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