“You have to promise…”
“I do! I promise I won’t, for the hundredth time. GOD! Tell me already!”
I let out a long breath.
“I keep waking up, but I don’t remember sleeping.”
She stared at me for a while, broke into a laughter which faded to a nervous smile with a hint of terror.
”What is the last thing you remember?”
“I was playing in my room as I used to in the house where we used to live when I was a small child. Even I was little. It was like I had been in my first class. It was night time. I looked outside my room in the gallery. There was a flutter in the otherwise continuous luminescence of the bulb. Guessing it to be my mother, bringing me the glass of milk as she used to in the night time I stealthily moved towards the bed and tucked myself in the covers.
My mom seemed to take longer than usual. Anyways I stayed put. But then it was too long. I had to take a peek, just a small peek and then tuck myself in again, so that my mother won’t catch me awake and force the glass in my mouth unless I gulped down every last drop of it. I slowly removed the covers from my head… my eyes… opened one and covered myself again, like a camera opening its shutter for a nanosecond. I analysed the capture. The shadow was almost at the door, but it seemed to have moved very slowly itself. And there was something off about it. I removed the covers up to the nose once again and opened my eyes. The room vanished, and the face of our maid stared right at me, inches from my face. She had a butcher’s knife in her right hand which dripped blood. She smiled like a maniac and advanced towards me. I died there. Right in my bed. But then I woke up.
It’s so absurd that I would dream of a time so long past having that maniac of a maid in it. Even when I think of now all my life seems to be a collection of dreams and dreams and dreams that I had. In fact I cannot even remember anything else at all. Just instances where I have been woken up.”
“Oh! C’mon. You are joking, right?” She whispered.
“No! I can even tell you the dream I had woken in that dream from!”
“Oh! Please don’t!” She said.
“It’s unreal. I don’t know what to do. Initially I used to think it was just a dream within a dream. But now I don’t know. Everything is so confusing! I don’t even know if this is for real. It’s ridiculous.”
She pinched me.
“Ouch! That hurt!” I wailed.
A smug look appeared on her face, relieved she said “See? It is not a dream. You don’t feel pain in a dream. You would have woken up.”
“It’s not so simple! This doesn’t prove anything. In all my dreams I feel as real as I’m feeling right now.”
“You are an idiot. It proves everything. Besides I’m telling you this isn’t a dream, so it isn’t. Now shut up about it.” She crossed her arms and jerked her head to a side, trying to seal her point.
“You don’t understand, do you? Nevermind! It was not me who brought up the matter, only you wouldn’t let it go.”
She looked at me, then away. For a long while both of us said nothing. I watched her face as it oscillated between concern-amusement-terror-concern.
“You go home now. Go to sleep. Take a sleeping pill, if you must and you’ll feel better tomorrow. We’ll talk then. Ok?”
I could see she needed reassurance more than I did.
“Ok. I’ll go.”
“Yeah yeah! I’ll go and SLEEP!” I said dismissively.
“Good.” She smiled again. I got up and turned around.
This room doesn’t look the same as it did the last time. She must have redecorated it or something. No, something is definitely off about it. The size of it, the furniture… Was it the same when I entered? Oh! How did I come here? My god! WHERE AM I?
I turned around again and faced blankness.
“Hey! Where did you go?” I shouted.
What is happening?
I turned again. Blankness. I strained my eyes to get a better look in the darkness.
Oh God! What is happening?
Panicked, I made a move towards the direction where the door stood a moment before.
For a split-second I couldn’t understand what had happened. The foot did not hit the ground as it was supposed to. The ground seemed lower, lower and even lower and then there was no ground, there was nothing. Legs swinging, I tried to grab hold of the surface on which I was standing, but nothing caught my hands. I strained and stretched and hoped and prayed for a touch of something steady, something solid, anything at all but felt nothing, nothing but air, cold dead air rushing past me, swooshing, as I fell freely, subjected to gravity. Helpless, a scream left my lips.
I got up with a jerk. I was heavy breathing heavily, covered in sweat, awoken by my own shriek. I looked around to the familiarity of the surroundings. Old Boy’s Hostel, IIIT Hyderabad. Satisfied that it was my room and my bed that I was sleeping in, I closed my eyes and buried the face in my palms and tried to comfort myself. The respiration returned to its normal pace in a few minutes.
Thank goodness! Only a dream. The dreams were growing worse by the day.
“I have to tell someone about it.”
“But didn’t you do already?” A voice inside my head spoke.
“That was different, that was in a dream. I have to talk to someone in the real world regarding it.”
“Well, you felt real enough back then.” It mocked.
“Fair enough. I don’t even know if this is real.” I spoke to it.
“Oh God! Again?”
“No, this is real, alright.” The rational part of my brain which has the deep voice of an English butler chimed in.
“How do you know?” The mocking voice said grinning.
“Well, those surroundings were foreign, these are not. Clearly, those were the result of my over-imaginative enthusiastic cousin who tends to get active when I retire.” The butler spoke.
“What he says makes sense.” I agreed.
“We’ll see about that soon enough” The mean voice snorted.
“I don’t want to hear you. Shut up already. You’re making me feel even more uncomfortable.” I grunted.
If these voices reside in my head why can’t I take them out at my own will? Fucking parasites!
I got up, irritated. The floor was cold. I immediately fell back on the bed and looked for my slippers. One was right in front of me, the other nowhere to be seen. I looked under the bed. A dark brown ellipse covered the otherwise bright yellow base of my second slipper. A close inspection revealed that contrasting spot to be a cockroach, who probably spent the night on those bright grounds. I shook the slipper and it clumsily left its sleeping spot, cursing. I think.
“Ok, that might be real. Ha!” The mean voice mocked, again.
I placed my foot upon recently vacated space and stood up to get out. I’ll have to wash the fucking thing! I moved towards the door.
There were drums playing somewhere, faint at first then increasing in loudness. The sound seemed to come from the Gachibowli stadium adjacent to our hostel. I rushed out of my room. But then I realised the direction of the sound couldn’t be that at all. It now seemed the sound was from the next room, adjacent room to mine. I banged at the door, cursing.
“Saksham! Turn your fucking speakers off! @#$#^&^%$#”
The door opened. Nope not here. I realised.
“What happened dude? Why do you spoil my morning sleep? Always! And it is you who plays songs in the morning, not me!”
“Ugh! Where is the sound coming from then? It is definitely not me!”
“The only sound that I hear is in my brain, which is your thumping of my door at goddamn 7 am! You are a nutcase bro, get yourself tested.” He shut the door in my face.
“FUCK OFF! You’re DEAF!” I shouted.
The loudness was increasing steadily. Another door opened. Rafa appeared.
“What happened bro?”
“Don’t you hear anything? The sound of drums?”
The realisation dawned on me all of a sudden. The sound was nowhere in my vicinity! Not in my room, not in the stadium, not in Saksham’s room. Nowhere but in my goddamn head!
“I think I’m dreaming.” I spoke softly.
“Come again!” He spoke.
The world grew blurry… shapes were fading into smoke…
Try to remember the last thing you have been doing. Some voice in my head spoke. I tried. And I remembered, her concerned eyes looking at me almost feeling sorry for me and the fall…
I got up with a start. There was an old man standing at the foot of my bed, he smiled at me baring his crooked teeth between his broken lips. There was something oddly familiar about the face. I had seen the man somewhere. Surely! Oh! How can this be? My heart skipped a beat, I blinked and he was gone.
This couldn’t be! There is no chance in hell!
“Oh! In hell there might just be!” The mocking voice returned.
I pulled my hair. I grabbed my slippers, which were the same shade of yellow as the night before. Or should I say, the dream before. The drums were still playing, louder with each floor I descended. Four… three… two… one. I jumped the last few steps of the lowest level and ran towards the main gate of the apartment. Next lane… I ran.
The body was placed on a white bed sheet, covered with flowers and the same face stared at me, with two cotton pieces stuffed in both the nostrils. My head was spinning. I grabbed the nearest chair.
After my head steadied a bit I got up and returned.
I looked around. I was in the PG that I had rented. Bangalore. I had seen the body the night before while returning from office.
That is a good sign.
“Seriously?” The mean voice returned.
“Not the casualty, you idiot! The fact that I’m recalling past happenings” I sulked.
“But what if it’s a dream? And what you saw yesterday also a part of it? An elaborate setup.” It said.
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. I’ve given up! I’ll wait for it. I’ll wait till I wake up again.” I resigned.
I was at a loss. I did not know what to do...
“Should I visit a doctor?” I posted the question in my head, waiting for anyone to answer.
“Probably” The butler answered.
“No, I’ll look like an idiot.” I said.
Three days have passed. I haven’t woken up still. Maybe that is a good sign or maybe not. Maybe I’m in a very, very deep sleep. Limbo they say? Did I meet with an accident? Am I in a coma? Is this what happens while a person is unconscious to the world?
“Nothing can help you.” It said.
I know that. I know all of it. Probably it’s best that I should wait for this terrible nightmare to get over. Yes, wait. Wait and see what unfolds next…