Avishek Parui – Icarus

The morning had been thick grey. It was a Sunday. I had woken up with a heavy feeling down my spine. I wasn’t sure if it was pain. My work at the office required me to sit before a desktop eight hours everyday. It affected my body movements and responses. Worse, it affected my mind. Over the three years I’d been working as a data control officer at Connectivity Inc. I’d seen myself grow more and more irritable over things that never bothered me earlier. My job took me away from the things I wanted to do, from the person I wanted to be, and paid good money for it. But money stops fooling you when it becomes mere figures, gathering somewhere, and you don’t have time to go and look. I had a bunch of cards though.

I remember my first salary. I was twenty, teaching creative writing to a group of high school students. It was a cheque of one hundred in a white envelope with my name written on it. That was something I could touch with the pride of earning for doing something that meant a great deal to me. The huge deposit in my bank account at the end of each month at the office meant less to me each time I received it. It meant a lot to my parents and to my younger brother, people who lived in the city I had grown up in, people I saw twice a year. At the age of twenty-seven, I looked forward to the life of rituals and routines I had grafted myself into.

Each day as I drove to work I saw fleeting sights, of school children waiting with their parents for the school buses. The fresh faces beamed with life and the energy contained. The eyes had hope for the new that the day would bring in. They would move further away until they became little colour-specks in my rear view mirror as I drove closer to Connectivity Inc., my office, my very own prison-tower where the coffee machines laughed at the tired heads that drooped before those in slippery corners; where each white desktop was a merciless god exacting fealty from souls who could barely hold themselves together when the sirens that called it a day went off. Then the lights would go off and the feet would drag away together towards the huge elevator box that grinned open like an ugly giant who carries one through columns of uneasy silence. The streets I drove along were the same everyday and I could never remember when it had last rained. Each night as I took off my tie and put it across the stand, it hung like a noose I would have to put my head through to execute the next day. At the end of the days I didn’t get drunk or flake off from fatigue, I was a lonely woman staring at the night. It scared me sometimes.

When Robin called and said he had a surprise for me, I wasn’t too excited. I wanted to do a bit of gardening on Sundays. The only nature I had access to were a few flower trees that ­I somehow managed to grow on the little balcony of my apartment. I lived in a poisonous city where breathing was often an effort you forced yourself into. Robin was my colleague at the office. He had become my fiancé through a time I wasn’t very sure of. A believer in the work hard, party harder maxim, he was quite popular for his charming looks and extravagant ways. He had called when I was sipping my second cup of green tea. “See you in fifteen”, he whizzed, “with a beauty of a surprise”. I hadn’t had time to think of an excuse. He hung up as abruptly as he had called.

I was in my pyjamas when I opened the door to let Robin in. “Hurry up and get dressed”, he said in his usual flippant-cum-bossy way, “we’re going to go for a ride.” He dragged me by the hand and took me out to show his surprise, a new V-MAX, the bike every guy had been talking about in office. I couldn’t help admiring the glossy black vehicle that stood with tilted head at my door. It carried the promise of violent velocity along its streamlined curves that seemed to draw me with a forbidden charm. Robin had drawn me closer to it and shown me the name he had written on it; Icarus. He wasn’t sure of its meaning. It was something mythical, he had been told. A writer friend had suggested it. Robin thought it sounded cool. Of course I knew what it meant. I had been a writer too.

As we sped along the highway at 120, I forgot about the project I was working on, about its deadline, and the anxiety about the promotion that depended on it. I had put on my tracksuit that hung loosely around my limbs. With the dark helmet on me, I had become a nobody, who was free. The railings on either side of the highway had become a long grey haze by then. The other vehicles around had become brief sounds that swished away like sharp canes through the air. With my left hand on Robin’s shoulder, I put my right arm up, fingers pointing up to the sky that didn’t seem very far away then. The palm felt the waves of wind hit against it. I could see over his shoulder we were doing 140. For the first time in years, I was feeling something like freedom move through my senses. Each object we passed by was a little speck; a colour if it lasted long enough. I wasn’t listening to Robin, though I could hear him speak. Each word broke away as the wind we had created furiously cut across it. It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to say anything then. It was nearing mid-day and the highway sun was a red glow we could drive into. I hadn’t ever been in love with velocity before. The smell of tires was beginning to mix with that of the sweat inside my helmet. I was rising; flying, my right arm stretching further out to the sky, to the sun. I had moved far away from the desktop at my office.

I fell while we were taking a sharp turn. We were returning to the city then. It was near the point where the highway met the street. We were doing 120 still. Robin was still speaking. I still could not listen. The words were clearer then though. I fell on my side and rolled violently till my right arm smashed against something hard as iron. The last sound I heard before it closed in was the crunching of something heavy a little distance away. Maybe there was a cry too. It didn’t last long though. Maybe it was Robin’s voice. I still could not listen. The last sense I felt was the warm touch of something thick rolling down my right arm. I was not sure if it was pain.

As I lay in my bed in the hospital cabin looking away at the flyover through the window, I tried to figure out which bikes were headed for the highway. None of them had anyone who stretched an arm out to the sky. The broken body of the bike with red flesh mangled on it had been a strong enough warning I suppose. Accidents could always happen. My apartment had been locked all the while. I was sure the flower plants in my balcony had wilted. The petals must have fallen away. The body of the bike and the flesh of Robin had stuck to each other, they told me later. In less than three months time, they told me, I would walk with crutches. In less than six months, they said, I would be back to the office; to Connectivity Inc., to my desktop. Only, I would never be able to stretch my right arm high anymore, the kind doctor said. Just the right arm; a minor loss, considering the accident, they had agreed.

They didn’t know I had touched the sun with it while we flew.

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