This short story became SPIXer (Most popular story) on 18 Oct 2014 and won INR 500
When the Anesthesia wore out, nausea took over.
Consciousness leached in excruciatingly as I turned over and vomited. My lips burnt. So did my throat. I could feel the tightness of the surgical plaster over my right elbow, forehead and right leg. My eyelids felt heavy, and I knew there was a bad cut over one of them. I tried opening my eyes and suppressed the reprising nausea.
The white hospital lights were blinding.
‘It’s ok, you’re fine.’
It wasn’t Aishani’s voice. It was a middle aged nurse’s. She checked my temperature and pressure, turned out the lights and left the room. A few minutes later, she returned with a syringe and a bottle of medicine.
‘This should help you get some sleep.’ She said as she injected the drug into me intravenously. She smiled before she left. ‘Your family will be here soon.’
I was starting to doze off. My thoughts went back to the Forever-after I almost had.
I remember reading somewhere that some infinities are bigger than other infinities. Forevers are like infinities. Some outlast other. Mine lasted for three minutes and seventeen seconds.
My mind drifted back to Aishani. The sedation was shamefully failing. It couldn’t hush my swarming thoughts and put it to sleep.
‘ACP Indrajit!’ she’d mock at me with her glistening lively eyes. ‘What’s the procedure to file a complaint for a missing earring??’
It wasn’t that great of a joke, but I’d laugh anyway. Then I’d think about how I didn’t know she’d mean so much to me the day I first met her. The laws of attraction that lured me towards her were way off my level of understanding and the chemistry of it all completely blew my mind every time I saw her. If loving her was red, reasoning it was a color that was beyond the visible spectrum.
‘Please?’ I pushed my request. ‘I just want to see her’
‘Not now, Mr.Indrajit.’ the nurse replied in a regretful voice.
‘She’s not-?’ I could not even bring the words out of my throat.
‘You need to rest, Mr.Indrajit’ The nurse said with tight eyes and an even tighter smile.
I closed my eyes with anguish. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself, if I had survived without her. Aishani, the twenty one year old with the steel strong resolution and heart made up of a Platinum-Iridium alloy. She came into my life like a wild rainstorm. I fell, like a delicate work of origami caught in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Tragedies are divine, unless they are happening to you. When I first saw Aishani, I knew she was one of those fallen angels, struggling to break through the shackles of predictability with her distinctive spark of extra-ordinariness. I noticed this, on our very first meeting.
‘Ash’ I saw her mother warn her for the millionth time that day. ‘Put that book down.’
She didn’t even slightly budge. Her mother, who was also my mother’s colleague, shifted uncomfortably as she walked up closer to Aishani. Her eyes looked serious and her flawless olive complexion had a pretty shine to it. Her long thick locks of hair matched with the color of her eyes. She was effortlessly stunning.
‘Our guests might think you are rude.’ Aishani’s mother whispered to her. ‘Talk to them and please be hospitable.’
Still no budging. The twenty year old was deeply buried into the pages of a hard bound copy of a big book. Her mother nudged her again.
‘Hello.’ She finally looked up and smiled at me.
‘Hey.’ I said, returning that smile.
‘So, what are you reading?’ It wasn’t just a conversation starter. I really wanted to know.
‘The last Song’ she said looking serious. ‘And it’s breaking my heart.’
‘I know.’ I said. ‘It has a reputation of doing that to people.’
She smiled and her eyes softened. At that moment I realized that was how friendships began. A person reveals a moment of strangeness or oddity and the other person just listens, without exploiting it.
‘What kind of books do you read?’ she asked, one of her eyebrows slightly arching above the other. I understood it was a question thrown into the conversation to judge me.
‘A lot’ I answered diplomatically. ‘I don’t like to play favorites with good literature.’
She appeared too pleased with the answer. Her eyes sparkled as I told her my favorite was the prisoner of Azkaban. Just when I thought her eye couldn’t sparkle any further, she beamed when I told her about my job.
‘You’re a cop?’ she beamed like a child shown a truckload of candy. ‘That’s awesome!’
I laughed and admitted it was. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t as glamorous as they depicted it to be on silver screen, but I didn’t, guessing that would spoil the fun for her. We parted as best friends that evening and it was one very beautiful evening when I waved her good bye.
We met very often after that, and gelled instantly.
The connection that I shared with her was one of a kind. There was an intellectual tie between our minds, our souls had chemistry and sparks flew in my heart every time she smiled at me. Although she was twenty one; she looked tiny and fragile like a school girl. But only I knew how spirited she was. Aishani was capable of fiercely defending her ideas. What she thought was right was the only thing that was right and everyone else’s opinions might just as well go to hell. In fact she had far too many strong opinions and I agreed with most of them. There was absolutely nothing boring about her. I found her incredibly exciting and breathtakingly beautiful. I knew just by looking at her and listening to her that she would have made a great cop herself. Aishani believed in everything she did and said.
‘I think this is such a gender biased country.’ She said one afternoon, looking over at me from a book. ‘What say you, ACP sir?’
I almost choked out my coffee. Gender bias and safety of women was definitely not the question that one asks an Indian police officer, because no matter what happened or how we defend ourselves, people always blamed the cops. I had just dropped in by her place for a small chat with her mother and I found myself caught in the dilemma of one of her deep philosophical questions. Answering it honestly would mean she would judge me and cooking up a diplomatic answer would be a disgrace to the special bond we shared. I pulled myself out of the sticky situation by leading her to another question.
‘Why do you think so, Ash?’ I enquired with a cool tone.
‘Well, for one, we’re just a messed up bundle of contradictions.’ She sighed. ‘On one side, we worship a million female deities, boast of having a female Prime Minister and President even before some First World Countries that have still not been able to do so. And yet, my mother wouldn’t let me take up jobs that demanded night shifts. So where exactly do we stand? Do we glorify women or objectify them or both?’
I gulped, half transfixed by the depth of her question and half enchanted at how beautiful she looked in that deep blue shirt and pleated skirt which made her look like a porcelain doll. There was along awkward pause as I did not have an answer.
‘Oh god, how am I ever going to get this girl married?’ I was really grateful to Aishani’s mother when she interjected. Aishani stuck her tongue out at her much worried mother and I burst out laughing.
A few days later, I was in the middle of a very hectic day at the station that I received a text from her.
Hello ACP sir. Do you have some time for me? I really hope you can meet me up in a few minutes at the CCD near your station.
Ten minutes later, I found myself waving at Aishani. It was a beautiful evening and the café was almost full.
‘Hey!’ I said as I sat beside her. ‘You okay?’
‘Not exactly.’ She sulked. ‘I’m supposed to be meeting this guy my mom thinks is perfect for me. I seriously doubt it, because when God made me, I was limited edition and I seriously doubt there could be another copy that ought to match my levels of insane craziness.’
A wave of shock. Aishani was going to be married.
Then a wave of relief. She did not like it.
‘Hahahah’ I mocked at her. ‘So, you wanted me backing you up when you meet your Prince Charming, huh?’
I tried to sound as casual about it but I could bet the friction in my voice showed. She nodded with a bleakly smile. A few minutes later, we were in the company of a tall, dark guy with a very busty built. The first thing that struck my mind was that tiny little Aishani might look very vulnerable standing next to this beast.
After the very formal introduction session, there was a very uncomfortable silence. I took out my cell phone and meddled with it randomly to make my presence a little less awkward. And as I guessed, Aishani broke the silence with her first question.
‘Do you read?’ she asked and the guy, who was named Kartik, was quite taken aback.
‘Yeah….magazines…sometimes.’ he said looking at me with a puzzled expression. Aishani was looking with a cold face at him. I felt a surge of pity for him. I looked down and went back to my phone.
Another long silence.
‘Well, do you like to read Aishani?’ Kartik asked her and coughed to cover up a giggle.
‘Like to?’ She repeated with disbelief. ‘I’m a Potterhead, FYI.’
‘Oh…isn’t it magic and stuff??’ he asked. ‘And….aren’t you little too old for it?’
Ouch. He had touched a nerve. I mentally knelt down and prayed for the poor boy who sat in front of me, Amen to his soul.
‘I think this meeting is over.’ She said tightly through her clenched teeth. ‘It’s not happening between us.’
‘What?’ he sounded flabbergasted. ‘Over a book?’
‘No, not over the book. Over the fact that you are just a fully grown man untouched by the spectacular magic of the story of the boy who lived and that’s going to make things really complicated for us in the future.I’m sorry, Mr.Kartik, Potterheads don’t marry Non-Potterheads as a protocol.’
‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ He said dumbstruck with disbelief. ‘It’s just a book!’
‘And you’re just a sack of flesh and blood.’ She snapped back.
And then, all of a sudden, the huge Kartik looked like a defeated weakling and little Aishani was easily overpowering him. Real strength had nothing to do with size, I guess. After yet another long pause, Kartik spoke.
‘Harry Potter isn’t even real. It’s fantasy.’ The guy was starting to fret. This time, I had to fake a chain of coughs to cover up my very untimely burst of laughter.
‘Maybe Harry Potter is real, and you’re not.’ Aishani glared back at him. She got up, grabbed her sling bag and marched out of the glass doors. I frantically followed her.
‘Aishani!’ I called out to her. ‘Slow down, I’m coming with you.’
She stopped and I finally caught up with her. Her face was tight, and she looked pretty annoyed.
‘You didn’t possibly think you could let me alone with that freak show, did you?’ I said trying to lift her mood. It was pitch dark and we were standing alone in the long deserted street.
‘I bet he said the same thing about us.’ She sighed.
We looked at each other for a minute, and then burst out laughing.
‘If you want to get married, you’ve got to stop frightening boys away like that!’ I said after a while. ‘You can be pretty scary for a person with such a tiny frame work, I’m telling you.’
She sighed again. ‘Single forever, I guess.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll ask aunty to find potter head guys next time.’ I said. ‘Yes, you are limited edition, but I’m sure God leaked out one more copy just so that you can be in company.’
‘It wouldn’t work, anyway.’ Aishani said looking up at me. ‘I don’t like normal boring guys.’
I laughed again.
‘ACP Indrajit’ she said, suddenly looking deep into my eyes, and taking me by surprise. ‘I have a thing for cops.’
I was stunned, and froze in my place, as if I was struck by a lightening. It was a fearless proclamation. Her eyes smiled and I knew that I had been searching for her all my life and now that she was standing right in front of me, I was rendered speechless. It seemed like forever that my heart began to beat again.
And my forever lasted for almost three minutes ninety seconds. A huge truck with blinding lights appeared from out of nowhere, and threw me out. I crashed, and the last thing I heard was a shrill scream that pierced through my skull and I was knocked out forever.
I opened my eyes to face an age old cliché that had been tormenting love stories since Shakespearean times. The solid plot line of all great tragedies.
Our story ended even before it began. Death doesn’t wait for you to sing duets and waltz around the Swiss Alps. It can happen even at the middle of a sentence. I had my whole life ahead of me and I was supposed to face the harsh reality that she just wasn’t there anymore. I saw her in my dreams and in my nightmares. I felt her warmth every time I walked into her empty room. The walls echoed of her lost voice and she might not return, but I knew she was around when I collapsed on her bed and cried. She was gone, but her spirit remained. She was in me.
Her heart might’ve stopped, but Aishani continued to live.