Story Collection - MSPM39

Story 25/39: Life’s Good (Conditions Apply)

Mallika picked the blade and put another cut on her forearm.

“Five is right,” she whispered with her teeth clenched. She had never cut herself five times and it was hurting more than she had anticipated. Especially the third cut wasn’t deep enough and was more like a papercut that wasn’t healing properly. She left the hand lay still as blood oozed out of the five slits on her hand, each almost the same size roughly half-an-inch apart from the other. She closed her eyes and embraced the pain. It helped her. Reminded her that she was alive, that she wanted to be alive.

She had read once that most suicide survivors regret the decision to attempt suicide the moment they reach the point of no return. She considered this her placebo medicine – not killing her but telling her to stay alive. She started with one cut and now, she needed dosage of five.

Mallika’s mind fledged to a different time, a time when she didn’t need a reminder to stay alive, a time when she didn’t have everything, a time when she was living to survive.

“Hey,” Mallika said to her new roommate.

“Hey,” Elena said with a nod. “New to the city?”

“Yeah, just reached. What about you?”

“Came here yesterday. The room is shit but let’s hope the city compensates for it.”

Mallika laughed. She was happy to have a roommate with a sense of humor. She had just graduated and had moved to New York for her job. She was finally at the right place and hoped it was the right time.

The next five years were a blur in Mallika’s life. Work took her days, hustling took her evenings, and parties aka networking took her weekends.

“You don’t grow fast by going slow,” a professor had once said in a class. She took that as her persona dogma. In five years, she finally reached a place where she slowed down and saw that the life around her was not just beautiful, it was her own construction. Her five years had finally shown fruits.

She slowed down and changed gears.

“Time for a family,” Mallika told her friend once and her lifestyle completely changed. Her work was stable, both in her job and her hustle and she had enough savings to survive any major crisis.

Then she met Gary!

Gary was perfect. He worked at a consulting firm and would travel across the country. He was also as enthusiastic about success and growing as she was and they instantly connected. After five years of focused work, Mallika had legitimately thought that she would have trouble finding the right person but Gary popped in her life almost immediately.

They got married after one year of knowing each other and had a kid three years later. The next five years were even faster. Jeremy was five when Mallika was first hit by the wave. The wave made her feel despondent and worthless. Her mind was telling her that everything was alright but her whole body was rejecting this idea. Each passing day was becoming difficult, each passing month taking longer than the last.

For one year, she endured this alone, before telling Gary who comforted her. They decided to see a doctor.

“Physically, she’s fine. But it’s possible that she might be suffering from depression. You might want to consult a psychologist.”

The psychologist officially diagnosed Mallika with clinical depression.

“But my life is good. It doesn’t make sense. I have everything I want!” Mallika almost pleaded with the psychologist, as if she had received a bad grade in an exam of life and wanted the mark sheet to be checked again.

“Please get a second opinion if you want. In the meantime, these medicines would help,” the doctor said.

Mallika got herself checked, once, twice, thrice, and more but the diagnosis was correct. She started taking the medicines which were woefully useless. They would either not work at all or would reduce her mind to smithereens and her work suffered.

“Is there anything that can be done?” Gary pleaded with the doctor.

“I’m sorry. We are giving her the right dose, more in fact. We can’t give her more than that,” the doctor said to a disappointed Gary.

This continued for almost a year when Mallika found herself thinking about suicide in more and more ways. It started naively, with a simple question – “What would happen if I die today?”

Gary would recover. He’s resourceful. He will also take care of their kid. He’s growing anyway and doesn’t need her that much. She was replaceable at work and her hustle would end but at this point, it really didn’t matter to her much.

The question expanded and soon enough, her mind was taking another leap into the unknown. ‘Perhaps, it would be better if I die. Their lives would be better soon.’ Her mind thought and decided that her death actually has a net profit on the world.

It was a summer afternoon when her mind finally made her decision – everything was better with her gone. She had almost reached the edge of her balcony, about to jump and ending it all when her son did the most stupid thing in the world, and unknowingly saved his mother.

Jeremy was running around the house with a knife and at the precise moment when Mallika was on the ledge, he slashed her mother’s arm with the knife. Writhing in pain, she fell to the ground, her son scared and crying looking at his mother’s blood.

Mallika’s self-loathing was gone. It came back later but faintly. It was almost a month before she felt the horrible feeling she had been feeling for almost a year now. She decided to repeat the experiment and cut herself, on her arm. A thin cut that forced pain in her life.

That was twelve years ago. In the past ten years, Mallika had tried almost every medicine for depression but only one thing had worked with a guarantee and that too with regular increase in dosage – a blood sacrifice.

“Mallika?”

Mallika was woken up by Gary’s voice. He was sitting beside her, holding a fruit salad.

“You must be tired. Eat something,” Gary said, categorically ignoring the cuts on his wife’s hand. Mallika opened her eyes and kissed Gary.

“This is the most I have seen.”

“Yeah. Today was harder.”

Gary nodded. Today was a huge milestone in their family. Jeremy had gone for college today.

“Do you think it will increase?” Gary asked, looking at the new fifth cut.

Mallika looked at him and smiled.

“Don’t worry. I have one more hand,” and her smile turned to laughter.

Story Collection - MSPM39

Story 4/39: Regrets

‘Please! Not again,’ Stan hissed with a tone that Jingtao had heard a million times now. 

‘Can you sleep or something while I’m done?’ Jingtao said to Stan. 

‘If I could, I would. This is the third time today. Can’t you stop?’ Stan pleaded.

‘Just the third time,’ smirked Jingtao. ‘Besides, I can’t go outside. What do you want me to do?’

‘Read books. Study. Write. Make YouTube videos. Heck! Make Tiktok videos, if you want.’ Stan wailed. 

Jingtao ignored Stan and increased the volume of the video and picked a few tissues.

Jingtao had met Stan when he was twenty. Jingtao was fed up with his college, tired of all the drama that was happening in his life, frustrated with the lack of actual growth or development, exasperated with the direction his life was taking. Entered Stan. Literally!

Jingtao woke up one day and he heard his conscience speak to him, in a voice he had never heard before. 

‘Jingtao! You are gaining weight,’ the voice said. 

‘Yeah, I know,’ Jingtao said lazily. 

‘Then why don’t you go for a run,’ the voice urged.

Jingtao ignored the voice considering it a part of his conscience waking up at an inopportune time. The voice got louder and then annoying. 

‘Just go away!’ Jingtao said to himself one day, partially scared that he was going mad or was having some psychotic breakdown and partially annoyed by the insisting voice in his head. 

‘If I could, I would,’ the voice replied equally annoyed. 

‘Who are you?’ Jingtao asked in frustration. 

‘I’m Stan.’

‘Stan, who?’

‘Short version: Whenever humans do something that they can’t forgive themselves for all their life, we come into existence. Technically, we are close cousins of demons, although, I think we are closer to angels in our duties. Our job is to help you improve. We can go back to nonexistence once you are on the right path.’

‘Like Meeseeks?’

‘What?’

‘Nevermind. How come I have never heard about it.’

There was a long pause. 

‘Stan?’

‘Umm. We are not exactly allowed to talk to our humans.’

‘Ooh! You broke the fourth wall. Nice job buddy.’

That was five years ago. Since then, Stan has been with Jingtao.

In the past five years, Jingtao had worked at two companies, graduated from college and went back to another college. Stan continued to track Jingtao’s progress with diligence, still waiting to vanish. 

‘What is it that you want?’ Stan would often ask Jingtao and would get a shrug in reply. 

Once Jingtao was done, Stan asked him this question again.

‘What is holding me here Jingtao?’ Stan asked. Stan had heard that most demons end up living all their lives with the humans because humans don’t let go of their “inner demons” so as to speak. In fact, in many cases, the demons got company as the human gathered more inner demons. He had heard about a human who had a whole family of demons residing in them. An urban legend was about a human whose death had lead to the death of a whole city of demons. 

All the existing demons had celebrated that event and it is celebrated every year in their honor even today. Stan didn’t know if this was really true. Can a single human even have that many inner demons and stay alive? Most end up dying, some through diseases, others through suicide, if they have too many demons in them. The body can sustain only so many before all the demon voices depress them enough to whither off and die. 

With Jingtao, Stan was thoroughly confused. He couldn’t understand the point of his existence. Jingtao was living a life that didn’t have any major trauma. Neither had he faced any life-changing decision where he screwed up in a large way. Even with this virus thing, Jingtao had adjusted pretty well. Not doing anything came naturally to him. 

‘You should tell me what’s holding you here. You are free to go if you want.’ Jingtao said and opened his iPad to play a game on it. He also opened a movie that he had been watching on a loop for the past two weeks – The Groundhog Day. Stan didn’t understand the charm. He also brought some apples, a knife, and water and kept them on the side table.

Stan couldn’t hear Jingtao’s thoughts even though he resided inside his mind. He could see everything that Jingtao was seeing but not what he was thinking. 

‘Is there some deep, dark secret in your past Jingtao?’

‘I don’t remember killing anyone if you are asking that.’

Stan grunted. 

‘I just wish…’ Jingtao said and trailed off. He was looking intently at the movie, the iPad lying without being used. His character in the game had died due to negligence. Classic Jingtao!

‘Yes,’ Stan said eagerly. 

‘I just wish I had another chance,’ Jingtao said, ‘another chance to live up to my potential. To have the guts to do something that made me feel alive.’

Silence hung in the air as Bill Murray died and came back to life once again. 

“Maybe…” Jingtao said aloud and picked the knife, looking at it hungrily. 

Stan was surprised that Jingtao was thinking about suicide but he was partly glad. His ordeal would finally be over. Then Jingtao picked the apple and cut it and started eating it. 

Stan groaned. He had really thought that he was going to be free.

When Jingtao woke up the next day, Stan woke up to a surprise. 

“Hi, I’m Suzie,” the demoness said.

“You, here?” Stan asked. 

“I am guessing Jingtao did something he regrets last night,” Suzie said. 

Or maybe, Jingtao regrets not doing something, Stan thought. 

Inspired from reddit prompt – [WP] It’s said that some people have personal Demons Inside of them. In your case, it’s literally true. His name is Stan and while he tries his best to help you, he’s frankly disappointed in your efforts so far. [Link]

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

An Interesting Call

“Hey.” Purushottam heard the soft voice from the other end.

“Hello.” Purushottam said tentatively. He didn’t recognize the voice but the kind of days he was having, he was sure it was a prank call or sale call.

“How are you?” The voice asked. It was slightly husky voice with care seeping through the phone. Purushottam was thoroughly confused.

“I am good. I’m sorry but I didn’t recognize your voice.” Purushottam said.

“It’s alright. I’m glad that you are good.” Saying this, the voice cut the phone. Purushottam couldn’t understand what had just happened. He was sure that he had heard the voice before. Her voice wasn’t something you would forget easily. However, he couldn’t put a face to it.

Soon this became a daily pattern. He would get a call every day in the morning almost like an alarm. She would ask him how he was doing and then cut the phone. Some days the conversation would be longer when Purushottam had had bad days. Other times, it would just be a few seconds. Purushottam had tried various methods to trace the call, starting from Truecaller. The app showed the name Neha but he couldn’t remember any Neha with that voice. Even then, he confronted her with the name but didn’t find any answer. Even then, he started calling her Neha anyways and she didn’t object to it.

“Listen Neha. I love talking to you but you have to tell me who are you?” One day Purushottam lost his temper. He was having a particularly bad day and the last thing he wanted was to shout at one person who asked his well being but it wasn’t so.

“As long as you are fine, how does it matter?” Neha asked.

“It matters because I am not fine. I am talking to someone whom I don’t know. Please tell me who you are or at least something to placate my doubts. Please.” He heard an audible sigh.

“I’m your guardian angel Purushottam. When you tried to commit suicide, I lost my angel privileges. I can’t look after you directly through the heavens. Hence the call.”

“Suicide? I have never tried to commit suicide.” Purushottam said flabbergasted.

“It’s alright Purushottam. I know it must be shameful for you to remember that but don’t worry. I know about that anyways. I just want you to know that I am here to help you, care after you and support you in any way.” Neha urged. Her voice had a ring of earnestness in it that somehow convinced Purushottam that it wasn’t a prank call. This opened two possibilities. Either Neha was a mental patient or she was telling the truth. He didn’t know which was more frightening.

“If you are an angel, where do you live?”

“In the heavens of course.”

“And they have good communication systems set up there to talk to humans.”

“I had to get one just for this. Though there are other angels like me. Suicide cases are complicated, especially if they fail. However, few angels actually try to communicate like me.” Neha explained in detail.

“But Neha… What is your name Neha?”

“I have no name in English language. Neha is fine.”

“Ok. Neha. I have never tried to commit suicide. As shitty as my life sounds, it isn’t that worthless. Honestly, I think there is some misunderstanding. I don’t think I’m the Purushottam you are looking for.” Purushottam said. There was no voice from the other end. He heard a few taps and whispers but couldn’t make out anything out of it.

“Oh! I’m sorry. Wrong number.” Neha said in a hushed voice. Purushottam could hear her blushing.

“So who’s my angel?”

“Your angel is looking upon you. Bye.” Neha said and cut the phone. Purushottam looked at the headset muddled. He was glad that there was a guardian angel looking after him but a little saddened that he wouldn’t get to talk to Neha anymore.

“I just hope the other Purushottam is still alive.” Purushottam chuckled.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Marriage

Siddharth stood at the end of the cliff contemplating suicide. Rishika was sitting in the car, waiting for her husband to come back from peeing.

This was the summary of a relationship that had completed five years two days ago. A day hadn’t gone by when Siddharth didn’t think that he was better off dead. A day hadn’t gone when Siddharth thought of leaving Rishika.

Rishika on the other hand was madly in love with Siddharth. She had loved Siddharth since the first day she met him. The two had arranged marriage and while Rishika had gotten everything she had ever asked for, Siddharth had lost everything.

“I can’t marry you Siddharth. I can’t go against my parents.” These were the last words of his first love. These were the words that pushed Siddharth into marrying Rishika and these were the words that taunted and tortured him every day.

Siddharth threw his cigarette stub in the lake below. He would be next. Siddharth didn’t know how to swim and it would just take a few minutes before he would finally be free of his pain. A pain which he couldn’t share with Rishika. In the past five years, he had tried to tell Rishika about his past but he just could never share it.

“What would I say? That my greatest regret is marrying you instead of her.” Siddharth said, almost whispered and finally took his step towards the lake. His heartbeat increased in anticipation. He tried not looking down at the lake and simply walked as if on a footpath.

“Nice lake Siddharth.” Rishika said holding Siddharth’s hand. Siddharth turned sharply and saw Rishika looking at the lake beside her.

“When did you come?”

“Just now. I was getting bored and I realised that you must have found something interesting.” Rishika said admiring the view around her, oblivious to the scene.

“Yeah. It’s an interesting lake. Quite deep too.” Siddharth said with a longing. He felt he shouldn’t have smoked the cigarette. It took a lot of time.

“Do you wanna jump?” Rishika asked point blank to Siddharth.

“What?” Siddharth said flabbergasted.

“Yeah. It would be great fun. I love cliff diving.” Rishika said holding Siddharth’s hand. “We can dive in together.”

“I don’t know how to swim.” Siddharth said. The last thing he wanted to do was dying in a way to make Rishika a suspect.

“Don’t worry. I won’t let anything happen to you.” Rishika said squeezing his hand. “Now, let’s jump.” Rishika spoke and pulled Siddharth along for the jump.

Siddharth’s mind was filled with images of his first love, slowly being substituted by Rishika’s face. Things had indeed changed over the past 5 years. Maybe, in the past 5 minutes.

Rishika helped Siddharth get off the lake and the two reached back the car half dried. The rest they wiped out by the towel.

“Rishika. I haven’t told you about Shraddha. I am sorry but you should know.” Siddharth began. Rishika nodded and sat in the car attentively. Siddharth started his part with Shraddha and didn’t stop for the next an hour. He told everything about the relationship, the breakup, his marriage upto today’s suicide attempt.

“I’m sorry Rishika. I am just a broken person who can’t ever be healed.” Siddharth said with his head hanging.

“Your mom told me about Shraddha even before our marriage. She told me that you are not in a good place and I will need to work hard to keep this relationship alive. There’s a reason we had a 6-month courtship. I wanted to be sure.”

“Sure of me?”

“Sure of the fact that every time you think of jumping of a cliff, I am there to hold your hand.”

“You knew but didn’t say anything?” Siddharth asked, slightly impressed.

“I hoped one day you would tell. Besides, even if I force it, it wouldn’t have changed anything.”

“You are awesome!” Siddharth said looking at her, his mouth opened agape.

“I know.” Rishika said smiling. “And now what? Are you still committed to committing suicide?” Rishika said with a smirk. Siddharth smiled.

“No. My commitment to committing suicide is over.”

“Good.” Rishika said and kissed Siddharth, her husband for the umpteenth time and Siddharth, his love for the first time.