Updated: Jul 29
It's in the smell. The sea is angry today. Grey clouds hover on the horizon. Wherever she goes, there’s no escape from them. People at the bridge are getting restless. So are the tides. Black as they seemed from far, blue as they strike us on head. Little by little, pushing us over to death.
K M Khazanov, 22 90; she is in a struggle. Being an officer, I can’t lay my eyes onto the danger and fumble down the same old pit. My heart falters as her wailing echoes in my ears.
Where there is no hope, where there is only despair and remorse, I am calm. With each growing second, the wave hitting the ship grows stronger. And my calmness collapses into seizure. The water rushes over the forecastle. That might just have pushed Captain’s heart near to failing. I can see the second mate calling me over to check on the position of the engine crew. I have heard complaints lately from the chief. He has been annoyingly alert about the high pressure valves. But Captain doesn’t seem to be bothered with his concerns. Why would he? He is the captain, alright!
But I can’t pull my eyes off the deck. I can’t pull them off the nine’o’high tide shoring affront. I can listen the gasps, Captain has lost his breath. He is falling down. The bays ahead are losing rest. The tide is rising higher. I turn around to my mates. “Keep it rolling! Don’t let it get you.” I hear them scream. From top their lungs, I too yell, “Brace yourselves. Mills, order the…” A sudden bump and we stagger. I feel my knees bumping hard into the control panel.
The ship has just pitched up on the wave. And suddenly, another massive wave hits us on the bow. She’s listing badly. I know, this is it! I am not going to make it.
But they must. “Call the engine side. Tell them to leave there concerns flat. I don’t care for the setbacks we face later. Right now, we need more power. I repeat, we need…” I gasp and turn. What do is see? There is …there is…
Why it’s growing dark? Why is it so black? Why is it so dark? Nooo! This can’t be happening! Why is this so dark? It’s not supposed to be…It’s not suppose to be….
“What is it? What happened?” A woman rushes among the cream dull walls, scuttling into a sunlit room. The white drapes are hung off the small window. A view into the room, only to find a confused man sitting on his bed, clinching the white sheets wrinkled around his fist. “Why is it so dark? Have you not slid the curtains? I don’t like sitting in the dark. Didn’t they tell you? Do you even listen?” A pause. “Why don’t you say something? Why is it so dark in here?”
She is scared. Her eyes are timid even to look at him. Screeching and tearing follows. His fists clinch even tighter.
“I am in the dark here.” He mumbles. The voice shores up in a second. “Why am I to be the one? I never chose to be here? Tell me. Why am I here? When I had everything going good? Do you have any answer? Or you just lost your tongue and sanity.” he screams and screams and screams…
It all started five years ago. On a very common day, he woke up in his bed. Supposed to wake up to the glaring daylights, but he only remembers the daunting night static before his eyes the whole day.
Her mother had rung up every doctor, every hospital, every place possible, but she couldn’t find a possible answer behind his sudden impairment. His family’s hopes were broken. But the man, the night didn’t just took away his vision. It stole every sense from his body. Yet, he lives. Why? he says he is chasing after something.
For the problems faced by his family, there was an answer. His family found one later in the years. And they were moved by that.
Presently, their son had developed a mania out of his frustration. In duress, they have planned to shift him off to Dr. Riddick’s facility for mental development and care. This is what they think will be great for my friend.
Nonetheless, their concerned family doesn’t live with him. He lives in a different house. Alone. The words from the other person seem to be very exact and very concise. I know it is very much understandable and genuine. But don’t fall for it so quickly.
“Sorry, I will not be there today. I heard from her about today. Can’t you be a little more nice? NO? Is that what you are saying? No, you will not be alone. I will ask someone to take care of you. I will. I don’t care if you are grown up or not. There will be someone. I will find someone. No! not gonna leave you alone ….it won’t be a problem. Believe your mother” The call ends.
2 past noon. The house is quiet as always. Sad walls don’t seem to appreciate anyone’s presence living among them. He is sitting in his room. On his chair. Facing the window.
He hears a faint sound of the door opening. His skin felt the wood hinges screeching. And turned towards his room’s door. Whoever has entered is confused. He doesn’t know where to go. His feet tremble upon the different directions.
Anon, his voice interrupts, “Who’s that?”
“Aaahh...” a new fumbling voice makes its presence.
“Aaah, that is not a smart name. Sounds like your parents had a lot of doubts.” The man says, chuckling follows.
“Mikhail, that’s my name sir. I am your neighbor. Your mother asked me come over…and ...” the stranger tries to speak.
“Care taker? You are here to take care of me.” The man smirks. “I can take care of myself.”
But the person doesn’t leave. Instead he keeps looking around the room. His eyes don’t seem to rest. He graced his eyes upon him, sitting well dressed in his chair. With a pen and a writing pad in his hand. Room seems well kept. Everything is well organized. There are three three wooden bookshelves standing adjacent to each other. A small wooden cabinet above each of the racks. And dozens of books stacked on each of those.
“You are still here? Looking at my trophy cabinet. It’s empty.” He says and lifts his finger pointing to the exit. “Are you deaf? Are you dumb? Are you me?”
“No sir, I was…”
“Then why don’t you answer, lad.” He asks. His voice weighs down upon the person. It might not have been justifiable not to stay. Her mother had asked him to do so. How could he leave? This is such a …
He looks affront. And the man is staring right into him. A dash of sunlight smooching his bony tanned face, as he stands up and moves towards him.
“I don’t care what she said to you. I don’t want your help. Leave!” He comes even closer. The aroma in the room gets more smooth and easy. His eyes are dead pan staring into his. Put his twig like arms on his shoulders, and said, “I know who you are Mikhail. I know what they say about you. You got two bruises on your left elbow and right knee. I know what school you go to. If you don’t wish to embarrass yourself, then go away.” And gives a faint push to his shoulder. Pointing his finger back to exit.
Mikhail is left gaping. His throat gets dry, and a sharp puff of air gushes out his mouth. So, the man stops and walks back to his chair.
Back to where he thinks he belonged.
“They say you are blind?”
“LEAVE!” He growls.
“I don’t think you are. You are writing on a paper. Blind people don’t write like us.” He says, trying to get back at him. There is a sense of dishonest confidence in his voice. It seems he is trying to make up his mind. He is deciding not to leave. “Blind people don’t read books.
“Braille! Ever heard of him kid?”
“Oh yes. I have. But you aren’t writing in braille. You seem just fine with pen.”
‘Do you know me?”
“No, I don’t even know your name.”
“What do you do?”
“I scream and shout orders. Sometimes punch stupid kids like you in their goddamn guts.” He says.
“Kid! You are getting on my nerves. Either you leave or stay out of my mind. I don’t bear talkative bugs.” He says. Mikhail seems to be taken aback by a blind man’s pride. The way he sits on his chair reminds him of a pompous king on his throne. He has seen him couple of times, walking outside at night. Sometimes sitting out in the open, he remembers his face panned out under the moon light. But that was years ago. Certainly, he never had seen him around recently.
“You read a lot of ships…” He says and tries stepping closer.
“What kind of monster are you?” He screams again. Frustration shores up his anger and his ire shores up his fear. His clinches the pen stronger. It feels as if he does really wants to say something noxious, but his fist tightens and it clearly feels the case of holding back.
“Sir, the ship is failing. We might have lost the winching drives. The engine room is very critical about the situation.” Another bump to the forecastle. And the ship lists to the right. Each wave hitting the ship feels like a powerful uppercut to the jaw. It is bone crushing. Our nerves are wrecked by the blows landing time and again. But we cannot stop sailing. We have to make it out of the storm.
W-S-W (West-South-West), I feel this shall be the saving course. “Sir, Boatswain’s awaiting your instructions.” The young man yells, trying to be heard in between the stormy outburst.
Yes, I can hear him. I can hear them all. I know what’s coming next. The engine side will fail. How? I just know. I just happen to know.
“Forward this instruction to the men. ‘Emergency 1A, Instruction: Prepare the life rafts. Check the painters. All hands to drinking water, submersion suits, and food supplies. On hearing the abandon ship signal, muster at the life raft station.’ Wait, its Davis, right.”
“Don’t try scaring anyone. The situation is about to get gritty, but don’t engage in worsening conversations. They will try asking dangerous questions. Avoid them. You get what I say?”
“Charlie!” He nods his head and leaves.
Now, I can regret my decisions. I can drown myself in the old guilt before the ocean gobbles us all. I should have held a fight against it. I don’t know why I urged to join this stupid voyage. A decommissioned ship, an underhand crew, rusty overhaul, stupid machinery. Who is responsible? I am. The captain is. He has to take the full responsibility, even if he stops breathing. He has to be responsible.
He went down knowing what was coming ahead of us. But why the hell am I standing? Am I not equal parts responsible? Am I not the wrongdoer? We knew all along, we knew what this journey will do to us. Riding straight into a storm is an adventure. Ocean doesn’t care for those man made foolish adages. Riding into a storm is nothing else but stupidity.
With this piece of junk. I don’t think we barely even have a day left.
He finally wakes up from his nap. He does not scream. He taps his hand around in the black light, just to find it hurdling over pointy leads, papers, and saliva. He could not remember him sleeping on his study table. As he regains his senses, a strong scent overtakes his nose.
“Bread and scrambled eggs. Mother? Are you home?”
“Sorry, Mr. Akhrovich…It’s me.”
“The hell…you made the food for?” he came out to the kitchen.
“Yeah. I thought you might be hungry.” The kid replies.
He call him by his finger. The boy doesn’t follow the gesture. “Kid, bring the food in. And those napkins too.”
“I am sitting outside. Why don’t you sit in the balcony?”
“Why should I sit there? To enjoy the view? Or to be the view? For others to see a blind man much his last meal.”
“I didn’t mean that. You will feel good. Trust me. You know alright, but after every bad day at the school, I go out in the open. It is not as safe as my room, but it feels good.”
“Why would I go outside? Does it have any purpose? I can see only one thing, and it’s the only beauty I admire. It’s darkness bitch!” He turns back and walks back to his room. “Bring me the food. Put it on the other table. Nicely and gently. If you break the plates, I break you.”
Mikhail is persistent. He tries something. “It’s not always the view, Mr. Akhrovich. I know you are a poet. My mother told me a little about you. I looked over your trophy cabinet, it is not empty. I believe you never feel the worth you have. I know, it is hard being in the dark. But you still got a lot of senses.” A pause. “Ever missed the feeling of breeze hurling over your face. The feeling of getting sun kissed. Munching over the musky scent of the trees. Feeling the rattle of leaves climb up your ears. And reach your deepest of your mind. Ever missed it?”
But the man is reluctant. He has returned to his room. He can’t be helped.
Or can it be?
Akhrovich sits down on the chair. Puts down the napkin. Sucks in the scent. “Oh! Something different. It’s definitely….” His voice weighs down. He feels something new. Something that he never realized in years. His dull eyes keep looking at the black light. Why does he feel that way? It’s not just dark. But it feels empty. All these years of sitting at a single spot, writing the same old lies, only to be appreciated by masked dummies. Not realizing that real people know him too. Always clinging onto a single dream, a single long vision that is no more real. Only stabbing him deeper into his delusions. It seems as if his hollow heart whistles out. The whistle, the melody of emptiness. The mind pregnant of vacuum had been shut away by the melodious whistle of realization. Now, he recognizes “What if I am really missing it? No, no. No more what ifs. I really am missing it.”
Outside in the balcony, Mikhail is hunching over the rails, trying to get a better look at the trees. Anon, he hears two taps of stick. “Listen here you lad. Bring me the table and the food. Put’em at the best spot possible.”
“Right!” And he rushes in with a smile.
Akhrovich step into the sunlight, and his sun kissed face glows out. He feels it disturbing for a
second. It felt hot. But the burn gradually settles into warmth all over his face. “It feels good.” He believes so. And the scratchy rough wind running all around halts suddenly and gracefully touches his lips. Smooches him. Then hisses, the rattle, the clatter of the leaves. He can feel the wind picking up its pace. The hissing doesn’t stop. Until the wave; The Ocean in front of him grows taller. And taller. And taller.
Taller than ever. Her bow is surrendering to the ocean. It tumbles in and as the wave goes under. It surely comes out and the ship is thrown up into the air. “K M Khazanov 22 90, it is her last day. She falls and comes off her hull. Breaking right underneath the starboard side. Mayday, Mayday. If someone listens to me. The ship is going down. Down, and it fades into the depth of the ocean.”
But Akhrovich doesn’t surrender. He is still waiting. He has finally let go of his delusion. But what is he waiting for? “Ah! I knew it.” He exclaims. “It is something musky. Ocean, the books say it smells salty. Oceans don’t scent like hopes. It’s only salty water. I think, I had enough salt for five years. It’s time for a change” he says and steps down calmly from the navigation bridge. he has finally surrendered before the storm.
“But the musk, I remember. Oh I duly remember what it reminds me of!”
“What does it remind you of?” Kid asks.
A winds slowly blows his long hair on his face. And he begins…
“The scent of a woman. Fresh and funky. Always promised to stay between my arms forever. She was like the dry breeze of fall. Mysterious, charming, a little dry but something that would have stayed with me forever. Would have? I cannot forget that sexy scent of her.”
“A young man in his thirties, with no eyesight, with no career, stays with his mother, mostly antisocial, has a drinking habit, a mania tendency. And has certainly no hopes for the future, why do you think, that person should stay alive? Ask me.” He turns right at the kid, His tongue is numb. “That person should stay alive. He must and he will. Why? It’s always the scent. The scent of a woman, that keeps the man chasing. That keeps the man working. That keeps his heart pumping like the way an engine ravels. It’s the scent of a woman that keeps me alive.”
This short story is inspired from the movie - 'Scent of a woman.'
I hope you like it.
- Nikhil Ranjan