My mother died five months ago. My father died four months ago. My wife died a month ago.
I look at Kate’s photograph on the bedside table. Her face is narrow, like a shadow, the sort that can slip under a keyhole. Her eyes stare back at me.
I’ll tell the truth. My wife isn’t dead, yet. She’s comatose.
It’s typical of Kate to be undecided. She got cold feet a week before our wedding. She wanted to move to Mumbai from Connecticut, and now she hates it. I know her brain killed her for forty seconds from an aneurysm, but I wish for once she’d make up her mind.
The doctor reassured me that there’s little hope, as if hope can be big or little, like a person. The problem is that if Kate grabs this little hope to live, she’d be a vegetable, and I’d have to take care of her. Me, who thinks that myopia is a kind of handicap.
“Screw you,” I say, and put Kate’s photo down.
The digital clock is blinking its red numbers: 2 p.m., 16 Aug, Wednesday. I stretch languidly in the bed. I don’t have to get ready for work. My consulting company has put me on indefinite – and paid – leave, for my “indescribable loss”, as HR wrote. In fact, I may never have to work again. I’ve inherited my parent’s four-bedroom apartment in Worli. I have a rich stock market uncle, my mother’s brother, who is taking care of Kate’s hospital bills, and some of mine. He’s never found use for his money, except now, to live in apology of it.
Aliya, my downstairs neighbor, will be here shortly, to fulfill her duty as one of my many sympathizers, though none of my other sympathizers have a mouth like a liquid feather bed, breasts like paddling pools and legs long enough to wrap around me. I’d desired her eight years ago, when she was fourteen, her beauty already fitting into tight dresses. I thought of her during random moments in America, on a hot day when I licked an ice-cream cone in Central Park or stood in the subway train with bodies pressed against mine. On coming back to India with my plain blonde American wife, I noticed Aliya’s raven beauty: full, sparkly and bold.
“You poor thing,” she’d said, coming home one evening after Kate was hospitalized. She put her arms around me. Her breasts pressed against my chest. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
I pulled away, ready to burst from my pent-up lust. She saw tears in my eyes and mistook my lust for grief. She kissed my cheeks and my lips. Now, every Wednesday and Saturday, when her parents are at the Wellington Club playing a few rounds of rummy, she comes home to play a few rounds of sex.
I take a cold shower. I bathe on days that Aliya’s coming, but the hunger for Aliya reaches my stomach. It growls. I walk to the kitchen and open the fridge.
I haven’t gone hungry since my triple tragedy. My building neighbors have devised a roster system where each household takes turns to make food for me. I take out a rack of lamb, lathered in oil and sesame seeds, and eat it cold, with my hands. I’ve been so hungry since Kate’s hospitalization that sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, feeling an urgent hunger, as if I’ve gone hunting for food.
I belch – loud and satisfactory. I pat my ovular belly, where there’d been abs just four months ago.
I light a doobie. I smoke this endlessly now. My house stinks of ammonia or sulphur, unlike anything I’ve smelled in a house. It’s scented with my odors. I feel proud.
My eyes are always red now, from drinking and drugs. People think I’ve been crying. It isn’t my fault that people ascribe emotion to a relationship.
I switch on the TV and stop at National Geographic where they show that lions move on after their mate dies. I wonder if it’s only humans who emote excessively, such that human experience has become essential to everything – a chair has ‘arms’, the lion is ‘king’, paradise is ‘benevolent’ and the dead have ‘hope’. Hope.
I think how Mom and Dad would cope if I’d died before them. Would they have died of heart failure as Dad had after Mom’s accident? Probably not. In the circle of life parents witness their child’s birth and a child witnesses his parent’s death. My parents hadn’t witnessed my birth. Mom was heavily medicated, while Dad was stuck in traffic. I was born alone. They never expressed regret or guilt about it. I didn’t witness my parent’s death since they left without saying goodbye. I too refuse to feel regret or guilt.
I speculate on what Kate would do if I’d died before her. She’d have a dinner party on the day of my funeral, as is the custom in her family. The next week she’d book a one-way ticket to New York. Six months later she would remarry. Probably that ex-boyfriend of hers, the one she’s always been ambivalent about.
Some dead are forgotten as if they were shadows passing earth.
It’s six o’clock. Aliya will be home any minute. I look around for a clean pair of underwear. I can’t remember where I’ve kept one. It strikes me that Kate would’ve known.
I wonder then if I’m being unfair to Kate. All I remember of her are memories I haven’t been true to.
Maybe I love her. Maybe I need her. Without her I am alone in the world.
The cry I’ve been holding back wells up in my eyes.
The phone rings. I pick it up without thinking. I hear Dr. Mahmood’s voice.
“I’m sorry, Chander. Kate didn’t make it.”
Meghna Pant is a business journalist and freelance writer originally from India. She’s working on a novel that was selected a Top Ten Finalist in WordHustler’s Literary Storm Novel Contest. Her short story was recently published in EGO Magazine. She’s regularly published articles about Indian Americans for magazines across the trans-Atlantic.