The blades of the ceiling fan rotate lazily above her and she stares right at them, her thoughts sluggish, matching the pace of the fan. She is in the room again, the four walls of enclosed space which she never could relate to as ‘hers.’ It is stripped bare of any sharp objects- even her toothbrush is taken away after her supervised shower time twice a day. It was painted a muted shade of white and has just an iron bed, a white bookstand, a white night shelf and a white cupboard. A few belongings lay around, memories of a life, long outlived. There are a few books around, but she feels no interest in them. Papercuts barely hurt and she needed to feel a lot more pain than just a few drops of blood a tiny piece of slivered skin.
The fan casts shadows over her as the sun goes further down the horizon. She hears the call of birds as they return to their homestead for the night. She had once wondered how flying would feel. The notion of weightlessness as she roared through the air for just a split second, before gravity would blessedly pull her towards the earth had put a brief smile on her face. She had wondered how her blood would pattern the sidewalk, pondered about the angles which her broken limbs will be bent into, speculated about just how long would she be alive to feel the blissful pain. She had dreamed about all of this, that fateful day at the hospital. As soon as all the formalities were complete and she was free to go, she had gone up to her neighbour’s terrace.
She had ascended the water tanker at the top, something she never had the courage to do in The Before. She vividly recalled the gentle breeze which had caressed her naked face. She was awarded with a view of the city, which lay peacefully like a patchwork quilt before her eyes. She had widened her legs and had taken the stance. But before she could leap, her neighbour had pulled her down. Everything went blank from there and the next thing she remembered, was being brought into the hospital again. The nice doctor later told her that she was hysterical and they had had to tranquilize her.
The sun goes lower and it is now time for the bars on the windows to play the shadow game. Seeing them, it evoked another memory of how a bird had once gotten trapped in her classroom. This was of course, in The Before. She no longer goes to college and she no longer cares. The bird had gotten in through the open door and couldn’t get out since all the windows in that room had bars as well. The bird had valiantly tried to find a way out, completely forgetting the way it had gotten inside. Those bars in that classroom were supposed to keep evil outside and they ended up trapping an innocent life. What are these bars for? Are they for keeping the evil inside of her to ever get out?
The bird incident was in fact, very close to the beginning of The After. It was actually just a couple of days before The Event. It was slightly funny how she would sometimes be struck with crippling recollections of the most mundane things which happened in The Before. The most burning of it all was The Event, for obvious reasons. She could picture the entire day, as if it had happened just yesterday.
The wide open door of her house.
The merriment of her entire extended family and friends.
The smiles on the faces of her parents, as bright and as constant as the sun.
The huge white cake, in the shape of her graduation cap.
The black robes she had laughingly insisted on wearing the whole day.
The copy of her admission letter in the most prestigious institution for her chosen Masters.
All these memories have a happy tinge to them. The joy of that day is still painfully tangible to her. She could taste the vanilla cake and she could feel the warmth of the champagne as it slipped down her throat. Her mind was still imprinted with the photograph of her and her friends in their black gowns, throwing their caps into the air. She was sort of glad that she no longer had the actual picture. Everything was lost in The Event, both literally and figuratively.
Her recollection then takes on a slightly black haze, as she remembered the shaking of the floor under her 4 inch black pumps. In a flash, she was back in the brightly lit living room, with the neon balloons and the floaty streamers. Her eyes took in the oft repeated scene in front of her.
Ducking under the heavy, wooden dining table out of instinct.
Watching in mute horror as the entire roof fell on all of her beloved.
Concrete covering up the sides of the table and she could no longer see.
Praying in the dark, using up every molecule of oxygen, her lungs burning for more air, her organs slowly beginning to shut down.
She could still conjure up the haunted dreams that her slowly dying brain presented her. They say that when one is close to death, they usually walk in a long, dark tunnel which leads up to the famed light. But, all she could hear were wailing noises and see bright, flashing lights. In retrospect, that really should have been the sign that she was, unfortunately, alive. Her next memory was waking up in a bright, white hospital room, very similar to this one. Turning to her side, she wonders why all the medical rooms, in what seemed like the entire world, were designed in the same manner. In The Before, it might have led to a hilarious discussion with her friends. Right now, she did not have the will to laugh.
She had seen the headlines in the news channels later on, from the hospital. The earthquake was, by everybody else’s accounts, a small one. Everywhere else, no lives were lost. Only a few walls had fallen down and the city was mostly praised for its effective disaster management. Only the epicentre had reported causalities. 47 dead, 1 survivor. A tagline she would have to always live with. She wishes that she could tell them that there were no survivors that day. She is a victim.
She now knows how almost dead felt like. She had come very close to it the day she had jumped into the sea. It was right after she had left the hospital for the second time. She had been declared mentally fit 4 months after she had tried to jump. She had gone to her newly rebuilt home and had eaten a lunch of dry bread and jam, before going over to the docks.
She recalled with relish, the feeling of floating under the water’s surface, watching the blue sky get farther and farther away, the water feeling silky to her skin. She had forced herself to not breathe in the water as long as she could, but her gag reflex had finally won that particular battle. As soon as she had opened her mouth, water rushed in and burned her lungs. Everything slowly started to shut down.
The dark tunnel with the light at the end of it? She can now say with proof that it is all true. Before she could reach the light and beyond that, her beloved, she was pulled out and sent to this place. She is now on Constant Suicide Watch which involves being locked up in this white room during all times, except when it is time to talk to the psychiatrist. Survivor’s guilt, with major suicidal tendencies. That’s her identity now, in the midst of the rest of the crazy folk.
The sun has now completely gone down and the last vestiges of light tinge the sky a lovely shade of pink. She suddenly feels a little breathless, though she is lying flat on the bed. Struggling to take deep breaths, her mind wanders to something she had once read for her Philosophy class. “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” The memories were so vivid, that she could almost feel them surrounding her. The love in her parents eyes, the warmth emanating from her friends, the tight hugs from her aunts, the proud pats from her uncles, the stories from her grandparents and the laughter of her cousins. They crowded around her, suffocating her, squeezing her chest.
She gasped and rolled on her bed, unexpectedly falling out of it to the floor, onto her back. Tears ran down her cheeks as she took stock of all the symptoms wracking her body. Tightness in her chest, shooting pains traversing through her arms, her stomach rolling with nausea, her struggle to take a breath.
The finality of her self-diagnosis calms her down and she relaxes into the pain, occasionally flinching. She struggles to paint on a smile, at the irony of it all. A broken heart could do what trying to drown, jump and cut couldn’t do. Her life flashes in front of her eyes like a movie reel; giving her a short glimpse of all the labels she had been given.
As she takes in another breath of her very limited ones, her eyes finally close, no longer able to be propped open. Her dying brain echoes with the calls of her loved ones and her failing heart lifts a little at the thought of being with them again. Her last coherent thought is whether they would finally change the headline. 48 dead, no survivors.
SNEHA RATAKONDA, 20, currently lives in Hyderabad, India and is a lover of all kinds of fiction. A Chartered Accountancy student who is currently stewing over the books at home, she writes when ideas strike her or when the world frustrates her.