Letter writer

Somewhere a hundred miles away, someone began a letter. I knew I couldn’t have heard it but the noise insisted. 

I could hear the curves and edges as they were written, as the paper was smothered. First the words seemed upside down, backwards in form and sound. Then they were just reversed echos. “Mirrors are more fun than Television” they seemed to say. Then crunch! With swift and firm fingers the paper was crumpled and tossed away.

Then unfolded, hands studied the creased, whispering the words, admiring the contours and mountains that had broken the flat white sheet. At least I think the paper was white. I liked to think so while the writer paused and thought. The words were written again, different this time, but the same sounds stayed. A pen rapped across the tables and around the walls of my head. 

Very anxious I took an gander, wondered who’d write me. Alas the doom of speculation and the memories of pen sounds inside my skull. The letter was written and filed away, never mailed. 

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Born to wait

The queue seemed to stretch for miles with people moving like they had all the time in the world.

I was tired and unsure of the ground below me. I looked around and decided that the people there were a sorry lot despite being dressed up like a carnival. The ones that smiled made me uncomfortable.

Eventually I reached the gate. Some guy there showed me a video- all sped up but vaugly familiar. I said “What a sad little story, you guys should make that a movie.” 

He said “The name’s Peter. That was your life on replay.” 

Fortune Teller

The astrologer gave me a wicked smile as he called me closer. Even the poorly painted palm that advertised his presence seemed sinister.

His office was tucked away in a narrow lane with many houses bearing down on the road, but I saw no people. Inside it was painted red and the only light came from a dirty, shut window. He gave me a rusted coin box while he prepared his cowrie shells.

He smiled when I dropped a whole heap of coins but gasped when he looked at how his shells fell. I looked at him hopefully but he only said “I don’t like looking at my own future.” and returned my coins with a grimace.

The Watchman

Night shift at the ER. A man lies dead and the watchman walks fast. All the patients hold their fears close but he must watch his own step.

At the tea stall outside he is nervous and turns to a stranger. “He kept swearing he saw his father. Old fool. How do people believe such things? All day and night with these sick people. I should be seeing ghosts all the time.”

He finishes his beedi and says “What about you? You believe in ghosts?”

“I’m not that foolish” says the chaiwala and the watchman sees his companion has gone.

I’m in pain

My mother always loved her job, even if she was only a housekeeper at the nursing home.

She would take my sister and I there to visit her co-workers or some of the old folk. She had an aunt who lived there too.

The nursing home was painted a drab and faded white. But it was always dark and shadowy despite the huge windows and buzzing lights everywhere. 

Even though I was young I knew this was a place of death. The people were frail and sickly watching reruns all day long. Even the artful wall that bore the names of the deceased seemed foul despite the many attempts to make it a more pleasant monument.

None of this affected my mother who always remained upbeat and spoke about the many reasons why she loved working with the elderly. Maybe that’s why she always took us along with her. We were always there on the weekends and we would have to wait till she finished her lunch and took us to attend mass.

We’d mill about and explore while she ate, ignoring the strong stench of urine that haunted the place. Once when I was six I wandered off while my sister stayed with my mother.

I heard a women shout “I’m in pain” over and over. There was something familiar about the voice. When I asked my mother about it she said the woman would do that every day and we should just ignore it. Later she explained stroke or dementia patients have verbal preservation, or the repetition of certain words or phrases due to the condition. 
When I grew up I started work at the nursing home’s sister institution. I didn’t want to come back home to be honest but I didn’t have many options. I was also curious about my aunt. I couldn’t remember a thing about her except that she had  dementia. 

Family friends would always talk about her as a forceful and determined woman who had a habit of bearing grudges. She grew quite bitter after a car crash severly injured her arms and she was confined to her bed.

I though my conservative relatives weren’t giving a free thinker her due and was curious to learn more about her. Strangely ever since I moved back I would have bizzare dreams of me at her bedside, playing the crule games only children who don’t quite know what pain is yet can. My sister cries in the background while my aunt struggles to say something.

The two facilities were connected so that staff could get around easily. I’d often make trips to the other facilities kitchen. It just so happens that this was the faculty where the shouting lady lived but I didn’t remember at the time.

I though I heard a distant “I’m in pain” echo a few times. I looked around a few times to see where it came from, but all I saw were empty rooms and made beds.

I stopped a nurse and told her I thought I heard something. 

“You did”she replied. “Every now and then the call light will go off and then you hear…”

“I’m in pain”

I realised that the voice sounded very familiar and the dream with my aunt flashed before my eyes. I shook it off and told myself to stop being silly. 

Back at the other facility I was talking to a regular dementia patient I was working with. She still had moments of clarity and enjoyed stories, although she would always remain silent. I told her the story and wondered if it was a ghost.

“I wonder why it doesn’t just grab me” I said as I drew up my chair. I noticed my patient look straight into my eyes.

Without breaking her stare she said “That’s because the woman under your chair has no arms.”