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A Familar Face

By Sourav Bhattacharya

It was a late summer night when Aurelius lay in the hospital bed and writhed in pain. A mild, cool breeze blew in from the open window and bellowed through the white curtains that separated his hospital room from the dark night sky outside. It was silent other than the drone of the table fan kept on his bedside table as it tried with all its might to dry up the beads of sweat on his forehead. The plaster on his left arm extended from his shoulder to the tips of his finger, and underneath it, a crunching pain was biting away at the three fractures that he suffered earlier that night.

Dr. Abraham walked into the room to check on his last patient of the day. "How are you feeling now?" he asked, while taking a cursory glance at the report of his vitals that hung from a clipboard at the foot of his bed. "The painkillers should ease your pain soon. Try to sleep a bit. It will help." Aurelius thanked him wryly, barely able to talk through the mind-numbing pain. "You should thank your stars, that kind of accident could have taken your life." As the doctor left, Aurelius lay down fully and closed his eyes. With his mind scattered over the day’s events, Aurelius didn’t realise when the pain carried him away into his subconscious. His life flashed past his eyes—so many faces, some of them his family, some his friends, while others were total strangers, but all of them were linked by the common thread of being part of his life.

He heard someone calling his name and felt a slight pull on his left hand through the layers of plaster. Barely able to open his eyelids, he squinted hard and tried to look through a veil of eyelashes towards the voice that called out his name again. From beyond the thin, translucent curtain that hung to the left of his bed, a man was peering through.

"I see you are awake. It is good to meet you again. I am Moira". Aurelius was startled, drowsy from the painkillers and a mind numbed by exhaustion, he could not recollect anyone he knew by this name, but oddly the person felt familiar. As a feeling of Déjà vu set in on him, he tried hard to remember where he had seen this man and it did come back to him. He had seen this same man at the party last night, just before the accident.

Last night, the under-19 football team gathered at a countryside club to celebrate their success in the championships. Aurelius was one of the budding stars of the team and was already being hailed as the next star of the national team. On the second-floor terrace, a large crowd had gathered to felicitate the young team. Just as a group of waiters brought the drinks up the stairs, Aurelius had lost his footing on the edge of a stair and rolled down. He would have hit his head on the wall opposite the stairs, saved only by the rolled-up carpets kept there by one of the waiters just moments ago. Before losing consciousness on his way to the hospital, Aurelius remembered seeing the waiter carry him to the ambulance. It was Moira.

Moira smiled at Aurelius from behind the curtain. He had a beautiful face, curved, thick eyebrows, large ears, and a full head of peppery hair. Aurelius couldn’t put a finger on how old he could be. "You know, I have been watching you. I am glad I was there yesterday". "What do you mean? You knew I was going to fall? Who are you?" – Aurelius blurted out, feeling a bit unnerved by the strange encounter and the eerie quiet that hung as a thick fog in the atmosphere of the room. "Oh, don’t worry, Aurelius. Think of me as a friend. We have met in the past as well". Looking at Aurelius’ puzzled and tired face, a feeling of kindness touched upon Moira’s face, "You remember your days at Agassi Park, surely?" Aurelius’ mind leapt back 8 years; Agassi Park was where he first took to football. It was a park near his home where he used to hang out after school and had met Rob, who had taught him to love the game and coached him to develop his natural skills of playing the ball. After school one day, he had gone to the park as usual but couldn’t find Rob anymore. Other regulars at the park didn’t know where he lived, and just like that, Rob had vanished from his life. By that time Aurelius was well on his journey of becoming a footballer in the under 13 national team.

Moira reminded him oddly of Rob, though they didn’t look alike, and he couldn’t pinpoint any similarities straight away, but something about Moira’s ways made him certain that it was the same person. "Rob? You are Rob!" He exclaimed. A thin smile broke on Moira’s face as his eyes twinkled in the semi-darkness. "I don’t understand. Who are you really?" "Don’t worry Aurelius," Moira said again. "I am glad I was able to help you. Get well soon for the next season, and who knows, we might meet again sometime in the future." "But, but.. I don’t understand, you didn’t tell me who you are.. why did you help me.." He couldn’t finish his sentence as a wave of tiredness descended upon his eyes. Next morning, after waking up he enquired the medical staff about the visitor, but of course nobody knew who this man was, or how he could have entered a secured room.

Years later, when he had already become an established footballer, one day after a match at the national stadium, while leaving the ground, Aurelius waved at the fans and for a moment paused as he thought he saw Moira among the thousands of faces that lined the stands. A smile broke out on his lips as he thanked countless people who were the hero of his life and gestured a thankful wave towards destiny.

By Sourav Bhattacharya

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