Fiction: The Wall Clock

At 8:00    I was in my bed, clinging to my greenish-blue fibrous blanket. Amma was asleep next to my bed on the rickety sagwan sofa, her head nestling on one of those ugly maroon, golden-embroidered cushions that I have never liked. My eyes, however, were glued to the sea-green, square-shaped clock up on the opposite wall. The sound of the ever-moving hands of the clock, click-clack, was in sync with that of my heartbeats, thump-thump.

At 8:15    The door creaked open: Auntie Sona had come.  She smelled of jasmine. She said she left the hospital, her workplace, early that day, but got struck in a traffic jam. ‘I quickly took a bath and came rushing here,’ she whispered, so as to not disturb Amma. I winked at her. The fragrance of jasmine evoked something intense in me; and I saw Her walking –
I cannot tell you Her name because, who knows, she could be someone’s fiancé or wife by now. Let’s just say she was the love of my life. Anyway, it was not like that she Herself paid me a visit – Oh no! It was Her surreal alter ego. Either way, she was as real for me as the clock up on the opposite wall. Like always, her black hair was interwoven in a long plait embellished with a gajra of fresh Arabian jasmines. She bent forwards, closer to my face and giggled, her adorable protruding canine teeth showing. I sniffed, and before I knew, my nostrils, my sinuses, my entire nervous system was brimming with Her!

‘As I get out from here, I’ll marry you. I won’t care about my parents’ objection to your caste status,’ I conveyed to Her through the language of eye gaze that she and I had become so fluent in.

At 8:30     Auntie Sona was holding a glass of water over my face. I opened up mouth; she tilted the stainless steel glass over my mouth and poured water into it. The gulping down of water made my throat tingle with sudden pain, for a fleeting moment though; it felt like this: suppose if you have swollen wound and someone flicks it. Ouch, right?

Auntie put the half-full glass back on the side table, and sat on the edge of my bed near my feet. She gave me ‘that’ look, and I knew what was coming –
‘Why didn’t you come for regular check-ups in the last six months? WHY? ANSWER ME,’ she stopped short, cupped her mouth with her palm and whispered through clenched teeth, ‘Navdeep, the drugs were harming you more than the Tuberculosis itself, couldn’t you care to notice?’

I think I saw a cascade of tears wending its way out of her eyes. Or maybe it was just me. Anyway, before I could confirm, she had zoomed out of the room. To be honest, that time I wanted to tell her the truth – that I was simultaneously juggling two jobs at a time to pay the college fees of a girl whom I couldn’t even properly confess my love (though, sneakily, behind her back because otherwise she would not have accepted help from a weak, spineless man); and that was why I never got to know when exactly the pills that were supposed to kill my illness, began killing me, my liver instead! I was regurgitating food, but wouldn’t miss a single day at work. The clarion call was the red rashes that began to pop across my legs and face like unwanted pop-up ads.   
At 8:45     I heard a series of gurgling sounds. I tried to crane my neck up to have a look at the source, but could not: it was too below my eye level. And then, few seconds later, there was a loud shriek from near my head –
Amma woke up with a start. I moved my eyeballs to the corner of my eyes and raised my neck a little only to see Babboo standing close to me with the support of my bedside rail; she was bawling by then. Auntie Sona came running into the room, put her hand over Babboo’s eyes and grabbed her in her arms. ‘She must have crawled in; I left the door ajar by mistake,’ said Auntie Sona, while patting gently Babboo on her back. She strode out of the room, latching the door behind her.

My heart sank: I knew my skin was patchy, but I did not know that I was now scary for kids. I asked Amma to show me a mirror. I had been asking to have a look in a mirror since days, but… However, this time she budged for some reason.

At 9:00    Amma hoisted up a mirror; I peeked at myself first with narrowed eyes. Almost instantly, I flinched and shut my eyes. I reopened my eyes; I saw a stranger. His face was bristling with large white patches, pale as moonlight, but the neck was still brown around the Adam’s apple. I looked like a zebra whose stripes had gone haywire! Amma moved the mirror away from me.

At 9:15     The cannula in my right hand was hurting. My mother kissed me on the forehead; I pulled a face because it was a wet kiss. In that moment, I was craving to tell her how much I loved her; but my throat had been captured by anti-TB drugs like the filaments of his cobweb, sometimes, trap the spider himself. Instead, I mouthed the words, ‘I love you.’ She smiled. ‘You’ll be fine soon, son. Don’t worry.’

At 9:30    I peered at the ceiling – a static ceiling fan, a cobweb in the corner over my head and a spider crawling away from that corner. The sound of the clock’s ticking was gradually going fainter. Suddenly, the tube light blinked a few times – light, no light and repeat – and then everything went black. I passed away. I was twenty-two then. I wanted to live. I wanted to love. But I could not.

The author Parnil Yodha is a law graduate and aspiring writer and poet based in New Delhi (India). Her works have been published in literary magazines like Indian periodical and Indus Women Writing.

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