Tuesday , March 21 2023

The Right to Set Free

Published Date: May 8, 2016

It was a December morning of 2012. I lay snug inside my hillock of blankets. I hated winters, detested the chills and the piercing stroke of the raw freeze. I would give anything to stay there, cosy, for the rest of the day.

There was a click and a strangled monotonous beep and I jumped out sprinting for the fax machine, forgetting my slippers, my sweater, and the chills. Desperately, hitting the buttons and finally had the fax in my hands. I ran with it to the balcony of my dingy one-bedroom apartment and began reading.

That was it! It was my promotion letter. It was like a dream. I had been eyeing this promotion for the past five years. In the stupor, sitting down on the old rocking chair lying in the balcony, I told myself- “Things will be better now.” The cold crept into my bare toes clambering up my veins infesting my body from within, but I didn’t care. This was one moment of repose that had returned to me after decades, I had almost forgotten what it felt like to be reassured.

On other days, I would be running around my unkempt apartment at this hour, piling up sheets, segregating files, running chores, finishing last moment reports, scuttling for office.

It was a holiday. I thought of the word- holiday and mocked.  I looked around only to see the neglected plants, cobwebby ceilings, dust ridden shelves and bird roosts right there in the balcony. A tiny bird screeched there hopping amidst the straw, eager to fly like the others. I was never a fan of birds or a believer of mutual co-existence; in fact I had a phobia of any winged creature. However, I was alone in my flat and didn’t mind a little company. Those bird-songs were the only rhapsodies against the death-like silence prevailing in my house. So I had leased them my balcony where they flourished without encroaching upon my province inside the doors.

The windows facing the balcony had mirrored glasses and as I was scanning my surroundings, a shadow in those mirrors drew me in. I stared blankly for a long time in those bloodshot eyes floating like ghouls amidst the sunken dark sockets.  I could not remember the last time I had had a sound sleep. Running my icy fingers over my face, I felt it different from the last time. I traced the lines at the corner of my lips and worked my fingers up along the eyebrows and the forehead trying to stretch the skin, but it was too limp; my hair were grey than the last time. The shadow looked like a woman in forties. I was thirty- four years old. I was engrossed and lost in that cold gaze and in that moment, forgot the world, the endless hours of the tireless work, the future, the savings, everything. I was lost in the remote look in the eyes of that pale woman.

Suddenly, something hit my lap and I felt a squirm on my thighs.  My heart stopped and I just stood up from my chair shirking my gown convulsively in frenzy. A petrified moment passed and I finally stopped, conjuring my senses again. I looked around on the floor and at a distance a tiny bird lay palpitating. She must have fallen off from the nest outside. I could have saved her, but my nerves got in the way. She was so fragile, a little baby with scanty fur. I saw her vibrating unformed wings and sighed in pity. I wanted to help her, but how?  It must be in terrible pain, I was wrought with regret. I came back inside and shut the door behind. I could not stand that wriggling anymore.

Diverting my attention, I decided to prepare breakfast, the first so far that year. I cannot say if I enjoyed it or not but I did resume my work soon after, forgetting the mundane. The sun was hinting noon; I closed all my files and left for the hospital, grabbing a bunch of orchids on my way. Entering the hospital gates gave me a series of chills running down my spine, every single time and it had not changed over the past years. Neither had my route inside the hospital, which still led me to the same room where my son was. He passed a coerced smile. It was difficult to make out when he smiled or cried or writhed inside that frigid body, but I often could. It was his tenth birthday and I did not know if it mattered to him. I did not know what present to get him, I wished I could have gotten for him a PSP or a cycle, a cricket kit or a football, but he made no demands. He could not. I would have made him his favourite lunch, but the tubes hardly left any place to feed him. This ICU-3 of the Hospital had been his home for the last six and a half years now.

(To be Continued…)