He sat on the staircase and looked outside the door. The warm breeze of the August evening caressed his face ever so gently, yet he was shaking and shivering. His palms were sweating profusely and his heart pounded against his ribcage, pounding out a jagged rhythm that became louder with every passing moment. His ears were occupied by a constant shrill and no matter how hard he tried to push the gloomy thoughts away, they resurged with greater ferocity every time. He grabbed the bottle and gulped it in one go and yet the thirst lingered and the fear thrived. He opened the piece of paper and started reading it for the hundredth time. However, that didn’t appease his troubled mind. He quickly closed his eyes to find the dreadful scene reappear again.
The girl from the organising team came in the empty room. She stood at a distance from him and said, “Sir, we’ll be ready in two minutes.”
The man did not respond. He kept looking blankly out the door with his bloodshot eyes that hadn’t seen proper and peaceful sleep in the last eight years.
The girl said again, “Sir, we are almost ready. Request you to come with me towards the stage.”
The man did not move. Did not move a muscle. His eyes were fixed outside as if he was watching a spectacle.
The girl became scared when he did not show any signs of moving towards the stage. Hesitatingly, she walked towards him in small, rapid steps and placed her hand on his shoulder. Startled, the man got up immediately and took a step back.
“I am sorry sir, I did not mean to alarm you but we are ready for your speech.”
He nodded and moved towards backstage with the girl. The woman on the stage smiled brightly as she started to make the announcement.
“No introduction would be enough to highlight the kind of success he has achieved in the last four years. His books ‘Spoonful Of Madness’, ‘Woods in the Sea’ has already sold more than fifty million all over the world making him the youngest best-selling writer. His next book ‘The Blur Within’ is slated to release in December and aren’t we excited? Girls and boys, please welcome Mr Omung Rai.”
The entire auditorium roared with applause making the best-selling writer a tad uncomfortable. Even though he had been giving talks on his books for the last couple of years, every time he faced the expectant and hopeful eyes, his stomach shifted uneasily, his hands hugged and rubbed each other, his legs trembled like dry leaves and his mouth quivered and the words failed to come out. He stole a quick glance at the paper as he marched towards the stage. Like always, he was about to keep the paper back in his pocket, however, he tossed it on the ground and crushed it under his shoes.
He smiled ruefully, “Good Evening, students. I hope you are better than me.”
The hall that was buzzing with the loudest claps a moment ago became disturbingly silent. The students waited for their esteemed speaker to continue.
He said, “How many of you have read my books?”
The entire bunch of students including the teachers raised their hands.
He stifled a laugh, raised his hands, clocked his head sideways and continued, “The piece of paper that I was carrying had information regarding my new book – the inspiration, how I went about writing it, how much time it took time me to write, and what you can expect in it. I don’t need a paper to narrate that. I can close my eyes and tell you all about it. It talks about my journey – how I from being a coke addict, almost getting arrested twice went on to become the youngest best-selling writer in the world.”
The confused murmuring disrupted the silence of the crowd. The students shifted in their seats, kept their mobile phones back in the pocket to become attentive again. The group of teachers looked at each other uncomfortably. The team the writer had brought with him too became worrisome for whenever the script wasn’t followed, problems swelled up like a balloon that burst every time the media discussed and dissected his words on various channels.
He took a pause before continuing, “I know most of you are shocked to hear this but I have had a dark and hoary past that needs to be unearthed. Today is the day I do it. After this reveal, I am not sure if you’ll love me as much as you do right now but there are things that must be done irrespective of the consequences. Things that are far important than the results they produce.”
No one in the auditorium had any idea where this was headed but everyone was glued to their seats in sheer anticipation of what awaited them.
He wiped his face with the handkerchief and began:
“When I was your age or maybe even younger, I was directionless. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. What my passions were and what dreams I needed to nurture. I did not know and I hung out with the same kind of folks. Friends who were as clueless as I was and at the time, all we ever did was to spend our time and money on alcohol and drugs. In the beginning, it was just a drink or two but eventually, it became one drink too many. Combine that with marijuana and coke and you have the perfect, self-destructing concoction.”
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good at the moment. It felt good. It felt as if I was at the top of the world, capable of doing anything and once the high really set in, things came to a standstill. The mind got slow, dreary, and distorted and nothing mattered at the time. It changed me in devious and diverse ways and the person that came out after a night of inebriation wasn’t me. The worst part was such nights weren’t infrequent. They started with once every fortnight to once every week and eventually every night. I couldn’t curb or control the urge to get high. I became a prisoner of my addiction and it ate me up slowly from the inside. I wasn’t me and I did not even know it.”
“I had been brought up by my single mum who took great pains in giving me the best of everything. Best education, best clothes, best food, and the best environment. My father passed away when I was a toddler. She sacrificed her life so that I could grow up and become a good, self-sufficient man. However, I let her down. I let her down. I stole money from her savings so that I could get high. Such a self-deprecating, disappointment I was.”
“I would reach home in the morning at 3 or 4 and my mum would be up waiting for me. She tried her best to help me. She tried to explain to me how I was getting trapped and that I needed to let go of those friends who were destroying me but I never listened to her. I had no control over what I was doing at the time.”
“One night, like always, she was up waiting for me. I reached home at 3-3:30 in the morning. She was there, sitting on the couch, her hands folded, looking at my despicable form with utmost affection and kindness in her eyes. She said she wanted to talk to me. I told her I was not in the right frame of mind to talk. She demanded that it is important for her to speak to me but the asshat I was, I slammed the door on her face. Inside the room, I could hear the sound of her muffled cries. However, that did not affect me. I did not get up from my bed to console her. I listened to the suppressed sobs and drifted away to sleep. “
“I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. I wish I had gotten up from that bed of mine, and talked to my mum. Told her I would change. I would leave the dreadful friends and bring about a change in my life. I would leave alcohol, drugs, and things that come along with them. I wish I had said all this to her that night. I wish I could change myself at that moment. I wish I had told her how sorry I was for hurting her but I didn’t. I did not do any of these things…”
“The next day, I again went with my loser friends to get high. I drank, smoked, and snorted. Each of those activities gave me a different kind of high and almost pushed me into utopia. When I returned back home, out of my senses, I found my mum sitting on the couch at the exact same spot almost motionless. I headed back to my room and slumped into slumber. When I got up the next day at noon, I found my mum sitting on the couch at the same spot. I asked her if there was anything to eat but she didn’t respond. I thought she was mad at me and I knew she would eventually come around. I got myself a packet of chips, started munching on them, and switched on the television. I asked her if she would like a chip but she didn’t reply. Her bout of anger had lasted more than it ever had previously but it did not worry me. I went to the shower and lied that I had to go for a job interview. I asked her to prepare lunch, as I had to leave again in an hour. When I came out of the shower and enquired if the lunch was ready, she did not care to answer. Her muteness started to irk me. I went up to her, sat beside her, and apologised for the unruly behaviour the other night. I wrapped my arms around her shoulder and when I did that, she fell on my lap. It made me jump out of my seat. Panicked, I checked her nerves and heartbeat, which showed no movement at all. I immediately called the ambulance and she was taken to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. She died of a heart attack the night I had slammed the door on her face and for more than a day, I had no clue she was no more. She kept sitting there in the same position and I did not realise she was no more. My mum had died. I was so absorbed and submerged in my own fallacies that I didn’t even know she was dead for more than a day. All she ever wanted to do was talk to me, spend time with me, and all I ever did was disappoint her.”
The writer fell on his knees and the tears burst forth like water from a dam in a continuous, interminable stream. The muscles on his face trembled, a static enveloped his head while he looked for support to get up. He got hold of the corners of the podium and made his way back to his feet. The sobs still punched through, ripping through his muscles, bones, and guts. He pressed his forehead against the grim podium and let the heaviness of the heart to sink in. He waited there, not moving a muscle, while the horrific scene of that day kept punching him without stopping. It felt as if the life would be pulled out of him in that instant. He was hollow. His hands trembled and along with it, his entire world. Then, suddenly, his team was there patting and rubbing him. They reached out into his hollowness while he couldn’t into his mother’s years ago.