Freedom : A short story

    10-Dec-2022
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Susmita Chowdhury
Contd from prev issue
“Thought you would not bargain!” He got up and reached for something to his left, where the trolley was. “And by the way”, he leaned into my ear and whispered, “I am helping you my child!” Consciousness is indeed paradoxical. It has no meaning if there is nothing to carry it. It has no purpose if there is no duty to follow. Existing for the sake of existing is worse than being dead. Never imagined that I would have to learn this the hard way, and Yes...this definitely qualifies as hard. As I am here, stuck with my own sense of existence and nothing else, trying to find clues in my memory, another thought crept in. If I have no material body, where am I existing? Not the philosophical kind, but a more literal question. I have two possibilities to consider. One – I am passed out from the effects of whatever intoxicants Martin has given me and somehow my mind is awake but my body isn’t. This is a scary thought, since it means that no matter how hard my brain is trying, the synapses that are supposed to send signals to the nerve receptors in my body have failed. Only solace is that the part of my brain that forms my mind is pretty sound. At least it would seem so. Two – I have died, probably from the effects of the cause from the first option, or otherwise, and this is it. The afterlife. Not sure how I feel about this, but it is quite unsettling and unfulfilling if this is all the afterlife has to offer. Is this why ghosts manifest themselves as scary beings or poltergeists? Projection of anguish, pain and anger? My highly analytical logic process keeps insisting that there is another option. One that is not jumping out at me; elusive but rational. The second time I woke up on that cold slab of steel, my head felt heavy and parts of it hurt. It hurt terribly. My eyes looked around for Martin, and I realized that I couldn’t move my head. It’s been secured to be held in place. I could hear sounds coming from behind me, metal on metal, electric fizz and beeping 8-bit sounds. I tried to feel all my limbs and they seemed to be there, all of them. No pain, as far as my senses could reach. Except for my head. It felt like lead, inside and out. I saw Martin from the corner of my eye, approaching me with a scalpel. I felt every hair on my body stand up in attention, and fear took its final form in the sharp edges of the blade. As he drew closer, I wanted to say “STOP!” when my eyes met his, and he reached out towards my head and clicked something. Darkness. I can’t actually remember how many times I woke up, but I remember that every time I did, the pressure increased inside my head. Conversation had died away with each awakening, the pain inside my head wouldn’t let me think, let alone talk. It feels like a hazy mess of blurry images, and sounds overlapping. The only useful memory here is of Martin angrily tossing something away during one of the times I regained sense. He was agitated, frustrated at something. He came up to me and pressed his lips to my cheek, “I’m sorry Joe. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You weren’t supposed to feel any pain. I hope this is the last time you have to see me this way”. “I hope this is the last time you have to see me this way”! That was it! That was, that is, the last shred of my memory. Nothing after that. Martin did something to me. Did he find a way to strip away my consciousness? Was I still tied to the table, was he cutting me now? Gutting me open, peering into my insides to find whatever it was he was looking for? Crazy fucking lunatic! I am Rage. A wave of all-consuming, all-blinding rage! My entire existence at this point boiled over the tip. “Beginning of what?” I demanded as I realized the voice waking me up this time to be Martin’s. “Beginning of WHAT?” “How are you Joe?” I heard him say. “Bloody fucking fantastic!” Somehow, he could hear me, when I couldn’t hear myself! “What did you do, Martin?” “I set you free, Joe.” He clearly has a distorted understanding of freedom. “No, you didn’t! Why can’t I feel myself? Why can’t I see? How can you hear me?” My questions formed like bubbles of despair. “It will all become clear in a moment, my chil...” “Stop with this nonsense!” I cut him off. “I am not your child! TELL ME what you did!” I am a growing swell of bile. “I am sorry, Joe. I know you must feel lost and confused and angry.” He sounds wounded and hurt, “Do you want to see, Joe?” As if a light flicked on, I could see. My vision seemed odd, very clear and panoramic. I couldn’t feel the usual movement of the elements that constitute the human visual input organ, eyes. I could, however, see!  I recognized the room I saw. The same room I was held captive in. Only this time, it was brightly lit with overhead energy efficient lights. The kind that gives me an utter sense of depression from their bright white indifferent luminescence. I was still getting used to the wide angle visual perimeter so it took me some time to understand that there was a body on a table.  My body is on the table. “I brought you into a new era, Joe! This is the beginning of your journey. This is the end of your unfulfilling, disheartening life. This is your freedom.” Martin’s voice beamed through the confusing chaos that was me. “What have you done Martin?” I envisioned my question being a trapped bird in a cage; a cage without windows and doors, only walls. “We take so many things for granted in this life...the sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, fear, love, pain...what do you do with all the thoughts and memories of these if you can’t feel a single one of them?” Martin came into vision, and I noticed a weak, tired smile on his stubbly face. “From now on, you will appreciate life in the light of truth. You will be all-seeing, all-hearing, but you will not speak evil, you will not do evil. You will help me free others like you, and together we shall make a new world.” “How can you hear me?” I wanted to understand what I am right now, and seeing my body lying there, unscathed and unmarked, I needed to find a way to get back in it. “I am afraid this was a one-way trip, Joe. I don’t want to bore you with the nitty-gritties but for now, only I can hear you. And I can hear everything.” Martin came a little closer and I saw my perspective of vision change to that of an elevated movement. “Help me understand, please!” All my restraint and attitude vanished, what remains is pure fear. I can see a mirror getting bigger only to realize that I, or my vision, is getting closer to it. I see Martin standing there, straight and simple. His right arm was folded across his chest, holding something. His chest grew closer, until I could see only his hand, holding a vial. A pretty looking clear vial, no bigger than 30 mils. You can get these from novelty shops or if you search hard enough, in the dollar store. It had a silver looking seal on top, and a pointy end at the bottom. “I don’t understand,” I screamed! “Why are you showing me this?” I am rage and despair dancing hand-in-hand. One, two, tick, tock...and no more. I am a twisting mess of smoke, in agony and despair, both crystal and opaque.
1 Week Later… Martin promised me a last look at my mortal remains, that much he would grant me. He would not let me return to my body, the body I so hated when I could feel it, abuse it, hurt it, the body I came to miss now. He would let me look at it before they return it to the Earth. The funeral of Joe Black, he called it. In the last few days since I have been ‘awake’, I often wondered why no one looked for me, why no one looked at Martin when he turned up to this funeral, My funeral! As soon as we walked into the chapel, Talia came and hugged Martin. I heard her voice for the first time in what seemed like decades, “Father! I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t believe it when they called me to the morgue Father. I cannot believe Joe would do something like this!” “I know, my child.” My captor answered in his calm, soothing voice. “I gathered as much from your last confession. I just did not want to grieve you.” I can see Talia’s face, her sweet happy face, soaked with tears. I wanted to scream but was greeted with darkness as soon as the thought arrived. Talia’s voice, incredulous yet obedient, “But Father, I was her Best Friend! I should have seen it coming! I should have done something, I could have done something! Maybe if I only paid a bit more attention, maybe if I did more...she wouldn’t have taken...her...own life”, it was hard to make out the last part, her voice was trailing off to give way to sorrow. “There are many unhappy souls, my child”, Martin responded. “I WASN’T ONE OF THEM”, I screamed in the darkness. “Sometimes, no matter what we do, it’s not enough”, Martin carried on. “YOU FAKED MY DEATH”, I screamed harder. “Yes Father, I guess you’re right.” Oh, my sweet dear Talia, always the gullible one. Flashbacks played to fit the pieces of the puzzle. Talia’s ever encouraging, almost patronizing advice, Andy’s willingness to make time for me whenever I wanted to ‘let loose’, my ‘friends’ abruptly ending conversations as soon as I was around, all those sympathetic smiles and pats on the back. People mistook my strength and my resolve for my weakness. They thought I was at the point of no return. The question is no longer there. The question is dissipating, along with some other feelings, much like me, as we are walking out of the chapel.  Martin and I stood away from the gathering, waiting for the crowd to disappear. I imagined Martin’s sad green eyes gazing absently at the ceremony. Probably, looking for his next candidate for ‘freedom’.  Even I could feel their impatience as the last rites drew to a close. I bet they cannot wait to huddle into the nearest pub, out of the rain. I bet they cannot wait to start with their theories about how depressed I was... My thought trailed off as I noticed that my vision, our vision, was tailing Talia. We walked up to her slowly, and he put his arm around her. Yes, she needed comforting. “What are you going to do, Marty!” I whispered. “I didn’t know you wore jewelry, Father!” Oh, Talia, ever so vain, ever so worldly. “It’s quite special, my dear”, Martin replied. “What’s in it? It looks like...smoke? Vapor?” I can see into Talia’s eyes, no contact lenses, just her hazel brown eyes. “It too has a soul”, only I could hear the truth in the man’s voice! “I quite like it, Father. Perhaps, you can tell me where you got it from?” “How about I make you one, my child? I make the vial myself. I can make yours right in front of you, it doesn’t take that long”, the bait was dropped. I knew that look on her face. The look that said she was done fighting her desire. “Yes, Father. I would like that very much! I would like to get away from this sadness. Let me text the others.” The bait is taken. The ever-happy Talia, always wanting life to be pleasant, typed away her freedom on her phone. I can see Andy and the others getting smaller in the distance. I don't know if I feel sad, if indeed I am capable of feeling sad. "We don't realize the ways in which we isolate our freedom from the ties to our loved ones”, I whispered as the three of us got into Martin’s car.