The Sound of Silence

He woke up with a start. The room was hazy to him. He couldn’t see very far, and his nose felt blocked with some kind of dust. The smell that was not there before but always there now, was intense in this room. Carl walked to the end of the now familiar room. This was the room that Mama and Papa took him to, whenever there was the loud sound that he couldn’t bear. He hated that sound because it meant he had to stop playing, or doing whatever he was doing on the streets and run home, from where Papa would carry him on his shoulders to the room that he was currently in. He was surprised to be in the room. He also wondered why no one else was in the room. Whenever they would come here, it would not just be them. The neighbor that Mama didn’t like to look at, but smiled when she appeared to ask for coffee or chocolate or tobacco, came there too. So did the mothers of his friends Anatoly and Boris, and his friends themselves. He didn’t like Anatoly’s mom. She’d often complain to his mom that he was being mischievous and being a bad influence, when all he did was take fruit from a tree that he once discovered. The tree had been his own discovery, like how the Fury had discovered the Germany that they were living in, the Germany of the best people in the world. He took pride in understanding this, because the other boys of his age in his class couldn’t get it when Mr. Vasily talked about the Fury. When he grew big, he was going to become the Fury’s confidant. That would mean that the Fury would tell him all his plans and ask him to do great things, and he would.

As he walked out of the room, he noticed that this was a dream where everything was similar to the world that he lived in. He must have come into the future, like in some of those books those evil kids in his class talked in whispers about.  If you came across them, you were not supposed to talk to them. Mama said they were evil because they read books that kids should not read.  But he could not help it as he was seated in front of them in class, and they were whispering about books that should not be read. There were grey flakes of snow that were falling down on to the streets. Wanting to see if his favorite park was in the dream too, he ran to the end of the road. He knew the park would be there because it was his dream. He found the park, enveloped in beautiful gray snow, the same as everything else. And because it was his dream, there was no one else playing there either. He thought his friends would be there but he couldn’t find them. He ran to the Ferris wheel that he was not supposed to climb. The man who looked scary wasn’t there either. But he knew the routine. He’d watched longingly from afar too many times. He knew there was a switchboard beside the gate where the scary man took the money. He also knew that, by pressing the little white button, the wheel would go around once and stop. All he had to do was make sure that he was on the lowermost carriage when it stopped. Simple and easy. He never understood why everyone made such a fuss about it. It must be one of those small things that elders worried about. Like him sleepwalking. He used to do that a lot. It had been three days since he last did that though. He was becoming a big boy, he thought. He went and pressed the white button at the middle of two other buttons, one red and one green. The wheel noiselessly started moving, very slowly coming to life like in the TV, only as though it was on mute. He ran towards the wheel, giddy with excitement. He hopped into the first carriage that started moving, because, of course, that would be where it stopped. It wasn’t a very big Ferris Wheel. At least not as big as the one Papa showed him when they went to Moscow. He had been on this wheel only twice in his life. Every time he asked Papa for one more ride, Papa would promise he’d have it later, when everything was peaceful. He never understood why Papa kept talking about peace. He knew that peace meant happiness and he was happy enough, as long as he was with his Mama and Papa. He could have chocolates once a month along with Anatoly and Boris and play on the street. This was how it was as long as he remembered it. And today was more peaceful than ever. But this was only a dream.

As the wheel rotated and his carriage went higher and higher, he was overcome by a sort of fear. He was a kid too, though he would be the Fury’s confidant one day. He was however, not as scared as Anatoly was when they boarded the Ferris wheel together. Anatoly had screamed and screamed till the operator stopped the wheel to get him off. Carl gripped the steel bars that surrounded his seat, his knuckles very white. He tried to look brave. Mr. Vasily always told them that the Fury was the bravest person alive. And they too, should be like him. He looked around in an extremely grown-up manner. He saw that there was a small light in the east where the sun was coming up. He had watched the sun rise with Papa every morning before he went to school. But today, something seemed to be different in this dream. Papa’s deep reassuring voice wasn’t there. But that was because it was his dream, and Papa had no right to be in it. He never went into Papa’s dreams anyway. He also noticed that all the birds whose music he heard in the morning went away in the dream. They too were not allowed in his dream, he supposed. He stopped worrying about the birds and looked around more. The ride was going to end and he had no wish to go again, alone. Going alone was no fun, he realized. Without Anatoly screaming and his Mama looking reassuringly at him while he bravely sat in the wheel, the ride was not the same. And to be honest with himself, even he, the future confidant of the Fury, was getting just a little scared. He looked around a little more, look towards where he thought his home should be.

Someone had played with his street as if they were not in a very good mood. When he was very little, he remembered Papa getting really angry. He had thrown things around saying that Hitler, whoever he was, would kill them all. That evening, the living room didn’t look the same. It was the same with the street. It was as if a very bad big adult did not like the houses and threw them here and there. He saw the weather cock which used to stand on the top of his house, thrown at the end of the street, where it was not supposed to be. He also thought that the blue tiles which he regularly saw on Anatoly’s home were nowhere to be found. Instead, there was a great big hole where they used to be. He did not understand why the houses were like that in his dream. He never played with all those houses. He was a very good boy. He didn’t play all that much. Even when he did, he took great care not to hurt the little kids that were running in the streets. He would never think of doing something like this. He was more than a little scared now. He started to wonder if it really was a dream. He didn’t remember how he came to the room that he woke up in. He could easily have sleepwalked there in the middle of the night and not known about it. He wanted to go back to his house and clutch Papa and sleep like the days when it was very dark and they had to turn off all the lights, because the monsters above were not supposed to see them. He wanted to get down as soon as possible. He closed his eyes and stubbornly wiped away the tears that were beginning to flow down his cheeks. As the Ferris wheel started slowing down, he realized that it did not make any sound. It was supposed to puff and grunt like an old man before it stopped. This was a very stupid dream indeed. What if it was not? No, it was definitely a dream. He would have heard the birds and the Ferris Wheel if it was not. When he woke up in the morning, he would tell Papa about this dream and it would go away. The Ferris wheel came to a stop. He jumped out of the little cabin of the Ferris wheel, now crying hard. He could not even hear himself crying. “What a stupid dream”, he thought. “What a stupid stupid dream.” He ran down the road he came. He wanted to go back to his house but, of course, the big angry man had broken it all and threw it away. He was very angry at the man who did all this. What right did he have to come into his dream and throw his house away? Who was he to decide how his house should be? He had heard of the monsters in the sky doing things like these. But it probably was not the monsters. If it was really the monsters, he’d be in the real life and he’d have heard them come.

Tears rolling down his cheeks, he started gasping for breath. He felt like someone had punched him in the gut. Not knowing where to go, he started running for the room where everyone went when the big loud noise was heard. His chest started burning as if he had run for a very long time, only that he hadn’t. And it was different too, it was as if someone was pushing red hot irons that he saw at the smith’s place into his chest.  It did not hurt so much when the bully of his class, Adrian punched him a lot and he cried all day with blood pouring from his nose. He reached the house and stopped running. He walked to the staircase that led down to the room that he woke up in. The pain was a little less now but the tears were streaming down his face. Earlier, whenever he had cried, he’d make a huge noise. But he couldn’t hear anything now. As he went down the stairs, he also noticed that the steps did not creak as they usually did. He went back to the room that everybody was supposed to be in.  As he put his hand on the doorknob, he almost heard the noises of the gathering, adults grumbling and muttering, babies wailing and the children talking in hushed whispers. Almost. But he couldn’t. There was only the sound of silence and nothing else. This was worse than the silence that Mr. Vasily would ask them to maintain.  At least then, they could hear the sound of the road and the birds and other children in the school.

It was only a dream, he kept telling himself. He was not entirely sure, but it couldn’t be reality. Someone had told him that pain does not exist in a dream. Well, they were stupid. His chest was heaving and burning right now. He would go tell them that it did hurt in the dreams, it hurt more than real life. He lay down on one of the several mattresses in the room. He would sleep here and wake up beside Papa and the world would be all happy again. He’d be late for school, but he probably could convince Papa to let him not go for this one day. Papa had often told him about nightmares. He also told him that if you go back to sleep, the nightmare would end. Carl really hoped it would. He was burning on the inside as if he had a terrible fever. His chest heaved and blood came out of his mouth noiselessly. He spat it out and lay down again. He was determined to sleep. But as he fell asleep, a lot of thoughts that he hadn’t thought before came to him. What if he couldn’t hear anymore? What if he was in the real life but he just couldn’t hear because the monsters in the sky made it so? What if they had killed everybody else and only he was alive? But it didn’t seem to matter to him now. He was unable to see what was in the room. He tried to open his eyes, but it seemed such an effort. The pain was almost unbearable now. It was as if he was almost asleep but not quite. He still hoped he’d wake up again. He really wanted to. He wanted to play with all of his friends again. He wanted to go to school too, to become the Fury’s confidant in life. He even missed Adrian, the bully. He missed his Mama and Papa too. A strange sort of quiet came about him. He slipped into deep sleep. He slept a very long time indeed.

– Ganesh Mahidhar

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