This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
I wake up to chaos, for the first time in the course of my existence. A putrid, alien smell clouds my senses. I hear clicks somewhere behind me. A steady periodic beeping follows. Some kind of apparatus, maybe; what IS my roommate up to, this fateful morning? I hear wails in the distance. My vision is about as blurry as my head is heavy. Ah well, I’ve never been an early morning person. I hear buzzing in the distance. Or is it a hum? And just like that, the fog clears- it’s almost like that experiment in lab where you pour an ingredient in a tube and all the color vanishes. It’s as if someone injected that chemical in me. I can feel it surging through me, burning my insides. My head feels groggy.
Suddenly there’s a flurry all around. My head is being lifted, but strangely, I never lifted it up myself. It’s as if the bed is bending under me, the top half floating in mid-air. I see faces coming towards me. Mom and Dad. Wait, what are they doing in my hostel? WAIT, why do they look so pale? Why are their eyes swollen, their faces contorted in grief? Why is everything so white? Why are there tubes attached to my arms? My arms so limp at my sides? Why are there nurses fiddling with those tubes? WHERE AM I? What happened to me?
I begin mouthing my questions, stringing the words together carefully in my rusted brain, handpicking them from the ruins of my memory. No sound escapes me. I reach out for my Mother’s comforting touch, slowly, with caution, so as not to disturb the array of needles that pierce my right arm. I wait for her to reach out to me. But she doesn’t. My arms are exactly as they were moments back-limp by my sides. I push through the daze that numbs all thought and summon reason. I reached out to her, didn’t I? Why can’t she see it? I spoke, didn’t I? Why can’t she hear me? I kick. Flail my arms. Scream through lungs that seem molded in concrete. Nothing. My actions are mere ghosts- there for no one to see or feel.
With time, I’ve come to think of myself as an air bubble trapped inside a solid slab of ice. I’m pushing on the inside, but the outside is numb. Dead. I can hear everything they say, see everything they do, smell the smells of the outside world- a world I’m now as much a part of as I’m not- but I can’t feel, and I can’t make them feel ME. With time, I’ve developed an understanding of what really happened to me. An accident my father still blames himself for, after 6 long months (“Should never have bought you that bike”, he tells me, in the silence of the night. He screams at me, shakes me, and often throws things around just to rouse a reaction. Even then, his anger fails to hide his anguish. Even then, his grief overpowers the yells. Even then, it’s hard to tell whose sobs are louder- his, out there for everyone to hear, or mine, trapped within the confines of my unmoving body); a prolonged coma; and no signs of improvement in the six months since my life began to depend on a Support System.
You might think it gets lonely in here. But it doesn’t. There are nurses hovering by my bedside, day in and day out. Doctors keep dropping in to visit. My parents are by my side so often, so frail and tired-looking, that I wonder when they go to work, or eat, or pray, or go out with their friends. Not a day goes by without me poking at my exterior, fighting, like a soul trapped inside a coffin, for a chink of light. Not a day goes by without me dreading the time my Dad leaves the room to give Mom some time alone with me. I wish she’d cry for me. I wish she’d scream at me. I wish she’d beat me, even. But she doesn’t. She sits there, still as a stone- still as me– and looks fondly at my lifeless form, her eyes flickering with barely disguised hope. It is this, more than anything else, which starts a war within me anew- day after fruitless day.
Often, in my life before… this, whatever this is… I had a recurrent dream. I dreamt I was in a place plagued with (insert any ghastly creature here- preferably spirits/ghosts/snakes) and screaming, loud. No one can hear me, because no sound escapes my throat. My screams are trapped inside me, and they weigh down on me until I finally wake up, and all is well in the world again. Look at me now. I’m trapped in my worst nightmare. And all I want to do is wake up.
Another three months have passed. My mother looks to me like I probably do to her- lifeless. Is she, I wonder, trapped within herself the way I am? Moving yet immobile? Speaking yet dumb? Fighting with herself for her life? One look at her liquid eyes and the pushing begins with renewed fervor. I’m like that guy in 127 hours- trapped under a rock that won’t budge, the life slipping out of me little by little, and the knowledge that the end is near taking root in my being.
It’s been a year now. I know this because my father is back from his consultation with my Doctor. He’s talking in hushed tones to my Mom, as if to spare my feelings. But silence was never his greatest trait. My Dad’s the kind of man you can hear all the way in the front row of a huge conference hall- when he’s standing in the far back. He’s the kind of man whose voice echoes, loud and clear, in the halls of our house- often followed by unconstrained laughter from the rest of the family. He’s the kind of man who is always doing a little jig, or making a joke, or telling a funny tale for the fifteenth time. The kind of man who never stays quiet. Something tells me that quiet is all he’s been for a year now. Everyone tells me how alike we are, how my smile matches his, how we look like brothers, how we think alike. How I’d grow up to be a great man like him. How…I wish.
Today, he’s a broken man. Today, the mouth that was famously outrageous is curved and quivering. Today, he looks at me as if channeling all his energy my way, sending it to me in the hopes that it revives my statue of a body. It doesn’t, so he turns to my mother and nods, once. Then he leaves, his once-regal stance a mere shuffle now. Mom turns to me- and shatters. I can see pieces of her crumbling onto the floor, racing towards me, turning to dust. I try to run to her, to piece her back together, to wipe those tears and kiss her frown away, the way she did every single time I cried, every time I hurt myself. I shove at myself. Hard. Harder still. Force myself to budge, to envelope my mother in my arms and cradle her the way she did at my birth. To hold her fingers and teach her to stand, the way she taught me.
More than anything, to show her I’m here. That her son is alive. That her son loves her. That he will do everything she tells him to if he could just have one last kiss on the forehead. As always, I collapse back into myself. And she collapses to the floor, her cries ringing inside me, reverberating off the empty walls I’m trapped within. Dad drags her out then. She turns around, just before leaving the door, and looks me in the eye. Suddenly, I know. I know it’s time to go. I know they’re pulling the plug. In one last desperate flash, I throw what is left of me in my eyes. Goodbye. And what do you know, they couldn’t see that either.