I tell myself this is part of the healing process; what I’m doing is perfectly normal and it will help me come to terms with my loss. And the only reason I’m not telling anyone about this, not even my family, is because they won’t understand. Everyone has their way of dealing with pain, and this is mine.
There is a part of me that laughs when I think this. It knows I am lying. But do I stop? No. Instead, every night before I go to sleep, I pick up my phone, put that song on loop and hit play. As the music builds, I clear my mind of everything and lie down on the bed. A click sounds off in my head, as I think of her, and it is almost like I’m inside a cinema hall. I’m the only person inside the vast emptiness, the only one who cares enough to watch a long-forgotten film.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath in and let it out slowly, and then I’m driving the car. I look at myself in the rear-view mirror, minutes away from heartbreak. It’s the 15th of February, not too hot and not too cold. My solar watch chimes twice. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon.
Every time I’m in the memory, I notice something new about it. I’ve slowed down and looked at the pedestrians outside, I’ve seen the birds in the air, and I’ve glanced into the scenes inside the cars around me.
This time, I focus on the trees. It doesn’t take me long to recognise them—they are Neem. “Azadirachta Indica,” as she once said, her hair still wet from the bath, but drying out in the sunlight. She was jumping around, laughing, as she was moving from tree to tree in the garden, and telling me their scientific names.
“Do you know what this one is called, dad?” she asked, pointing at the blood-red beauty of a Gulmohar.
“No,” I said.
She checked the phone in her hand, moving her lips to try out the words, and declared, “Delonix Regia!” bubbling with excitement. She ran up to the nearby Neem afterwards, and looked up at it in wonder. “May I climb it?” she asked me, head turning back. And I nodded. “Yes”.
She isn’t looking at the trees now. Instead, her eyes are closed and she is fast asleep with her favourite blanket wrapped around her. In my darkest hours, I console myself with this fact—she never woke up.
I glance at her once, to make sure she is comfortable, and lift my left hand from the steering wheel to switch on the radio. Like the air from the AC vents, the song drifts into the car and fills the space. The music is soothing; the song is one I’ve heard many times before, but after this day I will be unable to find any solace in it. It will become an instrument of torture. But I don’t know that in the memory. I turn up the volume, still mindful not to wake her up. I glance at the speedometer, at the needle that is rising up to 50. “This is an important detail,” the police later said. “You were within the speed limit.”
I begin to sing along softly. My face contorts with each word. I imagine myself to be the singer, in front of thousands in a stadium. My eyes close, I’m really in the moment, and I don’t see the other car swerve headlong into mine.
The driver had lost an eye, a robotic one, and was looking for it under his seat while driving. They revealed this detail to me in the hospital, before adding that he had flown out of the windshield and died on hitting the road. Their words brought me no relief, but the next visit, five minutes after the police officers’ exit, gave me some form of respite.
That was the beginning of my self-imposed punishment.
A middle-aged woman appeared. A sympathetic smile and a gentle manner helped her warm herself to me. I sensed a question in her, and I decided to agree to her proposition even before she uttered the words. “Yes. Yes, I’ll do it,” I said.
She laughed, but I wasn’t offended. I looked into her eyes and the pain in them made me feel nothing and everything at once, like waking up from a dreamless sleep.
“Listen to what I have to say, young man.”
I nodded my head.
“My name is Anita, and I’m so sorry for your loss. I know it’s not easy to process this truth. I know, because I’ve gone through the same thing.” She paused.
“My son,” she continued, “was only 13 when he died in an accident. He was on his cycle when a car rammed into him. So I know. I know how you feel.”
“H-how do you still go on? How do you…”
“I have help. I have him with me all the time. In here,” she said, pointing to her head.
“But memories change, and gradually disappear. They’re not permanent, are they?”
“What if they could be?”
And then she told me about a procedure—only an hour long. A small device would be inserted into my brain and attached to my frontal lobe. It would go through all my memories, find those of her and separate them. The rest of my past will suffer the ravages of time and eventually get lost. But she will stay on.
“You’ll hear a click in your head, that will signal that you’ve chosen a memory and it’s soon going to play,” Anita told me.
“And what if I get amnesia?” I asked.
“These will still be there. They will always be there.”
“Has it helped you? This device?”
“In the days after his death, I thought of many things. I thought of joining a bereavement support group, I thought of opening a charity in his name. I even thought of creating another him, one that would be indestructible. But nothing worked. Nothing at all. And you know why?”
“Because he could not be replaced. There was no point indulging in these projects because I couldn’t bring him back. No matter what I tried. But I still had my memories. I couldn’t save him in life, but I could save him in my mind.”
I shook my head, overwhelmed, and she clutched my hand and squeezed it.
“The only thing,” Anita said when she’s about to leave, “is that we’ll have rights to your brain after your death. It will become our property.”
The light within the room shifted and I noticed a cold look in her eyes, but I still agreed. I didn’t have anything to lose.
After the operation, I saw a young family outside my room, celebrating the birth of their second child. I glanced at the television above them on the wall, the screen screaming with the news that the infamous TB had been captured—but that didn’t matter to me. I looked for her in my mind and the device brought me to that very first time I saw her: Small and fragile, wrapped in a capsule of blankets. Her mother had still been alive then. She had been the one to introduce us.
“You will protect her from everything, won’t you?” she had asked, delirious and determined.
“I will. Of course, I will,” I had told my wife.
But she had still looked at me with such doubt.
That day, on the road, we are returning from her maternal grandparents’ home. They have indulged her so, spoiled her so, that she is content in her sleep. I am happy, too. Disarmed. So when I find that song on the radio, I begin to sing along softly. My face contorts with each word. I imagine myself to be the singer, in front of thousands in a stadium. My eyes close, I’m really in the moment and I’m singing the chorus. It’s always been my favourite part of the song—the long drag of the words, the emotion behind it. And it is then, when I’m right in the middle of it, that the car breaks away from its lane and hits us head-on.
The driver has no control over the vehicle. And it is all a matter of chance that it swerves and hits her side first. Everything inside the car jolts. I open my eyes in panic, my head turning to the left.
Her long hair flies in the air, suspended in that fraction of a second. The phone that was in her lap is in the air as well, face to face with her in that instant. Her blanket disentangles from her and unravels itself to lie like broken wings on her side. My hands fly out and I try to protect her, but the airbag knocks me unconscious and I wake up in my bed in pain.
I have a blinding headache, this time, after the memory dissipates. I can’t see clearly. I feel weak all over. I try to move, but I can’t. I try to be brave, to be calm, to accept what’s happening: I’m dying.
And then the device gets triggered, I don’t know how, and I’m thrown into the past, again.
“Dad?” comes her voice, soothing. “I’m here.”
Srijani Ganguly is currently pursuing an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Limerick in Ireland. She has six years of experience as a journalist in India, and BA Geography and MA English degrees as well. Her stories have appeared in Five:2:One, The Ogham Stone, The Roadrunner Review, The Drabble and Didcot Writers.