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Desi Contemporary Sad

When my gait freezes, I gently kick the trash can.

What wouldn’t I give to trash all these dementors hovering around my foggy brain.

But now, that is not important. Kicking the empty plastic trash can is. Whatever little tension my frayed nerves can conjure must be directed at it. It is my only hope against falling on the floor and breaking my teeth. Or bones. Again.

The trash can is my shining Patronus.

I try to summon the warmth of the morning sun on my back. And the squirrels that roll around the trees on the campus as I walk on crisp winter mornings to my class. That usually works, but not today.

Now, I am left to skim at my happiest memories on the surface and hope they work their charm, as straining my electrodes-embedded brain could just freeze me more.

The rapt faces of my students as we discuss gene editing - one kick. Subbu’s teary smile as our newborn is placed on her chest- another kick. The beaming face of my daughter as she waves goodbye at the international departures gate- another kick.

Just six more steps to reach the morning bed. A chasm my leaden legs find impossible to cross.

There was a time when my nerves were more predictable. With regular doses of L-dopa, I could neatly slice the hours of my day; On-Time, Off-Time. But I guess nerves can take just that much rap. The durations when they light up to glue me together as a person are being eaten away by the darkness that gnaws at them.

Letting my thoughts wander will do me no good. I have to get back to the task at leg.

My little girl’s face when she watches the bee hover around the cosmos in the garden- one kick. The…the… tea samosa party at the Faculty Club after receiving the state award in Science Education- another kick. The coming together of air particles to form Subbu’s face when I open my eyes after Deep Brain Stimulation procedure- another kick.

I strain to keep my energies trained on my tools of immediate survival. The fluorescent green plastic trash can with a grey lid and a…. walker.

Tremors course through my left hand and my palm jolts up leaving the sweaty rubber grip. Now, it is up to my right hand not to press down too hard and send me tumbling.

The moment of absolute panic nearly blinds me. I don’t want to be rushed to the emergency room, again. I don’t want to put my Subbu through more agony than she is in. If I make it to that morning bed, I swear I’ll never again push my On-Time. Not even to get a packet of chips from the pantry. I’ll wait for Subbu to come out of the bathroom and get me the snack.

I press down the walker with my right thumb and index finger and lift the other three fingers so that it doesn’t tilt to its right. Then take a deep breath, focus on my left palm, and try to bring it down to the walker. It’s like trying to land a spaceship on a planet without gravity. After what feels like a long time, my left palm lands, limp and off target.

Now, back to kicking the target.

My right leg decides to act up. A little more than it already has.

The fog in my head grows denser. It makes its way down, spreads through my crumbling body, and jeers at me without a warning. My nerves relay it to their failing command center which crackles, “Give up!”

This is the moment of truth. The fighter in me coming face to face with my frailty and the unfairness of it all; a teetotaller, non-smoker, molecular biologist becoming the target of an algorithm of fate and genetics. Would it be too bad, if I just gave up? After all, I have lived a life many consider fulfilling.

The fluorescent… slaps me. And hisses, “Stick to the process!”

All right, I shall stick to the process.

I must use my right leg to kick. I can’t afford to lift my left leg. That is the only thing that is firm on the ground, keeping me stable right now.

A dusty playground. A group of boys running in their shorts, kicking a ball that is beginning to come apart at the seams. A boy who can run and defend but misses the goal more often than not. He is made fun of but is still saved a spot on the ground in after-school games.

My right leg refuses to budge.

A run to the empty spectators stand after a save- one push. A group hug that follows- another push. Appa sending me off to college in a city far away from home- the bus kicking up the dust and floating towards the setting sun…

My frail back is pressed against a warm soft body. Probably a little wet too, but that’s all my nerves can tell me right now. I am propped against the pillow kept ready at my day bed. A pill with very little water is funnelled down my mouth. The magic pill that switches me on. It takes ten minutes on an empty stomach. But now, since I have given in to the temptation of munching on a packet of salty potato chips, it might take up to thirty minutes.

I have been saved from collecting another bruise for the museum of my body, by my spouse of thirty-five years. Subbu arranges the walker and the trash can next to the bed, at the ready for my next voyage. She sweeps up the spilled contents of Lay's lying nine steps away and puts them in the functional trash can in the kitchen.

I wonder if it’s easy for her nerves to summon her to keep a straight face, with neither pity nor irritation escaping its contour. I would like to believe it is more than that. But the fact she does it, makes me love her more. She smiles, looks up at the bookshelf, and asks,

“Wodehouse?”

I nod. Nothing better to kick-start my On-Time than to carry on with Jeeves.          

September 13, 2023 07:12

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12 comments

Aeris Walker
00:22 Sep 21, 2023

Good to see another story from you, Suma! I’ve been off and on here myself and have missed quite a few of everyone’s great stories. I appreciated the perspective from this elderly and, sadly, suffering man. It has to be hard as people age/sicken to accept their limitations and allow others to help. I love the beauty in this couple’s marriage—how there is this unspoken tether between them and a sense of selfless and sacrificial love. Celebrated my 9th wedding anniversary today and can only hope for a bond like that in our final years! Lovely...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:34 Sep 21, 2023

Aeris! So good to hear from you. I am guilty of missing from Reedsy and not catching up on reading too. I’m glad you found the beauty of the bond between this couple. That’s the silver lining in their gloomy circumstances. I deeply appreciate you taking time to read and leave a generous comment . Congratulations on your anniversary and wish you both years filled with love and togetherness forever!

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Mary Bendickson
13:40 Sep 15, 2023

Congrats on WP honorable mention. Not familiar with that one but know how it feels. Besides winning an award in my genre at major writers conference one of my stories posted here was selected for an anthology in another venue. Thanks for liking my donut story.

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Suma Jayachandar
14:32 Sep 15, 2023

Thank you so much. Wow! Congratulations . That's impressive. Wish you more success in future too. Donut story was so good. Will certainly leave a comment shortly.

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Delbert Griffith
13:15 Sep 14, 2023

Suma! Welcome back! I've sorely missed reading tales from one of my favorite authors on Reedsy. I hope all is well with you and that your teaching year goes splendidly. I admit, when I saw the title, that I would be treated to some Wodehouse. One of my absolute favorite authors, and one whose incomparable characters always bring a smile to my face and to my soul. I was despairing - until the end. Is this Parkinson's disease? It popped into my brain because I'm currently watching/ignoring a series in which Michael J. Fox is starring (Spin C...

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Suma Jayachandar
06:14 Sep 15, 2023

Delbert! Thank you so much for such a warm welcome and concern. I am doing fine, just mulling over other things I want to do and plucking courage to do them, that’s all :) I too missed the generosity of my people here on Reedsy. You are right; both in identifying the condition of the MC and about Wodehouse. Thanks again for reading and saying overwhelmingly kind words. It totally made my day.

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Michał Przywara
20:40 Sep 13, 2023

Great to see another story from you, Suma! It's sad indeed - but not entirely so. There's an element of hope, of acceptance, of love. Still, that's a very dark impulse to be grappling with. That he finds the strength to continue by turning to his memories of his family is touching - and fitting for a patronus. "I have been saved from collecting another bruise for the museum of my body" - I like that. This is a great depiction of struggling with something so many of us take for granted - just taking a step, just standing without falling...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:31 Sep 14, 2023

Great to get priceless feedback from you, Michal! Tbh haven't been writing much of late, except entering a Writers' Playground challenge (and was shocked to get an honourable mention). This was inspired by an article on a Parkinson's patient and the credit for many factual details should go to it. You are right, we take things for granted and fret over minor inconveniences even when so many things are going right for us. If only we practiced gratefulness. As far as Jeeves goes, the MC seems to believe humour can tide him over his dark mood...

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Michał Przywara
20:56 Sep 14, 2023

Congrats on the HM! I've not done WP myself, but I've heard a lot of good things about it. I checked out "Krishna Leela", and I can see why it did well :) Lots of musing about life and love, particularly what that might mean with an age gap. A lot is made out of the older man, and of not being able to keep up, so this sets the ending up really well - a pleasing (but not pleasant) surprise. "I need more time!" might be the theme song for being human.

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Suma Jayachandar
06:21 Sep 15, 2023

Oh! Thanks for the read and the comment, Michal. Yes, it was an interesting challenge and I might take it up again sometime. I totally second your vote for the theme song:)

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Rebecca Miles
20:12 Sep 13, 2023

Welcome back poet Suma! Lovely to see your name pop up in my activity feed along with all the beautiful imagery you always bring. I'm collecting this one as one of my favourite metaphors from you: I have been saved from collecting another bruise for the museum of my body, None of us wants that collection and you depict so well, with the short bursts of syntax, just what an effort it is to use the walker. In these circumstances, inversion comes into play: a trash can is a patronus. This is sad, but also quietly hopeful as well, those memori...

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Suma Jayachandar
05:51 Sep 14, 2023

Thanks, Rebecca. As always you are generous with your praise, and I am grateful for it. Thank you so much for reading and leaving an insightful comment. Appreciate it!

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