More Things in Heaven and Earth
By Kiran Manral
The room was cold when I woke. Ice trickled down mycheeks as the tears dripped out from the sides of my eyes. I could feel gooseflesh all over my body. I got up and went to theair-conditioning control panel. It was set to 23 degrees Celsius.It felt sub-zero. Surely my skin was freezing and cracking up with the chill? I switched the air conditioning off and opened the window leading out to the balcony, stepping out into the warmth of the tropical night, feeling the heat seep through the layers of my dermis and epidermis through the fatty layer, the muscle, and hitting the bone. In my chest, thumping behind the sternum, cosseted by the lungs, my heart was still an icicle lodged in my chest, impervious to all that was going on aroundme. The wind was balmy and gentle and teased me, the tang of the sea in it, and the dirge of the sea sirens riding on it.
From the villa next door, I could hear laughter, a female voice. Then the deep tones of a man saying something, followed by more female laughter. The world was created for couples and families. Those who chose to stay alone in it had no place, they were the unwelcome abominations of social constructs. I was one now.
I went back into the room, closing and fastening the locks on the full windows, shutting out the laughter.
I lay down on the bed waiting for sleep to come. When it did, I fell straight through into the void. I was running through the forests back home in winter, and the snow was pelting down, dragging my feet into the ground, holding my feet, pulling me into the earth, frozen, cold, dark, where the roots of the tiredtrees snaked themselves around my feet, tripping me over, grabbing my ankle. A desire to sink into the coldness and end it all overwhelmed me. Voices whispering in my ears, Kamli, Kamli, don’t do it, said one. Lotusface, come to me, said another.
I opened my eyes to a dark room, the moonlight trickling inside from a gibbous moon outside, ragged at the edges, as though torn from a child’s picture book and pasted haphazardly on to the black screen of the sky. I was frozen to the bed, my body stuck in that limbo land where it couldn’t move an inch, whilemy eyes were wide open, taking in everything around me. Sleep paralysis it was, a part of me knew, as the doctor had said, nothing but sleep paralysis and hallucinations. ‘It isn’t real, my dear, your brain is acting up, imaginingthings.’ I could still see his face as he said it, head cocked to one side, the thin moustache that inspired no trust over a thinner pinched pair of lips.
‘They will stop when she comes of age,’ Daadi had told Maa, whenever I told them about my travels to different places in my sleep. ‘All this travelling in the sky to different worlds, she will forget about it. Just a few years more.’
This was real. I could smell a sharp pungent odour, feel the heat coming through a phosphorescent glow from the ceiling that slowly transformed into a reflective surface like that of a still pond, reflecting the bed I lay on. I could see myself lying in it, the planes of my face angular and hollow, the expression in them haunted. And lying next to me, Nihar. He smiled, a smile that was agony and heartbreak all rolled into one. I turned my head to look beside me. Nothing, just empty bed. I reached out a hand to touch him. The gesture took a great deal of effort, the air felt thick and sticky, I had to push through it to move
my hand forward, like swimming through molasses. I could hear his voice in my head. ‘Kamie,’ he said.
‘Comewith me.’ The bed felt like a block of ice. The room was freezing, I could see my breath mist up as I exhaled. The French windows were fogged up, droplets of condensed water trickling down like tears from so many unseen eyes. I sat up and reached out to him. He put a hand downwards from the ceiling, reaching out to me, trying to grasp me. Behind him, a chasm opening wider, the bed suspended above in the reflection moving closer towards me, lower and lower, the foul sulphurous stench from it pushing its way into my nose, filling my lungs with its fumes, choking me. I could see a chaos of red-hot lava deep within it, the heat from it searing the room, singeing the hair off my skin from the hand that was reaching upwards. I fell back on the bed with a shock. A spark fell down from the hellish domain above mine, on to the sheets, setting it ablaze. I crawled desperately away from the bed, watching the flames rise in what seemed like a second, hearing from a distance, the sound of the fire alarm and the cold wetness of the sprinklers getting set off, and me waking up, drenched and shivering. The bed was nowwet, charred and acrid. To my side, the table lamp had toppled over, the bulb broken.