The switch – A short story

 “I cannot tolerate this anymore”, I said to my wife Sarah as I pushed the food plate away from me on the dining table in anger. “This food is inedible. It is so bad that even a dog is going to reject it. It has been years since you have been trying to cook. How hard can it be?” 

Sarah blasted in anger too – “If you think it is so easy, why don’t you do it yourself? All you ever do is complain.” Our voices were so loud that our 3-year-old son woke up crying in the bedroom.

“See what you have done. Now don’t ask me to get him back to sleep as it is your fault” – I said.

“Don’t worry about him. But I pray to GOD he doesn’t inherit any of your nature. Especially anger and blame-shifting.”

My blood started to boil on hearing this. I come home after toiling 14 hours in the office. Is it wrong to expect decent food for dinner? I was so exhausted that I decided not to pursue the argument further. She will never understand. Moreover, I have to wake up early tomorrow for the meeting with the Japanese client. I told her “I will leave a bit early tomorrow morning. Don’t bother with the breakfast. Also, I have dinner with some clients so I will reach home late.”

Sarah replied with one word “Whatever” and then raced to the bedroom.

____________******__________

The next morning, I reached my office a bit early. My whole team was there too in order to prepare for the big meeting. Many of them were not really required. But they still came early in office in order to show commitment to the team, or probably just to please me. Being an Executive Director in one of the largest investment banks, I garnered a lot of respect, something which I was craving in my personal life too. My hunger interrupted my thoughts, but I could not afford to waste my time waiting for food in the office canteen. So I extended my American Express corporate card to one of the interns and asked her to order wraps for everyone.

The meeting with the Japanese clients did not go well. They were so disappointed with our proposal that they preponed their flight and left early. Professionally, I hardly ever failed in anything. I was so good at everything I did, accepting failure was really hard for me. Disappointed, I left the office early in the evening and went to a nearby bar to vent out my frustration through some drinks.

“Hi, I am Ben.” A young gentleman shouted in my years, to compensate for the loud music. I gave him a strange look but he continued – “I noticed that you drank the whole beer pint in one go, probably under 10 seconds or so. Are you trying for a world record?”

“I don’t even know what the world record is. Aren’t you supposed to be flirting with some lady, unless…”

“Woah, noooo!!” He interrupted me and laughed hard. “Noticed that you hit your fist at the table many times in frustration, just wanted to check if you are alright?”

I wanted to say “Is it any of your business?”. But his politeness and charming style somehow won me over. “Just one of those bad days”, I said.

I told him about the office incident and how frustrated I am with my life in general. He listened carefully as if I am the subject of some story he is going to write about later. Hours passed by and I was so drunk that I couldn’t even stand up properly. I thought of going back home but this was one of the relatively enjoyable moments I had in a while, so I stayed.

Ben asked me “Tell me, John. If you are allowed to be another person for the rest of your life, who would you chose to be?”

“I am a very practical person and don’t even like to discuss fantasy,” I said.

“Humor me for a minute, John. What if I told you that I possess some mystical powers and am capable of granting you any wish?”

“And here I thought that I am the one who has been drinking hard.” I laughed and continued “You have been a great buddy today so if you really want to know, I would choose to be my wife. She has the ideal life. I earn so much she doesn’t have to look at the price tag while shopping. I have a swanky house facing the sea. She travels all over the world when she wants to. We have a kid, but there is a full-time helper who takes care of everything so she doesn’t have to lift a finger. The only thing she has to do is cook the food because my parents made me promise that I will not eat food cooked by a stranger in my home. They probably heard stories of domestic helpers killing their masters by poison or something like that. I know it sounds weird but you cannot break a promise, especially the one made to your parents”

“One should be careful what to wish for, John. I hope you get what you really want from life. Let’s continue the discussion after I am back from the restroom. I guess I had one too many beers” he laughed and strolled away.

The next thing I remember was a blackout all around me. I felt like I was dying, though without any pain. There was a peculiar smell that I thought I felt in my childhood before. Shortly, it was all void.

____________********___________

I woke up the next morning in my bed. I glanced at the designer wall clock hung right in front, “Oh shit, it’s 10 AM. I am so late for the office.” I stepped on my slippers but noticed something very strange. My feet had become smaller. I reached out for my phone on the bedside table but saw my long fingernails, polished in dark red. I freaked out and went to the bathroom in an instant. I could not believe it when I saw my wife’s face staring right at me through the mirror. It felt like a scene from a science fiction movie. This could not be real. I pinched and punched myself a few times in order to try and wake up from the dream. Although it was hard, I tried not to panic and derive logical reasoning for all this. “Ok, let me start with the last thing I remember. I went to the bar last night and had a lot of drinks with this stranger, Ben. Wait, he told me that he has mystical powers and could convert me to any other person. Did he really..?” Before I could contemplate more, the phone rang.

“Hey, it’s me. I know you like to sleep a lot but you should have at least made me breakfast and then could have slept the whole day, for I couldn’t care less.”

“John, listen to me. Something very strange is happening. I am John myself but have been transferred to Sarah’s body. I can’t tell if this is real.”

“Oh, now you have started being delusional as well. Take some rest, if you still think you’re me, let’s get you to a good psychiatrist on the weekend. Have to run for a meeting now, bye”, he hung up.

Knowing the other me very well, I thought “He will really believe that I have gone mad if I narrate the story to him. Even if this is a dream, I cannot afford to spend the rest of my life in a mental asylum”. So, I decided not to tell him and try to figure this out on my own. “I have to find Ben. He is the one who put me through this.” Before I could plan any further, our domestic helper Shiela knocked on the door.

“Madam, could you please lend me another $1000 for my daughter’s art course?”

“What happened to the money I gave you last time”, I said instinctively, when I suddenly discovered another shocker. I also had memories of my wife. It was as if I had lived the past through two timelines, one my own and the other Sarah’s. I could recall both of the memories easily. For a moment, I wondered who I really am. It was difficult to tell but at least I believed that I was really John with my consciousness transferred to my wife’s body. “Since the brain is also part of a body, that’s how I can access Sarah’s past memories.” I figured.

“Madam, the money you gave last time is gone. The lenders came yesterday and started beating my husband. I couldn’t see it and so I gave the money to the lenders who say that my husband still owes them $9,000 for the money he lost in gambling.” said Sheila with tears in her eyes.

I took out two $500 notes from my purse and gave them to her along with a short hug. She whispered to my ear “Thank you so much, madam. You are no less than a GOD to me”.

While Shiela got busy with the usual household chores, I wondered why I (John) don’t know about all the monetary help that my wife has been extending to Shiela. Then through Sarah’s memory, it occurred to me that being a finance freak, I keep track of every dollar earned and spent. I gave my wife a few credit cards but I keep an eye on the monthly statement for categorizing the expenses in my excel sheet. Once Sarah told me that Shiela was asking for some money to treat his husband’s addiction. My reply was cold, “You never know when these people are telling the lies. If you want to do charity, select any Govt. approved institution and give them the money.” I (John) would never approve of the kind of help Sarah was extending to Shiela, so she never told me. In fact, she has been taking cash from me saying she needs it for expensive branded clothes, when in fact she used it for helping other people in need. Now that I have Sarah’s memories, I understand the trust and relationship my wife has with Shiela, so never for a second would I doubt Shiela’s intentions.

“Back to the important topic, how do I get back?” I thought. “I remember Ben told me his last name- Afflick. I can try searching for his name on Google and see if I can find him”. I took out my wife’s laptop and entered the password –Traveler4Life. “No surprises there, Sarah loves to travel”, I thought. I was logged in and the first thing I noticed was the ‘Travel Pics’ folder on the desktop. Curious, I opened the folder and saw 67 folders neatly organized by their destinations and date. Oddly enough, all the pics were from the time before our marriage when we used to travel together. After marriage, I got promoted at work, and never really had the time to do vacations. “But she also travels solo, right. She had a few trips to Europe and Australia if I remember correctly. Why is there no folder for those trips?” Then, through Sarah’s memories I recalled that her assumption about solo traveling was wrong. She thought she would enjoy it, but when she went to Europe, she really felt alone and unhappy. The cities and places were beautiful but there was no one to share those beautiful memories with. She tried her luck again in Australia but the result was the same, after which she stopped taking solo trips altogether.

I felt bad for her. “When I get back, I will try to take her to at least a couple of vacations every year,” I promised to myself. I quickly searched for Ben Afflick on Google and found a lot of results. I narrowed down the search results to only show people in my city. After 2 hours of laborious work, I stumbled onto a Facebook profile with the name Ben Afflick and a mysterious symbol as the profile pic. “There was not a lot that Ben told me about himself but this profile looks to be his,” I thought. His address was hidden but I managed to find an NGO he visited often. I ran towards the desk to take out pen and paper for the address where I stumbled onto something.

Inside the wooden drawer, I found a manuscript. It was a story for a theatre play in which Sarah has been secretly participating. She wants to be an actress but I never really supported or even acknowledged her interest.

“You are wasting your time. There are thousands of actors already struggling to make a mark. It is a pure luck-based industry rather than talent. Why do you want to work anyways? I earn more than enough for us. And once we have kids, you will need to stay at home to take care of them.”- I had once told her when she revealed her love of acting to me.

Again, through Sarah’s memories, I got to know that she was trying to be financially independent. In her childhood, she had seen her father beat her mother regularly after coming home drunk. The mother was helpless because her husband was the sole earning member and she did not want her children’s future to suffer. A chill ran through my spine wondering if Sarah could ever think that I would do something like this to her. At the same time, I felt her childhood agony and started crying incessantly.

The doorbell rang. I cleaned up and opened up the door. It was John, looking completely exhausted as always.

“It has been a rough day. The Japanese client walked out on us. Anyways. what’s for dinner tonight?” he asked throwing his $10,000 suit on the sofa.

“Sorry I couldn’t make it today. Have been a bit busy with something else.”

“What? There is literally one job you are supposed to do. You are good for nothing.” John said in anger. Before I could say anything, he pushed me so hard that I fell on the floor. I saw a thin line of red liquid flowing in front of my eyes. During the fall, the corner of the glass table had hit my head piercing through the skull. I felt unbearable pain for a moment. I saw my 3-year-old son looking at me, astonished at what’s happening. Then everything went black around me. And I felt a peculiar smell which I recall from my childhood. Finally, it went all void.

_________********________

“Good morning, dear. How are you feeling now?” A familiar sound whispered in my ears. I tried to wake up, my eyes half-open, and saw Sarah’s face right in front of me. She never looked so beautiful.

Confused, I asked her “Where am I? What day is it?”

“This is what happens when you drink more than your body can handle. Do you remember what happened the last time you had too much whisky?”

I glanced at my hands- the hairy fingers with nails cut to the brim gave me a sigh of relief. Still, I didn’t have the courage to look into the mirror. I pulled myself up and sat on the edge of the bed. “I feel weird. By any chance, would you know where was I last night and how did I end up at home?”, I asked.

“Well, you were in some bar with a friend and had too many drinks. He said that you blacked out and then he dropped you at home. By the way, who was he? I never saw him before.”

“Really? Did you catch his name?” I asked.

“Umm… I think it was Ben Afflick.”


Note: I had originally submitted a short story for a contest on reedsy.

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