01 Feb Don’t Let her See my Face
A woman is trapped in a dark, unknown and a strange place haunted by her thoughts and the memories of her past until a stranger arrives to help.
Reading time: 34.695 minutes.
Inspired by INCEPTION
Why is it so dark in here? She thought. Why is it so, she looked around, quiet and deserted? She was walking down a street which looked familiar. There wasn’t anyone else and there was not a single light but everything was still visible. Where is this light coming from? She wondered. Everything was glowing with an ambience that it was difficult to locate the source of light. It looked like the time of evening when there is no sun in the sky but everything still glows with light reflecting off the red sky except the sky was dark. Pitch black, no stars either. She had no idea where she was or who she was. She walked further on the street and reached the intersection. There were no street lights or traffic lights, there was not a single living thing in sight. It looked like the whole city or the entire country was deserted.
She stood in the middle of the road. Confused and scared. Then she remembered it. She was here but when? A few moments ago or a decade? She couldn’t place it in her memory but she was sure that she had been at this place before. She remembered that she stood right there and, she looked around, there was a light, she tried to remember. Yes, there definitely was light, more like a beam and as she remembered, a beam of white light shot at her, she had only turned around and had just caught a glimpse of the SUV speeding towards her when everything went dark.
The sun was high in the sky but it was still very cold because of the strong cold winds. It was a bright day of the winter, very rare. It was a day to go out in the park and play so she was out with her daughter taking a day off from everything. Her daughter was laughing and playing while she sat on the welcoming grass looking at her daughter, her world, her happiness. She was trying to capture the moment because it was very difficult to get one of those, was trying to get hold of it so she could remember it forever but it looked like the moment was slipping away because the sun hid behind the clouds which just appeared in the sky out of nowhere. They both started running.
“Quick, under the shed!” she shouted.
She heard the clouds thunder, the raindrops hit the ground and screeching sound of a vehicle approaching her very fast. A light beam shone, she turned back and everything went dark, again.
She was out on the terrace, smoking a cigarette. Her house was crowded with people but for her, it was empty. The whole world now seemed empty and deserted. She couldn’t get those pictures out of her mind that the officer had just shown her to identify the body. How could the officer expect her to identify a body that mutilated? It was a small dress and the school bag, drenched in blood that she could recognise. She started crying. The tears blurred her vision. Her heart ached with unbearable pain and then she heard it again, a beam of white light fell on her back. What? She thought. On the terrace? But how? She turned and saw the SUV rocketing towards her. She did nothing. Come on, she thought, I don’t wanna live anymore. She stretched her arms wide open and closed her eyes. This time she felt it. The bonnet of the SUV hit her ribs. She fell in an endless dark pit.
She was back in the street walking towards the intersection. The sky was still dark but everything was still glowing. It all felt like a dream. She couldn’t understand why it was happening or what it even was. She ran and stopped in the middle of the road again. She looked around. No movements. No sound. Then all of a sudden,
“WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH ME?” she screamed on top of her lungs.
The words died instantly. The sound travelled through the surroundings without creating an echo, like there was nothing there. And then she heard it again. The revving engine of the SUV, which was headed straight towards her. She put her hand on her eyes to shield them from the blinding light. Now the SUV was just a few feet away from her. There was no time to do anything, she waited for the collision but it never happened.
The sound and the light faded away. She opened her eyes and saw the back of a man who had his hand stretched out in front of him. It looked like he had just flicked away the SUV. He wore a dark sweater on a plain white shirt and light brown trousers. His black shoes blended with the dark street. She looked at the man who then turned and smiled at her.
“Finally, I found you!” he said.
“What is this place? What is happening? Who are you?” she asked all three questions in a single go then she paused and thought for a second and then, “Who am I?” she added.
“Woah. Woah, slow down! I thought you would have figured it out by now!” he began, “Okay, your name is Niorun, I am Doctor Vivek Rastogi.”
She heard ‘Niorun’ and something happened. She heard the name again and again like a million times in different voices. She remembered every single time somebody had called her. Okay, that’s one thing. She thought. But where am I?
“What is this place?”
Doctor’s smile vanished. He looked at her with concerned eyes.
“Uh- I don’t know how to say this. This-” he looked around, “-is your mind.”
“Yes, you are in a coma!”
“What are you talking about?”
“The SUV that keeps chasing you was the one that hit you. This is the exact spot where that happened.”
“Is that why I keep coming here?”
“You keep coming here?”
The doctor went into deep thoughts. She tried to remember the accident but she couldn’t. She couldn’t remember anything except her name that now she knew.
“Yes. I don’t know why but I keep coming here. Is this what being in a coma feels like?”
“Don’t know, never been in one.” Doctor replied.
“So this is all in my mind?”
“Yes. These are all just fragments of your memory.”
“Oh- so uh- are you also a fragment of my memory?” she hesitated to ask that question like it was offensive to call someone a fragment of your memory.
“Oh no. No. I have come here to- “ he hesitated too, “-to get you out of here.”
“So you are a different person? Like in- in real life?”
“Yes. I know it sounds a little strange.”
A little? She thought.
“Wait a minute- if this is all inside my mind then how is it possible for you to-“ she didn’t finish her question. She didn’t know how to.
“Well- it’s uh- it’s complicated. I made a device.”
“What kind of device?”
Before the doctor could answer, the beam of light shot on them, again. The doctor rolled his eyes.
“Oh- this again.” he snorted. “Let’s get somewhere we can talk.”
He then grabbed her hand and everything swirled around them like it was made of colloids suspended in a fluid. When the smoke reshaped itself again, it was a sunny day. They were in a field. The wind was calm. Niorun felt a wave of comfort mediate through her body. The doctor took a few steps ahead, let the air out of his lungs, stretched his arms, closed his eyes and faced the sun, feeling the same wave travel through his body too.
“Is this one of my memories too? I don’t remember it. Though I can’t seem to remember anything.”
“No. This one’s mine. I grew up around here.” The doctor smiled and pointed towards the lonely road, ” Down that road is my parents’ house. I used to come here to sit or play.”
Niorun wasn’t listening.
“Wait? Your memory? You said it was my mind.”
“No you see, that dark one, the quiet and all dead, that was your mind. This is my memory.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I know. I said it was complicated. There’s a lot to explain but I don’t know where to start.”
“How is this even possible? And what about that device you were talking about?”
Niorun was confused as hell but the doctor jumped because he had got the solution.
“Yes. The device. That’s a good place to start. Come on, let’s sit down here.”
He sat down beside the road, tucking his knees under his elbows. Niorun sat beside him crossing her legs.
“I have built a device that forms a connection between two people’s brains.”
“What? You know it sounds-“
“I know what it sounds like. Just bear with me.” He began. “ About ten years ago, I met a man who could read minds.”
Niorun had a lot of questions about that sentence alone but the doctor had asked her to be patient so she kept listening without saying anything or asking any questions.
“I was practising lucid dreaming. It’s a state where you know while dreaming that it’s a dream. With enough practice, you could control your dreams. Explore your dreams and memories. I was so fascinated by this idea. I was curious to understand how the human mind works. Then I heard about this man who knew a lot about the human mind. He had the ability to look inside people’s minds. And not like a trick of a magician or a mentalist, but real mind reading. I travelled to the north to meet this man. The locals there called him ‘The Man Who Knows Everything’. I met him and the instance he laid eyes on me, he learned everything about me. It was like he had lived my life. I didn’t even have to tell him who I was or why I had come. He said he got his powers because the spirit of his dead sister was living inside him. I don’t know if he was telling the truth, honestly, I didn’t even care. I spent quite a lot of time with him. He told me things. He helped me understand the human brain to the extent that no institute could have done.
“You know when we try to comprehend the human brain we always compare it with a computer hard drive. Like how in a hard drive memories or files stay in their place and the reader, the magnetic head moves around to access what is needed at the moment but our brain doesn’t work like that and it’s not the opposite of it either. Actually, nothing stays in place in the mind. Everything keeps moving. Our memories are stored in what you can understand as layers. And the magnetic head is like our active thinking, or our consciousness, like you and me here. Whenever a memory is accessed, it comes on top of all the others. So those which are accessed frequently, those you remember again and again like your happy memories stay on top and the ones you don’t remember frequently or you don’t wanna remember like your most embarrassing moment and irrelevant information you never need, are pushed deep down.
“This helped me immensely in my lucid dreaming and my understanding of the human brain. I spend the next ten years of my life working on this device with my partner. I thought that the people who are in a coma can be brought back by using this device. This would change the future of medical science.
He stopped for a few seconds, looking away at the horizon thinking about something.
“And that’s how I came here. I connected both of our brains to this device. It took me a lot of time to find you in that darkness but I found you. I’m gonna take you out, back to the surface.”
He looked at Niorun who was still confused and had a lot of questions. She ignored all of them except the one.
“How are you gonna do it?”
“I have an idea.”
He stood up, dusted his clothes and offered a hand to Niorun. She took his hand and pulled herself up too. The doctor started walking on the road. Niorun followed.
“The way I see it, you are lost in the dark corners of your mind and you can’t find your way to the surface. So to get you back up there I just have to take you to your happiest memory. Like this one is mine.” He said excitedly.
“You can take me there?”
“Yes. I can take you to any of your memories but you have to tell me what it is. So try to remember your happiest memory.”
“But I can’t remember anything.”
“Just focus. Close your eyes and focus.”
“Focus on what?”
She stopped and closed her eyes but nothing happened.
“Try to remember something. Give me anything. Anything you can remember.”
She tried too hard. Come on, anything, she thought. She put all of her energy and willpower into remembering anything she could. There was nothing but darkness.
“I can’t remember anything.” She said.
“Just say the first thing you can think of.”
She was going to say ‘What?’ but she didn’t. Something happened. A little spark ignited in her mind and her heart. She didn’t know how that happened. She opened her mouth and a word came out.
Rose? Why did I say that? She wondered. But the doctor knew why.
Niorun opened her eyes. She looked at the doctor who seemed to be in his thoughts. He then looked at her and said,
“Your daughter. You remembered.” and then he smiled.
Yes. How could she forget that? She thought. That spark took the shape of a ten years old girl. Her mind flooded with all the memories of that cute face. Laughing, crying, sad, scared, happy, curious, angry. Niorun began to cry and laugh at the same time.
“Yes. Of course. She is my happiness. Every moment spent with her is my happiest memory.”
And then she remembered the bright day of the winter and their little picnic to the park. She had never been happier in her life. She looked at the doctor.
“I got it.”
“What is it?”
“It was the day of the winters. I had skipped work and we went to the park. We weren’t expecting rain but it rained. Our lunch that I packed was ruined so later we went for pizza. We enjoyed that day. That was the happiest day of my life.”
“Okay then let’s go.”
The doctor grabbed Niorun’s arm and everything around them dissolved into tiny particles which swirled past them with the speed of light. They were in an infinite tunnel of lights and colours. When everything stopped they were standing in the park.
It took Niorun a second to recognize the park. She looked around and saw herself sitting in the grass and her daughter playing, running around her. Her heart filled with warmth as she saw her daughter. She couldn’t stop the tears of joy. How did she forget that little angel, her world? But that wasn’t how she remembered it, she thought.
“Wait- how can I see myself in my memory?”
“Oh, that’s just your brain creating this scene for you. I mean when you were sitting facing the street, you weren’t looking at the tree behind you but you HAD seen the tree earlier or whenever. Your brain is using all the pieces from your memories to fill in the details. That’s probably not how yourself looked like at that time either. I mean you couldn’t possibly have known how the back of your head or your face looked like but that’s your brain imagining how you would have looked.”
She looked around. The people in the park or out on the street didn’t have faces. It was just a blur where the features like eyes, nose and lips should’ve been.
“Why don’t all those people have faces?”
“Because you don’t remember them.”
“Then why isn’t my brain filling those details too?”
“It can’t. Even in our dreams, our brain cannot form faces. All the people we see in our dreams are the persons that we saw in real life. Since you are in a coma, you don’t remember any faces from your real life.”
“Is this a dream? You said it was a memory”
“It is. In fact, every dream is just a memory. Manipulated, broken down, pieced together but everything we see in our dreams is essentially formed by our memories and imagination.”
“It is so confusing.”
“I know. A lot of things don’t make any sense in our dreams. Like time. Our subconscious doesn’t understand time. Look at your watch. What time is it?”
This was the first time she noticed her watch. She looked at it. It was thirty minutes past five.
“five-thirty? How can it be five-thirty?”
“It isn’t. Your brain doesn’t understand it. It’s just filling in the details from your memories. Look again.”
She looked at her watch again. It was Nine ‘o’ clock.
“See. Look again.”
“Seven twenty-five? How?”
“We never look at our watches for too long. We never see them moving. We just take a look at intervals and see different times and all those images are all that we remember. So our brain picks any image out of them to fill in.”
“You sure know a lot about it.”
“I’ve spent a big chunk of my life just sleeping and dreaming.”
“So what now?”
“We are in your happiest memory. We ought to be at the surface. If this works your consciousness will pull itself up. You will remember everything.”
“But how would I know it worked?”
“You see that darkness at the horizon.” The doctor said pointing at the far end of their vision. “That’s because you don’t remember anything else besides this. Those corners will light up and they are your memories, you’ll know when you will remember everything.”
They both stood there waiting for the light. Niorun looked at her daughter playing. They seemed to enjoy their time. It cheered her up a little. She waited but nothing happened except,
-the sun hid behind the clouds which just appeared in the sky out of nowhere. Large droplets of icy cold water started falling on the grass. Everyone started running.
“Quick, under the shed.” Niorun heard herself shouting.
Everyone was struggling to find a shelter from the cold winter shower but they were all still laughing. It was like an adventure added to their already happy day. Niorun and her daughter looked at their lunch box filling up with the water then looked at each other and burst into laughter. The rain couldn’t ruin their happiness. Everyone was happy. A couple covered themselves with the mat they were sitting on. Rest were running to their cars or nearby cafes or restaurants for shelter. One man didn’t even try to run. He just stood under the tree behind Niorun and her daughter.
“Anything?” asked the doctor.
Niorun looked at him and shook her head. Despair covered his face. He flicked his hand and the park dissolved. They were now standing in the darkness.
“Why didn’t it work? It should have worked.” The doctor said to himself.
“What happened?” Niorun asked.
“I don’t know.”
“But you know everything.”
The doctors opened his mouth to say something but he couldn’t think of anything. He didn’t even try to hide the disappointment on his face. Niorun was eager after seeing her daughter.
“Come on doctor. Think of something else.”
The doctor didn’t reply. He didn’t even look at Niorun.
“Please. Do something. I wanna see my daughter.”
Vivek jerked his head up. He looked at Niorun with confusion. Then he realized something.
“Oh, you haven’t remembered it yet.”
The doctor struggled for words.
“Niorun, your daughter- she uh- um-“ It looked like he didn’t want to say it but he did anyway, “-your daughter died. She was killed six months ago.”
Another corner in Niorun’s memory which was covered in darkness until now lit up. Yes. I remember it now. She thought. How could I have possibly forgotten that? She remembered seeing those pictures. She remembered how it was all that she had been thinking about for the past six months.
She fell on the dark ground. Tears started falling from her eyes.
“Rose. No. Rose. Rose.”
The doctor couldn’t gather enough courage to do anything to stop Niorun. He could still understand each word coming out of blubbering Niorun’s mouth.
“How could I forget that? My daughter. My everything. Rose. How did I forget that? It’s all I had been thinking about all the time. Oh, Rose. Rose. Rose. Rose.”
Niorun gradually went to whimpering and then just sobbing but she didn’t move at all. She was on her knees and her head was on the ground. She looked miserable. Vivek slowly sat beside her. Placed his hand on her shoulder. He finally understood why his idea had not worked.
“Niorun, I- I think I know why it didn’t work.”
Niorun looked up with swollen red eyes and dried tears on her face.
“You have been thinking about your daughter’s death. That would be on the surface. All of your happy memories were pushed deep down. I think- I think that’s your way out. I think I can get you out.”
“Out? What is out anymore?” Niorun was talking to herself, “What is left for me out there? I might as well stay here and die.”
“Niorun, you can’t say that. You have to come out.”
“I’m not going anywhere. You just leave me here and go.”
“You can’t stay here Niorun.”
“Why not? My daughter is dead. I wanna die too. So tell me, doctor, why can’t I stay here?”
“Because you won’t die.”
Niorun didn’t say anything. She was waiting for the doctor to explain just like he explained everything else.
“This is not the afterlife. It’s not death. You are trapped in your mind. You can’t stay here because it will be worse than dying. You’ll be here forever and all that you’ll remember is your daughter’s death. All that you will feel is sadness. It will be an eternity of pain and suffering.”
“Pain? Suffering? Do you even know what is pain? What is suffering?” Niorun said looking at the doctor. “You just care about your great invention and changing the history and the future of medical science and all the praise you will get and all the prizes you will receive.”
The doctor didn’t say anything. What could he say after this? He just kept listening.
“You know everything about brain and- and dreams but what do you know about suffering? Tell me, doctor, what do you know about the pain of losing someone?”
The doctor’s face looked like he had just swallowed something bitter.
“Everything.” He replied.
Niorun looked at him with a dead expression. She couldn’t have expected him to say that.
“I once lost someone too.” The doctor said.
“I- I’m- I’m sorry.” Niorun stuttered. The doctor nodded.
“I know the pain. And I know what it can do to you. How it turns you.”
“Who did you lose?” asked Niorun.
Niorun felt terribly sorry about her behaviour. But there was nothing she could do or say. She just waited. The doctor, on the other hand, was now lost in his thoughts. He started speaking but it looked like he was talking to himself.
“He had been working with me on the project for the past seven years. We built the device together. When it was completed we were so excited that we threw caution out of the window. We jumped in together. We were so thrilled to find that it was working. But when we came back out, only I woke up. He didn’t.
“As soon as I detached him from the device, he dropped dead. I tried to wake him up. I connected him back, I looked everywhere in the darkness of his dying mind but I couldn’t find him.”
It was Niorun’s turn now to console him. She put her on his shoulder and pressed gently.
“But what happened?” She asked.
“There was a bug in the device. I fixed it later but I had lost my friend and my partner just because of a moment of my carelessness. It was all my fault.”
“Don’t blame yourself.”
“I don’t want any praise or awards. I came here to save you because I thought if I could do something good with the device if I could help someone. Maybe I’ll get over his death.”
“You will,” Niorun said smiling at the doctor. “Now what was that you were saying, how can you get me out?”
The doctor didn’t say anything.
“Come on Vivek! Do it for your partner.”
He took a deep breath in and stood up. Niorun did too.
“Your happier memories are pushed down because you were thinking about your daughter’s death so that’s the one which should be on the top, on the surface. Do you remember it?”
“Yes. That’s all I remember now. Two days after she went missing, an officer brought some pictures of the body of a child they had found. They showed me the pictures to confirm if that was my- I was in my apartment. My friends and some people from work were there too.”
The doctor did what he had done the last time. He grabbed her arm and they both disappeared as they merged into the darkness around them.
It was awfully quiet even when the whole apartment was crowded with people. Their faces were all blurred. The only visible face was that of Niorun’s. She was sitting on the couch. It looked like she hadn’t slept at all for a few days. Her eyes were tired but still eager, impatiently waiting for something. The doctor and Niorun stood in a corner. They were waiting too. And then, the doorbell rang. Niorun jumped from the couch. The person who was closest to the door opened it. It was the officer. His face was blurred too.
“Any news officer?” Niorun asked impatiently.
“I’m afraid a bad one. We’ve found a body. We can’t identify the victim. I have some pictures of the crime scene where the body was dumped. We need your help. Can you look at these? See if you recognize anything.”
The officer took out some pictures and handed them to her. She shuffled through them hoping that she wouldn’t recognize anything but she did. It was the picture of a school bag. The next picture was of a small, torn up frock. Both school bag and the dress were covered in blood. Niorun put a hand on her mouth and looked away immediately. Her eyes were filled with tears. She was trying not to cry. She didn’t want to believe it. But there it was, before her eyes, the proof that her daughter was no more. The doctor looked at Niorun that stood right beside him. She was in tears too. The person who had opened the door was now consoling Niorun who had started crying uncontrollably.
“I’m sorry.” The officer said. His face was blurred but his voice had a tone of sympathy. He had to do his job. “We are taking statements from potential witnesses. We may have a sketch of the suspect. Have you seen this man before?”
He took out a sketch of a man. He had very short hair and his face seemed sunken. It looked like he might be very skinny. Niorun barely looked at the sketch and shook her head. The doctor looked at the sketch and,
“Hey, how do you remember that face?” he said but then he looked up and saw that everybody’s face was now visible. He tapped Niorun’s elbow. “Hey, you are remembering back. It worked.”
Niorun saw that the apartment had changed a bit. As she remembered it back, things started to look clearer. She could now see the city outside the window.
“Thank you for your help. We’ll do everything we can, to catch the culprit. I’m leaving a copy of the sketch in case you remember anything.”
The officer left. The doctor walked around the room and came back to Niorun and asked.
“So? Can you remember anything else?”
“No. Just this. But what happened now? I thought it worked.”
“Maybe not. But I was right. You DID remember something. We are closer to the surface.”
“But how do we get there?”
“I- I don’t know.”
The crying Niorun controlled herself. She picked up a pack of cigarettes and walked out.
“Where are you going?” The doctor asked.
“I was going to the terrace to smoke a cigarette. I wanted to be alone.” Niorun said carelessly because she was now focusing on the sketch that was lying on the table. “I remember this man.”
“You do? Who is he?”
“I don’t know but I had seen this man before.”
“Then why didn’t you say something to the officer?”
“I wasn’t sure. I had just found out about my daughter. I was devastated. I thought that maybe I was just making myself believe that I knew this man so I could do something to help catch him. That’s why I didn’t say anything.”
“But you do remember him?”
“Yes. I had seen him before. But I can’t remember where.”
Niorun was asking herself, trying to remember where she had seen that man before. The doctor just stood there, puzzled but waiting.
“Where? Where?” Niorun said to herself. Then suddenly she remembered. She remembered that sunken face, those short hair and she remembered a striped white and purple t-shirt.
“Yes. He was standing behind me. In the park that day. I had seen him standing there even before the rain started.”
She then turned and looked at the man standing under the tree. He wore a striped white purple t-shirt and he was smiling. The doctor was just shocked by the memory changing so fast that he almost lost his balance. He stumbled but controlled himself then he turned to Niorun.
“How did you do that?”
Niorun ignored him. She was now walking towards the man.
“He was here. Stalking us. He had been following us. He had his eyes on Rose. Why didn’t I notice that? How did I miss him?”
Niorun’s face was now just an inch from his. She was looking at him with such anger and hatred that doctor wondered how that man was still smiling. He was looking at the other Niorun sitting on the grass and Rose, playing around her.
“But that’s not it.” Niorun turned to the doctor and said. “I had seen him even before this. I remember thinking that when I saw him here. But where?”
Niorun was in her thoughts again. She was trying to remember. She turned and the memory changed again. They were now on the terrace. The doctor almost lost his balance again. Niorun turned again and again and again. The scene kept changing every time she turned away.
A classroom. A younger Vivek was standing in front and everyone was applauding.
A drawing-room. Vivek and a man were laughing watching the TV.
A lighthouse. Vivek who was covered in snow had just entered and he saw a young man in front of him whose face was covered in the dense beard. He smiled.
Niorun turned away. They were back in the field. The doctor’s happy place. He finally got his balance back.
“How are you doing this? It took me years to learn to do this. Anyway, you won’t find him here. These are my memories.” He shouted.
Niorun didn’t listen to him. She kept turning. They were now on the terrace. Then they were in complete darkness. And then Niorun turned away and they were in a private room of a hospital. She was about to turn again but she stopped. She looked around. There were two beds in the room. Every blind was closed. The door was shut too. She walked closer between the beds and she saw herself lying on the right bed and the doctor on the left one. They both were wearing what looked like a helmet. There was a table between the two beds and a large black cuboidal box was lying on the top of it. Two cables protruded out of the box from each side and extended to the beds where they split up into tens of wires and were connected to the helmets they both were wearing.
“Yes.” The doctor answered before she could finish her question.
Niorun looked around.
“How long I’ve been in here?”
Niorun sat down on the bed Vivek was lying. She seemed hopeless.
“I don’t think it’s gonna work. You should go. Just leave me here.”
The doctor didn’t say anything. He was in agreement with her. He just hung his head down and said,
“I thought I could do it. I wanted to do it for my partner. That’s who I was thinking about when I went into the dev-“
He suddenly froze and stopped talking. Niorun looked at him. He had just realized something.
“That’s it.” He said looking up to Niorun. “I got it.” He was excited.
Niorun stood up from the bed.
“What?” She asked.
“I know why it didn’t work. You see, your surfaces thoughts are not your happy or sad memories. It’s what you were thinking about at the time of the accident.”
Niorun understood what he was trying to say.
“We have to go back to the memory of the accident. That’s why you kept going there. Your brain was trying to help you get back. We couldn’t understand it.”
Niorun looked at the doctor like she didn’t want to turn away without his permission this time but the doctor nodded in agreement. Niorun then closed her eyes, turned, and opened them back.
She was on the street.
She tried to remember. The doctor was following her silently.
“It was evening.”
As she said that, a small area around her illuminated with streetlight. The rest was still in dark. She looked down on the road at her shadow. She started walking to the intersection. As she walked forward the street began illuminating like she was a light source and wherever her light touched, it lit up the memory. She was now at the intersection.
“I was going back home from the office. But it was on my left.” She pointed towards the left. “Then why were I in the middle of the road?”
She walked and stopped in the middle of the road. A white beam of light fell upon her from the right. But she wasn’t looking right, her eyes were fixed on the store at the other side of the road whose front had just been illuminated. It was a kids store.
“I was going to that store.”
“Because I had just remembered something.”
She walked into the store and though it was night outside but the store was lit up with sunlight coming through windows. It was a bright day. The doctor concluded that they have entered in another memory – Niorun’s memory of the store.
The store was filled with toys and kids supplies for school. There was an old man sitting behind the counter playing a video game on his smartphone. Then he looked up at the door which had just opened and closed. Niorun and the doctor turned too.
“Ah, good morning. A beautiful day isn’t it? How can I help you?” Asked the old man.
“Good morning. We need a school bag. She just ripped hers by accident.” Said Niorun who was trying to hold a torn school bag in one of her hands and the tiny hand of her daughter in the other one who looked excited just to be in a store full of toys.
“Oh- it’s okay. We have very beautiful school bags.” Said the old man. Then he turned and shouted. “HEY! YOU BOY! WHERE HAVE YOU GONE OFF TO?”
The door to the back of the store opened and a man walked in. He was very skinny, had short hair, a sunken face and he wore a striped white and purple t-shirt.
Both Niorun’s and Vivek’s hearts stopped for a moment. They felt like they were watching that man from the opposite end of a long tunnel. His voice echoed through the tunnel when he spoke.
“Yes, how can I help you? Oh hi there.” He smiled and waved at Rose. He spoke in a very sweet and kind tone. “I see you need a new school bag. Just a moment.”
He disappeared behind the aisles.
The doctor didn’t know what to say. He looked at Niorun who had tears streaming down her face.
“That’s where he spotted her. I took her there myself.”
She just stood there watching the man bring a collection of school bag, and her daughter jumping on the sight of them. The doctor, however, was distracted by the noise of the traffic. He looked outside. It was like he was actually there. It didn’t feel like a memory anymore. Everything was clearer.
“Niorun! It worked! You remembered!”
“Oh, I remembered alright.” She said calmly. “ I walked my daughter to her predator myself.”
She turned and walked out of the store. She didn’t have any idea where she was going. The doctor caught up to her and grabbed her arm.
“But you know him now. You know where he works. You can get him.”
Niorun turned. This was when she thought of that.
“You can go now. You have to go. Your daughter needs justice.”
“But how do I go?”
“Just wake up.”
Niorun looked at Vivek with gratitude and smiled with tears filled eyes. She hugged him. When they separated, the doctor just smiled and started walking backwards. Niorun looked at him with confusion.
“Where are you going? Wait- aren’t you coming with me?”
“Because I can’t.”
Niorun was just as confused as she was when she first met him
“What are you talking about? I remembered everything. Let’s go.”
“No. Only one of us can get out.”
“What are you saying? Why only one of us?”
“Because I lied. I never fixed the bug. I couldn’t. I tried everything. Every way I could but nothing worked. I couldn’t even understand what the bug was.”
“What? You lied? Then why’d you come here? You put your life in danger.”
“It is worth it. I told myself if I could save even one life, I’ll do it. Now that I know I not only saved you but I helped to bring justice to your daughter. It is totally worth it.”
“But how can I go now? How would I live with the fact that my life cost yours?”
“Don’t worry. You won’t remember me.”
This was another shocking revelation for Niorun. She now lost it.
“What the hell are saying? Why not?”
“Come on Niorun. You were in a coma. You wouldn’t remember anything.”
“But that’s even worse. How can I forget you? Is there any way I could remember all this?”
The doctor thought for a few seconds.
“There might be.” He said.
“If you ever see my face out there, you might remember me and thus all of this.”
Niorun finally smiled.
Vivek smiled in return. Then he disappeared. Niorun knew that he must’ve gone to his happy place. She closed her eyes and then opened them back.
She saw nothing but darkness. But she felt it. She was lying on a soft and warm bed. She sat up and removed the thing she was wearing on her head. Where am I? She wondered. She then heard someone running out and shouting in the corridor.
“She is up. She is up. She woke up.”
It was a nurse. Before Niorun could do anything a doctor and a nurse came running in. A whole crowd gathered in the corridor outside the room. In the commotion, Niorun couldn’t see the nurse who dragged the adjacent bed out along with the person who was lying on it.
That evening when everyone in the hospital was talking about the woman who woke up from a coma, fewer people were talking about the demise of Dr Vivek Rastogi but even fewer knew a secret. Two nurses were talking about the whole incident in the pantry. There was no one else.
“You were on the watch duty? I’ve heard that the doctor knew he wouldn’t wake up, is that true?” One of them asked the other under her breath.
“Yes. He told me himself before going to bed wearing that thing. He asked me to drag him out of there straight to the morgue as soon as she wakes up and he said one more thing.”
“What? What did he say?” The first one asked curiously. Her eyes were glimmering with eagerness.
“He said – ‘Whatever you do, don’t let her see my face!’”
Njörun (Old Norse: Njǫrun, sometimes modernly anglicized as Niorun) is the Norse Goddess of dreams.
Vivek (Hindi: विवेक, /vɪveɪk/) translates to ‘Prudence’.
Niorun will return in the tale ‘Dreamscape’ on September 30. Meanwhile read the story of the mind reader, Why I Prefer the Dark.
Remembering Chadwick Boseman,
our beloved T’challa, King, our Black Panther.
You will always be in our hearts.
Rest in peace.