My life lost meaning on 8th July 2006 between 09:43 PM and 09:56 PM at a deserted turn of the tunnel in the outskirts of our home town. The postmortem report compensated for my blurry memory. It says Dad died on the spot and Mom followed after a gap of 13 agonizingly long minutes; my grainy memory didn’t spare me the most painful moments and I remember seeing Mom crying out for help to dozens of cars and curious pedestrians alike. It was a weekend and there was a steady stream of people busy enjoying their leisure; Too busy to save the lives of 3 other human beings but with enough time to ogle at the scene.
I guess Mom’s efforts were in vain because in between the frequent black outs that I had, I remember her – torso out of the car through the broken side window – feebly extending her hand and the next thing I know, her limp torn body was pulled out by a pair of medics, her gaunt face illuminated by the blue and red flickering lights of the ambulance.
And then there was a pair of them with animated faces in front of me. They forced open the door and slowly tried to pull me out- without success since I hadn’t been moved an inch before an earsplitting scream echoed off the tunnels.
It was only when they let go that I learned that it had been me screaming. They stood up and I heard a murmur of noises. Then there was a hustle and the moving legs regretfully obstructed my view of the world outside; it had been my anchor that kept me in the world of sanity; that comforted me that there was a life outside this loss and pain. I heard another door being pried open and light flooded my face as Dad’s heavy body was extracted from the wreckage. I figured he was dead already because he made no sound of pain or resistance all the while.
The initial numbness slowly eroded away and I was struck by the full force of the pain. It enervated me, obstructing my lungs, rendering me dumb and burning me wholly. Though scared of what lay ahead, it was with a sense of relief that I welcomed unconsciousness; that I drowned in the warm sickly pool of red.
“IT’S HIS BLOODY FAULT THEY’RE DEAD” Antony roared. I flinched. 4 years. 4 whole years had passed since the day of my parents’ demise. But the pain didn’t subside. It was kept alive by the baleful fire I saw in my brother’s eyes whenever I looked into them.
I tried to slink away without them noticing but was too late; too late to escape without getting attention and too late to hide the stray tear.
Liya jumped up from the couch and extended her hands, palms up, perhaps offering comfort or perhaps in a subconscious way, showing her helplessness; I didn’t know which but I did know that it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t change a thing.
“Josh! Please, it’s ok. Tony didn’t mean what he said. He was just… he was…” Liya looked at Antony with despair. I tuned my eyes to him too. His face was closed off. I didn’t dare look into his eyes and see the hostility there but from the slight downward turn of his mouth, I knew that he regretted what he said; well, regretted saying it in front of me.
“I’ll be in my room” I choked out and pried my hand away from where it had been frozen on the half open door of the drawing room before running to my room. I dashed into it, made straight for the large wardrobe, clambered into it and burrowed myself into the cloths strewn inside, after closing the door. It had been my safe haven since that day. Somehow it made me feel as if I was shielded from my brother’s eyes.
I deduced that Liya had been trying to get Antony to speak to me. But I knew it was a lost cause. If anything infuriated Antony, it was when other people advised him; told him what to do; said something that went against his decisions. And Antony would never acknowledge me. He had made that clear already; during the funeral.
It had been a quiet ceremony, attended by a few friends and relatives. My left hand and leg, and two ribs had been broken. Along with this, I had a few dozen stitches; Remnants of that wretched day. But the doctors who had patched me up had said that I was lucky to even be alive and that it had been a miraculous escape. I was discharged to attend the last rites and was staying with Liya at my parents’ place. Liya was my mother’s sister and our entitled guardian. Just a few minutes before the funeral, Liya had left my side to see somebody and all of a sudden I found my wheelchair being pushed towards the chapel near to the church. The initial panic left me when I found that it was my brother. I remember being a bit worried seeing the expressionless look on his face; and about the fact that he hadn’t visited me at the hospital. He waited until we were in a dark corridor which was spared of utter gloom by the light coming in through the windows located every few meters. Then he stopped. I had wheeled it around so that I was facing him. His face remained in the shadows.
“Are you happy now Joshua?” It had scared me beyond anything. His voice; it was his but at the same time it so unlike his. And he had never, as in never, called me Joshua.
“Tony? What-” my words were cut off as his hands wrapped around my throat constricting the wind pipe and I found myself dangling 2 feet off the ground, my back slammed against the wall. I clawed at his hand with my right but it was futile. It wasn’t the imminent threat of death but the thought that my brother was doing it that had horrified me. It was the same arms that had once enveloped mine tenderly when he taught me to ride a bike and play baseball that was now choking off my air. It was the same pair of brown eyes that were once warm and filled with love and laughter as it beheld me that was full of pain, sadness and anger now.
It was only when the fight left me and I started seeing black spots in front of my eyes that he had let go. I had crumpled onto the floor and felt a sharp pain shoot up my already broken left leg.
“It’s your entire fault. You’re the reason why they are dead. You should be the one being lowered into the ground not them.” He had shouted. I couldn’t speak. “If you had listened to me; if you hadn’t pulled along Dad and Mom to that stupid exhibition. If we had just gone for the movie as I suggested.”
He moved towards me again and I cringed back. But he didn’t hurt me. He stopped in front of me and said in a cold voice filled with venom “I wish you had died with them. Better yet, I wish you were never born.”
His voice had been laced with truth and as he walked away from me, I knew that it wasn’t just my Mom and Dad that I had lost, it was my brother too.
I didn’t know what had happened after that. But from the glitches I learned from the conversation between nurses, I learned that Liya had found me screaming and completely hysterical, ripping open my stitches and injuring myself further. They had to sedate me. I missed the funeral.
“Josh, come down for dinner.” Liya’s voice made me surface into the real world; which wasn’t much better that the other.
Antony and I never had food together ever since that day. I always stalled purposefully for 20 minutes to be sure he was done before making my way down. We were never in a room together unless Liya forced us together in the evenings, hoping we would reconcile but it always began and ended with Antony glaring at the television and I burrowed into a ball on the couch, trying to make myself as small and insignificant as possible. But other than this, the days were fine. Antony left for school long before I was up and sometimes came in very late into the night. I think Liya’s tears had a good part in his being home before lights out nowadays. Even with all the apparent rancor, Liya always called me for dinner. I didn’t know why she bothered. It had almost become a tradition, a ritual. But I thought it was because she didn’t want to be guilty of not trying.
She never forced to me to be down with Antony during meals and I was grateful. It wasn’t his accusations that hurt me but how they were on point; how I couldn’t think – much less say – anything in my own defense. He was right; it was all, my fault. Though it was a ridiculous blame and though there was no way I could have foreseen such a thing ever happening, ultimately it was my fault, based on my decisions. How was I to know that asking my Dad to speed a bit to reach the Art Fest in time would lead to it? But perhaps it was the thought that if I were silent, it could have made a difference that kept both me and my brother from forgiving me.
Somehow, his anguish and pain had always seemed greater than mine. Even when I compare them, it feels like my pain, even then, couldn’t compare to his melancholy now. He was just two years older than my current age then: 15. But his emotions seemed so impressive, regal. Never like me- pathetic, moping around and whimpering -but so much more profound; in his pain and his anger. He had always loved my parents; a lot. He never disobeyed them. Wouldn’t do anything that could hurt them. He almost never missed dinner together at home just for the sake of hanging out with friends. It was always family first. Now that I’m nearly his age, it seems impossible that he could have been so caring.
I miss my big brother.
Though I was too bewildered in the beginning, my current theory is that Antony didn’t want to admit that our parents would have died. He couldn’t bring himself to give up on their chances of survival. He couldn’t mourn and just let it be. He needed something to blame it on; so that he could believe that they could have had a happy future. So he could vent all his anger on someone who could be held responsible… even just a bit; someone like me.
But still I tried; it was what kept me on track, my continuous efforts to get brother to forgive me. Not by crying or comforting him or seeking his forgiveness. Just by being in the same house; by not intruding upon him and by giving him space. I knew my brother could see through me. He was always good at reading my emotions; even better than my parents. And I don’t think his anger towards me suddenly ruptured his empathy with me. I clung to the prospect that one day he would love me again, or at least forgive me; hoped that he would tease me, taunt me and quarrel with me like he used to.
I opened the wardrobe door and peered at the clock hanging outside. 10 past 09. I decided that I had given Antony enough time to have dinner. Extracting myself from the cocoon of clothes, I made my way downstairs softly and made my way to the dining hall tentatively. I was surprised to see Liya sitting at the table dressed to go out- she made it a point to drag out her dinner so that she could dine with me and Antony- and even more surprised to see my brother watching television in the adjacent living room.
“There you are” she smiled at me warmly “I have to go out and will be in late. So don’t wait for me. Go to bed .ok? Tony has agreed to stay up with you until you are ready for bed.” She threw a satisfied smile in his direction and I followed her line of sight to see him seated on the couch, tense.
“So goodbye” she kissed my forehead and ruffled Antony’s hair before making her way to the door, her high heels making sharp taps on the polished floor. I heard the door close with a bang and the sound of her BMW start. The sound of the car faded away and I was grateful for the television for not drowning us in complete silence.
Minutes ticked away and I uprooted myself from where I was frozen. I took slow steps to the living room and burrowed myself on the couch. We both watched the television- well, I stared. I don’t think he watched either. His posture never relaxed. After a while, when I couldn’t handle the tension in the room, I decided to take a detour to the kitchen.
“Going to bed?” I froze on my tracks.
It took a while for me to digest the fact that he spoke to me. That my brother actually spoke to me. I muttered softly, “Not yet. But you can. I don’t mind being up alone…” I trailed off unsure. I didn’t want him to get the idea that I didn’t want his company.
But anyway, he didn’t speak again but stared dead ahead at the screen, his expression unfathomable.
I continued to the kitchen and got myself a bowl of vanilla ice cream. I debated going back to the living room but decided against it and went out into the patio. I closed the door loudly to let Antony know that I was out.
I sighed as the wind caressed my face. Sitting on the swing outside, I watched the stars while eating the ice cream. The serenity of the night always calmed me and right now I needed calm to think about the recent development between us siblings. But even after a long time my mind was blank. The only thing I seemed to able to concentrate on was the squeaking sound as the swing swung back and forth.
When it got too cold for comfort, I got up from the swing regretfully with plans to sit outside every night and shuffled to the door leading inside. I went in and meticulously washed the bowl and kept it in place. It was only when I was wiping my arms that I noticed the faint sounds emanating from the living room. I moved in the direction of the room, dread settling in. I knew I wouldn’t like what I’d see. A premonition you could say.
I was greeted by red.
Antony lay on the floor drenched in his own blood. A knife lay on the floor near him; it seemed he had pried it off. From the dark patches that stained his beige shirt I knew he had multiple wounds. I was aware of a few people standing around but they were hazy. Only my mangled brother was in the focus. I stumbled my way to him and tripped on the mat. Crawling the rest of the way, I reached his side and took him bloodied hand in mine. My desperate clasp was reciprocated by a gentle squeeze. I felt his hand wound tightly around mine but when he applied pressure, it was so feeble. I knew he was slipping away; that he was fading.
He opened his lips once or twice but couldn’t form a sound. I rubbed at my eyes furiously with my free hand, trying to get rid of the accursed tears that prevented me from seeing his eyes. I knew there wasn’t time and for some reason I felt it was crucial that I saw them. His lips parted again and it was with difficulty that I comprehended what he said.
“J…Josh-” the hand around mine went slack and I felt rather than saw the life leaving his vibrant eyes. It wasn’t long before the first wave of sadness hit me and I just sat there, rocking back and forth, my chest heaving with sobs and a torrent of tears dripping down my face. I desperately clung to his hand, refusing to let it go; as if clinging to his lifeless body would make a difference.
After the tears subsided I sat there looking at my brother’s pale face. It wasn’t calm; far from it, it showed the pain he had suffered. It was when the clock chimed 10:30 that I turned to find the intruders. But I only found one. He was a tall lanky man who seemed to be in his early forty’s, with a few silver lines at the temples. He wore an entirely black suit and an amused look on his face.
I gave it a final squeeze before letting Antony’s hand go and stood up facing the man who strode over to the armchair that Antony had occupied just a few minutes ago. He settled their comfortably and looked at me
“You didn’t run” he spoke in a low baritone that was neither surprised nor curious.
“You should have”
“You would have caught me” and it was true.
“Yes” he confirmed it.
“So what are we going to do now?” he asked in an offhand voice.
“I’m going to kill you.”
He smiled “Of course. How about now? My men are outside. You have the perfect opportunity.”
“I’m not strong enough. You would defeat me.” His smile grew.
“Hm… you’re right. So, want to tag along with me until you’re ready?”
It was a foolish question to ask after the horrifying act he had done. At least that was what I thought until the answer automatically escaped my lips to my surprise.
He nodded “Good. I’ll meet you outside.” He got up and made his way out.
“Wait, why did you kill him?”
He stopped and half turned towards me “Let’s just say that I and your Dad didn’t have a history of being on good terms. I needed some things that were here. Your brother didn’t have to die. Duty called. Couldn’t have an eye witness rattling me out. I know enough about you two to know that you wouldn’t. Or rather, couldn’t.”
I nodded and he proceeded on his way out.
I collapsed on the sofa and got my thoughts in order. I knew; I just knew that I had done the right thing. I also knew that I had just written off my independence and I was…happy about it. My words to him were hollow. True, I would always want to kill him but in a sick sadistic way which makes sense to me, I won’t; I can’t.
What do people live for? Themselves? For their loved ones? I don’t know the answer. When I was living happily with my family, it was supposedly for myself; so that I can be happy. But ultimately, everything I did was in the hope of seeing the proud satisfied smile my parents and brother bestowed upon me. I lived because I had people who wanted me to, people who lived for me.
But when my parents died, things changed. My own brother hated me and I had no one to truly call family; no one who wanted me to live on; except perhaps Liya, but it was so painfully obvious that she would be better off without taking care of two disagreeable kids. So my life was centered around my brother. Though I lived for the brother of the past, the reason of my existence was my desire to gain my brother’s forgiveness; at least to the extent in which he didn’t resent my existence. I strived to regain a place in his heart.
But the turn of events left me… vulnerable, in a sense. I was left alone with no cause to continue my worthless life. What was I to live for now? For the hope of a better future? But that was a lost dream. My life would be a torment, feeling responsible for my parent’s death, my brother’s grief… And I would be for always be wondering if I could have saved Antony’s life somehow.
And another blow was the fact that I would never know what he had called me; never see the look he bore in the last moments of his life again. I would never be at peace. I would never know if he called me my full name or just Josh. It would make all the difference in the world to me; to know if I had succeeded in endeavors to gain my brother’s forgiveness at least when his life was at its end. His calling me ‘Josh’ would have meant that he had. But I didn’t even have a glimpse of his eyes-be it filled with hate or with love- to placate me. I would forever be wondering if he had still loathed me or not. It would haunt every second of my life.
And I had no purpose for living… until the man extended his arms to me. But I still stand by what I said about wanting to kill him. But I’ll never be able to do that. True, he killed my brother. But did I truly mourn for Antony? I grieved the brother of yester years; the brother in my memories of a long gone childhood; a brother who once loved me, but did he resurface before his death? Knowing that he did, might have made a difference in the way I beheld the murderer but as it was, I didn’t know and thus, I had a limit to how much I could lament a brother whose said relation went no deeper than a simple title. It is hard to mourn a future which is so bleak. But there he was, the man who killed my brother in cold blood for no reason, offering me just what I was desperate for – a reason to live on. He has given me the opportunity to be useful; given me a cause; given me an aim in life. And I would forever be indebted to him. Killing him would be like killing myself. Thinking over things, now that the antecedent adrenaline had abated, I knew I wouldn’t have done it anyway. Murdering him would never bring my brother back.
So, it didn’t matter what heartless, horrifying future lay ahead of me; didn’t matter what my life would be like. I’d always hate him for killing Antony but respect and worship him for giving me a chance. He owned my life.
I didn’t take one last look at my brother or take any souvenirs from the house; the past, though good, was long gone and a distant memory. Neither my parents’ smiles nor my brother’s twinkling eyes invaded my mind as I stepped out onto porch and made my way to the shiny but inconspicuous sedan parked outside, with my new acquaintance.
And there began my life.