A Very Lonely Death
Priyamvada dreams of her death. Will the dream come true?
Priyamvada stared at her coffee and cried silently. She felt that her heart was going to burst with sadness. At one point she did wonder why she was crying. When she remembered the reason for her crying, she actually laughed at her silliness. But still, she couldn’t control her sadness and cried incessantly and freely. Once she finished crying, she took a tissue and wiped her face and blew her nose and threw it in the nearby dustbin. Her coffee had gone cold. She threw it in the kitchen sink and switched on the kettle to boil water for coffee and pondered over the reason for her sadness.
It was all because of that damn dream. It showed her the reality, the reality of her future. She was unnecessarily worrying about it. After all, it was just a dream. But she knew that it was her fear, the irrational fear, that had manifested as the dream. In the dream, she was returning home after a long vacation. She had two or three bags. Or was it four? She couldn’t remember. All she remembered was that she struggled to open the door with the bags in her hand. She wondered why she didn’t put the bags down. But of course, it was a dream. Dreams cannot be, need not be, rational. Anyways, she remembered the feeling. She was excited to be home. She didn’t remember where she went for the vacation. But she remembered it as a seaside town. At one instance, it was morning, and she was inside a ship like museum and then it was dark, and she was on a beach with other onlookers. And the shallow beach was glowing blue like the northern lights in the sky. (The northern lights were greenish. Priyamvada knew. She had seen the pictures.) In the dream, she put down her bags and fell onto her couch. That was when she noted the awful smell lingering around her. Like something was rotting. She didn’t understand where the smell was coming from. But instinctively, she went to the kitchen. There, she discovered that she had forgotten to throw away the garbage before she went for the vacation. There were maggots all over the kitchen slab. She felt like vomiting. But the stench in the kitchen was different. It smelled like rotting garbage. Or maybe it was rotten meat. How she could distinguish between the different smells in the dream, she didn’t know. After all it was a dream. She remembered that she hadn’t had meat for a while. She was vegan. Not in reality, no. The smell of rotten meat was faint in the kitchen.
She decided to clean up the kitchen after changing her clothes. So, she went to her bedroom leaving her bags in the living room. As she neared the bedroom the rotten smell got stronger. She opened the bedroom door. The stench was insufferable. She felt dizzy. She thought that she was going to faint from the stench. She went to open the windows and that’s when she saw it. A body. A rotten body on her bedroom floor! From the doorway, it was concealed by the bed. As she went around the bed to open the windows, she saw it. It was that of a woman. Half rotten. She was scared out of her wits. Her throat felt dry. She wanted to scream but no voice emerged from her gagging mouth. Her legs felt weak, her hear beat fast. She wanted to run out of the room, but the sight held her in a shocked thrall. She felt that the peeling skin on the body was quivering. She moved slightly towards the body and looked closely. To her horror, she realized that the body was covered with wriggling white maggots. That’s when she noticed the buzzing. Buzzing of flies. But there were no flies. Just maggots and buzzing sound. The more she looked at the body, the more she felt it was someone she knew. The face of the body was covered with black shorthair, just like hers. She looked around and found a long paint brush in her desk by the window. With a shaking hand she brushed the hair away from the face. She was shocked at the ghastly sight. With a scream of horror, she fell backwards to the floor. A cry of utter sadness was wrenched from her shaking body. She wanted to sob loudly but no sound emerged from her choked throat. She hugged her legs and cried silently, rocking herself. Even though the face was half eaten by maggots, Priyamvada could recognize the face anywhere in the world. It was the face that greeted her whenever she looked at her mirror. Her own face. It dawned on her that it was her own body that was rotting on her
Bedroom floor. She had been dead for weeks and no one knew. No one in the world knew. No one in the world cared. She was alone. All alone and dead
“Damn dream”, Priyamvada felt her eyes burning. She was staring at the kettle. The kettle had switched off automatically. She blinked twice and she felt tears flowing down her face. She wiped her face and made a cup of coffee. She took it to the hall and slouched on her couch. She felt very lonely that moment and began crying again. These days she needed no reason to cry. She didn’t know how else to express her fears, her frustrations, her loneliness. She was always sad. Sometimes she wished Rehaan was alive. At least she wouldn’t be alone. But then she would remember how she had actually felt when her husband was alive.
It was not a nightmare. It was worse. Priyamvada shuddered at the memories. A chill went down her spine. She could still hear him banging on their front door. She would be sitting in the hall praying to God to protect her. She laughed at the thought. Now she wished that she had prayed for her death instead. She whimpered as she remembered those nights. She would swiftly open the door when she heard Rehaan and would be greeted by verbal abuses occasionally followed by a quick slap across the face. She could still feel the enmity and anger of her neighbours seeping through the walls, windows and doors even though they would be tight shut. She could still hear his thundering footsteps reverberating through the walls and the floor. He would walk slowly leaning on walls to prevent himself from falling. But he never missed while beating her. It always made her wonder how he couldn’t walk properly but beat her without missing a single time. He would beat her whenever he was angry, and he was angry all the time. After a few weeks of their wedding, Priyamvada was convinced that her husband was a demon disguised as a human. He was better off dead. She was better off without him.
“I am better off without him.” Priyamvada spoke aloud. Maybe he was listening. “I am better off without you, Rehaan. I am happy without you”, she yelled. Then she looked around sheepishly. Of course, she was alone. She hoped her neighbours didn’t hear that. “I am losing it”, she sighed. She remembered that after tolerating him for a while she actually began to pray to God to free her from him. About 7 months after their wedding, he died in an accident.
She felt bad initially. Was it her prayers which resulted in his death? She always wondered. Everyone sympathized with her. Some, especially his family, had cursed her for killing him. Then there were those who sneered at her for being a widow. Her sister was one of them. Then came the biggest blow. Her husband had incurred a huge debt due to his drinking habit. And now she was shackled by the huge liability he had created. “I hope you are burning in hell, Rehaan”, Priyamvada spat at his memory. Her sadness turned to anger. He had destroyed not only her happiness but her ability to love and her will to live.
“Time heals all. You will heal too”, her friend Shivani always said that to her. But Priyamvada didn’t believe her. She just couldn’t. The memory of Rehaan made her angrier. Even after his death, he was torturing her. She wanted to throw her mug of coffee at the white blank wall in front of her. Some coffee spilled to the floor. She cursed herself and took a rag from the kitchen and cleaned it. Then she downed the coffee in a gulp. It was cold. And she hated it.
She was better off alone, Priyamvada decided. She was lonely but she was safe. She was not afraid anymore. But still. The dream lingered in her mind. The image of her rotting body choked her. Tears welled up in her eyes. Was that the fate awaiting her? Dying alone? The more she thought about it, the sadder she became. It was not the idea of loneliness nor dying alone which saddened her. It was the thought that no one would miss her after she died. Maybe Shivani would. Maybe her students would miss her. Maybe the staff at the school would feel sorry for her. “Poor Priyamvada”, they might say. She laughed and cried at the same time. But they are all strangers. Even Shivani was. People who should care didn’t care. Her family. Her own sister and brother. Nor did her husband’s family. Did they ever wonder
whether she was alive? She mused. She knew they wouldn’t. No one would come if she died. No one would do her last rites. They might have if she had money. But she was penniless. Not to mention the huge debt incurred by her husband. She sighed. She understood her husband’s family. They thought, no they believed that her ill fate had killed her husband.
But she never understood her own family. What was their problem? She tried to love them. Always. Both her sister and brother loved each other. But they just hated her. Even when they were kids. It didn’t change even after they grew up. They pretended not to know her when they attended family functions, especially when they knew about her husband’s drinking problem. They became more alienated after her husband’s death. They were afraid that she would become a burden for them. She knew their fear.
Then their father passed away and their mother became ill. They decided that mother would live with Priyamvada. Who decided that? She didn’t know. Nobody asked her, for sure. But she agreed, nevertheless. When her mother was alive, her brother used to visit to get his hands on mother’s pension. “You have no family, and you have a job. Why would you need her pension?” her brother would ask her. She resented his excuse as she herself was in dire need for money. She was living on a rented apartment; there were bills to be paid and her mother’s medical expenses. She was also paying off her late husband’s debts still. But everyone scoffed at her when she complained. She was struggling to make ends meet when her mother was living with her. After all, how much does a primary school teacher earn? But no one seemed to care. When she talked to her sister about the financial difficulties she had been facing, her sister yelled at her for treating their mother as a burden. She even had the audacity to tell her that she would have looked after their mother with more love and care than Priyamvada. They were doing her a favour by letting their mother stay with her. Priyamvada wanted to yell back at her sister. But as meek as she was, she just couldn’t. That was her
problem. Moreover, her sister complained to their mother. Hurt by her indifference, her mother refused food for a day and cursed her for being an uncaring daughter. Priyamvada had had enough. She knew the real reason why her siblings had left their mother with her. They were the ones who considered her as a burden. All the ‘love’ and ‘care’ they showered on their mother once a month was all a show. Just to get their mother’s money. She knew it very well. But their mother seemed oblivious to the dubious love of her siblings. She actually felt relieved when their mother passed away. Her brother cleared away their mother’s bank accounts, and her sister took away their mother’s jewellery. She was left with their mother’s old clothes and debt incurred for their mother’s hospital bills. Luckily, their mother had already made arrangements for her funeral, so she didn’t have to pay for the last rites.
Priyamvada sighed and stared at the ceiling. She blamed her parents for her ill fate. She was the youngest of the three siblings. Her parents considered her an accident and made no bones about it. Her siblings who were eight and ten years older to her considered her as an unwanted intruder in their lives. Her parents always showed favouritism towards their elder children. Her allowance was always smaller, her dresses were cheaper, she had fewer toys than her siblings. Even when it came to her wedding, her parents didn’t spend as much as they did on her siblings’ weddings. In fact, for her wedding she had to use her meagre savings. Her wedding was a modest affair whereas her siblings had lavish weddings. They even married better people. When it was her turn to marry, her father confided in her that they didn’t have much money left to give as dowry. So, she had to marry a solicitor’s clerk who was twelve years older to her. How could she blame her siblings when her own parents didn’t love her and considered her as a burden. Maybe death wouldn’t be so bad. Why was she worried about what happened to her after she died?
The phone broke her reverie. It was Shivani. They were going for a two-day trip to a pilgrimage centre. She had called to remind Priyamvada that the train would be leaving at 8 in the evening and they had to reach the station half an hour before that. Shivani had reserved train seats and booked a room for them at the destination for a night. Initially, Priyamvada didn’t want to go as she had no money to spend luxuries such as a two-day vacation. But Shivani was convinced that Priyamvada needed it. She felt that Priyamvada needed a fresh start. “This trip may prove to be a new chapter. You can’t live in self-pity, Priya. You need to get a grip on your life”, Shivani told her. Finally, she had relented. After all, she deserved a little happiness. But still, she wasn’t able to get rid of the fear generated by her dream. She shuddered at the thought of travelling. She then shrugged as if to throw off the burden of that ill-omen of a dream, sighed and packed her bags.
At half past seven, she met Shivani at the rail way station. When the train came, they meandered around the sea of people to find their compartment and somehow got into the train after a lot of pushing and pulling. Finally, finding their seats, they both had their dinner and gossiped about Mr. Rawat and Miss Philips and laughed at Mr. Joshi’s wig and Mrs. Khanna’s English. At around ten, they prepared to sleep along with other fellow passengers. Priyamvada was happy. Maybe she won’t have a lavish life like her siblings, but she would surely find her own happiness. She decided to be more positive in the future. Maybe this journey would be a new beginning for her. She sighed and slowly fell into a deep sleep.
A jerk was what woke her up. She didn’t understand what was happening. She could hear people shouting and screaming. Before she knew what was happening, she was thrown from her berth and hit her head. Darkness pervaded her senses forever.
The train accident shook the nation. Around two hundred lives were lost. The government had declared compensation for the families who had lost their dear ones. Priyamvada and her friend were among the deceased. Priyamvada’s brother and sister fought over the right to cremate their beloved sister. Both claimed that their love for their beloved sister was the greatest. Her husband’s family also claimed the departed as their own. Her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law cried their hearts out claiming that their loss was unbearable. They were not this sad when Rehaan, Priyamvada’s husband, had passed away. The mother-in-law lamented that she had lost a daughter that day. She cursed her son for making Priyamvada’s life a living hell. Finally, the elders of the family decided that both families would cremate her body with honour and the Government compensation would be divided into two and her brother and sister would receive half and her husband’s family would receive the rest. Both families together bid Priyamvada farewell and did her last rites and mourned her loss as dictated by custom.