Memories8 mins 266 8 mins 266
‘If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent.’
This is the story about my neighbour Mr. Xavier who had newly moved in into our apartment. He was one of the survivors of the nuclear blast few months back who were being relocated after being tended to and were medically fit to go back to civilisation. Excuse me for being so abject but I am a man of science and I do not sugar coat. People did their best to make him feel welcome. I had heard through the grapevine that he had lost his beloved wife to the blast and was a private person in general and didn’t let anyone into his house or life. Being one myself, I didn’t find it perturbing. We would smile and greet each other when we ran into each other, that was about it. Both of us seemed to like this arrangement.
I was an engineer at a big invention firm and was currently assigned to create the memory projection instrument. The MPI, in its simplest terms. An instrument which would collect your memories and allowed you to relive them whenever you wanted by a series of illusions. Almost like bottling up your memories and all you had to do was uncork them and breathe them in, live them once again. I had dedicated myself to this task diligently. I wanted to make this a reality. More so because it was challenging and had not been done before. I imagined if I succeeded there would be movies made on me. Or maybe books written. Anything would do, as long as I earned. There were too many parameters to factor in but I had figured out all the critical points and had the blueprints ready. What can I say, I’m a passionate man. I love my job. I planned to use the MPI for storing all these experiences too.
That night, I went down for a walk. I chose night times for walks to avoid people in general. It had worked so far but, on that day, I had an unexpected companion. Mr. Xavier. We kept bumping into each other and every time that happened we exchanged forced smiles or tried to avoid eye contact. After a while, I sat down on a bench and he too sat on the other corner of the bench. Forced smiles again. I was about to leave when he attempted at small talk. “Do you come for walks often?” he asked. Well, I was trapped.
“Uhh..yes”. I replied. I had received the general information that he liked to keep to himself. A classic introvert, much like myself. Small talk was a common enemy. Maybe he wanted to bend down to social convention. I wanted to tell him he didn’t have to do that with me.
“This is a lovely apartment complex. I am enjoying my time here” he continued.
“Good to hear, sir. Have you settled in?”
“I should get going-“
“You should come home for dinner sometime.”
“I usually come very late. Wouldn’t want you to wait that long for me”
“Oh, that’s not an issue. I have late dinners anyway. I cook really well. Learned from my wife. You live alone, don’t you”
“Yes sir. I moved here for my job.”
“Good. So how does tomorrow night sound?”
I didn’t respond for a while. “you are an inventor, aren’t you? I am one myself. We might hit it off well” he said with a grin. There was a sudden change in his tone, it was playful. More enticing. I eventually agreed.
I arrived for dinner the next night. Mr. Xavier’s house was richly decorated and felt very homely. Much in contrast to his usual aura. Everywhere u looked there was a picture of him and his wife almost making it rude to not ask about her. “She was beautiful. Your wife” I said awkwardly. “Ah yes! She was. And very smart too. She was a physics professor. She specialized in nuclear physics. The irony!” he chuckled. It was too dark for me to laugh along with him so I just stared into space and cringed. Sensing my discomfort, he said “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I just loved her dearly. Her death devastated me.”
“I understand. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you. I hope you like lasagna”
We chatted through the night. I told him about the MPI. He seemed very interested and quizzed me about various things, suggested a few improvements. He sounded more hopeful than me about it. “It is very elaborate and expensive. It’s a long-term project, it’ll not be ready anytime soon.” I told him. He didn’t seem to listen. He had heard what he wanted to. I had seemingly given him the hope he desperately needed. A chance to meet his wife, again. Up until then I had never really bothered about how direly people needed something like this. His hope gave me a fresh perspective. I gladly left for my place that night.
“Please don’t give up on this project. It’s amazing what you are doing.” he said to me with tears in his eyes.
The frequency of our rendezvouses increased. I was often found at his place and every time he’d ask me about the progress. We had found a friend in each other. I’d often help him with his engineering hobby. He wanted to make some air purifier. Something with very strong filters coupled with a complex build. I sourced the materials required, high quality filters and more from work. Building that was juvenile work for me and he was easy to impress. Much like helping my father, it gave me joy. His incessant inquiries about MPI would often become so I would gently admonish him. He eventually stopped. I just thought he had come to terms with things. I realised it was his yearning for companionship, his beloved. “If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like a scent.” he would say. “I know this is harsh but you need to move on Mr. Xavier. I am sure that is what your wife would’ve wanted too.” I would reply.
But the MPI project did pick up after and I started getting busy spending long hours at work. I had never imagined it to work out so well. We were just few more weeks from building a prototype. I informed my colleagues that I had a volunteer for test run ready. I hardly got time to visit Mr. Xavier. I ran into him one day, he looked sick. He was coughing a bit too much and no more looked as lively as he used to around me. He was wearing a face mask for the cough. I asked about his air purifiers and he said he had already installed them. He was in no mood to chat. He looked upset. I blamed myself for not giving him enough time. I genuinely feared that he might slip into depression. That night I went up to his flat. Knocked for such a long time but he never answered. I missed him more than I cared to admit. I couldn’t take it anymore. I realised he is just mad at me for ignoring him. I had to make up things with him. I went to his apartment every single day that week. Knocked till my knuckles hurt. No answer. I stopped seeing him outside or anywhere. I sensed that something is wrong and that is when I got worried and called the police. They arrived and had to knock down the door that fateful night. The night I dread to this day.
It’s been almost a year to that night and I have just come to terms with the events of that night. I have been fired since. But I don’t regret what I did. Let me narrate the tale.
Two policemen arrived after my complaint. They were about to break down the door when one of the officer’s watches started beeping. Both of them stopped dead in their tracks. I knew full well what that beep was and a chill ran through my spine. My firm had supplied those watches to them. They were Geiger counter installed watches. Government had made these mandatory for police officers after the blast. Mild radiation was being detected in the vicinity. The officers left in a hurry and came back with appropriate equipment. They broke down the door. The house had a characteristic smell, all their radiation detectors were beeping as they were making their way around the house. They tried to find the source, they found the radiation coming from the bedroom. They knocked down the room to find Mr. Xavier on the floor, with extreme radiation burns, body rotting away. His hands still clutching a small glass bottle, uncorked. It seemed to have something which looked like a piece of metal which was emanating all the radiations of dangerous levels, enough to make that flat inhabitable. Along with that he also has a picture of his wife.
The flat was cleaned out and quarantined and ultimately made safe for the fellow dwellers in the building. It was declared that level of radiation was mostly restricted to that one flat because the man had installed some high-level filters on all windows.
There was no suicide note. Nothing. No explanation of the happenings. No one knew why he did what he did. No one. Except me.
He had told me how he related the blast, the environment, to his wife. How everything related to the accident, took him to the memories of his wife. I had mistaken them for just words. I never in my dreams had thought he would actually bottle up her memories in such a fashion. I had asked him to move on. But her memories consumed him. The whiff of the memories got to him before I could.
I stayed in shock for many days after. I couldn’t wrap my head around the events. It was too much for my mechanical mind to grasp. I realised the MPI was essentially a comfortable cage I was offering to people. An easy way for them to remain in the past. So, I pulled the plug on it. I tried to reason with my bosses but a lot of money was at stake so I was fired.
But I stand by my last words to them. Some things are meant to be left where they belong.