The Only Person That Can Save You is You

5 min
Image of Spring 2019
Image of Short Story
9 am. The alarm bell rang and jolted Ashish out of his slumber. He was used to waking up at the crack of dawn as far back as he could remember. But now at this stage, he could have the luxury of sleeping in till late morning. One would think he had earned this comfort. But the truth was far from that.

Adequate rest for a necessity for him now. With cirrhosis eating away his liver gradually, his treatment was focused on trying to arrest any further complications. His family couldn’t afford a liver transplant so Ashish had no other option left. As he sat on the edge of his bed reminiscing on the bygone times, he was filled with a deep sense of regret. With tears in his eyes, he was remembering all those intervention sessions by concerned friends. But it was all futile now. Like all mornings, his inner voice played a broken record yet again, ‘I really should have listened to my body’. Why didn’t I consult a doctor when I had the first acute abdominal pain and nosebleed? Why did I ignore the constant fatigue, weakness and loss of appetite?

His neighbor on the other hand, Vishal, was awake since 4 am. Actually he barely slept that night. Just like all other nights in the last five-odd years. Medically labelled as chronic insomnia, he was suffering from memory problems, depression and functional impairment while awake. These were all inter-linked.

But this wasn’t the real Vishal people knew. Just a few years back, he was the cynosure of all eyes. A lawyer by profession and an over achiever by choice, he had his life cut out. But those insanely long hours, working round the clock and junk food had to take a toll someday. His deliberate negligence of sleep coupled with a sedentary lifestyle unfortunately cut short his successful stint. He was fired from his job after a string of faux pas and was considered a threat to society because of his anger management issues. To worsen matters further, he had developed cardiac complications. But somehow in this house, he found an eerie peace with his loneliness. Regret was now his sole and lifelong companion. What choice did he have anyway? He had a chance to correct things earlier. But getting ahead in the rat race took precedence then. As he now realized, ignorance is not at all bliss.

In the adjoining apartment, Ashima was struggling to get ready and tackle yet another day. She started by thanking God for letting her see the light this morning. Fifteen years ago, who would have thought that THE fitness fanatic and health junkie Ms. Ashima would be beginning her day with a prayer? She was known to live on fruits, juices and protein concoctions that were trending worldwide. There was not a single fad diet she had not tried out. Not that she was overweight, but her obsession with size zero bordered on lunacy. Apart from regular gym membership, she had signed up for Pilates, Aqua Yoga, Kick-boxing, Tai Chi and Zumba. But as they say, excess of everything is bad.

Whatever time she got between the various routines was spent in eating minuscule quantities of cult foods. She managed to achieve a fabulous body in no time. Her trainers pushed her to go the extra mile and egged by peer pressure she started cutting short her sleep to get the dream (read anorexic) figure. Instead she landed up with severe and chronic fatigue. Her body suddenly gave up one day. Lack of proper nutrients, solid foods and green vegetables brought her to a state of perennial exhaustion. Her condition was complicated because the lack of proper nutritional food for so many years had made her body immune to it now. As if her health was taking revenge because of the ignorance that she had meted out to herself. If only, she had listened to her mother and not ignored those constant blackouts....

And then there was Shilpa - The Ultimate Party Girl. She was the soul of every gathering and the core of the nightly get-togethers. In her heydays, no outing would begin without her being present. Known as the ‘Energizer Bunny’ for her never ending energy to party through the night, she was also infamous for being a chain smoker. It started as an innocent experiment during her college days. Peer pressure and wrong company encouraged the vice. Her parents constantly chided her for the habit and made her go through counselling session and de-addiction courses. But Shilpa was obsessed with nicotine. To her it was an instant stress reliever and a companion for drinks while partying. The fact that it she thought smoking made her look cool was a nice by-product!

She used to laugh away at those health warnings printed on cigarette packs and the infomercials beamed in cinema halls. ‘This cannot happen to me. Such things happen to people from lower strata of society’ was her usual comment. This was clearly a dark realm that she should have never explored. Fifteen years of chain smoking landed her in hospital with a sharp pain in the chest, reproductive organ complications and Stage 2 breast cancer. She ignored all warning signs – that lump, the breathlessness, that wheezing cough that won’t go away for weeks. Only because she was too busy in smoking away her life.

Ashish, Vishal, Ashima, Shilpa. Four completely different individuals from totally diverse backgrounds and age groups brought together by a common mistake – ignoring health warnings. Call it foolishness or thoughtlessness but irrespective of the nomenclature they had no one else to blame but themselves. Fate wasn’t entirely responsible for bringing them here though. Under normal circumstances people feel privileged to be handpicked for assignments. But in this case one would rather be caught dead than be chosen. Literally.

They were residents in a row house complex of this large colonial style building. Located about 100 miles outside the city limits, this dark grey dilapidated structure was a tell-tale sign of an era gone by. From a distance, it looked majestic. Set in a large lush-green forest, it appeared palatial. But as one drew near it was apparent that the building was going through a severe mid-life crisis. There were several architectural flaws and mistakes that could only be attributed to poor judgement. Maybe it was cursed? Or maybe it reflected the state of mind of its residents. You couldn’t really tell.

As they came out of their rooms, they were greeted by the sight of large transparent glass windows. People had already started trickling in. Akin to animals in a zoo, the inmates of this house had grudgingly compromised with what was left of their lives. They were now a part of a prestigious Government project to showcase the horrors of ignoring health warnings. People from all walks of life and age brackets were brought on special guided tours to “The House”. As they were taken from one enclosure to the other, the guide animatedly briefed them on the inmates’ history and present condition. Children were shown a movie beforehand so that they could comprehend the situation better. Teenagers had an option to interact with inmates, ask questions and learn from their experiences. There were special tours for older age groups too.

But for some reason, the residents hardly ever saw anybody above 21 years coming to check them out.

This question had been bothering Ashish for quite some time too and one evening he casually asked the warden. After all, they were a one-of-its-kind group of people and deserved all the attention. The warden wryly replied ‘Son, remember how you were in that age? Your reckless actions, vices and wrong habits landed you here today. What makes you think the next generation has become wise? If you are lucky to be alive for a few more years, probably you’ll get to see them as house-mates’

Welcome to the House of Morality. This is AD 2030. Science and medicine have found cure to most deadly diseases in the world. Alas, ignoring warning signs and learning from experience is still an untreated and unsolved syndrome.

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