And then he exploded. He could not explain what had just happened. He was jolted awake by a loud noise, as was his partner who was lying beside him. At first he thought he was dead, and that he was beginning his swift introduction to the afterlife. But he could see her crawling away in shock, screaming in fear, covered almost entirely in his blood and bits of his skull and brain. He could hear her cats in the other room howling in fear, for they too had been startled by the explosion.
He was able to perceive the present, and even contemplate it. And that was when he knew that he could not be dead. He was acutely aware that he was now a headless torso, for only his head had exploded, leaving the rest of him intact. But then how was he able to see and hear and think? Was that being delegated to some other part of his body? Did some other part of his body magically step up in a time of crisis to fill in the role that his head had abdicated?
He could not make head or tail of it, and he was growing tired of the feeling for he seemed to understand less and less as time passed on. He knew that he wasn’t dead, and he decided that he must make her aware of that fact. For he had realised only then that she had not stopped screaming since the explosion. He could see her tears streak through the blood on her face, and he had never seen her eyes so wide or her mouth so wide open. He could count her back teeth, something which he had never really thought about.
“Her teeth are remarkably clean, not minding the blood and bits of brain. Maybe I should brush as thoroughly as she does. I wonder if I’ll ever get to do that again.”
He began to think of all the things he would not be able to do anymore: washing his hair, wearing his spectacles, and how on earth was he going to eat? Thoughts like this began to pass his mind and occupied him, before his de facto ‘brain’ gave him a sharp nudge. And then as he tried to tell her once again that he was indeed alive, he was distracted by her widening pupils. It was only then that he became fully aware of just how much it looked like an actual hole. He felt himself becoming aware of its curvature and its depth, and he found it slightly disconcerting that the human head had two tiny holes in one of its most vulnerable and well exposed parts. Surely this was not a very smart design?
His de facto “brain” nudged him sharply once more to veer away from these useless tangents, and to reach out a comforting hand to her. And as he tried to do this, he realised that he was not in control of his motor skills. He could feel his arms and legs, in fact he could feel every part of his body, but he could not move any of it. Maybe this was the limitation of his de facto “brain”. Maybe all his other limbs were protesting against it. After all, wasn’t it just some overambitious limb that took advantage of the chaos and decided to wear the crown itself? Maybe his other limbs weren’t party to this usurping of power, and this was their protest. Is there any way he could get them to cooperate?
And yet again he lost himself in this swirling vortex of thoughts, as he lay there as a headless corpse, and she lay there beside him sobbing. When she had collected herself, with trembling hands, she tried to poke and prod and shake him into awakening. And when he didn’t respond, in her desperation she grabbed his shoulders and only shook him harder as she continued to sob.
He wished that he could tell her he was alive, but he had no idea how to do that. In fact, he didn’t even know how he was still alive and perceiving this whole scene as it unfolded in front of him.
He decided to try and uncover the reason for the explosion. That should give him a clue about how it happened and how he could reverse it. And besides, there was nothing else that he could do. Rational thought had never been so crucial as he began to recall the moments prior to the explosion.
He began recalling his thoughts and emotions with an incredible clarity that surprised him. He could feel his thoughts emerging from behind his heart. Then in a sudden flash of enlightenment, he learnt that his de facto “brain” was nothing but his subconscious. He had always believed his subconscious to exist in the dark space behind his heart. It seemed that his subconscious had taken the reins in the absence of his consciousness. He grew excited at the chance of conversing with his subconscious.
“Fine job you are doing in place of my brain, I must say. Maybe a little lacking in motor skills, but a fine job on keeping the ship running.”
“Some nerve you have, to sound surprised.”
“That wasn’t my intention, I do apologize –”
“To hell with that. Look at your dreams. We do a fine job, better than your consciousness at least. What a wreck. Maybe he had enough and that’s why he exploded. ”
“What do you know about that?”
“None of our business.”
“Listen you have no cause to be curt with me. I didn’t mean to offend, and I have apologised for that. And while we’re on the subject of dreams, can you tone it down a bit? Sometimes I think you have a sick sense of humor.”
“Are you telling us how to do our jobs?”
“No I –”
“We’re growing tired of this. We’re very proud of the job we do. What do you know about an original production? What do you know about art? We don’t serve you, we don’t serve anybody. Our purpose is the art itself. You won’t get it. And that sick sense of humor is your real sense of humour. We didn’t come up with that shit. That’s on you.”
“And I take full responsibility. I must ask though, is there more than one of you down there?”
“Didn’t you know that already?”
He didn’t. He was starting to feel flustered. Not only was this conversation going no place useful, it was beginning to go to places better left unexplored. He then decided to be more direct in his approach.
“Is this a dream?”
“It is an insult to ask. It would be a bigger insult to answer. Let's get back to the job at hand?”
“Figuring out what happened. Let’s get on with it? The woman still thinks you are dead.”
“Oh yes, indeed.”
And after that prickly conversation, he heard no further from his subconscious. It would seem that they hadn’t taken his offences to heart, for they worked with him without demur as he cast his mind back on the events preceding his explosion.
He could feel the warmth that coursed his body, the easy comfort and happiness that he always felt in her presence. He had not felt anything that he hadn’t felt before, it was love: the same bliss, the same electricity of her touch, the same joyous riot of emotions that she inspired. Certainly nothing that should have caused an explosion. And yet it had.
Perhaps what he had felt in those moments had been stronger than what he had felt in the past, but did that merit an explosion? Even now the feeling of having her skin against his, the feeling of her wavy hair against his fingers, which he had grown so accustomed to, made his heart leap in its place and his subconscious grumble. But then why did his head explode and not his heart?
For a moment after the explosion he had panicked because he thought he had lost her forever, without even having had the chance to say goodbye. It would have hurt him immeasurably, to not have had that moment to look into her eyes and say goodbye. But what would he even have said? How do you say farewell to someone you love?
Now that he was sure he was alive, these questions didn’t perturb him as much and he was calm. For he knew that it was only a matter of time before he found a way to tell her that he was alive. And while it was painful for him to see her in tears, clutching his supposedly lifeless body, he was not very emotional as he felt that he had a stronger grip on reality than she did. She had stopped shaking him and calling his name, and now seemed close to fainting. He thought that she could’ve called somebody, a hospital or an ambulance. But he couldn’t blame her, after all she was not privy to his thoughts and discoveries.
And just as abruptly as the explosion, his subconscious retreated to the depths behind his heart and he could not communicate with it anymore, he felt himself capable of moving his arms and legs, and he was pleased to find himself in the possession of his head once more. He jerked himself into movement, and she squealed in fright. He ran his fingers over his face and found that it was clean, but the rest of his body was covered in pieces of his skull and his gooey brain. The bed was drenched in blood, and it had percolated through the mattress and was dripping onto the floor. The walls looked like a Jackson Pollock painting; only it was painted red and yellow and black. He looked at her and she seemed to be covered in the same colours, and he could see the pieces of his skull in her matted hair. She had leapt away in fright, and beheld him with a mixture of curiosity and fear.
“Is that really you?”
“What just happened? Is that really you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your head explodes, and moments later it is there intact, as if this were some sort of cartoon. Is this real? Say something to prove it is really you.”
Her voice was almost hysterical; she had not signed up for this experience. And while he was conversing with his subconscious, reposed in the confidence of life, she was convinced that he was dead. And she did not know what to do, for what use is an ambulance or a hospital when the body has no head?
“Tell me something only you would know.”
She said it a little louder this time, to try and draw his attention to her. But her words had shaken his grip on reality, and there was only one question that readily came to his head to affirm reality.
“What’s the time?”
With incredulity etched on her face, she looked into his eyes for a whole minute, and then sighed and got off the bed and slowly walked towards the bathroom.
“Hey where are you going? At least tell me the time? Is it 3:40?”
As the bathroom door slowly swung shut, he decided to find out for himself. He gingerly got off the bed, and checked his wristwatch which was on her desk in the corner of the room. It was 3:34. He was pretty close.
“Let me go get the mop and the rags then.”
“Don’t spread the mess.”
Her voice had regained some of its strength, even though she hadn’t the slightest clue what to make of the last few minutes.
They started cleaning the room.
“I think we need to throw away this mattress.”
“How do you know this is all not a dream?”
“I asked, and my subconscious said no.”
She shook her head once more, and they spent the rest of the day cleaning the room.
When he is not earning a living, Abhishek Baskar finds solace in books and cinema, emotional turmoil in football and other sports, joy in writing, great satisfaction in reading the newspaper, and enlightenment in comic strips like Calvin & Hobbes and Peanuts.