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The Corpse
by A. J. Rao Bookmark and Share
 

I always preferred solitude. My two children made it very clear from the start that they would not let my preferences get in the way of their desires. They repelled me from the beginning. My daughter had a very shrill voice and was possibly the dumbest creature on earth. My son hated me and was the fattest specimen of his age. He also had a very distasteful habit of belching after meals.

My wife left me because I had stopped talking to her. It was the best decision she had taken during our joint existence. The school refused to allow my children to continue their education as I had not paid the fees for three months. Of course the fact that I went to the principal's office and called him a "shitface" helped my cause. After my wife had left me, I usually had the food delivered at the house from a Udupi hotel. After eating, I let my children have the leftovers. I think both of them lost about a quarter of their body weight in a couple of months. Things were going according to plan. I did not allow them to use soap or shampoo, or to wash their clothes and to play with other children. My wife had sent a message saying that she would prefer to have another try at salvaging our marriage. I sent a message back requesting her to have mercy on me and desist from having such horrible ideas. I would definitely prefer to have a legal separation as cheaply as possible. She could have full custody of the children. I had hoped that she would take the children with her. But I guess I underestimated their capacity for generating universal dislike. Even then, I knew they would not be staying with me for long.

There are certain times in life when a rational human being takes leave of his senses and indulges in a suicidal action whose repercussions he has to endure for the rest of his life. This makes his whole life miserable as after the event he returns to his former logical self and analyses his actions and repents till the day he dies. My marriage was one such decision. I was never an impulsive person. But one hasty decision made my life hell for twelve years. I never thought I would marry one day and settle down. But I did and spent the next few years trying to make the marriage work. After a while I just gave up and decided that enough was enough. It was not difficult to convince my wife to leave me. I took 75000 rupees from our joint account and gave it to my brother because he was buying a new car and needed some extra cash. I didn't care much for my brother but it was as good a reason to throw money around as any. I told my wife that we would have to move to a smaller house because of the cash shortage. She of course did not like the idea and was against it. But I couldn't care less.

I was expected to be committed to my lowly bank job. I never cared for it any way. It gave me two square meals and a roof over my head. There were no emotions about belonging to the organization and all that. The trouble about these kind of jobs was you could not work under a shroud of anonymity. The glare was all the time on you. I was expected to be a cog in the machine but one the machine could not do without. It was absurd to hear people looking up to you for guidance as though you were instrumental in all its triumphs, absurd little triumphs that bosses crowed about at office parties. Mr. So and So was such a fine team person-that is what they all said. Ha-ha a fine team person I am. Deep within I hated them all, these ridiculous creatures who confused me many times trying to make me feel that their own personal effectiveness, whatever that meant, depended a great deal on me.

I was carrying on with my blissful existence. Then one day this chap Ramarao broke through my solitude .He was supposed to be a distant relative of mine whose face I could only dimly recollect. Unwelcome Ramarao made it appear as though I very much desired his presence in the house. Cunning fellow. He was on me and there was nothing I could do to get him out of my way. Here was a guy who tried to penetrate you and that was a dangerous thing for me. It was as though he stood on the fringes of your soul trying to gain access effortlessly. He had come unannounced and there was no way of preempting him. Having arrived he struck deep anchor and it looked as though he had come to stay. I fidgeted. I snarled. I used the worst forms of biting sarcasm. In the end I stood helpless as he settled down comfortably in my house with the children adulating uncle Ramarao. He robbed me of my dearly loved solitude and even tried to reform me. A self-appointed guardian of morals, he was trying to re-build my broken home. To my horror I found my wife coming back once in a while to play the dutiful housewife. Once when I had returned home I found that my room had been re-arranged and the whole house wore a look of having just been done up. Now this was too much for me. I shuddered at the prospect of the permanent return of my wife which almost seemed inevitable. I renewed my efforts to dislodge this guy from my world but no matter what trick I tried he would not go away. This chap had an uncanny way of becoming a part of your life. Whether you wished it or not he enters your bloodstream like a deadly virus which attaches itself to your body cells and makes them its home.

And deliverance came one hot afternoon when the telephone rang and a disembodied voice at the other end announced that a gentleman, middle-aged and balding, in full-sleeved white shirt and brown trousers, had collapsed in a local train and on being brought to the hospital was declared dead. He had died of a cardiac arrest. There was this visiting card of mine in his pocket which led the caller to me. Would I come to so-and-so hospital and take charge? Now this was not what I liked to hear. Take charge! These were dreadful words. What a mess that I brought myself into ! No. I wouldn't for the life of me get into such unwanted responsibilities. What if I called up his son or some other relative to come down and take charge ? I tried to recall the names of a few relatives of the gentleman. I had never bothered to enquire where he belonged and who were his kith and kin. I did not even know what familial ties I had with him. There was hardly any time to make enquiries with my other relatives. I cursed my luck and decided to proceed to "take charge". I went to the mortuary to see the body. There he lay inert under the white cloth oblivious of the terrible jam he had put me in .Why did he have to do this to me ? I had to complete God alone knows how many bureaucratic formalities to finally take charge of the body and bring it to my house. There he lay in my hall mocking all my attempts to disown him and get him out of my skin. I opened the shroud and took a hard look at his mocking face. Was he laughing at me? In death he pierced through my vitals and made me feel miserable. God, why did I have to get into this mess?

As he lay dead he seemed to be laughing at my folly. As in life he entered my innards sucking away my vital energy. I had to wait for the dawn to break for the cremation. The prospect of spending the night with the corpse chilled my nerves. Not that I was afraid. I had no faith in ghosts and after-life. As I looked at his pale face I thought I had seen a smirk on his face .A most disgusting specimen of humankind. Why wouldn't he let me sleep in peace? Each time I looked his way he seemed to be growing on me more and more. Half awake and half asleep, I had horrible dreams. I reflected on the forty years of my fortified existence. How many times had the outside world made its repeated onslaughts on my cocooned existence! In school I walked straight without looking at my peers whom I disdained. In the college I steadfastly refused to let my fellow-students come anywhere near me. Romance was not for me as that would mean commitment. I had ruthlessly expelled from my world a silly sentimental girl who said she fell for me for my dark inscrutable looks.

I despised the organization which provided me with the daily bread. I steered clear of all emotional involvement with my bank. I did for the bank just enough to compensate for the monetary benefits it conferred on me. There was no love lost between us. I cleverly managed to camouflage my disinterest under great-sounding management jargon .The bank provided no motive spring for my continued existence and if I needed such a thing the bank was not certainly not the place to seek one. Fortunately for me I did not need any external stimulation.

During the forty years of my terrestrial existence I successfully managed to perform the life's journey all alone. I hated to carry any excess baggage. Marriage brought unnecessary emotional baggage. When my wife left me I thought she had left for good and I made no secret of my happiness about her disappearance from my life. Any kind of responsibility was anathema to me .

As I looked at the corpse the fact that the whole affair had been thrust upon me by a combination of circumstances over which I had no control made me feel trapped .How did I take on this stupid responsibility? I looked at Ramarao's face. It appeared as though it was a part of me who died.

The next day when I had returned after the cremation, I found my wife had already moved in. I did not object to her presence in the house.  

20-Jan-2002
More by :  A. J. Rao
 
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