Talking Heads

 

■ KHAIRUL NADIM CHOWDHURY

Tahir isn’t much of a people’s person. He is shy and doesn’t like to talk much – everything he isn’t supposed to be tonight. He is feeling a bit disoriented and whether it’s because of the medication the doctor gave him an hour ago or just the pressure of being on live television is hard to tell. “This is a nightmare!” he thought, as he sat jittering on the plastic chair – waiting to be called. He looked at the host for a second. He was standing next to the drapes, talking to himself, maybe practicing his lines. The orchestra on the other side of the curtains suddenly began to play. “It is show time!” the host said, quietly to himself. He quickly fixed his hair and jumped onto the stage.

 

“Thank you, everyone,” he said. “And welcome to ‘After hours’.”

 

“This is a nightmare!” Tahir said out loud, as he wiped his sweaty palms on his clothes.

 

“Before I welcome our first guest, I have to confess, I’m a bit nervous tonight.” The host said with a hand over his heart. “Oh, yes… I haven’t been this tense, since the first time I was on this show. It was a tough audience that night. I still remember. I was wearing my dad’s grey suit. It was my good luck charm!”

 

The crowd collectively went, “Aww”.

 

“Yeah,” he said. “But it did not work, though. I was eaten alive that night! Didn’t even get one honest laugh.” he jokingly added, as the whole crowd in front exploded into laughter. “And just like me on that day, it is our special guest’s first time on television as well. And seeing him tonight – all tensed up and sweaty – reminded me of my younger self and my first time on live television, so anyway, I just thought I should share this story with you guys.

 

“Our tonight’s special guest is a bestselling author, best known for his book ‘There was

 

blood – red and warm’. It’s a story about regret and failure and many more things. Please, welcome Tahir Sufyan, Ladies and Gentlemen. ”

 

The crowd stood up from their chairs and cheered for him, as he nervously walked to the other side of the curtains – trying restlessly to remember what walking in a straight line was. He shook the anchor’s hand and sat down on the brown leather chair in front. “Tahir, it’s a pleasure to have you here with us tonight.” The host ecstatically said to him. He tried to respond, but his gorge was dry as sand. So, he tensely replied, “It’s a pleasure to be here, sir!” and coughed a little.

 

“Oh! Call me Abed.” The host urged him. “So, Tahir,” he said, “tell us about this fascinating story you have written?”

 

He looked at the crowd for a brief moment and everyone was looking directly at him – he felt nervous – and so, he turned his glance to a copy of his book, sitting on top of the desk in front. “Well, Abed, it’s about a man,” he said, timidly. “It’s about a man, who has a horrific nightmare, through which we get to learn more about him, about who he is as a person.” “After reading this story I have to say, your mind goes to dark places, son.” the host playfully said. “But the most shocking part for me was to hear that, this whole story was written by a 19 year old. I instantly called my producers to get a hold of you. So, that I can pick your brain,” the anchor said.

 

“So, firstly I have to ask you this, are you a cynical man, Tahir?” the anchor curiously inquired.

 

“Aren’t we all?” he replied.

 

“That’s a fair point.” the anchor said.

 

“Is it auto-biographical, in anyway, then?” “In what way?” “What I mean is, as far as I have heard, you also had a near death experience, not unlike the protagonist of this story. So, I was wondering if it was loosely based on your experience. That’s all…” The host reluctantly said.

 

Tahir paused for a moment. And thought about what he said and replied “Every story is – consciously or unconsciously – autobiographical at some level. A story is like a writer’s dream. You imagine yourself in the character’s shoes. You ask yourself ‘what would I have done, if I was there?’ and that’s what makes the story tangible, you know what I mean? So, yes, it may have some similarities to my experience, but I consciously may not have put it in there.”

 

“Do you think that that traumatic event may have motivated you to write this story?” the host questioned.

 

“It’s funny.” he said. “I can’t even remember when I started to work on this story. I don’t remember anything about it, actually.”

 

The crowd laughed.

 

“Okay.” The host exclaimed. “What about the ending?” he asked. “The story just flies off the rails towards the end, in a good way.” The host said flippantly. “Because, before the ending it almost fells like a real life story,”

 

“The whole idea for the ending came to me, when I heard about his disorder, called ‘Parasomnia’, also

 

known as ‘Nightmare Disorder’.” he said. “People who are depressed or have experienced a major traumatic event usually have these. It is categorized, if you have recurrent dreams of being in dangerous situation or being declared a failure – things that properly get under your skin.”

 

“Well it’s funny that you brought that up, because I was going to ask you this,” The host said and asked him politely.

“Do you ever have nightmares?”

 

“Once,” Tahir said without hesitating, even for a moment. “But that was a long time ago.”

 

The anchor followed up the response with another question. “About what? If you don’t mind me asking.” he said.

 

“It was about my father. He passed away in an accident.” He said. “It only feels like yesterday… I saw him waiting for me at my university’s entrance. He came to pick me up that day. He usually didn’t, but he came that day – straight from work. I knew it was something important and he was dying to tell me, he was waiting for the right moment, I guess. And I remember we were on the bridge, talking. And the thing about dad was when he used to talk, to anyone – be it me or mom or anyone – he used to give his full, undivided attention to that person. And…” he sighed, as his voice broke. “The car just suddenly drifted out of lane and fell right into the river. My father didn’t make it.”

 

The studio was totally silent.

 

“He got a promotion that day, that’s what he wanted to tell me.” He said, as the host looked at him with a sad look. “I had nightmares about that day.”

 

“How long were you in the hospital?” the host asked. “You must have been badly injured.”

 

“I can’t remember.” “You can’t remember what?” “I can’t remember being in the hospital.” Tahir replied, flustered.

 

“How did I get here?” he asked, in a state of panic.

 

The anchor turned awkwardly towards the camera and said “It’s time for a commercial break.” – trying to change the topic. “We will be right back, please, stay with us.”

 

Tahir started to exhale loudly. “What is happening?” he kept saying over and over. The studio audience broke into a chatter, when suddenly a loud noise came from the studio speakers. Everyone covered their ears, as the unbearable noise kept on getting louder and louder. An indistinct voice started to come from it. The voice was saying something, but it was vague and unclear. And then the voice got clearer and the first word that came out of it was “Tahir!”

 

It was a women’s voice.

 

“Why is he breathing so fast, doctor?” it said.

 

“His pulse is rising, he’s going into shock.” A voice replied.

 

“Tahir!” the women’s voice called out.

 

“Mom?” Tahir exclaimed from his seat. It was his mother’s voice and it reeked of fear. “Son… No!”

 

she wept in a broken and a distressed tone. “Ma’am, please control yourself. It’s a miracle that he’s still alive. Let’s not make it anymore hard than it has to be. Please, leave the room.” A voice demanded.

 

Everyone in the crowd turned towards Tahir, they are all as confused as he is. Tahir looked at the anchor, who was sitting still, right next to him like a figurine of wood. Tahir gently pushed him to see if he was okay. The anchor didn’t move an inch, but his head, on the other hand detached from his neck and rolled down to the hardwood floor. Tahir’s skin crawled at the utter dreadfulness of the sight. He stared at the severed head, motionlessly, as blood sprayed out of the headless neck, like a faucet, and covered half of his face.

 

“What are you doing, lad? Pick it up,” an inarticulate voice yelled from the crowd.

 

He was confused and didn’t know what to do, so he did what they told him to. He slowly approached the head, one foot after the other, almost begging for it to be a prank – as the headless body that once used to belong to the anchor, started to shake violently, as if it was being electrocuted. It started to kick the ground again and again in an unsettling rhythm.

 

Tahir picked the head up, gently, as it bleed. A stream of blood went past his fingers. The blood was still warm and was deep red. He turned it around to see if it was real.

 

It was!

 

But it wasn’t the anchors head, it was his father’s. It was swollen and red. He stood there in utter disbelief, unable to move, unable to breath. The lips of the head started to move and in an indistinct tone, it whispered, “You killed me!”

 

The severed head instantly dropped from his hands, as a chill went swiftly down his spine and his whole body started to quiver uncontrollably, like he was having a seizure. He started to wipe the blood from his palms on his cloths, repeatedly, as a childish look of fright took over his entire face. It was then he realized that it was of no use as he was drenched in blood. He was silent, but his childish glance was moving rampantly from one corner of the crowd to the other. He was restlessly searching for someone to come and help him.

 

No one came.

 

Everyone just watched.

 

But someone started to emerge from the back of the studio. The spotlight light was shining directly from behind her. He couldn’t see her face clearly, but he knew it was a women. She held a handkerchief in her hand and had a ghostly walk.

 

She sat next to him – as he was sitting silently – and started to wipe his face. He turned his gaze towards her and realized, it was his mother.

 

She kept shaking her head – side to side – as if to say she was disappointed and at last she said aloud “The wrong person just died!”

 

He tried to say something, anything, but words didn’t seem to come out of his mouth. His mother handed him the handkerchief – covered in blood – and started to walk away.

 

“No, mother, please. Don’t leave me.” He cried, as his voice echoed throughout the halls like it was empty. He reached towards her and grabbed her hand. She pushed him away and he fell to the ground and instantly woke up.

He was in a hospital.

 

“Tahir, can you hear me?” the doctor asked, while pointing a tiny flashlight directly at his eyes. “Are you okay, son?”

Tahir was still trying to make sense of what just happened.

 

“There was blood, everywhere – red and warm. It felt real, so real…” he kept saying over and over.

Everyone in the room took breath of relief. They had saved a life…

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