‘Happy Birthday bro!’ greeted Ajay as Raj came down the stairs.
‘Right back at you bro,’ grinned Raj.
‘Oh! You finally woke up. Happy birthday dear,’ smiled his mom. ‘You’ve got a letter,’ she said pointing at the table. ‘5 minutes and I’ll get your favourite egg hoppers ready.’
‘Thanks mom,’ smiled Raj.
He recognized the loopy sign on the envelope.
‘Great it’s from Sakshi,’ said Ajay.
‘Bet your girlfriend sent you a heart shaped greeting card,’ smirked his twin brother.
Raj ripped the cover open and peered inside. Then suddenly something red started to drip from the letter. It was blood. He threw the letter onto the floor and stared at it in horror but the dripping had turned into leaking and then it burst into a torrent. He looked at his brother in shock only to find that his brother was not there. He looked around frantically but nothing seemed familiar. Where was he? Everything was black and fuzzy. He screamed but nobody answered him as he waded through the neck high bloodstream looking for a way to escape. He looked around desperately at the endless sea of blood before being consumed by it completely. He struggled to surface to a surface which didn’t seem to exist. His silent screams were smothered by the viscous layers of blood…
Raj awoke with a start, panting. He was drenched in cold sweat and then he realized it was just a nightmare. One of the many varied versions of a nightmare he’d been having for the past 20 years. Sensing that its owner was awake his cell phone announced, ‘The time is 9:30 a.m., 11th December 2032. You are late for your appointment with Aravind.’
An article about a time travel machine that has been invented blinked at him from his hologram PC which he had forgotten to switch off last night. He had an exclusive interview with a scientist named Aravind Sharma for his E-News daily. Aravind usually avoided the media in fear of his secrets being published but he couldn’t say no to an old college friend.
A couple of hours later Raj was sitting in a laboratory interviewing a man who wore a thick pair of spectacles. The interview started off with some beer and the scientist’s history of achievements.
‘Tell me about your latest invention.’
‘It’s a marvel in the history of technology and my proudest creation yet. I have finally managed to create a time machine, something which has eluded us for centuries. I plan to give a demo next month.’
‘That’s amazing. Tell us more.’
‘Well there are a few glitches. One can travel only the path in time that has already been trodden, which is the past.’
‘Have there been any human trials?’
‘None as of yet, I want to be 100% sure.’
‘What applications have you planned for it?’
‘I guess you can make history classes more fun?’ joked Aravind.
‘Or save a loved one,’ said Raj bitterly.
‘Sorry?’ said Aravind.
‘Nothing, it’s just my troubled past,’ said Raj looking away.
‘You still haven’t forgotten her, have you?’ asked Aravind heavily.
‘Not after all that happened! She was my best friend,’ said Raj.
There was a long silence.
‘I wasn’t that close back then, what really happened?’ asked Aravind hesitantly.
As Raj narrated it was as if time rolled back 20 years.
It was the first day of college.
‘What do you think?’ asked Raj on seeing the campus.
‘Cool,’ grinned his brother Ajay.
They saw a gang of seniors talking to a junior girl.
‘What’s your name?’ asked a senior.
‘Sakshi,’ the girl replied.
‘Propose to my friend and we will leave you alone.’
First day of college is also senior ragging time and it was Sakshi’s turn to face the heat.
‘I won’t and besides he’s ugly,’ retorted Sakshi stubbornly.
‘Really? Then propose to me or shall I teach you how?’ said the senior grabbing her hand.
‘Leave her alone,’ said a voice suddenly.
It was Raj.
‘Raj, don’t do anything stupid! I know she looks hot but these guys look like pro wrestlers,’ hissed Ajay into his ear.
‘Check it out! It’s the bodyguard,’ hooted the gang of seniors.
‘What’ll you do? Beat us up?’ laughed a guy.
‘If you don’t stop I will. Go Sakshi!’
‘Run along Sakshi and we’ll send your bodyguard in a little while.’
Sakshi walked off without turning back.
‘Hi bro! What’s up? Have you been to the terrace? Come I’ll show you,’ said a senior who seemed to have more than just sight-seeing on his mind.
The next day,
‘Are you alright?’ asked Sakshi, who was in the same class as Raj and Ajay, looking at the cast on his arm.
‘Yeah! I smashed them,’ smiled Raj painfully.
‘Yeah I can see that,’ laughed Sakshi. ‘Thanks.’
There was an awkward silence.
‘Here let me sign your cast,’ she said bending down to scribble on it and walked away.
‘Hmmm… Get well soon. By your BFF Sakshi,’ read Ajay. ‘You’re the first boy she talked to and she hates boys. Something something?’
‘Shut up,’ said Raj but couldn’t help smiling. They became the best of friends thereafter.
Raj and Sakshi were barely seen apart. They went everywhere together from movies to shopping and even studied together. One day standing in Raj’s bedroom.
‘Raj what’s this?’ asked Ajay holding up a book.
‘It’s my diary! Give it back,’ shouted Raj jumping up from his study and snatching the book away.
‘Too late. I already read it,’ grinned Ajay. ‘My favourite was the part where you realize that you have fallen in love with Sakshi.’
‘Moron! I’m never talking to you again,’ said Raj furiously.
‘Hey am your bro! We share everything,’ said Ajay. ‘I say you go for it and tell her.’
‘Will it work?’ asked Raj hopefully.
‘Definitely,’ replied Ajay.
Plucking up his courage he decided to tell her on February 14th. They were sitting in the canteen having their favourite dahi puri.
‘Did you know that people think we are committed?’ started Raj hopefully.
At this Sakshi started laughing uncontrollably and finally panting for breath she said, ‘That is the biggest joke of the year, don’t you think?’
‘Ha ha ha!’ he laughed feebly. ‘It’s hilarious!’
‘Besides am already committed,’ said Sakshi. ‘His name is Karthick, our senior. He proposed to me this morning.’
Raj’s world came crashing down. An untold pain clutched at his heart yet he managed the fakest of smiles.
But five months later,
‘I broke up with him,’ said Sakshi sobbing on the phone.
‘What happened?’ asked Raj who was shocked, pleasantly shocked.
‘I caught him cheating on me and 2 other girls when I went through his cell phone,’ cried Sakshi.
‘Don’t worry you’ll find someone better,’ consoled Raj trying to hide his glee.
But that someone was not to be him.
‘I love you,’ said Raj one day in the library. ‘I can’t stop thinking about you.’
‘What?!’ exclaimed Sakshi wide eyed. ‘I never thought of you like that.’
‘But why not? We are perfect together,’ said Raj taking her hand but she quickly pulled it away.
‘Please Raj! You are like a brother to me. It would be vulgar if I loved you,’ said Sakshi. ‘Let us be good friends. Ok?’
‘Ok,’ said Raj dejectedly.
She started to spend less and less time with him after that. Raj went into a state of depression and isolation despite his brother’s futile efforts to cheer him up. He was filled with pain every time he saw her and couldn’t cope with the heart break.
‘Then what happened?’ asked Aravind.
‘She was murdered,’ said Raj bitterly, covering his face. ‘You know the rest. She was strangled. They found the murderer’s watch which was broken and the time that was frozen on it corresponded to the time of death given by the autopsy report. He had threatened to kill her in front of her college mates and also his was the last call she had attended in her cell phone. These led to Karthick. He couldn’t forget her and she reported him to the Principal that he was harassing her. The Principal, who already had a lot of complaints against him, dismissed him. So this was his idea of revenge.’
‘He’s a monster.’
‘Is he? I visit him in jail every year to know if he feels any remorse but he still won’t accept the crime. He out rightly denies it. He argues that he’s not stupid to commit such an easily traceable murder when he would obviously be the first suspect. He did admit that he called her and fought but never did anything more and that his watch was stolen the day before from his bag when he went to play cricket in the grounds. It confuses me and I won’t find peace till I know the truth.’
Aravind was lost for words.
‘You have to help me!’ said Raj suddenly. ‘I need to use your time machine to find out.’
‘I can’t do that. It is not 100% tested yet,’ started Aravind but Raj seemed defiant.
‘Please Aravind! I’ll even sign an Agreement to accept the risks involved to save you from any legal issues.’
‘It’s not like that.’
‘Please!’ repeated Raj with a hint of desperation in his voice.
Aravind bit his lip and said, ‘You didn’t come here to interview me, did you?’
Raj shook his head.
Aravind sighed and said, ‘I’ll get the machine ready by tomorrow.’
When tomorrow came,
‘I have punched in the exact co-ordinates of her house and I’ll transport you to the time 7:00 p.m., 18th February 2015.’
Aravind frantically went through the final readings, punched in the buttons on the control board and said, ‘Get in.’
Raj got into a cylindrical glass contraption and the door closed. He looked at his friend who showed a thumbs up sign and pressed a button. A flash of white light blinded him and he was sucked out of breath. Just as he thought he was about to suffocate he fell into a room. It was Sakshi’s room.
Rain splattered the window pane as Sakshi gazed into the distance apparently lost in deep thought.
‘Hey?’ said Raj but she didn’t respond. Suddenly the doorbell rang and brought her back to her senses.
Her parents had gone to her native so she was home alone for the weekend. That explained her nervousness as she opened the door. The lightning threw the features of the boy in sharp relief.
‘Oh! Hi Raj,’ she exclaimed.
‘Hi,’ greeted the boy who was soaked head to toe.
Raj got the shock of his life, it was his brother.
‘It‘s not me! It’s my brother Ajay!’ yelled Raj but no one heard him.
‘Let me get a towel,’ said Sakshi.
A few minutes later they were sitting in the living room chatting.
‘Sorry I couldn’t call, my phone’s dead. Just wanted the notes for Monday’s exam.’
‘That’s alright. You are always welcome,’ said Sakshi with a smile. ‘Quite the downpour huh! If it rains like this we might get a holiday on Monday.’
‘I wish,’ said Ajay.
‘Wait I’ll go and get the notes,’ said Sakshi and left to her room to search for the notes not knowing that Ajay quietly followed her inside.
He took something out from inside his jacket. It was a thick barbed metal wire. Raj screamed to warn her but it was no use. Ajay forced the wire around Sakshi’s neck and squeezed with all his strength. Caught unaware, she struggled with all her might and tried freeing herself but he was too strong. Raj tried pushing him and punching him but Ajay was oblivious to it as, to Raj’s shock, his hands went right through him. After 5 minutes, which seemed like many agonizing years for Raj, she fell lifelessly onto the floor with blood dripping from her neck. Ajay looked coldly at her without even the faintest trace of remorse. He took out something that shone in the light, it was a watch. He threw it near the body where it shattered and broke with the time 7:45 p.m. frozen on it. He left the room without even a second glance and left Raj sobbing over his best friend whom he couldn’t save. Suddenly as if caught by a hook he was jerked upwards and a white light blinded him.
He fell onto the lab face down. The glass door opened and Aravind rushed in.
‘Are you okay?’
‘Why wasn’t I able to save her?’ sobbed Raj.
‘I forgot to mention that no one would hear you nor sense you. You would merely be a spectator, a ghost.’
Raj yelled in anguish and seized the front of Aravind’s shirt.
‘I’m sorry, but you can’t change the past.’
‘It’s my brother,’ said Raj getting on to his feet.
‘What?’ asked Aravind bemused.
‘My twin brother,’ repeated Raj but Aravind was still confused.
‘I’m going to get him,’ said Raj murderously
‘But you don’t have a twin brother!’
‘Yes I do….Don’t I?’
Raj’s head started to swim. What’s real? What’s not? He couldn’t take it. He fainted.
‘Is he alright doctor?’ Aravind asked the psychiatrist.
The doctor shook his head.
‘Very complex, it’s dissociative identity disorder. He is well aware of his alter ego and thinks of him as his twin brother. However to others he is just one personality as the alter ego is only to solve his doubts, loneliness and introspections and it doesn’t socialize. It arose due to his loneliness during childhood. He was depressed when he realized Sakshi will never love him, so much to the extent that his alter ego took complete control for long periods to give him an escape from his misery. It was during this time “Ajay” decided that getting rid of the object of his misery would end his suffering hence murdering her. Then you may ask why would he turn himself in? It’s because Raj had no knowledge that he had killed her and after all these years the guilt in his subconsciousness drove himself to this point.’
‘What do you suggest to do?’ asked Aravind pale with shock.
‘Make an insanity plea to the court and he will be confined to a psychiatry ward till he’s completely cured,’ said the doctor with a sigh.
And that is where Raj (“Ajay”) is till today, confined to a psychiatry ward where he is visited on weekends by his friend Aravind. He tried suicide several times when he realized who the real murderer was but he was foiled and grew stronger with the support of his friend. Ajay still haunts Raj but he wills himself to ignore him. He awaits the day when he can come out as a new man.