Fiction: The Twins

Rana Preet Gill

Rana Preet Gill

He carried the stench of death within him. I had no idea Karthik would be damaged inside, the day I let him know that his twin did not survive in my womb. That he had a twin at all, was not known to him, earlier. But now when he knew that he was not a single child, there was that other who had taken semblance of birth inside my womb, he contemplated if he was a killer.

“Mamma, did I eat him up like those ghouls in the story you narrate to me all the time. Did I actually kill him?” I was at a loss of words at such an innocent question. I could only smile as I held him close to me till tears soaked his puerile face and I could no longer hold the flow of emotions which threatened to spill if not checked. I had to save Karthik from this onslaught of guilt that took its course over the couple of days.  He was not even a complete being lest a human with a thinking brain, definitive actions and a conscience when it happened. How could he think he was responsible for anything that happened when he was not fully formed with just the identity of a fetus. Fetuses, don’t kill, I told him?

I hope I have been able to plug the flow of guilt that flows unabated in the veins of my son. A young adolescent boy who should have been fighting with me over his independence no longer cares that I am checking the texts of his phone with an impunity. Something is taking hold inside my loveable son and whatever it is, it is decimating his powerful self. I knew I had to make amends. I fix an appointment with my gynecologist friend who doubles up as my psychiatrist.

“I told you Priya, Karthik is sensitive. You should have never let him know that he had a twin who died in the womb while he survived. This is the kind of information that often damages the kids for they hold themselves responsible for the deed. They have no idea what biology is all about. We need to shield them from such unwanted information.” I held on to my chair, kept on looking at her with hollow eyes as she explained to me a few cases of her other patients where parents ended up divulging the story of a shrivelled fetus which  was found hugging his other half born alive. The child later on slipped into depression considering himself as responsible for the death of that other one. I shut my eyes. Fear and anger writ large beneath the eyelids. I berated myself for the folly I had committed.

“Will he be okay, know?” I ask her hesitatingly.

“Well, you need to be patient. Don’t push him too much. Let him mourn the death of his long dead sibling. But why did you tell him in the first place what happened thirteen years ago?” She looked at me with accusing eyes.

“ He kept on asking why he doesn’t have a sibling. Again, and again the same thing. We did try after his birth but it did not happen. I thought if I will let him know that somewhere, someday, a brother, a twin did materialize and if things had not gone horribly wrong inside my body he would have taken shape along with him.” I broke into tears which gushed with full force. Soon I was crying in fits, lamenting the death of my other son. When he was delivered still born I was torn between grief and relief at the same time. Grief for the one who was not able to see the light of the day and relief for the one who survived. Child birth was a bag of mixed emotions for me.

“Priya, control yourself. I have patients outside. I do not think Karthik would carry it for long. We will meet outside the clinic. Now, if you do not mind I have cases to attend.” The clinician in her dictated me to keep myself in check.

When I came out of our room several pairs of eyes followed me and saw me flip flopping on my shoes. A nurse came running out and supported me, making me sit on a corner bench. I accepted a glass of water and composed myself. You do not live your life grieving for the past. I knew that I had to save Karthik and make him come out of this grief. I had to help him from this self-inflicted web of guilt. I walked home with determined steps.

As I reached home, a morbid sadness hung in the air. I was struggling to breath as if the stench of putrid odor had percolated my home. The foul smell of rotting flesh that often emanated from the nearby tannery affected me all the time. I called up the broker and asked him the status of our plea in the court. We had filed a petition in the court for the closure of this tannery unit operating in the heart of the city with an impunity. The carcasses of animals hung in the open, their skin being leafed through their body so deftly was a common sight available from the balcony. I would often retch at this sight. And now I visualized the unborn fetus hanging from the string and someone stripping the fleshy form of new skin away from it. I shouted and I kept on shouting till the men in the unit stopped their work and gaped at me. Karthik collected me in his arms and took me inside. I hobbled. I had lost the strength to walk even a few steps.

“I am there for you, Mumma.” He cried and we sobbed holding each other in our arms. He made soup and warmed up some bread for me. I shoved the dry bread in my mouth and drank the lukewarm soup. Later on, I pushed the empty utensils under the bed, curled myself and lay there for a long time. I could hear the sounds in the kitchen. I could hear the creaking of cupboard and a packet being shuffled outside. Karthik must have been making Maggi for himself, his favourite. I tried to get up but my body had been sapped of all energy and vitality.

I closed my eyes and my mind dabbled in past. The day of my first ultrasound, I was so ecstatic when doctor told me that I was carrying not a single child but twins. Though she did not tell me the gender of the kids I was sure that I was carrying twin boys. I somehow, knew but I did not know that one of them will be shorn of my love and care so soon. Everything went well on the outside but my boys seem to be on a war inside. Now my mind drags me to the second ultrasound which was conducted in the second trimester. The worry lines stretched taught on the face of the clinician as he told me that one of the siblings is weak and not growing properly. In the subsequent ultrasounds, my fear grew manifold when the doctor announced that a competitive spirit in the twins is common. And often one of them gains more weight and more share of nourishment. But death!! This never crossed my mind. It never did.

A sudden warmth engulfed my body as I saw Karthik covering my curled body with a blanket. I smiled a little keeping my eyes tightly shut. He kissed me lightly on the cheek and switched off the light. I knew he was fine. I knew he was overcoming this loss about which he came to know a tad late.

The next morning when I woke up Karthik was gone. I checked for his school bag but it was missing too. His room was all neat and tidy which came as a surprise to me. I did not pack his tiffin, a sudden revelation jolted me. What kind of mother I was? Who did not care to send his son to school and even forgot to give him something to eat? I called up his school and there he was on the line assuring me that he did eat bread omlette for breakfast and he would share lunch with his best friend. I calmed my frayed nerves and started with the housework. I knew, to remain sane, I will have to carry on with my routine.

I collected all the washing clothes from the bin and moved upstairs to put them into the washing machine. I opened the door of the room, and an air of nostalgia hit me, the guest bedroom with an attached washroom. Since the room was not in much use we had shifted the bulky washing machine upstairs. This was my room in good old days when I lived with my in-laws and two brothers-in-law and their families. The house was alive with the scent of the people. But where has everyone gone. I felt dizzy and ran downstairs and dialed the school’s number.

“Karthik, why is there no one in the house? Why do I feel so alone?” my voice quivered.

For a long time when there was no answer to my query I lost my patience and shouted again.

“Mamma, I will be home. I am there. There was an accident and they died. How can you forget? Just lie down and I will be home.” He disconnected the phone with his customary plea of not to disturb him in classes.

The accident? I reminisced the old times. Yes, there was an accident long time back. Long before Karthik was born. I was at home expecting my twins. And they went to the Vaishno devi yatra when a truck full of pilgrimages rammed into their car. Was it the grief of death that killed my unborn baby? I was overcome with a debilitating sadness those days. I ate less and was emaciated by the time I had to birth my kids. Was I responsible for the death of my son who was not strong enough to hold on inside me? Do we kill those we love by shielding them from love and compassion or do we live for those who have left us in throes of pain and memories?  Do we live for the living or for the dead?

I walk up to the balcony, the stench of dead animals fulminating my senses. I called up the agent and told him that I am vacating the house by the end of this month. This house carried the weight of dead memories which I needed to escape. I stood for a long time contemplating this rash action. But what about the memories of the dead fetus for whom my womb turned out to be the grave. How can I escape that? I hang dangerously from the balcony edge. I just had to put an ounce of weight and this illusion of carrying the death inside will end.

“Mumma, I am home.” Karthik looked at me inquisitively while I step away from the grill. Some people on the street who had stopped their walk to watch me now resumed their journey. I knew I had to do the same. We live for the sake of people who are alive, I murmured it to myself and hugged my son as if I had seen him after an eternity.

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