Vimmy tiptoed softly into the study and stood debating over her husband’s sleeping frame. “He would have slept late, I am not sure if I should disturb him. It was only a dream,” her eyes skimmed the work table with its frantic remnants. A critical presentation was upon him in a day and he was far from ready, he had shared with her. She slipped out of the hushed room hastily on that thought but only to pace up and down in the living room. The clock on the wall across seemed to have frozen. Her face clouded at a thought and she found herself back besides Jatin.
He was a light sleeper and was soon sitting up with his arm around her heaving body, “I dreamt of Rohan. He was inside a closed space. There was a very narrow ledge on which I stood calling out to him. His body seemed inert. I was horrified to see he couldn’t move to help himself. I kept shouting, he just floated on a bed of something viscous.”
“It is only a dream Vimmy, shsshh,” Jatin drew his wife closer, “He is busy at the camp, I exchanged a few messages with him last evening.” But Vimmy was inconsolable, “Not the dream as much as the emotion, the sense of foreboding, the utter helplessness that I felt. It is 2 am, not a good time to call him, is it?” The father shook his head and let the mother howl her fear off. Having slept fitfully for the remaining of the dark hours, Vimmy texted her son in a carefully neutral tone the next morning, “I must not cause him unnecessary concern!” Back came the cryptic but clear response, “All is well.” She consoled herself, “In another week he will be home on his summer break.”
It was drizzling the night Jatin left home to pick up Rohan from the airport. There had been an uncharacteristic text to his mother ahead of the Cricket camp conclusion, “I want to come home.” Puzzled at this unexpected bout of homesickness, the couple had quickly moved into their, “Welcome kid home,” mode. They stocked up on grocery and the freezer, fresh linen was laid out and the mandatory dental and optical appointments lined up. As the father and son drove home along the dimly lit town lanes, Vimmy sat waiting in a cloud of tentative concern, “The selection rounds were over but there was a tight schedule at the Cricket Camp, what could have caused her son’s early departure?” she mused until the doorbell rang. She watched Rohan let himself in slowly through the front door. He seemed laden, almost shuffling up. “Hey bete, how are you? Let me take a look,” Vimmy drew him from the corridor shadow into the light. Her heart plummeted into her toes.
His face was bleak. Vimmy’s mind tripped over a rush of thoughts and recent impressions. He had spoken of being sleepless because of all the comings and goings into the sports complex. Ever since his selection to the Under 23 Ranji Trophy Cricket Team, Rohan had been a bit out of sorts, not quite himself on the phone. He was intense by nature and quite driven. The parents had surmised it was perhaps the competitive nature of the game that was exacerbating his self-obsession. They knew he was getting plenty of net practise, fitness work outs and strategic drills but they had wondered if he was getting any help to channelize his overwrought brain. “Something is wrong Mum, I feel flat, I can’t concentrate on the game. My line and length has gone!” Vimmy had struggled to reassure him past her deep unease at his words, so unlike the vital young man they had sent to the camp.
She leaned closer towards her son now. His skin seemed shadowed. There was stillness about him. She quaked at the shroud of foreboding he seemed covered in. There was something else. He seemed thinner, shockingly so. On an impulse she plucked at his khaki trouser from behind, “What has happened to you? This fabric is hanging on you. Have you not been eating?”
Dinner was a bewildered and heavy affair. Vimmy’s heart felt like a steam roller was levelling it out, in slow motion. She watched Rohan stare at his plate, vacant and remote. He made no attempt to even pick at this favourite food. “This is not my son,” the neurons in her head flashed jumbled thoughts. She reached across to touch his forearm; he did not move a muscle. “Rohan, are you all right?” she whispered. He stared back with windswept eyes.
The couple huddled in the study when Rohan eventually closed the door to the washroom. “He is just a bit stressed out I think,” the father made an attempt to keep it positive but Vimmy would not have it. Her voice had begun to rasp with distress, “He looks short circuited, like someone pushed 22 volts into a 10 amp system. Is this exhaustion? A burnout? Why does he seem so shut down?”
There had been no warning from the stadium. By all accounts, Rohan was doing well. His parents had made a quick dash a month earlier and everyone had smiled broadly, his coach as well as his friends. The tragic veracity of the oft quoted dictum, “Parents are the last to know,” struck Vimmy now as she looked at her shorn son. They used to pull his leg over being a digital mainframe; at any given time he would be connected to five communication devices, including his battery bank. But he lay now, curled in a foetal position under his favourite blanket, just wanting to be left alone. Ignorant and hopeful still that the cloud would lift after a good night’s sleep, his parents minced around the house, keeping their voices low. In a total dither over what they were facing, they collapsed onto their couch eventually.
The next day came and went but Rohan’s night did not end. Watching his dormant frame gave them a sense of a long and dark tunnel chase where he always remained out of reach and gaining on them. It was shattering to stand over a young life they were so heavily invested in snuffing silently. “What was happening with him? Why was he turning into a stone?” the two thrashed around in a state of demented despair. They would call out his name softly, caressing his forehead, shaking his shoulder gently then panic, “Where has Rohan gone?”
“He is just going through a phase,’ he would say. “This is not the usual low,” she was gathering certainty about his condition. It was on the third day of Rohan’s non-being that Vimmy flipped on her computer, staring at the Google search box, wondering what to punch in. She sat paralyzed with dread, her fingers hovering over the keypad. “Depression”, she typed out haltingly. Ignoring the returned entries, she clicked on the images tab. They flickered in a disquieting swipe across the screen, faces as derelict as Rohan’s; she broke out into a cold sweat, a knife twisting her viscera.
“Mum! Mum! You are wearing that look again. I told you not to brood. It is in the past. I am telling you, it is never happening again,” Rohan was hugging her from behind, his face sweaty from the Domestic T 20 semi-finals. Vimmy smiled delightedly, shrugging off her serial reminiscence for another time to follow her son out of the stadium.
– Neerja Singh
Severely addicted to learning, Neerja Singh is an author, blogger and a teacher. Her chief fuel may have been a constructive kind of discontentment.
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