It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep my eyes open, in spite of the ten lengthy hours of sleep. The side-effect seems much more severe than what I had initially anticipated. Everything seems blurred, the walls of the room appear to have a wavy texture; even the clock seems odd. Did it always tick like that? This sound seems so unfamiliar. This place was slowly engulfing me, digesting my consciousness one bit at a time. “Maybe  I should just take a nap….”

 

My body, lying like the bark of a thunder-stricken tree on the pile of wood, slowly catches the bright yellow flame. There is not one mortal soul around. The fire catches on, as I slowly sit up on the pile. Strangely, I could barely feel any pain. I looked around to see if anyone was watching all this from a distance,  but the yellow flame hampered my visibility. Slowly, I stood up from the pile, clothed in the flame that burned without causing any pain, and I started walking. No. It was not walking. I was running. As if my heart was filled with an ecstasy which knew no bounds, as if I had been set free after ages of bondage, as if I had again become that free-spirited little kid from a long-forgotten childhood, I ran, and ran, and ran. I ran like I would never stop, all the while giggling and shouting as if I was under some magical spell of merriment….

 

Two more hours wasted. Yet, the drowsiness refuses to depart. The splash of water does little to bring back my senses. I look up at the mirror to see a dancing, wet picture of a disoriented version of my face. I never had so many wrinkles! Is that my own face? It has changed dramatically from what I had seen in the same mirror a week ago. Another splash of water, then another, then another…. the outcome remains the same. I turn on the television. One after another, the channels flip on the luminescent screen creating a kaleidoscopic effect on my woozy brain. The government was trying desperately to introduce the new bill in the parliament but the strong opposition parties had made that virtually impossible. The bill could not be tabled that day. The cricket match of the previous night ended in a draw. A new melanin-suppressing cream would now magically transform every person’s appearance and in turn their way of life. The guide book for all subjects of the secondary school exams was now out and would help every student get more-than-ever-imaginable marks. This was the last chance to grab the benefits of the annual sale held at that big, glamorous shopping mart. The new variant of the toothpaste cured all cavities even before they could form…..

Why did the screen go dark? Another dream?

Power cut. My hands scramble in the dark trying in vain to find a candle, or maybe a torch, or just any source of light. Where did the candles go? They should have been there. The search for light continues for a few more minutes, at the end of which the searcher gives up and sits down in the dark. Who needs the light anyway? The darkness, the stillness of that room in itself seemed soothing. The drowsiness was coming back, even after fourteen hours of sleep. There was no other sensation left, no hunger, no pain, no anger, no jealousy. Just an ineluctable feeling of tiredness and that indomitable urge to sleep, that was all that was left. Everything else seemed like the numerous dreams that had now become more frequent than ever.

“ Did you kill the bird, son?”

“No, Maa, I didn’t. It was stuck to the barbed wire, it could not even flap its wings. The more it tried, the more it hurt itself. I saw the feathers turn crimson from the bright blue. So I helped it out. I dragged it out of the wire.”

“ But it isn’t moving. It is lying dead still….. You couldn’t free it, could you?”

“ But I did, Maa. I promise you, I freed it….”

 

That memory from my childhood flashed before my eyes. It’s funny that I still remember that incident so vividly. All these years could not blur that single piece of memory. I often wonder, would it have been better if I would have left the bird as it was? Would that have been the right thing to do? It would have been alive, at least for a few more hours. Albeit it would have suffered each and every second of its existence, but who was I to interfere in its destiny of death? Had I not intervened, I would not have killed it. But it would have died just the same. Just the killer would have been its own destiny. Suddenly, from the dark corner of the room, I heard my commander’s voice, “Do not be a weakling. You are a soldier, crying is not allowed in your life. Stop lamenting.”

“ Sir, is that you? You’re still alive? It’s good to….”

“Why on earth are you lamenting?”

“You know the reason. I have blood on my hands.”

“Do not talk like those dull-headed fools. We are not here to judge what is right, and what is not. We are here to fulfil our duty, to honour the commands given to us. The humbugs sitting on their cosy couches can rant all they want, but we are not going to relent. To do the right thing in the face of duty, that is all that matters….”

“You don’t understand. It’s….it’s not the same anymore….”

“I don’t care what it is. A soldier remains a soldier until his last breath. And a soldier doesn’t retreat, he never retreats.”

“Well PTSD can make us retreat…All that sound….all the killings, the kids, the women….all in the name of duty? Who benefits from this duty? I at least didn’t…”

“I cannot believe I once trained you to be the best of them. You have forgotten everything. I’m ashamed of you….”

“ Don’t say that sir. Sir? Sir? Sir?”

Only a cold gust of wind came back from the dark as a reply.

 

I remember, when I was a kid, I would get scared of ghosts. I felt as if they were all standing near my bed, waiting for me to scream. They never did anything, just stood there. And that would make me so much terrified that I would not move, I would lie lifelessly under the blanket, waiting for my mother to come. As soon as she entered the room, I would shout and jump up, only to find my mother standing alone there, smiling at my naivety. “Ghosts are not real. They are reflections of your own fear, the creations of your own scared mind….”, she would say. And I felt so secure when she was around. I believed the ghosts were scared of her, so they disappeared once she came. Only if that was possible now!

The images flash before my eyes, those morbid, gruesome images. The head starts beating like drums, I hear different noises, I see sparks of light. I see guns, I see fire, I see a river, I see oceans, deserts, all coming together, meeting at a microscopic dot in my head, and bang! They explode within my head. It’s an unbearable and unexplainable pain that follows. And after that, everything ceases. All that cacophony giving way to a deathly silence, leaving nothing except a lingering and devastating effect on the already wounded brain. And I realise, I need the pills again.

The pills are the only relief. I have already had them five times. I remember the doctor’s stern voice, “Do not have more than two in one day…”

The hands scramble in the dark again.This time the search bears fruit. The little-crumpled plastic bottle, resting in the moist palms of my tired soul, was the panacea that I needed. The balm for my soul, lying on my hands. My hands grip the cap….

I see my doctor shouting from the dark, “Not more than two. Not more than two”

I see my commander, “ I’m ashamed of you. I’m ashamed….”

I see my mother, “There are no ghosts. See, I am here now. Don’t be afraid. It’s okay…”

“You have become a disgrace”

“Not more than two”

“There is nothing to be scared of”

“Not more than two”

“It was not your fault”

“Stop punishing yourself”

“You will not retreat”

“You tried to free the bird, but is it free? Is it flying now?”

“No more lamenting”

“Not more than two”

“It is a part of our duty, and duty is above everything else”

“My son has a heart of gold”

“Fire!”

“A good soul always trumps, against all odds. Be that good soul”

“Not more than two”

“The bird is free…..”

The pills slowly dissolve in the water in my mouth and drip down the parched oesophagus. There is no pain. There are no ghosts. The bird is free….

The power has come back. I have awakened…

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