He lay still on the bed, except for his eyes which were wide open and the mouth that opened every few minutes gulping in air like a dying fish. His head lolled to the right. The tongue hung loosely from his mouth. The left portion of his body was paralysed while the right functioned barely. Parkinson’s had staked its claim over it. The only sign of movement were his eyes. They spoke. They spoke when they found someone to listen to him. And that was a rarity.
Reida, a tall, muscular woman came every morning. She lifted him up, dunked him in the bathtub and scrubbed him clean. At times the water was hot enough to scald him. At times it was too cold making him shiver long after the bath was over. Dressed up, she would put him on a special chair where he would sit till evening. The chair had a special table attached to it. On it she would place a concoction of fruit and vegetable juice in a large tumbler. A metal straw was attached to it. He sipped it when hungry. The concoction lasted for seven to eight hours depending on his appetite. The woman came back again in the evening, changed his soiled diapers, put fresh clothes and made him lie down on the bed. Two heavy diapers were fitted to last through the night and beneath it an oil sheet. She would refill the tumbler with some more juice and place it on the table fitted to the bed. A switch to his right made it move.
That evening Reida left him. She smiled through her yellow, crooked teeth. “Wish you another great night, Sir. A peaceful night of dreams and oh yes, a dash of nightmare! You know how much you deserve them!”
She closed the door with a loud thud, locking it from outside. He heard her heavy footsteps march away. My last contact with a human for the day. He sighed.
He woke up. A sudden movement had caught his eyes.
Who…who is it? No words came out. The paralysis…damn it!
The dim light in the corner came alive. He looked at it surprised. That…that light….we had bought it from the Crafts Fair. But, it was damaged.
The warm light spread through the room. He saw a faint form taking shape. A woman sat on the rocking chair, swaying gently.
“Meira! My Meira!”
“Hah, My Meira!” She mimicked. “So how have you been? Rotting in that bed?”
He: “I can’t take this anymore. The pain is unimaginable.”
Meira: “Unimaginable? Come on! Be a sport. Enjoy the game.”
He: “NO ..Kill me.”
Meira: “No no, dear Mayank. The game has just begun.”
She drew closer.
Now she will kill me. I am scared…. NO! Let this suffering end.
“I love to see you rotting in your own piss. You know how much I deserve this pleasure.”
Placing her icy hands on his forehead, she massaged his temple. “Ssshh honey! Please rest. I am back after a long time. Let me recline on my favourite chair and reminisce the times I have spent here.”
Meira floated back to the chair, picked up a book from the shelf and sat reading.
‘Death comes haunting’, read the title. Ironic, Mayank thought.
Mayank had his eyes on the new girl. “Pretty, petite and polite, just my type,” he thought as he licked his lips. He has been stalking her for the last few days, but had got no response. Meira was the daughter of the business tycoon. “There is money…lots and lots of it,” he sniffed hard.
The new girl was his ticket. But no matter what he did, she never raised her eyes to look at him. She kept them glued either on the blackboard or on her notebook. And then opportunity struck.
Exams were around the corner. That meant Meira had to spend more time in the library. It was one such evening when her driver failed to arrive on time. Standing at the bus stop, her instincts warned her of an impending danger. Just then two men caught hold of her. They dragged her to the shed behind the stop, gagged her and forced themselves upon her. At that moment a man barged in, beat them up and rescued her. It was the boy who had been following her for the last couple of months. Mayank suffered a grievous cut on his thigh and lost a lot of blood. Meira rushed him to the hospital and tended to him for the next few days. She also prepared copious notes for both of them so that they could sail through the exams. Meira gave him her time and her heart.
Marriage happened soon. Tragedy struck after a year when her father was found dead. A massive heart attack, the family physician – Dr Saxena, wrote on the death certificate. Mayank took great care of his distraught wife. A long break in the Swiss Alps, he decided. And that’s where the next part of the plan was hatched.
They came back glowing in love. Mayank and Meira were expecting their first child. The expecting father took upon himself the responsibility of his pregnant wife. Meira basked in the warmth of his love. Ten days later, a frantic Meira called her husband at work. She was bleeding. Immediate hospitalisation followed. The baby couldn’t be saved. Dr Saxena advised bed rest. A broken Meira came home. Her health deteriorated rapidly. Her joints ached every time she tried to move. It worsened so much that she could barely move around. A month later, Meira lay confined to her bed. She needed assistance for every small action of hers. Mayank hired a girl to take care of her every need. Bedridden, she spent her time hoping and praying for a fast recovery. The nature of the disease was peculiar. Her attending physician, Dr Saxena was not able to diagnose. Her husband sent her reports to eminent doctors. But no one seemed to know what it was.
Mayank proved to be a dutiful husband. He would return home on time every day for Meira’s medicines, make her have her tablets and sit beside her as she slept.
One night, Mayank failed to arrive on time. Meira refused to have dinner without her husband. Strangely, she was feeling better that day. The young attendant knew where her medicines were kept. She brought them to her mistress. Meira was about to gulp them down when her eyes fell on the strip. A nagging doubt made her call her friend. Her doubts were confirmed. She was being poisoned slowly. She let the attendant go that night and awaited her husband’s return.
Meira confronted an inebriated Mayank.
“Ha ha ha. Clever …very clever. Not the dumb one I married. Wait, there is more. I murdered your father as well. Do you want the details?
Meira: “You..you.. scoundrel… how could you? You are what you are because of him.”
Mayank: “Oh yes. His money. His house. His car. His daughter. I have it all. I have your signature. So I have it all. This poisoning thing is taking a bit long…why don’t we speed it up, darling?”
A shocked Meira looked as he climbed atop the bed and pressed the pillow firmly on her. She fought back. She tried to scream. And then darkness prevailed. Mayank woke up next morning to the wailing of the attendant. Two strips of Alprazolam were found beside the dead body. “Suicide,” pronounced Dr Saxena. Money could do wonders. It could turn everyone mute.
He must have fallen asleep. Meira was no longer there. Thank God. It was dark. He heard the neighbourhood clock striking twice. 2 am. The dogs barked in unison.
And then he heard it. Soft giggles. Some more cooing and babbling. Was that a baby? How can a baby get in?
And then he saw a light coming closer. A baby was crawling towards his bed. It was strangely illumined. “Who…who are you? Who let you in? Where is your wretched mother?”
Some more giggles. It kept crawling. And then suddenly a girl came running in. She scooped up the baby and kissed it. The child let out a giggle. She tickled it under its chin and it responded back with a soft coo. They turned towards him. A piercing gaze.
“Do you remember me?” She asked.
Girl: “Look at me properly. Can you see Latifa? The girl who looked after Malkin* when she was bedridden?
Mayank: “Yes yes. What do you want? You want money? Come tomorrow…I will pay you…Lakhs. Now GO.”
Latifa: “Arrey Saabji. Money…who wants it? I have never asked you for money. You knew what I wanted. Remember?”
Latifa was the pretty, fair-skinned daughter of the gatekeeper. They lived in the outhouse behind their building. He had seen her going to school in long pigtails. The sight of the long, braided hair swaying gently with every movement of her body as she walked to school remained firmly embedded in his mind. Over a bottle of foreign liquor and some more money, he struck a deal with Latifa’s alcoholic father. “Send her to our house after school. She can take care of Malkin while I am away. I will pay for your food and drinks.”
Mayank became the perfect master teaching Latifa how to take care of Malkin. The girl was devoted to them. The master’s love and devotion towards his bedridden wife stole her kind heart. The girl started staying back at night. Excessive alcohol had made her father abusive.
It was a stormy night when Meira turned restless, complaining of excruciating pain. Mayank sat awake trying his best to alleviate her pain. Once the storm abated, she drifted off to a peaceful sleep. Latifa fixed dinner for master. But he refused to touch it. The naïve girl watched her master break down into loud sobs. Taking him into her arms, she fed him that night and put him to bed. And she gave up her virginity wilfully. Since then, she looked after both and ran the household.
But fate had other plans for her. Her father fell sick. Latifa moved effortlessly between the two households taking care of all the three. The night her father passed away, she sat with him, wiping away his tears as he begged for forgiveness. It was also the same night that Malkin committed suicide.
She became Mayank’s mistress. A month later, she informed master about the baby that was due. Late in the night master dragged her out of the house, dumped her in his car and drove furiously. They reached a shabby clinic in a dusty lane. Much against her wishes, they gave her a sedative and aborted the baby. Mayank had left the unconscious girl her in the hospital with a wad of notes. He was scared that Latifa would not let him go. Next morning, a man called him informing him about the girl’s death. The sixteen year old had bled to death. Aborting a twelve week foetus was not easy, he was informed. Money rescued him.
Latifa was buried in an unmarked grave in the outskirts of the city.
Mayank: “I…I did what was right! You had high hopes of marrying me and setting up a house. How could I ever marry you? A maid!!! A tainted girl!”
Latifa: “Tainted? Who took advantage of me? YOU! YOU! YOU! I bled to death that night. The pain…the pain was horrific. You knew that the abortion was risky. You killed me…and our baby!”
Mayank: “They did a bad job. I did not want you to die. I thought you would take the money and go away…Good that you joined that bastard of yours.”
Latifa: Ha ha ha. No remorse at all? Tonight when the sheets turn red, you will realise how I suffered. Ha ha….and then when they scoop out a part of what is yours….feel it…. and yes, think of me.”
Mayank: “No no…I have had enough! Don’t give me any more pain. Forgive me.”
Latifa laughed. Cradling her baby, she watched as the colony of ants made their way into his bed, into the sheets and then into his diapers. She smiled when he opened his mouth to scream. Turning her back to him, they walked away. The sheets were turning red.
It was as if something was nibbling at every part of his body. The flashes of pain were intolerable. The gnawing sensation was unbearable. Tears ran down his eyes as he begged for release.
A cool hand wiped away the sweat from his forehead, traced the path of his tears and wiped them off.
Mayank looked up. “Baba, Baba….you have come…Please release me. Please. Tell me has my time come?”
“Beta, all your Karma!” Baba let out a deep sigh. “You have to bear this.”
Baba traced patterns on his forehead. It brought back memories of his childhood. “Please forgive me for what I have done to you….”
He would shout when Baba would come to school unannounced, giving him a surprise. They would lunch outside and then watch a movie. Baba always meant fun.
The moment Baba came home from work, little Mayank would dive straight into him and Baba would pretend to fall back holding his little child.
Once when Mayank fell ill, Baba let the housekeeper go, took leave from work and stayed back to care for his sick child.
Having lost his mother at a tender age, Mayank never missed her. His Baba filled the void.
And then when he was in his teens, Baba’s business suffered a huge loss. With it came crashing their life. The house, the cars and the furniture were taken over. Mayank realised what poverty was. He also realised his true self. The sudden loss of affluence and societal prestige changed him. He became desperate trying every short cut to earn money.
The father-son relationship changed overnight. The loss had taken a toll on Baba. Poor health and depression plagued him. He saw the accusation in his son’s eyes. Mayank withdrew from him leaving him lonely. It was during his university days that Baba was diagnosed with cancer.
His last few days coincided with Mayank’s exams. He would hear Baba cry out in pain from his room. He pretended not to hear them. Every time he stepped into Baba’s room, he would see him staring at him. He knew what those eyes wanted. Baba wanted him to sit beside him and give him hope. Mayank had no time for the ‘drama’. The wretched man had caused the misery out of his foolishness. He did not deserve any affection.
Baba passed away in his sleep one morning. Exams were important. Mayank paid a man to transport the body and get the last rites done. Money could buy anything.
“Beta, I have always loved you. I am praying for your release.” Baba held his child’s hands in his and kissed him. The kiss seemed to alleviate much of his pain.
He must have fallen asleep for a feeble voice woke him up.
“Doctor Saab. Wake up. It’s almost time.”
He opened his eyes and then shrank in terror.
“Yes yes, I had said the same words. But you never listened to me Dr Mayank Saxena,” said the voice.
It was late in the night when a comatose patient was wheeled in. She had tried to commit suicide by consuming sleeping pills. As he checked her feeble pulse, he couldn’t contain the familiar feeling in his groin. “Suicide?” Dr Saxena had asked her husband. The poor man looked distraught. “Yes, we had a fight. I am so sorry.”
His blood boiled. That idiot can’t control his wife. And now he is a pitiable creature blaming himself for the suicide. That woman needs a rough lesson.
Three days in the ICU and the woman recuperated well. Still weak, but stable, the doctor shifted her to the isolated cabin.
That night while most of the patients slept and the nurses took a tea break, Doctor entered the cabin. He forced himself upon her. The medicines were strong. Too weak to put up a fight, the woman begged for mercy. When it was over, he waved a finger at her, “Don’t you utter a word. You have a child, remember.” Three nights later, the woman was found lying on the bed, wrists slashed. “Acute depression,” wrote Dr Saxena and closed the file.
“Forgive me…Forgive me.” The doctor begged.
A sound alerted Mayank. It was time for Reida to come in. He breathed a sigh of relief. The woman entered.
He smiled. Lifting him up, she carried him to the bathroom. She placed him gently into the tub and turned on the taps. Water started filling in. Mayank looked at the rising levels of water. It had reached his shoulder. He tried to signal Reida. She stood watching him, a faint smile playing around her lips. He tried screaming. She smiled. The water rose. As the water entered his mouth and nostrils, he tried his best to raise his head higher. He failed. Resigned he looked back at her.
Standing next to her was the woman who had committed suicide. Soon Latifa joined in cradling her unborn child and then Meira. Baba stood at a distance crying. His last vision was of the hands that firmly pushed him into the water.
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