Shaurya Arya-Kanojia is the author of the novella, End of the Rope. He likes sports (cricket, mostly), eating out, and watching reruns of The Office and Everybody Loves Raymond. His social media handles include @shauryaticks (Twitter) and @main.hoon.ek.sharara (Instagram), and more about him can be found at https://www.shauryaak.com/
Irony in Red
Whoever said “Fear is our greatest enemy” certainly knew what they were talking about.
And, today, I learned the gravity of the statement. First hand.
I was returning from my evening walk. The sky overhead was clear. A coat of sweat plastered my t-shirt to my back. The humidity was oppressive. On my way, I thought to swing by the supermarket to buy our weekly quota of groceries. My wife and I had decided that getting our stock of items per week, than per month, was more prudent. I entered the mart, being welcomed by a blast of air-conditioned air. The relief was indescribable. The man standing guard at the gate saluted to me, and I returned the gesture with a nod of the head and a smile. The attendant, a nervous man in his early 20s, approached me and asked if I needed any assistance.
I politely told him I would manage. This elicited a slight frown on his face, which he attempted to quickly conceal. Browsing through the collection of milk shakes – which I always look through first, being the closest section from the gate, before heading towards toiletries or the produce section – I reached for the label bearing the prices. It was slightly folded at the corners, and, when I started to straighten them, my finger felt a prick. I momentarily took my hand away. The assistant perhaps saw this. From the corner of my eye, I saw him approaching. I turned to him, smiled once; which told him I was okay. I squeezed the point on my finger which had been pricked, and, sure enough, a bead of blood materialised.
I have gone through two major surgeries in my life. The first was when, in elementary school, I was run over by a car speeding along an alleyway I was running across with my friends. Don’t ask me why I was doing that. Kids often mistake stupidity for fun, and that was one such moment. The second one was years later. I got into a fight with one of my friends, and the matter escalated too quickly. Let’s just call it a misunderstanding, which soon turned into a fistfight; leading me on the receiving end of the metal chair being smashed into my knee. I cried – no, wailed – and was taken to the clinic. The school doctor took me to the hospital, from where my parents were called.
Despite these surgeries, the sight of that redness, not more than a pinhead, sent a current of something hot – fear, being my logical guess – through me. Even though the air conditioner was on full blast, sweat broke out on my forehead.
It took me the next twenty minutes to collect all the necessary items in my cart, walk up to the checkout counter, pay the attendant in cash (I had to dig into my wallet for change, which took a few extra seconds), and walk out of the store. The man standing guard saluted once again, and, as the last time, I gave him a smile on my way out. However, these twenty minutes had gone by in a blur. Picking up my milkshakes, laundry detergent, chips, flour and rice, and vegetables, I knew what I was taking; and, yet, it felt someone else was driving the steering wheel of my movements. Stepping out of the store, I realised I had picked two five-kilogram bags of rice; as compared to our usual purchase of one. I didn’t even stop to respond to the cashier’s greeting, “How are you today, sir?”
Why? Because fear was driving my thoughts. Fear of… that prick on my finger. Images of people, their bodies stiff, came to my mind. I had seen such pictures on the Internet, that which is the treasure chest of information for anything. I stopped as I stepped off the last stair outside the store leading to the sidewalk, and stared into my finger. Clearly, the prick hadn’t gone deep. Any sign of blood had vanished. No matter that it was dark by now (I wondered how many hours I had spent in there), I couldn’t see a discernible mark on my finger. Relax, my mind told me. People in kitchens, in farms, in industries get cuts all the time. Yours is not even qualified to be called a cut, for crying out loud!
The argument made sense. But did that calm my overthinking mind, which had wound itself into a tight little knot of fear?
You had a tetanus shot last month, the rational part of my mind butted in again. You’ll live.
And, yet, there was no stopping my head, overzealously producing images… images of…
“Excuse me?” someone called from behind me, breaking me out of my reverie. I let them pass; feeling a weight come over my shoulders. It was fear; maybe not illogical but definitely not a mountain I couldn’t climb over. And this fear was starting to eat at me.
I started towards the sidewalk to cross the road and get to the other side. Further down are the gates to my colony. I was in the middle of the road when the cool evening breeze, betraying the summer heat, rushed over me. My eyes were down, my mind still working through the fear of… dying from that prick; asking myself why I couldn’t have been more careful.
Maybe I was exaggerating in thinking that I could die. But that is what fear does to you, doesn’t it?
“Fear is our greatest enemy.”
I was a few steps away from getting to the other side, when a truck came bearing down from up the road. It crossed the distance from the bend further up to where I was in an extremely short span of time, and before I could cross the road successfully…