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IN THE END

Talhah Fadzillah

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Suffering from amnesia and delirium, a man wakes up in a hospital with only a strange, mysterious lady to look after him. Who is she, why is she the only one by his side, and why is he her responsibility? Struggling to pick up the fragments of his past, he unravels his former life, and it is full of heartaches and wrongdoings. Is his loss of memory a chance to review his circumstances from the outside-in, and to make right what he had done wrong? Or is it only a tormenting, hellish means of reliving what he once tried to run away from? What had caused him to commit such horrendous acts, and what had he done to deserve such suffering? Most of all, will he succumb to misery or triumph over it?

Estimated reading time: 1 hour 30 minutes

EXCERPT

Chapter 1

Orbs, figures, speckles of white.

All that I see are blurs, like peering through a fogged window filmed over with soap and water on the other side. Am I on the outside looking in, or the inside looking out?

My head feels as if it had been axed into half, put back together, axed again, and again, put back together. All I hear are my own grunts and cries of pain minimized to muffles. Then, a piercing sound begins, growing louder and louder until I feel the axe splitting my head once again.

With the little strength I have left, I lift my body upright and then start tugging at strings, wires, tubes, attachments to my body. This thing hugging my face, I pull at it, remove it from my face, a mask wrapped around my head, a tube attached to the mouthpiece. Then a constriction in my chest and lungs, breathing obstructed.

Now a skin-colored oval fills my vision, and in my ears, there is what sounds like a lady’s distant voice, words I cannot make out as of yet. Eventually, the voice clarifies, although only speaking in echoes: “Relax. Take it easy.”

With the consolation I receive, my violent struggling slowly tapers away. I am being helped back down into a supine position. The mask being fit back over the lower half of my face. This – now that I am calming and lying down – I find, helps me breathe easier. Not long after, I am drifting back into sleep with the lady’s voice in my ears, her words of reassurance. Orbs, figures and speckles dilate, filling my bleary eyes with white light, and then disperse, dwindling into twinkling stars, fading into blackness.

The next awakening is still a shock; I jolt my body halfway upright, but I stop myself from being taken over by another violent struggle. I am more composed this time. I am still a scattered mess but, nonetheless, I am a tad more composed, enough to draw the guess that the lady seated in the chair at my bedside is the same lady who had consoled me previously. In my eyes, she is still a blurry figure, but I can make out neck-length hair, a small frame, thin neck.

She stands up and all she takes is two steps forward to close the small distance between us. Now I can make out a gentle smile, the picture-perfect smile that can only be found in stock photos and commercials. Since she only stands there smiling and does not initiate a conversation – which I find strange – I am the one who starts talking: “Are you a… a nurse or something?”

She shakes her head and then I notice that she is wearing formal attire: dark blazer and matching trousers.

“A doctor?”

She shakes her head again and then a long pause ensues. Logically, I thought that lingering on the question would get her to start talking eventually, but she doesn’t, so I’m the one who has to break the silence again: “Are you gonna tell me, then?”

“Well… see… I’m sure you’re too dazed to receive and process any information properly, so let’s just keep the details to a bare minimal: I’m a friend and I’m here to console you, to help you out and up on your own two feet.”

“And that’s your job?”

Another long, awkward silence drags out before she simply replies with a monotonous yes.

“Does this friend have a name?”

Even if she tells me, I wouldn’t remember for long. This is not simply because I am bad at keeping names, no; it’s because my brain is a jumbled mess, extraordinarily so. Some things I can remember while other things jump right out the window out the back of my mind and disappear.

If she tells me her name, it’s probably gone in less than fifteen minutes. The next thing I know, we are walking together, her elbow interlocked with mine, seeing that I’m barely capable of standing on my own without support.

“There you go,” she says, helping me get across the long, seemingly never-ending corridor, sunlight blazing through the windows. “See how strong you are.”

With this jump in time, I’m left wondering if the long gaps of silence in my first meeting with her were indeed nothing but silence at all. Perhaps she was talking the entire time. Perhaps she had told me her name, what she does, why she’s helping me… every single thing. I wouldn’t know. All I know, is that everything hurts, and I need to take a break, so I stop walking and lean back against the wall.

Then I’m at the end of the corridor, sitting alone on the metal hospital bench, my eyes directed at the blinding white light outside the windows of the twin doors several feet away from me. Fleeting thoughts flutter past and around me, circling me like butterflies in an empty garden. How old am I, who am I, what have I done to be in a condition this bad; to have such a fragile body and mind; to not know who I am and not care; to be this jaded and dazed; to…

Out of nowhere, a long, thin hand extends into my view and jolts me awake from my daydream. The lady has seemingly appeared from thin air, sitting beside me and holding out a plastic bag in front of me. I take it from her and look inside: an assortment of medicines inside pill bottles and vials.

All of my collected distress suddenly kicks me in the back of my head all at once and I start sobbing. This may be the only time I will ever see her commercial-friendly smile break, but there is no confusion on her face like there should be, rather a look of understanding, as if she’d expected it to happen. “Don’t worry,” she says and strokes my back, “you’ll reach the end of it soon,” a strange choice of words which I choose to ignore.

“Why can’t I remember…”

Another time-jump. Figures morphing, lagging, ever so blurry at the outlines. Music from a radio put on low volume. Mumbles clarifying into speech. ‘Choices’ is the only word I manage to catch at the end of her sentence, and then she stares at me knowingly, understanding that I have blanked out for the longest time. Yes, the last thing I remember is crying. Vague images of her embracing me, consoling me – as is her job, from what she had told me – then leading me outside through the twin-doors of the hospital, the blinding white light engulfing us.

Several stops were made later. Grocery store, Chinese restaurant. Muted conversations, incoherent murmurs, the indistinct chatter of coffee shop patrons.

I have left the hospital a long time ago, I understand. Now I am inside her car and so many things between then and now is gone.

“These are your keys,” she says, pronouncing each word slowly and holding up a jumble of keys in front of my face. “I have a spare, in the case that you do not answer your door for me.”

Looking outside the car windows, I notice that the many figures and shapes have either slowed in morphing or are stock-still in place. It takes some squinting and a lot of thinking to draw a guess about my surroundings. Children’s laughter. Establishments. Greenery. Trees. Walkers and joggers enjoying the daylight, one or two of them with their dogs. This is a housing estate and we are stopped in front of, what I can assume to be, my house.

She pulls the handbrake and we exit the car. Seeing that I have gained some strength in my legs and capable of standing on my own, a question pops into mind: “How long has it been since I woke up?”

“Three days,” she says without looking back at me, making her way to the front door of my house.

As much as I want to shed more light on this baffling revelation, I cannot bother spending the energy. How jaded I am to not give a damn. Who cares if it’s three days or three weeks? It doesn’t matter.

Standing at the front door, I realize that I have been staring down at the keys in my hand for a minute too long. Brain, tell me quick, which key comes first? There’s a grill before the door, so logically the key that comes first is one for the grill lock. The shape of it cannot be mistaken, so it doesn’t take long to find the right fit.

Now comes the door key. There are only three other keys, so this shouldn’t take too long either. I look at the lady beside me, leaning near the doorframe, patient as ever, forever smiling, staring at me fumbling the keys in my hands. Before long, I’m sitting in my sofa and chomping on Chinese takeaway noodles while the lady paces around and examines the condition of my house, the walls, stairs and furniture of my dusty but untouched abode.

Now that I am conscious again, a strange mix of emotions slaps me hard, and it is profound enough to stop me from eating for a minute. I look around.

This two-storey house is minimal, an interior mostly made up of wood. First thing through the front door is the living room, laterally spacious, not many corners and rooms apart from the kitchen and toilet. On the left is the lounging area, a two-seater sofa opposite a wall-mounted flatscreen TV beside the stairs, a recliner obtuse to the sofa, a wooden coffee table. On the right is the dinner table and where the open kitchen and the toilet are situated. The second floor is open to below, so the upstairs corridor can be seen throughout the living room below.

“I live alone?” I ask her. She stares at me and the familiar silence fills the air. If she replies – or already did – the answer jumps right out the window of my brain. It doesn’t matter. The answer is apparent at this point. Clear as day. I live alone.

Yet another random question pops up and begs for a prompt reply. “In the car,” I say and frown curiously at her, “you were saying something about choices.”

“You can try to choose what you want to remember,” she says, “but you can’t choose to forget everything,” and then she approaches me, producing a card with some blurry writings on it. “My number.” She tucks it into my breast pocket. “Do not hesitate to call. I’ll be checking in on you every day, so keep an ear out for the door or I’ll let myself in.”

Next, she produces a wallet and a handphone. “These are yours.”

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