He drove at an abnormal speed today, 20Km/hour. He got off work earlier than usual after his last night’s shift. The Sun shone really bright. As if, God had some trouble looking into everyone’s mind and so increased the brightness. The rear-view mirror reflected his anxiousness as he saw people driving past him. Like they were all ready to move on, but for some reason, he was being held back. He turned on the radio. ‘Music helps’, he thought. Madonna instantly shot down his thought and charged him with being Frozen. ‘Or not’, he thought again and turned off the radio. He pulled over at the red light, five blocks away from his home. ‘It’s almost time’, he thought.
The Liquor store by the road was flooded with people today. ‘Morons fear the dry day?’ He chuckled in response. And then suddenly, his face severed. He remembered his father’s funeral pyre. He has often lived his past in those sixty seconds at the same red light for the past twenty three years. He was eight years old then, the only son. They wanted him to light the pyre. He had always been afraid of fire; afraid, that it might consume him and the people he loved. But it was not the fire that destroyed his father. It was alcohol. He watched the fire bringing solace to his father’s inebriated body. Fire didn’t terrify him anymore. The thin air above the pyre contained images of what his life could have been if his father had stopped at the first peg. Every now and then, ashes flew into those images and parched his heart. Tears rolled down his young eyes to pacify his heart and vaporized before they even reached it.
Horns blared and broke into his reverie and the startled mortal took a spontaneous U-turn and started heading away from his home. His anxiousness had reached the tip of his right foot and he drove as fast as they let him. He was still not free; even though he wanted to be. He drove for the next two and a half minutes and pulled over at a barren lane. He took out a pack of cigarettes, and then another until each cig reached the very core of his lungs. He leaned back for a moment. He was a different person now, ready to face the world. He opened his eyes and started heading back to his house. For the first time since he and his wife decided to take the test, he was completely thoughtless. Monotony took over his life as he reached his house, parked his car and reached the doorstep. Ephemerally.
He opened the door to his house and found his wife sitting on the sofa. He wasn’t exactly expecting a company in dealing with what might change the course of their lives.
“Why aren’t you at work?” he asked.
She stared at him blankly. He noticed the redness in her eyes.
“Did you cry?”
She kept staring.
“Did you sleep properly?”
She stared still. Her eyes had been pleading to him since they tied the knot; the same old request, over and over again. It has gone unnoticed for thirty nine months. And she didn’t expect him to hear her silence even now. “The reports came in”, she finally found words.
He knew something was amiss. He knew exactly what was amiss. He just wanted to un-know it all. If only.
“Hmmm… What does it say?”
“It’s you, Akash. It’s you! Your sperm count is low and we cannot have a baby because of YOU!”
She burst into tears and buried her head in her palms that contained her destiny; destiny that she chose to twine with Akash’s.
“But…”He began to speak and she suddenly stood up, giving vent to all her anger.
“But? You still have something to say, Akash? You go on and on about how your father’s drinking problem ruined your childhood. And you smoke all the freaking time, Akash! How the hell are you even remotely different from your father? Don’t you see what you’re doing to yourself? Don’t you see what you’re doing to us?”
“Stop blaming me for everything, okay! You have no idea what it was like to live without a father”
“Thanks to you and your cigarettes, our child will never have to live without a father, because guess what? We cannot fuckin’ have a child, Akash!”
She collapsed on the sofa again and Akash ran to console her. He was hurt and finding her so miserable grieved him more. He had never thought he could love Neha when his parents arranged his marriage with her. But before he knew it, he fell for her. Neha accepted him the way he was, unlike his girlfriend in college who refused to marry him. He held Neha while she sobbed in his arms. She will never be able to console her child when he cries. She will never even have a child. The very thought made her sick.
She fought back her tears, looked him in the eyes, and said “Alcohol ruined your father’s life. Smoking has ruined yours. It took away your career, your girlfriend, your health and now it is taking a toll on our family. When has it ever given you anything? These are all warning signs, Akash. Stop ignoring them. Please.”
He couldn’t find words. He hugged her again. There was nothing in those words he already didn’t know. He just didn’t want to remind himself that he did. He needed a drag again. Instead he thought to go and check on his niece who was visiting during her vacations.
‘In the bedroom. Sleeping.”
He got up and went towards the room. Annie lay asleep on her bed. Akash loved Annie and Annie was crazy about him. She visited the couple twice every year since she was four years old. Every time he saw Annie, he secretly wanted a daughter who he could spoil. He felt guilty for letting yet another dream slip away.
He walked towards her bed, “Good morning, Sunshine! Get up and give me a kiss.”
Akash had mastered feigning happiness by now. He went up to her and took her in his arms. The six-year-old seemed different today. “What? Where’s my kiss?”, he asked.
She looked at him, as if begging for his forgiveness for wanting to refrain from the ritual that bound their summer mornings. “What’s wrong, honey?”, he asked again.
“You don’t smell nice”, she said.
And Akash’s world collapsed. He never smoked again.
Moral of the story : Life is too short to learn a lesson the hard way.
This blog post has been written for the COLGATE Total Pro-Gum Health Contest.
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