Daniel waited for the doctor in the white cell with the milky walls. There was a single window and only a loose door of iron, staining the otherwise perfect room. For peace to the heart, the doctor had told him when he asked why the room was too pure.
Daniel felt his eyes droop lazily before the iron door pulled back as the doctor in his white coat walked brusquely into his rock and cradle chair. He stood up to greet doctor Tom and Tom smiled in return.
“How is your progress, Daniel?” Tom asked, not unkindly.
“There is no progress, Doctor,” Daniel said as his dark eyes shimmered with loathing. He hated everyone. From the doctor attending him to the always-standing guards at his void prison cell and the people rushing outside freely for their menial jobs as if the world was free of it's sins.
“How many did you kill last month?”
“None.” The answer was short. Daniel wished he could jump out of the window away from this session, but he knew too well of punishments to attempted suicides.
“And, the week before it?”
“Then there's progress, ” Tom said, his smile never leaving his lips as always. Daniel hated him even more for that. Perhaps out of envy.
“I call being in a shit hole a Regression,” Daniel snapped.
The doctor regarded him with cold eyes, leaning over his rock chair with a finger on his beard. “ Mind the language, Daniel. You killed an inmate. You must be contained. From yourself.”
“He raped and killed a woman, yet he lives free here getting fat on the chicken you feed him. I served him real justice.”
The doctor sighed. “It is not you to play the Just God.”
Daniel kept silent in his chair, not the rocking one the doctor had. There was a rocking chair in his old home that his daughter used to sit in his lap. Now the chair and the home, both cradled emptiness in them.
“Anyway, I am not here to argue law with you, ” Tom continued. “The jury had found you half-guilty so that you could continue to use our rehabilitation. You had misused your privilege. Fortunately, I had taken care of that matter and disguised it as an accident. ”
Daniel did not expect this. “I thought I was caged for murder. ”
“Yes. But not by law. It was my arrangement and mind you, it cost me a ton of money,” Tom smiled.
“Why do you have to do this?”
“I believe I can redeem you.” Tom's voice was kind.
“Redeem me from what?” Daniel mocked. “It is not for you to play the Father. ”
Tom rose from his chair as it moved back and forth. “What if I say you can live with your daughter again? Don’t say you did not want that.”
The prospect of getting back his daughter was too good to refuse. But Daniel was not unaware that death didn't jump back to life. “Come to your point, Doctor. ”
Tom smiled again, it pissed Daniel even more. “The dead can't be brought to life, that is certain. But you can re-experience the moments with your daughter. In dreams, that is.”
“What game are you playing, doctor?” Daniel said, his voice only a whisper lost in unchartered territories.
“Not a game. Try these and see for yourself.” Tom showed a pair of blue pills from his pocket.
He had enemies in the prison and it was too easy for this doctor to slip poison and finish him off in this very cell. And Tom had certain ‘arrangements’ to pull off what he wanted.
Tom seemed to have understood Daniel's hesitation. “Pick one, I'll take the other.” And so, he picked one and watched Tom swallow the other. “See, not poisoned,” the doctor assured.
“What does it do?” Daniel asked before he consumed the dark blue pill. The doctor smiled again, but only this time Daniel raised from his seat and grabbed the doctor's collar, but the guard stationed was quick to pull the doctor away from him.
“You sleep well, my lab rat. Seek and feel yourself,” Tom winked an eye at him before he left, leaving Daniel to wonder what would happen tonight.
The next time he comes, let me smash his head to the wall. The guard returned to take Daniel to his dark cell, away from the milky white cell to the stench and darkness.
Daniel slogged to sleep on the hard rock floor but sleep evaded him till the world turned as dark as his cell. He had nothing to do till then, only to look outside to the emptiness of the void. He tried to chat with the guards and failed more often than he did succeed. Most of them loathed him and he loathed most of them. What does the pill do?
Soon or late, his eyes twitched though he could not say if it was truly night. The guards themselves fell on their legs and snored, so he assumed it must be. They were his clocks, their yawns and shift-arounds his minutes and seconds. As his clocks turned to sleep, an abyss of darkness and ignorance swallowed him as they did for a few weeks.
He could not say how long he had kept falling in that ignorance but when he was aware, he knew he was not at the right place. A thousand images surrounded him, all snippets of the distant past. His mother cradling him, his father taking him to school, his past lover dumping him, him meeting his wife on their first date, the birth of his beloved daughter, her funeral and many more. Where am I, doctor?
The images twisted, turned, changed and shifted. They expanded, contracted, rotated and distorted in a huge cylinder about him, locking him inside a hollow mage of his past. I am going mad, he thought. Or is this a horrible dream? He was aware he was in a dream, but when he had been in dreams before, he was not aware that he had been in one. “Seek and feel yourself,” the doctor's words echoed in his ears as he regarded a particular image. His little girl danced in their old house, his wife stood clapping while Daniel, younger with only wisps of hair on what now was a thick moustache, held a camera and shot her pictures. The album must have been somewhere in his home now, rusted and eaten by moths.
He touched the image of the dancing girl and soon, the monstrous cylinder collapsed into pillars and furniture in the picture. His head swirled but only for a moment as he caught the camera in his hands. “Smile, darling, ” he said involuntarily. He tried to speak more but his hands acted instead of his mouth. His daughter smiled and danced as the flashes appeared and clicks accompanied a dozen times. Soon his legs took him over to his wife as he kissed her gently on cheeks and handed over the camera to her. I'm only a witness here.
When the image melted like wax, he could not say how long he had played the father. The dark gloom of the cell returned when he felt the damp air. For a moment, he wondered whether it was another image he was living in the dream. But when he deduced he was not, he felt the life he had lost. His daughter he had lost.
He waited for the next Monday again, six days passing like hell every night. He longed for the moments he had seen that night the first time, but they never came back. He dreamt of other things though, snakes and murders and falling through a hollow abyss, but not of his family. Sunday night, he evaded sleep or rather, sleep evaded him as he waited impatiently for the rooster outside to coo.
When the doctor presented himself in the white room, Daniel greeted him politely although a thousand questions bothered him. What are those pills? How did they do what they did? Did I time travel to the past? It felt so real.
The doctor did not answer any of his questions, but went straight to his routine. “Is there any improvement, Daniel?”
“I do not know, ” Daniel answered. “Though I do feel human again.” A smile drew hesitatingly on his lips. This was one thing Daniel tried to mimic the doctor on. Tom's smiles came to him as naturally as anger to Daniel.
“That was indeed a progress, Daniel.”
“Perhaps,” Daniel admitted. A pause of silence lingered long enough for an awkward exchange of glance between them. “What have I experienced, Doctor?” he asked, uncertain.
“Your past,” Tom said. “Yes, Daniel. A glimpse of your memory. The pills you swallowed the other day trigger your nerves to generate that experience. The smells, the sight, the touch, all your senses respond to that subconscious memory as if it is now.”
Daniel nodded. “Why give such strong medicine to me? What am I to you?”
“I mean what I said,” Tom said, as he picked a candy from his front pocket. He tossed it into his mouth, before the jaws curled and lips twisted. “I believe I can change you. You are not a bad man, Daniel. You are a murderer, yes. But you are not made to be one.”
“So, do you think I am right? In killing those monsters.”
“Barely. You made a mockery of Law and you will have punishment. Prisons rule because they rely on Fear. I want the criminals to change, not resist themselves to commit a crime out of fear, but to genuinely change. I see this as a therapy for the mind. To make them see the beauty of life.”
“That doesn’t answer why me.”
Tom swallowed the candy whole now. When he smiled, his teeth glittered with a patch of brown orange. “Most criminals do not boast of happy moments. Abuse and hunger, yes, they knew that well enough. Most never would have seen smiles in their lives. But you? You know what it means to have a family. You have seen life, Daniel. You knew what life looked like before the tragedy. I believe you can be morphed back into that person. ”
Daniel regarded Tom with his dark blackened eyes. His life indeed had been a perfect one, until that monster had killed his daughter. Daniel himself had turned into a monster to kill that man. And surrendered to law.
“I believe if you re-live that life, if you are shown love again, You will forgo your quest for vengeance,” Tom said, his eyes pleading. “Will you help me, Daniel? Will you help me observe the change in your behavior?”
Daniel considered. He was indeed open to the idea, although he felt a little ashamed of being used as a lab-rat. The doctor told him about slight side effects of weekly medication. Daniel agreed, though not for the doctor’s sake.
That night, Daniel submitted himself to the dream, not resisting his thoughts as he watched his daughter celebrate her fourteenth birthday. When the dream collapsed, he slept like a child in his cell.
The medication, as Tom called it, continued for almost two months when the doctor decided that it was time to move him along with his prison mates.
A social interaction was a welcome move from the loneliness and dampness of the dark cell. Yet, he often struggled to chat with his companions in the dining mess and bathrooms. All they did was nod to him when he nodded, answer in short syllables or entirely avoid him. Even his best mates behaved differently when he returned from the dark cell. “ Even that dark cell was not colder than you,” he lost his temper once and shouted at one of his friends, Jon. Jon shuddered at that moment, while others stared quietly with open mouths. “ Is it that scumbag I killed?” he asked, shaking violently. “Is that what scares you?”
Mostly, he longed for the touch of those past dreams and the sense of warmth his family had given him in them, even the false sense. “Do not get addicted,” the doctor warned him when he told him in one of the sessions. “I might have to reduce the medication to once a fortnight. And I will take the observations immediately the next day.”
Yet, the lack of social interaction paled before the arrival of a new prisoner when it came to twisting his stomach. Black Rat, he called himself and moved about the prison recklessly. He looked lean but grotesque with a hole in between his teeth and irregularly shaped eyes. Even his nose looked ugly, long and oozing with thick scum. Thin and scrawny as he was, he was never afraid to bully an inmate. Daniel did not like him, there was something off about this man. That night, he heard the Black rat brag about killing a woman after brutally molesting her.
Daniel’s head ached at the very sight of the Black rat and his bowels troubled him. That scum did not deserve to live. I must kill him. He tried to remember the moments he re-lived in his dreams but they were so vague that he did not even remember the sight. I must wait till I sleep. Resist till then.
Seconds passed like ages as the inmates went to their respective cells. Only then did Daniel breathe freely, but his guts still churned and coiled about him. He fell flat on his back as he tried to call for sleep. Just lay around, it will take you to your darling.
Soon, the promised abyss came amidst his agony, to swallow him into the cylinder of images. As he began to grope for the images of his daughter, his fingers went to a different image altogether. That one filled with a thick puddle of redness as a young man flapped his hands to the splashing gore in a black room. Pale and devoid of blood, lean, tall, with a broken tooth, handsome even in the puddle of death. Daniel found himself squatting near the victim, an axe lying lazily in his arms. “Die, die, die,” he said, as he tasted salt on his lips. Sweat or tears, he could not say. Yet, it was the ecstasy he felt in his nerves, eyes, ears and beyond. “Die, die, die,” he shouted as he slashed thrice with the axe. The man in the blood let out a shrill like a rat, yet inaudible and incomprehensible to the naked ear. Soon, there were no flaps or squeals.
He stood there for another half an hour, staring at nothing but the silent dead. It was as if the time itself had stopped there to have a look. He was not sure if it was the case though, it could be that the pills had locked him in the dream. So he stared tirelessly at the corpse till the room collapsed into the dark.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself fresh and free of the turmoil that bothered him the evening before. By the time the doctor had called him, he was smiling as naturally as Tom did.
“Any progress, Daniel?” Tom asked, as he always did. “I heard there came a new inmate, who could be of certain interest to you.”
“Yes, Tom, ” Daniel said. “There was progress.”
It was Tom's turn to experience that ecstasy. Daniel knew when he saw into the doctor's eyes.
“I told you Daniel. I knew it would succeed. Love always triumphs over Vengeance.”
A hint of guilt flashed in his eyes, although the doctor knew nothing of interpreting them. “Perhaps,” Daniel said, as the ecstasy consumed that guilt before he even knew.