Standing in the bathroom, facing the mirror that was above the blue glass washbowl, he surveyed himself running the razor slowly over the barely visible stubble, even as he mulled over the lines. He turned his angular face side to side, unsure which side looked best while facing a camera. He patted his high cheekbones dry with a towel running his hands over his face, testing for smoothness. He stared hard at the mirror and decided that the sharp glint of his gaze was what set him apart from the rest of the players and this was the face he would show to the world. He smiled mildly as he mouthed the lines without uttering them. He turned around and surveyed his half naked, six foot, lean and supple body in the full length mirror that was fixed to the back of the bathroom door - ‘A couple of inches more in height, even a few inches more would have made all the difference!’ ruing the fact that most of the players were turning out to be taller than him. Ok, the speech! Concentrate on the speech!’
His mind said – pulling him sharply from his meanderings.
He spoke the words- ‘Yes, it was a difficult game and xxx is a great player. There were several times when the game was as much his as mine…’ He stopped, pretending to keenly hear a question that was posed to him. ‘Yes my serves were more at the Tline this time...’ then said after a pause with a half smile and a slight shake to his head ‘Yeah, the aces came at crucial times’ pause… ‘I thank this very appreciative audience, my team- my coach, my physio and my girlfriend…’
‘Vijay!’ cooed Shreya his film star girlfriend from the bedroom, ‘Come here baby, what are you doing for so long, in there?’
He returned to the bedroom a little surly from being interrupted, but was soon calmed by the sight of Shreya. She was the girl of his dreams. Tall, athletic and incredibly beautiful with a pearl white complexion that was the envy of her costars. He had been over the moon, the day he professed his love and she had said ‘yes’ as if she had been waiting for that exact moment.
Now the irresistible temptress lay there, half hidden amidst the sheets, and he stood arrested in his tracks, his eyes taking in the beauty he beheld. The blanket slipped a little as she turned to lie on her stomach and he drank in the sight of her ivory smooth skin, her long legs. He sighed in exasperation at his helplessness when his eyes rested on the magnetic curve of her hips.
‘Sweetheart!’ he protested weakly, ‘You are making my life very difficult! I need to work on my speech! Shreya gave a wicked laugh. Vijay gave a sigh and sat down and cupping her chin with both his hands and looking earnestly into her eyes, he asked ‘Sweetheart my friends say you will leave me if I don’t win this game…’ ‘Who did?’ she asked, sharply, sitting up suddenly –legs bent- looking more like a mermaid emerging from the sheets.
‘Aman and Sanjay…’ he muttered. ‘But they’re very wrong baby!’ She laughed, playfully pulling him towards her, submerging him in her warm embrace. He happily drowned in the sea of her love.
He lost track of the time. When he recovered, he found himself in the shower again, all flushed and more confident than ever.
They were lunching at the Halcyon club after an exciting match with his friend Aman.
‘Machan this time you will surely win da!’ Aman said half in admiration or was there a tinge of jealousy in that statement thought Vijay. ‘How about your speech Vijay? Is it ready? The big day is barely four days away…’
The duo was soon surrounded by a group of raging fans who wanted Vijay’s autograph. Some wanted photographs with him too. He patiently signed his name carefully in the outstretched books. A girl pushed her way through the crowd and handing him a marker held out her cheek asking him to write on it. As he stood there debating whether to comply – Aman egged him on- ‘Draw a heart –draw a heart and then sign with in!’
Now the crowds were surging towards him uncontrollably, and he found himself drowning in a sea of human bodies – found himself borne aloft by powerful arms ‘Aman! He called frantically, ‘I am here don’t worry…’ Aman’s voice floated in, at the precipice of his consciousness.
Vijay sprang up spiritedly and moved to the court after the break. He was already beginning to taste victory after his one set lead and an early break in the second set over his opponent Prashanth. He moved frantically around the court, eager to finish the game, win the tournament and of course deliver the now well crafted speech. He heaved himself high to slam the ball in the front half of the court. Then all went blank.
Dr.Malik walked into the extended care unit, lingering over each of the eight patients who occupied the special ward. He examined them all in turn and explained each case in detail to the young interns accompanying him.
When he reached bed no: 8, he began, ‘This is Vijayanand Murthy, age 32, … you know the famous tennis player, who had the accident in the final … had a severe concussion after the fall, hitting the back of head in the tennis court… has been in Level II coma these last seven years… his eyes open every now and then and there is the occasional convulsions in his limbs.’
He paused, then continued …
‘Often, he goes on as if he is talking but it is always inaudible and almost sounds like gibberish…’he smiled up at his rapt audience. A perky intern asked, ‘Doctor, what is the level of brain activity in such patients? Do they dream?’ Dr.Malik spoke thoughtfully, ‘Obviously there is a lot of brain activity –that would explain the convulsions and the slurred speech- but research is still on about mapping dream activity…’ he didn’t elaborate further.
On the group’s exit, the staff nurse approached the bed for a routine examination. She pulled down his lower eyelid and shone a torch in the eyes of the dark emaciated form. She called out to her assistant to fill in the details in the record sheet in a matter of fact tone–
‘Pupil constriction- Yes
Vijayanand stared vacantly at the torch that was flashed at his face.
At exactly 4:00Pm in the afternoon, Shreya walked in as she had done over the last 7 years. She sat there holding his hand, and gently massaging his face. She combed his hair and dabbed on a bit of talcum powder on his wan face. She spent the rest of the hour talking and reading to him. She always hoped and prayed that he would recover one day, although she heard pronouncements to the contrary from the doctors and nurses who attended on him.
She sat there quite unaware that Vijay dreamed of her often. That he kissed her lips tenderly and recalled their moments in passion in his dreams. Or that he lived and relived the days and events that led up to that fateful day. She did not know that she and Aman were the only two inhabitants in his dreams. Had she known this, her tears of despair might have also been tears of joy.
The supine form in the bed shuddered and lapsed into an endless dream. Vijay looked at Aman and Shreya sitting at the table facing him. ‘Did you hear what the doctor said?’ he asked agitatedly. ‘Am I in a coma? Am I in a madhouse?’ ‘Vijay! You old delightful fool laughed Aman… You are hallucinating again!’
Aman smiled reassuringly, looking dapper, as ever in his white and white tennis gear ‘Why don’t we play a game?’ He asked picking up his raquet. ‘Shreya, why don’t you come and cheer us as always?’
Vijay slapped his shoulder and asked ‘Best of three as usual?’ Aman nodded and then asked, ‘By the way how is the speech coming along? Shreya smiled up at him in the sunlight, ‘You know Vijay, they are planning to make a film about us – about you and me and our love! Think about it! And guess what? We are playing the lead role!’ She shrieked in delight. ‘I don’t know about you, but I have to prepare my acceptance speech if I win the best actress award…’