Atticus woke up at nine in the morning, more or less the time he was want to. He gave his head a slight jerk and detected no signs of a hangover. He reached for his cigarette and contemplatively began fiddling with his hair, plucked a strand out and looked at it, it was white.
"So none can say Atticus died young," he mused and then dismissed the strand and the thought with a snap of his fingers.
The night before, when he slept he had been too drunk too think about what had transpired during the day. He had had a long conversation with Trocia. He thought of her last monologue before he had walked out.
"Of course I love you Atty. Are you not satisfied with that? Why do you want me to say I love you as I have never loved anyone before and never will? It was you who told me that love need not be rare for it to be great. I am the sum total of my experiences. I will not deny them or say I do just to please you. I am sure you understand. Some people will mean a lot to me, maybe more than you, but I am willing to give myself to you, to marry you, to love you."
Atticus got up and walked away then. Trocia was too surprised to react. Then he had drunk all evening and slept. He hadn't thought of her when he was drinking. He was watching television and the make believe lives of the characters on the screen had somehow seemed more real to him than his own.
Atticus' flow of thoughts suddenly shifted from yesterday onto today as he caught sight of the date on the clock in front of him. The date seemed familiar. There was really nothing special about today save the fact that the earth was in the same position relative to the sun as it had been twenty five years ago when he was born. His cigarette on the ground and safely crushed under his shoes he got up. By ten o'clock he hit the road in whatever clothes he laid his eyes on first.
"Good morning Atticus!" said John, his neighbour for five years.
Atticus nodded and thought "Good first step, this man seldom forgets dates." He went to his office and worked as usual. The lunch hour passed without his ear being subjected to the dreadful words "Happy birthday, Atticus."
As the day progressed he became more and more sure that today was the day he would prove his theory to the world. His theory was quite simple, so simple that no one would ever believe in it. He had talked about it to everyone he could. The idea was that to live is a decision that we affirm every new moment we continue living so all that was needed to die was not reaffirming it once. All you needed to say was "I quit" and then and there you will cease living. It was such a beautiful, simple and elegant theory that it seemed such a waste to see it in action only once -- but only once it had to be.
Yet he wanted to save it for some occasion, some event not necessarily extraordinary, but something he could use as a sign. In his childhood he had often saved his last piece of chocolate and eaten it only when two pigeons simultaneously took off from a building he liked looking at from the window of his room. It was the sign. For ceasing living he had decided the sign would be when everybody forgot his birthday. It had failed last year and failed miserably, he had stopped counting after being wished for the tenth time.
It was five now and time to go home. Walking out of his office responding to the usual Ok-see-you-tomorrows, Atticus was praying to a god he didn't believe in that no one would think of his birthday as an afterthought. He safely reached home without hearing the words that would damn him to another year of life.
Trocia walked toward Atticus' house. She had cried for hours after Atticus walked out, knowing not whether she hated him more or loved him more. Atticus was the first man who was willing to give up everything for her -- his home, his friends, his job, his social position whatever. And she knew now that he could give up his life for her, something she hadn't ever been sure of her previous lovers, no matter how passionately they had loved her. She loved Atticus dearly, sensitively, with emotions with feelings an even with reason. The only thing she could not give him was passion, she had spent it all.
She had always thought that if Ronald came to her anytime, she would forget Atticus and run to his arms, all her passion set afire. But today she wasn't really sure. Atticus was there for her with his arms open and yet she was waiting for Ronald. At that moment she knew that she loved Atticus with all her heart and would deny her past for him, if not for anything then because he loved her so much. Today as she walked to Atticus' house she was going to run into his arms and give herself to him truly, completely, wholly just as he had given himself to her. As she reached the door she heard the resonant, animated voice of Atticus proclaiming, "So there you are my dear friends, all I have to do is not reaffirm the decision to live and I will cease living, as simple as that."
Trocia walked in, there was quite a crowd there jovial and laughing. Trocia smiled fondly at Atticus. Oh how I love this man, she told herself, with all his quirks and philosophical flights. The whole setting seemed very joyous to her; a brilliant prelude to what she was going to say to Atticus when everybody left. She wasn't really impatient. She had also saved her last chocolate piece when she was a child. But unlike Atticus she hadn't waited for a sign to eat it, she had just resisted till the craving would become too much. Often her brother would snatch the last piece from her and she would be really sad. But today she saw no competition in the crowd that was there. Trocia was very happy, she had a straight face but her soul was laughing away merrily.
"Ha ha, Trocia just listen to Atticus today, he says he will just say 'I quit' and die, no, no, cease living right in front of our eyes," said John.
"Ha ha, yes," said another friend, "and the best part is the scoundrel says it so earnestly he almost makes us believe that he really believes in this stuff."
Everyone was laughing and Trocia also joined in.
Atticus smiled and said, "It is not polite to laugh when somebody is dying".
He then closed his eyes and lay still. Trocia went to his bed and took his hand in hers. His pulse had stopped.
"He's dead," she told everyone.
The laughter suddenly stopped. Then somebody said,"So I guess we will have one person less for the party."
"That gives everybody more to drink," another voice piped in and the laughter restarted with double vigour. Trocia wasn't laughing, She knew that there is something she will regret for the rest of her life.
She just thought of a brilliant retort to Atticus' last words. "It is not polite to
die when somebody's laughing," she should have told him. But as usual she has
thought of it too late. Atticus had seen the two pigeons take off and eaten his last piece
of chocolate and Trocia had waited too long once again and her brother had snatched
that last piece from her.
© 1999 Misam Abbas, all rights reserved
appears here by permission