The computer-generated image of a T-rex, devours a smaller raptor in a feast of carnage. The documentary drones on the bright screen while the three year old cavorts in front of a flat screen TV; the nine year old grumbles but sits on the dining table doing his homework nevertheless. Sharp smell of garlic hits the air as soon as small, diced bits sizzles in hot oil. The mother tackles dinner as usual. Chicken curry with rice, the only dish that each member of this family relishes without complaint.
The father will be home soon, frazzled and bleary eyed from a daylong session of glaring non-stop into the computer. But before he comes home, some one else turns up at the doorstep and things are never the same again.
It’s not the usual pling of the doorbell but a rat-a-tat-tat. The boys run towards their mother instead of the door. She opens the door with the boys tugging at her apron on each side. The front porch is empty. It must’ve been the neighbour’s wicked little boy who rings the door bell sometimes and hides to get a sheer kick out of people’s faces as they peer outside to see who it is.
Just when the mother is about to shut the door, a voice reaches her “hello!” A tall stooping stranger clad in black from head to toe, with a black felted hat and a pair of dark shades stands on the porch. It’s too dark outside for him to be wearing sunglasses she thinks. “May I come in?” his voice is as thin as the evening air. The little boy whimpers and the older one hides behind his mother. Flanked by her boys and with the ladle dripping yellow turmeric oil on the floor, dangling from her hands, the mother starts to say something but is immediately put to silence. “Oh do not be afraid. I shall not come if you think I should not.” All three of them stand rooted on the spot.
“Are you Maya Hellstrom? If I may ask?” upon receiving an affirmative nod, he continues, “I have something for you,” and hands her a single piece of paper. He then says, “You may answer these question if you like, and drop it into your own post box.” Sensing her perplexity he smiles, his teeth yellow, jagged and pointed at the tips. “Oh don’t worry, it’s just random survey. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. Thank you for your time. Goodbye! And oh yes,”he slides the shades to the tip of his nose with one of his hands so that she can see him eye to eye. For a moment she thinks she sees a pair of milky white translucent pupils looking back at her. Before she can react, the shades are pushed back and he is already on his way waving a thin long arm over his shoulder. “ And, Merry Christmas!”
Now, this is the queerest thing she’s heard because Christmas is still far away. She returns to the kitchen, and the boys run off to resume their play, pushing the unconventional stranger far behind in their heads.
Back in the kitchen, she stirs her chicken and sits on the kitchen table studying the questions. 1) What or who would you become if you were not who you are now? 2) If you could turn back the clock where would you like to be? The final question is the most disquieting one of all. 3) If you died, would you like to come back?
“Rubbish” she mutters but writes the answers anyway on an impulse.
A horrible beeping noise at the back of her head has been irking her nerves all day long. As she scribbles, the noise gets a couple of decibels louder and by the time she finishes writing the answers, the beeping is literally beating loudly against her eardrums.
“Mummy! Mummy!” The little one yells and runs after her as she opens the door to go to the post box. She steps out of the threshold, on to the first landing of the stairs when her knees give away and she is pelted into the air the light of the world suddenly growing dimmer, the sound of her youngest boy’s voice echoing like down an empty well, the beeping getting cacophonous against the fading echo of her son’s voice. The last thing she sees before sinking into a murky eclipse is the paper floating before her dimming sight.
1. I couldn’t be anyone else. If I were, then it wouldn’t be me.
2. It’s not humanly possible and I strongly dislike the word “if”
3. Yes. As myself. Not as anybody or anything else.
Her tongue is glued to the roof of her mouth; the beeping sound still surrounds her, although it’s not as deafening as before. Her movement is hindered, as her joints are stiff. Her eyelids part but all she sees is immaculate white fuzz. It’s like she is immersed in vanilla floss and yet the smell says otherwise. A strong smell of disinfectant tickles her nostrils and suddenly a shadow blots her haze. Slowly, everything around comes into focus and she sees two faces hovering above her. “Welcome back love!” it’s her husband looking down at her with tear filled eyes. She can feel his hands clutching hers. “It’s wonderful to have you back Mrs. Hellstrom,” the doctor smiles as he examines her. “Wh-where am I? How long have I been here?” she asks feebly. Her husband squeezes her hand and says, “You are at the hospital love.” He squeezes her hand harder. “Umm it has been exactly one year today.” She looks around and sees the monitor beside the bed beeping steadily. Then she sees a big white illuminated star hanging on the window. “Is-is it Christmas already?” she utters with an uncanny feeling tugging at her heart. “Yes darling” her husband says between sobs. “Merry Christmas love!” he says and buries his face in her chest.
Picture by Nismo at www.deviantart.com