The mind can sometimes be a strange place. Like a house after a tornado has ravaged its heart, full of shards, splinters and broken things. That’s what my head felt like. Wrecked, a distorted landscape. A mind fuzzy with Alzheimer’s, according to the man sitting beside my bed. He had a nice smile, this man, with his long hair and beard, both streaked generously with grey. A smile I could hold onto whilst my mind churned.
“It’s ok Jenny, you’re ok. It’s just a stupid thing which does stupid things to our thoughts and memories. But I’m here, and you’re the toughest person I know.”
He had a soothing voice. Was he a doctor?
“I don’t like doctors.” I blurted out.
He smiled, “You never did.”
I looked around. It was a pleasant room, all blues and bright yellows in the curtains and carpet. A comfy armchair occupied by the nice man. Shelves filled with books. Unfamiliar. My eyes settled back onto the nice man, his gaze steadfast on me.
“Where am I?”
He moved his chair closer and took my hand in his.
I don’t like being touched by strangers, some vigilant neuron in my brain whispered. I decided to ignore it. Stupid Alzheimer infested neurons.
The nice man was holding my hand a bit too tight. I felt a surge of panic and snatched my hand away, holding it to my pounding head.
“Please tell me what’s going on! Where am I? And who are you?” I could hear the fear in my own voice.
“Hey hey, calm down. You’re in your own house, the doctor is right outside. He wanted you to wake up in your own room. Sid is with the doctor,”
His words didn’t make sense.
“This is not my house! I live in a tiny apartment in Belapur and who the hell are you and who the hell is Sid?” I struggled to get out of the bed, only to find the not so nice anymore man holding my shoulders and gently pushing me back.
“Ok Jenny, I need you to calm down. Look at me,” he raised my face to meet his eyes.
“This is your house, your room. You have had Alzheimer’s for over a year now, you have your good days and your bad days. Sometimes you remember everything, sometimes you don’t. You are in good hands, you’re safe.”
“You’re safe,” he repeated, still holding my chin firmly. “Remember that, my Jaanki Devi, you’re safe.”
That did it, I brushed away his hand in anger.
“Don’t you dare call me that! I hate that name!”
He started laughing, and took my hand back in his. I let it be, I mean, if he knew me as Jaanki Devi, he really did know me. Alzheimer’s or not, only people I really trusted knew about the despised Jaanki Devi. It was actually Jaanki Devidas Prasad, bless my brahmin parents’ piousness.
I was about to ask this man for the umpteenth time who he was when the door opened and this guy walked in. Tall, curly haired, cute nose.
“Hey mom, you’re awake,” his smile was as nice as the man who knew my real name.
Wait a minute.
Mom. Mom?? He was at least twenty! How could I be mom to a twenty-year-old?! The pounding in my head returned with a vengeance.
“Look guys,” I pleaded. “I don’t understand what’s going on. Where am I? And who are you? This is freaking me out, please let me leave and go home!”
Curly haired, cannot be my son, boy, sits at the foot of the bed. Smiles. Why do they keep smiling so much!
“Mom, it’s me, Sid, I really am your son, your only child, the apple of your eye, the inheritor of your wealth.”
What a smartass this boy was.
I shut my eyes, the hammering in my head now pure agony. I willed this to be some
kind of weird nightmare which comes visiting when I’ve had long days at work or when mom has given me an hour-long lecture on the benefits of holy matrimony at the right age.
My eyes flew open and focus on the other man. Husband? But he was old! Why would I marry and old man? Did I run out of options like mom always said I would?
Fuck. I was searching for an escape route and my eyes have landed on a dressing mirror. The woman staring back had grey hair, droopy cheeks, and wrinkles. I am old. I really am old. If that is really me. If this is not a nightmare. My eyes fill with tears, what the hell is going on, I want to go home! Please God let me go home, or at least wake me up!
“Hey Jenny, its ok, we’re here, its ok, its ok.” I don’t know how long I cried in his arms, whoever he was, but I felt infinitesimally better when I surfaced. Sid, my son apparently, was holding out a glass of water in one hand and a fat notebook with the other. For the first time in what seemed eons, I felt a glimmer of recognition.
I’ve written a diary since I was nine, filling up page after page of the old fashioned notebooks I preferred, with the hotch potch that was my life. Or had been my life, looking at the grey hair and wrinkles.
Sid opened up the diary to an entry which seemed quite long.
“You wrote this a few months ago, when you had your last good day, when you remembered everything. You told us to give this to you every time you woke up and couldn’t remember, saying it would be simpler to explain things to yourself with your own words.”
I warily took the diary from his outstretched hand and started reading.
19th June 2042 Monday
Heya Jaanki Devidas Prasad!
Yes, that’s your name and its high time you embraced it. As Tyrion Lannister said, ‘Never forget who you are…wear it like an armor!’ (Question to self, is Sid old enough to watch Game of Thrones?)
So you have Alzheimer’s, a disease which is slowly eating away at your mind, eroding away at your memories and sanity. Its ok, you’re stronger than this, even if its winning most of the time. If you’re reading this, you have woken up confused and shit scared. Its ok. Chill. Breathe deeply. Here are the quick facts to get you up to speed:
- You are a cool woman
- You are so cool, you could lead your own avengers’ team
- You have a fantastic son who is currently taking a break from college to look after you. Remind him to go back and focus on life and education and shit like that.
- You had great parents, who loved you. Remember that. They loved you. Even if they named you Jaanki.
- They loved you even when you were crazy and got three tattoos. They’re all wrinkly now, but still there, go look at your back in the mirror.
- You have a beautiful best friend who is a Michelin starred chef, but you get to eat free at her restaurant in Canada. Call her and gossip with her. She’ll be waiting.
- You have another best friend. Yes, that man in a beard who’s sitting in your favourite armchair. He spends most mornings of his busy week making tea for you. Tell him to get a haircut.
- You had a husband, he was not a nice person. No need to waste time on him.
- You are – No were – a successful drug dealer who has mansions all over the world, truckloads of money and a fleet of seaplanes. (You wish)
- You are actually a semi-successful book shop owner. You don’t like selling the books in your store because you are so attached to them. It’s a good thing your parents left you a decent inheritance (another reason to love them)
11.You fell in love with you best friend, yes, the guy in the beard, Nomi.
I stopped reading and looked up at him. Nomi.
“Go on, finish it,” Nomi said quietly.
I read on.
You have known Nomi for over thirty years and, this part is important, so pay attention. This man has loved you for over thirty years, he has loved you unconditionally and unfailingly been there for you whenever you needed him. Sometimes love, the real kind of love, hides behind the illusion of passion and excitement. Sometimes love is simply being the best of friends and having tea together. Love transcends everything, religion, age, even time.
You have loved this man for over thirty years, you just didn’t know it. And when you did, this stupid disease makes you forget it. But it doesn’t matter. You know, he knows.
And you are one of the lucky few, you are loved, truly loved, imperfections and all.
Count your blessings and count him twice.
The rest is not important. Even if you never remember again, its ok. You have no regrets.
Now get some rest.
I looked at the man called Nomi.
“Did we get married?” I asked quietly
“No,” he replied.
“Then why are you by my side in the middle of the night?”
“Because we promised each other something and I’m keeping my side of the bargain.”
“And don’t think this stupid disease of yours lets you off lightly. You have to keep your promise too,” he added with another one of those smiles.
I found myself smiling back, “Remind me.”
Nomi paused for a moment and then simply said, “Together Always.”
“Together Always,” I repeated quietly. So simple. So beautiful.
Nomi stood up and gently tucked me beneath the warm covers.
“Go to sleep Jenny, we have all the time in the world to catch up. And I’m right here.”
I smiled again and closed my eyes.
The mind can sometimes be a strange place. The cobwebs can magically be swept away and the sun can shine through, bright and clear.
I opened my eyes to the sunlight peeping through the blue and yellow curtains, falling onto the man asleep on the armchair next to my bed. A man whose face was familiar to me as my own. I traced the lines of his face with my eyes, smiling at the unruly mess that was his hair and beard.
People we love are beautiful, I thought.
As if feeling my gaze, he opened his eyes, disoriented for a second.
“You should get a makeover Nomi, it’s been twenty-three years since I told you I liked your hair long and that you looked cute in a beard.”
Nomi’s eyes brightened as only his could, at the lucidity in my voice.
“I do look cute, don’t I?”
I started laughing, and it was the greatest feeling in the world.
“Find me a pen, will you,” I said when I finally calmed down enough to speak. “I need to write down something before the stupid fog descends again.”
Nomi sprang up, rummaging through my roll top desk and bringing me a bright purple felt pen. And kissing me on the cheek. I looked at him in surprise, Nomi was not one for spontaneous gestures of affection.
“I’m glad you’re back Jenny, however long it may last. Now write in that stupid diary of yours while I go get that lazy son of yours to make us some tea. And if you’re up for it, we can carry you out into the garden”
I smiled as he waltzed out. Nomi and his perpetual need for chai. I uncapped the felt pen and started writing, feeling exhausted after a few minutes, but the need to capture clarity while it lasted overrode everything else.
Finally, I put the pen down and lay back against the pillows, closing my eyes for a moment. Having Chai with Nomi in a sunny garden, that’s my idea of heaven, I thought as I drifted away.
Nomi returned to a room which was so still, that he knew she was gone. Forever.
He walked to the bed and stood looking down at his best friend, the love of his life. Her face serene, even smiling, like as if she was in her happy place. The diary lay open, the familiar scrawl, in purple. He took it up.
21st October 2042, Saturday Morning
It’s such a bright beautiful day, and I am me again! I woke up to Nomi sleeping on the chair beside me, and he is the most beautiful person in the world. Well, so is Sid. They are both the most beautiful people.
I feel so happy today, like one of those childhood Saturdays, when you knew school was far off and you had all the time in the world. Don’t make sense do I, but when did I ever! And I really feel like writing today. I want to write to Nomi.
You are my sunshine, my cup of tea, my happy place. It never mattered where you were, where I was, you were always with me. Always are. I love you, you silly man. Tell Sid I love him, if I don’t recognize him tomorrow. Tell him you love him too.
Always remember Rumi,
Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field,
I’ll meet you there.
Together Always, my dear friend.
He shut the diary. And gazed upon the face which would never smile back at him. Touched the hands which would not ruffle his hair anymore.
After what seemed like hours, he called his wife to tell her he wouldn’t be home today.
Photo By: Kruti Bhargava
(This is an entry in ArttrA-4, a room8 writing game at ArtoonsInn. We’d much appreciate you rating the story and leaving a review in the comments.)