by Padmini Krishnan
I felt an intense pain at the pit of my stomach as if someone had stabbed me. It moved up my intestine, making me giddy and incoherent. I struggled to keep my hands on the handle-bar, trying to get past St. Paul’s boys’ hostel. However, I staggered and my scooter toppled over. I fell but was able to collect myself almost immediately.
I dragged myself to the neem tree and stood in the shades, trying to catch my breath.
The tree branches cast their shadow on the streets and so did the bridge above. Why did the bridge look old? Had it not been built recently? I felt incoherent thoughts surfacing once again and sat down under the tree.
How did I recall the appearance of the newly-built bridge? You see, I am new to the city. I had just joined St. Mary’s college a couple of days ago. To reach my college, I had to pass St. Paul’s College. There were no shortcuts. I shared a service apartment with three girls, a few kilometres away. I had been cocooned as a child and this was the first time I was away from home. My mom did not want me to leave my hometown, but dad and I persisted. After all, St. Mary’s was one of the few institutions offering the Shell Borne Scholarships.
By now, I was feeling better. I stood up and my leg bumped into something solid. It was a black box. I examined it and found out that it was a camera, a very old one. The kind of camera I had seen in movies made 20-25 years ago. I did not know what made me do it, but I put it in my bag and drove to college, now feeling fine.
I sat nervously at the photo studio while the photographer developed the film. He looked at me strangely when I showed him the camera. I knew that I should have turned in the old camera or left it where it was. But, it was connected to me. I was sure it was.
I did not open the photos until I reached home. There was nobody home and I was glad. The first photo showed four men in their graduation robes.
I felt giddy, the pain in my stomach back.
I was the one in the corner. The one next to me was Sid, my roommate and best friend, the one who had stabbed me fatally. It had happened after our graduation ceremony. I was on a high; he was down and depressed. I remember feeling scornful as I made fun of his misfortune.
Now, I fell down with pain as I remembered him stabbing me multiple times.The third guy in the photo, Kole, came over and wrestled the knife from Sid. I screamed as I realised that I was dying.
“Daisy! What happened?” cried a panicked voice.
“He stabbed me.” I gasped as I fell down on the floor.
My roommates tried to raise me. Then, I passed out.
The doctor said I was stressed and advised to stay at home for a couple of days.
Surprisingly, my mother was not alarmed when I called her. Her voice sounded low and resigned. I had begun to talk at the age of three. The first thing I had said was that my name was Sam and that I lived in the city. My parents were dead and my spinster aunt had raised me. I repeatedly said that my friend had stabbed me. There was a mark in my abdomen. They took me to a few doctors. One said that it could be a case of reincarnation and that I was recalling my past life. Mercifully, I had forgotten everything by the age of five.
I hung up before my mom could ask further questions.
The next day, my scooter automatically slowed down near St. Paul’s college. Then I saw him. The fourth guy in the photo. He had receding hairline now but otherwise looked the same.
“Cyrus!” I called out, but he was gone. I followed him, but the security stopped me.
“What do you want?”
“I want to see Cyrus.”
“Dr Merchant?” He said incredulously. “New admission?”
Was he crazy? Since when did St. Paul’s enrol girls?
He looked at me oddly and told me to wait. After a few minutes, he asked me to go in.
Nobody gave me a look at St. Paul’s. After all, I was a girl strolling around in a boys’ college. Did they know that I used to be a guy, studying in their college? What nonsense! I was going crazy. How would they know that?
I felt a rush of adrenaline as I walked into my old college. The maple tree inside the campus was gone. Everything was remodelled. I staggered with excitement as we passed the graduation hall. I could still hear the principal announcing that I was selected for the Shell Borne scholarship.
I knocked on the door marked, ‘Dr. Cyrus Merchant, Head of the Department.’
He looked at me curiously. “Yes?” he asked.
“Do you have fifteen minutes?”
“I don’t have any classes this hour. What can I do for you?”
I started from the beginning and told him everything. He did not believe me at first. Then, as I progressed with the story, his expression became doubtful. I told him things that only both of us knew. He looked sad as well as happy, but fear was the dominant expression on his face. He looked at me for a few minutes. Then, he came over and hugged me.
At last, I asked, “Where is Sid?”
“He was arrested almost immediately. He didn’t try to run away. Sentenced to life, he has been behind bars for twenty years now.”
“Do you visit him?”
Cyrus hesitated, “Yes, at least once in a year. He is certainly not what he was.”
“How did you get into academics?” I asked. He was not academically oriented when I had known him.
“The twin tragedies changed my life and my outlook towards everything.”
“A month after you….you were killed, I returned to the rooms one day to find Kole hanging from the ceiling.”
I looked at him in shock, open-mouthed.
“I don’t know the reason. Nobody did.” He answered my unasked question.
I looked at the boys’ hostel some blocks away, feeling a crushing sense of sadness. Opportunities lost and lives destroyed!
Back in my room, I struggled to come to reality and focus on my academics and life. A week later, I got a call from Cyrus.
“I told Sid everything.” He paused. “He desperately wants to meet you.”
Curiosity overcame fear and I went to meet him.
The prison guard looked me up and down.
“Wait here, miss.” He went inside, whistling. After ten minutes, he led me down a long corridor to a row of cells. We stopped at the fourth cell. He left us alone and walked away whistling.
“Do 41-year-old men look so old?” That was my first thought when I looked at Sid. We both stared at each other.
“Are you Daisy?”
I nodded. He tried to put his arms around me. I pulled back, scared. He sat down with a sad, resigned look
“I am sorry.”
“You destroyed my life, my future.”
“I realised it almost immediately. It was a moment of anger…”
I could not stay angry with this man who looked broken and defeated, a far cry from the happy, self-assured guy I used to know.
We spoke for over half-an-hour. He said that he lived among psychos, serial killers, and hardened criminals. He was lucky if he did not get humiliated at least once in a day. He asked me about my upbringing, my life, and my family. I found myself sharing things with him that I had never shared even with my mom.
He said, “I am glad you have parents in this life.”
“Do yours visit you?”
He shook his head, “No. Never. Cyrus is the only one who visits me.”
He hesitated, “Are you going to apply for the scholarship?”
I raised my head to look at him. “Yes.”
But I did not see the resentment or anger I had seen in the last moment of my previous life.
“I hope you get it.” He smiled a little sadly.
I thought about the midnight study, the shared notes, laughter and pranks we had shared. But, he was saying something. “Can you ever forgive me?”
All of a sudden, I felt light-hearted as if someone had set me free. “Yes,” I replied, whole-heartedly.
Padmini Krishnan writes haiku, haibun, poetry, children’s fiction and mainstream fiction. Her latest work has appeared in Balloon Literary Journal, Under the Basho and Terror House Magazine. Her poetry has been accepted in Breadcrumbs and is likely to be published in February 2020.
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