The silence was intense and heavy. He stared at the dull, grey clouds, sitting by the window. He was alone in the house. The clouds were dark and gloomy. The stillness in the air was ominous and unnerving. There was stillness, numbness in his mind too. As though involuntarily, his hand hit a pen-stand on the table and the sound cut through the silence. It lasted for a few moments – the silence made every detail of the sound audible, visible. The sound rang in his mind again and again, echoing, trying to enter the innermost recesses of his mind, unflinching in its persistence. He could see the sound, colorfully entering every cusp of his soft, jelly like brain, the sound wringing his nerves from the ear to the brain and squeezing out a painful, poisonous fluid that he could see enter his system. The pain was excruciating and he held the pen-stand firmly in order to stop the incessant and incisive sound.
The pen stand was clasped firmly in his hands and slowly the sound stopped. With utmost caution and minimum sound, he got up from the chair and started walking. He was scared. He looked around and saw every item in his house with dread. He saw the fan rotating slowly above his head. He concentrated his attention on the rotation. The fan looked tired and yet it went on and on. The tender buzz of the motor fell on his ears. As he fixed his attention on the fan, the buzz became louder and louder and the agony in his ears started again. He saw the fan slowly descending – an inch with every turn. From the centre of the fan, a wet, sticky fluid started dripping – the drop could not reach him. Before the drop could touch him, it would become a bee that would buzz away out of the window. The fan started rotating faster and the drops of honey were falling faster. More and more bees were moving out of his window. The fan was also descending faster. He stood transfixed in fear and was dreading the moment when the drop would touch his face and sting him. The next drop became a bee only one inch away from his face. He had turned to ice. The next drop emerged from the fan and started falling – he could see its trajectory with utmost clarity. The drop shaped like an almond, the cohesive forces keeping the molecules together, the air around it applying pressure on the drop, the breeze of the fan swaying it, the dust particles that were being displaced, the force of gravity between the drop and every other mass on earth, the passage of light through the drop and the golden color – he could perceive everything. The drop was moving straight towards his face and then just before touching his forehead, it moved along the contour of his face and went into his right ear. “No,” he gave out a blood-curdling yell, “Grandma had asked me to put oil and not honey.” He lunged to the switch board to switch off the fan and he could feel his entire house, every entity in his house vibrating with the sound of his yell. The fan was switched off and he could see the fan – silent and benign – hanging from the ceiling.
His grandmother had died 3 years ago; his grandfather, a year later. He scarcely remembered their faces. But he used to have sudden flashes of memory when he would recall their most insignificant words.
He looked around the house again with the same alertness of body and numbness of mind. He moved out of his room and saw the Tiffin box lying on the table in the drawing room. He had never given a thought to his food. Everyday, three meals used to reach his house without fail and he used eat them perfunctorily. He didn’t know who would bring them, how or why. It never occurred to him that he should think about it. (Perhaps, his mother had arranged for it when she was in the hospital before her death. His father, of course, wouldn’t have had the opportunity since his life had ended abruptly in an accident 10 years back.) He had always liked his solitude and the feeblest sound had always disturbed him, agitating him beyond his patience. He had removed all sources of sound in his house – the telephone, the radio, the television, the sound of the external world. He kept his windows closed at all times except in the sepulchral silence of the nights and he had not seen a human being since the death of his mother.
He had none for his company but for the sounds in his life. He was aware of every sound in his daily life – the sound of his urine on the toilet pan, the sound of the water trickling from the tap, the sound of the curtains brushing the wall, the sound of the switches, the sound of the breeze moving through various objects in the house, the sound of the clock ticking, the sound of papers flapping, the sound of beetles in the dead of the night, the sound of a distant automobile horn, the sound of the creaking doors, the sound of his breathing, the sound of his teeth chattering in the cold, the sound of his swallowing and even the sound of his feet on the floor. He lived with them, and yet despised them. Because he keenly observed nothing but these sounds, they were larger than life and louder than they usually are to others. In fact, he could also hear what others couldn’t. He knew every sound intimately. In his world, a sound had life, it had a shape that he could see, he could touch and feel the texture of every sound and what he heard would always be nothing but a miserable and maddening agony to his mind. They constantly disturbed his mental peace by intruding in his life. And alas, he could never get rid of them.
The box lay on the table, motionless. Its unobtrusiveness pleased him. He went to the kitchen to get a plate and some water. Moving slowly and feeling everything in his house, he reached the kitchen. Suddenly, he saw the figure of his mother standing by the stove, placing the whistle on the pressure cooker. He was stunned to see the whistle there for he knew that the shrill noise will rapaciously claw his ears apart in a few minutes. In his fear, he looked helplessly at the chimera of his mother. His mother was about to utter a word when he jumped forward to cup her mouth. His mother vanished with the pressure cooker from his world and he saw the empty stove with some knives hanging above. The past, the present and the impossible were inextricably woven in his mind.
Tranquility was restored and he gazed at the knives vacantly. He saw them growing into swords and piercing into the stove. He saw it expanding and contracting and with each expansion it was cutting the gas pipe that connected the cylinder to the stove. The cylinder was empty and there was no smell of gas. He saw the shreds of the pipe on the floor. They were cozily embedded in the heavy layer of dust on the floor. He saw the knife in his hand, with a changed shape. The knife was smiling at him since the blade of the knife had curved a little too much. He returned the smile. The cold breeze of winter wafted slowly into the kitchen and the knife was shivering. He saw all the containers in the kitchen shivering, chattering in the cold. He walked back to his room and brought a blanket to cover all the containers. He then kissed a few of the containers good night – they were his favorite since his childhood. (They were his favorite because of their content but he could not recall that.)
He finished his dinner and went back to his bedroom. He wanted to sleep but didn’t see his blanket. Without that, he could not sleep. He tip-toed back to the kitchen and was pleased to see the blanket. He climbed into the shelf and slept with his favorite containers. He closed the door of the shelf lest the containers would fall and hurt themselves. The damp, suffocating air of the shelf was noiseless and he slept peacefully.
In his sleep, his face was tranquil, completely devoid of fear and agitation.