The clang of the doorbell jolts me awake. I sit up with a start, my head all fuzzy from sleep. Who the hell is it? I wonder, as I try to waken my senses. I glance at the clock to see it’s 6.00 in the morning. Whoever is at the door seems to have absolutely no manners. Uncouth is the word that springs to mind. Guess I am very much awake now!
I stagger towards the door on hearing the bell ring again. We don’t have visitors at this hour, ever. Who does, unless it’s the milkman, or the newspaper guy? Cursing whoever it is on the other side of the door, I unlatch it and open it wide. And, I see her standing there, suitcase in hand and a big smile on her lips.
My heart starts pounding insanely, my throat feels parched. I open my eyes wide and stare, openmouthed. Is it really ma-in-law? I almost say aloud as I move aside to let her in. Oh dear God! Didn’t she pass away some time ago? Am I dreaming? Or is it for real? Oh god, but, it feels so real!
I feel the blood drain from my body; my life getting sucked out of me. I am too stunned to speak. This so feels like a page straight out of history, when she would be going through one of her episodes. I would be in the exact same condition I find myself in now.
I hear her talking excitedly about how she needed a change of scene so she decided to leave her village and come back here. “Back home,” she says.
I mumble something I fail to comprehend. My mind’s in a daze as I try to make sense of what’s happening.
She keeps chattering happily and I keep nodding my head like an idiot. She hardly sits to catch her breath and heads straight to the kitchen. I follow her there, mechanically. “Thoda chaha ghetey, fresh vaatel,” she says as she opens the kitchen drawer to bring out the teapot.
I remember, she seldom liked someone else preparing tea for her. Even when her hands trembled from the aftereffects of the anti-psychotic drugs, she prepared her tea on her own. She brings out the teapot and places it on the platform, all the while talking animatedly about her stay at her village, And, as she turns to fill it with water, she accidentally knocks a cup off the platform and sends it crashing to the floor.
And I open my eyes. I am wide awake now, and still confused. My heart still thumping madly, my head whirling as I try to come to my senses. I find myself unable to breathe. I look around to find hubby sleeping peacefully, and myself in bed. That’s when I realise it was all just a dream. Rather, a nightmare.
Aai passed away three years ago, to be precise. Good for her – the poor soul had suffered all her life. She had not a single mean bone in her body. But, her mind had been taken over by a dreaded demon.
The demon called ‘schizophrenia’, that ravaged her entire system and caused havoc in our home. And, left me terrorised.
Maybe because I found it difficult to accept the situation, or digest the bitter truth of our life, I haven’t been able to completely forget, or let go of the past. Maybe that is why, even after all these years, her thoughts, her words that come to mind some times, leave me unnerved.
No. She was not the one who traumatised me. It was the demon, who did. As he does now, too.
17 years is quite a long time to live with a demon. But, when I think about her, my heart goes out to her.
She lived with that demon for almost forty years.
I am glad she found peace at last.
I hope I do, too.