February 28, 2017

Sohrab's Last Story

Anirban Sen




It was one sunny afternoon when Sohrab slit his wrist with the nib of his favourite pen that he discovered the colour of his blood was indigo blue, and not dark red like the colour of his handwriting.

The strangeness of this situation started to dawn on him, excruciatingly slowly, clearing itself through the thick fog of processing an impossible reality.

A sharp pain overtook his brain and swallowed him whole. His brain switched into military combat mode and immediately ordered a curfew on any kind of sense or feeling. Sohrab’s mind obeyed the command, and without hesitation, went numb.

He looked down at his notepad and noticed the blood-red colour of the letters of every word of the story he was writing. No two letters were alike and all differed in thickness and vitality. Some letters were thick dabs of paint that seemed deliberated upon and some letters were airier in their brushstrokes that made his prose nimble.

Each letter was a confident brushstroke that had been practiced to perfection over the years, and each stood out for itself in its own pride of existence and profound personal ambition. And yet as they journeyed through the page every letter stitched itself with the next one in a languid friendship to weave out a rich ornate design.

Two minutes into his numbness, he realized without thinking that, for once in his life, he wasn’t scanning through his writing and neither was he reading any words. Instead, he found himself staring at the most beautiful intricate design his handwriting had ever created. It looked like a work of outstanding artistry.

It occurred to him that the design had much more beauty and meaning than all the chapters and paragraphs in the story that he was writing. A few minutes later into his numbness, he understood that the design was a visual message sent to him across a vast distance. But that distance didn’t seem to measure itself in kilometers or miles.

He couldn’t decipher the message but he knew it was in his own handwriting, and therefore the message had to be from none other than himself.

And he remembered himself. He remembered his face in the mirror from a few minutes before, on that very afternoon just before he slashed his wrist.

He remembered being surprised how old he had grown. He realized now, all these years, even though he stood in front of the mirror every day, he had never really looked at himself. His faraway eyes were always lost in tunnels of thought, mining out words and stories, and his gaze always looked beyond his reflection and focused on an imaginary place where he actually lived. He would give his reflection just a cursory glance for a brief second as if to feel reassured that the man in the mirror was still himself. That’s how he marked his attendance of each day of his life.

He remembered the weather-beaten cheeks that were caving in gently and silently like giant tectonic plates. He remembered his wrinkles that dug themselves long canyons across his face from the sides of his eyes. They were like tributaries of a river but they travelled horizontally with the slow anguish of a poem written in a deep calligraphic handwriting. But the tributaries were dry and inkless, and he thought maybe it was because tears could only flow downwards.

And he remembered his eyes. The glint of his eyes was tender and kind, and yet it had a fiendishly sinister shine. That shine was the only clue that betrayed the existence of the deep and dark passages inside his brain that formed complex tunnels of thought, carefully excavated out of the fertile terrain of his mind. He explored these inky black labyrinths day and night with a flaming torch, and it was this light from the torch that made his eyes twinkle.

He searched tirelessly for strange and unusual adventures and plots of stories inside these tunnels that crisscrossed to form an endless maze. Some stories oozed out of him from the tip of his fingers through his handwriting that did eventually make him an accomplished author. Some stories were never documented and remained etched on the walls of the tunnels, delicious in their dark secrecy, far out of reach of time’s judgment.

The tunnels reminded Sohrab of his wrinkles.

His understood then, after a lifetime, that his face was a mirror. The wrinkles were a reflection of the labyrinths in his mind, perfect in in their imitation and profound in their wisdom, and they left behind trails that recorded in minute detail the journey of his life and kept it safe, deep inside their folds.

It was not his face anymore; the wrinkles had transformed his face into a notebook containing a thousand scribbled stories. Ten minutes into his numbness, it struck Sohrab that the wrinkles on his face were not a result of the decay of time. But they were someone’s handwriting.

Somebody had been writing on his face. He recalled his shriveled up face and recounted his wrinkles that mapped his face in deep gashes that looked like battle wounds. That afternoon, before deciding to take his life, he had really looked at himself for the first time after thirty years. He was unsure if he would recognize himself.

At first, his reflection was the face of a stranger he had never met. But he knew it was himself, not because he was looking into a mirror. He recognized himself because of the wrinkles that scarred his face. The lines narrated his life in meticulous detail and he recognized the story. It was his story.

The writing had no arrogant flair of a writer yet it was remarkably lucid in its language and heart wrenchingly poetic in its portrayal. The handwriting had no ink. But every chapter was visible, each page was numbered, and there was a sense of finality engraved in the tone that made Sohrab feel that the book was, at long last, ready to go into print.

There was also a sense of haunting embedded in the handwriting of his wrinkles. Cuneiform and hollow, the writing seemed to be an echo of ancient whispers; the memory of the wind that had painstakingly chiseled out the tales of his life in longhand.

In the tenderness of the handwriting, Sohrab detected love. Through the years the wrinkles had relentlessly carved out ravines and gorges across his face, but Sohrab realized he had never ever felt any jab of pain. The wrinkles were so gentle that even as they etched the stories, their touch was imperceptible and silent, and that rendered the handwriting invisible for years, even after they had started to show.

Our wrinkles are reminders of the approaching of our life’s final deadline. But that sunny afternoon Sohrab felt his wrinkles were not warnings but were handwritten letters of love. And they were written every day with a longing and a heart full of ache for countless years, and now they were finally ready to be posted.

Thirty minutes had passed and Sohrab’s numbness had begun to ebb. He began to feel immeasurably grateful for his life. The feeling came to him in waves from an endless ocean that was stretched itself to unfathomable distances.

He was still overwhelmed with the sense of gratitude when his numbness withered and died and he began to feel alive. His room came back into focus, the couch and the electric teapot, the smear of the coffee stain on the table, and he was suddenly acutely aware of that sharp pain in his wrist. His eyes travelled to the blood still gushing out of his fatal wound, and he smiled. It was the final stroke of his story in his own handwriting, and he felt a last sliver of pain from the wound that was ready to define him.

Forty-two minutes later, as the glint of his eyes began to fade with weariness, he heard the thud of the final full stop. Along with the sound he took his last breath, the last sigh of farewell as the ink ran out.

It was a moment after he was dead, when he deciphered his message to himself that was scrawled all over his notebook. All his life Sohrab had loved the stories he had created with the immensity of a parent. He remembered each of them from the time they were born, fresh in his own handwriting, borrowed from the underground labyrinths inside his head. Each of them was his labour of love, his signature that he would leave behind.

Then his face flashed for one last time. And he realized he had been wrong all his life.

As his face flashed for the last time, he noticed only his wrinkles. Some lines were deep and ambitious and some lines were just whispers but as they journeyed through his face, they crisscrossed each other and at times even stitched themselves with another line in a languid friendship to weave out a rich ornate design.

The design looked familiar. And then he knew. It was the exactly the same design on his notebook that he had first noticed before the dizziness took over.

It was then that he realized it was not him who had been writing his stories all his life. In fact, it was the opposite. All through his life it was his stories that were writing him.

His face was now serene and calm, and his indigo blue blood was wet and fresh, much like the ink of his handwriting right after he had completed a story. He looked like a work of outstanding artistry.

He looked ready to be published.

About the Author: Anirban Sen likes Jim Beam at the end of the day. Before that time comes, he does what he does well – advertising. He has a Cannes for Happydent. He enjoys traveling, scouring forests and trekking on mountains. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, while with Jim Beam, he writes stories.