The humming noise made by the ceiling fan broke the agonising silence. The lone light bulb placed in a corner of the room was shining in effulgence. The bed made a creaking noise as James tossed and turned on it. The nights tapped into his deepest fear, the fear of 'death'. Clasping a pillow tightly he closed his eyes in an attempt to sleep.
A pattern full of dots and sparkles played before him. Swirls and waves of different coloured dots danced not letting him sleep. He lay on the bed and stared at the window wondering if he would ever be able to step out of his Palacious yet dungeon-like house.
A few hours passed. Streaks of sunlight streamed through the gaps in the curtain and fell on his face waking him up. He began to rub his groggy eyes and walked to the bathroom. The wobbly sensation in his legs worried him.
He entered the bathroom and coughed blood into the sink. Splashing cold water all over his face, he leaned against a wall. As he stood wiping his face with a towel, the doorbell rang. With slow, unsteady steps he walked to the door and opened it.
A young woman probably in her early twenties was standing in the doorway. Her pleasant smile illuminated her face. She shoved her hand into her bag and showed her identification card to James. "Sara - home care nurse" read the card.
He ushered her inside and gave her a tour of the house. Without uttering a word, he entered his room and sat at the reading table. He began to page the book that lay before him. The words printed didn't make any sense to him. He felt faint and was about to collapse when Sara caught him by his waist. She helped him sit on the bed, tucked a pillow behind his head and smiled. A grim expression was plastered on his face. She stood by his side and he diverted his gaze away from her and stared at the ceiling.
"Would you like to drink tea?" she asked. He shook his head in a no. Her attempt at striking a conversation failed. She nodded and left. A few hours later, she helped him eat his lunch and administered his medicines.
A few days passed. He wasn't much of a talker. Sara spent most of her time reading books. One morning, she entered his room and saw that blood was strewn all over the floor. He had coughed up blood the previous night. She wiped his face with a cloth. His wrinkled face was stained with tears. Tears of remorse.
She helped him eat breakfast and administered medicines.
"You can talk to me if you wish to," she said. He closed his eyes and waved his hand in dismissal. No matter how hard she tried she wasn't able to enter the shell he had built around him.
Ten days later
Sara entered the room and saw that he was drenched in sweat. He clasped his chest tightly and was withering in pain. A bluish hue was seen around his mouth and on his nails. His skin appeared pale. His chest sank below his neck and he made a grunting sound. She phoned the hospital and began to provide him with emergency care.
A few minutes later, the ambulance arrived and he was taken to the hospital. His condition was stable the next day. She entered the room and stood by his side. He signalled her to sit. She dragged a chair and sat.
A mass of grief was floating inside him. His near to death experience coaxed him to let his emotions flow freely out in the open. It was time he unburdened himself of all the pain and guilt he has been hoarding in his heart for over five years.
A lone tear escaped his eyes and coursed down his cheeks. "Back in my days of yore, I was an acclaimed critic," he spoke. She sat listening intently.
"I had amassed knowledge about different cuisines in the world, dance forms and music by reading books. I had received a bachelor's degree in journalism and I went on to pursue my master's. My job as a critic demanded honesty and unprejudiced decisions. I was invited by restaurants across the country. I visited them, took a tour of the restaurants, tasted the food they prepared and wrote a review. I was brutally honest and never hesitated to call a spade a spade. My reviews had ripped the souls of people. Owing to my profession, I didn't have many friends. I made many enemies. But it didn't affect me. I was the most sought critic and had a flourishing career. I amassed wealth and revelled in its euphoric glory. I was married to the love of my life. Despite me destroying the lives of a few, my life was rosy. I had no regrets. It was what I did and was proud of myself. We were blessed with a baby girl. But slowly, my profession had begun to interfere with my personal life. The art of criticism that I had mastered with time, seeped into my personal life," he choked as he spoke.
She enveloped his hand in hers and looked at him empathetically. She helped him to drink water. Swallowing the lump in his throat he continued, "I didn't spare my daughter and wife too. I criticized them for everything they did. My wife had tried her best to make me leave my profession at the door. But I paid no heed to her. I was arrogant and pride had robbed me of empathy and love. Her attempts at changing my behaviour had failed. I had criticised my daughter's performance in the choir and she retreated into a shell. My wife gave up on me. On one unfortunate day, she walked out of the house and my life. I was unmoved. I was sure that they would return soon begging me to accept them back. But I was wrong. I indulged in a few no strings attached flings. But they couldn't satiate my hunger for love and affection.
I wasn't ready to let go of my ego. Three years back, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was informed that I wouldn't live long. I wrote to my wife and informed her of my situation. They visited me and stayed with me for two days and left. She said that I had brought this on me. She was right. As I lay on the death bed, I had begun to appreciate life. I wished I could live longer. I wished I had appreciated life and its blessings earlier. Being alone was catastrophic, to say the least. I hope that people whom I had wronged would forgive me. I thought that I was blessed but I'm cursed." Her eyes turned red and tears floated in their confines. His breathing sank. His countenance turned purple. She rushed to inform the doctor. After a few hours of struggle, he breathed his last.
She entered the room and closed his eyes. Pictures of her deceased father came flooding before her. Her emotions rose and fell like tides in an ocean and she let them take their course. She looked at Jame's lifeless body and thought, 'Years back, you had visited my father's restaurant. You were an uninvited guest. My father hadn't asked for your review. Your scathing remarks about the restaurant's ambience and food robbed us of our customers. Eventually, my father had to shut it down. He had toiled to make ends meet. But the closure of the restaurant, his first baby, had taken a toll on his health and well-being. Gripped by sorrow and melancholy he had withered away to death. When I came across your advertisement for a nurse, I decided to give it a shot. I wanted to punish you for what you had done. But destiny had plans of its own. You were the best critic but the worst human being. You never lived in peace. I hope your soul rests in peace.'
She wiped her tears and walked out of the room. She entered the bathroom and took out a bottle of pills from her bag. As she flushed the pills into the toilet, a smirk embraced her lips.
'You deserved to die not in the hands of cancer but in my hands. Knowledge never goes in vain,' she thought. Her hysterical laughter was interspersed with tears. She had replaced his medicines and that was what induced breathlessness and heart attack in him.
Wiping her kohl stained face, she walked out of the bathroom. She saw that Jame's wife was in the room.
'He lived alone and died alone. He must rot alone,' she thought and walked away.
She got her revenge but wasn't at peace. Revenge is never an antidote to sorrow, after all.