Monday, March 21, 2016

TELEPORTATION

I have always been the health-conscious type. I go for morning jogs. I watch what I eat. I believe that prevention is better than cure. So, I hope you can understand my shock when the doctor looked at me and said those words that destroyed my world.
“You have terminal brain cancer.”
I just sat there. Watching her face. Waiting for her to break into a laugh. And tell me this is some sick joke. But she doesn't.
“It's in its final stages. Have you been sleeping a lot lately? Feeling fatigued?” she asks. She writes down something in her pad.
“Yea... yeah.” I say.
The seizure was a result of the cancer.” she says after a pause. Her eyes glued to her pad. A frown on her face.
“So, how do we treat it? An operation?” I ask after an uneasy silence.
It cant be treated. That's what 'terminal' means,” she says almost as if she was mocking me. She is looking back at her pad now. I am balling up my fists and trying to control myself.
How... how long do I have?”
“I guess another 3-4 months.” she says getting up. The way she said those words, as if they didn't mean anything. But this cant be right. How can my life to and end so soon? I always imagined myself growing old, playing with my grandchildren, taking them to school, being there to.... I felt a hard nudge on my shoulder. Its her, the doctor. She is now handing me a prescription, and as soon as I take it, she walks away. (Later, I would do some online research and find out that she had prescribed me an anti-seizure medication along with a steroid.) Sitting there, I feel like I have lots of questions to ask her, starting with if this was all for real, but she was already gone.

My colleague who brought me to the hospital after I had the seizure in my office is waiting outside. I tell him it was nothing. I tell him the doctor said it was just a fever. That the doctor told me to take rest and I will be fine.

I go home and sit in front of the TV for 2 hours. I am supposed to be watching a rerun of my favorite show. But I can't enjoy it anymore. Its as if I have become a zombie. I dont really understand what is happening. I lie down on the sofa and stare at the ceiling. The TV keeps playing. Ignored.

The door opens and in walks my wife. She is taken aback to see me as much as I was to see her.
“Early??” she exclaims. Then a smile spreads on her face and says,
“Oh no! Did I ruin the surprise?? Were you planning on something?”
I sit up. Confused. What is she talking about?? Then it hit me. Its her birthday today!
“My manager let me have the rest of the day off!” she says jumping beside me and kissing me. I am raking my brain thinking of something to say. I have the intense urge not to ruin her birthday with the news. Not yet.
“Lets go hang out.” I say.
“Okay....” she says. Looking at me a bit confused. I can understand. I am not a guy who “hangs out.” Unlike her, I hate hanging out. She has to nag me for days before I give in and go out with her.

An hour later, we are sitting in an ice cream shop at a mall. My wife, Ananya, is chatting away something about her colleague. I am nodding and smiling. But I feel my chest hurt. My skin feels as if its soggy with sweat. Has she noticed anything wrong with me? What if I go into a seizure right now?? Am I going to ruin her birthday?

Her phone buzzes. She picks it up. Its a message from Aadi, her brother. Confirming our dinner in another 2 hours.

Two hours later, we are seated in this posh restaurant. Aadi and his wife on the other side. Anish, their son, on my wife's lap. She plays with him. Feeds him one of her roti. I try to concentrate on the conversation.
“Any news on the adoption?” says Aadi. Ananya looks up. She smiles, but I can see a hint of pain on her face. We had been married for almost a decade, but we cannot have kids. There's something that breaks in a woman when she realizes that she can never be a mother.
“We are getting the documents done.” she said.

After dinner, we bid goodbye and are on our way home. I tell her I am too tired to drive, so she does.
“Remember Diya?” she says. I look at her pretending to be half asleep.
“The cutey we saw at the orphanage.” she says, her face lighting up.
“Ya.. ya!” I say.
“What do you think about her?”
I look out the window. Is this a good time to tell her my days are numbered?
“She's... she's very cute.” I find myself telling her. Ananya smiles. Places a hand on my thigh.

At home, we are in bed. I can't keep this to myself any longer. Ananya is lying next to me. With her hand across my chest. A smile on her face.
I have brain cancer.” I say looking at the ceiling. My voice breaking. I wait. In my peripheral vision, I see her head cock up.
“Doctor said I might only live for another couple of months.” Her arm slowly slides away. Silence.
My phone vibrates on the table next to the bed. I habitually pick it up. An unknown number. I attend the call. A familiar voice. Its the doctor who saw me today.
“Hi, Mr. Joshi?”
“Yes!” I know whats going to happen next. She is going to apologize. Tell me it was all a huge mistake. Someone switched the results. There's nothing wrong with me. But instead, all she says is,
“I would like you to meet an associate of mine who thinks he can help you. Can you come over tomorrow at around 11 a.m. to my office?”
“Ye.. yes” I say.
“See you then, Mr. Joshi.”
I put the phone back on the table. Turn back. Ananya is sitting on the edge of the bed on the other side. I hear her sniff. I move closer to her and hug her from behind. She cries.
We need to get a second opinion. Doctors are humans too! This must be a mistake. It has to be, right?” she says later. I agree that we will visit another doctor tomorrow.

Next day, we headed to the hospital I was in yesterday. Our plan is to visit another doctor after we are done here and get a second opinion.

The attender leads us right into 'Dr. Suma's office' saying they were waiting for us.

In the office was the doctor who saw me yesterday. But she seemed different. She was smiling. Cheery. That strangely made my spirits lift up. Behind her, a man, dressed in formal attire, was looking at some books on a shelf. He turned around as we entered and looked at us with a warm smile.
“Please sit down, Mr. Joshi” Dr. Suma said with a warm smile. She then introduced us to the man. Dr. James. Some kind of a neurosurgeon.
I am more into research, Mr. Joshi, and I have been working on something new. A new type of treatment.”
I look at Ananya. She looks back at me. Blank.
I have been on a search for the right candidates. And Dr. Suma here brought your case to my attention.” Dr. James said.
As you can figure it out, its not a 100%, but its not like you are going to lose anything. You have may be 3 months left anyway.” Dr. Suma says with a broad smile. She looks as if she is about to break into laughter. I think shes in the wrong profession. Dr. James visibly sighs and says,
“What Dr. Suma here is trying to say is this procedure could save your life.”
“We need a second opinion!” Ananya suddenly said. She looks pissed. I realized her hand was squeezing mine.
“Of course, of course!” Dr. James says fishing for something in his pocket and producing a business card.
When you are ready...... if! If unfortunately you still need my help, you can make an appointment with my office.”
I take the card.
Dr. James Paulose, Managing Director
Indian Institute for Research in Neurosciences (IIRN)

Dr. Suma suggested we follow with a doctor at St. Vincent Hospital, but Ananya drove us to a different hospital. After an afternoon of various tests, including an EEG, the result had come back. The doctor had given us the same diagnosis. This doctor said I might live for another 6 months. “May be less.” she had added.

We drove home. I sit in front of the TV while Ananya is in the kitchen cooking dinner. At least that's what she told me. I could hear her sniff.
I fish out Dr. James' card from my wallet. I sit there staring at the turned off TV. Ananya comes over and sits beside me. I look at her and then at the card and back at her again. Questioning. She sighs.

***
Dr. James told me to drop in anytime the next day. I fed the address into my car's GPS. It felt weird because I had never heard of this institute. And it was right next to ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization.

Upon reaching there, we realized that IIRN is a building that is behind ISRO. As if it is trying to hide behind the giant that ISRO is. Almost as if it wanted to stay away from the prying public eyes.

Ananya drives the car into the parking lot. It is empty except for a very few other cars parked at random places. But all the paint looked bright and fresh. I am now sure this is a new establishment.

We walk towards the entrance. Ananya would look at me from time to time. I guess she is feeling something weird about the place too. I try to give her a comforting look.

We walk into the waiting room. A pretty girl sits behind the desk.

I enquire about Dr. James. She asks for our names. Asks us to go down the corridor and into the last office. Dr. James will join us there in a few minutes.

We wait in his office. Its spacious and filled with lots of books and files. Dr. James walks in a few moments later carrying some papers. He looked exhausted, but a smile spread over his face when he noticed us.

So, have you decided to go ahead with this?” he says making himself comfortable in his chair.
Yes.” I say after a pause. I suddenly notice that Ananya's hand is on mine, squeezing.
Ok. There are of course risks you need to be aware of.” he says. He opens one of the folders on the table beside his monitor, pulls out a few pages and pushes them towards us.
The procedure is noninvasive. Meaning we are not going to cut or drill into your skull. The cancer cells are going to be killed using a new technology that employs a precise laser.”
“Is there a chance that it might make it worse??” Ananya says looking at the papers. Shes just skimming through. I tried to look at it. Its filled with huge medical words that I have no idea whatsoever. I am sure neither does Ananya. But she seems to be doing a good job pretending like she does.
As far as the spread of cancer is concerned, no. If the cancer is still present after the treatment, then we consider the procedure as a failure, at least in that specific patient's case. But in the worst case scenario, it prolongs your life. And we can always redo the procedure targeting the cells that we missed the first time.” Dr. James put in.
“Will this be covered by our insurance?” I said.
“Oh! You dont have to worry about the money! Its all funded! You wont have to spend a rupee!” he said with a chuckle.
I look at Ananya with a smile. She smiles back. But her eyes were moist.
Other risks include memory loss. Like you might not remember certain events. Eh... seizures. You might be left with a lifetime of seizures. And a lot of the other risks and side effects that you can expect from a brain procedure. They are listed in the consent form” he said motioning towards the papers Ananya was holding. Then added, “Seriously, a lot of them are just there to cover us legally in case they happen. The chances are miniscule. Especially in your case. I have gone over the studies done on you at the hospital. You should be a low risk for this procedure.”

Ananya reached the last page where there were dotted signature lines. Dr. James left us for sometime to think everything over. As callused as Dr. Suma was, she was right. This might be our best shot. We signed the consent form.

“The next available slot is 3 days from now. If you chose to, we can do it then. The entire procedure will take 3 days. During the time, you will be in and out of anesthesia. Then, we will keep you for observation for a few days. You wont be allowed to leave the facility or meet anyone until you are discharged.” said Dr. James. Ananya looked worried.
“But safe to say, your husband is under the care of the best in the field. We will update you on his progress, and once he's stable, you can talk to him over the phone.” he said to Ananya.

On our way home, we drive quiet.
“At least Suma isn't there! I dont trust her a bit!” said Ananya.


***

Three days later, I am standing with Ananya in a room. Dr. James gives us a few minutes alone to say our goodbyes. I hug Ananya. She is crying. I tell her its just a week. A week in return for the rest of the my life. Our life.

After about 10 minutes, she is about to leave. Dr. James promises to call and update her everyday.
I am required to shower and get into a hospital gown. I am taken to a room that looks like an ordinary operating theater I have seen on TV. Dr. James tells me this is just the anesthesia room. Once I am under, I will be taken to the room where the procedure actually takes place. A nurse is asking me to count back from 10. Things go groggy, but the last thing Ananya told me is still echoing in my ears.
“I will begin working on those adoption papers while I wait for your call.”

***

I open my eyes. I am in a small room. The wall on my immediate left has a bluish glow to it. I realize my entire body is covered in what seems like Vaseline. I realize I am naked. I am lying inside what looks like a bath tub. I sit up. It feels weird. Like something is wrong with my body. Like its stiff. As if I had been sleeping here for years.

I look around the tiny room. A lot of strange equipment with tiny screens running strange strings of numbers. At times, there is a beep. I turn around and notice what looks like the outline of a door. I stand up giddily and step out of the 'tub.' I look around for something to wipe this stuff off of me. May be some clothes to wear, but there is nothing around except metal and plastic. I am suddenly aware of something on my arm. It looks like a small screen, but its fused with my skin. I can't pull it out. Its like its a part of my body.

Undecided I walk towards the door. Everything is so clean and white. I feel ashamed of the Vaseline like substance leaving a trail behind me on the clean floor as I walk. I reach near the door. There is a loud noise and the door opens. I see what looks like a small chamber on the other side. I look around this room for may be another door, but there isn't. I step into this little chamber, and as soon as I am inside, the door closes behind me. There is a loud noise as though compressed air is being released into this little chamber. Another noise and another door on the opposite end opens out wide. I see sand. Lots of it. Like a desert.

Unsure, I gingerly walk out. My legs seemed to be weak. How long was I lying down there?? Stepping out onto the mud, my feet sunk almost up to my knee. I struggle to take steps. As far as I can see, its sand. Mountains of sand far away. Where the fuck am I??

The sun is hot just like you would expect in a desert, but then something weird happens. My skin begins to burn as if it was reacting with something in the air and the sun. I look at the sun, and then my eye begins to burn. But it was only happening with my right eye. I felt as if the inside of my right eye was boiling. I shut my eyes in pain. Then when I opened them, I could only see out of my left eye. I brought my hand in front of my right eye. I cannot see. My right eye was gone. I felt something strange about my left eye. Its bulging as if I had an extra thick glass fixed on my freaking eyeball. It seems to be a part of my eye. As if I was born with it. Something falls on the ground. Its a red goo. Its my skin and flesh peeling off of me. I begin to feel weak and fall down on the hot sand. Then I lose consciousness.

***

My fucking leg!!”
I open my eyes with a start. I turn to look who it was. I find myself lying on a bed. The noise was made by a young lady on another bed to my right. She looked at me with an irritated look on her face. She is pulling her right knee towards her chest.

A nurse rushed to her and started palpating her leg and asking her what was wrong.
“Its all tingly and shit! I can't feel anything!” she says.
The nurse sighs. And walks back to her seat by the door.
The girl makes a grimace and begin to bend and extend her leg as if she was kicking something invisible in the air.
I felt my head. I could feel hair. I tried to feel deeper to feel my skin expecting to find stitches, but there were none.

I heard some strange noise. I turned to the other side with a start. A young man lay in the bed with his head bent in an awkward position. His eyes pointed at me. He is drooling from his mouth.
“Are...... “ he points at me awkwardly, “alwight?”
“Ye.. yeah.” I say. I sit up on the bed and look around the room. The nurse near the door gives me an uninterested look and goes back to the paperback that she was reading.
There are only the 3 beds in the room. Curtains to separate the beds, and some windows behind us.
“How long have I been here?” I ask. I look towards the young man to my left. He is now looking at the ceiling. His hands up. His fingers bent strangely. He starts making strange noises.
“He started doing that from the past few days.” I heard the lady to my right say. I look at her. Behind her, the nurse looks up at us with a frown, but only for a moment.
“Where are we?” I ask her.
“This is like where they keep us to observe and shit. I had that surgery or whatever for my cancer, and I have been here for like 5 weeks now!” she then turns to the nurse and shouts, “When are they gonna lemme go??!”
The nurse ignores us. Keeps on reading pretending not to have heard her.
Five weeks?? May be she had a severe form of brain cancer.
5 weeks is a long time. Are you better now? I mean.. the cancer, is it gone?”
“I think they missed it!” she said. She said it louder than her usual tone. Then she peeked a look at the nurse.
What?” I say.
Its worse than before! Shits all fucked up. I feel tired all the fucking time. And the seizures. Dont get me started on them. They come like every fucking day!”
I sit there stunned. Did the procedure fail? Dr. James told me that the worst case scenario was a slowing down of the cancer, but from what she was saying, it seemed like her cancer just got worse.
“But wait...” I found myself saying and getting up to look outside the window behind our bed, and as soon as the light hit my eyes, I felt something wrong with my body. My legs gave away and I found myself thrashing on the floor with saliva drooling from my mouth. The young lady, whose name I would later find out was Soniya, or Soni as she liked it, was shouting,
“Seizure alert! Seizure alert!”
The nurse runs toward me.

***
I wake up. I am back in my bed. The man to my left, who Soni will later tell me is 'Gee,' is groaning. I try to sit up, but my head feels heavy. I feel as though my skull has shrunk to half its size and is squeezing my brain. I feel as though something warm, like blood, is oozing from my nose. But when I feel there and look at my finger, there's nothing. I am imagining things. Must be a side effect of the procedure. Soni is humming some song. I turn to look at her. She continues to hum and looks at me with an expressionless face.

“I want to have a word with Dr. James.” I say to the nurse. She looks up for a moment, then looks back down at her paperback and says,
“He's on vacation. Will be back in a couple of days.”
“So, Dr. James is the one who got you into this fucking mess too, huh??” Soni says.
“Did you meet him?” I say.
Never seen him in the 5 weeks I have been here. Whenever I ask for him, hes always away on some fucking vacation!”
I can feel my heart start to pound. What have I gotten myself into.
“Hey, I need to talk to my wife” I say towards the nurse.
Soni looks at the nurse who is ignoring us and she tells me,
“Its no use. They are all fucked up. Including Doctor fucking James. I have been asking these fucktwads to let me call my parents, but they wont.”
What?? How can they just....”
Damn fuckers!”
I sigh. “May be you should try asking them a bit more … you know, nice.”
She stares at me for a few seconds. Then says, “Fuck you!” and lies down and starts to hum again.

***

Soni would later tell me she was an only child. They were financially in a very bad state. Her parents managed to get her a good education. She got a job and tried to give them a better life. Then, she started having the symptoms. She ignored them at first. Thought they were just from stress from working too hard. She didn't go to a doctor, because in her family, they never went to a doctor unless it was really really bad. Living in poverty and without insurance had ingrained this habit in her. When, finally, at the behest of her friends, she did go to a doctor, they told her she had waited too long. The cancer had spread too far. Then, just like it had happened with me, her doctor had introduced Dr. James to her. A chance at survival. At worst, it would make her better and give her more time. And 5 weeks later, she was still under 'observation.' And her symptoms were only getting worse.

***

Around afternoon, there is a knock on our room's door. The nurse opens the door and some guys wearing white uniforms with a round blue symbol of some sort on their breast pockets walk in. They push in a stretcher and transfer Gee onto it. I am sitting there watching them. Wondering.
Oh my fucking arm!!!” Soni screams. Everybody looks at her. The nurse looks at her distastefully and says,
“Theres nothing wrong with your arm! You fell asleep on it!”
Soni sits up, wringing her arm around. I find myself smiling, amused. The men in the white uniform now push the stretcher with Gee on it out of the room. Soni is still wringing her arm. She looks at me, annoyed. I realize I am still stupidly smiling. I quickly look away.
“Its crazy but after sometime you start 'looking' for the symptoms. And I guess after sometime your fucked up brain starts making them up.”
I turn to her. The nurse closes the door and sits near the door, picks up her paperback.
“Where are they taking him?” I say to Soni.
Daily routine tests. Once they are done with him, they will come back for us.”
Sure enough, they came back. I didn't need the stretcher. I stood up, though a bit giddy. After a few seconds, I just followed them. Out the room and through some corridors and into a room. The room had an MRI machine. A wall of the room had a large window of plain glass. 2 men stood on the other side wearing white coats, watching us, and writing things down on pads. After the MRI, I was taken to the next room for an EEG.
After about an hour of tests, I was brought back, and then it was Soni's turn.

This was going to be my routine. After few days, I had gotten used to it. I would ask the nurse and the guys in the white uniform for Dr. James or if I can just call my wife, but they always had some excuses. “Hes away on a vacation.” “Hes busy with a conference.” Or that I just needed to be patient for a few more days, and I would get to go home.

The worst part were the seizures. I had only experienced one before I got here, but since the procedure I seemed to be having them on a daily basis. Sometimes more than once. I have gotten so used to them, now I know when they are about to come on. I get this strange feeling before I get them. Its weird.

Then, on the 5th day of my stay, I saw her.

It being a Saturday, the guys wanted to finish the testings quickly. So they put Gee on a stretcher and asked that I and Soni follow along. Soni told me they did this on weekends, so that they can go home early.

So, while I and Soni waited outside a testing room, I took a walk down the corridor. I turn around and look at Soni who looks at me with a blank expression and keeps humming her song, or whatever it is. Sometimes I feel she is just humming to irritate the nurse and there was no rhythm to it.

I pass by a couple of doors and come across a glass door which leads into a corridor. At the very end of the corridor is the reception area that I and Ananya had walked in the first day. And, as I look, I see Ananya sitting in the reception area. I stand there stunned. Sitting beside her is someone who looked like Gee. His brother.
“Ananya!” I shout, but between when I stand and her are many glass doors. It doesn't look like she heard me. I shout again. She just sits there, staring at the floor. Then, she suddenly looks up and talks to someone I can't see. I hear hurried footsteps behind me. I am about to open the glass door when the person she is talking to comes into view. Its Dr. James. Someone hurriedly pulls me back. I shout. I struggle. I feel a pinch behind my neck, and my vision goes dark.

***

I wake up feeling groggy. Ananya!! I feel an instant rush and I jump on my bed. I am back in the room. The nurse drops her paperback and grabs a syringe and a bottle of what I think is a sedative. I see that and stop. I sit on the edge of the bed and try to look calm. The nurse stops. Goes back to her seat.
What happened out there?” Soni asks.
I saw Ananya.. my wife. She was out there. Probably came to visit me. Guess they didnt let her in.” I say. Soni swears under her breath.
And guess what,” I continued, “I saw Dr. James! He was right fucking there!” I shouted louder at the nurse.
“What??!” says Soni, then turns to the nurse, saying, “I want to talk to that son of a bitch!”
Gee is groaning in the background. The noise seems to have woken him up. I remembered about his brother.
“Gee! I saw your brother too!” I say excited.
Gee continued groaning and trying to grab at something in the air.
“Dr. James is on vacation.” the nurse says in a monotonous voice.
Yeah right!” I say at the nurse and catch myself rolling my eyes, something I have seen Soni do on many occasions. Shit.
***

Everyday, its the same routine. After waking up, I would sit around till the breakfast came in. The same food everyday. A lump of tasteless substance and some tea. And by 11 a.m., the guys in the uniform would come in and take Gee away for the daily tests. They always brought a stretcher to take him away. I had never seem him walk. Or even sit. Soni told me he was better when she saw him 5 weeks ago. That as time went on, he started having more and more seizures. And then one day, it was like something broke inside him.
What do you think went wrong with him?” I say to Soni.
Dunno. I guess his cancer was very severe to begin with. May be the procedure couldn't save him.” she said, lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling.

Then I remembered what Dr. James had told me. For sometime immediately after the procedure, the symptoms could get worse. It would flare up before eventually subsiding and vanishing completely. I looked at where Gee's empty bed lay and wondered if tomorrow Gee would just wake up in the morning feeling his old normal self and go back to his family as a completely healthy man.

When I look back at Soni, she is now lying on her side with her back to me. I decided not to bother her.

After about an hour, the men in uniform come in with Gee on the stretcher. They unload him onto his bed and ask me to go with them. The routine. Everyday. The same fucking thing.

The only thing I have noticed to change since the time I have been here is that my seizures were getting worse. Now, I had at least 2 of them everyday. Some days, 3. I get this strange feeling before they happen. An uneasy feeling coursing through my body. I feel like I am about to throw up. Sometimes I see lights in my vision. Then it would happen. Nowadays, I just lie down when it is about to happen.

The only other thing to change was the nurse's paperback novels, a new one every couple of days.

Then, something happened. Something I didn't plan on doing, but it just happened.

It was time for the tests, and they took me into the room with the MRI. I looked at the glass window on the wall. The usual 2 men in white coats on the other side were absent. May be on a break. This time only 1 guy was with me in the room. He was helping me get onto the MRI machine. I sat on it. The guy started punching in something into the machine, getting it ready. A stainless steel table stood next to him with trays of medical equipment on them. I grabbed one of the trays. The little vials and syringes that were on it fell to the floor. The man in the uniform turned around, stunned by the noise. The tray felt pretty strong and stiff. I grabbed hold of it with both my hands and rammed its edge into his throat. He stumbled back grabbing his throat with both his hands and then hit himself against the machine and slumped to the ground. He started choking and coughing. I made a fist and punched him right across his temple, and his hands dropped to his sides, limp. Was he dead? I had no idea.

For a moment, I just stood there looking at my hand and the tray. What the hell have I done?? These people were trying to help me, and I might have just killed one of them! At that moment, all the frustration that had been piling up inside me for days had suddenly vanished. I turned around and looked at the glass window expecting to see the guys in the white coat looking all shocked. May be sounding an alarm. May be calling the security. But luckily no sign of them. The only noise were of the buzzing of electronic equipments and a faint rhythmic beep from somewhere in the room.

I quickly got down on my knees and started unbuttoning the guy's shirt.

***

A few minutes later, I was walking out of the test room. Dressed in the guy's uniform. I had propped his unconscious body up into the machine and pushed him a bit into the machine. May be this will get me some time in case the guys in the white coats came back. May be it will make them think its me inside the machine.

I had no idea how I was going to get out of here. I walked quickly through many corridors. Door after door. I slowed my pace when I saw 2 guys in uniform walk towards me. Did they find out I am on the loose. I kept looking down at the floor, but not too much, I didn't want to seem suspicious, in case they haven't already recognized me. As they got closer, I heard them talk about cricket. Arguing. They walked right past me. I picked up my pace again.

I ran into a familiar looking corridor. To be fair, I felt every corridor was more or less the same. I hate places like this where everything is a copy of everything. The rooms, corridors. All same. Makes you feel like you are going in an endless loop.
I stopped. I took a few paces back. And there, I could see it. Far away, beyond multiple glass doors was the reception area. I blindly pushed open the glass door in front of me and began to walk ahead. And then I almost fell back on the floor when I realized something. Right next to me was a room with “Dr. James Paulose” written on it, and the door was partially open.

***

My first instinct was to walk past the door really quickly and hope he didn't see me. I steadied myself and walked ahead and then I did something stupid. I looked into the room as I passed it. The partially open door gave me a quick glance into the office where I had sat with Ananya just a week ago. Ananya! I wonder what they told her to keep her away for this long. May be Dr. James was trying to help me. May be he didn't want her to see me when I am not yet better. May be a week from now, I will be better and then he will let her visit me. I found myself standing near the door, mulling over my thoughts. I shook myself out of it. What the hell was I doing?? I should stop thinking and just get out of here! But wait, I didn't see Dr. James in his office. I turned around and moved towards the door. I realized I might be about to do something stupid. I should just turn around and make a run for it. But I found myself slowly peeking into the room. Defintely, no sign of Dr. James.

I stepped in and closed the door shut. There were shelves of books around. And a computer monitor on his table. I rushed to it and pressed a random key to bring it up to life. It did, but was password protected. I turned around and noticed some lockers near the wall. I tried them. They weren't locked. They were filled with syringes and bandages. One of the lower lockers had a set of casual clothes. I wondered whether I should ditch the uniform. Will I attract attention if I wore them and go outside. I decided to change. As I was undressing myself, I felt something solid and heavy in the uniform's trouser pocket. It was the guy's employee card. I changed and made sure to take the employee card with me.

I walked past many more offices. Most of them had their door closed. I noticed that some of them had people in them, but they were too consumed in their work, they didn't notice me. The final glass door that separated me from the reception area wouldn't budge. I quickly grabbed the employee card and flashed it at the tiny black scanner on the wall near the door and the door opened with a loud beep, and as I walked out, someone called my name.

***

It was a feminine voice. I turned around. It was the girl behind the reception table. Was she the one I had met the first time I came here? I frankly couldn't remember. Dr. James had told me I would lose bits of my memory.
“Did you have an appointment today?” she asked with a wide smile.
“Ye.. yeah.” I blurted out.
“Oh! Where's Ananya?” she said looking towards the sofa and then trailing outside to look beyond the huge main glass doors.
She.... em... had to visit her parents... her mom.... she fell down some steps. Fractured her foot!” Shit! I need to stay calm.
“Oh!” she said looking worried. Then it hit me. May be shes stalling me. Probably they found the guy in the MRI. They are onto me. Guess they alerted her and she is trying to keep me here till the security guys or whoever came here and took me back to the room. I turned around and walked to the door.
Bye Mr. Joshi. Tell Ananya I said hi!” the receptionist called out from behind me. I ignored her and walked out the main door. With a quick pace I walked down the empty space between the front door and the big main gate entrance. A security guy stood near the main gate. Shit! He looked at me, scowling. I tried to keep my head down. Avoided any eye contact. When I looked up at him again, he was smiling. What the hell! I had never seen him before in my life! I forced a smile. I kept walking. Once I was outside the gate, I ran.

***

My house was at least 6 km away. I considered getting on the public transport, but then remembered I had no money. It must be noon because it was awfully hot. I was sweating profusely. I started seeing specks of color in my vision. No! Not now! I walked to a tree on the side of the street and sat down with my back against it. And waited for the seizure to happen. But nothing. Vehicles passed by on the road in front of me. After a few minutes, I forced myself to get up and continue walking. Suddenly, I heard a skidding noise. I turned to see a bike had pulled up beside me. He pulled his helmet's visor up.
Need any help?” he said.
“Can you give me a lift?” I said, my voice quivering.

Ten minutes later, I was on the street next to my house. I thanked the man on the bike and started walking towards my house. A car drove past me at a very conservative speed. As if it was being driven by a very old man. It stopped before my house. I stopped. Was it the men from the facility? I hid behind a wall and watched.

The door of the car opened and out came a nun. She was followed by a little girl who jumped out of the car. It was Diya. I had an urge to just walk and join them. But what if Ananya hadn't yet told them about my brain cancer, and what if I ended up having a seizure right in front of them? That will obviously affect the adoption process.

I heard the front door of my house open. Ananya stepped out, with a wide inviting smile on her face. Diya ran to her, and she picked her up. I realized I was standing with a smile looking at the entire scene. Then, someone walked out from behind Ananya. Ananya turned to him still smiling. Diya hugged him, still laughing. I rubbed my eyes in shock. Because the guy looked like me. Not just like me, but exactly like me!

***

This guy who looks like me, puts his arm around Ananya and pulls her and Diya closer to him. And they all look so happy.

What the hell was going on??
I realized the guy was looking right at me. He looks stunned. Confused. A prominent frown appears on his face. Guess he didn't expect me to show up and ruin his scam. Or whatever this was.

A white minivan races from the other side of the road and screeches to a stop in front of the house beside the orphanage's car. He gets distracted by it. The door of the van slides open and a couple of guys get out. Some of them wearing the white uniform of IIRN. I duck behind the wall.

Shit! He has seen me. Of course hes going to point me out to them. I peek again. The guy looks concerned. He talks to the men in hushed noises, then turns back towards Ananya and the others and says, “I will be right back.” He gets into the van with them. The van takes a U-turn and vanishes.
I look at Ananya and the orphanage people. Ananya is smiling, but the worry is palpable. She says something to the orphanage people, and they all walk inside the house.

I stand there for a minute, debating, then walk towards my house. What if I walk in right now and ruin the adoption process. What if the other guy was someone Ananya found to pretend to be me so that she can get the adoption process through?? Is it even possible? But why couldn't she just wait till I got out?? Its creepy but that guy looked a lot like me. Whatever is going on, I think it best to wait till they leave.

Didn't Soni say her house was closeby? I should visit her parents. Ask them what Dr. James had told them to keep them from visiting her.

After about 15 minutes of walking, I reached 112B. I was surprised I hadn't seen her around before. But, of course, this is a city. I bet even her neighbors don’t know each other.

I was about to open the gate to their home when the front door opened. Guess they must have seen me through the windows. I stood there expecting to see one of her parents walk out. But instead, she walks out. Soni.

***

I stand there stunned. Wasn't she in the facility like an hour ago?

She looks healthy. Like she put on some healthy weight in the last hour. And gotten well dressed. She had a handbag and a file in her hand.

She hadn't noticed me until she absentmindedly closed the door behind her and walked halfway to the gate. When she saw me, she stopped.

“How did you get here so fast?” I asked.
“I.... what? Who are you??” she says.
I stare at her. What the hell! This has got to be some kind of reality show right?? I bet I dont even have brain cancer. This was all just some set-up. And, Soni was probably hired to play... well, Soni. I guess her real name must be something else.
“Who the fuck are you, and what the fuck do you want?!?” she said. Her voice rising. Typical Soni.
Dont you remember me from IIRN??” I said.
The look on her face changed. She looked shocked as if I just said something very sacred.
“Are you one of the staff there? How did you find my house??” she shouted regaining her composure.
The reality show must be a big budgeted one. “Soni” must be a good actress.
“You know what? It's over! I escaped from there, so whatever this is, just call up the guys and tell them its over!” I say trying to look unconcerned.
She opens the gate, closes it with a bang, and walks away. Ignoring me.
Hey!” I say moving towards her.
She spins around and shouts,
You follow me, I call the cops!”
I stand back. She walks away. Then momentarily she turns around to look at me. I expect her to wink at me. To give me some indication that I was right about all this being some kind of sick game. Instead, she gives me a scowl and throws up a middle finger. And walks on.

Shit! Now what?? I notice something in my shirt's pocket. To be exact, Dr. James' shirt's pocket. I take it out. Its a letter. Inside is a bill of some sort. But what caught my eyes was that it was addressed to Dr. James. His home address. I knew where I had to go next.


***

His home was about 5 km away. Luckily, I was able to get a lift. I wasn't in a hurry. I might have to wait till he got home. I realized I didn't even know his work timings. Then I remembered that this was all just a reality show. Probably they only hired him when he had a part to play. As I hadn't seen him in a while, so he probably was at home.

I find the house. A huge gate with pretty tall walls. An old watchman sat beside the gate. I walk up to him. The old man had a thick long mustache that twirled at the edges.

Hes watching me as I walk towards the gate. I try to ignore him and open the gate. He jumps up. Pushes me aside and asks me what I wanted. I told him I wanted to meet “Dr. James.” I regretted it instantly! Obviously, it wouldn't be his real name! But the watchmen just nodded his head, then started to say something, but then started to cough. He quickly ran to the roadside in front of the house and started spitting out blood. No, its just pan. He was chewing tobacco. I hesitated for a moment, but then seized the opportunity, opened the gate and ran in.
***

The inside was lined with dozens of pots of plants and flowers. They were all well looked after. I could see 2 luxury cars and a couple of 2 wheelers. Actors must be well paid these days.

I hurried to the door and before I can knock, it opened. “Dr. James” stood there. Looking at me. Without a hint of surprise on his face.

Behind me, I heard the gate open and the security guy running in, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt.

“Its okay, Manju” said 'Dr. James' to the security guy who now had a huge red stain on the left sleeve of his khakhi uniform.

'Dr. James' moved aside and motioned me to come in. I did. Not because I was intimidated. But because I was starting to feel... oozy. Was it the seizure coming on. Or was it because its been a while since I ate.

'James, the actor' shows me to sit on a big cushy chair. I sit down. Relieved. I could feel my hand starting to shiver. I feel as though my body has been zapped from energy. I hold both my hands together, stiff, to stop it.

Dr. James sits opposite me. I noticed a hint of worry on his face. I guess he must be the producer or something too. Guess their show just blew.

“Its over, 'Dr. James.'” I say grinning.
He sighs and makes himself comfortable in his chair and looks up thoughtfully at the ceiling and says,
Joshi, are you a fan of science fiction movies?”
“What?”
Sci-fi. You know, like people traveling to other planets or, you know, time travel, and such.” he says.
Ye.. yeah.”
“Have you seen people teleporting? They are in their spaceship one moment, then they hop into this 'teleporting' machine and the next moment they are on the surface of the planet, or at another place.” He looks at me. I look back at him. What the fuck? But he just continues,
The funny part is, no one seems to realize this, but every time someone 'teleports,' they are basically killing themselves. Their bodies are being disintegrated into data and then the machine rebuilds their bodies at another place.”
Why the hell are you telling me this??” I said. He looks me thoughtfully, then says,
“I want you to know that this wasn't my idea. But these... eh... researchers, they pulled some strings. They said that this was a great opportunity to study the disease... cancer.” he stopped for a moment, sighed,
They actually gave you drugs to 'progress' your cancer.”
***

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. What the fuck is this??
“But you said this was supposed to be some procedure to heal me. I didn't sign up to be a guinea pig!” I shouted. At least I tried to shout, but my voice was failing me. I feel more weak.
Another pause when Dr. James looked at me, then at the ceiling, then back at me.
I promised you that I was going to try my best. And I did. But it wasn't my idea that you will be here. You are the corrupted data.” he says.
Then something clicked. I know it is crazy, but I had to ask him,
Did you clone me? Is that guy with Ananya a clone??”
“No, Joshi. That guy 'is' you!” Dr. James says. He is now standing up and looking down at me.
“But I am here. How is it...”
“This is a project by our space program, Joshi. A very costly one. The goal was to make teleportation a reality, and we have done it.” he turns to me. I sit there stunned. He continues,
“Have you heard about 3D printers printing organs, Joshi?”
I noded my head. I have.
We went a bit ahead. We learned how to scan a human and convert him into digital data, which then can be used to 'print' the human. But along the way, we figured out the amazing things this will help us do. Like we can simply tweak certain things in the data and completely change the printed result. Removing cancer cells is as simple as searching a document for a certain word and replacing them all with something else. The possibilities are many. You can modify your body the way you want to,” he looks at me. As if I was supposed to be stunned by all this bullshit. He bends slightly so that our faces are level, then says,
Then, there's immortality.”

***

He stands there, his eye staring into mine. Was I supposed to say something?
“How?” I say. He smiles and walks around the room with his hands behind him saying,
Think about it Joshi. If we can convert our bodies into digital data, then we are never going to be dead. Lets say a man dies in old age, but luckily we have the data on him. Now, all we need to do is to get his body as soon as possible and scan his brain. Then we print him out a new body, but with the memories of his present brain. It like we just invented how to reincarnate ourselves. But I prefer the word 'immortality'.”

He once again looks at me with a look of victory on his face and keeps looking at me as if expecting me to say something.
I want to meet my wife.” I blurt out.
Of course, you are wondering how everyone can be immortal, right? I mean, how can the Earth sustain the growth in population with every passing decade? That's where the teleportation technology gives us another solution, Mr. Joshi! The future isn't about people flying in spaceships traveling at the speed of light! Its our 'digitized data' traveling at the speed of light! Imagine traveling to an Earth like planet a couple of light years away, but you dont step into a spaceship, you instead step into a teleportation machine here on Earth!”

This. Man. is. Crazy.

I mean, look at his house. Who paints their walls with these freakish colors? I mean, they are even moving around. What? Is that normal. Shit!! I am going to have a seizure! Not now! Please!
You need to understand, Mr. Joshi, that 'you' are nothing but a corrupted data. You are the copy that the teleportation device of the future will destroy after it scans you. You are supposed to be dead. And pretty soon, you will be.”

My body is now shaking uncontrollably. Foam in my mouth. A bright light floods the room. I notice few men in the room and they are getting closer to me. They all wore the IIRN uniforms.

***

I struggled to open my eyes. My eyelids are heavy. I find myself on a hospital bed. A nurse rushes to me. She smiles at me and pushes a button on the wall and tells me not to sit up. To be careful. She is pretty. She takes my blood pressure, pricks my finger with a tiny machine, etc., and writing the results down in my file.

I feel groggy. I let my hands feel my head. I know Dr. James told me that this was a procedure done using lasers and there literally will be no skin incisions, and there weren't any. The door opens and Dr. James himself walks in.
“Joshi! How are you doing?” He took the file from the nurse and started looking through it with a smile.
“A bit weird. May be I should walk around a bit.”
“Yes! I agree! The procedure was a success, Joshi. You are all well and fine. Just a day's stay here while we observe you and you can go home! Of course, you will have to come here once in 2 days for a simple checkup for a month.”
I nod my head. To say the truth I dont find all this believable. In the back of my head a voice whispered to me that once I got out of here, I should go and get myself tested somewhere else. Just to be sure..
Alright, Mr. Joshi. Take some rest. Or walk around the room if you want!” he said. He started to walk away, then stopped and said,
“Oh! I will call and let your wife know that she can come visit you now!”
I lay back down, and remembered the last thing she had told me before I went in for the procedure,
“I will begin working on those adoption papers while I wait for your call.”

***

All this seemed to be too good to be true. So, when I got to go home, I had gone with Ananya to a hospital and got myself checked out. I told them that I had brain cancer. But all the results said that I had no sign of cancer. The doctor talked to Ananya alone asking that I be taken for psychiatric counseling.

As days went by, we went ahead with the adoption proceedings. I remember the day Diya was brought to our house. It was a weird day because I saw someone. Someone who looked like me. I swear. Except may be a bit pale and malnourished. And then the IIRN guys had showed up a few hours early to pick me up for my routine tests, and I completely forgot about him.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the same guy after the 'procedure' that I was before. I mean, sometimes I dont remember things from my past. Sometimes when Ananya talks about the time we spent together somewhere, I couldn't remember it. Its like it never happened. I feel as though I was never really there with her. Sometimes, memories are all jumbled up. But I have learned to pretend like I remember. For her. Ananya. I have learned to pretend to be 'Joshi,' even though I know that the procedure killed a part of me. The part which was the real 'Joshi.'


***

THE END.
 
- Rejo John.


Future Works: 
March 29th:  Mr. C from the short story Mr. C visits another person on his "Interested Person's List" with some cunning agendas.  [PUBLISHED:  Mr. C meets Dennis]
April  4th:  Two investigators who made a fool of themselves in a paranormal TV show is forced to investigate the curious case of a haunted floor in a multistoryed building.

Other Suggested Stories:
The Man Who Stole... A man is saved after an accident and is cared for at an old age home.  But its soon apparent that there is something off about this man.

The Metro Murderer The story about the famed Metro Murderer.
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