I cautiously peered, as my hand held the creaking door of the dissection hall. I shined the flashlight around, waiting for my rapidly thumping heart to calm down. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. Cadavers in an anatomy dissection hall are normal enough. Still, I was badly shaking, thinking I never should have come here in the first place. Curiosity did kill the cat, but it never ended up here. Only dead humans did.
Coming here in the day was not an option, with all the policemen around. When the new guy on duty for the night saw me in my medical apron, he trusted me enough to go in and inspect the bodies. But that was lack of security. All lectures in the dissection hall were cancelled, until the murderer was found. Entering a sealed zone always meant tampering with evidence, unless you’re a professional. Then again, no evidence was found. For once, the murderer had found the perfect place to stash a corpse – and also to perform the act. There’s too much blood here. And more dead bodies. Slasher films….they don’t have anything on dissection rooms.
There was an empty body slab. That can’t be, unless they found some purpose in putting away a half dissected body for storage. I suddenly heard footsteps behind me. My heart was now beating as if it would come out and strangle me to death. I turned around, and was looking in the eyes of the cadaver we used to dissect, standing, with guts dripping out. In shock, I couldn’t scream. I fell to the ground, drifting between consciousness and otherwise, I thought about how I came to be in this mess in the first place.
Anatomy had started some time ago. While I wasn’t that great at anatomy, my mind and heart were set on a girl who was way worse than what I was. She just didn’t have a sense of identification and connection; she was brilliant in other subjects of first year medicine otherwise. That day, she came bay me and asked,
“Excuse me, do you have any idea how to tell the side of the kidney?”
“Um, I suppose you hold them, identify the surface to which the peritonium gets attached to, the point of exit of the ureters……”
“No, no, you’re doing it all wrong!”
Shouted the pompous boy genius, Ashish Sharma.
“You have to hold it this way, only then you can see…..”
He went on, Sanjana following in tow. The smartass was a son of two doctors, heir apparent to their hospital in one of the poshest locations in town, he’d probably have read, memorized and trained in that part which concerned the kidney, except practical experience; nonexistent in other facilities except medical school, which he obtained here. He was good, no question about it. Did he have to interrupt that very moment? Did he have to be such an ass about it?
That day, the peon opened the big tank where the cadavers to be used were kept. He ran out screaming,
“Dead body, dead body……..”
Which made everyone laugh, for what else did he expect to see in a tank made specially for keeping dead bodies?
We peered closer and were shocked to see the dead body of one of the other peons in the tank. Care had been taken to de clothe him, making the body appear similar to the cadavers. What’s more, he was presumed to be on leave for the past week…which makes it unclear as to when and where he was killed and dumped here. The police sealed the hall anyways, and dissection classes suspended for at least a week.
Everybody was happy to have classes suspended for a week, but sad at losing the peon, who was exceptionally charming, and well behaved, in comparision to the other working stiffs.
Sanjana came up to me and said,
“This means relaxation for a week.”
“What do you care? You got a wonderful tutorial from Dr. Sharma already….”
“He might be an ass but he knows his anatomy well. Let’s sit back in the library tonight to study.”
“Okay.” I was brimming with joy and filled with hope.
But I could hardly keep my mind on studies that evening. Something had been irking me. Something that happened that morning, just before the morbid discovery was made.
“Enough for today, let’s continue tomorrow.”
“You go, Sanjana. I’ll sit back a little more.”
And I hurried to my locker to get my flashlight and proceeded to the dissection hall. The 3rd floor had a very eerie look. I put on my apron, and went up to the policeman on duty, gave him some sort of excuse to enter the hall. I made my way up to the door, a good thirty feet from where the policeman was sitting. Knowing where the key was kept, I unlocked the old door. Which brings us to speed.
“Hey mate, you okay?”
I opened my eyes, half expecting the policeman to have come running at the sound of my collapse.
The cadaver on which we were working the other day was still standing in front of me.
I stood up, moving back nervously, starting to run, when the cadaver was advancing towards me.
“Don’t be afraid, man. I won’t hurt you. If I wanted to do anything to you, I’d have done it by now.”
That struck me as a bit sensible. I stopped running.
“Now then, why are you here today. No dissection hall for a week right?”
I was shocked. He knew me. He knew everything. But he smelled too bad to be anything but a genuine cadaver.
“I was….I saw something weird today morning. Now I remember….it was you! Your eye twitched.”
“I was trying to show you what side the kidney came from. I’ve picked up a little from what I’ve learnt of anatomy in all the years I’ve been here.”
“All these years? I don’t get it. How long have you been here?”
“Well, I was sentenced to death in the reign of the Pharaoh Rameses the first.”
“You aren’t showing your age.”
“Dead bodies don’t age. I was cursed by a wizard, and then sentenced to death by the Pharaoh.”
“What did you do for them to want you dead?”
“ Grave robbing. That was a pretty serious crime back then.”
“I know, with all the gold that dead bodies were buried with. That doesn’t explain why you didn’t decay away.”
“The last grave I robbed was of the son of a powerful wizard. He cursed me to eternal un-life. My body would be dead eternally, but my mind, soul would still be trapped in it. I can move, I stay alive, but I can’t kill myself. I can be killed only when someone else other than me destroys my body. I’ve been here since this hospital was established. Whenever dissection class would deplete all my organs, they would regenerate. So whenever old bodies were incinerated, they found my body having organs and sent me back. I’ve been around people long enough to catch the language.”
“That means you know who killed the peon.”
“And you didn’t do anything to stop it?”
“He wasn’t killed here. His wife and her lover came here to dump the body. They used his key to get in. At the gate, they knew his wife, while her lover passed himself in as her brother.”
“You could have stopped them.”
“Leading to what? Another would have been killed, or a rumour floated around that the dissection hall is haunted, and nobody would ever look at it the same way as before.”
“But now I know who killed the peon.”
“And what will you do about it? Who’d believe you without any proof? I doubt the testimonial of a centuries old dead body would count.”
“No. You don’t know what scares the world about the dead. It’s about the lack of knowledge. No one who has died has returned to tell the tale. People are happy in their assumption that the bodies are consigned to the earth, or flame. There was air burial in the old days, so was there water. And their souls turn to heaven…or maybe hell. What if they knew that there are ways for them to return? No one would ever look at death in the same way again. That’s why you see occurences of spirit manifestation at a minimum. They’re done now. They want to rest.”
“I want a favour of you. In the coming week, after lab reopens, I want you to come here and remove all my organs. They’ll take a month to regenerate, before which I want them to incinerate me. ”
“I can’t do that. That’d be like killing you.”
“I’m already dead.”
“You have a mind, a soul. You live.”
For the first time, on his expressionless face, I could see anguish.
“What life is that?”
“They’ll still take some time to incinerate….”
“I want you to bring it to their notice. So that it gets done quick, before my organs regenerate. I’ll teach you dissection till then. You’ll have a willing subject. Just sneak in everyday as you did today. That’ll set you up with the girl too.”
“It takes more than knowledge of anatomy to impress a girl.”
“That’s a start. That’d be a lot more than you have”, he grins.
And so we started. It was kind of uncomfortable in the beginning. But when someone’s been lonely for centuries, it takes out all the feelings, all the remorse, all the sadness, everything. But it hadn’t destroyed the happiness. Guess that’s what stays with you the longest.
“Sanjana, this here’s the left kidney and I’m damn sure of it. Write it down if you need to. We’ll go to the lungs next.”
What followed, was a week of happiness, Anatomy, experiences, shared joys, forgotten sorrows, and regret.
“Did you ever love someone?”
“I had what you call a girlfriend. She was shattered to learn what I do for a living.”
“That must have been bad.”
“She still loved the person inside the grave robber. Take it from me, it’s not important when you find true love, neither are the places you look for it. It’s whether you have a chance to feel it, even once in your life. Love happens. Not all of it gets reciprocated. You can live with what you got, or die thinking about what you didn’t. As with everything, it’s the details that matter. The moments spent as if they were hours. The longing for the future. And regrets for the past.”
“That’s as sound advice as any, I guess.”
I had finally found out that the best of friends don’t need to have anything in common. What was life? None of us knew. Not a lot of people still do. No one has ever made it back from the afterlife. But maybe, through luck, I’d get a chance to send someone through. The last cut was the hardest. This wasn’t about murders, about mysteries, about death and about regret. It was about friendship, knowledge, anguish, life, and life after death. And life beyond life.