The Lunatic is in my head, Karthik crooned the Pink Floyd song, waiting at a traffic signal, on his way back home from work.
Something from his inside suddenly started talking to him. Another 15 secs to go for the traffic lights to turn green. And its still talking to him.
5 more to go and Karthik began to panic.
3, 2, 1 and the traffic lights turn green but Karthik is still waiting. He is chanting something. No, he is counting. People behind him already started honking wildly.
I know, Karthik told himself as he waited. Now, in addition to the honking, he began to hear abuses.
Few more seconds... Karthik thought.
He is apparently waiting for something. Waiting for someone to tell him to move.
"Now, let’s go” he heard a voice in his head and he immediately shifted gears and raced ahead. He carefully whizzes past the choking traffic, trying hard not to think about what just happened.
I just don't believe I'm still doing all this.... What’s wrong with me.. thought Karthik as he stopped at a local convenience store. He walks straight to the Beverages section and picks up a 18-pack beer cans of BUD lite. He quickly turns around and walks towards the billing counter as if he didn’t want to look at anything else.
"Hi sir! How are you today?" greeted the guy at the counter of the convenience store.
"I'm good, thank you!" Karthik replied.
Looking at the brand of the beer purchased, the guy said “Looks like you are in awe of this brand. You always pick up the same brand in spite of many offers that other brands offer. I really wonder…"
"Thank you!" Karthik cuts him off before the guy could even finish, pays in exact change and leaves without even looking at the guy.
Walking out of the store, he thinks about how badly he wanted to buy other brands but there is something that just won’t allow him to do so. Heading towards home, he is reminded of some memories from his past. Every time a bitter memory comes up, he gritted his teeth hard in anger and tries to force the memories out of his head. In few seconds, the flurry of memories just won’t stop and he could feel his mind losing control. He turns on his music player to divert his mind away from those thoughts. The lunatic is in my head, he sings along loudly inside his car.
I'm home! I'm home! he stops in front of his apartment. It's a seven storied apartment located in a quiet street. He blows a mild horn to draw the watchman’s attention to open the gate. He then quietly drives into the basement and parks his car.
He grabs his stuff from the car and immediately starts checking his inbox on his mobile phone as he walks towards the elevator. He runs through list of messages one after the other carefully. He draws his mobile closer and knitted his brow in concentration. There was a worried look on his face when he realized that he reached the end of the list. Apparently, he didn't get what he was waiting for.
"Hey! Are you coming? Should I hold the door for you?" shouted Deepthi, Karthik's neighbor, from inside the elevator she just walked into.
Karthik looks at her, smiles, heads towards the elevator but stops suddenly. The voices in his head starts again. He badly wants to get in to the elevator but it is stopping him. He then tries to start convincing it but fails. His frustration turns into loud whispers.
"What? I can't understand.", Deepthi asks in bewilderment.
"No thanks, I’ll take the stairs." He replies and runs towards the stairs feeling very bad for missing another opportunity.
On his way up the stairs, he once again started looking at his inbox. He still has not got what he is waiting for.
"Sir, you can't got to the terrace now", the security guard stops Karthik
"Terrace?" Karthik looked around and grumbled only to find out that he climbed all the way to the top floor. Deeply embarrassed, he quickly climbs down four floors and gets in his flat.
He heads straight into the kitchen, puts the beer cans in the freezer while he prepares eggs 'sunny side up, just over easy', fills a bowl of roasted and salted cashews, take out the beer cans, puts all of these on a tray and takes them in to his bedroom, turns on the music system and turns off all the lights. Now he is ready for the ritual. He believes there is strange sense of ecstasy when three things come together; beer, music and total darkness. It takes him into a trance where he can skip the voices in his head.
In that moment of trance, he tells himself he's had enough of this madness.
"I can't do this anymore, I wont let this stupid thing take control of my life. I am going to start a new life from tomorrow, a life of my own, where nothing gets to tell me what to do. I will buy the beer that I want to, I will listen to music that I want to, I will be nice to Deepthi..."..he pauses and covers his face with both hands.
He now starts shouting at the top of his voice.."How can anyone not be nice to such a sweet, cute, brown eyed beautiful girl with long braided hair. Its stupid, its insane and its all because of this stupid thing. I am going to smash it with these glass bottles till it shatters into indivisible pieces. And I'm not going to stop there, I will keep hitting till I destroy its each and every sub atomic particle. Karthik has a life now, a new one, a brand new one.." Karthik yells his heart out and slips into deep sleep.
Karthik wakes up to the phone buzz in his pocket. It is a call from Deepthi.
The call disconnects before he could answer it.
His phone buzzes again immediately, this time a text message from Deepthi.
"Music is too loud, turn it down. Please.", her message read.
The text wakes him up totally. He didn't realize music has been playing throughout the night. He jumps out of the bed quickly to lower the volume.
He pulls out some of the leftovers from the fridge for breakfast. While eating, he kept looking at his inbox for that email he was desperately waiting for.
After all the soul searching exercise that happened previous night, he felt he is back to the same old life taking orders from the voices in his head.
He picks up a pair of jeans and a shirt from his wardrobe to wear and immediately the voice wakes up
"you can't wear this shirt on a Friday", the voice tells him.
"Why? Now, what's wrong with a shirt?", he questioned in disappointment.
"Don't you remember? The last time you wore this, you threw up all over the place just after few drinks at your office party" the voice continued
"and before that, you got mugged in Gurgaon"
He neither had the courage nor the time to fight that battle within.
You lock the door, throw away the keys. There's someone in my head but it's not me,the song 'brain damage' played in the background as he picks up another shirt, grabs his stuff and steps out of his flat in a hurry.
On his way out, he sees Deepthi waiting near the elevator talking to an elderly woman. He observed that she didn't notice him so he started walking briskly towards the stairs, pretending to be on phone. Deepthi enters the elevator and he thought he successfully avoided her.
"Want to come in?", Deepthi asked loudly, holding the elevator's door open, much to his surprise.
It appeared as if he is re-living the moments from last night.
"I will be nice Deepthi", words from the previous night pricked his conscience.
He just couldn't say no, so he walks towards the elevator but the voice stops him.
"You know what happens when you talk to her. Do you want to take the risk?"
He waits, thinks for a moment, makes up his mind and enters the elevator.
"I'll take my chances." he thought.
His heart was pounding as if it's on the verge of explosion. Because this is the first time ever he chose not to take orders.
"I'm sorry Deepthi for last night. I fell asleep and didn't realize the music was so loud and that too the whole night" Karthik apologises.
" Yes, that was a bit loud. Even I didn't notice till early morning. I was actually worried if everything was alright inside. You were screaming last night. Couldn't really understand properly because of the music but I could hear you screaming at somebody. Was it your girlfriend on the otherside?" Deepthi questioned him as they both walked out of the elevator in the basement.
"What? No. It was a call from my office. And I was upset that they kept calling me so late. So, I totally lost it and started screaming" he tried to cook up something.
" And no, it was not my girlfriend. I don't have a girlfriend", Karthik adds with a chuckle.
" Oh my God! I can't believe this is happening. You never spoke more than one sentence. I was expecting you to give a one word answer and zip off like you always do." Deepthi said surprisingly
" I know Deepthi, I've been a little occupied recently. But I think all of it is sorted now and from today you'll see a different me." Karthik replied with a huge smile.
"Well then, hello Mr new Karthik. It's really nice meeting you." Deepthi shot back quickly.
"It feels nice and relieving talking to you Deepthi. But please be careful, this new guy kind of bothers his neighbors a lot. Watch out for the troubles" Karthik joked, walking away towards his car.
"I'm looking forward to those troubles", Deepthi replies and gets in her car.
"You have no idea what a big risk you've taken by talking to her. That too for so long. There will be consequences. I hope you still remember the last time you did this. You almost lost your job." The voice warned Karthik.
"Oh really! Now that I've taken the risk, let me push it even further. I'll go back and talk to her again. Consequences can wait." He started liking his new self.
Deepthi's car just started to move and Karthik came running in front of her car.
" Have you totally lost is? You scared the hell out of me." Deepthi shouted coming out of the car.
" I'm so sorry, didn't mean to scare you at all. Just wanted to tell you that I took a new credit card last week and I got a Rs 1000 movie coupon as a welcome gift. Unfortunately, the entire amount has to be spent in a single transaction and also, the coupon can be used for a maximum of 2 tickets. So I was wondering if you would like to join me for a movie today evening" Karthik asks in hesitation.
She started smiling already and looked away in disbelief.
"Oh, so you want to take me out on a movie because you have an extra coupon?" She asked playfully.
"No no. It's not like that. You took it otherwise. To be honest, I don't have any coupon at all. I just used it as an excuse because I didn't know how you'd react to me asking you out, the very first time we spoke. I mean.." he started explaining before getting interrupted by Deepthi.
"Relax! I was just picking on my new neighbor" she laughed at him.
"Ha. Teasing me is it? This new guy might be an easy target but he'll get back at you." He replies walking back towards his car.
He somehow felt she wouldn't say no. He wanted to keep talking but just can't decide what to say.
"And it's a lovely dress by the way, the color looks really good on you. The ear rings and bangles are also complimenting your looks. And the slippers are also very..you know..ah.. I don't know the word for it, I mean I know, but just can recollect it now. It's a...." He tries hard to finish his thought.
"I got it! thank you very much. I Just can't believe you are the same guy." She says trying hard to control her laughter.
"Ok then, I'll see you at the movies tonight. Will text you the details." He realizes how bad he is at 'sweet talk'.
"Sure. I will be there."
When he comes close to his car, he finds out that his front tyre is flat.
" Face the consequences", Karthik heard the voice in his head.
"That's nothing. I was expecting severe consequences. A flat tyre is better than losing my limbs in an accident." He laughs it off.
As soon as he walks out of the apartment to get a cab, there is a buzz on his phone. It's an email. The email he has been waiting for, so badly.
Karthik's face turned pale looking at the content of the email. He kept staring at it in disbelief.
"You asked for it. This must be severe enough for you. Now deal with it." the voice resonated between his ears in high pitch.
He kept looking at the email, going through every word again and again hoping it was all wrong.
It was an email with diagnostics of Raghu, his childhood friend. It's usually the doctor's assistant who would send this email everyday, but this time it was from the doctor herself.
Don't even bother going through the diagnostics, he's getting worse. As I see it, chances are bleak.
Karthik couldn't handle the rush of thoughts. Pain and sorrow took over his ability to process all those thoughts as he recollected that fateful incident.
Every Friday Karthik and Shashi drive 2 hours to visit their home town, to meet Raghu who runs a business, an agri-tech startup. Set up by all three of them but managed majorly by Raghu. For these three childhood friends, business is just an excuse for their weekly visit. But their recent get together, just a week ago, turned out in to a nightmare.
Like everytime, the three of them spent a wonderful time over drinks at Raghu's place till late in the night. Each week, as a rule, one among the three friends has to stay sober while the rest can drink to their hearts content. It was their fail safe. Last week, it was Karthik's turn to stay sober. Around 1 am, when Raghu and Shashi thought they had enough, they decided to go around the town. Karthik took the driver's seat and took them to an old bridge in the outskirts. They spent hours discussing plans to sell off their business and retire in Bahamas.
As they were about to wrap up, Raghu saw a huge truck approaching them.
He started screaming "I'm on the highway to hell, On the highway to hell", a popular AC/DC song.
"Shut up and get in the car", Karthik pulled him inside the car, slammed the door and went behind the wheel.
Shashi was already half asleep in the back seat and he had no clue what was going on.
Leaning out of the window, Raghu watched the truck getting closer. Karthik started the car, shifted gears and the moment he put his foot on the accelerator; in a split of a second, Raghu jumped out of the car and started running towards the truck.
"Valhallaa! I'm coming. Witness me" shouted Raghu pointing his finger at Karthik.
By then the truck was so close that even if Karthik was Flash, he couldn't have stopped what was about to happen. But that didn't mean Karthik wouldn't try. He came out running as fast as he could but only to watch Raghu's body fly in the air. Karthik lost his balance and badly sprained his ankle. It was so bad that he could hardly move. He looked around for help and saw the truck driver already running in the opposite direction. Shashi was in no position to even react.
Raghu was lying 10 ft away from Karthik and he is bleeding. Karthik knew that if the bleeding doesn't stop, Raghu will really be on his way to hell.
Karthik carried Raghu on his shoulder and limped all the way to the nearby highway. It took 10 mins of unbearable pain, non stop abusing to reach the highway and those 10 mins were the most enduring moments of his life. They got help on the highway and reached the hospital just in time.
Doctors tell him that Raghu's condition remains critical and needs to be observed how his body recovers in the next few days.
He calls up Raghu's parents and Shashi to inform them about the accident. Raghu's parents were inconsolable.
'It was all my fault. I shouldn't have played his music in the car', Karthik blamed himself for the situation.
I told you not to play his music ever, but you did. See what it has brought. Now go back home immediately. You shouldn't stay here any longer. If not for you, do this for your friend. Karthik heard in his head.
Karthik couldn't take any chances this time. Even if it told him to walk 180 kms all the way back home, Karthik wouldn't think twice. After all it's his best friend's life at stake.
He rushed to Dr. Jyothi's cabin.
" Dr. Jyothi is in rounds, she will be back in sometime. Anything important?", asked Dr. Ravi, a junior doctor assisting Dr. Jyothi in Raghu's case.
"I have something very urgent to take care of and I have to leave immediately. And his parents are too old to follow up on his condition. Can you please call me every evening and let me know his situation? Please doctor", said Karthik bringing both his hands together.
"Oh please, you don't have to do this. I completely understand. But believe me, making calls everyday won't work for both of us. We will send an email when we have the diagnostics and you can check it when you have time for it." Doctor Ravi assured him.
So everyday, he waits for that email so badly hoping doctor's have something good to say about Raghu's health.
What should happen from here on, is in your hands. Mend your ways and everything will be back to normal. Defy me, I'll make things horrible. It's for you to decide.
'You can go to hell'. Karthik was in no mood to budge and ignored the warning.
Even though he's putting up a brave fight against his superstitions, he was very much worried. Not knowing what to do, he dialled Shashi, "Raghu's diagnosis reports are bad, I don't know what to do"
"I know. I'm in the hospital right now. Actually, Raghu's parents called me yesterday and asked me to meet them urgently to discuss something important." Shashi's voice was only as loud as a whisper.
"Why didn't you call me then? I would've come along. Is everything ok?" Karthik got nervous.
"They asked me not to call you. They think.... you are behind this accident. They claim that you've been planning to kill Raghu" Shashi said apologetically.
" I whaaat!! Are they out of their minds. If it were not for me, they would be performing Raghu's last rights now. How can they even think something like this? They know me for so long" Karthik shouted furiously at the top of his voice.
"It's not just that, the truck driver surrendered to the Police yesterday and admitted you were behind it." Shashi stammered.
Karthik didn't say a word. He didn't know how to react. There were just questions; lots of them. None of them he had answers to. He could feel insanity creeping up his body like a spider.
"I think I know what's happening", Karthik started laughing frantically.
"Are you laughing? An FIR has been lodged and after questioning me, they will head straight to you. You have to..."Karthik disconnects the call before Shashi could finish.
'I hope you are happy now. So this is what you'll put me through if I don't listen to you. Now that we've come this far, I'm making this very clear to you; even if I have to reduce to ashes, I will; but I'm not going to obey a damn thing'
you can knock me down and watch me bleed, but you can't put no chains on me. I'm born free....lines from the song ' Born Free' came to his mind instantly.
At the moment, he felt like nobody can take control of his life. But little did he realize that it's far from over. There's a buzz on his phone just to remind him of that.
'Oh my God, it's already 6 pm', he recollected it was only today morning that he had asked her out but felt like ages ago.
He picks up her call wondering what to say but before he could decide, she started speaking, "I'm on my way to the multiplex. I know I'm already late. I'm really sorry, traffic is horrible. I'll be there in 15 mins. Did you get the tickets?"
Considering the terrible situation he is in, watching a movie is the last thing he could imagine.
"Hey, dont worry. In fact, I'm... still at home", Karthik replied struggling to get those words out of his mouth.
"I know it's very embarrassing but I'm in a really horrible..." he started explaining but she disconnects the call.
He tries to call her back but she wouldn't answer her phone.
'I know she's mad as hell at me. And why shouldn't she be'
He waits for a few minutes before calling her once again.
'Thank God' he thought as it started ringing.
But the person who answered the call wasn't Deepthi.
"Who's this?" Karthik questioned after a long pause.
"Hi, I think someone dropped their mobile. Do you know the person it belongs to?", the person replied.
"What?" Karthik couldn't understand.
"I saw a lady got hit by a car just a few minutes ago at this spot. She was rushed to the hospital. Maybe this phone belongs to her"
What he heard from the man echoed inside his head in slow motion. It was getting hard for him to breathe, hard to stay on his feet. He pulled his hair in frustration. He felt he was drowning in a sea of emotions.
"Hello? Sir, are you there?" The man asked while he checked if the call was disconnected.
"Yes yes. I know her very well. Do you know which hospital they took her to?"
"No, but the nearest one is NewLife hospitals, some 2 kms away. Its quite popular, that's where they must have taken her", the man said
"Ya I know that one. Can you please go to the hospital and check on her? There is no one else I can reach out for help at the moment. I'm on my way and I will reach the hospital in around 30 mins. Please sir" Karthik pleaded.
"No problem. I'll do that, don't worry. Just call me once you reach the hospital."
'I wish I didn't talk to Deepthi at all. Its all my fault.' Tears gushed from his eyes as he ran towards his car.
Reckless driving would be an understatement for the way he was driving. Sitting in the car restlessly, he tried to reach the hospital as quickly as possible.
Karthik meets the man at the Emergency Room in the hospital.
"They are not allowing anyone inside. Now that you're here and her parents already on the way, I think there's not much I can do here." he told Karthik handing over Deepthi's mobile.
"Her parents? How did they find her parent's numbers?" Karthik never saw her parents in the apartment.
"From her ID card may be. Or a diary. I don't know. But I have to leave now."
"And you can't stay here. They will ask you to wait in the reception area.
Don't worry. Everything will be alright." he said walking towards the elevator.
Karthik sat in a quiet corner in the waiting hall and wished he could turn back time and undo everything.
"Karthik", he heard someone call his name. He turns around and finds Shashi running towards him.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Karthik gave him a tight hug and reacted as if they met after a long time. He was desperately looking for a familiar person to share his agony.
"Dr. Jyothi recommended this hospital and asked us to see Dr. Shetty, a specialist, who recently moved to India from the US. Raghu is currently going through some procedure. The staff is not letting anyone except his parents near the OT. And what are you doing here? Did Dr. Jyothi tell you that we're coming here?"
Karthik was about to explain the entire thing but someone calls Shashi and signals him to come in.
"I'll have to go and complete some formalities. But you just wait here. I have something important to tell you. Don't go anywhere" Shashi tells Karthik
Two very important people in your life are currently battling for their life. Are you strong enough to bear such a huge loss? Don't give them up for your stupidity. Will you be able to live the rest of your life with that guilt? Now it's up to you whether they live or die.
'What ever happened had nothing to do with whether or not I listened to you. It happened because it was meant to happen. And whatever is about to happen will have nothing to do with my actions. But one thing is for sure; come what may, I won't be listening to you anymore.'
Silence. There is no response. No warnings. It felt like tranquility after turbulence. For the first time in his life, the voice between his temples went silent. But the silence scared him, considering what is at stake.
Shashi came back running in a few minutes and sat next to him. "The driver who surrendered yesterday, denied your involvement. He apparently made up a story to save himself. And Raghu's father called me from the Emergency Room. The procedure is successful. It would take few weeks for Raghu to get back on his feet but he is fine now. It feels so nice that we got out of all this. But what delights me even more is that you are sitting next to me right now" Shashi was all excited to share the good news with him.
"But you didn't tell me why you are here", Shashi asked
Karthik explained him everything that happened with Deepthi.
"I have a feeling that she will be just fine. Don't worry"
"I'm going out to get dinner for Raghu's parents. Why don't you come with me? Let's eat something." Shashi pulled Karthik by his hand.
"You go ahead. I'll wait here. Deepthi's parents are not here yet. What if doctors have an update on her and I'm not here", Karthik was in no mood to leave the hospital
Even though the news about Raghu relieved him of a lot of stress, he couldn't still breathe easy.
He went back to his corner seat and buried his face in his hands. Deepthi's face flashed in his head. The last time he saw, her face was bright and warm like the early morning sun. It's hard to imagine her on a hospital bed.
As he cried profusely, with his head still buried in his hands, he felt a soft touch on his shoulder. He quickly turned around to take a look. Tears blurred his vision.
It's Deepthi, standing right in front of him. He dashed his tears with his shirt sleeves quickly and looked again. He couldn't believe it.
Karthik got up and hugged her tightly.
"Are you alright?" tears rolled on his cheeks and disappeared into his thick beard.
"Ya. What happened to me? And why are you crying like a kid who got lost?
Wait, did you think it was me who got run over by a car?" Deepthi started figuring out the reason behind his strange behavior.
"When I was talking to you, I saw a lady got hit by a car, right in front of me. I think I dropped my phone at that moment. Two guys helped me put her in car and I brought her to hospital. I wanted to call you but I realized I dropped my phone somewhere. Doctors just told me that she is out of danger." Deepthi explained.
Karthik listened to her with his mouth wide open, wondering how everything got sorted out so quickly. It felt like a dream. Mobile rang loudly in his shirt's pocket, telling him that it isn't a dream.
"Hey, that's my phone. Where did you find it?" She grabs it from his pocket and walks away without waiting for an answer to her question.
Karthik kept looking at her while she sat in a chair opposite him and started talking on her phone. He couldn't hear what she was speaking. Even if he could, he wouldn't pay attention to her words, for she was far too beautiful to get distracted.
Looking at the expressions on her face, he wondered what was she speaking about. May be she is telling how lucky she was, to miss an accident by a whisker. May be she is explaining how she felt saving a person's life.
Or.. may be she is talking about the guy she met this morning.
The guy who made up a silly story to ask her out.
The guy who didn't hide his tears to express his concern for her.The guy who hugged her and asked if she was alright.
What she was thinking didn't matter anymore. He got so lost in her face, that he wanted to stay lost forever. He couldn't take his eyes off her. Her face was poetic. He quietly walked up to her and asked " Will you marry me?"
For some reason she wasn't suprised. May be she knew what was coming.
"Will you cry again if I say no?", She asked
"Are you saying no?", he frowned.
" We had just one meaningful conversation and that too today morning. You asked me out in the morning and want to marry me the same evening. Do you have any idea how crazy you are?" she complained
" I thought you would say yes"
" I thought you would go on your knees"
"Oh! Would that change the outcome?"
"I don't know. But it will definitely increase your chances."
Not wasting a second, he went down on his knees, held her hand and asked again "Will you marry me, please!"
The busiest area in the hospital was brought to a stand still. Each and every person in that area stopped whatever they were doing and looked at her. They were all hoping that she will nod in agreement. But there was no response from her. She just stood there like a statue. Karthik began to panic and looked around in embarrassment. He looked at her closely and what he saw shook him from inside.
She was whispering something. As if she was talking to someone. Someone inside her head!