The Girl of My Dreams
It happens in an instant and yet everything seems to stretch out interminably. One moment I’m gazing at her, that pale white face half covered with hair as black as night itself is smiling at me, and the next I’m urging her to look at the road. The smiles on our faces die out. It’s too late. A taxi is rushing towards us, driving on the wrong side. She swerves the car to the right to avoid collision and heads towards the divider railing. The taxi too swerves to its right. She corrects course, but it’s too late. She slams on the brakes and the car makes a dying screech. Something breaks. She is thrown forward. There’s no seat belt to slow her down as her face smashes against the steering wheel and bends like a half-formed clay mask. Her face scrunches, her jawline contorts, her teeth are knocked out. Her eyes protrude inhumanly . Blood spurts. It feels like I can reach out and hold her face but my hands move slowly through the air. I hear my own ribs snap like dry twigs against the impact of the seat belt. A shooting pain rises in my chest when the seat belt pushes me back. The world spins outside the windshield. Once. Twice. She is still smiling at me, her face turned at an awkward angle from the neck, her lips cut and bloody. Suddenly, the car flips over the railing and slams into a truck on the opposite side of road. A deathly silence descends. Time freezes. Pieces of glass and tissue and teeth stay suspended mid-air, unmoving. Through the pain, I’m looking at her once-beautiful face, the face I fell in love with, now a chaos of blood, distended tissue, and shards of bone and broken teeth. I reach out for her face. It takes forever. And then a disquieting crunch fills the air. Metal against metal, bone against bone, bone against flesh, flesh against metal. I’m thrown backward and forward. My legs twist and tangle. Ligaments snap, bones break. A jagged piece of the metal enters my thigh and comes out from the other side where I can’t see it. Glass shatters and fragments lodge deep in my face. My skin singes from the heat. The burning smell of rubber engulfs us. Orange-red flames lick everything up. I try opening my eyes, now flooded with blood from my forehead. She’s being thrown like a rag doll inside the roll cage of the car. Her eyes are open and she’s looking at me. I look for signs of her but can only see my own gory reflection staring back. There’s no trace of life in those eyes. But she has a smile on her face. A cold, frozen, dead smile. A stray piece of metal pierces through my shoulder blade like a hot axe through butter and pins me to the seat. The car flips again and she’s thrown out of the windshield. I give her my battered hand but she’s out of sight. The car slams to the ground again. I snap out of the seat belt and slam against the roof of the car. I start to lose consciousness. I shout her name but only a whimper escapes my lips. Shreyasi . . .
Daman woke up with a start. He had wet his bed again. Urine and sweat clung to his body and stank up the room. He shivered. His shoulders and thighs throbbed with pain. He ran his fingers over the deep gorge on his right shoulder; a pink scar had replaced where once was flesh. The alarm clock screeched in the background. With trembling fingers he switched it off. He rummaged the bedside drawer for his pills and swallowed them dry. Eighteen months had passed since the night of the accident but the nightmares hadn’t abated. The pills helped but only to an extent. He got up and washed himself. He changed the bedspread and threw the soiled one into the washing machine before his mother could notice. Out of habit, he punched ‘Shreyasi’ into the search engine of his phone. Many faces showed up but none of them seemed like the girl from his dreams. He closed the tabs. At least in today’s nightmare the girl was behind the wheel; she was dead because she was driving, not because of him. At the breakfast table, his mother noticed Daman’s discomfort. She asked, ‘Shopno dekhli abaar? (Saw that dream again?)’
Daman nodded. ‘She drove. She died. I lived. Still can’t remember her face clearly,’ he said.
‘Are you taking your pills on time, Dada?’ asked Puchku, Daman’s younger sister.
‘Yes, Puchku . . .’
‘Don’t call me Puchku! My name’s Ritu, call me that.’
‘You’re Puchku, no matter how hard you try.’
‘Kintu oi me taa jeebit acche. That girl is still alive. You know that, right? I don’t know why you keep seeing these dreams,’ his mother said, her voice laced with bitterness.
‘Morning dreams indicate exactly the opposite of reality. Tor or shonge gaadite choda hi bhulhoyechhe. You shouldn’t have taken a lift from a girl you didn’t know. That was a mistake,’ said his mother, her voice quivering in anger, like it was only yesterday that Daman had taken a lift from a stranger who nearly drove him to death.
‘Maa, leave it now,’ said Puchku.
‘Yes, of course, I will leave it. But you don’t know what we went through because of that girl,’ grumbled Maa.
Daman’s parents had spent the subsequent six months anxiously waiting for him to wake up after the accident; another three when he was treated for debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If it were up to his mother, the girl would have been long dead, just like in Daman’s nightmares. But the girl had escaped unscathed and had left the country since. Daman had never met her before (or after) the bloody night of the accident. He didn’t know where she was from, what she did, or how he came to be in her car or what they talked about during that short, fateful drive. He hadn’t even managed to edge out the fuzzy remembrance of her face. The paleness of her skin, that haunting smile, those dead eyes were all he remembered of her—the rest of the details always mutated between two nightmares. Everything apart from her name had been wiped clean off his memories. Post his accident, he had been diagnosed with dissociative amnesia (though he preferred the name psychogenic amnesia because it was much cooler) which totally wipes out the memories of traumatic incidents leaving memories before or after the incident intact; it’s the brain’s coping mechanism. The condition had buried his memories of incidents leading to the traumatic accident in his subconscious. There was a blank where a sepia-coloured reel of his trip to Goa should have been. Only a name remained. It seemed like a cruel joke. He remembered making plans with his college friends, getting on that flight, checking into the hotel but everything else . . . poof . . . the next thing he remembered was being woken up and ushered into physical therapy.
‘It wasn’t a mistake,’ said Daman.
He looked at his watch. He was late. Avni, his girlfriend, had already left three texts on his phone. She wondered if he was okay because he hadn’t texted her since morning. Despite seeing her for the last eight months, Daman hadn’t told her about Shreyasi or the nightmares. What’s the point? he always thought, it’s not like I know her, she’s only a shadow. He finished his breakfast hurriedly and left. On the way out, he saw a few envelopes jutting out from their apartment’s letter box. As he flipped through the credit card bills, telephone bill, amongst others, he noticed that all of them had been carefully slit open, their contents read and then put back in, as is. He put all the envelopes back inside the box except the one with the logo of Platypus Books India emblazoned on it. On his way out, he lodged a complaint with the watchman of the society knowing full well that just like before, no action would be taken against his pesky, nosy neighbors. In the cab, he opened the envelope. Inside it was a letter welcoming Daman Roy to Platypus Books’ line-up of authors. He smiled, read it twice and slipped it back inside the envelope. And that’s when he noticed a deep red lipstick mark on the envelope.
Like someone had kissed it.
The Girl of My Dreams, a romantic thriller, releases on the 15th of October.
You can get your copy here : http://bit.ly/buyTGOMD