Dark Blossom by Neel Mullick
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Rupa Publications (3 Jan. 2019)
Sam returns home from a business trip a day before his son’s thirteenth birthday and is looking forward to being with his family, when his world is cruelly shattered in one fell swoop. Initially he thinks he can cope with the loss, but finally seeks the help of Cynthia, an experienced therapist, to regain his equipoise. What he does not know is that Cynthia herself is trying to cope with a debilitating divorce and the sinister shadow of her ex-husband over her daughter…
What happens when doctor and patient find themselves in the same sinking boat? Moreover, when they are rowing in opposite directions–one clinging to the past, and the other unable to get rid of it! In the midst of it all is Lily, Cynthia’s daughter, who harbours a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.
Taut with tension and intensity, Dark Blossom is a glimpse of what lies under the surface of apparently ‘normal’ people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
With degrees in Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon, USA, and Business Administration from INSEAD, France, Neel is the Head of Product and Information Security at a Belgian family-office technology company.
He mentors women entrepreneurs through the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, is involved in raising a generation of digital and socially-aware leaders with the Steering for Greatness Foundation (Nigeria), supports improvement in the quality of life of domestic workers at Emprendedoras del Hogar (Peru), and is helping IIMPACT (India) break the cycle of illiteracy plaguing young girls from socially and economically impoverished communities.
He lives on three continents, spending his time between New York, Brussels, and New Delhi, has survived ten days (and nights!) at an airport, and a free fall five-hundred metres from the sky.
Concerned with the inverse correlation that seems to exist between society’s progress and the empathy with which it interacts with the universe around it, he firmly believes the solution to a rapidly fracturing world lies in peeling enough layers to discover the similarities, rather than judging on mere superficialities.
Twitter : @neelmullick
Author Page on Facebook
Author Page on Goodreads
When Sam had called to schedule a session for the first time, his anger had been palpable. I remember, because I had surprised myself by picking up on the vibe. Recognizing anger is something I have failed at in my own life.
He was the first new patient since I had restarted my counseling practice. Given the recent upheaval in my life, I had taken a hiatus of about half a year.
I opened my office door and saw a few patients waiting. Over the drone of white noise, I wondered how I would identify him.
“Sam?” I said, to no one in particular. Some of them looked up and others craned to look around. My eyes turned to the one man who hadn’t budged. Now that I remember everything so clearly, it’s possible it was his foot that had caught my attention — he was tapping it furiously on the carpet. His complexion was darker than his name and accent had led me to assume. He was wearing a brown plaid jacket, a grey cashmere sweater, and a lilac pencil-striped shirt. One side of his shirt’s collar was crumpled under the sweater and he still had his overcoat on. A magazine lay open on his lap but his gaze was fixed elsewhere.
He was pleasant to look at but his disheveled salt-and- pepper hair and unkempt beard gave him a dreary aura. I gambled. ‘Sam?’ I said in his direction, accompanied by a perfunctory wave to break his gaze. He looked up and, to my surprise, began the languorous process of peeling himself from the chair. The magazine slipped between his legs and landed on its spine.
What do you know? I thought. He is my Sam.
“Hello,” I offered him a handshake.
“Cynthia,” he said, wrapping his hands around mine and then just stared down from an inch or so higher. That’s it. Not another word. I met his eyes with a steady smile and tried withdrawing my hand but his grip was firm and his hands were warm, somewhat of a respite for that time of the year.
He finally let go of my hand and stepped into the office. Falling on the couch, he trapped a sigh, or it could have been a grunt. He took in the meager surroundings, his eyes briefly hovering over the small desk behind my seat and then settling to scan the bookshelves on the other side. “You must love the architecture of the city…humph…there is a lot of it to love, I’ll give you that.”
Besides the complexities and nuances of the human psyche, architecture is my other favorite subject — it gives me constancy and refuge when I need it.
I gave him a minute to settle in before asking, “Where would you like to begin? Do you want to tell me—”
“Why don’t you tell me?” he flashed, cutting me short.
I wasn’t sure what had caused the sudden upsurge.
He looked away. “Where would you like me to begin?” he said, after regaining his composure.
I wasn’t prepared for a counter-question. I veered. “When we spoke earlier, you said it had been almost five months. How have you been doing?”
His eyes narrowed as they turned towards me. “How have I been doing? I’ve been messed up…is how I’ve been doing! What do you want me to say?”
Some days I need to work hard at being patient, I reminded myself.
Given his loss, anger was a natural response. When we had spoken on the phone, one of the things he had said that had struck me was, “I thought I was stronger… I thought I could do without answers…”
First, I have to placate Sam, I thought. “I can see you’re very angry…”
“You think?” he boomed.
I calmly called him out. “Sam, you’ve come to me for help.” I rested my hand on his. “You’re going to have to work with me.”
He fidgeted, retracted his hand, but continued looking at me. His eyes finally widened enough for me to see that they were brown, bordering on hazel. I pressed home the advantage. “Why don’t you tell me everything…from the beginning?”
“From the beginning…” he echoed softly and settled his gaze on a small rip in my rug.
He continued looking at the rip and began slowly. ‘It was the day before his last birthday. It was a Friday. They had brought his friends and their parents to watch Spider-Man… the musical.’
Did he say musical? He sounded anything but.
His voice was cracking and he spoke haltingly. “He was Will’s favorite superhero,” he said, looking at me. “He didn’t know his friends had bought Venom’s costume — you know the black one — for him…for the Halloween party at our place the following weekend.”
There’s something about that date, I thought, but my train of thoughts couldn’t stop at that station long enough.
“And now he…never will.” He choked, quivered, and lowered his head into his hands. He was wearing a couple of colorful but frayed friendship bands on his right wrist — I could only assume they had been gifts from his son.
It felt like the first dip of a roller coaster. I almost plunged to hug him. It had taken some practice to drive out that innate response and be aware of such projective identification without succumbing to it. I poured him a glass of water instead.
When he looked up, he fidgeted and tried wiping his hands discreetly on the couch. He reached for the glass of water. “He would have loved it, you know.”
His fingers found a loose thread on the armrest and began pulling at it. “I was on a flight back home when it happened. I wish I hadn’t gone… If I’m wishing…might as well wish he had been with me.” He sighed. “When I landed and switched on my phone…I had…I don’t know how many missed calls and voicemails…”
Looking back at me, he continued, “I’m usually calm… humph!” And then, staring back at the rip, “I must have panicked. I didn’t know whether to call the number back or to hear the stream of messages. I dreaded both options…but I didn’t ever imagine…” his voice trailed off.
“I guess it must have been easier to press play… so I heard the first message. It was a man’s voice. He was a police officer. He said they had been in an accident. He asked me to call back immediately.”
I let myself uncross my fingers under my notebook. Sam was opening up. “I was paralyzed. My phone fell from my hands and I just stood there wondering how the bastard…I’m sorry… how could he have been so calm? Didn’t he know the kind of message he was conveying?”
His brow was crunched and moist with sweat. He shifted and one of his jacket buttons popped, fell on the rug, and rolled under the couch. I don’t think he noticed. I didn’t bring it to his attention either—he was in no condition to handle such a calamity.
It wasn’t just his clothes that had seen better days—his midsection belied a strong and muscular upper body. Sam was switching between peering into the rip and looking straight into my eyes. I felt the tear in my rug had become wider but was relieved he was talking. It’s a small step but an important one.