A Short Story
Manoj woke up in the middle of the night, saw his wife seated on the bed and staring at their son’s picture in the showcase. He gently placed his hand upon hers; she turned towards him with her eyes filled with tears. He got up, wiped her tears off and hugged her.
The unspoken silence told him everything that he wanted to know. His sixty-five year old wife, Nirmala, missed their son Varun, who had settled in the United States of America long time back. It had been quite sometime since he had paid them a visit with his wife Akansha and son of twelve years, Monish.
‘I know you miss him,’ He said, looking into her eyes lovingly, ‘I shall write to him tomorrow asking him to come home. Now, go back to sleep!’
She nodded her head in response, before going back to sleep.
Next morning, when he woke up, he found his wife clinching their son’s picture to her chest and she had a smile on her face. He found that she had no pulse when he tried to wake her up. She had passed away in her sleep last night. He broke down into tears slumping down beside her. She was the last caring and loving person in his seventy year old life.
After his wife’s funeral:-
‘Dad, would you like to come and stay with us for sometime?’ His son asked him.
‘No, I would be fine over here!’ He replied.
‘At least let me appoint someone to take care of you,’ He said.
‘No, I can take care of myself…there is no need for you to worry,’ He replied, looking away.
‘Fine, then.’ He said, shrugging his shoulders helplessly.
Manoj found that not only his home was vacant, but his heart as well when everyone left. He lied down on the bed, thinking about his loving wife, staring at the rotating ceiling fan, before he fell asleep. Someone started shaking him up. He heard his wife’s voice say;
‘Wake up! Have your coffee!’
He woke up with a jerk. He kept staring at the beautiful face of his wife in disbelief.
‘What? Why are you staring at me like that?’ She asked, handing him his
cup of coffee.
‘I…I…I just had a bad dream in which you weren’t there anymore in my life and I was left all alone in this cruel world!’ He said, scratching his head still shocked, ‘Thank God, It was just a nightmare!’
‘Oh, is it?’ She asked, smiling mischievously at him, ‘I would like to see how you would cope without me in your life.’ She added.
‘I would rather die without you in my life!’ He said, looking at her, ‘What’s the point in living a life without you!’
‘Ah! How romantic you are!’ She said, giggling, ‘You are still young at heart!’
‘That I’m always!’ He said, finally smiling at her, sipping his coffee.
Someone started knocking the main door. Suddenly, he opened his eyes; he still saw the ceiling fan rotating while the knock continued. He turned and saw his wife’s photo on the wall with a garland. When he went and opened the door, he saw a boy of twelve years, smiling warmly at him.
‘Yes?’ He asked, looking at him rather annoyed for disturbing his nap.
‘Grandpa, my ball fell into your apartment through the open window. Could I please have it back?’ He said, pointing his finger towards the rubber ball which was lying on the couch.
‘Sure.’ He said, picking it up and giving it back to him.
‘By the way, we moved into the apartment next door to yours, this morning.’ He said, pointing his finger at it.
‘Nice to know that,’ He said, finally smiling at him. Then he went back to his bed, he kept staring at the rotating ceiling fan, then he closed his eyes. His wife’s voice woke him up.
‘Do you know someone has moved into the next door apartment? And they have a kid of twelve years or so…he reminds me our Monish!’
‘Yeah, I know!’ He replied, ‘I just met him sometime back…’
‘…and he stays with his divorced mother who is in her late thirties. Our daughter Pratima would have been her age, if she was alive today!’ She said with a sigh.
‘Is it? How do you women gather so much information and that too so fast?’ He asked, surprised.
‘Well, don’t forget that we have a common maid servant,’ She said, smiling.
‘Oh, yes! They carry tales with them home to home,’ He said, smiling back.
There was a knock again. He woke up, glanced at his wife’s picture on the wall. There was no garland on the picture.
He went and opened the main door. The maid servant entered asking him;
‘Do you know someone moved into the next door apartment?’ She went past him, going inside.
‘Yes, I know!’ He replied, ‘My wife told me.’
‘What?’ She cried from inside.
He went inside and saw her garlanding his wife’s picture on the wall.
‘Sorry, I forgot to do it yesterday…Did you tell me that your wife told you?’ She asked.
‘No, I met the kid and he told me.’ He said.
‘Good. It’s always better to have someone next door, you know.’ She said, climbing down the stool and smiling at him.
‘Yeah, you’re right!’ He said.
Suddenly, he opened his eyes and found his wife combing her hair in front of the dressing table mirror.
‘What? Why are you staring at me like that?’ She asked, turning back and looking at him.
‘Nothing,’ He said, scratching his head, rather confused and puzzled. He got up from the bed, went to the refrigerator to have some water. He saw a pile of vessels in the kitchen sink.
‘Didn’t the maid come to clean today?’ He asked.
‘Did you forget that we don’t have a maid and I do the cleaning myself?’ She cried from the bedroom.
There was a knock on the door. He opened his eyes, glanced at the rotating ceiling fan above him. He turned and saw his wife’s picture with a garland. He went, opened the door and found that boy from the next door, standing with a stainless steel box in his hand. He had a warm
smile on his face.
‘My mother made some Gajar ka halwa and I brought some for you, grandpa,’ He said, handing him the stainless steel box.
‘Thank You,’ He said, and the boy went away.
He went inside, kept the box on the dinning table, and went to wash his face. He came back, sat on the chair and started having it. It brought back the sweet old memories of past, when his dear wife used to make him this dish which he loved a lot! He finished it soon thinking about the past.
Later, he went to give back the box. He rang the door bell; a beautiful woman in her later thirties came and opened the door. She too had a warm smile on her pretty face, like her young son.
‘Thank you for the delicious dish!’ He said, handing her the box, ‘It reminded me sweet old memories of my past!’
‘Nice to know that,’ She said still smiling, ‘why don’t you come inside and join me for a cup of tea and some biscuits?’ She asked.
‘I hope I’m not troubling you..’ He said.
‘Not at all! Come in, please!’ She said, ‘Please be seated and make yourself comfortable, while I’ll be back!’ She added going inside.
He sat glancing at the pictures in the room. She came back with two cups of tea and some assorted biscuits in a tray, and kept it before him on a small table.
‘Do you live alone?’ She asked, handing him a cup of tea.
‘Yes, after my wife passed away sometime back,’ He said, taking it and having a sip.
‘Sorry to hear about that!’ She said, ‘Don’t you have any relatives?’
‘Well, my son is settled with his family in the United States of America!’ He said, taking a biscuit, dipping it in the hot cup of tea, and having a bite.
‘Oh, I see!’ She said, doing the same, ‘Anyways, what do you do in your free time?’
‘Nothing much…actually, I’m surrounded by free time!’ He said, smiling at her, ‘What do you do for a living?’ He asked her.
‘Well, I’m a teacher in Rohan’s school. Actually I’m his class teacher…I get promoted along with the class every year.’ She said.
‘That’s really good! You don’t have to teach the same thing year after year, isn’t it?’ He said.
‘Yes, you’re right!’ She said, smiling.
They both chatted with each other for a while. Later, he took leave promising to come back again. Some days, later, one afternoon he had a cardiac arrest and felt as if he was going to die. He had blacked out completely. When he opened his eyes, he found himself on the hospital bed. He saw her and her boy beside his bed.
‘Thank God, you’re okay now!’ She said, smiling at him, ‘It was good that you had forgotten to bolt your door today. Rohan found you in this condition in nick of time! We called for an ambulance and here you are!’
‘Thank You, for saving my life!’ He said, smiling at them.
‘Please take some rest and you would be fine..’ She said, ‘You can read something to pass your time over here…I found this book in the Sunday market…’ She gave him a book of short stories.
‘Sure…thanks again,’ He said, taking it, and flipping through the pages.
‘See you later,’ She said, leaving with her son. ‘Bye, grandpa!’ He said, waving his hand to him.
‘Bye, grandson,’ He said, waving back to him.
He decided to read the story ‘Next Door’ by Rahul Trivedi. When he started reading it…it seemed familiar to him. He sat up, pulled a pillow behind his back and continued reading it. It was almost his story word to word…
‘Oh, my God! It’s my story…’ He said to himself, the story ended abruptly at the point when the old man was admitted in the hospital. The page in which the story had continued was torn off from the book. He took out his mobile, turned on the data connection and searched for the story ‘Next Door’ by Rahul Trivedi and hit search. No results found…came on his mobile screen.
He removed the story name and only searched for the writer.
Again, No results found…came on his mobile screen.
‘Dame it!’ He cried, annoyed and frustrated.
Next day, he was discharged from the hospital. When he went back to his apartment, he met the security person, who looked at him expecting to hear something…
‘Yes, Ramlal?’ He asked, looking at him.
‘Sir, I had called for the ambulance yesterday…’ He said.
‘What? I thought the lady of the apartment 408 had called for the ambulance?’ He asked, rather shocked.
‘Sahib, apartment no.408 is vacant from a long time. Don’t you know that?’ He said.
‘What are you saying? A lady in her late thirties stays in it with her son of twelve years..’ He said, bewildered.
‘Come, and see for yourself, Sahib!’ He said, leading him to the apartment. It was deserted like it was vacant for a long time now. He kept peering inside through the glass of the window. He saw an old couch, some chairs and a small table and some other furniture. Everything was covered with layers of dust.
‘Maybe, you are speaking about the lady who stayed here before you came to this place. She had divorced from her husband. She had committed suicide with her little boy in this very apartment many years back. This apartment is vacant since then, Sahib.’ He said, scratching his head.
‘Oh, I see!’ He said, walking to his apartment. He bolted the door, went inside, fell upon his bed and kept staring at the rotating ceiling fan.
‘Doctor, would he be alright?’ asked a young lady in her late twenties, keeping her hand on her husband’s forehead, and rubbing gently on the bandage which was covered around his head.
‘You told he was working on something before he met with that fatal accident?’ The doctor asked her.
‘Yes, he was writing this story..’ She said, handing him her husband’s journal, in which was written
‘Next Door’ A short story by Rahul Trivedi
The doctor went through the writing and then looked at him lying unconscious on the bed. The ceiling fan was rotating above them.
‘Is something wrong?’ She asked the doctor, curiously.
‘Well, he was thinking so much about this story when he met with the accident last night that he has forgotten who he is and has become the lead character of this story which he was writing…’ The doctor said, giving back the journal to her.
‘Oh, God!’ She cried, ‘what should we do now, doctor?’
‘Nothing….I have given him some medication which should put him to sleep for a while…I think he should regain the reality pretty soon as it is just a temporary thing…nothing major to worry about.’ The doctor said, taking leave.
‘Doctor, what should I do until then?’ She asked, rushing behind him.
‘Nothing…let him play his character until he regains his wits….’ The doctor said, with a smile on his face.