"If something goes wrong, at least I will have tried my best, and I’ll learn to live with it. But I can’t live with the regret of not knowing if things might have been better.”
“If something goes wrong, at least I will have tried my best, and I’ll learn to live with it. But I can’t live with the regret of not knowing if things might have been better.”
Ira’s knuckles are white from how tightly she is gripping her chair.
“So the downside is that I will go completely blind?” She sounds rough to her own ears. Like old, worn out rubber tires that have been too long on the road, about to combust.
She hears the doctor sigh – a sigh that carries neither conviction nor reassurance. When you live in near darkness, your other senses become sharper. For her, it is her hearing. Likening the voices around her to things and feelings she had known when she’d been sighted is particularly helpful. The doctor’s sigh sounds like old food at the back of the fridge that you’d forgotten about for weeks. Depressing. Sour.
“I can hear you sigh, Dr. Rathore,” she tells him. “I’d prefer the truth, please.”
“Well,” he stalls as he flounders for words. Then he sighs again. She wishes he’d stop doing that.
“This surgery is risky, because the procedure is experimental and not established yet. You must be aware that we won’t be able to guarantee a positive outcome. This will be at your own risk. But,” he stresses, “if it goes well, we’re looking at a high rate of recovery.”
She can hear what he is not saying. If something went awry on that operating table, she’d have no one to blame but herself. She’d be completely blind, with no chance of recovery and possible side-effects.
“And that is exactly why,” she hears a growl from her right, “she is not getting that surgery.”
“That is not your decision to make,” she growls back, her head tilting in the direction of where her brother stands, sounding so furious that she can almost feel the ripples in the air between them.
“Well,” the poor doctor interjects, eager to get away from the crossfire. “You have a day’s time left to decide, since the head surgeon is flying out next week. If you decide against it, I’m afraid you won’t have a chance to change your mind.”
Her brother presumably nods, for she can hear him leave them alone.
The bed dips, a familiar weight at her side.
A hand clasps hers, warmth pulsing through it with as much love as it did through all her years growing up. Only now, that love is laced with fear.
“If you do this, we might lose you,” Aarav says with no preamble. He sounds like a cactus would feel, prickly and defensive.
“Don’t be dramatic,” she huffs. “If it goes badly, I’ll become completely blind. It’s not very different from how I’m living now,” she fights to keep her voice steady, to not show how terrified she is too.
“Is this so bad, living like this?” he whispers, sounding very old suddenly.
Ah, that was the million-dollar question, wasn’t it?
Is it so bad, living like this?
“It is,” she whispers. “It might have felt different had I been…blind since birth,” she says, stumbling over the word even after three years of living with the shadows. “But I miss the things I used to love doing. I miss reading books without getting a headache at the end of five pages. I miss watching movies. I miss art. And it’s so hard…” She feels the tell-tale prick of tears behind her opaque eyes as she tries to voice the ache of only seeing the world in dark blobs and blurs.
Aarav makes a soft sound. She knows that this, at least, he can understand.
Before the accident, art had been her life. In her last year at Parsons, she had been at the top of her graduating class and had already received offers from both Disney and Pixar as one of their junior illustrators. It had been a gold-tinged life.
But life was also cruel. One night out, one drunk driver and a long drug-induced coma later, she’d woken up to find herself swallowed by the darkness, her life flipped overnight almost tragicomically.
A drunk driver. Even now, it sounded so cliched that she sometimes fought the strong urge to go back to sleep and wake up, convinced that it was all a nightmare.
Anyway, she was done waiting. She feels like she has been standing on the edge of a cliff for far too long, aching with the constant fear of falling into the void below.
“Your blindness does not define you,” her brother says, his voice a mix of frustration and resignation. His words echo her therapist. “It does not take away from who you are.”
“I know that,” she says, determined to make him see things from her point of view. “But I must at least try. This will give me a chance, Aarav, at being okay again. I must take it. If something goes wrong, at least I will have tried my best, and I’ll learn to live with it. But I can’t live with the regret of not knowing if things might have been better.”
Aarav sighs. Ira hears his surrender. She searches for her brother’s hands and feels him clasp her palms gently.
“This is up to you,” he says, voice now soft. “It is your decision in the end. I won’t force you, or guilt-trip you into doing something, and I’ll always love you for who you are, no matter what happens. But,” he tightens his grip slightly, “you must be prepared to live with the consequences.”
She nods in his direction, trying to inject some ill-veiled cheer into her voice, for his sake. “I will. I love you.”
“Love you too, sis,” he murmurs.
The music from her neighbour’s flat seeps through the crack in the door, far too cheerful for her mood. But it is a Sunday morning, and people are allowed to be cheerful, even if she herself feels like a piece of old gum stuck at the bottom of a shoe.
Nightmares had plagued her sleep, making her question her decision and wallow in self-pity. What if she was better off like this, partially blind but otherwise healthy? What if she was unlucky enough to be plagued by all the side-effects of the surgery without recovering her sight? What if she was sabotaging herself?
She almost throws her lamp at the wall, cursing in frustration, feeling sorry for herself and mad at the world. It was bloody unfair. Why her? If something went wrong, what would happen to her brother?
She thought she’d made up her mind. The trick question had begun to seep in, however. It had become a trick situation. The longer she sat feeling sorry for herself, the less sorry she felt. It’s called a reverse something or the other. There isn’t time to get into that now.
In less than twenty-four hours, she could be wheeled into the operation theatre and come out seeing light at the end of the tunnel, or she could sign, stamp and seal the contract on being fully blind for the rest of her life.
She picks up the phone to call Dr. Rathore.
“Oh my god, it is you.”
She was being wheeled into surgery, her fingers still wet from her brother’s tears, and her doctor’s first sentence to her was not what she was expecting.
“I’m sorry,” the man rushes to say, sounding winded. “I’m Neel Banerjee. I’m the assistant surgeon for your case. I don’t know if you remember – we went to the same high school.”
“Oh,” she says, startled. She has not kept in touch with her school friends, more so after the accident. She tries to match a face to the voice, but comes up blank.
“Sorry, I can’t seem to recall…”
“That’s okay, we hardly ever spoke,” he says, sounding like a…cool mint drink. Soothing. And a little nervous.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she says, as the nurse starts pushing her towards the operating theatre. “Please do try not to let me die,” she says, giving in to morbid humour.
“I’ll do my best,” he says, sounding much more confident this time. She nods, and the nurse begins to wheel her away.
The sudden yell catches her off guard and she almost jumps in her chair.
“I just-” he seems closer now, and she hears him inhale deeply. “This is terrible timing, but I missed out on the chance to do so at school, and I don’t want to lose it again. I know we’ve just met and are practically strangers and that this is very bizarre but…” another deep breath, as if he is bracing himself. “Can we get to know each other better? After your surgery?”
She feels her jaw drop open. Considering that she was having an existential crisis until a few minutes ago, this was giving her emotional whiplash.
“You sure that it’ll go well?” she asks, still recovering from the sudden question.
She can feel his confidence when he says, “I’ll try the hardest I ever have in my life. I’m only the assistant surgeon, but I’ll do my best. I promise.”
“Alright, then,” she murmurs. “I’ll let you know when I wake up.”
“Try not to worry,” the nurse says as she wheels her into the cooler air of the operation theatre. “He’s supposed to be a prodigy, so you’re in good hands.”
“Let’s hope so,” Ira whispers.
And feels a little more hopeful than she had a few minutes ago.
One year later
“What is that?” Ira peers at the blurry object in front of her.
“Aren’t you able to see the shape of it? Colour?” Neel asks, worry tightening his voice.
“Stop fretting,” she says, rubbing the sleep from her eyes after her evening nap. “Things are always blurry as soon as I wake up. You know that – you’re my doctor,” she teases, feeling for her eye drops on the bedside table. Her fingers encounter a thick manila envelope – her work contract as an illustrator for a small animation company. She smiles at the reminder.
“Can I be more? You’re cute. Can I ask you out on a date?” he says, the grin apparent in his voice. He takes the bottle from her and gently cups her jaw as he administers the drops.
“We’ve been dating for a year,” she deadpans, trying not to chuckle. “But what is that?” A sudden thought strikes her. “It’s not a ring, is it?”
“Damn,” he says, as she feels his hands twine around her waist in a side hug. “Spoiled the surprise.”
“If you propose to me before asking my brother, he’ll challenge you to a boxing match. And we all know what happened last time,” she says, waddling toward the bathroom, Neel still attached to her back. The blurry shapes are slowly taking on solid outlines. She washes her hands, eager for dinner.
“I’ve been practising!” he protests. “I can take him down now.”
“But, no, it’s not a ring,” he says. “But it is a box.”
He slips it into her palm and she brings it close to her face, able to make out the fine wooden texture of it now. She snaps it open.
“A key?” she murmurs, tracing over the cool metal. “You sure?”
“Of course. Move in with me?”
“I thought we’d do this after I fully recover.”
“I can’t wait,” he says simply. “Besides, things won’t be very different. We spend most of our time at each other’s place anyway. And it’d be nice coming straight home to you after a long day of surgeries instead of going home and then coming back here.”
“Okay,” she laughs as he tries to lift her and spin her around, failing spectacularly as they try not to tumble to the floor.
She’s still not far from the cliff yet, but it no longer feels like she’s about to jump into the void. She’d leapt once, and landed on her feet, even if she was bruised and still recovering. She can do it again.
This story was shortlisted for our July 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. Our juror for the month Jane De Suza says “The imagery that this writer conveys through sounds is clear and evocative. The fluidity of language makes it a smooth read. My only suggestion is for the writer to push for more nuanced plots, to do justice to this writing.”
Image source: a still from short film Anamika/ Pocket Films on YouTube
Prashanti Chunduri is studying for a masters in English at EFLU, Hyderabad. read more...
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