Tuesday 1 September 2015

Short Story 2015, Featured Writer Sinjini Sengupta

Can You Read This Post?

It took me a few hours to get this straight. But, is this… this… even possible?
Okay, let me tell you right from the start…

To begin with, this morning had looked – perfectly - a normal morning. The doorbell rang at 6 o’clock sharp, just as it always does.  Well, didn’t ring exactly, I must say, but let out a chorus of birds… Now in February - as you’d agree - it gets particularly difficult to leave the bed this early. So, I twitched and rolled, and opened one eye and cast it on my right. Right! Akash, my husband, had woken up too. I looked on to see if he would volunteer… well, on days when he is in a particularly magnanimous mood, which is not too often though, he answers the door to Maloti, our housemaid. Else, he just says that he sleeps sounder than I, and that the door is closer from my place in the bed than from his - well, it is, but by a mere feet or two, and that too only on days, nights, when we had no, er, action – and just turns to the other side and resumes snoring. 

The bell rang once more; this time, birds clearly chirped much longer and shriller, and angrily. While I was still making up my mind on it, Akash stirred a little, let out a slight moan, stepped out of the bed, and I heard him slipping his feet into the slippers. He pulled himself through the hallway, his slippers flapped noisily against the marble-stones of the floor, fittingly countering the agitation of the birds which now chirped, a third time, clearly with a tone of warning.
Moments later, Akash was againback on the bed, pulling the comforter away from me, extorting a share which by any fair scale would measure to clearly more than a half. But today, I let him. Gratitude, you see! I roll back and snuggle against my pillows against the backdrop of faint clatters in the kitchen as Maloti started doing the dishes. She always does the dishes first.

About an hour and it’s the regular quota of snoozes on the phone alarm later, I finally pulled myself out of the bed. Groggily, I walked into the washroom, first at its left-side for the biological wastes bit, and then towards its right for the hygienic routines. As always, I picked up my toothbrush and the tube of toothpaste, and laid a round layer of paste on the bristles. Out of habit, I generally look up at the mirror expecting my sleep-fed puffy eyes to show up on it. Did they? Back then, I hardly noticed. So I can't exactly tell now. All I noticed was, the day was particularly bright and sunny, and warm sunlight was flooding through the window despite the rough of the glass that covered it. I splattered handful of water to my face.

Unknowingly, and undaunted as of then, I had started to hum a tune as I returned to my room, my wardrobe, picked up lingerie and a towel from the stand beside it, and moved towards the shower. On my way, I make up my mind to wear something bright to work today. Orange, purple, or turmeric yellow? – I scan in my mind. Just as always!

It should have been a half past seven or something near about. No, I don't glance at the clock. It is, well, not exactly a good friend, especially at such hours in the morning. I’ve now stepped out of shower and now I walk towards the dressing table (of course, after I dress) expecting to look beautiful, seductive and all that. (Well, don’t you cut me here! Haven’t you heard them saying – you must always tell yourself you are?)

Back to grounds! Well, I was out of the shower, and then out of the washroom, and I now make my way to my dressing-table. I pick up the hair-brush, proceeding to attack my wet hairs with sufficient vengeance so that it does not stand between me and my office which it, if let to, would often attempt. I look up at the mirror.
And then, my hand freezes.
Gosh! I cannot find myself in the mirror.

Where did I go? Rather, I was there, right there, right in front of it. But then, I was not in the mirror...
Really! I rub my eyes and look again. Then, I rub my eyes harder, longer, and then look yet again…
I rush back to the washroom, the mirror on its closet the closest other mirror geographically from where I stood. I look carefully. I then collect some water from the tap beneath and sprinkle it on the surface, wiping it clean with the face towel with urgent hands. I look again.

Nope! There you are… not!
Come on, what kind of a practical joke is this! It is not funny!
But I cannot give up, not yet. The other mirrors… where are they? What do they say?
I rush to the guest room. As I stumble my way to the life-size mirror on the left door of the closet, I close my eyes and murmur a slight wish. And then, I open my eyes, one by one…
Outside - through the glass door I watch – it was beginning to darken. Seems like it might rain… but, at this time of the year? Anyway, I have a bigger crisis to deal with first.
But then, how!

I hear the splash of water… right!!
I rush to the service balcony. There, Maloti is dropping the clothes one by one from the heap inside the laundry bag, as the water whirled and formed white foams of detergent on its surface.
"Listen," I called out: “Maloti, look here!” …and, guess what?
Yeah, right! She does not turn at me.
I mean, she may not exactly admire me and all that, but then, she would have turned at me if she did hear me, don't you think?
But, who takes chances? So I call again, and again, and I cry hoarse, calling her name out. I keep trying, and I keep trying yet some more…

And then… well, I give up!
In heavy steps, I drag myself back to my room.
Through the window, I see the sky starting to grey… do I hear the clouds murmur? But oh, I don’t have time to stop and think weather now, do I?
Undecidedly and instinctively, I slowly walk back to my room. Akash, now at his turn at the dressing table, is looking into the mirror, tugging the ends of his shirt into the rim of his trousers. From his look, it seems there’s nothing wrong with the mirror. Then, is it wrong… with me?
I try calling out at him, only to realize my voice has dried up into a fearful silence. I get hold of my pet-bottle and gulp down a few mouthful of water. It seeps inside me, and churns out in return a sense of fear, a terrible, gripping, groaning, mortal fear. What am I to do, now!

Moments pass, as I lay myself down on the bed, drearily looking up at the ceiling, blank eyes, blank mind. I don’t know how long it had been… And then, tired of not knowing what to think, what to do, I turn to my side and look.
Oh, boy, look at that! Akash is tying his tie the wrong way just as he does every time; I mean, every time the knot gets accidentally unfastened (he keeps the knot all the time because he cannot do it, you see!) he comes to me. Always! It irritates me so bad, this habit of his - usually and even now - that for a moment I forget the crisis in hand. I push away the chair on the way to reach to him and yell - "Oh, just give it to me, Akash! Let me tie it for you."
He doesn't hear, or pretends not to.

This reminds me what I am here to test, and fear grips me again. "Hey, can't you hear me?" I shout at a hundred decibels higher than my normal, only to go without a response yet again. "Can you not even see me?" - this time, my voice trembles a bit. A lot, actually. And then, I go quiet. Just as he and the whole house around me is.
There is no reply!
Wait. Wait a sec! - I tell myself, as I walk back to my study, aimlessly and tensed. The wall-clock ticks away to a dangerous number on it, which means I am really, really late for office already. Did I not have the deck to share with the team, the Quarterly reports to prepare, the new-hires orientation plan to fix… But oh, come on!
Do they even matter, should they, in case I do not even exist at all?

Wait! I mean, how come? How can I not exist? How can I, I,  even think that way? I mean, if say for example, just for an example, I died or whatever, then I must be feeling it, right? And then, even if I don't, for whatsoever reason I cannot figure out now, still, there would be other signs, wouldn't it? Like, at least, there would be panic. Some sorrow even, I expect. At least, people won't be doing dishes, cutting vegetables or tying ties the wrong way away to glory in case I have really died, right?
So, I must not have died. Or wait… that can be, well, not too pleasant but perhaps a plausible explanation? But how did I die, and when? Worse, why don’t anyone else care if I, really, do?
But, have I died? What are the signs of a ghost? Mmmm… they cannot feel pain, and they… they don’t have a shadow, and, and… they can pass through walls, and, what else?
I pinch myself – ouch! It hurt. I look behind me - a long shadow, don’t you see? I try walking towards a wall now – no, I cannot pass it through.

But then, and that's the main point… what the hell is going on?
I look at the clock. Eight! My office cab would arrive in about fifteen minutes, won’t it? On other days, it would send a chill of panic through me… Oh, I am running so late! Bit today, I have a bigger problem to deal with. This is more important to sort out, you'd agree!
I have to sort this first.
I rush back once again to the mirror. Yes, I still do not see myself. Just as I could expect - sigh!
Can I feel things? Oh yes, I can. I can most definitely feel myself. I still touched my one hand with another and then repeated that the other way, and rubbed my one feet on another just to be sure. I very well can. Thank god!

Can I feel other things? I of course can - this time, I let my head work before I hurried to start touching things all over the place. I remembered I did brush my teeth and combed my hair, or just started to, alright. I even pushed the chair aside as I moved in the other room.
Then, possibly, if they cannot see or hear me, could I not draw their attention some other way? Like say, touch them or knock on their shoulders with a something whatever?
I try that. It doesn't work. They are still just as oblivious as before.

I try something else, desperate this time. I pick up the flower vase and throw it hard on the floor. At least that would break and the sound should alert them, won't it?
Only that, it doesn't. It just flies, rather smoothly, in the air and lands on the floor, and the next moment I turn back at the table, it is back at its own place. And then as I turn again, the floor is empty!
This is not game. This is NOT game, I shout! Another few minutes, and I would give in, I swear!
But wait, I cannot afford to lose my nerves now. This is serious, and only I, if anyone, can sort this out. And I got to, dammit!
I take deep breaths. It helps. It clears my head so that I can think of the next thing to do. I do.
An idea strikes me!

Okay, this should work.
Akash is now done with tying his tie - though not quite as perfectly done as I do it – and picks up his phone…
An idea strikes!
I pick up my phone too.
There, I hear it ringing. I press the handheld tightly against my ears – oh, it is indeed ringing, loud and clear. But then, why is he not picking it up?
I rush back to find him. There he is! And where is his phone? I look around. There, his phone lies atop the shoe-rack as he perches himself on the stool beside and finds himself his socks and shoes. I hold my own tightly in my hand, pressing it yet harder against my ears, as the sound of the ring rings in a pitched, slightly vibrating motion. Or, is it just my hand shivering?
But, can he not hear his phone?
I rush to overtake him to the rack and look down at his phone. I thought so much. His phone isn't getting the call!
I mean, how can this be, tell me? I can die, be killed, disappear, whatever, but how can his phone not get a call while my phone tells me it's ringing!
I still stood at the foyer – unable to decide what to do otherwise. I… well, I needed some more time just with myself.

I give up!
No wait. I cannot. I have to sort it out. Or who will!
I wander through the house thinking what my next thing should be. There!
I quickly grab my laptop and press the power button long and hard. There, it lights up. Thank god!
Resuming windows… resuming windows… !
Hurry up, please - I plead to it earnestly, whispering between my teeth. It does take its time, doesn't it?
But then, here I go.
A new word document – there!
I type this out. This. And then, I send it to you…
Now, tell me, quickly, dear readers!
Can you read this post?
Please, please, Oh please!
Can you read this post?

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