The ticking keeps ringing but he can’t open his eyes to ask them to make it stop. He is numb from the waist down but he feels the pain in his ribs and every other part of him covered by skin. His heart is beating twice as fast but unfortunately, he is unable to open his eyes to keep everything calmer. That’s what his doctor said when he was first diagnosed with anxiety, “always open your eyes and marvel at the beauty of the world, anytime you are almost having a panic attack”… Now he doesn’t have the strength to.
He can feel her skin as she lies next to him.
By the soft breath emanating from her lips, he can tell she is fast asleep. Her breath is warm against the thin cloth covering his upper body. It lets the heat right through them. He wants to lift up his hand and brush her hair and in the same reach, brush off some strands that always find themselves on her face. A face he has looked at for more than a decade.
Growing up together, they shared dreams, she wanted to fly off and see the world, she dreamt and worked towards being a pilot and she finally conquered that fete. She became one of the youngest pilots to ever fly a Boeing jetliner in their small country. That made him proud. For him, he wanted to be a mechanical Engineer practicing abroad.
Because of fate’s grace, they managed to achieve their dreams, driven by their own efforts, connections of their parents and the belief that nothing was beyond reach. At the end of the day, they wanted to see the world together, him through the lens and her through his eyes. Having attended Ivy League Universities in their country standards meant they had had access to the best of education, networks and the right kind of environment to prosper.
They had been to hell and back together.
A hell characterized by heartbreak, broken dreams, long hours, worlds between them and finally the accident that robbed him of half his human nature. Through all those challenges, they had decided to take some time off. To relook at their partnership, re-evaluate where they were, and if possible, clear out the weeds that had grown in the paths they had fashioned.
The opportunities they had created.
The door opens and he hears someone coming in. He recognizes his mum’s spray and he makes an attempt at a smile. He faintly opens his eyes and the first thing he notices are the swollen eyes. He can tell she has been crying. Her eyes are red and puffy and she has a white handkerchief in her hands. One that looks soaked.
That breaks his heart, one that’s already at the verge of collapse. Even though the tubes coming in and out of his body block his vision, he can see her pain in as much as she tries to hide it in his presence. He sees the suffering she has undergone and he knows she is in greater pain than he is because mothers do that, suffer more when their kids are in pains.
That’s why they are placed second to God.
He turns his head slightly and sees Karen next to him. She has squeezed her tiny body on the space between his almost lifeless self and the bed frame. She seems to be at peace but he knows better than to make assumptions.
From the conversations, he has listened to in the past week or so, he knows that his time is almost up. He has been listening to the doctors give their doomed diagnosis which has brought a certain kind of peace to his heart. Initially, he wanted to fight the rot that was eating his life away but the will to do that has since been replaced by a sense of peace he hadn’t experienced since the crash happened as he was rushing to the airport to catch a flight.
He was scheduled to make a presentation to MIT students on his experience as a Mechanical engineer in a country where few of his kind existed and the cap on the icing was that Karen was the captain of the plane he was using for the flight to the US. It was the second time he would fly with her. The first time had been just after her admission.
He had been excited. In fact, he was thrilled and the thrill, adrenaline, and speed landed him here. He hadn’t seen the V8 coming. At the junction of Ring road and Riverside drive, some idiot had decided to jump the light as he was driving across from Westlands. The only thing he had noticed was the lights of an oncoming vehicle then silence.
Having been on his newly bought Yamaha R1 meant that he was the absorber of the shock that emanated from the collision. His body didn’t survive. His helmet was custom made and that’s what protected his head and his brain. His body died but his head survived.
That was a month ago.
Time for him to go is here and he can feel it from the depth of his being.
Something happens inside him and the machines start beeping ceaselessly. He hears some footsteps running into the room and feels the sudden waking of Karen and her departure from the bed. She is panicking and he can feel her soft sobs as she is led out of the room. His mother’s cologne is left lingering in the room together with the angel of death smiling down on him. The two represent two opposing sides of survival, both want him in one way or the other and he knows who will emerge victorious from this fight of wits.
He hates the thought of breaking the hearts of people who love him but he knows there is no other way around it. People will cry, Karen will be devastated, his mum will try to put on a brave face on behalf of everyone else but she will cry in her bedroom with his father watching helplessly. He will try to comfort her but the tears will be too hard for him to contain so some will fall but he will remain silent.
His house will remain untouched for a while.
Everyone will be afraid to go there, just to avoid the memory of him and his painful passing. The locks will gather dust, the curtains will acquire a shade of brown from the dusty summer, his fridge will stop humming when the lights are finally disconnected and his home theater will miss the soft sounds of the soul music he loved playing.
The pain that once burned like a fire had faded away to an icy numbness. Black filled the edges of his vision and the only thing he could hear was his own heartbeat. His breath came in ragged, shallow gasps. Seconds passed as he lay on his deathbed, the beeping sounds continuously blaring, once in a while interrupted by resuscitation efforts by the attending doctors.
They wanted to save him. If he could have, he would have told him the effort was lost on him. Surely they could tell that it was far too late for him to be saved, yet they were like children, naive to the darkness of the real world. The despair and suffering of the world that took people he cared about away from me. He would be joining them soon though. He would be able to leave all the pain behind. He could feel his fragile, human heartbeat one last time, struggling to remain sane when every other organ in his body had failed. It was struggling to keep him alive but he could feel its strength waning.
With death comes some strength, from a place no one can pinpoint and miraculously, he stabilizes and manages to open his eyes, faintly, but he can see everyone gathered in the room. There is his dad by his mum’s side, Karen, and her best friend Ivy. He has known the two for a long time, which looks like a few days at that moment. Karen’s eyes are clear as they’ve always been though he can tell she has had better days.
His mum is sitting on one leather couch in the room, his dad has taken the other, and Karen is sitting on the armrest of one of the couches, a handkerchief in hand and Ivy’s hand on her other hand. They all look confused and in pain. His mum is resting her face in her palms in a sign of despair and desolation.
He inhaled a trembling breath, sweat accumulating on his skin: icy cold. Death wasn’t as beautiful or peaceful as he had previously imagined, with his insides broken, damaged and destroyed, turning in on themselves and eating away at his insides, tearing away at the tissue there, leaving him but a rendered flab of dying cells.
His pain was comparable compared to the anguish of watching their agony at the thought of him ebbing away slowly, and them knowing there wasn’t much anyone could do to stop the fast-approaching end. He knew at one point they had to make peace with that fact. The fact that he had lived his life the best way he knew how he had been kind to strangers, he loved them to the moon and back and now his time was coming to an end.
He stretched his hand and summoned Karen to come over. They all milled around his bed and looked at each of them, one at a time.
‘I love you guys,’ he said then close his eyes for the last time.