I woke up with a start as I heard my grandmother calling me from downstairs. It wasn’t what I would call a panic-stricken beckon, but it was obvious she needed help. I slipped on a night-gown and made my way downstairs. “What happened, nani? It’s 3 am.”
She was sitting on a one of the dining table chairs and she looked practically exhausted. I could hear her wheezing from all the way across the room. “I feel like eating a banana, but I can’t find them anywhere,”she said with a look of exasperation. I walked towards the fruit basket placed right behind her and picked up the last banana. As I handed it to her I realized by the look on her face that it was simply a hoax to get me out of bed.
“Out with it nani, I want to go back to sleep. Work tomorrow.”
“Fine. I want to know why you’ve gone so dense,” she said in her most no-nonsense tone (it was actually quite funny, she hardly uses it). The question was actually quite simple; the answer on the other hand was far more complicated. The truth was, I had no idea. As I sat down beside her, I tried to frame my answer with no success.
“I guess, I’ve grown used to the idea of the world being a place where I have to survive in. You, more than anyone, know what I’m talking about. It’s easier this way,” I said with a matter-of-fact tone. I was expecting a long speech on the beauties of life without inhibitions but what came was a surprise.
“Fair enough,” she said as she got up.
I realized the conversation was over so I got up too, gave her a hug, and climbed back up the stairs to my bedroom.
As I walked towards my room I passed the pooja room. I glanced in and then walked in and suddenly I stopped, a cold shiver running down my spine. There it was, a photograph with a garland hanging off it. This wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be. I ran to the phone and picked up my phone, my palms now breaking out a cold sweat. “Mumma, I need to talk to you, where are you?” She may have picked up the phone but she disconnected it the second the words were out of my mouth. I could feel the panic rising to an incomprehensible level.
As I sat their drenched in sweat, my door cranked open and I could feel the fear creep up on me. I turned around and all of a sudden relief swept through each pore of my body. “Mumma! Is nani…is she dead?” I said as my voice cracked. She walked in, and somehow she looked older, much older than I remembered her. She sat down beside me and swept a strand of hair behind my ear. With a heavy sigh and a wry smile she said, “yes beta, she has been for 7 years now.” I could feel the confusion cloud my judgement, the utterly bizarre situation take a toll on me. I had just seen her.
“Did you see her again?” Mumma said with defeat in her voice and pain in her eyes. As I looked at her I slowly nodded and as I did so I started to feel a rise of adrenaline once again. “How could she be? Why didn’t you tell me? I don’t, I can’t understand! What the hell is going on?!?” I said as tears started flowing down my face with a force I didn’t know existed.
She held me and I pushed her away. “Tell me, Now!”
“Baby, you’re sick. Please calm down.”
She reached for a strip of tablets at my nightstand and it was the first time I looked around. Bars on the windows, my table sharpener gone, no pen stand on it; everything had changed. That’s when I snapped. “Talk to me dammit! Tell me! What the fuck is happening?!”
The door creaked open again and papa entered the room with an injection in one hand and a ball of cotton in another. As I kept screaming at the top of my voice he passed the needle to Mumma and caught hold of me. I felt a sudden pang on the side of my hand and let out a shriek at the top of my voice. I kept fidgeting while the drowsiness kicked in. My movements got slower, my eyes started to lose focus and I felt my father relax as he lay me down on my bed.
I looked up at the two faces I loved the most in the world and saw tears in both pairs of eyes. Papa’s face shot a pang of hurt through me. What had happened, why were they looking at me with such pain clouding their faces?
As I drifted off, my subconscious kicked in and I started recalling facts I couldn’t in the state of utter panic I had been in. My nani‘s death and all that followed flowed in. My family knew there was nothing they could do to help me. This was going to be how I was remembered and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it either. I had lost control.