a short story by Surajit Basu
As soon as I woke up, I realized something was wrong. Terribly wrong. Even with my eyes closed, I felt dizzy, suddenly sucked into a whirlpool of darkness, I was fighting the flow and trying to be steady, to rise, but I wasn't winning. I couldn't breathe, or even open my eyes. I couldn't hear anything; it was as if all my senses were not responding anymore. Not daring to open my eyes, I fought my rising panic and forced myself to relax, trying to concentrate on my ears. Sounds seeped in, slowly. A gentle drone, that was probably the news on television. In the background was a faint sob that seemed to go on and on. The voice slowly grew louder and clearer; or was it my own more attentive ears that amplified the voice? A woman's voice, was that Joanna, my Joanna crying ?
With an effort, I decided to see. Light flooded in from all sides, and I had to return to the darkness. Fighting the urge to let go and relax, I re-opened my eyes, bracing myself for the burst of light. There I was, lying limp in the couch in the drawing room. The room seemed to lurch wildly like a ship caught in a storm, and I struggled to maintain balance. Slowly, the storm died down, and like a landlubber on the high seas, I peered carefully at the wallpaper, the lilies wavy on the cream surface. The marble floor undulated, and the TV set, the sofa set and the black leathery couch floated gently in the waves. I could now see that I was lying on the couch, crumpled: my right hand was hanging down to the ground, my head rested on the edge of the couch, with my face up, while my left hand had fallen on my chest.
The voice still sobbed. It was clearly Joanna's, but she wasn't in the room, she was probably in the bedroom. The wooden door was half-open, swinging slowly. The sounds came from there, but I wasn't sure. The babble on television made it difficult for me to concentrate on the sobbing.
Suddenly, a new sound broke in: a musical chime that grew louder and drowned out the others. Oh! It's the doorbell, I realized with a sense of relief. I was too tired to get up, and did not even make the attempt. I waited for Joanna. Then, I heard the key turn in the lock. No one but Joanna and me had the key, so it must be her. The door swung open with that familiar creak that no repairman could ever fix, and then I could hear the click of the latch moving into place, the door shutting behind her.
Shoes stamped across the room, someone came drifting into view. My old friend, and doctor, Alan. Dr. Alan Spearman, MBBS, FRCS, RPLS as the heading on his pad says.
"Hi! Alan", I heard myself mumble weakly.
He looked down at me. "Hello, Roger", he said, smiling. "You don't look so well. Joanna was quite right to call me." He held my limp left wrist, checking my pulse.
"I feel bad", I could hear my words clearly, but very slowly; I was resting after each word. "Perhaps a drink too much. That last whisky last night." The words trailed as the energy ran out of me like water out of a leaking tub.
"Just as I suspected, Roger. This is not good. Not good at all." Alan was smiling as he spoke.
I had always thought Alan had a dreadful bedside manner, as grim and boring as when he played golf with me on Sundays. But today he was hearty, positively cheerful. What had cured him of his deathless dreariness? Perhaps, he had gone to a motivator like the tennis stars and golfers do nowadays. There was something faintly funny in a doctor going to another doctor. Not that it made me feel any better. I was looking terrible, terribly ill. My face had gone almost white, the colour had leaked out with the energy.
Gently, Alan picked up my limp right hand and placed it on my chest. "That's better", he said softly. He sat down on the nearby sofa, and placed his black briefcase on his lap. He opened it and took out a pad. Here come the drugs, I thought, and the lecture.
He started his usual sad-voiced stuff. "Roger, Roger, how many times must I tell you not to work so hard? Why don't you ever listen? Work hard, drink hard, stress, cigarette, liquor...tch tch tch...". And then he laughed!
It's not funny.
"If only I could tell you how funny this is, my dear friend. Yes, it's a sad story: work hard, drink hard. But not everything hard?" He cocked an eyebrow and looked at me, and laughed.
I could see my fingers folding into a fist hitting him on the jaw, the gold ring striking him just under that obnoxious French beard of his. But no force of will power could make my hands move, forget getting up. Impotent, I lay still, but the words burnt like a sharp hot rod in the center of my skull. All sense of sound and sight died out till his laughter rang out again, and the words came piercing in.
"I guess you have had enough medicine and drugs. What you need is rest, a long rest."
The sobs grew louder, at once soothing me, and making me hate myself. Joanna, oh Joanna, I can't satisfy you any more, give you what you need, Joanna. What can I do for you? Tell me, Joanna, tell me.
The door creaked, and then I heard her voice, the words interrupted by sobs and indrawn breath.
"Oh! It's you. I thought it was him," she said.
"No, dear. It's ok. I've checked Roger. I've checked his pulse. It's safe now."
But the sobs continued, and I watched Alan get up, and wrap his arm around her. "Don't worry, it's all okay. Nothing to worry about. You've done great."
Hey! Not so close. The protest was lost on him, and I knew it even before I thought the words.
"Relax", he said. And he kissed her, the creep, he kissed her, wiping away the tears.
Joanna mumbled, "Roger," looked at me and cried some more.
Alan reluctantly moved his arms from around her, and stepped towards me.
"Don't look!" he said, "This is not for you. It's not good to stare." He sniggered as he turned my head the other way.
Hey! You can't do this. The words screamed in my head as I saw them embrace. I suddenly realized I could see them even though my head had been turned. I could even see my head, myself. I wasn't seeing through my eyes. I hadn't been seeing through my eyes. It was as if I was floating apart from my body. And suddenly, all the pieces began to fit; I could see the whole picture, and at the same time, the picture began to dissolve. A bright light poured in from all around me.
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