He was sixteen. And he was loving life. Not that it was perfect, but there was not much to complain about. His grades were pretty good; he loved his school and had a bunch of friends he could always stay with.
Nivedith was your normal 16-year-old, the boy next door. Friends meant a lot to him; they were a gang who went around their school, playing, teasing and bullying (not really, but they thought likewise). They fought too; among themselves, arguments turning berserk which never did matter because everything died down in a day’s time.
Nivedith loved them, he wished he could fool around with them all day, at home too he sometimes felt an urge to get out and hangout with them. It’s not that he hated his parents; he adored them but never expressed his affections too much. He loved them at heart. He felt bad at it; his inability to express his love, his parents did concern about him but not ‘overly’ concerned like many he had seen around him and he never did desire for something like that.
Town boy loving his peaceful life, dreaming high – Yes his life was good, until one day; It happened. Good or bad for the better or worse something that would change the rest of his life.
It was pouring outside. It must have been seven because he remembered his father reaching home and asking his mother the time to which she replied it was 6:30 loud enough for him to hear and dominate the sound of the rain outside. Not that Nivedith really kept track of time at home.
Some time had elapsed since his father had arrived. He was playing on his ‘PC’, at least not on his PC, on ‘the’ PC. Far Cry 4. This game was simply smashing; he couldn’t wait to brag about it to his friends. Mom and Dad were in their room, as usual. Dad on his laptop, Mom reading a travelogue of someplace which she will probably suggest visiting next vacations and make a fuss about how some distant aunt of her had visited the place ages ago and described the place as “heaven”!
The doorbell rung, not so uncommon. Someone must have come, in this rain, he wondered who. They rarely had visitors. Not that his family was socially inactive; in fact not many people visited each other. They were all busy, just like his parents, back home from work at dusk occasionally meeting everyone at some function or get together briefing everything since their last meeting.
Nivedith got up with difficulty pausing his game which was one thing he did not like to do but he knew his parents won’t answer the bell, so he had to. A single lock kept the door closed; an answer to who was at the other end. He turned the key and opened the door to see “him” standing in the rain.
It was Jason. Jason was his classmate. No, he was one of his best friends. There was a strong difference between a classmate and a friend, at least in Nivedith’s terms. A classmate was a term he used very less, often referring to the girls in his class, whenever his mom asked him ‘who was who’ in his school photo.
Nivedith wasn’t the least surprised to see Jason having shown up at his door at this hour with the rain pouring on outside. Infact his place was the usual hangout place of their gang, convenient for everyone and they had the backyard to themselves to do whatever pleased them. Every summer found them a friend’s up to something in his house. It was fun. But yet he was anxious enough to know what brought Jason to his house now. General curiosity. Basic human instinct, nothing more.
“What are you doing here, man”?? Jason didn’t respond.
“Dude, it’s raining…Get inside.”
Get me an umbrella, fast man, I’ll miss the bus!”
You back from tuitions, bro……, Nivedith asked even while he went in to get the umbrella. Now he was even more puzzled, tuitions got over by six, he knew that; Jason should be home by now. ‘Must have stayed back and then it might have started to rain’ he thought. Nivedith ran through the possible theories in his mind just as Google gives you feeds on your search topic. His quest for the umbrella found himself in the kitchen, his mind wholly consumed by the innumerable reasons of having Jason at his doorstep. Yet, he didn’t care.
He went to the place where they kept the umbrella only to find it absent there. Oh, that’s right; mom had taken it to take the clothes off the washing line as she saw the black clouds forming above. “Mom……” He shouted across the hall like a general calling his cavalry into the battle, “Where did you keep the umbrella”?
Who is it Nichoo?? Yeah, that’s what they called him at home. Long story. “It’s Jason, Maa. He needs an umbrella.”
“I kept it in the car shed to dry it.” Mom was back in her own world.
The shed was home to one of his dad’s prized possessions – A Fiat Linea which was quite new stating it was only 6 months and whose purchase had been partly financed by selling their old Maruti. Nivedith walked on towards the front door, the shed was attached to the house but on reaching the door he didn’t find Jason there.
Did he come in?? No, couldn’t find his slippers. Nivedith went into the shed, found the umbrella and stepped into the rain. “Jaaasoon, Hey man Jason “ Where did he go….?
He must have got the bus. Some drivers did stop in front of his house if you signaled them. Must have got lucky. He could have at least told…..Nah leave it.
He put the umbrella back in the shed, went in and locked the front door. He picked up his phone, something he spent most of his time with, one of his ‘can’t live without’ things. Yes, when it comes to his phone, Nivedith was materialistic.
He’ll ring him up. Just for the sake, it didn’t really matter, but what’s wrong in calling…switched off.
Why did he have to switch it off? Well, good thing he got the bus. Nivedith didn’t think more about it, he went back to his game and was occupied enough the rest of the day.
Beep…Beep. Beep…Nivedith rubbed his eyes to the sound of his phone alarm ringing. It must be 9:00, that’s the default time he set for alarm. He remembered last night, he was writing his homework, the project on Electromagnetic waves. Simple stuff but time-consuming. Well….he must have fallen asleep; he checked the book lying beside him-halfway through. Not bad. It was Sunday. Both mom and dad were home. He got up, still feeling sleepy like every other day and went in to wash up. As he stepped out of his bathroom, his phone began ringing. It was a new ring tone, in fact, it was the first call since he had changed it. He stood there, appreciating his choice, and then he picked up the call. It was Varun. So early! What could it be?? He shouldn’t even be up! Well, he might as well find out. He slid the green icon to the right.
“What’s up Varun!!!? Why so early??”
“OK, don’t freak out! I don’t know how to say this….but…..Jason’s gone…”!
“Where to?? What do you mean gone?…
“He’s dead…for God’s sake.”
“What the…..Nivedith almost dropped his phone. This could not be a joke. Even though Varun was well known for his silly pranks, he could feel the fear and pain in Varun’s voice. No way he was kidding. Dead…No way. Please let it be a dream…Please, he prayed!
He had been in worse situations than this like the time when he found out he was the only one present on earth and that the rest of migrated to another galaxy, but it turned out to be a dream just like all the others. But this time it didn’t seem like one….
Varun, what happened?? I mean… I just saw him yesterday.
“We all saw him yesterday.” No, I meant I saw him after school.
Now way Nivedith…Just shut up…
How did it happen… his voice barely came out, he was crying now.
Accident….Just come. His body’s in the hospital. He could see that Varun could barely manage the words at the other side.
No….. He screamed…..This could not be happening.
Jason was here yesterday. Why God? Why??? He was losing it. Mom came into his room. Guess he must have made quite a sound. Nivedith… What’s wrong ?? Everything all right?.
Definitely not all right. Nivedith ran towards his mom, hugged her and cried his heart out. “Jason’s dead….mom” he uttered out somehow.
Mom didn’t speak for sometime….”But…But wasn’t he here yesterday. I thought you said..”
Yes, maa. I don’t know…I just don’t know. I yelled out as much as I could…That’s all I remember.
The hospital was not that far. But it seemed miles away this time around. Every step seemed difficult and Nivedith felt being repelled away by something, something that kept him from reaching his destination. I told my parents not to come. Not necessary. There would be enough people to mourn there.
My friends would be there. Whatever has happened in the last hour has really shaken me, it took me to my knees. Right now I have a lot of questions on my mind which definitely includes Jason’s visit last night. Slowly, as thoughts clouded my mind, I reached that tall grey building that looked even greyer today.
Nivedith had been in that building many times, it was the go-to-hospital to everyone in his locality, but never had he been inside on behalf of anyone’s death. He had called Varun before leaving his house, he was at the hospital, and the body had been shifted to the mortuary as it had been quite some time since the death. Collision. Cycle on the bus. Reached the hospital alive but didn’t survive. Time of death 6:30.
Nivedith was already was going crazy over the news of death, the new info was something he just couldn’t swallow.
“But… But he was here, he wanted an umbrella” He spoke over the phone.
“Dude …keep calm.. We are all freaked out….Just come man!!
NO..NO..NO, Jason…Bus… Umbrella..No, this was paranoia. There has to be a mistake. Bicycle? Didn’t he leave by bus??
I asked for the mortuary at the helpdesk. 1st floor. The women in blue overalls replied. I took the staircase. The smell of anesthetics took over. Oh, he hated the smell of a hospital. Ammonia and ether.
The mortuary was dimly lit. There seemed to be a movable stretcher in the middle, around which people were crowded. This was it. Like those scenes in movies, just that there was no depressing background music this time around. No crying too. Guess everyone had come to terms with the loss. But he still hadn’t. The body was covered in white. I saw my friends on the other side. No, they weren’t crying. But he could see their pain.
Nivedith just stood there, he could see Jason’s family, some people he didn’t know. Relatives probably. He saw his friends, Jason’s friends, their friends. He just stood there staring at the white shrouded figure on the stretcher. Someone near the stretcher gestured whether to disclose the face, do I want to see it?? No…I shook my head, I knew I wouldn’t be able to bear it. Yes, there was a part of me which wanted to, never will I be able to see him again for soon his coffin too will be lowered into the depths.
Someone just came in, a couple, the lady was covering the lower part of her face with the end of her sari. She was weeping. The man just stood there. The white cloth was displaced so as to show the woman the face. I saw it too. Guess it was decided that I too would have to see it. The same face….he saw yesterday apart from the wounds on the forehead and the cheek. He walked across to his friends. Nobody spoke much. We hugged each other, the least we could do. People were dispersing. Varun approached me.
“You were just so freaked out on the phone. You all right now”??
“Varun, he was at my home yesterday. About seven. He was drenched in the rain. He asked for an umbrella. Said he will miss the bus.” Nivedith blurted out.
“Nivedith, What in the world are you talking about? Jason was on his cycle, returning from tuitions, when it happened, around 6. I came to know only today. It’s been sometime now.”
“But I saw him at 7.”
Just shut up.Not another word from you, stop talking shit, Nivedith. And did you give him the umbrella”? I saw his damn file – time of death 6:30. So I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.
“No…he left before I could give it to him” he replied even as Varun walked away. For a moment everything seemed to stand still around Nivedith. He was sure, but was it, Jason??
He did see his face even though it was raining. No.. He was sure, damn sure. And it was definitely past 6:30. And if Jason was lying dead in the hospital at 6:30, who had come? Who could he ask? Who would believe him?
Certainly not his parents. His friends would have believed him, even Varun but not at this moment. We were all shaken. Just the other day they were playing soccer and shouting in the canteen and now he sleeps, never to wake again.
But nobody could deny the fact that he saw Jason yesterday, he only saw. Maybe he was the only one meant to see. Maybe Jason wanted to see him one last time before going. Maybe. He was supposed to freak out, his friend just visited him, apparently after he died, but Nivedith didn’t. He felt at peace, a strange calmness. It was raining now. Just like yesterday when Jason had visited him. Coincidence…?
No, He had seen enough to just leave it to such a meager conclusion. He saw his friends outside. They gave him confidence. They always have. He knew they would get over this. After all, life has to go on. But he knew yesterday’s visit could never be explained. Ever!
“Science has the answer to everything” he remembered his physics teacher telling the class the other day. Not this….Surely not this!