It is dark. The corridor looks like a long tunnel. There's discreet light, coming from under the door at the end of the passageway. And this serves as my guiding light - to the world beyond the door. I try to look behind. Nothing. Pitch dark. I continue ahead, daunted by the strange silence. It is a unique corridor. Something that I have never seen before. There are no doors on either side. Just walls. And I am trapped between them. I feel they are squeezing. I push my hands on them. No signs of movement. They are frozen. The carpet is old. My right foot is entangled in it. I stumble and I fall down. I get up, with heavy breaths. The air in the passage is soaked with the smell of cigarette ash. I look up. The door is still there. And I am closer now. I hear someone screaming for help. The voice is coming from behind the door. Wait. This sounds like my own voice. This is my own voice. I run to the door. I grab the door-knob with my hand, and turn it open. Blinding light, as I wrap my eyes with my arm. And the room is filled with a song. I have heard this one before, "Nothing Else Matters".
I wake up on my bed. It's cold. The room is filled with light. I turn to my left to switch off the alarm on my mobile phone. So this is where the music was coming from. There is a lamp on the side table, and a photo frame. I look into it closely. Anne is in my arms. And she is happy. She looks vivacious. I turn to my right, and there she is - still cuddling in the blanket. Her brown hair partly covering her face. I stroke my fingers gently through her hair to catch a glimpse.
"Wake up honey.", I kiss her cheek as I speak.
"Morning sweetheart. Just a little more." she whines, as she tries to catch another moment with her sleep.
"You know, I always look up to this moment. Watching you protest as I wake you up. You always look so beautiful, as the first light of the day falls on your pretty face. Pure, untouched, unaberrated piece of joy."
"And I love you", she says. Her eyes still closed. She is smiling yet trying to hide it. Like a child unsure how to react to some words of appreciation.
"Go take a shower and get ready. I will get up and prepare the breakfast.", she says from under the blanket.
So I go ahead. I like the morning shower. It always energises me. And wakes me up from the last bits of sleep that the night must have hidden somewhere within my eyes. I come out and put on some soft music. That is how my day begins. I go to my closet, and pull out a shirt and a trouser. It's a weekday and I need to be in formals. All dressed, I head for the kitchen, where I would find the centre of my life. There she is, right next to stove. I curl my arms around her when she kisses me happily.
"You smell fresh."
"I am always fresh", I know this annoys her pleasantly. I catch the headlines of the newspaper as I sit down on the dining table.
"There you are. Your breakfast." She sits next to me. "Would you be late from work today?"
"I guess so. I have a client presentation tomorrow, and there needs to be some final touch done today."
She frowns, "You know I am working from home all this month. It gets really boring at home when you are away."
"I will try to be back at the earliest Anny, I promise."
"You seem disturbed. Anything bothering you?", Anne asked
"Nothing much. I just had a bad dream last night." I was not being true. She knew it too, but she didn't question.
A cozy farewell and I left for office. Not that I was not being totally true. The dream had become a common occurrence for some time now. But that the dream was an allusion to a bigger trauma that I was battling for months together. I wouldn't ever cross the door, and it sent chills down my body. I never felt like leaving home. I wouldn't know when I would see her again. Whether I would ever see her again.
I drove to office, and I went straight to my cabin. Some big clients, a bigger opportunity, and a deal to seal. The world of advertising is difficult, and no matter how dull or irrelevant the ad is, the client's only concern is better customer response and higher sales. I was the head of a team, and naturally, the responsibilities were always higher.
A busy day at work, I hardly got time to call Anne. Towards the evening, I got her call on my desk-phone. "Don't forget your appointment with Dr. Reicken." Anne had been my guardian since the last five years. I wouldn't have accomplished a simple task without her intervention. And I excelled at missing dates and appointments when it came to personal matters.
I told her I wouldn't, though deep within I knew I was reluctant to indulge into the psychotherapy act. Dr. Reicken was my psychiatrist. I reached his office 10 minutes prior to the appointment. The waiting room was all lit up. Some incandescent bulbs in the ceiling, a beautifully carved vase with floral prints in blue and yellow on white background placed in a corner of the room. The aroma of some fresh flowers, mostly tulips, in the vase appealed to my olfactory.
I was seated on a couch next to the vase looking at a scanned image of the brain put on the wall to the left of me. It was the side view of the human brain. Black and white scanned image, highlighting a small semi-circular part. Under it was mentioned, Anterior Cingulate Cortex. I was gazing at the image, lost in some thoughts for I do not know how long when someone patted me on my shoulder. I turned back to see it was the receptionist. A lady in her mid-forties, she was nicely dressed- a black formal skirt, teamed up with a white shirt with stripes of blue. And a black shoe with short heels.
"Sir, it's your turn. Dr. Reicken has been calling out for you."
"Oh yeah, I am sorry. I wonder where I was lost."
I went straight into his cabin. It was a huge room. The wall on the left had racks piled with books. The racks ran across the entire length of the wall, and so did the books. On the right, there was big glass window, completely curtained. Blue and white floral prints. "This man has a taste for flowers", I thought to myself. He was seated behind a huge table, mostly clean. Some papers, a couple of books scattered randomly, and a mug of coffee. I sat in front of him across the table.
"Good Evening Doctor."
"Good evening Rob. How are you today?", he asked.
"No better. Tired with work, ruptured by my life. What could have changed since our last meeting?"
"Still the dream?", he queried.
"It remains the same.", I answered.
"Take the couch." So I did, no matter how much I hated sitting on the couch answering his questions, trying to see through me. I was an object under observation.
"Does Anne know of this? Did you discuss this with her? "
"She has an idea, yes. But she blames it on my hectic work life, and suggests that I should take a break"
"But does she exactly know what you are going through?", he asked.
"How do you expect me to tell this to her?", I could feel my tone rising, and my hands trembling. "That I am not sure if she truly exists or not? That there are days when I see her next to me in my life and everything seems normal, and then there are those dark days when she is not! I don't see her doc. She is gone. I am never sure when I go to sleep what the next day would be like. Whether she would be on the bed when I wake up, or whether I would wake up lonely, all to myself. With no traces of Anne. Can you imagine Doc what it would be like to sleep? Would you even be able to sleep? Even with all the tranquilizers that you have prescribed to me? What can I tell her Dr. Reicken?"
I could feel the droplets of moisture on my forehead. But I was indifferent about them. My nerve was rising.
"I understand son, it is difficult. I have asked you in the past to visit me on such days of absence but you have never done that."
This was the trigger. "Enough Doc. I think I should leave"
And I left, even without listening to his reaction. He uttered some words which sounded muffled, and never reached my ears. Maybe they did, but I must have turned deaf towards them.
I took my car from the parking lot and drove home. The last three months had been a torturous turbulence. I woke up, one day, in my bed only to find Anne was there no more to be found. Her traces everywhere. The hint of her smell. Her clothes in the closet - some washed, neatly kept, some unwashed left for laundry. Her shoes, accessories, cosmetics, books - everything right in the place they used to be. But she was not there. Simply. At first, I thought, she might be out for something and should return in time. But it never happened. I tried calling her friends, my friends; her office - only to find out none had a clue, or was it that they were reluctant to discuss it with me? I would have gone insane. I kept calling her on her cellphone. No response. Was she upset with me? Had she abandoned me? Had life abandoned me?
I kept sitting on the couch that day even after midnight, looking at the entrance, hoping to find her way back in. And I didn't know when I dozed off. And when I woke up, she was there - like an angel, my angel. Sitting on the floor right next to me. Holding my hand, placing it on her chest. I could feel her heart beating. I could myself breathe. And her breath, on my palm.
"Where had you been? I was so worried all day long.", I couldn't even speak, or control my words.
She was calm, and smiling, " I was right here. Next to you. What's wrong? You were sleeping like a baby. I didn't want to wake you up."
"No, you had left. And I couldn't find you. Where did you go?", I didn't know what was wrong.
"I was very much here. It must have been a bad dream.", she calmed me down. My hand still in hers, and her head on my chest. How soothing could it be to find her back around me. I couldn't have been more thankful.
"Now get up and get ready for work. You wouldn't want to get late for work, would you?", she said.
I could still feel the sweat on my forehead. She wiped it off. "Get ready!"
It must really have been a bad dream. I was glad she was there. I got up, and the day started as usual. I didn't discuss my horror with her in details, and continued with the day. And in the evening after work, when I was dreading to go back home, and hoping to find her in the house, she was still there. Like a lovely flower, that had just blossomed, and would never wither away. Until this day, I had never been so relaxed to see her. We had a lovely night - Of love and conversations.
And the next morning, the horror reigned my home again. She was gone.
And since then, this has been returning to me. Like the arm of a pendulum. One day swinging into happiness, and the other day diving into the dark horror. There would be days together when she would be around - like nothing ever happened, and then there would stretches of lonely days and nights. I would fear going home all alone to myself. The loneliness would haunt me. The house would haunt me. Her absence would haunt me.
I reach home, and there she is standing in the moonlit portico. Dressed in a lilac top, and a blue jeans. Her hazel eyes are complementing her brown hair. Long, straight brown hair. Her lean frame has never been a hindrance for her in overpowering me. How beautiful she is. Oh, that smile. It drives me crazy.
"Come here. Look at the sky. It's beautiful tonight. And the breeze is carrying the songs of love. Come here.", she said.
And I go straight to her. Not a word to speak, and embrace her in my arms. Pure peace. Pure joy. We spend hours looking at the sky, and talking. Of the stars, and the breeze, and the love that we share.
"How I wish we could lay like this in each other's arms forever!", I said, "I love you."
"I love you too, honey", she said as she turned sideways to wrap herself up in my arms.
And then there was silence. No sound except for the whispering of the silent winds. The sky glittered with a thousand stars.
"Who are they - the stars? Are they really there?", I wondered aloud.
"They are moments," she said, "of love and pain, of joy and grief, of company and solitude."
I looked at her as she continued to speak gazing at the sky.
"Look at them. They are in thousands.", she continued, "and if you connect them together, they make up a life. Your Life. My Life. Our Life. I wish there were a million more of them. Because then it would mean, we had a million more moments of togetherness."
"But do these moments really exist Anny?"
"Yes, honey. Just like the stars do. You can see them, feel them but you can't hold them. This conversation of ours Rob - is this real? And can you hold on to it? It's this moment that matters Rob, and I don't care if it's not real. What really matters is that we are with each other at this very moment. This would be another star tomorrow honey", she smiled.
And then we had some more conversation before we went inside to sleep. I held her tightly in my arms, afraid of losing her the next day. She kissed me, and said, "I am around you. I always will be."
The next day I woke up perplexed by the same dream. Anne was gone.
I would have looked around but in vain. I knew she wasn't there. I would have cursed myself for sleeping off, for letting her go. But I knew nothing would have helped. She had vanished, just the way she did every time before.
I got ready and went to the office for the client presentation. Had it not been for Stu, my assistant on the project, it would have gone awry. After the presentation, Stu came up to me and asked if I was alright. I couldn't mention anything to him, except that I wasn't feeling well.
"I am done for the day Stu. I will see you tomorrow.", I said as I lifted my laptop, and headed towards the lift.
I got into my car, and headed towards home when the words of Anne reverberated in my mind, "Don't forget your appointment with Dr. Reicken". I had to meet the doctor again and I hated it. But I had promised Anne, and I wouldn't hurt her. So, I took a U-turn, and went to the doctor's clinic.
The clinic looked the same like the previous visit. The same vase, same flowers, and the same brain image. But I had never seen it before in daylight, or at least I didn't remember so. The light suffocated me. There was something uncomfortable about it. As if it was unravelling a truth- one that I couldn't apprehend or rather didn't want to apprehend.
The receptionist wasn't expecting me at this hour, but the doctor seemed to be free, she said, and that I could meet him. So I went inside his room.
"Good Afternoon Rob", he said.
"It's very bright, Doctor. I don't like it.".
"I am sorry Rob. I didn't expect you here.", he said as he drew the curtains.
"You have been away for long Rob. How are you doing?"
"But I was here last evening doc!", I exclaimed.
"How have been Rob? Our last meeting wasn't particularly a comfortable one."
"Yes, I am sorry about last evening doc. I didn't meant to..."
"I am not talking about last evening Rob. You haven't been here for a month."
I was still perplexed, not knowing what to say.
"I need you to listen carefully to me Rob", Dr. Reicken said, as he said down next to me.
"The last time I tried, but you never stayed back to listen it entirely. I need you to focus."
And it all started spinning in my head. I somehow knew all that I was about to hear. Déjà vu
"Anne is gone Rob. She is no more. The two of you...", he paused, "You met an accident on the 20th of Jan. Its been four months. It was a major one. You had been in coma for a month Rob. Anne wasn't lucky enough. "
"Or the way I see it, she was fortunate of the two. So the pain resides with you, and you alone."
I knew all of it, I thought. Yet I also knew this was all a lie. Anne had been with me all through it, all these days.
"But Anne's there doc. She is very much there with me, if not all the time. She is there, I know"
"I do understand Rob. It's called Cognitive Dissonance. The mind, you see, my child, has a mapping. And this map tries to pull together pieces, to make things comfortable - to make the life livable. It rationalises things, and portrays them the way we want to see them. And it behaves in this fashion more adamantly when we meet a sudden trauma, something which is too much for us to take."
"What you see is not real Rob. Anne isn't there. She isn't coming back."
"What if this is not real doc? All of this. You?"
"Well, it's for you to perceive Rob. And see things."
"It's okay doc. I don't need to be helped.", I interrupted.
"But only you can help yourselves. I cannot."
"Thanks doc. I will get hold of myself.", I said, as I got up from the couch and walked towards the door..
"Rob", Dr. Reicken called as I was about to close the door behind me. I halted without looking back.
"You cannot always live a deluded life." I didn't respond.
As I got into my car, a plethora of vague thoughts rushed through my head. But I kept driving. Unaware of my surroundings. Unaware of the world. Unaware of my bodily existence. As if none of this was real. None of it existed. I must not have met the doc. A bad dream.
I was still lost when I reached home. I was pulling the bag out of my car, when I heard that voice. That one voice, which had meant everything to me, and that could soothe every inch of pain.
"Come on in, I had been waiting. All along."
"Me too honey," as I turned back. There she was. Long brown hair, and those lovely hazel eyes. In a short black dress. My world had been the same, I thought. Happy.
"How have you been", she asked as she kissed me.
"I am fine now", I replied smilingly.
And we went inside. Into our world. Unchanged. Undisturbed. Oblivious of anything beyond. Or behind.
"Can I take a quick shower", I asked.
"Sure do. But hurry. The dinner's waiting.", she said happily.
And happily I went into the shower. I tried to think of the accident but I couldn't remember any of it. I tried to look for any bruises on my head. None.
Was this not real? Was Anne not real? I did not know. What if the accident was my harsh reality? What if Anne never survived it? I could feel myself tremble and sweat under the shower which pierced like shrapnel through my body.
I did not want to think beyond it. I did not want to know.
The only thing I knew was that Anne was there with me at this very moment. And she had mentioned it to me, "It’s this moment that matters."
What happens beyond this moment is something that I can't control. But something that I can do is live this.
The doc said I will have to find out the truth. What if the truth is too much to bear?
There are times when we have to choose between truth and happiness.
And I chose Anne.
"Are you coming?", I heard her voice.
"Yeah, another minute."