Wednesday, 31 August 2016
The moment the clock ticked 11 in the night, the jingling of the keys was heard. A few seconds later, the Doctor entered his apartment. Quietly, he removed his shoes, went to washroom and came back 10 minutes later. All the while, the ancient grandfather clock in the hall was ticking away, in slow rhythmic motion.
“And the state police is still looking for the culprit who broke into museum last night. The officers haven’t yet found what was stolen, but the investigation is going on actively,” the reporter in the television continued reading in her monotonous voice while the Doctor prepared some dinner for himself.
He entered his bedroom and placed his plate of dinner on the floor. Sitting on the bean bag, he picked up the plate, stared at it for one full minute, and before beginning, muttered to himself, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
Silently chewing the same old dinner that he is having for six years now, the Doctor couldn’t help looking at the one corner of his room that he dreaded most. A picture was sitting on the wall rack; a beardless, more human-looking himself with a smiling kid and a pretty girl. The dim, yellow lights were hiding most of the kid and the girl’s face. Still, the boy’s smile and the girl’s eyes were highlighted somehow.
All of a sudden, the Doctor almost threw his plate on the floor and sprang up from the bean bag. Grabbing a bottle of whiskey and a pack of smokes from the hall table, he hurriedly made himself a drink, neat, and lit one of the cigarettes with shaking hands. Inhaling deeply, he released a thick puff of smoke. He was visibly calmed now, his hands no more shaking. However, the battle inside his head raged on.
Slowly, he returned to the bedroom with his drink and smoke and sat on the bed this time, quietly looking at the picture, while sipping from his glass. Reluctantly, his eyes were drawn to another object in the room; a calendar. “Six years, four months, three days, 22 hours,” he whispered to himself.
He heard some commotion in the adjoining apartment. “Bloody neighbours,” he muttered again as the noise increased. Suddenly, he heard loud thumps on his door. He tried to ignore it, but the thumping increased. “Go away! I’m off duty now!” he shouted, but in vain. It seemed that the visitor was determined not to leave till he saw the Doctor. Angrily, he put on his shirt, walked towards the door and opened it. “What?” he almost shouted at a scared looking teenager boy.
“Pplease ddoctor…” the boy said, stuttering, “My…my grandpa, he is not well.”
“I’m off hours now,” the Doctor said grumpily, even though he knew that moments afterwards, he will be carrying his bag and exiting his solitary apartment.
“Jus…just come for once doctor, he… he doesn’t look we…well…” the boy insisted, shaking.
“You called the ambulance?” the Doctor asked as a last effort to get rid of the boy. However, he had already picked up his bag and was wearing shoes.
“No, no… mumma is not home, so…so I called her and she told me to get yo…you.”
“Alright, alright, let’s go.”
They both entered the neighbouring apartment. Though the Doctor had been living in the building for almost six years now, he never befriended the neighbours and this was first time he was entering another apartment.
The hall strongly smelled of medicines, dust and poverty. The paint on the walls was chipped off and there was barely any furniture. The boy led him to a small, gloomy-looking room. A rickety old fan was dangling from the ceiling, spinning slowly making a lot of noise. The window panes were open, though it wouldn’t have mattered even if they were closed as all the glasses on it were either cracked or shattered. There was a dirty, spotted curtain tied to it, which was swaying slowly in the wind, giving the impression of a spirit with white robes, leaving the room.
There were only three objects in the room; a metal bookshelf, a rickety wooden chair and a rusty iron bed beside it, with someone laying on it, covered in thick blankets. The boy pointed towards the bed. The Doctor slowly walked to it.
There was a very old man on it, moaning, with his eyes closed tightly. The Doctor knew that the man was in pain as his brow-less forehead was contracted with numerous wrinkles. The moment the Doctor saw the old man’s face, he knew that he had counted days left.
The Doctor was about to sit on the chair when the boy suddenly said, “Not there, don’t sit on it.” The Doctor looked at the boy, but didn’t reply. Putting his bag on the floor, he approached the old man.
“Where’s your mom?” the Doctor asked touching the old man’s forehead.
“She’s not back from work yet,” the boy said, a bit calmed down but still shaking nervously.
The Doctor nodded and took out his stethoscope from the bag. After checking the old man’s chest with it, he took out his notepad and wrote some medicines. It was just a normal fever, nothing serious.
“Get these medicines, the fever should wear off till morning. And close the windows, otherwise he might catch cold,” the Doctor said, giving the prescription to the boy.
“Thanks,” the boy murmured and accompanied the Doctor to the door.
The bright sun rays felt like a blast of light as the Doctor woke up.
“Shit,” he muttered, looking at his wristwatch that he was still wearing. Getting up, he stumbled upon the empty bottle of whiskey. An overloaded ash tray was sitting on the windowsill, with several cigarette butts laying around it.
Readying up hurriedly, the Doctor left the home, forgetting to switch off the lights in the hall.
At the strike of 11 in the night, the Doctor entered his apartment and after freshening up in the washroom, he entered the kitchen to prepare some food.
“In yet another bizarre robbing incident, the office of state archive department was found broken this evening and just like the last time, the culprit hasn’t taken anything. Police and the authorities are confused regarding the intentions of the culprit,” the reporter blurted in her mechanical tone as the Doctor entered the bedroom with his dinner.
“Six years, four months, four days, 19 hours,” he said to himself as he chewed a piece of bread.
Though he likes to live alone, the most dreadful moment in the Doctor’s life is when he has to go to sleep. For years, he has trained himself to sleep as less as possible, without losing his sanity. However, after a particular hour in the night, he is not able to resist the sleep and then it happens, all over again; first, the happy laughs, the warm, comforting touch of the skin, the innocent smiles, those pretty, big eyes, and then, the fire, the shrieks, the paralysis, the inability to do something, anything, and last, the smell of burnt meat, the suffocating fumes and a captivating dizziness.
Every single day since last six years, the Doctor is having the same dream. He visited the psychiatrist, his parents, his friends…nothing worked. The dream just kept haunting him every single night.
Hence, he came out with his own device; he started to drink, and drink heavily and he began smoking too. Sometimes, when he thinks of it, he can’t stop smiling at the irony. He was known as a teetotaller among his friends…she used to be proud of him, telling her friends that how the Doctor sets a perfect example for the kid.
But it is gone now, she is gone now, the kid is gone now…and the Doctor? Well, even if he likes to think that he has no purpose left in this world anymore, there he is, as alive as any human being can ever be. So, he is just going with the flow. His hollow, empty eyes neither looking to the future nor reminiscing him of the past. He is just a dead man among the living ones, or maybe, vice versa.
The thump on the door brought him back to the present with a shock. In frenzy, he stood up hurriedly, knocking the dinner plate in the process. Cursing himself, he went to the hall and opened the door.
“Grandpa is better now. He wanted to thank you. If you are free for a while, can you please come and meet him? He is unable to walk much, so…” the boy from the other night was there.
Staring at the boy for a moment, the Doctor went inside without saying anything. In a minute, he came back.
The old man was sitting on the bed, supporting his back on the headboard.
“Really obliged to meet you my dear sir, I can’t thank you enough,” the old man greeted the Doctor in a surprisingly bold and firm voice, which the Doctor was not expecting.
“You look better,” the Doctor said, trying to smile.
“Again, thanks to you,” the old man grinned under his toothless lips.
As soon as the Doctor was about to sit on the chair, the old man almost shouted, “No! Not there!” Taken aback, the Doctor looked at the old man in bewilderment.
“Please forgive me for my indecency, sir. You can sit on the bed, there is plenty of space.”
The old man shifted a bit and the Doctor sat beside him.
“How are you feeling now?” the Doctor asked.
“I’m fine, at least for now.”
“Where’s your daughter-in-law? Is she still at work?”
“I guess so, but she should be here anytime now.”
“And your son?”
The old man looked outside the window for a while and without answering the Doctor’s question, said, “I’m sorry that I acted rude.”
“It’s fine, I didn’t mind,” the Doctor said, avoiding any awkwardness.
“Well, there’s a story,” the old man said. After a brief pause, he continued, smiling, “There is always a story, isn’t there?”
“I am all ears,” the Doctor replied. In a weird way, he actually felt good about sitting beside an old man and listening to his story instead of going to bed. This way, he will get a few hours more to avoid that ever-haunting dream.
“You must be wondering, why I didn’t let you sit on the chair,” the old man said, shifting under his blankets, “Actually, the thing is, till recently, I used to be an atheist, since as long as I remember, I never believed in any god, or for that matters, any supernatural entity that controls the human beings.”
The old man paused again. The doctor was looking outside the window; he could see the tiny lights blinking and moving in the distance, and a river, reflecting the moonlight.
“Then I got the news from my doctor that I was not going to live for many days,” the old man continued, “That’s when it all started to change.”
“My grandson got this chair for the visitors. However, one day, all of a sudden, I don’t know why or how, I felt like, I need something, or someone, to help me with the pain, which can ease the suffering, make me feel like I am not alone.”
“That was the day I decided to worship this chair.”
This broke the string of thoughts in the Doctor’s head. Flabbergasted, he looked at the old man, who was keenly watching the chair with a soothing expression on his face.
“That’s when things became better. I know I will be leaving soon, but this chair, it will be there for me, forever, in this life and the one after that. It is my god now.”
The old man was exhausted with all the talking. Breathing heavily, he closed his eyes.
The Doctor waited for a few minutes.
“It will be alright, don’t worry,” he patted the old man’s arm. When he didn’t reply, the Doctor got up and left.
“I don’t know what happened! He was fine! All of a sudden, he started to gag and now…and now…he…he is not moving! Please…please hurry up!” the boy was crying.
The Doctor immediately picked up his bag and rushed to the next apartment.
“What exactly happened?” he tried to ask, but the boy was weeping uncontrollably.
The Doctor almost ran to old man’s room. “Damn family,” he muttered angrily, “Where the heck are this boy’s parents always.”
Entering the room, the Doctor rushed to the old man, when suddenly, a bizarre sight almost gave him a seizure.
The old man’s head was resting on the chair, as if someone had dragged him half to it from the bed. However, it was not just that; his head was not resting on the chair exactly, it was hovering a few inches above of it.
With his eyes closed, the old man was smiling pleasantly. The Doctor slowly approached him. Checking his nerves, he found that the old man was dead for sure. He tried to lift his head and put it on the bed, but he was unable to do so. Tired of making efforts, he asked the boy, “Where are your parents? Have you called them?”
The boy was standing near the door, sobbing.
“They won’t come, they never come,” he said, his whole body shaking.
“What do you mean they won’t…” the Doctor looked angrily at the boy.
The boy was staring at him and the Doctor looked into his eyes.
“Is he with his god?” The boy asked, with a deep voice.
The Doctor was unable to move, it was as if someone had clamped him tightly. However, the moment passed. As soon as he came back to his senses, the Doctor grabbed his bag and ran out of the house.
He entered his apartment, packed all the necessary stuff and left it in frenzy.
He even forgot to pack the picture with the girl and the kid.
He had no idea where he was going, what he was doing and how he was doing it.
All he knew was, that he needed to get away from that apartment, that old man, that boy…
And most importantly, that chair.