The itching is insane. Every spot above his waist is unreachable fire. When he drops back down to earth again, his mother is there, curled up in the chair next to his bed. A change in his breathing wakes her from her sleep. His father is there, too, somehow. Neelay worries; what will his employers say when they discover he’s not at work?
His mother says, “You came down out of a tree.”
He can’t connect the dots. “Fell?”
“Yes,” she argues. “That’s what you did.”
“Why are my legs in tubes? Is that to keep me from breaking things?”
Her finger wags in the air, then touches her lips. “Everything will be fine.”
His mother doesn’t say such things.
The nurses ease him by degrees off the pain drip. Anguish sets in as the drugs dry up. People come to see him. His father’s boss. His mother’s card-playing friends. They smile like they’re doing calisthenics. Their comfort scares the crap out of him.
“You’ve been through a lot,” the doctor says. But Neelay has been through nothing. His body, perhaps. His avatar. But he? Nothing important in the code has changed.
The doctor is kind, with a tremor when his hand drops to his side, and eyes that fix on a blank spot high up on the walls. Neelay asks, “Can you take the vise-things off my legs?”
The doctor nods, but not in agreement. “You have some mending to do.”
“It’s bugging me, not to be able to move them.”
“You concentrate on healing. Then we’ll talk about what happens next.”
“Can you at least take off the boots? I can’t even wriggle my toes.”
Then he understands. He’s not yet twelve. He has lived for years in a place of his own devising. The thought of countless good things passing out of his life doesn’t quite occur to him. He still has that other place, the heaven in embryo.
But his mother and father: they fall apart. Awful hours set in, days of disbelief and desperate bargaining that he won’t remember. There will be years of supernatural solutions, alternative practices, and miracle cures. For a long time, his parents’ love will make his sentence worse, until they finally put their faith in moksha and accept that their son is a cripple.