The baby looked reddish pink, all of 2 hours old. Something suggests that it is not an ordinary baby. Features appear sharp unlike the mongoloid looks of any normal baby. Yes, it is not crying.
Baby: Won’t someone feed me? I don’t believe in crying for such mundane needs.
Meenakshi is startled. Her pallu was tugged when she heard the voice. She turned back in her bed. She knew that she is pregnant and she is not due for another fortnight. She hasn’t started feeling the pain yet. But the voice was unmistakable. She switches on the light.
And there it was. A furrowed forehead in a new born baby! It doesn’t appear to be a happy baby. There is some restlessness. Meenakshi tries to say something, but it is juts her breath that escapes the mouth.
Baby: I suppose you should be my mother. Why are you looking shocked? I thought becoming a mother is instinctive. Shouldn’t you be feeding me instead of staring plainly?
Meenakshi: Who are you?
And then her hand goes to her abdomen and it is flat. The signs of 8 month pregnancy are nowhere to be seen. She is panicked but there is something that makes her listen to the shrill voice of the baby and not run off.
Baby: You can’t be asking this question of all the people. Don’t you see Discovery channel? The tiger cubs sprint as soon as they are born. I guess humans accommodated a lot of laziness in evolution. But I have a lot of work to do but very little time to accomplish. Now if you can feed me first and then ask the other questions I will be glad.
Meenakshi: You ought to be my child only. Because I have just asked one question and I have spoken 3 words to your 30.
Baby: Now that it’s settled can we get going?
Meenakshi feeds the baby and once it is through she eagerly lifts up the baby, but it’s fast asleep. So much for having too little time!
Meenakshi could not bear her surprise and she wants to get out of the room carrying the baby, but it was still early morning and she didn’t want to wake her folks up till the baby wakes up with some wisecrack in its lips. She dozes off slowly.
Meenakshi wakes up with a start. The sounds of birds in the window and a think streak of sunlight through the curtain tell it is morning. It takes a second to gather herself and she instinctively brings her hand down to the abdomen and it was flat like a washboard.
It then strikes her that she had a crazy dream. She smiles thinking of the funny dream and walks into the bathroom.
And there again! A 14 year old boy was sitting in the closet reading ‘The Hindu’ sports page.
It appears to Meenakshi that whole of yesterday was a dream. Or in another she was still not sure which part of now is dream and which is real. Yesterday when she walked into the bathroom, her first reaction was to scream. But the boy looked very familiar. He didn’t look like an intruder. And anyway intruders don’t sit leisurely in the closet with a Hindu.
It was he who shouted first.
Boy: Amma, won’t you knock before you come in. And also, you ought to get the latch mended immediately. I could not lock properly. Why do such small things take so much time to be repaired?
Meenakshi fainted on the bathroom floor.
When she woke up, she was in her bed and there was something smelling heavenly and piping hot in her bed stand. And the boy was sitting with the Crossword in hand.
Boy: Oh, you woke up? I was just waiting for that. I got some work to do outside. Need to buy a few books.
Meenakshi: Would you now tell who are you?
Boy: I thought we settled this last night! You told me that I ought to be yours because I don’t stop talking.
Meenakshi: But it was a small baby and it was in a dream!
Boy: Amma, what in our lives we are sure that it is not a dream. In a way everything is a dream. If it was not so, would there be surprises at all in life? We would all be acting a mundane script written by a worst screenplay writer. But it is not to be, isn’t it? If I accept there was God, then I would respect or worship Him for his script writing skills if not anything else.
Meenakshi: What are trying to say?
Boy: I am saying that maybe I am a dream, but then I may not be also. Fact is that, I am standing in front of you, having cooked your favorite meal, waiting to finish the crossword and rush out for those books. If I get to do all these smoothly, then it would be a dream. But for now, you worry about today and this moment. Not what happened yesterday! I am here very much and it will be useful if you can finish your questions and food soon.
He went back to the crossword all the while cursing the setter and questioning her intelligence. And then he went out.
Meenakshi walked out of her room and everything was in order. She was wondering where the others had gone. Her father was away on a tour and her mom should be here. And that’s when her phone rang.
It was her mother. Before she could start speaking, he mother asked her why was asleep for such a long time and she wanted to tell her that it will take 4 more days for her and Appa to return. Meena was confused.
Meena: Amma, where are you and what are you saying?
Amma: What is this stupid question? Are you alright? You only dropped me and Appa in the station last night and you are now asking such a question?
Meena was confused, but she didn’t want to prolong the conversation further, so she excused herself and went back to her room more confused than before. She felt hungry and the food was inviting. And it was delicious to say the least. The food relaxed her a bit and she switched on the TV.
There was chaos in the screen with so many security personnel milling around in a deserted suburb in her city. The anchor was talking about an UFO which has been sighted at Europe last night but it landed in Chennai. While the security personnel threw a cordon around the spacecraft, no body was sure what to do with the craft or whether to enter the same. The anchor said that the Indian government has spoken with NASA and they are holding fort till the scientists reach which will be another 12 hours from then.
The anchor was interviewing various people, some of them claimants to their 15 minutes of fame but the claim were laced with sighting of two individuals walking out of the spacecraft and they looked like cockroaches that walked on two legs. One bystander however claimed that the figure that emerged out of the UFO could easily be mistaken as a Earthling, more precisely as an Indian. One more drunken slob claimed that the guy out of the plane was asking for a Adyar address.
Meena was completely disinterested in the information and she was feeling drugged. While she was about to switch off the TV, she saw her son curiously watching the proceedings but with a concerned look at the UFO every now and then.
It was like any other morning, but Meena was woken up with the constant ringing of her phone. It was her mother again.
Amma: Meena, are you alright? We are now crazily worried. Since yesterday afternoon 4 pm, we are trying to reach you and you are not picking up the phone. We called the next apartment and they confirmed it is locked but you weren’t responding to the bell. And we also see panic all round the city because of that UFO thing. All transports in and out of the city have been banned and we are stuck here. And you are adding to this by being so careless.
Meena: I am very sorry Amma, I had a cough syrup and that has put me to sleep for such a long time. I will keep calling you, you don’t worry
Meena disconnected the phone and then panic gripped her stomach. She didn’t realize that she was out for 16 hours and the last image in her mind was seeing her son or whoever he was in the TV news. She was about to switch on the TV and that when the front door opened and a 28 year old man walked in casually. But with a huge smile and a huge bouquet of roses and with an apologetic face that begged to be forgiven.
Before Meena could open her mouth, he said ‘Amma I am sorry I am late. I went out to buy books yesterday but from one place to another I kept moving till I landed in Mahabalipuram. Yesterday was a full moon day and I could bear myself missing the beautiful sight of the temple bathed in moonlight.
Meena, by then was completely out of her mind. But some familiarity which she could not place was preventing her from acting as she should. There was nothing criminal about that man and on the contrary he was so lovable and he acted as if he knew her words before she could utter them. And he was calling her Amma. But it was not one bit strange that the man looked even bigger than her.
Meena at last pulled enough composure and asked him who he was?
Man: Amma, this is the question you ask me everyday without fail and I am at loss to think how I can explain this to you. I want to know whether Paati asks the same question to every day. If she does we need to treat her for dementia. But for you, it looks like you are angry with me and so you don’t want to acknowledge my presence, hence this question.
Meena: Ayyo, you don’t seem to understand. It is just about 48 hours back. There was a baby which talked big time and then there was a 14 year old boy who again talked mile a minute and now you on the 3rd day, claiming me to be the mom and amongst all this the simpler problem is that I am just 30 years old and am not married which I am trying to settle.
Man: I don’t follow you. Are you talking about you walking in to me in the bathroom and you fainted? I cooked you food and then also while you were sleeping I said I am going out to buy books and I stayed out overnight. You were furious with me and you would not talk with me for the whole day… Hmmm now I get it, somehow I have triggered that day in your mind again by repeating the crime. OK Amma, I am really sorry, I wouldn’t do it again, now let’s bury it. Let’s have some dinner outside.
Meena was out of her wits. Everything in her life seemed to stay the same, but for this big man who grows 14 years in a day claiming that it was past. Was she sleeping 14 years at a stretch and waking up for 24 hours only to sleep again? If so, how is that she is not growing older and how the rest of the world also stays as it is. And who are these characters all looking alike and cuter than before as a baby, adolescent and adult.
She was convinced that someone was playing a trick on her. Either it is a major conspiracy like it comes in Truman Show or she has lost her bearings completely. And where were the others? Why is that she was alone dealing with this strange scene without fear or anger? Why does she believe this child/boy/young man? Why is he looking so very familiar and how does he manage to charm her with an innocent smile and an innocuous explanation for everything? Lots of questions but very few answers!
Meena wanted to hold herself lest she passes out and wake up in another strange dream if at all it was a dream. She was thoroughly conflicted by her desire of this dream to continue while it is scary sometimes? Who is this young man who has just waltzed into her house and calls her mother?
And then the images of a crashed UFO passed through her mind and that put a chill in her. What if he was an alien? Aliens who have the knack of morphing themselves to earthlings and win over them! She recalled one of the bystanders saying that he was asking for an Adyar address. Was he here in earth specifically for her? The very thought gave a chuckle. She read somewhere that majority of the girls had this fantasy of a knight in shining armor sweeping them off their feet. And that’s probably playing in her mind. And that’s when the incongruity struck her mind. And she chastised herself immediately. This young man was calling her Mom. And what was she thinking about? How can she even let her mind wander in that direction? She put behind all her thoughts about UFO. She actually wanted to just go inside her room and shut herself up. She had two issues in that. She was afraid that she may wake up from this dream and secondly she wanted to go out with him.
The dinner on the previous day was mercifully uneventful. The stranger was at his charming best that made her put off all the probing questions Meena had in her mind. She was afraid that he would think of her as a mad woman if continues to question his authenticity or lineage. This was strange considering the fact he was a stranger in her home!! But something disturbed her even more. She was attracted to this man who appeared almost her age but thinks that she is his mother. This incestuous feeling was adding to the guilt that she was not doing enough to get rid of him soon. But she could not deny the fact that one day when she really gets married, the guy would be exactly like this charming gentleman who was enigmatic. She thought that after all the challenge in marriage is solving the small riddles of relationships and more enigmatic it is the merrier it could be.
Meena ran a recap of all these thoughts in her mind as she woke up and like a drinker’s remorse she vowed to herself she would not repeat playing the stupid crush in her mind and be putty in his hands. But her rational mind said that he was not her son in reality and just because he calls her so, she is ending up feeling guilty. She got up with a purpose. She wanted to end this charade. She wanted to confront him and say that he should spill the beans and vacate the place after taking whatever he was after. This cannot continue, she told herself.
When she opened the door, she was shocked out of her wits. A 42 year old man was sitting on the couch with a newspaper and TV remote. There was a cup of coffee beside him and he was wearing spectacles. He didn’t hear the sound of the door. And that gave her time to compose herself and have a closer look. This man looked exactly as an older version of the so called son. The same familiarity and the same poise! It appeared that age has been kind to him. By now she was convinced that something strange was really happening with her. She is probably struck with a mysterious sleeping sickness or she has made Coma a habit. She has heard about people falling in coma and waking up after ages and not being capable of recognizing their own kin. And she is no being told about it so that they don’t hurt her. But then how come she is in and out of coma. Looks like that she goes on a 14 year trip like the hero of Ramayana every time she falls into a coma. Her son should now be 42 then. But how come he is here sitting in her couch? At this age sons grow up and have families on their own. That’s when she turned at the mirror in the living room and she was looking exactly like what was she was the previous day. Just around 30 years of age. That confused her even more. Is she a subject in a Relativity experiment? Is she suffering from Twin paradox? Is that why the UFO was hanging around? Unlike what she thought earlier, was she the one who has been using that spacecraft? Her head was spinning and she knocked down a glass when she tried to hold on to the wall.
The noise made him turn. He gave a big smile and asked
‘Honey, I was worried you were not well, you don’t normally sleep this long, was this because of the late dinner last night?
She was thinking that it is her son who now has a problem. He has been either aging prematurely or he is the passenger in that spacecraft and that softens his brain. She has never heard of a son calling his mother as Honey. She wanted to scream at him. Instead she gave a blank look.
He looked at her quizzically and asked ‘Meena darling, are you alright? You look pretty dazed’
Meena asked ‘Who are you?’
He gave a resigned smile in return and said ‘Our son was always complaining that you kept asking that question to him and sometimes would even feel bad that you were mentally so detached from him and that’s why the question keeps popping up and I used to convince him that it was not so. His line of defense for his complaint was that you never asked that question to me. Now it has happened. Is it because that you feel detached with me now? What is this stupid question after 20 years of marriage? I think I should call him in the campus and tell that I am also in the same boat.
Meena was now ecstatic that the handsome man who she liked is her husband and not her son as she thought. But what was this gentleman referring to when talked about a son? Is there a son and is there also a father? Who is who really? And who was she really?
She sunk into the couch. She felt that she has aged 30 years in just 3 days. The bones were making a crackling sound and the breath was labored. She was now certain that she was not well.
She was keen to have him return sooner. It was his 58th birthday and she wanted to celebrate it in a big way. After all he had been cribbing about working for the past 15 years and today he is going to be set free. He can now do what he wanted. Maybe she should get him a dog. Their son was now living at Mumbai and once in a while he comes down with the family. But her husband is not the one who dotes over the grandchildren. On the contrary he thinks of them as an annoyance. Always buried amongst his books and complaining about the noise the kids make. But the dog he would treat differently. In a way tending to the dog will become a full-time occupation for him. He would keep an alarm for feeding the pup, he would wake up unnaturally earlier and he would talk with the dog in more words than all the words he ever spoke in his life. Over the years, she has resigned to the fact that he was a loner and he preferred his own company. At first during her own difficult times she was angry at his indifference but she got used to it and she started keeping to herself. Still whatever interaction they had was as witty and as fresh as it was in the past. Maybe the retirement would bring back the charming guy back to the fore.
She had planned for a small get together with the few people whom he likes. There was enough beer stocked in the freezer. She was sure that he will freak out and sleep out the whole morning next day. But then he may even wake earlier than usual because he need not go to the office. She smiled at herself for all the silly thoughts that were running in her mind. There was lot of work to do before he returns. She didn’t want him to go to the office as he does every birthday, but this also happened to the last day at work and he could not avoid it.
She walked up to the phone to call the party guys and with two paces to go the phone rang. She picked up the phone. There was a somber voice at the other end.
Am I speaking with Mrs. Meenakshi?
Yes, you are
Mrs. Meenakshi is there anyone with you at home now?
Meena was thinking about the surprise she has planned and the vendor was smart enough to enquire before he brought that bookshelf.
She said, ‘No I am alone at home now’
There was a pause at the other line.
Can you call one of your neighbors to come be with you?
Now she was perplexed. She asked ‘What is this all about? Don’t waste my time with this empty chat, I have lots to do.
The voice then asked ‘Is your husband’s name Easwar?
Yes of course
Does he work for Applenet Technologies?
Yes he does.
Would it be possible for you to take someone along with you and come to the Royapettah Hospital?
Now Meena was panicked. She gasped for breath and asked ‘What’s going on really? Is he safe?
No Madam, not really. I am afraid that he has met with a fatal accident. We found this no in his ID card and we are the Chennai police. Can you give your children’s no so that we can call and intimate them if they are in Chennai’
Those were the last words Meena heard. She fell fainted
When Meena opened her eyes, she was coming out of a stupor. And tears were flowing from her eyes.
Her parents were around her and it was a doctor’s cabin in which they were sitting. He parents were happy looking at her open eyes. But there was melancholy in the air.
The doctor was pleased himself and he asked Meena whether she can tell who the Prime Minister of India is? The question appeared silly to Meena, nonetheless she answered. And the doctor was even more please.
Meena was confused. She had alternating thoughts about her husband, son, accident and that’s when she looked down and her abdomen was flat. There were no signs of her pregnancy. And now everything was clear to her and tears were streaming down her cheeks.
The doctor gave her time to get composed and asked again whether she can recount what happened to her.
Meena then started the horror story.
It was a 6 days back. Her husband’s birthday and they were excited about the day as it would also be the last birthday this couple would spend alone. Meena was well into her 8th month of pregnancy and they both were excited about the new arrival. Both of them pampered the yet-to-be born child by amassing toys and other stuff months in advance. Sometimes they will sit and talk what the child would become and Meena would jokingly say that it needs to be a girl like her lest the world has two people like Easwar. But when she was alone, all her thoughts would revolve around a miniature version of Easwar and she will smile at the cartoonish output of her dreams. But she was getting consumed by the thought of a smart son who would make her and Easwar proud.
They were planning for a night-out that day. With she so very pregnant, there was a debate on whether they should go out, but Meena knew that Easwar enjoyed the retro night in the Hotel they were planning to go and it was a lucky coincidence that it fell on his birthday. She didn’t want to be a party pooper and she insisted that they went that night.
It was a great evening and they were joking that the baby would come out then & there itself as it was too good to be missed out closeted inside someone’s stomach. And then they had a lavish dinner. It was around 12 in the night and they started back home.
Easwar was playing some retro music again in the system and they both were literally shouting the songs instead of singing. But it was bliss. Meena thought that there can never be a better moment than this in her life. It is very difficult to experience such happiness and she was feeling delirious herself.
Easwar was climbing the Lattice Bridge flyover. It was one-way. So he was not so very bothered about the traffic from the opposite side. There would be none.
He was wrong. Just as he hit the maximum climb he could see the lorry. It was a demonic in size and completely out of control. It was death moving at breakneck speed towards him. The bridge was too narrow for two vehicles. It was designed for one way traffic. And the drunken lorry driver has climbed it the opposite way. It was a death trap. Given the speed of the lorry and it was impossible for Easwar to reverse the car and he can’t make a U turn either. While the lorry has 5 gears the reverse gear’s speed would be at best equal to the 1st gear. Easwar knew that there was no choice. Meena’s face was ashen and she was blabbering something very fast. Easwar was facing the speeding lorry and it was going to be a head on collision. While the lorry had more or less occupied the whole span of the bridge, Easwar’s car was smaller and it could create a small space between the bridge walls and the car. Easwar took the car to the extreme left with just enough space to open the car door and that meant his seat was bang opposite to the lorry driver’s seat. He turned his face away from the impending death, looked at Meena who had lost her normal sense, leaned across , kissed her and opened the passenger door and pushed her out before she could realize. And at that split second the lorry was all over the car and Easwar was crushed to death.
While she narrated the story Meena was crying and she realized that Easwar sacrificed even the tiniest chance of living by taking the lorry head on while saving her. But his bravado could not save their son though. The dreams of a miniature Easwar was dead along the real one. It was never going to happen. And she realized that this was the thought she remembered having last before she passed out on that fateful day.
The doctor told her that she went into a fugue state for 5 days. All her vitals were normal and working but she wasn’t aware of her surroundings and she was living in another world altogether. He asked her whether she remembered anything of the past 5 days.
Memories of a child tugging her pallu, a boy sitting in the closet, a young man taking her out for dinner, her husband sitting on the couch fiddling with the remote and the retirement day and the news about the car accident all fleeted through her mind. It was now very clear. She had created a dream world in which the unborn baby and Easwar were still alive till that dreadful call. She vowed to herself that there won’t be any more accidents, real or dream.
She looked at the doctor and said ‘No, I don’t remember, it was all really blank’
The doctor said then it’s alright. Just be strong. Time is the best healer and you know that Easwar won’t come back to life and we need to accept that fact.
She nodded emptily at the doctor. But told herself ‘No doctor, Easwar is alive and so is my child, I won’t let you take them off me’
And she turned back and closed her eyes.
The baby looked reddish pink, all of 2 hours old. Something suggests that it is not an ordinary baby. Features appear sharp unlike the mongoloid looks of any normal baby. Yes, it is not crying.