Thomas opened his eyes. At the foot of his hospital bed stood a doctor talking to his daughter and son-in-law.
"He works at the old chemical plant, doesn't he?" the doctor said.
"Yes. How did you...."
"I found traces of the chemical in his blood. The workers end up inhaling some it, so I always know who they are," the doctor said beaming.
"I have been trying to get him to retire. He started working there with his childhood friend who killed himself. Dad thinks he will somehow be letting his friend down if he quit," his daughter said. The doctor noded his head understandably as if to show that he understood how old people sometimes have weird values.
Thomas felt enranged that his daugther was sharing this personal information with a stranger. He tried to shout at her, to silence her, but all that came out of his mouth were groans reminding him once again that he had suffered a stroke paralysing his entire body except for some movement in his right hand.
2 days later, his daughter and son-in-law brought him home and placed him on his bed. He felt caged in his own body. This bed was probably the last resting place for him before he dies and be placed in a permanent one. But the wait was already making him mad. He was used to being physically and mentally active, but now he was trapped and a burden to his family. That's when he remembered the 'way out.' Something he had put in place a long time ago for when and if things were to turn bad.
A week had passed before he had his first opportunity. His daughter was out to get his grandson from school. His son-in-law was feeding him lunch. Thomas groaned raising his right hand to point to the top of the cupboard.
"Do you want to read a book?" the son-in-law said looking at the books atop the cupboard. Thomas groaned and jabbed at the air towards it again. The son-in-law climbed on a chair and pushed away the books to see a bottle of water tucked away in the corner.
Thomas groaned again and signed him to bring it over.
"I can get you fresh water from the kitchen. This looks like it had been out here for a while," the son-in-law said placing the bottle on the table and about to walk out when Thomas groaned urgently. The son-in-law panicked for a moment and screwed open the bottle and proceeded to give Thomas a sip of it when a sweet smell hit him. He stopped and took a sniff at the bottle's mouth.
"Dad, is this Vodka? Oh my.... your daughter's going to kill me if you got drunk!" he said, taking another sniff. It smelled so inviting. He took a sip. Then proceeded to take a gulp. Thomas watched in horror. The son-in-law broke out into a coughing spell. He placed the bottle on the table and rushed to the kitchen to get some water. A moment later, Thomas heard the coughing stop followed by a thud.
A couple of hours later, his daughter came home. Thomas heard her shriek. An ambulance followed. A few minutes later, he was left all alone in the house. He knew he will never see his son-in-law again.
Everyone recognised the chemical at his plant as this bottled gooey green colored liquid, but that was the result of all the processes that it went through. The raw material that they get from another chemical plant is a crystal clear water-like liquid, the purest form of the chemical, and very potent. It can kill an human adult with just a sip of the stuff. Just like his friend had done about 40 years ago.
Two days later, his daughter told him that she had asked their old maid to bring by some food for him while she left for the funeral. After a couple of hours, the maid arrived with her 10-year-old son holding a food parcel.
Retrieving a plate from the kitchen, she began to feed Thomas. Soon, she figured out the extent of Thomas' damage: He couldn't speak and she could get away with almost anything. The 3 rice cakes that were supposed to be his became 1 rice cake for him while she proceeded to eat the other 2. Thomas groaned realizing this was his life now, being taken advantage off by people and he couldn't do anything. That's when he heard the noise of liquid swishing inside a container. It was the boy. He was playing with the bottle of the chemical. Thomas was filled with renewed hope.
Thomas used his right hand to sign him to bring it to him, groaning. The boy, frightened by the groans for a moment, brought it to him with a blank face, but before he could hand it over, his mom began to choke on her food. She extended her hand out to him for the bottle. Thomas groaned violently at the boy to hand it over to him. The body stood turning white with fear. His mom, now going red in her face, jumped up and grabbed the bottle from the boy and took a gulp of it. She sat back, relieved, taking deep breaths. But then her face contorted, and she began to cough violently. The boy panicked, grabbed the bottle, and placed it to her mouth to help her drink more of what he thought was water. She pushed it away and, a moment later, collapsed on the ground.
"Dad, I need to tell you something," his daughter said a couple of days later, sitting at the edge of his bed.
Thomas moved his eyes to look at her.
"My husband killed himself. They found toxins in his blood work," she cried. "I dont know if it was me, if it was something I did, but he pretended to be happy, I just....."
Thomas wanted to comfort her, but found himself helpless. He wanted to tell her that it wasn't her fault, that her husband didn't kill himself, that it was all a mistake.
"I am quitting my job. I can't afford to have help to look after you, so i am going to get some work that can be done from home. It may not pay as much, but I think we will be fine," she said as she bend down to nonchalantly pick something off the floor. Thomas' pulse raised when he realized that it was the bottle, now almost empty, with may be just enough for a sip left. She sighed looking down the floor. Then, to Thomas' horror, she raised the bottle to her mouth. In a moment of frenzy, Thomas used his working arm to lunged it at the bottle. Surprising himself, he grabbed it out of her hands. She looked stunned and confused. Thomas looked at the bottle with awe. Now, finally, he had it in his hand. He took one last look at his daughter. He wished he could say it out loud that he would no longer be a burden to her. He brought the bottle to his mouth and emptied it.
He woke up abruptly to the familiar sound of the beeps. At the foot of his hospital bed, he saw the familiar scene from a few weeks ago of the doctor talking to his daugther, only this time, his son-in-law wasn't in the picture. The doctor noticing Thomas was awake, rushed to him beaming and exclaimed,
"Welcome back, Thomas! You are one lucky guy! What you thought was water was actually the chemical from your plant. But guess what!? All those decades you spent inhaling the fumes actually let your body build up tolerance. It did take a bit of a toll on your kidneys though, so you will need to have dialysis for sometime, but other than that, you are completely fine!"
- Rejo John