Stay Away from Home
By: Padmini Krishnan
I clutched my head as the headache spread from my forehead to the back of my head. I looked up to see Cynthia standing at the edge of my table. She chewed her nails, "Marc, I have uploaded my storyboard." Did her legs shake a little? "I will look into it," I said, resisting the urge to laugh. Why was she so nervous when she was so good at her job? My left hand felt numb on my desk and I remembered my visit to the doctor.
"Marc?" It was Rusty.
"Yes, Rusty. I will look into your storyboard now."
Rusty looked confused, "What was that? I came to remind you of the meeting."
As I got up, I felt the numbness spread through my waist and my left leg.
"Which storyboard were you talking about?" Rusty asked anxiously. He never let go of anything.
"Sorry, I was thinking of my chat with Cynthia."
At the meeting, our project manager emphasized the importance of the Litmus University project.
"It is probably going to be one of the last universities in the world. So, we will be going down the history too, with our expert e-learning courseware. Marc, have you analyzed...? Marc, are you alright?" I felt the side of my head going numb as perspiration soaked my shirt. "Can you excuse me a moment? I think I need fresh air." Cynthia looked at me with fear as I walked out. I gave in to my impulse and laughed aloud as I stood in the corridor. Did she think all of us were going to live forever? The world population was currently 50 lacs and shrinking. I had already peeked into the doctor's message as we sat down for a meeting. He had confirmed that I had a brain tumor. The maple branches directed the wild breeze to my face, and I began to feel calm. After all, we should all go one day. If I would only be allowed to go in peace. Just then, my cellphone buzzed with urgency. "Marc, this is Rina, the condominium secretary. Your unit is flooded with water. There is some malfunction in one of your machines. Thankfully, it didn't spread to the other houses." My legs went cold with fear; the home appliances had begun their job. What of Shimmer, my cat? I hope she had crept out of the window. After a quick leave of absence, I rushed home. My neighbor held Shimmer in her arms and looked at me with concern. Shimmer jumped to me, meowing softly. Each room was flooded with water.
My washing machine had malfunctioned to such an extent that it had flooded the house for over 2 hours. I told the servicemen that I had not used the washing machine for the past two days. They looked at each other for a few seconds, shrugged, and walked away.
I sat on the bed with Shimmer, watching the rooms slowly drying up. I shivered for I knew now that my countdown had begun. The appliances always sped things for those diagnosed with life-threatening diseases. The worst thing was that the pets were always taken with their owners. My aunt, Mina, said that these ‘incidents' had begun in 2040 which was almost 70 years ago. Aunt Mina passed away recently due to an AC machine electrocuting her in a private hospital. Her two dogs were found with her. I wondered how they ended up with her on that fateful day as she had put them in a pet shelter before getting admitted to the hospital. I pulled the blanket closer and Shimmer jumped to me as though she wanted to keep me warm. I would ask Rusty tomorrow if he would adopt Shimmer as his third cat.
Now everyone in my team knew what I was facing. All of them had at least two family members who had been taken away by the machines. A couple of nights after the washing machine incident, I had settled for the night when I heard the whistle of a pressure cooker. It was almost 12 in the night. Who was cooking at this time? By the time I realized the noise was coming from my kitchen, the whistles had become persistent. The cooker burst just when I reached my kitchen. The weight narrowly missed me and there was rice sticking on the walls of my kitchen. Shimmer stood at the kitchen entrance, looking at me with wild eyes.
"Are you sure you didn't turn on the cooker by mistake?" Cynthia asked me the next day in the cafeteria. I was sipping my tea with Cynthia, Rusty, and Linda, our Graphic Designer.
Exhausted, I rubbed my eyes. The medications made me feel drowsy. "I had dinner with you and Rusty, remember? I reached home by 11:30 and was just about to sleep when ‘this' happened."
Rusty was unusually quiet as he stirred his hot tea, which had probably turned cold by now.
He raised his head and looked at me, "Will you give Shimmer to me? I will take care of her."
"Thank you so much, Rusty. I was going to ask you this."
"I don't know how people stand cats or have them as pets. They are the most ungrateful creatures ever." Linda exploded, all of a sudden.
I opened my mouth to retort but swallowed my words. She probably had some bad experiences with cats. To think that I had a crush on her a couple of years back. I was glad now that I did not express my feelings to her. We would have never got along.
After the recess, my Project Manager asked me about my suggestions for my ‘successor'. Though I tried to be calm, my heartfelt like ice. It looked like everyone had decided that I was going and had begun to make plans for my aftermath. I suggested Cynthia's name. She had the skills; I hoped that leadership and authority would give her confidence.
I began to feel that my house was a dangerous place. It was as though the appliances were always on the lookout, waiting for their chance. Therefore, I asked Rusty to come over to a park and passed Shimmer to him. I foolishly hoped the machines would not follow me to the park and find out that Shimmer was with Rusty.
That evening, a government official, Ms. Tan, came to visit me. She opened her laptop.
"Marc, what exactly is the nature of your tumor? What did the doctor say?"
"Grade 4." Ms. Tan nodded, slowly, as if she knew about brain tumors.
I continued, "They have fixed my surgery for next week."
"I am so sorry about your condition. Are you well enough to stay at home or do you want to move to a hospital?"
I did not tell her about the seizure I had yesterday. "I am well enough to stay at home."
"In that case, I suggest you disconnect all the home appliances."
I watched as the maintenance men took the washing machine, television, ceiling fan, and refrigerator away. They also uninstalled the kitchen wires.
"Please eat out until your surgery. Don't try to cook." Ms. Tan said compassionately. "And don't take your car; walk to the food court nearby."
Thank God the government was with us, helping us all the way. But I remembered what my Aunt Mina had said, "They are disgusting liars. They are with the machines all the way."
The next morning, I was too exhausted to wake up. After lunch in a food court nearby, I dozed again. I woke up to a strange smell of gas leakage but felt too numb to move. I turned my head to look at my mobile. There was a message from Rusty, "I can't find Shimmer. Has she come over to your place?"
I felt a seizure threatening me again as the smell turned uncomfortable and a furry body brushed my own.
PS: I am writing this as I am floating up with Shimmer. I looked down to see that Rusty missed Shimmer more than me. Apparently, Linda had a crush on me too; I laughed at this. Ms. Tan deleted my data from her laptop, a smile on her face. What an actress! My aunt was right about the government. The home appliances were managed by the government and began conspiring together as soon as they entered a house. I did not care why they were all conspiring and the ultimate results they wanted to achieve. All that mattered was I felt calm and was going somewhere peaceful, my best friend at my side.