I was in a coma for two days. People think you’re nearly dead when you’re in that stage. But now that I’ve come out of it, I can say I’ve never felt more alive. I could sense everything around me. I heard a lady crying, a man talking to me about things which didn’t make any sense. I heard a small girl calling me Ma. My eyes were closed. It seemed they all knew me. Yet I seemed to know none of them. I could hear the veins in my body pulsating. My heartbeat had never been more prominent. But in spite of all this, I craved to hear only one voice. The voice that I last heard before the fatal accident. My sister’s voice.
Seven days back me and my sister had met with an accident. I was driving the car. It was near a roundabout when a truck suddenly hit our car. It instantly flipped over. I don’t remember much after that. My sister Shilpa was seated next to me. I remember looking at her before closing my eyes.
I came out of the coma five days back. It took me a while to acknowledge that I’m in a hospital. I could identify the Doctor and the nurse from their uniforms. But rest all that surrounded my bed were unknown to me. A little girl, a man and an elderly lady. I guess they were the ones who would talk with me while I lay conscious in a coma.
The first thing I asked was about my sister. To which they exchanged blank glances with each other. Then they dodged the question and asked me if I recognized them. I said no. And the elderly lady broke into sobs.
That lady is my mother. The man is my husband and the 5-year-old is my only kid Samaya. That’s how they all introduced themselves to me. I remember none of them. They all look tired and deeply hurt. They’re making rounds of the hospital day and night hoping to find a slight ray of recognition in my eyes. But I fail them again and again.
Next day I asked them about Shilpa again. They looked uncomfortable. I asked them if she was fine. They remained silent. I expressed my desire to see her for once. To which the discomfort in their faces grew intense.
Their reticence has started to scare me. Where is she?
I remember our car ride before the accident. I was upset about something. She made me laugh. She told me she would always be with me no matter what. And I replied saying, ‘I wish I could spend my life like this. Without having to need others. Just with you.’
She smiled. I still remember that smile. It was doleful. As if she knew what was coming our way.
Day before yesterday, my nurse asked me about Shilpa. Right then I discovered that I remember every single moment spent with her. Starting from our childhood days. But I don’t remember our surroundings. Sometimes I see only whiteness around. And sometimes everything’s inky black.
Yesterday I finally decided to confront my supposed family. I asked them what they had been holding back from me. My husband sent my mother and daughter out of the room. He then held my hand and asked me to calm down. He told me Shilpa had been in a coma as well. She is yet to gain consciousness. It hurt me no end. But I swallowed my emotions. I asked him for my mobile. I told him the nurse wanted to see Shilpa’s photo.
His expression was blank. For a fleeting moment, he looked scared. But it went back to being blank again. He nodded and said he would get it.
Now I’m waiting for them. The visiting hour is about to start.
My husband enters the room. My mother and daughter follow him. The Doctor and the nurse both walk in together. It surprises me. Usually the Doctor wouldn’t visit me at this time. Nevertheless, I take the mobile from my husband. But I flounder with it. I can’t manage to remember how to use it. My husband helps me locate the gallery. I open it and there it is. The very first picture is hers. I flash the mobile at the nurse and smile.
‘This is Shilpa.’
She takes a step towards me and then stops abruptly. Her face turns white as a sheet. She swallows hard and looks at me. Her eyes exude sheer fright.
‘What happened?’ I ask and look at others.
Their eyes are fixed on the mobile. And their expression is no different than hers. Even the Doctor looks baffled.
My daughter walks to me and takes the mobile. Then she breaks into giggles. ‘Ma, this is you. And your name is not Shilpa.’
I turn the mobile and have a look at the picture. This is me?
Oh, I don’t remember how I look. But I strongly remember how my sister does.
My hands start shaking. I scroll through the pictures. Almost in every picture, I can spot her. Sometimes with my husband. Sometimes with my daughter. Sometimes with other people.
‘I guess you two are twins. Right?’
The voice jerks me and I look at my Doctor. He smiles. That soothes me. Ah, we are twins. That makes sense. I nod dubiously. I look at my mother. She lowers her eyes. She looks fidgety. My husband strains a smile at me.
‘Mr. Basu, I’d request you and your mother-in-law to come with me to my cabin.’ The Doctor tells my husband. ‘You stay here with her.’ He commands the nurse and walks out.
‘I want to see how I look.’ I say to the nurse after they leave.
At the Doctor’s cabin
‘I want both of you to be honest with me.’ Says the Doctor. ‘Where’s Shilpa?’
Her husband and mother exchange uneasy glances.
‘There’s no Shilpa, Doctor.’ Her mother utters hesitantly.
‘Then whom is she talking about? Where is her sister?’
‘She’s my only child.’ Her mother gulps and goes on, ‘she was roughly seven when I first heard her take this name, Shilpa.’ She stops and wipes her brow. Clearly the AC has no effect on her restlessness. She drinks some water from the glass on the table. ‘I was walking by her room when I caught her talking with someone. And that someone was not present in the room. She was looking at the wall, laughing at times, talking, then pausing as if listening to someone invisible.’ She stops.
The Doctor stays silent. He looks pensive.
Her husband clears his throat. ‘I’ve come across a similar situation a couple of years back. I was passing by the attached bathroom in our bedroom. She was inside, taking bath. Suddenly I heard her talking. Rather whispering. I strained my ears just to be sure. And I was right. She indeed was talking with someone. I didn’t confront her. Neither did I give it much importance, you know, but this whole ‘Shilpa’ thing reminded me of it.’
‘I’ve found her talking with this invisible entity many times.’ Her mother says in a worried voice. ‘But I thought with time it would die out.’
The Doctor squirms in his seat. Then he says, ‘tell me one thing. Is she an introvert?’
They both nod their heads in unison.
‘Extreme.’ Says her mother. ‘She’s had very few friends. She doesn’t even open up to me.’
‘Yeah. That’s right. She mostly keeps to herself.’ Her husband agrees.
The Doctor nods. ‘I’ve heard of one such case from a psychologist friend of mine. This is mostly common with introverted people. They tend to imagine a person who would understand them. Someone who would accept them. And listen to all they’ve got to say. It might sound strange to us but to them it’s as natural as being with a real human. They imagine a face, a character, a whole person. And that person becomes their sole companion. In her case, it’s her sister. And she looks just like her.’ He stops for breath.
Her husband and mother look blankly at him.
He continues, ‘They’re very much aware of the fact that this person is imaginary. But they can’t help it. Because by now it’s an integral part of their life. They find solace in it.’
‘But she doesn’t seem to be aware that Shilpa is imaginary. She’s…’
‘Wait, Mr. Basu. Let me complete. Your wife is overtaken by a terrific trauma. She’s not in her right mind. She remembers none. But her imaginary sister. Due to the brain injury, she is not able to think straight. She’s confabulating. I suggest that you take her to a good psychiatrist. A counselling would help.’
He gets up to leave. ‘And be sensitive while dealing with her. She’s living in an illusion. Far from reality.’
The nurse opens the front camera of my mobile and hands it back to me. I look into it. I indeed look like her. My sister. I run my fingers over my face. Looking into the camera, I suddenly feel as if I’m looking at her. Not myself. She’s looking back at me. She’s smiling. It’s strange. I know it’s me. But I feel like it’s her. I smile back.
Suddenly footfalls make me look up. It’s my husband and mother. They come and stand by the bed.
‘We’ve to leave now.’ Says my husband.
My mother looks at me in a queer way. As if she’s trying to read my face. Or looking for something else in it.
My husband reaches out for my mobile. I shake my head, holding it tightly.
‘Let it be with me.’ I say firmly.
Letting it go means letting go of my sister. And that, in turn, means letting go of myself. I can’t exist without her. She’s all I have right now. I’d wait for her to come out of the coma. And until then, I’d talk with her through this mobile camera.
I see my husband, mother and daughter leave. The nurse too walks out. I open the front camera and smile at it.
‘Hey, we’ve a lot of catching up to do, sister.’