Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Hearty Awakening

This is a story i wrote for Times of India's Write India Short Story Contest. The idea was to expand an established writer's given excerpt as per his/her rules. This particular story is for/by Durjoy Datta. The author's excerpt is in italics.

'Are you sure, Rhea?' asks my mother.

'Of course I'm. Survival of the fittest, mother. I'm not going against Darwin. Also I don't want unnecessary scars on my body.'

It's a known fact that we are all born to die. And frankly, I don't understand why it has to be made into such a big deal. If it were not for my mother I would have said that to the bunch of people outside my house, some of them with young kids, shouting slogans, waving placards, literally wanting me to cut one of my beating hearts out. "Save A Life. Donate!" they shout.

For someone who is one in billions, 7.125 billion to be exact, I expect to be treated better. Scientists are still befuddled regarding my condition that gave me two hearts in my mother's womb. But years of research and sticking needles into me have led them nowhere, and they have labelled me as a freak mutation. It's so rare - literally one in all humankind - that they didn't even name the anomaly (as they call it, I will call it awesomeness). I wanted to name the condition myself, something on the lines of Rhea's Heartsawesome but the doctors aren't thrilled with the suggestion. Instead they want to cut one of them out and save a life. Huh?

An IQ of 180, increased concentration, exceptional athleticism and a phenomenal metabolism rate - are just the few boring benefits of an increased blood circulation. Why would I ever give that up? Who in their right mind would even want me to? Freak Mutation my

I know my mother. She just wants to get rid of the nuisance in front of her home, or the place she used to call home before it became a media jungle, and save her career. She is by no means any stranger to waving placards. But she's had enough trouble because of me to last her a lifetime, she says. First the series of doctors, then this. I don't blame her. Like the rest of the world, there's only so much that her lone heart can handle. If only my genitor had been with her and not just vanished off the face of the earth after that one night of sperm donation. She might have been like me, metaphorically, with her heart intertwined with his. Sadly, she simply hates men now. So much so that she hasn’t had any relationship with any man in the eighteen years since then.

Never having seen my father, in my imagination he is more like a demi-god whose secret mission on this planet was to find a suitable female and impregnate her to create me, an unparalleled being. Needless to say, this thought gives me a super kick! But honestly, it also gives me a sense of responsibility, or a deep meaning to my life, if you will. I feel I have been sent to change the world or something, or to fulfill my unseen father's mission. I tried telling this to my mother, and she seemed to agree with the responsibility part.

In her opinion, right now I was being callous. 'Scars? Darwin? Are you kidding me Rhea? Don't you realize this is the beloved mission you keep blabbering about? Give your heart to someone while you're still alive. How can you have two hearts beating inside you but zero kindness?'

Mothers, by definition, have to be melodramatic I suppose. Similarly, being a teenager, I was technically entitled to throw tantrums. Never the one to follow rules or societal norms, I very calmly said, ‘Ok. I am being unkind. I am only thinking about myself and the loves of my life. Not about you, not about anyone dying of a failing heart. But you know I can’t do this to George, nor Sanjana. Losing one heart means losing one of them.’

‘No man is worth such pain Rhea. They leave you to fend for yourself, one way or the other. George should be with you now helping with your submission and not in that godforsaken place called Haiti. Please listen to me. Sanjana is an amazing woman. Donate one heart so that you first get rid of the flashbulbs surrounding you. Then marry her and start a new life in Canada. They will welcome a genius like you with open arms. You won’t even need my intervention to get a permanent residency there.’

‘I know Sanjana is an amazing woman, I love her for God’s sake! But George is a great guy too…why punish him? You should be proud that he is helping resettle the poor earthquake victims. Just because you have distanced yourself from men doesn’t mean I have to as well for no apparent reason! And since when have you started believing in marriage?’

‘You said it yourself honey. Just because I didn’t tie the knot myself doesn’t mean I don’t wish it for you.’

This was becoming too much of an emotional discussion for me to handle. I excused myself on the pretext of preparing the thesis for my second directorate in data science. In all probability, it was going to be my ticket to getting real recognition in the world. One based on my efforts and not something I was born with. It could be a breakthrough in predictive analytics that could change the way we live. George, a professor of Data Structures and Algorithms at UC Berkeley, is my mentor. Our research has the potential to alter the course of history by predicting with a precision of 1/16th of a person’s last four generations’ average age how long he or she would live.

But all I can think of now is about G and Sanju. Granted that I was born unique, but both of them too were nothing short of miracles themselves. Knowing that your paramour loves somebody else as well and still accepting her was something that no ordinary person could handle. That I found two such people at such a young age had to be a miracle of sorts by all existing standards. I don’t want to steal the glory I just attributed them, nevertheless part of it could be because I have two hearts. The knowledge that I love each of the two with a full one must obviously help.

The doctors insisting on cutting one of my hearts out are pretty sure it will not affect my intelligence or focus, but are noncommittal about how my body would react to the reduced circulation. There is quite a possibility it could change my sexual orientation. Or not. It could also adversely affect my metabolism and thereby the physical agility I am so proud of. Then there is the big question of half-heartedly loving Sanju and G, or not having the capability to love one of them at all.

There was no way in hell I would give one of them up. Besides being my boy/girlfriends, they were great friends amongst themselves. The three of us were the talk of the town, for obvious reasons - two girl students and a professor hanging out three-gether, too exciting a topic to ignore. But mother was right about one thing, we had to relocate if we had any hope of leading a semblance of a normal life. Canada was more liberal than US when it came to breaking stereotypes. It was, after all, the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriages. That country had to be more accepting of our unique situation while keeping me close to the scientific community in my own country I so want to continue working with.

Suddenly my phone rings and breaks my reverie. It is Sanju.

‘All hell has broken loose Ree. My parents have found out about us and are calling me back to India. I am flying out tomorrow.’

One of my hearts skips a beat. ‘When will you be back?’ I manage to ask.

‘I don’t know man. My folks sounded real furious. They are as traditional as traditional can get. Their worst fear before agreeing to send me here to study was that I would end up marrying an American guy.’

That was my Sanju for you. Her wicked sense of humor never left her; this almost always managed to bring out my wry side. ‘Oh my. They so grossly underestimated your unorthodoxy baby. Is this the right time to say that makes me love you so much more?’

‘Ree, shut up. Bye.’

And that was that. The last thing that my witty clever lovely Sanju said to me a month ago was to Shut Up. Ironically, it is she who has gone quiet. Off Facebook, off WhatsApp, off my radar. Out of my reach. Completely. For the first time ever in eighteen long years, my heart is broken. I do all the cliché stuff that the brokenhearted are likely to do. Listen to mind numbing metallic rock. Sit on the beach and contemplate how drowning would feel. Dress shabbily. Get a new hobby: Paintball. Pour one of my hearts out to the bartender. Eat chocolate. Focus on all that is wrong with the world.

Then, like a breath of fresh air, without warning, George comes back from Haiti.

‘Your mom called me up Rhea, I don’t know how she tracked me out. It is madness out there. Being a senator has its own perks I guess. There is nothing your mother cannot achieve once she sets her mind to it. Anyway, she told me about your, eh, situation.’

This is beyond ludicrous. Unfathomable is perhaps the right word.  ‘Mother called you? To tell you about Sanju? She’s gone G. Just like that. Poof!’

‘I know. But that’s not the only thing I meant by your situation.’

So he means the askers of my heart, do they even know it’s broken I wonder. Out loud I say, ‘Oh, G. People will eventually get bored and find a new story to poke their noses in. These sloganeers hungry for my heart won’t stay here forever!’

‘It’s been more than a month already. Today it took me ten minutes to drive from the university to your house, and another twenty to get from the front gate to your room. Tomorrow it could take an hour. At least think about your mom Rhea. Any chances of her going for the presidential bid will go out the window if this circus continues any longer.’

This is totally below the belt. ‘So that’s why she brought you here? G, she is just using you to save her precious post. She doesn’t even like you. The other day she wanted me to ditch you and marry Sanju. And what about me? Do you even love me anymore? Why are you calling me Rhea?’

George looks befuddled for a moment. Doesn’t take him long to recover though, that sly trickster. I simply adore him for this, even in my anger. ‘Because you’ve grown up Rimpkin. The girl I saw before going to Haiti has now turned into a beautiful woman.’

Leave it to this guy to make me week in my knees. ‘Please continue’, I say.

‘There’s nothing better than a heartbreak to ripen one’s character. Today I see a mature lady in front of me who I am sure is capable of taking the right decisions. Decisions that would make the world a better place.’

I am repulsed and recoil as if horrorstruck. G notices and leaves. Is it my imagination or is it really my mother speaking out of George’s mouth? I don’t think he has any idea he’s been manipulated. How naïve of him. Or he knows and has fallen to mother’s charms. In either case, he has lost the respect he had in my eyes. Both my hearts, the broken and the intact one, together cannot convince my brain that George is the right person for me to be with.  

I pack my bags and hunt for my passport. From the back door of the house, I quickly sneak out and head to the airport. To hell with the thesis and the UCB scientists. To hell with mother. To hell with George. To hell with the world.

Sanju, my one true love, I will come and get you, wherever you are. I will love you forever, with both my hearts. I only hope that you will love me back enough to fight whoever comes in our way.

P.S. I did not end up even in the top ten!

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