She gasped for breath. She screamed, but there was no one. She fought with it, pushed her legs and kicked her hands but failed miserably. The blue predatory water was devouring her senses. She felt weak, devoid of any life, sapped of all her energy. Her mind gave up and slowly she started falling into an abyss. Everything went blurred…

***

She opened her eyes with a start.

She looked around.

It was dark outside. A small bulb illuminated the room with its negligible luminescence. There was someone in her room. She tried hard to recognize the person who was sleeping just a few yards away from her on a chair. But she couldn’t remember. Even the room looked a bit unfamiliar. Where was she?

“How are you feeling now?”, asked someone.

She couldn’t see him. She thought her son Rohan was asking her the question.

“I am feeling better now”, replied Priya.

“Rohan, please switch on the light. Nothing is visible. You know that I hate darkness.”

There was silence.

“Rohan, where are you?”, Priya questioned anxiously.

Suddenly, a warm light filled the entire room.
In front of her, there appeared a strange person offering his hand. His visage was hazy.

“Come on! Let’s go! “

“Who are you? Are you a thief, a murderer or a kidnapper? I am scared. Please leave. My son Rohan must be nearby. Please call him.”

“Don’t worry, I will not harm you but, at present, we need to go.”

“Where?”

“A place far away from this land. Where there is no pain, no suffering and no darkness. A place where the sun never sets, love always blooms and compassion never dies.”

“But…who are you?”

There was no reply.

She shuddered and shivered. Pearls of sweat trickled down her face. Her heart raced like an elevator whose breaks had failed. This felt so strange. Was this for real or just a nightmare? “Rohan…Rohan…” she called out to him weakly.
She tried to get up and run, but couldn’t move. She felt as if someone had tied her body to the cot. She turned around to see what was holding her so tightly. And as she turned back, she saw someone behind her lying on the cot. The lady looked shockingly thin, like a dry thin stick. A saree hung loosely about her.

“Who are you? Who is that lady just behind me and who is sleeping on that chair? Where am I?” Priya screamed.

The man smiled and replied calmly, “I am Yama, the God of Death.”

She went silent. Words failed her.
She felt a sickly feeling creeping up on her and she wondered if her time had come, or was it only a dream?
“I don’t want to go with you. It’s too soon. There is so much work to be done. My son needs me”, she replied.

Yama remained silent.

She continued pleading with him but he remained muted.

“A least let me bid a last goodbye to them”

After a brief pause, Yama replied, “You did that long back. It has been fourteen years since you have been in a coma. You have been lying on this cot since then. That frail person lying behind you is you, Priya and the person sleeping on the chair is your nurse.”

Priya was stunned and speechless. It was as if someone had knocked her over with a hammer. “That’s me?” she said incredulously.

She turned back to look at that creature that was herself. Fourteen years had passed. She looked pale. Wrinkles dominated her face and platinum hair lay scattered on her forehead. She was always overweight, but now she was so thin, exactly as she had wanted to be. How ironical!

Everything about her had changed. She had been so conscious about her looks, the way she carried herself and now, here she was. Totally unrecognizable…

“Shall we leave?” Yama asked, breaking into her reverie.

Priya looked at everything. Her weary body, the room, her nurse and the Lord Krishna’s painting on the wall. A strange feeling arose in her heart and she rushed to touch the cot that had contained her for the last time. The cot had borne her weight and had been her partner for the last so many years. On one hand, she felt a sense of freedom moving away from it. On the other hand, her heart ached as it was time to cut her emotional chords with it.
Unwillingly, she allowed Yama to hold her hand and they stepped together in a boat. It was time to embark on a new journey. The boat started floating like clouds in the Sky.

Priya remained silent as she travelled amongst the stars. Like an unabating river, myriad questions flooded her mind. Fourteen years on the cot. How painful would it have been for her family to see an almost dead family member every day? Why was she the one who had to go through this ordeal?

Yama cut into her thoughts.
“You look lost “, said Yama.

“Lord, I am just thinking about the last fourteen years. I was dead, and yet I was alive. I was half-dead.”

“Or maybe half-alive?” said Yama .

“O I didn’t think of it that way. But this question troubles me. Why this exile of fourteen years? Why my family and I were the chosen ones?”

“What is the last thing you remember?”

“That our family had gone on a trip. We were all delighted as this trip was on my son, Rohan’s bucket list for years, but had not been able to make it due to some reason or the other. We enjoyed the beaches, the azure skies and the pristine waters. My grandson, Vedant, was around eight, and we had become more of friends now. We were enjoying and having the best family time after ages. And….”

“And “…

“After that, I can’t recall the events so clearly. I was there on a boat, and I don’t remember, something happened.”
The boat got into the sea, and the Sky became the screen.

“Look at that screen”, commanded Yama.

Priya looked bewildered but she obeyed the lord.. She saw that all the beautiful memories of their last trip together was being played on the screen, one after the other.

They were laughing, dancing on Vedant’s favourite numbers and playing cards. After a long time, they were all together. Then they were on the boat. Priya got a little scared. Something unpleasant was going to happen and she knew it.
“Rohan, you and your grandson Vedant were on the boat. Your daughter-in-law was not there as she had sea sickness. You were standing on the edge. The boat took a sharp turn and you just slipped off it. Rohan jumped in the water to save you. But by the time he reached you, too much water had entered your lungs. Because of panic and shock, your blood pressure shot up like a hurricane and oxygen supply to your brain was disrupted. It was too late by the time you got medical aid. You had a severe brain haemorrhage and were in the hospital, for a month. Doctors tried their best, but you showed no signs of improvement. They told Rohan that you will not survive for long.

Your son tried hard. He knocked on the door of every doctor whom he heard about but nothing helped. Everyone gave the same reply, “Only prayers can do some magic. Else there is no hope. Please take care of her at home and let her spend the last remaining days in peace.”

Tears flowed like an incessant river when Priya saw Rohan’s helplessness. She felt so much love for him too, “My Rohan…”

“But why fourteen years? It is such a long period. So much suffering, so much pain. It was not only me, but my family too had to undergo all this because of me,” cried Priya.

“She deserved this. She is paying for her harsh words,” she heard someone speaking faintly.
She looked around. There was no one.

“What happened? You look puzzled?” asked Yama.

“I heard something.”

“She is paying for her words”, someone’s voice echoed.

“What do you think? What was it?” asked Yama.

“I don’t know. I never harmed anyone”, replied Priya.

“You didn’t injure someone physically, but your words were like swords which were powerful enough to tear people’s hearts. You never realised and accepted your mistakes. This proved detrimental to your relationships.

Though you were always caring, you were short-tempered at the same time. Whenever things went haywire, you used to lose your temper and in that fit of rage, all the good you

did, was washed away. Your staff was tired and extremely irritated because of this toxic behaviour of yours.
Your son tried to implore your innumerable times, but all in vain. Your daughter-in-law kept quiet to maintain peace in the family. You loved to dominate, but you never realized that you lost warmth in your relationships due to your attitude.
With words, you fill love in the wallet of your life. You believed that with the power of your words, you would be able to control everything. But that is where you went wrong. Many scars you created by using your words as a battleship, many hearts got fractured, some left, some listened quietly while some drifted away gradually.”

Priya’s heart was overwrought with despair. Her life story played like a movie in her mind. Was she like that? Her husband used to laugh at her when she used to cry while watching films. Then how did this transition happen?
She never wanted to hurt others, but when did rudeness get ingrained in her, even she didn’t realize it. She was bubbly and charming and just wanted love. Her mother was into depression, while her father was too occupied with his business.
Her childhood passed away, taking care of her mother and siblings. When the youth knocked, her parents found a suitable match and got her married. Rahul’s arrival in her life was like the first drops of rain that satiated her parched soul.
His love and support provided her peace and stability that had eluded her till now. Soon Rohan came into their life, and motherhood took away most of her time.

Life was good until one fatal accident took away Rahul’s life. Priya was shaken by it. Rohan was just ten and the responsibilities of the entire family and the business fell upon her.

The so-called relatives became hostile. Doing business was difficult for a simple and naïve person like her. But she learned it the hard way and made her way to the top through hard work and honesty.

Circumstances had changed her and that is where words played the harsh game. Everyone kept a distance. The squabbles between her and her son too increased.

“I needed a friend. I was lonely. I wanted someone to talk to and share my laughter and pain with, but there was no one. My only comrade was my son but after one incident, even he started communicating less with me. He wanted to enter in to a deal with an international company. I researched that company and had some suspicions about its activities. It also required an enormous investment which our company couldn’t afford at that time. I tried to convince Rohan but he was adamant to do business with it. I disapproved of it strongly which broke our bond. After that, the resentment kept growing between us. The fights in the board room increased which extended to our dinner table and it ultimately cut us off from each other. We lived under one roof but there was no conversation between us.” said Priya.

“I hate to think I have died without resolving the bitterness between us. I am glad Rohan didn’t allow our differences to affect my relationship with my grandson…”

After a brief pause….

Did my family miss me? Did it take care of e during all these years? Or they just left me to my fate?” Priya asked.

“Your family was shattered after this incident, especially your son. After the boat incident, Rohan came to know that the international company had gone insolvent and every Indian company which worked with it lost all its investments. Because of your foresight, your company was saved. He thanked God and you for saving him but guilt pangs hurt him every day for the pain he caused you by his words and hostility. Your absence made him realize your importance, your sacrifices, and the way you handled business and personal life deftly. There were many situations when he wanted your guidance and help but you were not there. There were days he wanted to lie down, put his head in your lap and forget about everything. You can see it yourself,” said Yama.

Priya turned towards the screen. She saw her son returning from the office and going straight to her room, where she had been lying down on the bed, lifeless. He hugged her, kissed her forehead, “Wake up soon, Ma and shared the details of his day.

Priya was surprised as he was quite hesitant in expressing his emotions. Then he played Priya’s favourite music on a tape recorder for some time.

At night, her grandson sat with her and read stories the same way she used to with him when he was a kid. She was surprised to see her son having his morning tea with her. He even read out the news to her.

Her son had a habit of having bed tea, and Priya used to scold him for that. But now, he had started going to the gym and started taking care of his health which he had always ignored. Though her nurse fed her, she was extremely happy to see her daughter-in-law Anita taking care of the medicines, her meals, and all her vital needs. From a daughter-in-law, she had assumed the place of Priya’s mother. Roles had dramatically turned around. Anita too missed her. During festivals when she decorated the house all alone without any suggestions, in the kitchen when she made Priya’s favourite samosa and jalebis, when she got dressed up and Priya used to put kaala tika behind her ears. She regretted not seeing the gem that Priya was behind her strict, harsh, martinet like demeanor.

Vedant had lost his game partner. Every night, the grandson-grandmother duo played board games; she taught him life’s lessons while at it. The house used to be filled with voices before but as coma took over her, an eerie silence enshrouded it. He often went to her room and spoke to her, while playing carrom, as if she was really playing with him.
A smile spread across her face. Their love and concern were clearly visible. Her eyes welled up, and she felt proud of her family.

“I wish I had been there physically to experience all this”, said Priya.

“You could hear most of the things they spoke. Though you couldn’t respond, your heart could feel the love, every ounce of care, every emotion. When your grandson read the stories, you used to flow with them. Every time Rohan held your hand, your heart responded. You wanted to get up and sit with him, have a long heart-to-heart conversation with him. Every time tears dropped from his eyes, you too cried along with him. Your pillow and your cot felt the myriad emotions you felt.

That is the magic of words and true love, and that is why you survived for so many years”, replied Yama.
“My heart is full of regrets. I wish I had laughed a little more, expected a little less, and given a little more. Oh, how much I wish I could go back again, hug my children, and thank them for being there for me. I wish I had not been a liability and that you had taken me the instant I slipped into the water. My son is a nice man. He didn’t deserve this. “
“Priya, my dear, the number of breaths for you are allotted by God on the day you are born. Everything happens for a reason.”

What reason? How can an almost dead person serve any purpose apart from draining out valuable financial resources?”
“The answer lies there.”

Priya looked at the blue Sky and saw an operation theatre. There was silence. Only the sounds of the heart and BP monitors reverberated. Doctors and nurses were standing next to a person, performing major surgery, checking his heartbeat every few seconds. His face was covered with an oxygen mask.

“Rohan!”, she screamed.

“What happened to my son? Why is he on that hospital cot? Has he met with an accident? I beg you, please, leave him. He has already undergone so much in his life, he deserves some happiness and peace”, said Priya sobbing uncontrollably.

“Calm down Priya. Everything will be fine. He is just undergoing a heart transplant.”

“Bless the dear person who has donated their heart to my Rohan.”

Then bless yourself, said Yama, “ The donor is YOU!”

Tears of happiness gushed out of her eyes.

She turned towards Yama and said, “ Finally my exile is over, my lord. My soul is free from all the guilt now. I am ready for my next journey.”

And her companion of so many years, her cot and her new companion for her new journey, the boat, all merged in to one!”.

Glossary:
 
Krishna: Hindu God
Jalebis : Indian dessert
Samosa: A triangular savoury pastry filled with mashed potatoes and spices.
Kaala teeka: Black dot used to ward of the effects of an evil eye.
Ma: Mother
 
Author: Ca Pooja Kabra
Team: Ink Slingers
Prompt: Weave a story where the following objects play a pivotal role – a cot and a boat.
 
Inspiration: The inspiration behind this story is my grandmother-in-law. She was in coma for fourteen years. She was not on any support system and she passed away in coma. Though this story is mostly fictional but many emotions portrayed in the story are true. I am sharing some links for reference to support my story. 
 
Reference Links : 
 
 
 
 
Word count: 2924 words
 
Prompt Proposed by : Team Wordsmiths Trailblazers.
Picture Credit: This beautiful illustration has been made by my sister-in-law Ankisha Kabra.
 

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