Guy De Maupassant and Roal Dahl are my inspirations for short stories. Hope you like this. Feedback is appreciated.
“What do you want to eat for dinner?” asked Sunita, as per her routine.
“I don’t know, whatever you want” replied Madhav distractedly, his eyes still on the television.
“You’re just going to complain about how I keep making the same thing!”
Madhav sighed irritably, “Fine, just make Paneer!”
Sunita shook her head and went back to work. This was a standard conversation in their house. Every day at 6 in the evening she would ask her husband what he wanted to eat for dinner, and he, wanting to get the conversation over with quickly, would reply with anything that came to his mind first. But it seemed as though Sunita could never really please everyone in the family, which included Madhav, their son Rajat and her father-in-law. If Madhav craved Paneer, Rajat always wanted to have chinese and her father-in-law, whom she called Bauji, always wanted something simple like Daal. It seemed like deciding what to cook for dinner had become her life’s existential question.
She thought that it was just one of the pitfalls of being a housewife in a middle class home. She had got used to the cycle, and it was her comfort zone. She was content.
Their son, Rajat, was 12 years of age and like all boys of his age, loved smart phones, hated ghar ka khaana and was obsessed with his PlayStation, something that his father had consistently refused to buy until very recently. He was not very academic, but was extremely inquisitive. Everyone in the house was exasperated with his never-ending questions. A normal conversation with Rajat went something like this:
“Mumma, what are you watching?”
“I’m watching Balika Vadhu, beta”
“Why is everyone so dressed up all the time?”
“Because it’ fiction, and that’s how they make it appealing”
“Why are they replaying everyone’s reactions again and again?”
“To make an impact”
“Why are they talking to themselves? We never talk to ourselves”
“Rajat, enough! Go do your homework”
Her father in law, Vikramlal Singh, was a patient of diabetes. He was extremely prone to a heart attack at any time because of the condition. Although they made sure that he got his treatment regularly, the doctors said that some part of the risk would never be eliminated. Deep down, Sunita knew that his time was drawing to a close, and that nothing they did could stop that from happening. But despite that, she put in all her effort into making his last days as comfortable as possible.
Her relationship with him had always been earnest. He never treated her like an outsider. Yes, he had his demands but he never tried to enforce them with anger or manipulation. He had given her time to settle down in the family and get used to the environment. She had got to see his vulnerable side when her mother in law died. He was shattered. It was then she realized that he had lost the only support system he had – the person he had spent more than fifty years of his life with. She must have been such a seemingly permanent figure in his life, that her absence was now more real than anything else. Strangely enough it was her who comforted him more during that phase than Madhav. He was more engaged in fulfilling his duties as a son, and had neither the energy nor the time to be emotionally available. Or perhaps it was simply because a man couldn’t be seen being vulnerable in their culture. It somehow subtracted from his manliness.
As was her daily ritual, she climbed up the stairs to Vikramlal’s room to give him his medicines. Her body clock had now adjusted itself to the demands of each hour. She didn’t need to look at the clock to know the time anymore. She considered it to be an exceptional skill, and often dreamed about conducting time management workshops for corporate professionals simply because she had a natural flair for it.
“Bauji, it’s time for your medicine, you need to sit up”, she said vaguely as she walked directly towards the medicine cabinet.
He was lying on one side and didn’t stir as she pulled out the drawer and picked out the medicines. She walked over to his bed and shook her head in slight exasperation – he always did this when he had to take his medicines.
“Bauji, you need to stop this drama right now, it’s not going to fool me”, she said in a knowing voice. He didn’t respond. She walked forward and lightly shook him. When he didn’t respond then either, a flicker of panic ran through her body. She shook him harder, and he simply turned and fell on his back. Realization crashed over her like a strong wave and she reacted instinctively.
“MADHAV!”, she yelled out of blind fear as she fumbled around to find the cordless phone.
“MADHAV! Come here right now!”, she yelled again.
Finally managing to find the phone, she dialled the nearest hospital’s emergency number with trembling fingers. In the meantime, Madhav and Rajat came rushing in to see what had happened.
“What happened?!”, cried Madhav as he rushed forward to check his father’s pulse.
“I think he’s had a stroke!”, she replied in a quivering voice, while waiting for the emergency line to respond, “C’mon, pick up! this is supposed to be an emergency number!”. Finally, after the phone had rung 10 times, someone picked it up.
“Hello, Fortis Hospital. Emergency. What can I do for you?”, replied a cool female voice.
“Hello? Yes, I need an ambulance immediately at 64, Sector A, Vasant Kunj! My father in law has had a stroke!”
“Please hold mam. Let me check the availability”
The call had already been put on hold. She paced around in anger and panic with the phone against her ear. She chanced a glimpse at Rajat who was rooted to his spot, shell shocked. His brain could not comprehend the situation. He was standing at the foot of the bed, staring at his immobile grandfather.
Madhav suddenly got up and said, “Forget it, let’s drive him to the hospital. There’s no point waiting for an ambulance”
At that moment the lady on the phone got back and said, “Mam, I’m sorry, but there are no ambulances available as of now. But there might be one available within half an hour, would you like me to send it?”
“WHAT?! We can’t wait for half an hour!” cried Sunita. In the background, Madhav repeated, “Listen to me Sunita, forget it! Let’s take the car and go!”
“I’m sorry mam, there is nothing we can do here. If you tell me right now, I can make the booking for you or else -”
Madhav snatched the phone from her hands and cut the call, “We’re going. Where are the car keys?”
“Must be in the key basket” replied Sunita as she made to dash out of the room.
“Wait! Help me carry him downstairs first” said Madhav.
With a lot of difficulty, they both carried him downstairs and placed him on his wheelchair. Sunita then went to check for the car keys in the key basket. They weren’t there.
“The keys aren’t here!”
“What? But I kept them there when I walked in..where could they have gone?” replied Madhav
“I don’t know..Rajat, did you pick up Dad’s car keys?”
Rajat meekly shook his head and said, “No mumma, I haven’t seen them”. Perhaps he realized the gravity of the situation, because for once he wasn’t letting his inquisitive nature get the better of him.
“Damn it!” cursed Sunita. Tears had now begun to form in her eyes as she paced around helplessly. Madhav went into a frenzy as he looked for the keys in the room, wrecking everything in his path. He pulled out drawers, threw out papers, smashed vases in a hurry and even pricked himself on the edge of a table. Rajat, too, had begun to weep. It’s uncommon for children to see their parents crying; they consider parents to be infallible. Perhaps the stench of desperation and helplessness had affected him too.
“Maybe we should just ask Chopra ji to take us!” said Sunita. Mr. Chopra was their friendly neighbour who lived right next to him. He had always been cordial with them.
“Okay, yes, let’s do that” replied Madhav when his search came up empty.
Thankfully for them, Mr. Chopra agreed immediately and pulled out his car. The ride to the hospital was in agony. Every moment wasted was a moment closer to death, and Sunita didn’t think she could deal with another upheaval so soon. Tears were flowing down her face endlessly, and she wasn’t even aware of Madhav’s arm around her. When they reached the hospital, they yelled until someone came rushing and carried Vikramlal to the nearest ICU. Everything after that was a blur. The on-call doctor was paged, who came running in. They spent an hour trying to revive him – everything from CPR to Defibrillation to atropine injections, but nothing worked. He was declared brought dead.
The days soon after were a series of compulsory rituals. The official cause of death, as declared by the doctors was Hypoxia. The fact that he had diabetes acted as a catalyst. He had been having problems in breathing moments before his cardiac arrest. He could have been saved had they been a few minutes early. Sunita felt as though she was reliving the old phase again, except that this time the pain was much worse. The same old people, the same old condolences, the same old superficial crying. All she wanted was some solace to deal with her grief, not people swarming around her, least of all those who did not really care at all.
They didn’t really leave the house for 4 days except for the funeral. Mr. Chopra drove them. In fact, he had really stepped up to help them, because they weren’t really in any state to do any marketing. The kriyakaram was done. The ashes had been safely kept in a kalash in the mandir. A big photo had been mounted on the wall, with a flowery garland adorning it. Some relatives were still buzzing around the house, talking about Vikramlal’s glorious life. Some of his friends were still trying to console Madhav, explaining to him that he was now the man of the house in every sense.
In order to feel a sense of normalcy, Sunita excused herself from the sitting room and went into her room. She wanted to do something that was a part of her routine, she wanted to feel distracted. So she gathered all the dirty clothes from the room and carried them to the bathroom. She was going to wash them until fatigue overpowered her grief. But as she was about to wash Madhav’s jeans, a pair of keys fell out of his right pocket. She picked them up and almost dropped them again out of shock. They were their car keys. He was wearing the same jeans the day Vikramlal died. Her brain seemed to have gone numb, she didn’t know what to think.
At that very moment, Madhav knocked on the door and said, “Sunita? Please come downstairs! Everyone is asking for you”
And she just sat there, staring at the door for an eternity.