You look at the clock. It’s 5 minutes to 10. You know you have five minutes to gather yourself, draw the legs of your pressed pair of trousers upon yourself, wrap the trouser waist around the striped shirt hanging loose from your shoulders, with buttons yet to find their respective holes, plug that fat wallet – fat from credit card slips, forgotten invoices, occasional self-photos and a motley of obscure visiting cards – into your back pocket, toss the car keys into the left pocket and mobile into the right, guess out belt hoops and weave the snaking leather into it, grab a stale sandwich from the covered plate on the dining table, run the finger-comb through the still-wet hair, glance for a second at your reflection passing behind the mirror, secure your feet and rush out to office, half-closing the door. You know all that. And you have done that, year after year after year. With practiced ease and nonchalance.
Today, however, it’s a bit different. You still look at the ticking clock. Yes, 5 minutes to 10.
Just as you draw the trouser on yourself and pull blood to your leg muscles in an attempt to sprint, you see a pair of little legs on your bed kick air. You see little hands clenching and un-clenching, and cutting the cake of air at random angles. You hear faint cough sounds, exaggerated breath sounds. You also see your pale sleepless wife, who has just closed her eyes, swollen with unspent nights. You have faint memory of the previous night; lights being turned on, cry-sounds, someone sitting up on the bed with bleary, drowsy eyes and rocking a bundle, keeping it to her chest. You had found her in the same position when you woke up the next time, hushing and shaking the bundle to silence. You had gone back to sleep again, partly concerned. Or partly unconcerned. But when you have taken bath and freshened up, the faint images of last night pin you to the wall and spill guilt from your perforated skin.
So you decide while still looking at the clock. You are unsure, for sure. You lift the bundle and take it in your hand before it explodes and wakes up everyone. You don’t want that to happen. You feel responsible. Embarrassed. Guilty. Loved. Rather, possessed by love. A salad of emotions.
Little legs kick your gut. They rumple the pressed shirt. They enter the gaps between button holes. A warm softness presses against your chest. Tiny nails scratch your face-wash-cleaned cheeks. Ooh, it hurts! You bring your face closer. Milky air hangs loosely around. And the clock ticks away. It shatters your thresholds, limits, estimations, calculations. No, you can’t reach on time. You know that by now. But you are fettered. By the looks from large eyeballs in small sockets. By the tiny mound of a nose with flared nostrils. And the two lines of lips that curve like a beak.
The expression on the face of the bundle changes. Thousand lines of white appear on the pink skin. You know that the explosion is not far away. In a Hollywoodian effort, you throw all your tricks to diffuse the bomb in silence. But you see your efforts failing. What if he starts a full-scale wail? You sweat from concern and nervous anticipation. While your inexperienced hands keep rocking. Keep rocking.
Your hands ache from patting. Your mouth has no new sounds. Your waist feels numb. But there isn’t much scope to correct the posture and restart the diffusion process. So you hang on. With an aching body, you keep shaking that soft puddle of moving flesh and soak up every moment of it. Those large eyes are still looking from behind wide-open lids. You feel tired and spent.
You look around. Your wife’s eyes have developed dark circles under. Her face is tired and pale. The ceiling fan’s blades have gathered dust on their edges. The nipple of the milk bottle isn’t covered. The ash of the mosquito coil has fallen down like a collapsed circular bridge. The trespassing rays of the morning sun is falling in star-war like light shafts through the curtain gaps.
You go back again to your undulating lap.
You repeat this cycle. You also keep looking at the remorseless second hand that is moving on the face of the clock, repeating itself like you.
No, those large eyes have no intention of closing down.
Somewhere, somehow, you forget to look at the clock. You drift away and don’t count seconds and minutes any more. Your numbness itself becomes so numb that you don’t feel pain in your body any more. You become automatic, your thoughts detached from your actions.
When you get yourself back, you notice those tiny lids closing down. An elation runs through your anatomy like an electric spark. Like a kid who is promised a shiny toy for coming first in school, you get recharged by your imminent prize. Your renew your efforts and oscillate yourself till the tiny lump finally falls silent and motionless.
You imagine jumping a victory jump, punching air and doing a somersault. You feel a strange feeling of achievement. As if nothing else matters. Your 18-hour work days fade into trivialities, tight deadlines lose their significance, boardroom presentations seem like water cooler talks. The rush of blood in your veins tells you that now you have really arrived. The sense of accomplishment, and even more the contentment, dwarfs every bit of success that you have ever felt in your life.
You look at the loveliest thing you have ever created and smile into the thinning air at that defining moment of success. Ah, what a feeling! The clock stops. It runs out of ticks.