As the bus came to yet another halt, he fell forward and was once again jerked awake. Groggily, he rubbed his eyes and fidgeted in his bag for his glasses. His vision was not what it used to be during his younger days. After a few seconds of searching around, he found them. Putting them on, he checked his watch for the time. It was two past midnight. The bus continued to trudge through the dark night on the so-called road.
He gazed at the clear cloudless sky and saw the stars winking at him. His thoughts, unwillingly, travelled back to exactly a month ago. He would trade anything to erase the memory of that night. Ironically, he remembered every single detail. She had taken him to the sea, where they had first met. He had noticed that she looked particularly radiant that day, under the moonless starry night. They were waist-deep in water when she had taken his hand in hers, looked into his eyes and told him that he was going to have a beautiful daughter. Time had stopped and it felt to him that only the two of them existed in that moment. Funnily enough, it struck him that not two, but three of them existed in that moment. He could have sworn that if he had to pick the single greatest moment in his life, it was that moment. He felt more love for her than he thought he was capable of feeling. He could already feel unconditional love for his little unborn angel. It had seemed like a surreal dream, all too good to be true. But before he could let the joy and love wash over him, fate struck and tore his family apart. He lost the woman he loved more than anyone and the baby girl whose beautiful face he hadn’t seen to the merciless waves of the ocean.
He forced his thoughts back to the present. He tore his gaze away from the stars and it fell on the bottle of alcohol in his bag. He had been an alcoholic since he was 20. He had been in and out of rehab frequently. But since the time they had decided to try for a baby, he had refrained from alcohol. That had been a year ago. It had been his decision to give up the booze. It had not been easy. But he had done it. The last one month after the fateful night had been different, though. He had returned to his addiction with full gusto.
At 55, a bumpy overnight bus journey was not very good for his back. He was relieved when it finally ended. He had arrived at the small town of Oakdale, the town where Ana had lived for most of her life. The visit had been an impulsive decision. Two days earlier, he had been sitting at the window with a bottle of wine in one hand and a picture of the two of them, Frank and Ana, in the other when a strong gust of wind had blown the picture away. It had been their only picture together. Ana had always been camera-shy and he had never clicked photos to capture any of their moments together. In that instant, when he saw the only photo of Ana disappear in front of him, he panicked and decided he had to go to Oakdale, to feel Ana’s presence around him. When he had told his therapist about it, he agreed with Frank that it was a good idea. The change of place should do you good and help you get closure, he had told. He had been worried for Frank.
As Frank walked the streets of Oakdale, he spotted a small bar. After the long tiresome journey, he needed a drink before he proceeded. However once inside, he emptied glass after glass and by the time he left the place, his vision had gone fuzzy even with his glasses on and he was staggering to walk straight.
With alcohol in his blood stream, he felt less depressed and a sense of peace as he stumbled onto the streets looking for a hotel to check-in. He noticed the gravel pavement, the huge parks, the conservatively dressed women and the happy children. People appeared to be in no hurry. They were enjoying the little pleasures that we often overlook and were meandering slowly smiling and greeting everyone along their way. It looked like a small town where everyone knew everyone else. He finally found a meager hotel to spend the night. Just as he was stepping in, his eyes fell on a woman playing with a group of kids. He couldn’t believe what his eyes saw. The woman was Ana. His Ana!
Frank froze on the spot staring at the woman and the children playing in the park. A hundred emotions coursed through his veins. He felt disbelief, love, relief, surprise, anger, hatred and fear all at once. He wanted to walk to her but his legs wouldn’t move. He saw her waving to the children and walking away but still couldn’t move. When he regained his senses after she had left the scene, he realized he had been holding his breath and inhaled deeply. He felt the blood flow back to his legs and that he could finally walk. In a trance, he paid and took the keys to his hotel room and checked-in. Still trembling, he sat on the bed, which creaked under his weight.
Anabelle had been 25 when they had first met, five years ago. She was a lumpsome twenty-five years younger than him. While their friends thought they were the two most unlikely people to fall in love with each other, unseen sparks seemed to fly between from the instant they shook hands. The chemistry between them soon became obvious. They were attracted to each other like two opposite poles of a magnet. She made him feel young at heart with her bursting energy and he made her feel anchored and grounded with his practical approach. The only thing that Frank loved more than Ana was his scotch. They soon took their relationship to the next level by deciding to move in together. Like any other couple, they had their share of quarrels along the way.
“Stop drinking if you want me to stay here”, she would say.
“Stop nagging me if you want to stay here”, he would slur.
Despite all the bickering, they always managed to patch things up and stay together. He knew in his heart that he would never let her go. Though they came from small traditional towns, they were unconventional in their thinking. They cared about neither the society nor the people. They didn’t think they needed to get married to live happily together. After spending four years together, they decided it was time for a child. He had always wanted a baby. He had wanted a baby girl. And when his dream was finally about to come true, it had all slipped away just like that.
Now as he sat there, still not over the shock of what he had seen, too many thoughts seemed to crowd his mind.
“How’s she alive?”
“What is she doing here?”
“Why did she not tell me?”
“How could she look so happy?”
“What happened to our child, my child?”
As these thoughts became clearer in his head, relief and love were replaced by anger and hatred.
“How could she do this to me?”
By now, the sun had started setting and the sky was changing its color and darkness started to creep in. He went to the window to get some fresh air. As Frank looked outside, he again caught a glimpse of Ana, crossing the street and walking. This time he was prepared. He slung his bag across his shoulder and quickly went down. He saw her turning around the street corner just as he got out of the hotel. He followed her, keeping safe distance, to see where she was headed. He saw her smile and wave at a man and felt the demons of anger inside him rising. As she reached a lonely alley, he decided to confront her. By now, he was seething with rage. He called out to her, his voice barely more than a whisper. “Ana”.
She turned around. The final expression that he saw on her face was that of surprise and fear before he smashed the bottle of alcohol which was in his bag on her head. She gasped and fell down, twitched once, not moving again. He stood there looking at her, breathing heavily. His trance was broken by a distant noise which made him realized the gravity of what he had done. He threw the bottle, wiped his forehead and made his way back to the hotel. The guilt made him feel like everyone on the street was looking at him. He heard whispers. They were talking about him. They knew what had happened. As he quickly paced back, he tripped and fell. Pulling himself back on his feet, Frank began limping as quickly as he could. As he approached the hotel, he heard the police siren. The sound kept getting louder and he could feel his heart beat getting louder with it. He finally reached his room. Just as he reached for the key in his pocket, he felt someone tackle him to the ground from behind. The decibel level of the siren had reached deafening levels. He tried to wriggle out of the firm clasp that held him to the ground but the more he struggled, the more his body ached all over. He finally gave in and went limp.
The siren stopped ringing. The paramedics and the support crew quickly got off the ambulance and ran into the bar with a stretcher and first aid. The bartender was found to be holding the man down who slowly stopped struggling and flailing and gave in. He was helped on the stretcher and taken to the hospital. The bartender accompanied them.
Frank was rushed into the hospital. After initial examination, the doctor came out to talk to the bartender. “He has been sedated and has calmed down. Can you please tell me what happened?”
“He came into my bar a little before noon and ordered for a drink. He told me he had to leave soon and had stopped by for a quick drink before he left. He downed the first four drinks in a jiffy. At first, I didn’t care and was happy I was making money. But he seemed to be getting drunk quickly. I reminded him that he had to leave and asked him how he was going to go. He said he was in no hurry. He asked me if I knew a girl named Ana before he asked for a few more drinks. When I next saw him, after a few hours, he didn’t look alright. He seemed to be having a panic attack. I went to him and tapped him on the shoulder from behind. That’s when he lost it and started flailing and screaming. I immediately called the hospital and tried to pin him down.”
After a few more pain-killers and anti-depressants, Frank calmed down and gained consciousness. More tests were performed. More questions were asked. Frank was too weak by now and suddenly felt old. A counselor was called. Frank narrated his story about Ana. His therapist back at home was contacted for his history. He said and did whatever was told to him. After an extended examination, the doctor came out and filled a form.
DIAGNOSIS : Hallucination
CAUSES : Depression and alcohol