The End of the World
I wake up, startled, my body jerking to cut the fall. I lie still, watching the comforting daylight streaming in from the window. I wonder about the dream.
My head hurts. I close my eyes, hoping to get some more sleep.
I hear movements in the kitchen. Startled, I open my eyes wide, wondering if it is rats. Gh…ghost!? I want to curl up and vanish. But pushing my cover aside, I get up and walk to the kitchen.
I stare in disbelief, close my eyes and open it again, to make sure that I really am not dreaming Karthik in the kitchen! I can’t remember when I let him out, or how I got into bed… When did he come back? Or didn’t he leave last night? A thousand questions assault me.
“Good morning,” he says cheerfully.
“What are you doing here? Didn’t you go home, last night?” I ask, trying to remember what happened.
“No, I didn’t. It was too late, and…” he looks at me, “you were not well.”
For a second, I wonder if I had been talking to him and it was not a dream at all. But the snake? No, it was a dream. I am disturbed about what I remember and embarrassed. The arms around me, so intimate…
I freshen up, and pick up the coffee he has made for me. He herds me out to the drawing room and we sit side by side, in the two-seater.
“Karthik, I had a dream last night.”
“So what’s new?” he asks. But the way he avoids looking at me, I know he knows.
“Did I talk in my sleep?”
He strokes my hair affectionately. “About the snakes, as usual.”
I look away, shaking my head. “No, I spoke about something that had happened. It was not a dream, but I remembered something. Didn’t I? I don’t mean the snake…but what I said?”
He makes an impatient sound. “You were muddled because of what we spoke.”
I turn to him and clutch his shirt as he looks away. “No, Karthik, I was not. I left on vacation knowing my father wasn’t well. Did you know that?”
His silence answers me.
“How could I!” I exclaim.
“His reports came clear. He asked you to go. It was a month before we left that he had complained of chest pain. But reports didn’t show anything, and he himself was feeling well.”
“But he did suspect something bigger! That is why he made that will!”
“We realised that on our return, by when it was too late. But, he wanted you to go.”
I frown. Yes, he would have, but why did I give in? As if reading my thoughts, Karthik says, “It was a horribly hot summer, and the doctor felt you should go to some cooler place.”
I look at him, not able to believe that I should have worried about that more than my father.
“He had been feeling better and he also thought it best that you should go.”
“Was it a difficult pregnancy?” I ask finally, not able to understand why my going to a cooler place should be important.
He turns away from me and I barely hear him say, “It was your third pregnancy.”
He doesn’t turn around. I wait for more, but he is still looking away.
He finally faces me and pulls me close to him. But I pull back, wanting to see him fully. As I persist in staring at him, he finally says, “It was your third pregnancy in about two years. The first one was ectopic. Then, in a few months, you were pregnant again. It was fine, but that is when dad fell sick and there was a lot of trauma around that. You went on a guilt trip, were inconsolable because you blamed yourself for all that happened. The pregnancy didn’t last.”
He falls silent as I try to play the scene in my mind, try to distance myself from what I am hearing.
“By then you had stopped working. About a year later, maybe slightly less, you were pregnant again.” He was saying this as if he were narrating a tale, not something that affected him. “You were literally under house arrest then, so when the doctor recommended our getting away, you were very happy. No, your father didn’t ask you to stay back,” he says, looking at me. “But leaving him behind did worry you. Maybe you were prepared, or in denial. But you bore it well. We skimmed through that period much better than I thought.”
I wait. His silence is oppressive. “Karthik…then?”
His face is immobile. “It was threatening to blow up into a major cyclone that August – August 24. You had a check up. You were due in November. I was bringing you back from the check up on my bike. And then, that last stretch, where the lights are low. I slid…”
As he struggles to tell me that I went into labour and delivered a still-born child, I realise that that accident is what had flashed before me, making me fall from my new bike and break my leg.