I was going through some old writings and found a short story that I had written in a fever-induced fit of creativity back in college. I remember that we were having final exams that week. I woke up with a 102 fever in the middle of the night and wrote a story about a terminally ill author who has been told he only has six months to live. I literally wrote it on the back of the nearest piece of paper I could find. I woke up the next morning, feeling much better and looked at this and I was a little bit surprised. The legibility of the actual text notwithstanding, the story and the presentation were not half bad. I thought of fleshing it out into a longer piece but I never did - the fact that the length of the piece was reminiscent of the amount of time the protagonist had left somehow felt right. Anyway, enough behind the scenes drama. I reproduce below one of the most morbid (and cheesy, if you don't like this sort of stuff) pieces of fiction I have ever written.
[Update: Just found out that this story also has been published on blogchaat. A big thank you to the kind folks there ! ]
Indignation is what I feel first of all. That, followed by nausea, fear, pain ... and then nothing - a void. I stagger out of the doctor's room, into the waiting room. I almost collide with a young boy - he looks up at me and smiles. Then he sees something in my face - something I can't, may be for the better - and runs away to where his mother is sitting. I see a father bending down on his knees and putting a spoon in his daughter's mouth. Have I ever fed Arpana like that ? I can recall nothing.
Six months. That would make Arpu six and a half. The thought of Arpu makes me smile. Ever since she turned five and could just barely understand what it was her father did, it was impossible to make her stop bragging about it. "Papa is a writer. He just won the pooleeter award !!". I would laugh and try to correct her. "No, Arpu, that's Pulitzer." She would nod, exasperated, and then run away to find the next one. What would she tell everybody six months from now ? "Papa was a writer. He had won the pooleeter award !!". And then the inevitable questions would follow. "What happened ? How old was he ? I am so sorry !" These would be directed not at Arpu, but at Meera, who would then ask Arpu to go and play outside. I think that'd be the routine until Arpu grew up - old enough to understand the abrupt - six month, to be exact - transition from the present tense to the past.
No, I say to myself. I must take this like a man ! Face up to it ! Fight it ! Suddenly everything in my stomach rushes up and out - "the man" lies on the floor, indistinguishable from the blood or the remains of my breakfast. The nurse runs up to me and asks me to lie down on one of the couches. She tells me half an hour later, when I am sitting up, that I was delirious. I kept laughing and mumbling "There goes your man !" Probably something from my ongoing book, I try to explain. She nods sympathetically as she walks me out.
I lie awake in bed at night. The light probably hurts Meera's eyes but I still keep the lamps on. Somehow, at this moment, darkness symbolizes more than just loss of sleep to me. I try to remember Mamma. Her hands. The hands that were successful in driving away every ailment - until this one happened. I try to remember Papa and Didi and their hands. I can't. I get out of bed and pick up the old family album from the shelf. I come across one family photo ... no hands. I start looking for another one, turning the pages frantically. My stomach rebels again and I rush into the bathroom and close the door. Dinner with blood. "Recurrent vomiting of blood" - yes, that was one of the projected symptoms. The clock is ticking. Not much longer now.
I make a mental note to see my lawyer in the morning. Meera shouldn't have to struggle. Arpu must continue with her violin lessons. I am roused out of my reverie by Arpu's voice. I step out of the bathroom. She is telling Meera that she can't sleep in her room. Can she sleep with us ? Of course, you can, dear. Then she sees me and her eyes light up. "Papa, Papa, did you know that I said Pulitzer right today ? It just came to me." I smile and tell her that's great. That's one item off the checklist. Then, as if remembering something, she says, "Papa, we had a life sciences class today. The teacher told us about the life cycle. I don't get it. Why do peoples die ?". I am about to correct her, "No, Arpu, that's people. Not peoples." I don't. I just sit there, the tears in my eyes obscuring her pretty face. Yes, why do they, Arpu ? I wish someone would tell me something I could tell you.