For our one-year anniversary, my boyfriend gave me a necklace as a gift. For the two and a half weeks that followed, strange things had been happening to me. I began hearing the disembodied voice of a man saying my name. I also started to see things, just catching movement out of the corner of my eye. Then, there was the night I saw a figure crouching in the corner of the living room as I drank myself to sleep and passed out on the couch (can you blame me?). Things escalated pretty quickly, and I actually ran out of my house in my bathrobe on the day that the voice started singing along to a song I was humming while I was in the shower. Of course, that was before I noticed the name, AMAN, written in the steam on the mirror of the medicine cabinet when I tried to confront the presence and ask him who he was.
My boyfriend managed to catch me before I drove off in my frantic state of mind, and convinced me to go back into the house with him while he checked it for an intruder. Of course, he didn’t find anyone and when I tried to explain how I thought it was all connected to the necklace somehow, he dismissed the whole thing. He cleaned me up and calmed me down, then persuaded me to take a nap with him. He promised he would stay with me and be right next to me when I woke up, but that turned out to be a lie.
He broke a lot of promises that night.
The one he broke that hurt the most was the promise of sobriety when he woke me up that night by banging on my front door, completely drunk. He ended up grabbing the necklace and dragging me across the front lawn and into the car with him. He wanted to take a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Mumbai with me, to visit the place where he had gotten the necklace and find out more about it.
While we were on the freeway, the radio started playing by itself, and we couldn’t shut the damn thing off. We grew more frantic as the music progressively got louder, and we ended up getting into a car accident and landing ourselves in the hospital, where I woke up two days later and received an unexpected visit from Tirth’s mother. As it turned out, Tirth didn’t buy the necklace at all, he had stolen it from his mother, Nandini, who lived in Mumbai. Also, the necklace wasn’t just any necklace. It was a memorial necklace, containing some of the ashes of Tirth’s deceased older brother, AMAN, who he didn’t even know he had. Apparently, when Tirth’s father died in a car accident before Tirth was even born, he wasn’t alone in the car.
“He wasn’t alone,” Nandini repeated, as she walked back over to the chair beside my hospital bed and sat down.
“What happened?” I asked, eager to know the truth.
“I haven’t even told any of this to Tirth,” she cried, grabbing another fist full of tissue out of the box I was holding.
“If I tell you, you have to promise me you won’t tell him. I need him to hear it from me.”
“I won’t,” I promised. “Please, tell me! I need to know what is going on.”
Nandini took a deep breath, then put the necklace on and closed her eyes.
“I was 18 years old when Devansh and I discovered I was pregnant with AMAN. I had him at 19, and Devansh and I got married.” She wrapped her hand around the necklace and smiled. “He was the center of our whole world.”
I grabbed some tissues and blew my nose. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“It was the night of AMAN’s 21st birthday,” Nandini continued, “He had come home for that weekend to spend it with us. At the time, I didn’t drink. My husband wanted to take AMAN out and celebrate with him. Devansh swore he was only going to have one drink so he wouldn’t be too out of shape to drive home. Well, things got out of hand. They were gone for a long time, and I ended up falling asleep on the couch, waiting for them.”
It was her turn to grab a tissue from the box.
“That night, there was a storm. Nothing spectacular or anything, but the winds were strong enough to bring a tree branch down, right on our power lines. Devansh knew he messed up and drank a bit too much to trust himself behind the wheel, so he and AMAN tried to call me from a payphone outside of the bar to come and pick them up. Of course, they couldn’t get through to me because our lines were dead. So, Devansh decided to risk it. He knew he was less intoxicated than AMAN so he would be the safer choice behind the wheel.” Nandini sighed, then stared longingly at the clock on the wall.
“I wish I could go back in time and stop them from ever leaving the house that night. Of course, I had no way of knowing that neither of them would ever return.”
“Oh, I didn’t even find out I was pregnant with Tirth until a week after the funerals. I thought the nausea and morning sickness were just symptoms of my grief. It was Devansh’s brother, Roy, who suggested I go to the doctor and be tested.” Nandini grabbed another fist full of tissue. “I tried so hard. I just didn’t have it in me anymore. I was nearly 37 by the time Tirth was born, and I was so tired. I was exhausted from grieving and the pregnancy. I didn’t plan to have another child. To be honest, had Devansh lived, I’m not sure I would have kept the baby. But with both of them gone, I felt obligated to hold on to the one piece of my family that I had left. Devansh had wanted to name AMAN after his childhood best friend, Tirth, who had passed away overseas, but I didn’t like the name at the time. But when Tirth was born, I honored Devansh by naming our second son Tirth Devansh, even though he would never get the chance to meet him.”
Nandini started sobbing into her hands.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t even know what to say.”
“And the worst part was, the older Tirth got, the more and more he started looking like AMAN. I fell into a horrible depression and by the time he was five years old, I couldn’t handle it. I turned to the bottle as a way of trying to cope. But then I couldn’t seem to put it back down. The next seven or eight years are just a blur. I was consumed by the one thing that took my husband and first son away from me. And then, because of it, Tirth was taken away from me, too. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry-“
“AMAN was in the car with us that night,” I interrupted.
“It was AMAN,” I repeated, “AMAN fucked with the radio. It was the radio that distracted me from putting on my seatbelt. AMAN saved my life, but also caused the collision. I think Tirth saw him in the back seat, through the rearview mirror. That is what distracted him and caused him to lose control of the car.”
“I-I believe you,” Nandini cried, “I’ve been seeing AMAN for years. For years, and then this necklace came up missing, and he went with it.”
She unfastened the necklace and took it off to examine it, as if seeing it for the first time.
“I scattered the rest of AMAN in a lake near our home in Pune, by his request. His father was buried in the town cemetery. After the accident and finding out I was pregnant, I moved to Mumbai to be closer to my own family. This necklace, what’s inside of it, is all I have left of AMAN.”
Nandini and I sat in silence for a few minutes, just staring at the damn necklace, and trying to understand everything that had been happening. It was a lot to take it. It was then that my mother returned with a bag of takeout under her arm. Nandini excused herself when my mother tried to offer her some food and left the room.
Three days later, a nurse came into my room with a wheelchair.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
The nurse smiled and helped me move off of the bed and into the chair.
“It’s Tirth,” she said, “He’s awake, and he asked to see you.”
“HE’S AWAKE? Is he okay?”
The nurse laughed. “He’s been awake for about an hour. He’s a little groggy, but we ran some tests and he appears to be okay. He’s a little loopy from the medication, so don’t be alarmed.”
The nurse wheeled me down the hall, and around the corner to the room at the end. My heart was racing as we entered the room, but nearly stopped when I caught a glimpse of his mother, sitting in the chair on the other side of the room, staring at the floor as if she were in some state of shock. Something was very, very wrong.
The nurse at Tirth’s side smiled at me, “You must be Tirth’s girl!”
My nurse wheeled me to the other side of Tirth’s bed.
Tirth turned his head toward me and smiled weakly. He looked just fine. Highly-medicated, and in a cast, but overall, he looked fine. I eased myself up out of my chair, and leaned over him slowly, attempting to be cautious of my bruised ribs. He stared at me with those bright blue eyes. I took his hand and pulled it toward my mouth and kissed it, no longer able to fight back the tears. I was so glad he was okay. We both just stayed still, staring at each other for a moment. For one stitch in time, everything felt like it was going to be okay.
But then, he spoke.
“Anjaliiiiiiiiiii,” He whispered, in an eerily familiar voice. A voice that didn’t sound like Tirth at all.
“A-AMAN?” I choked.
I quickly pulled my hand away from his and noticed for the first time that he had been holding the necklace.
He grabbed a chunk of my hair and pulled me close to his face.
“You know, I wish… that I had… Tirth’s girl,” he sang softly into my ear.
“LET GO!” I screamed.
“Where can I find a woman like that?”
The nurses ran to my side of the bed and pulled me away from him.
“I’m so sorry sweetheart, he is heavily medicated right now! Maybe you should come back later.”
He winked at me as my nurse helped me back into my wheelchair and quickly wheeled me to the door. I stared in wide-eyed horror as his mother, who was still sitting in the chair and staring at the floor, as I exited the room.
It has been a week since my mother and Tirth’s uncle Rohit had me admitted here. I finally got to leave one hospital, only to be hauled off to another one. Of course, this one is for broken minds rather than broken bones.
I guess I finally snapped after Tirth’s mother threw herself off of the roof of the hospital, that day after I went to see Tirth. She knew the truth. She heard the same voice that I did, coming from Tirth. She knew it wasn’t Tirth.
I wish she was here with me. She is the only one who understands. My therapist gave me this journal and asked me to write in it. He said I could write about anything I wanted. Well, I figured the truth was a good place to start.
I know they won’t believe me. Nobody believes me.
I don’t even care anymore.
I just wish I could get that fucking song out of my head…
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