the kitchen. The other patients resumed their breakfast. In a room full of people with mental issues, nobody spoke a word.
The other patients had adapted to the place. Some patients had made new friends. Talking about their lives, the people they loved and whom they missed, the patients in the room had their own ways of bonding and sharing their pain. One of the means to bonding with other patients, as recommended by Dr. Roshan Ranjan, was to share the pain. While it was easy for some to share their reason, some chose to keep quiet about it. And eventually those who bonded well with others found it a little bit easy to pass the day. “Sharing is healing” said one of the posters on the wall. On one of the other walls of the ward, the big clock kept ticking second by second. But it felt as if each passing second was becoming longer and longer. For most of the day, Yash kept staring at the wall next to his bed. And that meant turning away from other patients in the room. He occupied a quiet corner of the ward. For other patients, this was not new, as they had gone through the same isolation phase as Yash was going through. But with the passage of time, they eventually adapted themselves to the place and they accepted that they were indeed suffering from a mental disorder. Looking at Yash, an old man in his sixties stood up from his place and approached him on his bed. Ignorant of how Yash would react, the old man touched Yash on his shoulder to initiate a conversation.
“What?” Yash yelled as he turned around to look at the old man standing next to him.
“Are you all right, my son?” asked the old man.
“Noooooo,” Yash screamed out in anger at the old man. Frightened, the old man turned around to walk back to his bed. Everybody in the ward became quiet for a while. This was the second time in a day that Yash grabbed everybody’s attention.
“I just wanted to make him feel comfortable. That’s all,” the old man said to his friend. Yash went back to the way he was – quiet and alone. Nobody from the ward dared to bother him for the rest of the day.
Dr. Pooja, a Resident Doctor, had been under the mentorship of Dr. Roshan Ranjan for almost 8 months now. She was in the final year of MD Psychiatry, meaning all she had to do was put her medical knowledge to practice. Easier said than done, Dr. Pooja was always seen on her toes. Attending to patients, performing tests recommended by Dr. Roshan and other senior doctors, preparing reports and preparing for her final exams approaching in four months took away most of her time of the day. It was half past five in the evening when Dr. Pooja came in the general ward for a round of check-up of the patients. As a usual routine, she asked the patients how they felt and what they had been doing since she saw them the same time last evening. Most of the answers she used to get were well rehearsed – “I have been fine, doctor,” “I spent the day talking to my friend,” “I am doing good, thank you, doctor.” She looked at the record of their behaviour in the last 24 hours as recorded by the nurses. Any outbursts of anger, skipping meals, not following the rules, anything that deviated from the normal as recommended by the doctors would be recorded by the nurses working round the clock. And these behavioural actions would finally make it to the reports made by Dr. Pooja, submitted to Dr. Roshan at the end of the day. Dr. Roshan would study these reports first thing every morning.
She noticed Yash at the end of the ward sitting on his bed, lost in his own thoughts. In the morning, while reading his file, she had noticed the usual symptoms of PTSD. The word ‘headache’ was highlighted multiple times. The incident at the canteen was described under ‘MAJOR BEHAVIUORAL MISCONDUCT.’ As she approached Yash, she smiled at him. She didn’t speak for a moment to observe Yash and make him feel comfortable.
“Hello, Yash,” she said approaching his bed. For a while, she received no response from him.
“Hello, Yash. How are you?” She initiated the conversation again.
“Stay away from me,” Yash frowned.
“It’s OK, Yash. Don’t worry. I am your doctor,” Pooja said. Yash didn’t speak anything.
“You can tell me what is bothering you, Yash. I can make it go away. Do you want me to help you, Yash?” asked Dr. Pooja in a very calm and soothing tone.
“Stay away from me,” this time, Yash shouted at Dr. Pooja. The nurses came close and stood next to Dr. Pooja, just in case.
“It’s ok. Its ok. No problems, Yash. See I am leaving,” Dr. Pooja said. She also took a few steps back from his bed. Yash again went back to the same composition he was in since the morning incident – quiet, alone and irritated. For a few moments, Dr. Pooja observed Yash as he lay himself on his bed and looked the other way. She took out her notepad and made some notes. Then she moved on to the next patient. After finishing up, she went to her cabin to make the Mental Status Examination Report.
For the rest of the day, Yash kept to himself. The other patients in the ward identified him as one of those patients who did not want to accept his mental illness. “He will take a couple of days to adjust,” commented a lady to her friend. But nobody approached him for any kind of conversation. The nurses kept a close watch on him for any misconduct. Instead of him taking dinner on his plate, dinner was served to him on a separate table. A nurse accompanied him on his way to the canteen and back. Yash had earned the special attention of the nurses. He took his medicines and wished for the headache to go away, at least for a moment. He lay on his bed in trepidation.
The storm had just passed through the forest leaving behind silence as a victim. After the torrential rain smashed itself on the forest throughout the night, the forest stood calm and serene. Although not capable of destroying even a small figment of the vast forest, the storm tested the strengths of its roots. One tree, however, had succumbed to the willingness of the storm. With broken branches, smashed leaves and being uprooted from the ground, the tree had its crown leaning on another tree. Lush green leaves were still holding some of the droplets of water on their skin. From the top of this tree, the Reaper could see Yash standing on the ground. He took a bite from an apple while keeping an eye on Yash. Appointed by the Lord of Death himself, the Reaper’s job was to deliver a person’s soul to his master and earn his loyalty. The Reaper was bound to answer each and every question asked to him in a truthful manner. That was his biggest curse. He could not lie to a person. But as an agent of the Lord of Death, he had served him since his own creation. He was proud to have served the master for his loyalty. Deliverance of a human soul made him superior to any person on the planet. And to fulfil that duty, the Reaper took another bite from the apple and then jumped from the top of the tree. He landed on the ground with a loud smack. Yash looked back frantically.
“Hello, my friend!” the Reaper greeted him with open arms and a huge smile on his face. Gradually, the Reaper started approaching Yash, making his way through the dense plants and shrubs in between them.
“Shall we?” asked the Reaper. He took another bite from the apple. Yash didn’t bother to reply, but kept staring at the Reaper.
“You never listen to me, Yash, do you?” the Reaper was baffled at him.
“Yash, you are not comprehending the seriousness of the situation. You need to work with me here.”
No words from Yash. The Reaper took a deep breath.
“Ok. I will share this with you, just one more time. All right?” The Reaper walked past Yash from his left side, encircled behind him and stood really close to him on his right.
“You need to kneel to the Lord of Death,” whispered the Reaper. “That’s it.” The Reaper shouted. And he took another bite from the apple. Yash trembled a little. He took a few steps away from the Reaper.
“So, ready to go now?” the Reaper asked.
Black polished shoes, crispy ironed pants, a coal-black blazer, French beard and black shades, the Reaper looked like a highly sophisticated CEO of a multinational company having grabbed the biggest deal for his company, or a secret service agent on a mission to disarm a nuclear missile to save people in his country, or a movie superhero with back-to-back hits of the big screen. He carried an overwhelming smile on his face. Yash turned around and started to walk away from the Reaper.
“SERIOUSLY?” the Reaper shouted completely flabbergasted by his behaviour. Yash kept walking.
“Please, Yash. Come back to me, Yash. Please don’t leave me here in the middle of the forest. I am afraid of the wolves,” the Reaper pleaded with Yash in a childlike tone. Yash stopped and turned around to ask him to leave him alone. The Reaper had disappeared.
“You don’t understand a word of what I am saying,” grunted the Reaper in anger. He was standing behind Yash. Yash, frightened again, took some steps away from the Reaper.
“You think this is some kind of joke. That I am some prankster playing with your feelings and that there are secret cameras recording your actions. Do I look like an idiot?” the Reaper asked, taking a step forward. Yash still kept quiet.
“The only way you are getting out of this is if you surrender to my Lord. There is no other way you are coming out of this. Do you understand me? There is absolutely no…”
Yash started running away from the Reaper. The Reaper, in total disbelief, kept looking at his soul running away from him.