All his life he had been a respectable man. Naming him here won’t go down well with him. Describing him would only help some of you identify him. Let’s keep it to this: he was a man of strict principles. A man who was made of, for and by duty.

Although his roles kept changing – son, brother, husband; father, father-in-law, grandfather – he kept living every relationship after framing it with what he thought was his duty towards the relationship. He never fell short of his duty, nor did he ever go beyond it. He surprised some and disappointed others.

It didn’t affect him much, though, because he judged himself by whether he did his duty or not. He had learnt early in life that he couldn’t impress everyone. Then, later, he learnt that life wasn’t about impressing anyone as long as one is at peace with oneself. Apart from his duty he only had one thing: a dream.

That he would go out on one last vacation with his large family – an emotional swansong before being confined to his home till it was time to perform his foremost duty.

The sea had always called to him. He had honeymooned in Pondicherry decades ago. All those memories came rushing back when he visited a beach in a country outside India with his family. When he sat alone on the seashore in the evening, the memories cried out to him.

The one with whom he had made them had not been with him for five years now. In the forty years she had been with him, he had forgotten that life was actually a lonely affair. You arrive alone, you leave alone, but between the acts of appearance and disappearance you crave for a companion.

The last vacation by the sea coincided with his seventy-fifth birthday. The family had decided to travel together and celebrate. After sifting through his lonesome memory book, which over the years had taken away more than it had provided, he joined his family at the diner, where a huge cake was cut, five champagne bottles were uncorked, and everyone danced to his favourite music.

He was encountering this kind of happiness after a long time, gift-wrapped in solace. He didn’t know when sleep had beckoned, but he knew when he was awake. It was when he realised that the bed in his room was floating gently.

He had had similar bad dreams before, and he thought this too was one of those. But when he opened his eyes, he saw all the furniture in his hotel room was floating in water. All he could remember was that he was on the second floor of the hotel. But one look out the window, and he no longer seemed on a height. Where had the floors beneath him vanished? What just happened?

Water was still gushing into the room through the shattered window panes. He tried to sit up, but found it difficult. He stood up instead on his bed, balancing himself precariously. He shouted with all his might but the only response was a haunting silence, which escalated his fear.

He could hear a very distant siren, but he wasn’t sure whether it was real or whether he was hallucinating out of fear. Standing on the bed, balancing himself nervously against the wall, what he saw next made his skin prickle.

It was his teenage grandson floating in through the window. The way the body came in told him there was a swift current in the water. The boy was followed by his second son. From where he was, he could see his third daughter-in-law’s arm, with her gold bangle around her wrist. There was more life in its sparkle than in her eyes.

The napkin around his son’s neck told him they had probably in the middle of breakfast. He had asked them to let him sleep late. The shock of seeing his family vulgarly nudged about by the current didn’t make him cry. Instead, an acute urge to survive arrested him. At seventy-five he had been ready to embrace death the night before, but now he wanted to live. Desperately.

It had been some hours now that he had been standing on his bed, waist-deep in water. The water level was slowly rising, and he was beginning to find it difficult to balance himself on the bed, which was wobbling. Daylight had given way to dusk. And he knew pitch darkness wasn’t far away.

He wouldn’t be able to do much if the water decided to engulf him. What was his duty now? He asked himself. Should he not perform his duty, upholding his morals instead of giving in to his survival instinct? Twice he concluded that his duty was to give up and let himself be drowned. But he couldn’t do it.

This made him weep, supporting himself, as the last rays of the sun vanished, till his old legs could take it no more. He had to do something. How? He had to think of something? What? He had to get himself some help. From where?

Since the time he had first seen the corpses, he hadn’t looked down at the water. When he did, he realised a few more bodies had swum in. Looking at the dead bodies of his family, he knew he could live a few hours longer at best. Here in this room, each of those hours would seem likes years.

He stepped off the bed, only his head staying out of the water as he struggled across to reach his second son’s corpse. Pushing it to the bed, he hoisted it on to the surface, pinning it down with one arm while he dragged his daughter-in-law’s body and placed it on his son’s.

His sudden strength surprised him. His sudden descent into selfishness disturbed him. But neither realisation could stop him. He did the same with his other two sons’ bodies, and then those of his grandsons and his granddaughters.

After this he climbed atop the heap of corpses, and sat on it, his head touching the ceiling, well above the water level. The weight of his living body kept the corpses below him in place.

Now, at last, he wept – like he had when he was five or six, when his mother had slapped him for not telling the truth. That was when the seeds of the need to be dutiful were sown in him. After seventy years he felt he had lied again. And he felt the tree which had grown from that seed being uprooted with a snap of his fingers.

The water level did not rise high enough to kill him that night or afterwards. But he felt himself going down to a level from which he didn’t let me name him in this story.

Novoneel Chakraborty is bestselling author of romantic thrillers. His latest novel is Forget Me Not, Stranger.