My hands start shaking. I scroll through the pictures. Almost in every picture, I can spot her. Sometimes with my husband. Sometimes with my daughter. Sometimes with other people.
‘I guess you two are twins. Right?’
The voice jerks me and I look at my Doctor. He smiles. That soothes me. Ah, we are twins. That makes sense. I nod dubiously. I look at my mother. She lowers her eyes. She looks fidgety. My husband strains a smile at me.
‘Mr. Basu, I’d request you and your mother-in-law to come with me to my cabin.’ The Doctor tells my husband. ‘You stay here with her.’ He commands the nurse and walks out.
‘I want to see how I look.’ I say to the nurse after they leave.
At the Doctor’s cabin
‘I want both of you to be honest with me.’ Says the Doctor. ‘Where’s Shilpa?’
Her husband and mother exchange uneasy glances.
‘There’s no Shilpa, Doctor.’ Her mother utters hesitantly.
‘Then whom is she talking about? Where is her sister?’
‘She’s my only child.’ Her mother gulps and goes on, ‘she was roughly seven when I first heard her take this name, Shilpa.’ She stops and wipes her brow. Clearly the AC has no effect on her restlessness. She drinks some water from the glass on the table. ‘I was walking by her room when I caught her talking with someone. And that someone was not present in the room. She was looking at the wall, laughing at times, talking, then pausing as if listening to someone invisible.’ She stops.
The Doctor stays silent. He looks pensive.
Her husband clears his throat. ‘I’ve come across a similar situation a couple of years back. I was passing by the attached bathroom in our bedroom. She was inside, taking bath. Suddenly I heard her talking. Rather whispering. I strained my ears just to be sure. And I was right. She indeed was talking with someone. I didn’t confront her. Neither did I give it much importance, you know, but this whole ‘Shilpa’ thing reminded me of it.’
‘I’ve found her talking with this invisible entity many times.’ Her mother says in a worried voice. ‘But I thought with time it would die out.’
The Doctor squirms in his seat. Then he says, ‘tell me one thing. Is she an introvert?’
They both nod their heads in unison.
‘Extreme.’ Says her mother. ‘She’s had very few friends. She doesn’t even open up to me.’
‘Yeah. That’s right. She mostly keeps to herself.’ Her husband agrees.
The Doctor nods. ‘I’ve heard of one such case from a psychologist friend of mine. This is mostly common with introverted people. They tend to imagine a person who would understand them. Someone who would accept them. And listen to all they’ve got to say. It might sound strange to us but to them it’s as natural as being with a real human. They imagine a face, a character, a whole person. And that person becomes their sole companion. In her case, it’s her sister. And she looks just like her.’ He stops for breath.
Her husband and mother look blankly at him.
He continues, ‘They’re very much aware of the fact that this person is imaginary. But they can’t help it. Because by now it’s an integral part of their life. They find solace in it.’
‘But she doesn’t seem to be aware that Shilpa is imaginary. She’s…’
‘Wait, Mr. Basu. Let me complete. Your wife is overtaken by a terrific trauma. She’s not in her right mind. She remembers none. But her imaginary sister. Due to the brain injury, she is not able to think straight. She’s confabulating. I suggest that you take her to a good psychiatrist. A counselling would help.’
He gets up to leave. ‘And be sensitive while dealing with her. She’s living in an illusion. Far from reality.’
The nurse opens the front camera of my mobile and hands it back to me. I look into it. I indeed look like her. My sister. I run my fingers over my face. Looking into the camera, I suddenly feel as if I’m looking at her. Not myself. She’s looking back at me. She’s smiling. It’s strange. I know it’s me. But I feel like it’s her. I smile back.
Suddenly footfalls make me look up. It’s my husband and mother. They come and stand by the bed.
‘We’ve to leave now.’ Says my husband.
My mother looks at me in a queer way. As if she’s trying to read my face. Or looking for something else in it.
My husband reaches out for my mobile. I shake my head, holding it tightly.
‘Let it be with me.’ I say firmly.
Letting it go means letting go of my sister. And that, in turn, means letting go of myself. I can’t exist without her. She’s all I have right now. I’d wait for her to come out of the coma. And until then, I’d talk with her through this mobile camera.
I see my husband, mother and daughter leave. The nurse too walks out. I open the front camera and smile at it.
‘Hey, we’ve a lot of catching up to do, sister.’
Written by Chirasree Bose