It seems I can’t breathe anymore. There’s a heavy weight on my chest. A stinging pain ripples through my body. I feel stifled. My eyes are closed. I know it’s midnight. I’m supposed to be sound asleep now. But I’m not. Somewhere in my subconscious, I’m wide awake. But why? What’s this pain that is slowly and literally gripping my heart? I can’t move. Only I manage to splutter some words that make no sense. Maybe I’m trying to shout. But my brain is too numb to decipher the signal from my heart. The weight on my chest seems massive now. I’m trying to inhale some air but it doesn’t seem to flow down my open mouth. Can this ghastly experience be a mere dream?
I open my eyes with a jolt. Yes, it was a dream. A dream. I have a sigh of profound relief. I sit upright and take three deep breaths. Breathing has never felt so heavenly. I look sideways and frown. Where’s my husband? Is he up already? But that’s utterly improbable. I look out the window. It’s bright outside. But not as bright as the rays of the morning sun. What time is it? I feel panicked. I take my mobile off the side table to check the time. It’s 4 in the evening. What! My jaw drops. I clearly remember closing my eyes to sleep last night. Then I had that frightening dream. And I end up waking at 4 PM! I’m about to toss my mobile at the bed but I stop. There’s something else that has caught my eye. I unlock my mobile again and my face freezes out of sheer horror. The date flashing on my mobile is 13th May, Sunday. No. It can’t be true. Today’s date is 14th May. Today’s Monday. Throwing the mobile away, I run out of my room.
There’s absolute silence around. I walk to the nearest room which is my elder daughter’s. I push the door open. A Bollywood song is playing on her mobile. She’s nowhere to be seen. The door to the attached bathroom is closed. She must be inside. The curtains are pulled; room looks messy with clothes all over the place. I’ve seen all this before. It was yesterday. Right at the same time I walk in. I open the cupboard to arrange her clothes as I did yesterday. And instead I stumble upon a piece of paper. I very well know what it is. It’s her seventh semester result. I know why she stashed it away. Because she had failed in two subjects. This all has happened yesterday. I take the paper and close the cupboard. She comes out of the bathroom. One look and her face turn white as a sheet. I don’t glower at her like I did yesterday. Because it’s not a surprise to me anymore. Instead I feel bad, looking at her grim face. She starts spluttering excuses. I’ve heard all this before. I wonder what is happening. Have I time travelled to yesterday? I shake off my bizarre thought. I am dreaming. I conclude. Is it a dream inside a dream? I pull myself out of my thoughts and snap at her like I did yesterday. I ground her for a month. She starts crying; she pleads with me to listen to her. But I turn my back to her. Yesterday I did the same; I left without paying heed to her request. But now, for some unknown reason, I stop. And I turn back.
I ask, ‘what have you got to say?’
She stops crying and sits down. ‘Mom, I can’t be an engineer.’ She lowers her eyes. ‘I auditioned for a singing competition and they selected me.’
I can’t believe my ears. We’ve spent Lakhs on her education and all she cares for is a singing competition! I keep mum and stay put.
She continues, ‘music is my life, Mom. I don’t want to become a frustrated software engineer. I want to make music my profession. I’ll have to move to Mumbai for three months. The competition will be held there. Please say yes.’
‘Unbelievable!’ I glare at her and dash out of the room.
Now I wish I didn’t turn back to listen to her stupid, immature request. Music can be a hobby. But how can you think of it as a profession? We’re middle class people. We aren’t made for such fancy dreams. I keep muttering as I stop at the door of my younger daughter’s room. She’s talking on phone with someone. I feel proud of her. She cares about my emotions. She wants to become a Doctor. All she thinks about is her career. She isn’t distracted by music, movies, friends and parties.
Suddenly a faint shout from a distance disrupts my thought. I look around. It seems someone’s calling my name. But the voice is too low. Nevertheless my daughter’s conversation with her friend brings me back to the present. I strain my ears. Why? I hate eavesdropping. Yesterday I didn’t do this. I stopped, peeked inside to check on her and left immediately.
‘I’m tired. I can’t take it anymore.’ She says, irritated.
I furrow my eyebrows. What is it?
She continues, ‘I can’t tell you how tough it is to pretend to be someone I’m not. There’s constant pressure on me to prove myself. I don’t want to be what Mom could not be. I want to take Arts. I want to study literature but Mom wants me to opt for Science.’
She goes silent. Probably the person on the other end of the line is speaking. I don’t fathom what she is saying. She is my ideal daughter. She promised me she would become a Doctor. That she would pursue my unfulfilled dream. This is not real. I convince myself. How can she not like Science?
She starts speaking again. ‘Is it my responsibility to pursue her unfulfilled dreams? Am I not supposed to fulfill my own?’
I jerk back. Her words have knifed my heart and soul. But it’s just a dream. It’ll be over soon. I console myself. The noise is back to disrupt my thoughts again. This time I hear my husband’s voice. He’s calling me. But his voice is distant. I hear the hoots of horns. I sense a clamor. Suddenly I feel a jolt in my body. I turn back in fear. No, there’s no one around. I run back to my room and find my husband sitting on the bed with his back to me. I decide to tell him that something weird is going on. I’m apparently time travelling in my dream while they have no clue of it. I walk over to him and before I can call out his name, I catch a glimpse of his laptop screen.
‘What’s this?’ I blurt out, surprised.
He turns around. He’s clearly taken aback. But he smiles. ‘You remember what we decided on our wedding night?’
I look at him blankly. I’m clearly not in the state to remember what happened twenty five years ago. All my veins seem to have got tangled up in my head. I shake my head dubiously. Yesterday I did the same. I shook my head and apprised him of our elder daughter’s result. I told him to be hard on her. I complained that he was the one who spoiled her in the first place. I took all my frustration and anger out on him. But now I remain mum. I want to hear him out.
He continues, ‘how can you forget? We decided we’d take a trip to Paris on our 25th Anniversary.’ He grins, ‘Just the two of us.’
Oh, so this is why he’s checking out the Europe tour packages. I roll my eyes. This man is clearly oblivious of all the problems in our life. How can he plan such an extravagant trip? We’ve tons of expenses lying ahead. I have a sigh of exhaustion. I earnestly hope this is just a dream. I can’t deal with all this mess for real.
‘I’ve been saving money for this trip. I thought I’d surprise you by directly handing you the tickets. But I’m falling short of some forty thousand.’ He exhales noisily. ‘What to do?’
I feel sorry for him. He’s a good man. A tad too good for this world. I love him. For the first time, this dream doesn’t seem cruel, vicious and ghastly. I smile and open my mouth to speak but the noise is back. It’s not faint anymore. Rather it is grating. It’s numbing my senses. I press my hands over my ears. It’s intolerable. I can’t take it anymore. I squeeze my eyes shut and it seems my soul is being pulled away. I open my eyes with a start. It’s a room where everything looks white and dull. I’m lying in a bed. The tranquility starts to scare me. Where am I?
The voice startles me and I look to my left. It’s my husband. He looks haggard. His eyes are swollen. I feel his hand on mine.
‘What happened?’ I ask.
‘You had a heart attack last night.’ He says softly.
A heart attack? Oh. So that stifling feeling, the stinging pain and the numbness were not part of a dream. I was having a heart attack! I swallow hard.
‘Mom, how are you feeling now?’
I look to my right and find my daughters sitting by the bed. Their eyes are still wet and puffy. I stare at them blankly as my mind starts playing bits and pieces of the dream in my head. When did they grow so big? It seems like yesterday when I would fix their toys, do their hair and read them bedtime stories. When did we drift so far apart that they started holding back their desires from me? Or did I really impose my unfulfilled dreams on them?
I turn my gaze to my husband. ‘I’ve managed to save some money too. Not a lot but some fifty thousand.’ I smile. ‘Would it be enough for our Paris trip?’
He looks at me in awe. ‘What? How do you know?’
I interrupt him. ‘Only the two of us. Neera is going to Mumbai for three months and...,’ I look at my daughters. ‘Mihika will opt for Arts. She can go stay with her grandparents for two weeks.’
My daughters spring to their feet in surprise. ‘Mom’ they cry out in unison.
‘Mom knows everything.’ I give a sly grin.
I don’t know why or how it all happened. It was surely not a dream. Neither was it a time travel. It was possibly a place closest to death - a chance to revisit all that your conscious mind chooses to ignore. A place that connects life to death. The awakening of your sub consciousness. One last chance to realize your life’s worth. I look up, close my eyes and smile.