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Mar 1, 2017
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Old Habits Die Hard – Swetha Sadanand

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It was the twentieth time that day that I was checking my phone for your message. I would tell myself over and over again that there would be no beeps announcing your concern about my well-being anymore and would read the last message you sent me which I knew by-heart by then. It broke my heart every single time I read it and then my fingers would move over to the corner of my phone screen to delete it in a desperate attempt to attain closure and as usual, I would give up and return from my reverie of your memory to the harsh reality of my empty life.

That night was different. My alarm went off at 11.45 p.m., a time when I was dead to the world on all days except on the eve of your birthday every year. I woke up with a jolt and hurriedly tried to make the ringing stop. Even though I wasn’t wearing my glasses, I could see the blurry text staring back at me in the blinding light from the screen and my heart stopped for about four seconds. I gasped at how close I had come to deleting your message and sat up straight with my phone in both hands.

I walked over to the refrigerator to quench the unbelievable thirst that gripped my throat at that exact moment and saw a note placed on the table. The handwriting was illegible and a sense of panic slowly seeped into my mind as I realized I was probably not alone at home. I looked around, my hands tightened around the water bottle, ready to attack the intruder. There were only so many rooms one could possibly hide in and after a quick but thorough search of the entire house, I came to the only conclusion there could be- I was going insane. So, I waited for it. Actually, I waited for you because the first and the most logical thing for me to do when I was on the verge of losing it completely was to conjure up your image and that thought calmed me!

But, nothing happened. After a few minutes, I went back into my room as I gave up hopes of seeing you. On my way, I realized that the note was probably the one I kept on the table the previous night when I had stumbled upon old prescriptions for sleeping pills from the initial days when sleep eluded me because of the absence of your warmth in our bed. Without warning, I tripped over a bag and heard someone’s heavy breathing nearby. On impulse, I looked up at the ceiling and was shocked by the sight! Two blue eyes stared at me. It belonged to a boy of about ten years of age who was holding onto the ceiling like an octopus. It took me a while to realize that his will to hold on came from the fact that he was, in fact, clinging for dear life. A fall could be fatal for most people.

“Who are you?” I asked him.

No response.

“Are you a thief?” I asked again.

I had no use for money. You should be proud of me because before you entered my life, I was not someone who could let a needy stranger get away with my hard-earned possessions.

“Do you understand what I’m saying?” I asked, tired of waiting for some kind of reaction.

I extended an apple towards him and he looked at me, surprised. Maybe he was deaf, I thought. I gestured to make him come down from the ceiling and he obeyed. He swung down in a swift motion like an expert gymnast. I tried to hand him the apple but he didn’t take it.

“I hate apples too.” I murmured, offering him an orange instead.

But he wasn’t interested in fruits as I could deduce. He kept staring long and hard at me and if it were in normal settings, I would have been freaked. But his eyes had a magnetic quality to them. I saw you in him.

Suddenly, a brilliant flash of lightning struck to remind me of the darkness that the house was covered in and I reached for the switch. I turned to find him taking cover under the dining table. A roar of thunder followed and that was when it dawned on me he was afraid of the uproar that the skies caused and wasn’t hard of hearing after all.

“I was afraid of thunder too.” I said, extending my hand to him. “But you’ll learn to fear what is unpredictable as you continue living. Thunder comes with a warning at least! And you clearly know that because you sought refuge as soon as you saw the lightning informing you of its arrival. You seem like an observant and smart kid.”

He smiled for the first time and it automatically made me grin. I knew that what worked the trick was my soft and placating tone. I pondered on what to do next and finally offered him a blanket, directing him towards the couch. He readily accepted the offer and was asleep in seconds. The boy had a snake-charmer’s look about him. His movements resembled those of a snake too. He looked like a performer; a part of a circus troop, perhaps? I gave up trying to figure out the mystery surrounding the boy when my body nudged me back to bed.

I woke up the next morning to meet an empty couch with a neatly-folded blanket. I was disappointed. Subconsciously, I had made plans to help him – fund his education and maybe a decent chance at life! But he had left without so much as a goodbye and that was not something I had anticipated.

I spent the entire day looking for him in the remotest corners of the city. I forgot about work and only resumed at the office after receiving continuous calls. Even at work, I could not concentrate on the papers that lay before me. I took extra seconds glancing at the kids playing across the streets through my cabin’s window. I went online and gave up within seconds because I could not figure out what to type in the search bar. And then, the clock’s gong went off and with it my attention. It was 4 p.m. Your favourite time of the day.

‘My time will come.’- you used to always say. And unfortunately, it did. Time took you away from me, eventually. All I ever wanted was more time with you. Now I have all the time in the world and I can only think of you in this eternal punishment of my empty life. A faint memory is what you have become and it won’t be long before you fade away completely.

I got home and sat on the couch in the very spot where the boy had lay. I thought of the times you and I fought over petty things and how you would sleep on the couch and find me crouched up next to you in the mornings. If I wanted, I could give the little boy with eyes as magical as yours the space that you took up in my mind. He could be my cause of unrest at regular intervals instead of you. But I took a pen and wrote some words, it had been a while since I had done that and somehow, the interruption to my thoughts about you – the late night invader with no agenda except maybe to find a roof to sleep under on a rainy night – was gone.

I took out my phone from my bag, the one you had gifted me on our last anniversary to find your last text. I knew I had to delete it. You were a bad habit that I had to break for my sanity’s sake. But, like the adage goes, old habits die hard. So, as I closed my eyes and pressed delete, the sound of erasing your words that I held in my hands and heart for so long seemed like a cacophony of noises in my head. My eyes darted across the table and I began writing. To you.

Photograph – Business 2 Community

About the writer – Swetha Sadanand is an Indian engineering student and blogger who is passionate about writing in all forms – poems, shortstories, novels, articles to name a few. Her works have been published on Writer’s Ezine and Rise online magazine. Her poem won the exceptional poem award in the June 2016 issue of Writer’s Ezine and her shortstory came in third in the Love and Emotions contest on Wordkrowd.

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