It is always difficult to judge what deceives a human being the most. The heart that believes all instincts, devoid of any logic. Or the mind that is mighty enough to create any logic that justifies its fancy beliefs.
Mrinalini stopped writing. Not because she was short of words. No.
In fact, she had so much to write that she could go on for the entire night. But she was unable to write more. Her fingers were aching. They were white and stiff. Almost competing with the view of Manhattan skyline from her apartment window. As if, all life form was frozen. Just like her.
She closed her diary and ran her fingers over the handmade cover where she had written –
~ This diary belongs to Mrinalini Sengupta – Plz don’t touch ~
She bit her trembling lower lip as her heartbeat paced for a rhythm faster than the normal. Her memory was clouded, and so was her judgement. She couldn’t come to a definite conclusion about whether she woke up scared due to a dream or she was scared after she woke up.
‘Did a nightmare about a haunting shadow near the window wake me up, or did I really see a scary figure lurking around my bedside?’
She could see nothing out of the window. It was one of those darkest hours of the night when the fog obscured most of the visibility. Arguably, it should have been usual for any night in late February. Only it wasn’t ‘just another ordinary night’ in February. It was that unfortunate date when her older sister, Madhumita, had died twelve years ago.
Mrinalini closed her eyes, trying not to remember that fateful accident. The accident that had disrupted her entire family. The scary visuals of bleeding Madhumita on the floor of the school disturbed her, even now.
A severe headache replaced the confusion, and Mrinalini couldn’t go back to sleep again. Penning down thoughts in her diary had always been therapeutic to her. But even that seemed to be failing then.
Suddenly, a vague sound from the adjoining room startled her. It was weird as the occupant, her flatmate Pia, a junior anaesthetist in the Civil Hospital, was doing the emergency duty that night. Mrinalini was sure that she was alone in the apartment when she retired to bed after dinner.
‘Or, maybe, I had assumed it to be like that.’
The sound of someone walking on the wooden floor became prominent enough to make her shudder. The stronger part of her brain challenged her to get up and check for the source of sound in the next room, while the weaker sections of her heart panicked and asked her to bolt the door from inside and duck her five feet two inches, slender frame deep inside the bedcovers.
Her mind and heart, the arch-rivals, loved to resume their age-old scuffle. Challenging her. Exhausting her. Defeating her. Every single time.
She remembered how the entire medical school training had emphasized the importance of trusting the brain over everything else. Logic and reasoning are your best friends when you get puzzled, they had said. However, Ritusmita, her elder sister, believed in the power of the heart in guiding a person. Let your heart be your highest priority, she always advised. It never misleads.
Medically, they only meant the conscious and subconscious parts of the brain – one relied on facts and experience, the other on instincts. Yet, it was fancy to call them ‘mind’ and ‘heart’ – movies were made and books were written on them, like that.
However, all of this was simply a theory, she knew.
In reality, it never happened like that. At times, the brain refused to listen to the heart and wanted to go ahead with what was justified and logical. While at other times, the opposite happened. The heart would often refuse to trust the brain if it had to compel an innocent soul to do things he might not have thought about, in a sane moment. The tussle between the two was inevitable. Almost considered normal.
‘But, what happens when the brain refuses to trust itself?
What if one area of the sensible brain asked the other area to shut up? When the mind was pitted against intellect, sense took a backseat and gave a prime position to confusions. What happens, then?’
It was a pity. No training could prepare her enough for this phase of life where she could trust no one. Not even her own mind.
Especially not her mind.
She could feel her back muscles stiffen, feet glued to the wooden bar below her writing desk, and sweat beads lacing her forehead despite the chill. Her lips were dry, and her throat hurt. A huge blob of saliva refused to slide down her throat. Goosebumps on her forearm reminded her that she had to take a decision.
‘Should I go out and check for the source of sound or pretend that I heard nothing?’
The noises increased. A hushed murmur, this time.
Someone had taken her name in a low, husky, rugged whisper –’Dr. Mrinalini Sengupta!’
Someone was in the other room, facing the common wall, threatening to break it apart. The pressing of the foam mattress under someone’s weight, the rustling of bed sheet, the hoarse whisper, and the muffled hum of heavy breathing across the wall gave a blood-curdling picture of a cannibalistic monster crawling over the wall between the rooms, ready to pierce through it to reach her bed at any moment.
Mrinalini stood up with a jerk. She had to do something. She scanned the room quickly before her eyes rested on the baseball club she had bought last month at the New York Sports festival. She gathered all her courage and curled her trembling fingers around the club.
‘I can do this… Yeah! I am not a kid. I am twenty-eight years old, healthy and strong, and fit enough to take on a perpetrator if I face him with enough confidence.’
She decided to check the next room before concluding whether to fight or run away. Moving ahead like a cat on a prowl, taking one measured, and noiseless step at a time, she tiptoed out of her room to cross the entire length of the dark and quiet living room. Slowly, she unlatched the door of the room next to hers.
The wooden door swung open. Pia’s room was quiet and dark, as well. Deserted like a graveyard. There was nothing strange inside the room.
With her heart beating hard and eyes wide open, Mrinalini scanned the room once again. No one.
She took a deep breath and, after getting satisfied that there was nothing to be scared of, she returned to her room. Her dry, flaky lips were stretched and peeling. The upper part of both her shoulder blades ached, the muscles between them stiffened, and an excruciating pain shot down her spine.
She sat down on her bed, rubbing her palms together to ward off the chill. The more she tried to get over these terrifying experiences, the more they seemed to grip her. She was aware that baseless creepy encounters like these were not normal, but they seemed to be rising these past few days.
Just yesterday, she had a weird experience in her swanky cabin at the prestigious Manhattan City Hospital, where she worked. She had been immersed in a medical journal—’Recent Advances in Diagnosis and Management of Psychiatric Disorders.’ Intricacies of the human brain and their management were interesting as well as draining to read. She enjoyed reading when she was not attending her patients. Often her mind drifted from the article to one patient or the other and then towards the window in her cabin.
The view from the glass window right over a busy street reflected the spirit of the city buzzing with activity in the morning office hours. Inside her cabin, which was twenty floors above the ground, she was supposed to keep a farce of calmness as a key to her psychiatry clinic practice.
She remembered asking her assistant, Irina, to get coffee for her. After finishing a long article on Schizophrenia, she pressed the buzzer again.
“Yes, doctor?” Irina, the tall, soft-spoken assistant with a desk right outside Mrinalini’s cabin, zoomed inside and straightened her spectacles to set them neatly on her crooked nose.
“Irina, I had asked for coffee,” Mrinalini reminded Irina, raising her brows.
Irina straightened her spectacles again, frowned, and replied, “Doctor, I did serve coffee to you.”
“No.” Mrinalini shook her head confidently. What Irina was saying was unbelievable. She must be mistaken.
“Yes, doctor.” Irina was firm.
Mrinalini’s favourite coffee mug, a black ceramic mug with an overlay of a guitar with musical notes in the background, stood neglected on one corner of her desk. She grasped it. It was cold and empty.
“You mean to say that you served coffee, and I consumed it?”
Irina shrugged and said, “I think so.”
“That’s impossible. When did you keep this mug here?”
“Fifteen minutes ago.”
Mrinalini peered inside the mug. The black bottom displayed faint streaks of dried leftover coffee. She raised it and sniffed to smell it. The fragrance of freshly brewed dark coffee was trapped inside the mug.
It was inexplicable. Bizarre, at best.
Mrinalini scraped the interiors of her mouth to let her tongue taste the remnants of coffee, if any. She even gulped a huge bout of saliva in an effort to remember the flavour of the coffee.
When a lot of time had passed thinking about coffee – a hot, freshly brewed mug of African Blue coffee with a magnificent aroma, creamy texture, and bitter-sweet taste – coupled with a visual and the smell of coffee inside the mug, it was enough to create an illusion. She could now taste it inside her mouth.
‘Nothing is more frustrating than reality and imagination warring with each other. Is it possible that I finished an entire mug of hot coffee and didn’t even register it in my brain?
Apparently, it is.’
Irina hesitated but finally spoke, “These confusion spells have been increasing for you.”
Mrinalini was aware of this. She didn’t need someone else to point it out for her. It had occurred for the third time in a row this month. A few days ago, she had completely forgotten about a meeting with a client even after being reminded by Irina. A week before that, she had failed to locate her car in the basement parking of the hospital building. She had filed a police complaint of theft, only to find on her desk the parking slip from the neighbouring building. Her car was found safely parked in the building next to the hospital.
Mortified at yet another incidence proving her absent-mindedness, she dismissed Irina with a subtle move of her neck. This was added to the list of incidents of confusion and forgetfulness, raising the count every few days.
She was aware that none of these could be assigned to normal behaviour. It felt as if she was living on two levels. One, over the surface – for the world to see. The other, at a deeper level – unknown to anybody. Gradually, she was losing connection with both.
During some days, she struggled with undefined sensations throughout her body, not triggered by any valid stimuli. While most nights, nightmares and creepy sounds kept her awake. She couldn’t sleep fearing the prototypical ‘demons under the bed’ and ‘monsters around the window.’ It was getting scary every day.
This one night was particularly daunting. Eerie sounds coming from Pia’s room didn’t stop till 4:00 am. She knew that the room was empty – she had checked it.
Still, the noises intensified for her even when she was ducked inside the quilt, with her eyes closed tightly.
Morning arrived with a terrible headache for her. Mrinalini fixed her earplugs, scrolled through her phone for her favourite music by Rudra Raghuvanshi, and geared up for a jog.
It was a breezy morning, and the sun wasn’t really kind to New Yorkers in this season.
Mrinalini jogged for a long time, hearing the mystifying silence beneath the loud buzz. The city was now waking up and rattling to activity. She loved this paradox of how the tranquillity of outer noise silenced every inner clamour. Hectic, mundane routine holds power to drown every stress into obscurity.
What was happening to her? She didn’t know.
It was a long road, and she had to tread alone, with no prior experience or guidance. Judging every experience against your apprehensions and prejudice was not easy. She knew the path ahead was dark and scary, but this was a point of no return.
A long jog relaxed her. But peace was only short-lived.
On her way back home, she noticed a figure, weirdly familiar, jogging past her at a fast pace. The guy was wearing a black hoodie, with red and grey stripes over the shoulders, and a large ‘R’ embroidered in red on the back.
Mrinalini stopped. Stunned and tongue-tied.She turned around immediately, but the guy had disappeared by then. She was sure that she saw the hoodie and the man who dashed away in the opposite direction. But he had disappeared. All she could see, now, was a crowd of joggers.
‘Was it my imagination? Or an illusion?!’
It must be so.
‘This’ hoodie was the last thing she had expected to see in New York. The last thing she hoped to see ever again in her life. This hoodie was no ordinary hoodie. It belonged to someone important.
‘What was ‘he’ doing in New York?’
‘No, it was an illusion.’ She corrected her mind and took confused steps backwards. Once again, she looked all around the arena, carefully observing the surroundings. He was nowhere.
‘What am I thinking? No, it wasn’t ‘him.’’
A similar confusion had gripped her nearly two weeks ago. She had been to a cinema hall – to watch ‘Deadpool’ with Pia – when on her way to buy popcorns, she had spotted a tall guy leaving the lounge. He was wearing the same black hoodie. She remembered leaving the popcorns and the movie to follow him, almost running beyond the exit gate towards the road, but she missed him. When she reached the road, she found it empty. A sudden chill ran down her spine.
Such black hoodies were common, she often argued with herself. But what about the embroidered ‘R’ in red. It was custom-made for one man.
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