Monday, October 13, 2008

The Thinking Man

He thought a lot of things when he came back from the hospital with his head in a turban of bandages that gave off a steady antiseptic whiff. He thought the staircase that led up to the flat looked narrower, the steps higher. He thought he saw the shadow of feet in the tiny space at the bottom of his neighbour's door. He thought someone was looking at him through the keyhole (he thought he saw an eye blink in the keyhole). He thought of his mother rotting in a cramped coffin, in a crowded cemetry.

He unlocked the door and stepped into the livingroom. He thought it looked the same as it had looked when he had left, and gone out to get a motorcycle accident. He unbuttoned his shirt and let it slide off his back and unto the floor. He turned on the fan, and sat up in the couch under it. He really wanted to lie down but he knew his head would hurt if he did.

As he sat there listening to his cellphone ring out again and again, the ground thumping beneath his feet, he thought of how tragic it would be if the whistling ceiling fan were to drop from its hook and slice his head off untidily –thuck.thuck.thuck- with its dusty, blunt blades. That situation would be beyond doctors and bandages. he wondered if headless corpses, and corpseless heads could get tetanus. He slid off the couch, breaking his fall with his bruised and plastered knees, and crawled to a corner of the room. There, beneath brown cobwebs, he lay down into a dream about his childhood.

His sister returned from her boyfriend's house at 9pm, half-singing, half-humming whatever song was thumping from the flat below theirs.

You are sick, he thought she had said, pointing to his head. But when she repeated the words and giggled, he realised she had said 'Sikh'. She was fond of puns.

'Low wit,' he sneered, tracing the ridges of the bandages with his fingertips to make sure the thing hadn't come undone. He watched her do a little dance, throwing her hands high above her head, and moving her feet in a way he could not. He told her what he thought might happen with the fan.

'Seriously?' as if that was a proper question. As if she should not find a corner for herself, for her safety. She looked up at the fan for a moment, and then fixed him with a stare. Her stupid grin had faded and was being replaced with worry. He watched as she tossed her keys on the coffee-table and began to search her huge handbag for her phone. She found it soon enough.

'Who are you calling?'

'Your doctor.'


She held up a hand and began to speak. Not to him, into the phone.

It was then it occurred to him that there was petrol in the house. Cellphones were not allowed in petrol stations. An explosion was imminent.

Risking decapitation by the ceiling fan, he leapt from his corner and snatched the phone out of his sister's hand just as she was saying something about side effects and paranoia.

'Hey,' she said, but he was already tossing her phone and his out of the window.

'You have totally lost it' she screamed with huge eyes. He thought it might be a pun. Was 'it' one of the cellphones? He stretched an arm and turned off the fan.
His sister had run out of the house like a mad woman, as if her phone could be salvaged. She had lost her head. He smiled and recited the first few lines of his favourite poem If by Rudyard Kipling.

IF you can keep your head when all about
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too...

By the time he flopped down on the couch, his head was throbbing but still safely attached to his shoulders. No doubt.