Grilled shrimps. Sushi. Chicken salad. Udon bean noodles. Dum biriyani. Wine for mom and uncle. Draught beer for dad and aunt. Ale for Aniya and me. Chef’s signature coconut ice cream. Dinner couldn’t have been more perfect. The six of us at our reserved table. The chef, coming over, sitting with us, wishing me a happy birthday with his special flamed chocolate tarts. We were the table of the floor, a corner to ourselves.
Long after the closing hour, long after all other customers had left, we were still at the table. The entire staff of the restaurant singing for me again, the birthday song, before sending us off. We were all laughs, even tired as we were. The grown ups could hold their liquor much better than Aniya could hold her ale. Falling over, needing me to hold her up. But maybe that was just sleep. Aniya and I were in the back of the car, mom and aunt in the middle, dad and uncle in the front. Even dad couldn’t tease, smiling with the rest, at us. Aniya was asleep, a satisfied smile on her face, as she rested her head on my shoulder, her arm wrapped around mine. And I had my head on hers, though my eyes were open. Meeting the four pairs of eyes staring.
It was beauty at its best. Our warmth filling the inside of the car, fighting away the cold of the night. And the darkness.
Then, it all blew up. The noise deafening. Sparks lighting up the night, blinding. Broken glass flying everywhere, like snow. The world spinning uncontrollably like a roller coaster going too fast. Sickening. So sudden, numbing the pain. Then, thankfully, came the darkness.
Why is it so quiet? What is the smell? Familiar, yet so strange. I can feel it tugging at an old memory, a memory I can’t access. Its like a fog has fallen over me, blinding my senses as it drowns me. I feel like a stone sinking in water. The harder I try to make sense the deeper I fall. Until I am drained, and I give up. I let go. Then I hear it.
A dull sound in the distance. Beeps repeating over and over. Cutting through the numbness. Sharp. As I hang on to the beeps, I feel myself being lifted through the fog. Pulled closer to the rest of me. My senses heightening with the beeps getting increasingly louder. It feels strange though, like the numbness was better. Pain cuts through all of me. I want to scream out, as if letting out the wail would relieve me, but I can’t find my voice. It is not back yet.
The fog lifts, revealing me in a room I can’t recognise. It doesn't take long though, the struggle with recognition. Looking around, needing too much effort clearing my eyes of the haze, I see the machines I have seen so much of in the movies and on TV. Tubes connecting me to the machines and running fluids into me, of colours the names of which are still distant. It feels like I’m strapped to the bed. The bed nowhere near comparable to my bed at home, with the frames on all four sides, it feels like a cradle. And I know. I am in a hospital.
Waking up in a hospital bed, confused and dazed and in pain is not a nice feeling, not an experience I would romanticise. The fog lifts, dropping the weight of the real world on me without partiality. For a minute that feels like the longest ever I wish for the fog, the confusion, the fear. The feeling of being lost so much better than the pain of reality and the true confusion. Why am I in the hospital? What happened?
Tears break out, streaming down easily. “Boys don’t cry.” Mom always laughed at the silliness of the phrase, trying in vain to convince me. Boys could cry. Never could win me though. If they see me now they would have such a laugh.
“Look, Ani’s crying. No, not crying, wailing. Bawling like a baby.”
I can hear dad’s voice in my head, teasing, and it makes it worse. The tears flow harder. Like the half broken gate of the dam is fully broken by the weight of the water crashing against it. The gate gone completely, it is now hopeless. Uncontrollable. I can’t even understand why I am crying. What happened to lose me my resolve that I fought so hard for all my life?
And why is my head blank?
I struggle with the dark doors holding me away from my memories. I push, and punch, and kick, to no avail. Nothing changes, nothing moves. I’m still in the dark place my head has locked me away in. Kept away from myself.
The regular beeping of the machines I am connected to dispel the silence of the room I have all to myself. With my head giving me nothing, I look around as hard as I can. Hoping to find something, anything that could give me the tiniest clue. The white walls stare at me like guards imprisoning me in the room, their silence the only answer to any questions I might have. I’m as locked up out here as I am in my head. Hopelessly lost.
“It is normal to feel confused under such circumstances, after what you’ve been through. Especially you.”
I hadn’t seen him. Hadn’t heard him. Or even felt him. Yet, here he is. In the chair in the corner. It feels like the absent shadows of the room congregate to hide him. His face hidden away entirely. His immaculate white suit indistinguishable from the whiteness of the walls behind him. His voice riding the silence of the room, inseparably.
It is what is most striking about him, his voice. As he leans over, easing my suffering trying to see him, I see his face. Unlike any face I have ever seen. Aniya couldn’t get the idea out of her head that there were at least seven others in the world who looked the same, even if the thought of there being six other Aniya’s disturbed her. I never held much weight to the idea, but I couldn’t completely dispel it either. Looking at his face though, I am surprised by the certainty, there is no one else like him. He holds my eyes, with an astonishing intensity. I cannot look away, waiting for him to continue, desperate to hear his voice. Anything to rid the silence and the beeping that grows ever so potent of driving me insane.
Smiling at me, at my suffering, he gets off the chair. On his feet, he is tall. It feels like the ceiling of the room keeps him from standing to his full height. He drags the chair noiselessly behind him as he walks towards me. Setting the chair by my head, he sits, leaning until his face is directly over mine. His smile is radiant, reaching the ends of his ears.
“Dear, dear Ani, I am certain you will have many questions, once you are able to knock down those doors keeping you locked up in your head. That I can help you with.” He speaks in the same voice riding the silence.
I nod a yes. My name is Ani. How he knows that is secondary. Primarily important is that I now have my name. I am certain I do not know the man. But he knows me. And I would willingly accept all the help I can get right now.
“Good, I’ll take that as a yes,” he says understanding me better than I can. His smile growing wider, which I wouldn’t have thought possible, he continues. “You were in an accident. Terrible, terrible accident. Nasty. That’s how you wound up here, at the hospital. You were in a bad shape, having taken quite a beating. Which is why the state you are in. The mind is complicated. Mostly a mess without needing any help. With the accident, yours is in a worse mess than it can handle. Which is why the suffering, the locking you away in the darkness. But it is a mess you can sort out. Just remember, you are Ani. Start from there, and unravel the rest.”
There isn’t the smallest change in his face as he speaks. There is no need. His voice he expresses everything. I hang on to every word like my life depends on it.
I am Ani. I don’t know what he means, and I don’t know how to unravel everything from my name. I have to try though. I can’t close my eyes, from the fear he will vanish. I keep them open, frozen on him. I am Ani, I tell myself. Over and over. And everything does start to unravel. Mom. Dad. Uncle. Aunt. Aniya.
The doors fall away as they burst open. The darkness in my head starts to lift, as more of me pours in. I am coming back. The last to return, is my voice.
“Who are you?” I ask him. The first question, the first words.
His smile unfaltering, he answers readily.
“You can call me Mr D.”