Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stranger in the Mirror: A Short Story

I was aware of a wet darkness. And there was a choking sound coming from a distance too. What place is this? I wondered and then realized that my eyes were closed. The realization should have made me laugh; instead it only scared me, forcing me to snap my eyes open.

Once I did that, I realized that the wetness was of tears. When she saw that I was watching her, for a moment she was stunned, stupefied and suddenly she shrieked. “Doctor! Doctor! He’s awake! Doctor.”

Doctor?  My mind pondered over the word. Am I in a hospital? But why?  As if to answer my question, a terrible headache erupted and I clenched my eyes shut. By now the shrieks had subsided, apparently due to the doctor’s presence in the room

“Mr. Gilmore? Shaun? Can you hear me?” a voice asked, probably the doctor’s.

I could sense a breathless apprehension building in the room, even with my eyes closed. But I gave not a damn. I wanted them to go away, to leave me alone. I wanted to scream louder than the lady, but I did not. I opened my eyes.

“At last.” The doctor smiled and though he did not sigh, I could feel his mind exhaling a deep breath of relief. “You had us deeply worried….”

“Why am I here?” I spoke with great difficulty and heard my speech slur.

“Shaun! Darling! You had an accident”, the woman answered, pushing the doctor aside and coming to hug me. But why? I had no idea. And was that name and that adjective addressed to me? Neither the words nor the voice nor the owner of the voice stirred a memory. With that thought, a deeper and more shocking understanding dawned.

I did not know my name.

 In the events that followed, the doctor diagnosed that I was suffering from amnesia and my chances of recovery at best were uncertain. Also, as days went by, I was told that the shrieking lady was my lovely wife Moira and given other inconsequential details about my own life.

The first thing that I learnt was, as I have already said, that I had amnesia. The second, the name of my wife, followed by my own. I learnt that my name was—was? no, is Shaun Gilmore and that I am the Creative Director of one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies. I was at that point in time, thirty eight years old and Moira was my wife for past five years. There had been a wife before her, Candace—I think—but she was insignificant, I was told. I had an accident while returning home from work. Apparently I was a little drunk and drove my car straight into a huge birch tree. Thereafter, I slipped into a coma and came out of it after five anxious days.

Subsequently, Moira brought me home. Home, I discovered, was a penthouse on the top of a fifty storied building. When Moira had settled me in our bedroom, she went out to get some coffee. After she left, I got up and took a stock of things. It was a sophisticated, elegant and rich apartment. I still had difficulty believing that it was mine.

In fact, I had trouble believing anything. I had lost my identity. I was told that I am Shaun Gilmore. I did not know it. I did not feel it. No one is more lost that a man without his memory, not even the dog on the street or the beggar by the lamp post.

A wave of anger washed over me. It was so unfair, so very unfair. I picked up the nearest vase and waited to hurl it through the wide glass window, when Moira returned.

“Shaun?” She looked bewildered at my stance. “What are you doing?”

Embarrassed and heart-broken, I kept the vase back in its place. “This is a nice place.” A meaningless remark, made in a futile attempt to save face. I walked out to the adjoining balcony and looked down.

As I peered over the edge, nausea welled up inside me—nausea born out of fear. I turned away quickly to find Moira watching me.

“Whose ridiculous and incredibly stupid idea it was to live here?” I heard myself ask harshly.

She looked at me incredulously and pointed out quietly.” Yours.”

I staggered into the room. “Mine?” I asked.


“But how? I hate heights. When I looked out of the balcony, I was…God! My life is such a mess!”

Moira was looking at me with pity. Pity? Did I want that? I was not sure.

She handed me by now cold coffee as I sank into the sofa. “What…what”, I stammered, “was I like?”

I looked up and observed Moira closely. She was an attractive lady, in her thirties, with shoulder length brown hair, a small oval face and lustrous grey eyes.

“What was I like before the accident?” I repeated in a stronger voice.

“I told you…” she began.

“Not that. As a person, I mean.”

“Well…”Moira looked flustered. “I can’t really say. I mean, it’s so odd.”

“Still….” I pressed.

“I guess, you were in a sense perfectionist. Always wanted everything your way, to every precise detail, you know…how should I explain? Like if you were old self you would have thrown that coffee out of the window, if it was even a shade less or more sweet than you wanted. That kind of perfection, be it professional or personal life.

“And you had temper. Wicked and short temper and ambition. And ambition drove you day and night. I remember you say saying that each new apartment you would buy would be higher than before until you lived in the skies.”

“That’s all?”

“I suppose so.”

What about my emotions, feelings, likes, dislikes? What about relationships? With Moira, with my first wife, my family? Didn’t I have friends? No one visited me at the hospital.

And was this person that Moira described really me? How was that possible? I was sure as hell that it was next to impossible. Me, a perfectionist? And ambitious? And I wanted to live in the skies? I sure sounded like a crazy weirdo before I lost my memory.

But what troubled me the most was that I still could not connect with that part of me which was lost in the oblivion. If Moira’s description was true, even then I was sure that I could never be that again. The doctor had said that I could recover if I tried hard enough. But deep within me I knew that the Shaun Gilmore that Moira was talking about was lost forever. All that was left was an empty shell, filled with an aching void.

In the weeks that ensued, Moira tried to familiarise me with my own life—through photographs, videotapes, souvenirs and everything she could think of. But she failed to reach me. It was partly because I had this feeling that she had not known me even in that other life, except in my external manifestations. If I was a perfectionist and I had married her, it must have been because I’d felt that she was perfect. But now with the world upside down and trapped within my own mind, her perfections jarred upon my consciousness.

This was true of everything I did or saw or felt within the circle of my new existence. In those dreary days and black nights, I found relief in black and white silent comedies, where the protagonist was invariably a man with a short funny moustache. Once when Moira saw me watching his movies, she was surprised. “You are watching Charlie Chaplin!” she exclaimed. “You always hated him, calling him a mindless buffoon.”

That comment left me thinking for many days to come. At the end of it all, one stormy night, I walked out of that strange, unfamiliar, stifling life. I left no note, no explanation. Moira may have worried for a day, may be two……

I do not remember for how long I walked into the rainy night, but when the rain stopped, I found myself in front of a grand hotel entrance. There were people milling in and out even though it must have been quite late in the night. Some kind of party was probably going in there. For a moment I halted right in the middle of the road, causing a middle aged, elegantly dressed woman bump into me.

“What in the world……” she started but stopped once she saw me. And I saw recognition in them. Instantly I tried to turn away but she caught me by my arm. “Shaun! Long time, no see”, she exclaimed, obviously delighted to see me. “Of course there was that unfortunate accident. I heard that you lost your memory, is that true? How awful! But of course, you would return to work soon and I daresay the social circle……”

On and on she went, without giving me a chance to speak, which was just as well, because I felt suffocated, looking desperately for an escape. Escape came in the form of a beautiful, shiny car and a sad, little face peeping out of it.

“Excuse me. I must go.” Abruptly, I wrenched my arm from the lady’s hand and walked quickly towards the car, I had just seen with a child’s face pressed against the window, looking as lost as I felt. The car was parked by the kerb. Probably, the child’s parents were inside the hotel, in the middle of a party and left their daughter locked in the car because no baby sitter was available. And of course, children spoilt the fun of parties.

I bent and lowered my head to meet the lonely eyes of the child. She was startled. “Hello”, I said. Due to the closed windows, she could hardly hear me. I waved my hand. She stared, unsure.

Then I blew her a kiss. And she smiled, sensing a friend. The smile touched me so much so that I felt a kinship with her. Thereon, I did crazy things just to see her smile—I turned head over heels on the open road and felt no embarrassment, I pulled funny faces and slipped on the road intentionally, drawing curious looks and frosty glares from the sophisticated visitors to the hotel and the suave doormen. But they could do nothing as the car was parked outside the hotel property and there was nothing anybody could do about a strange man, acting madly in front of a locked car. They simply assumed that I was mad and actually meant no harm.

I entertained my little spectator until the early hours of a new morning when her astonished parents returned. I walked away from the car with a curious feeling of satisfaction; I had found a new purpose, a new ambition, a new desire…………smiles………….

“Bunny!” A strong, nasal voice brought me out of the only memories I have now. “You are next.”

I adjusted my orange wig, put on the big, red, false nose and walked out on the stage, as the same nasal voice announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen and Children………Presenting the funniest person in the entire nation—Bunny, the funny clown….”

Note: I wrote this short story more than five years ago. It was originally published on sulekha.com

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