Agnivesh – Ghosts of the Past
He shook Sreeja hard, but there was no movement from her. He looked behind, and the fire was still roaring on. The smoke was now coming through the crack in the window. He shouted, shaking her hard. But there wasn’t any response from her. He felt something skim his face, and lay flat on the bed next to her.
All of a sudden, Naveen felt someone shaking him. He turned to his other side and saw a panic stricken face. Was he seeing things? How could she be on both sides of him? He looked up and saw the fan, and no smoke anywhere. He sat up, and took the water that an anxious Sreeja gave him.
“Not here too, Navi. Not again. I’m worried. Maybe we should take a second opinion,” she whispered, careful not to wake Agnivesh who was peacefully sleeping on the floor below.
“But Dr. Khan told this would help to push the nightmares away, Reeju. Maybe it needs time. We only just got here. I should have come alone. You’ll only get more worried and anxious if it happens again,” he replied, trying to steady his voice but he was afraid too. Like her, he too had hoped for a quick fix.
Dr. Shauqat Khan, one of the best psychiatrists in Mumbai, and his closest friend, had suggested that he find some place to get away from the scene for a while.
“The ghosts of the past are here in Mumbai, Naveen. You should get away from here for a while, till you find the peace you need. Else they’ll keep haunting you.”
So they had. He had ignored Shauqat’s advice for a while, but every time he passed that accursed building, that night would bring the nightmare back. It wasn’t the same every time. But one thing was common. There was fire.
“Should I have done it?” thought Naveen to himself, as he lay on the bed, awake, watching Sreeja sleep. He knew she wasn’t really asleep. The worry would keep her aware and ready should the trauma return. But looking at the little boy near her on the bed on the floor, he knew he had done right.
He only remembered the day too well. The housekeeping lady had got her four-month old to the office. She had left the handsome fellow in his department with a colleague and went to the kitchen on the next floor for making tea. Sitting on Nayana’s desk as she held him, and looking at him smiling from across the hall, the little guy had smiled too. He was just about to walk across the hall when it happened.
The explosion shook the space, and a scream overwhelmed even the sound of the explosion. He thought of running to the rescue when he saw his colleague leave the baby lying on her desk and run for the fire exit. He had no choice then. Taking the baby, crying as if he knew his mother wasn’t going to make it, Naveen had run for the fire exit too. Sure enough, a few hours later, the fate of the lady was confirmed.
The next problem though was something Naveen had no idea what to do about. When the nurse from the ambulance tried to take the baby from him, he had held on, not wanting to go away from Naveen. When he was prised from his arms, the baby began to cry louder, if it was possible, and Naveen took the baby back and held on as he sat in the ambulance, letting the nurse check both of them.
They say great dangers bring people closer. In a few moments, Naveen had got attached to the baby. When child services took him away, he felt the void. That night, he lay awake, sitting in his balcony and wondering where the baby was. Sreeja sat on the bed, watching him.
A month or so later, he had got a call, from out of the blue. Someone from child services, asking him if he was still willing to adopt a baby boy they had taken from the fire. After doing their checks, they had come to the conclusion that the boy had no family. The lady who had died in the fire had no living relatives and someone had specifically asked for that baby and given Naveen’s number as contact.
“You want to, Navi. I could see it on that day. So I checked with them,” Sreeja told him when he called.
And they had. The formalities took their time, but it was sped through by the special intervention of an influential friend. And the boy, who recognized Naveen immediately, was adopted.
“Agnivesh Nair,” he told his family when he got the baby home along with Sreeja, “for his eyes shine bright as fire.”
They had objected to the name, but it stuck. He shifted jobs and forgot about the past in the happiness of his present. Till the day he had to cross the building for some work. Then it began, and it hadn’t stopped.
He knew not what to do. For even a thousand miles hadn’t helped distance the ghosts of the past.
(© 8th April 2015)