There is something odd about odd numbers.
by Abhinav Kukreja
Honestly, I did not know what time it was. It wasn’t one of those moments when you can’t tell five in the evening from seven. It was one of those when you wake up abruptly only to see that it’s still dark outside, but you can’t decide whether you’ve slept too much, or not enough. Only, I hadn’t been asleep. I had just been suspended in a hazy daze.
‘Sir, I know these are tough times for you, but we need you to cooperate.’
‘Hmm?’ I looked up, bemused.
‘Sir, I know these are…’
‘Oh yes. Right. What do you guys want from me?’
‘Sir, it’s policy. We need to know what happened?’
‘I just came back from work. I don’t know why she did what she did’
‘Sir, these cases aren’t very common. Was she depressed?’
‘Not to my knowledge, no.’
‘Was she on any medicines?’
‘Was she sick?’
‘I wouldn’t call her sick.’
‘What would you call her, then?’
‘Sir, the sooner I know everything, the sooner we can let you go. I suggest you cooperate. Like I said, I’m sorry, but it is imperative that we know everything. Protocol.’
And then, seeing that I had no other option, I told the police officer everything I knew, or correctly, everything I understood.
Breakfast was always two pieces of brown bread with the same number of boiled eggs, and a single cup of coffee spilt into two. No knives; two forks, one on each side and two teaspoons of sugar for the coffee.
Over the course of four weeks, my entire room had changed. I was always told that life changes once you’re married, but this wasn’t the kind of change I had anticipated. But then, I tried my best to respect, and reconcile with the fact that her ‘ideal’ home could, and probably did, differ from mine. Despite all my efforts to be understanding and accommodating, the discomfiture caused by the fact that I came home to a different place every day left me, well, for a better term, discomfited.
She had disposed off with the solitary sofa, and replaced it with two chairs, one for each side of the bed and two little tables to give them company. She had a keen eye for details, which she exhibited with the efficiency with which she replaced the five ceiling spotlights with two tube lights in the time I went to office and came back.
I thought I knew what I was taking upon myself when I married her, but her idiosyncrasies, ranging from the larger, obvious changes, to the barely conspicuous ones, left me astounded.
‘Why do you keep changing everything? What was wrong with the sofa?’
‘There is something odd about odd numbers.’ She would say.
I agree that her behavior was mostly cryptic, but there was something about her, that made her the only mystery in my life that I preferred unsolved. She was oblivious to my existence sometimes, but I was in love. I had convinced myself that deep inside, she cared as much about me as I did about her.
She also hated stepping outside the house. There was something about the world that rendered her incapacitated, and ironically, there was something about her that made the world feel the same way. The universe has it’s own ideas of restoring balance.
She ensured that the curtains were always drawn, and windows were always shut. I started using the back door to come into the house whenever I managed to get free early. The place wasn’t a home to me anymore. It didn’t feel like one. It was just a house.
Usually, however, I would come home around half-past seven. She would make me two chapattis and one vegetable dish, served in two different utensils. Her behavior was not something I even pretended to understand, but I respected her enough to cooperate. She had found her solace in even numbers, like I’d found mine in her.
Every night, we watched television. She always watched two shows together, flitting between the channels every few minutes, like a restless hummingbird. She shook like one too, shaking her right leg so fast that the entire bed vibrated under her. At the end of this entire exercise, I had no clue as to what was happening in either of the shows, but I had no ideas for a better evening. She resisted change. In retrospect, however, her routine seemed almost attractive to me.
When we finally went to bed around eleven, would tell me that she loved me exactly thirty seven times. Then, she would hesitate, and say it once again, just to even things out. Then, she would remember that he hadn’t changed into her nightdress and she would spend another hour fidgeting in the bathroom. It left me strangely desolate in the beginning, but soon I got used to it. ‘Routine is good’, I told myself. ‘Routine is stability. She is stability.’
She used to change into her pink nightdress, but once back, she would decide that green would have been a better option. Finally having brushed her teeth twice, she would come back to the bed, where she would lie, her eyes vacant, completely oblivious to my presence. That allowed me to shamelessly stare at her face. Only, I’d decided not to. Her nonchalance was more agonizing than it was fascinating. Sometimes, she’d kiss me. Once. Then twice. She wouldn’t stop. Or maybe, she couldn’t. It wasn’t me who was driving her. It was her inability to control her own actions.
Our nights were extremely volatile, a hint of desperation coloring the way she clutched at me, and then the sheets, before she pushed me off and stared at the ceiling, just as vacantly as before.I would usually get about two hours of sleep before the affect of her afternoon pills wore off. She had been asked to take a tablet a day- 50 milligrams of valproate, but she couldn’t do it.
‘That’s all? One pill? That’s a bid odd.’
I used to chuckle at her failure to acknowledge the humor in her statement. She was a genius sometimes, and she had all the problems other geniuses had. She was completely oblivious of the fact. But maybe, she was simply confounded by herself, because she did exceptionally well at what she couldn’t help doing.
We had to specially order pills worth 25 milligrams each so that she could have two of them.
‘This is much better. A single pill wouldn’t have made me feel right. The more, the merrier.’ She used to laugh.
A soft, mellow laugh. It became my existence, that laugh. I gave up more and more of myself just to hear it again. I drowned in her. Then, the pills would have their effect, and in a few moments that were defined by both revulsion and distress, she would fall unconscious, with her lips still hung up on her smile.
At four, she would decide to shake things up again.
‘The bed is dirty. The maid didn’t change the sheets.’ She would complain.
‘It’s okay, love. We’ll wash them in the morning.’
She wouldn’t protest, but she would pace around the room, anxiously. Then, in an attempt to feel better, she would toy with the tube light switches.
Thirty-eight cycles later, she would come back to bed.
‘You don’t want to wash your feet?’ I would ask.
‘It’s 4:07. Maybe later.’
At four thirty, she would get up again and walk to the window to count the stars. It was beguiling to see her at work.
‘One, two, three, four…five twenty-six, five twenty seven…ah drat.’
And sometimes, when the clouds would hide some of the stars, she would wait, hoping to see an even number through the windows. She was different, but then, she was just finding her solace, like all of us.
This would happen every single night. The first two weeks had been a lot of surprises, but by the end of the fourth week, I had grown accustomed to her activities. I was in love with someone disturbed. I did not know the cause of the disturbance, and I could not help her. I could just be patient. And so I was.
Sometimes, I would go to work in June, and come back in August. She used to flip through the calendar as if it were her favorite book. Time wasn’t her best friend. She often complained about clocks too.
‘I don’t like all the numbers in that circle.’ She would say. I had replaced all of them with their digital variants but she had a problem with them as well. In the end, she decided to stop all of them at 8:48 PM.
She had embraced my life like a tattered blanket covers a child on a cold winter night. I still felt cold, but she was all I had. Her idiosyncrasies had become a part of my life, and any deviance from this new found version of sanity would annoy us both.
I was working on a little PowerPoint presentation that was due at office the very day, when I heard a splat in the kitchen. Natasha had dropped an egg, and on seeing me, she ran straight to the bedroom. When she came back fifteen minutes later, I was done with boiling an egg and making coffee for myself.
‘Go and get another egg. I’ll make you breakfast’
‘It’s okay, honey. I’m okay with just one egg’
‘No. You always have two eggs. Go rush. I can’t go out.’
‘I’ll have something on my way. I’m late for a meeting anyway’
‘GO GET ME ANOTHER EGG!’ Her demands knew no end.
‘Stop screaming at me, Natasha.’
‘Stop being intolerable, then.’
‘I’m not being intolerable. You’re the one being intolerable. ’
She started crying again, and I as I rushed in to comfort her, which had by then become almost a reflex to me, she pushed me aside.
Haplessly, I fell down and hit my elbow on the breakfast table. She didn’t even grace me a look as I curled up into myself in pain. I didn’t know what stung more- my elbow, or her complete nonchalance. However, I knew I couldn’t retaliate. She resonated between strength and weakness, and I couldn’t tell one from the other.
My phone had fallen out of my hand during the fall. The lock screen read 8:05
‘Shit. I’m late. I have to go, Natasha. I’m sorry. I’ll get an egg when I come home’
I came back from work at five past eight but I had to wait outside because Natasha had locked the door. My knocking was futile, and so were my cries of apology. Finally, I used my spare key to open the door. I always kept a key, just in case.
The house was a mess. The curtains were pulled down, and my bookshelves were no longer shelves.I had come home to a disaster before, but this unprecedented. The kitchen clock read 8:48. Like always.
The door was locked from the inside, so there couldn’t have been a break in. My next natural instinct was to search for Natasha to ensure her well-being. A few frantic minutes later, I found her in the bathroom tub, covered to her neck in water, murky with her own blood.
I took her out of the water, I mean, the blood, and I rushed her to this hospital. She was breathing, by the intensity was decreasing with every breath she took. I had covered her wrists in large swabs of cotton, and that had significantly reduced the bleeding, but she had lost a lot of blood already.
Upon reaching, the doctor had informed me that she would need blood. Since I wasn’t a match, we had to put her on a list.
‘What about her family? Our yours?’
‘My parents are dead. Her parents are diabetic.’
‘Well, in that case, we’d need to wait for her to be approved by the committee, but till then, we have to carry out some procedures that I need your consent for.’
‘I don’t care. Just get her back to me. Please’
I couldn’t help but cry outside the ICU, checking every few seconds for that red emergency bulb to go off. I was ridden with penitence, but I did not want to feel morose because I blamed myself. I was afraid that I’d already lost her, and I had bid her farewell, but more so, I was afraid of being alone. She was a tattered blanket, but she was my tattered blanket, and I needed her.
As I stood there, I made a mental picture of the Intensive Care. I knew that I’d have to remember this place for a long time. It was one of those moments when a child has to part with his broken toy, only that he doesn’t want to believe it’s broken.
The next thirteen minutes seemed like an eternity, and I hadn’t had plenty of those. The doctor came out, and broke the news to me. It wasn’t the one I had hoped for, but it was the one I had predicted.
‘I’m sorry, Mr. Chawla, but there was just too much blood loss. The wounds are fresh, not even an hour old. The problem is that she slit both her wrists.
Most patients just slit one. That drained her blood at twice the pace. I’m sorry, really. We tried our best.’
‘Was she depressed or on any medicines? We need to know before we conduct the post-mortem. Also, we need to inform the police.’
‘She just liked even numbers’ I told him.
He had a confounded look on his face.
‘I don’t know what you mean, but I have a surgery and I need to go prep for it. The nurse will prepare the body and assist you further. I’m sorry for your loss. I assure you we tried our best.’
And just like that, he was gone.
And with that, came a realization. I had been cooperative all this while, thinking that she needed my support, while it had been me who needed her all this while. A few seconds later, I was in the deserted corridor of the deserted hospital alone. Sadly, I had to get used to this kind of ‘independence’.
The nurse came in ten minutes later and explained the entire scheme of things to me, but it was all a hazy blur. I just kept nodding until she said something that left my spine chilled.
‘What did you just say?’ I said, as I felt the blood drain away from my face, and as numbness took over.
‘Time of death, sir – 8:48 PM’.