Curtain Call

Wonderfully done, Twenty Four. Take a bow. There is much to applaud.

So many milestones. So much uncertainty. So much shit that hit the fan. So much mopped up. So gracefully moving forward. So much still left to do.

Pride isn’t something you feel for an age, for a number, for a year that passes, but you can. And maybe you should sometimes.

Take that final bow, Twenty Four. You did so well. I’m most definitely going to miss you.

11th Hour

Twenty Four has been a strange year indeed, and I find myself almost at the end of it. One month to go before I reach the looming ahead. One month to go till I know Beyond the number that was It. An important number. And important, I think it was.

Twenty Four started strange for sure, because I left Twenty Three ignoring a text. The evening was balmy, slightly sweaty, and I replied almost right away the next day. Meh, he’s cute. Let’s see. Turns out, now that I’m here, that conversation lead a long way down Twenty Four. I might not have spoken to him for most of it, but there was a tedious path he left behind. I’m here now though, and I can see the path, which means I’ve walked away from it. That’s good.

The mid point of Twenty Four was really, really sore. It throbbed terribly. It was a whining pain, a prolonged quiet shriek. It was breathless chest hurt with tear smeared eyes. I landed on Rock Bottom Earth upon my knees.

I left lines inside the mud, you can see it. I pulled forward with the tips of my nails. I kept insisting that it’s just not my time, but it will be someday. It has to be, right? This can’t be it. I went to class to study maths with freshly bruised knees that were always on the verge of rupturing.

I sat down a few times, and stopped. Just for a bit. Till I could cry for some time. Once, I screamed too. I thumped my fists on the floor, and it could be heard till Delhi. She sent me a tissue within the hour. I used it to brush the dirt off my hands and knees. I was still sniffling.

It went by so fast after that. I scarfed down two months of fear just like that, like it was a delicious piece of chocolate after getting high. Which it actually was, just that. Two months of downward tilting sunlight making way for high nights. Mother told me something; saday-sati she said. I listened.

I angrily, crying-ly went. I think she wanted to help me, Mother. She also wanted help for herself. That’s not her fault though, we all were pulling for help at that time. We were trying. I went though, and I sat through it, begging, begging, begging. There was only one thing I wanted, and there is still only one thing I want.

I went to write an exam. I came out, happy smiling. I folded it away, kept it inside an envelope in my chest. I sent out so many envelopes in real-life too. I gave them my everything, me, whatever good I could get out of myself within that time. I had the tracking number, but I was too scared to see if they’d reached. I didn’t want to know just yet.

You know, now in 11th hour, I still don’t want to know. I want to keep knowing what I know now: I did my best. I really, really did my best. The best I’ve done for myself and to myself till now. I’m here.

Strange.

I have this funny, funny thing now too. Like extremely strange, but also funny this. I think it’s real. I don’t want to say too much because I still have one month, and that can be a really really long time and I want things to not go wrong. But look, I’m saying it out loud. (It’s happened in Twenty Four, after all.) I think I’m dating the boy I first had the biggest crush on, like oh my god. And we’re so tiptoe quiet about it, even to each other. I try to see if he’s still there, and I wonder if he’s feeling out for me too. We’re so quiet about this, but I think I have enough kissy face emojis to feel like it’s there right now. I hope he thinks the same too.

I’m going to be Over There in a bit though. Like, Over There soon. Knowing if I’m going to have to be good to myself through another fall, knowing if there will be whispers and noise soon with him, knowing if I can handle another year of India.

Over There. Twenty Four and Beyond.

Strange, and important year indeed. I must make up for my lack of writing though. I really must. Twenty Four, this was probably the only way I let you down. I really tried everywhere else though. And I know you know.

11th Hour. We’re here, me and you. We’re here.

February

Nerves, buzzing with dread,
Suddenly.
When something strange has happened,
And I’m denying,
I am scared.
What is to happen if I cannot take the weight
Of loving someone?
To feel like I could push against stacks of hay piled up,
To wonder if there is enough strength in the ropes
That pull me through caution,
To believe that real is real.

Twelve years old, shallow breathing.
Light bright tiles of science class.
I had liked him so much, then.
I know that I can feel it, I have felt even now
The involuntary, downward cast smile.
But while sitting right next to him the other day,
I was still afraid.

I even told him that I wouldn’t do it, theoretically, you know?
And I think he knew what I meant.
But he was so brave.
He went right ahead and brought up the bush.
At least he brought up the bush.

We danced though, we did for a while,
Right around it.
And then I became beer brave.
Or maybe I just thought,
Quivering,
Can it, though? Can it happen?

It did. It did.
I dared not to react, but it happened.
And I still sat there thinking, “Can it, though?”

I’m shifting, stirring, wiggling.
My poor aching, packed joints haven’t moved in a while.
Click, click, click, movement; small,
But certainly moving.

Lull, standstill, creaking,
It happened, though. It did.
And I know because he stroked my palm,
And I felt his hand on my thigh, for like a minute.
And I felt him, just him, near me,
Quivering too.

For both of us to know, to really know,
Privately, to ourselves,
Is not a problem.
For me to not know what he thinks,
Despite the happening,
That seems like a problem (inside me).

I know what I said! I know because when it was said,
I thought, “Really? Seriously?”
And then I thought, Yes.
I know that’s really weird.

Strange things, very strange.
But what has been said remains.
It’s there, it’s right there.
Right now, I only need to remember
And know that it happened.

Quietly gathering myself.
Have patience, I think that I can do this.
I think I want to do this.

Be kind, this time be kind.

Flicker

In the event of a total and complete blackout, find a flashlight.
Before the unexpected blackout, make sure you check for batteries inside.
Most of us never do that. Most of the time, the batteries are dead. Find new ones.
In case there aren’t any, find candles.
In case there aren’t any, find a matchbox.
In case there aren’t any, find two stones that can produce a spark.
In case there aren’t any, look inside yourself.
There will be something there. There always is.
Even if it’s dim and flickering, it is there.
You’ll be surrounded by darkness everywhere outside,
Sometimes it feels like forever and ever and ever,
But there is light inside, somehow.

And if the power has gone out for so long, for so long,
That your eyes have adjusted to the black darkness,
And you can see your empty, hollow room,
Just wait. Just wait.
The power has to come back.

But you have to wonder,
While holding onto yourself for years,
If the wait has to be so frightening sometimes?

Because even the best of us, striving to flicker,
Worry about being snuffed out.

One Hundred and Eighty Two Point Five (Plus Seven)

Half-Life

Sixteen I remember, when Twenty Four was first mentioned,
and I had thought about the years between us.
How long would it take for Twenty Four to be here?

I thought that the length of it all stretched and stretched
till Twenty Four remained a small ball of light ahead;
I thought that Twenty Four was a story with pictures,
Of a girl with longer hair with a laughing face and a silver spoon.
Twenty Four was for Red Hands and Red Feet and a Red Sari.
Twenty Four would come to me, they told me, when he’d be waiting for my Red Beating Heart.
And I had believed it.

Nineteen I remember, when I had a Purple-Red Neck
but I had not seen Red flow from between my legs for a few months.
It didn’t frighten me like they’d said it would.
I remember the Red Beating Heart and I remember a man had walked to me,
Trying to claim it.
I gave it to him, for I thought he gave me a laughing face
And all that was missing was a Red Sari
(That I would have willingly worn.)
I reminded myself that Twenty Four wasn’t here yet.
I hadn’t even thought about Silver and a Spoon.

I remember Twenty Two and a broken Red Beating Heart,
Spilling out nothing.

I remember Twenty Three and a broken Red Beating Heart,
Convulsing as it beat, vomitting bile.

And now, I am at Twenty Four, inside the crack of a Beating Heart
That is just not coming together again.

At Sixteen when I pictured Twenty Four as a laugh,
No one could have told me then how to clean up an infected, Broken Heart
that has lost all Red, maybe for good.

Picture Twenty Four if you will, as a story:
A small tap on the shoulder, a sudden fear, ambivalence,
Silence, structures broken, folded limbs, quiet thoughts,
Red bricks, loud voices, cracked houses, cut arteries,
Running, running, running, running,
Running.
Nowhere to go. No one around. Silence.
Quiet heart, still heart, fluttering heart,
But Broken.
Always Broken.
Twenty Four, festering in infection. Forgiven by none.

Entropy decays pained months into Infections, I think.
Because we all know if an open wound isn’t treated properly, it can become infected.
But if I am trying and trying, and trying to try,
And if the World doesn’t listen, doesn’t want me to Do.
And instead says “I will not.”
I ask you, what can be done?

***

I have seen enough horror movies to know
to avoid walking toward the place of Murder,
to avoid calling out to the murderer,
because he will not reply.
I have also seen that when a demon comes to you,
Time stops when he enters,
and if you hear shadows coming your way, you must run.
(Find the Demon’s real name, call it out,
And he will leave, they say.)

The clocks remain at half-past Nothing, never moving,
and my legs are running, running, running,
But I still cannot wash away the feeling that
I am running towards a Murder that’s already happened.

I am so afraid that I will trip over a young girl’s body,
Whose wristwatch died at Twenty One,
And her face will scream: why couldn’t I run? Why couldn’t I run?
And I will be here, watching it all from inside a mirror.

Demons don’t leave despite you calling out their real name,
And the Murder happens even if you keep silent
Before the knife makes contact and breaks open your chest.
And you could be thinking you are dying, you are dying,
But you are only in mid-death, mid-agony, mid-heartbreak,
Writhing and convulsing, screaming and crying but not dying.
Never Dying.

You could be Twenty Four
In-between the fissure Of Heart Break,
Calling out all the names you have ever known,
And then remaining so silent that the World wonders if you’re still alive,
And you find out that Horror does not have to be a scream,
That Horror does not have to be a violent death.
That Horror is only the silence of bathroom walls when you weep,
That Horror is only stained pillows and contorted limbs,
That Horror is only your face shrouded in darkness
When looking above from inside Heart Break. 

***

Twenty Four, half way dead.
One week ago, Twenty Four took a small breath,
And sat down to tell me that she’s half way there,
That when she leaves, I have to think about what is to come.

If Twenty Four was when I was told that pictures would come together,
That it all would fall together
And land on that perfect story,
That my life began when I touched Twenty Four,
They could never have known where I am standing today.

Twenty Four has been brave, Twenty Four has cried for all of us.
And at the meeting point, half-way,
I say the story is coming together only as it could have:
One day at a time, one hour at a time.
One thought of hope at a time.

For I would have never known at Sixteen,
That Twenty Four could have been this quick, this tender, this small.

Picture Twenty Four with almost 6 months
Of an Unwritten Story.
Hands trembling slightly, somewhat tired legs.
Head full of thoughts, still looking above.

Places to Hide 

Starless nights can make the smallest of sounds seem sinister. There isn’t much we can do when Time isn’t moving forward; when it can’t be found even when we delve into the depths of our own darkness to see if we might have possibly misplaced it there. Inside ourselves, the only place that remains without stars is our shadow, soundlessly floating everywhere we go. Poor old Hope doesn’t know that it casts the shadow of Despair from its own self when it’s looking everywhere for Light. I had tried peeling off my own shadow so many times, until I understood that it is cast only because there must be Light somewhere. 
Time can be vicious, playing the same hour over and over again till you end up at the far end of September thinking, how have I managed to come here? And at the horizon of October, shadows play at the edges, I can see them. Starless nights stretch far out to blanket me, as cozy as the comfort inside mediocrity. As warm as the stove kept on for years together, cooking nothing. As overcast as the shadows that have kept poor old Hope company through the years. 

If you find Time, that Troublemaker, tell him I’m looking for him. He owes me an explanation. 

Let Go

You shouldn’t have done it. You really shouldn’t have.

Even a few months after we said goodbye, and I think that your imprint could finally be washed away, I still go back and check once in a while. I had to peel you off of me with great effort, with great misery and yet there remains resin that refuses to leave. It baffles me. I spent months out in the wild, alone and scared, sternly telling myself that I must not fall again; that after all that has happened, I cannot fall again. There aren’t enough people out there who will help you get back up.

On a bored Sunday, barely managing to get ready after cursing and screaming in traffic for over an hour, I almost wanted to cancel. When I realised I could want to end the night with a bang, I left booby traps around my house so that I would never have brought you back. I knew better because I knew I wanted better than that. Walking towards a boat, I remember feeling a little nervous because I didn’t know if I’d be fun enough. And I waited a little nervously, wondering if you were a serial killer because your display picture on whatsapp hadn’t changed in months.

When we got onto the boat and floated through the evening, I thought, well, this isn’t too bad at all. I still owe you 10 rupees because West Indies won (I was so sure they wouldn’t!). And for the first time ever, I stayed out past 10:30 for a stranger because I had so much fun. I had heard that kissing under a street lamp is something worth writing about, and I’d never kissed a stranger in a car before. I was slightly surprised when your fingers took mine ever so gently. I had only known hands that took my body, not anything more.

Despite the booby traps, despite knowing I wanted better, despite everything the year had taught me, I found myself riding back to my house with you behind me. You kissed me like I’d never been kissed before. You said things I’d never heard before. And for hours and hours, you were right there next to me, wide awake as I was. I was numb, because I’d never believed it to last. Severely damaged girls don’t get fairytales.

I reminded myself of that often for the first week. I refused to believe you happened to me. I wrote about you though, a few times. By the first weekend, I knew it would be make or break. I knew it would decide us for a little while. I went into it shaking. Severely damaged girls don’t get things their way.

When you opened my phone and looked through my messages, no red flags came up. You told me you felt bad about it, and I brushed it off. Later, you told me you could see my hickeys as we were having beer, and flashed me a little grin. I thought to myself that you couldn’t be real, could you?

Back home, in your arms, you told me you were so close to falling for me, and all I could think was that severely damaged girls don’t get love stories. I calculatedly sabotaged the following day, and I had no idea what I was in for. I let it all go and for the first time ever, someone saw the damage that went all the way inside me. It must have been ugly. I babbled, cried, told you things I shouldn’t have, was unable to kiss you, I came completely undone. You saw a shade of me that even I didn’t know existed.

You told me when I got home that your house feels empty. I felt the same. I decided that severely damaged girls could still be happy, and I came to kiss you furiously on a Wednesday night. Guys like you don’t happen to girls like me, but there you were. I was a girl hard at work to fix whatever damage there was.

And before I knew it, your words became smaller and your messages became intermittent. And before I knew it, I was hurled back to 2011 when someone else had done something similar and I didn’t know how to handle it. And before I knew it, working on the damage became a lot more difficult when the silences became longer.

I met you one last weekend, when we talked it all out. It seemed pretty evident that we could be happy together but Time didn’t sit right. It sat on a chair too small, it didn’t fit. You thought we could continue. I thought so too. I even believed it for a really, really long time. We had beer, watched another cricket match, completed a circle. We said goodbye.

The silences maliciously stretched out my days for two weeks. You should have warned me of what was to come. You shouldn’t have been so quiet.

Before you left for your 6 week long trip, I asked you if you’re sure you want to continue. You’re gonna be gone for 6 weeks. You have barely talked to me. I don’t know what’s happening with you. You said yes. You shouldn’t have.

You also said you wouldn’t talk to me for a while, that you need to sort things out for yourself. But you kept me on a hook. You’d send me intermittent messages again, reply in one word. You dragged me along long enough for the damage to show once again. Except you weren’t there to see it. This time, absolutely no one was there to see it.

My fingers shook slightly when I sent you a message asking how you were, and those blue ticks remained for weeks until finally I knew I needed to know once and for all. Funnily enough, I still thought we’d work it out, even when logic screamed something else. You shouldn’t have been so selfish about this.

I know you needed your time, I know you wanted your space and I know you did what you did to make sure you came to the right decision but by the end, you were almost cruel about it.

You said you’d like to meet me still, even if we weren’t dating. That you’re quite busy, and we could still be friends. I quietly thought about you. You seemed to have no idea about the blaze that left a black streak down my chest. You were the first one to play with the matchsticks. You shouldn’t have.

For the very first time, to my absolute surprise, I told you I’d be walking away from you. I never thought I would. Severely damaged girls hold onto something seemingly good, even when they probably shouldn’t. And the words that you heard the night I said goodbye, I heard for the first time too. They sprung from a part of me that I think I’d been waiting to meet for a really, really long time.

Our first night, you told me that you see us being together for a long time, that you’d be sad to see us not work out; and I held your hands and reassured you that I wouldn’t hurt you, that I’m a nice person. Look at how the Universe plays with us.

You could have done what you did because maybe somewhere you genuinely believed that you wanted to work it out. You shouldn’t have been so cruel later though. You shouldn’t have pushed down a severely damaged girl that had been trying to become better. It’s hard enough when you’re doing it all alone. You should have been kinder.

After you, I’ve met this new part of me and I think she’s still getting used to being out here. She’s not left me yet though. I hope she stays.

I walked away from the crap job I had because after our last weekend, I asked myself why am I not putting a PhD on hold? Isn’t this what I have always wanted, an honest and genuine guy who would for the first time make me happy? I said yes, you were what I wanted but I need this PhD to get the hell out of this country even more. What am I doing to get there? Nothing.

You pushed me forward, and for that, I am grateful. From you, I learned that fairytales with twists and turns can still become ordinary stories with disappointing endings; that extraordinary coincidences won’t command the path of love. I learned to take things at face value, dip slightly towards logic rather than emotions. For that, I am grateful.

My fear however, stems from so many things. How did I manage to fall for your words in a matter of 10 days even after I’d learned enough lessons? How did you manage to back away the moment I decided to move into everything you could have offered? How damaged must I have been to think that you’d return to take this forward when all logic said otherwise? Why does your resin remain, even after I know it means nothing to have it there?

I have been fighting the good fight for much longer than I’ve known you, and I’ll continue to do so till I don’t know you the way I do now. Severely damaged girls who fight for themselves and for their better future, I’ve heard, sometimes end up winning.

Skies 

Sometimes, the sky is a muted shade of blue, falling slowly. Sometimes the sky is a screaming shade of orange, collapsing all around me. Mostly though, the sky remains a quiet humming of spoiled silver, insidiously moving in no direction at all. 

When a certain time is to come to you, bringing a basket full of pre-written apologies for the damage it is going to cause, how do you learn to accept it with grace? How many times must this Time train you to maintain a pursed face, and learn to bow in acceptance of turbulence and disaster? 

I think you’re always learning, but never fully learn. On days like today, when the orange is bleeding through the steely grey and I watch the sky burn a hole into my chest, I am sitting as quietly as possible.

 I’ve had days where I’ve screamed orange right back to the sky, burning myself in the process. I’ve had days with the heavy grey iron blanket wrapped around myself, drenching my skin in massive rain clouds. Sitting quietly is no option when there are no more options left, and when you’re cornered and hurt, spewing orange and grey can seem imminent too. 

Twenty Three passed away writhing in her sleep, holding onto orange embers that left the burned flesh on her palms coated in grey soot. Twenty Three left Twenty Four three Coloured Skies, a memory of orange and grey, and branded palms. 

Twenty Four could use blue skies, she hardly remembers them. She’s sent a message in a bottle to the Universe, and it’s floating away in the inky black space, greeting stars as it travels. All that’s left to do now is wait, and sit still as the coal in the skies become embers. 

Stalled. 

Promises and determination lie in the corner, half polished and bent. Somewhat dusty, somewhat sticky. 

They’re like those old toys you discard after you’ve spent the glee in your chest on the newness of the shiny trinket. As the novelty fades, so does the glee. As we become older, these toys show up after every upheaval; say for example, a move. Unpacking boxes marked “toys” or “books”, when you come across these trinkets and think, THAT’S where I had put it! You spend hours reminiscing. The most exciting boxes though are ones marked “miscellaneous” or “unknown” (my personal favourite I must say). There’s no set bar on what you’d find here. Sometimes you come across an old red dress that you’d worn when you’d gone shopping at 14. Sometimes, you find a dead heart and a jar of jagged words, and it’s too heavy for you to pick up. This one time, I found a crying child in one of the boxes and I was really worried. I didn’t know what to do. It took a few days for me to figure out that I had actually just found a mirror. After that, I’ve been scared to look inside more boxes. There are so many to still unpack. 

I took a tangent, my apologies. As for the promises and determination, they haven’t been packed away yet. Twenty Four, we really need to step up our game. There are so many things that are quivering to be written about. There are still so many boxes making noise. 

Universal (R)Ejection

One questions loops around my brain, over and over, and ties my thoughts with it in a perfect, enclasping bow: Why. Why the need for this cosmic pummelling? I mean alright, everything has its own reasons and sure, the things that happen do happen for the best sometimes but I mean, come now. Enough is enough. Even the Universe must know that cruelty is just awful.

My parents will officially be moving to Bangalore. My father got a new role in the same company, and my parents are relocating. According to my father, the timing could not have been more perfect. The last few weeks have crawled along, limping through the days, only because I knew that parents would be a weekend visit. I was thankful that the shrapnels of my mother’s sociopathy would be temporary through the weeks, and that a peaceful 5 days would be enough to recuperate and ready myself for more. Now you’re telling me that she’s going to a permanent fixture in this house, ready to shoot as many darts of guilt and anger as possible?

Everything that could have possibly gone wrong is going wrong. Every dreadful thought is materialising into reality. And here I am, trying my best to throw out good thoughts, nice thoughts, needed thoughts and well, it looks like the Universe is doing this on purpose. The last string that kept this sad little puppet propped up, that’s keeping me from collapsing, is on the verge of being cut.

I am being cornered slowly, deliberately and I suppose for a purpose. My teacher told me this is the Universe’s way of kicking me out of Bangalore and getting me to FINALLY get the motor going. She expressed such faith in me, such belief that I am actually an intelligent person and in the right circumstances, I will be able to excel. That in the right place, I will be able to achieve my full potential.

That this is it. The time I have been preparing for for the last 3 years. It is here, and this 11th hour is all I have got now. The Universe is taking no chances with me. Everything that could go wrong is going wrong so that I have no choice but to start the uphill climb. It is here, it is happening.

Had my parents not moved here, I might have gotten comfortable with Bangalore and the lovely stay with my grandmother. I might have thought, why not pull this ahead another year? It’s not so bad. I have finally found love and peace, and more importantly, a loving mother figure in my grandmother. I might have stayed for her. Had my friends not left, I might have continued and lived on with the available social support. I would have managed to postpone the studying, the hard work for some sort of happiness I get from lighting up joints through the day, laughing it away. I would have thought, a social life is important too, it keeps me sane. Had things worked out with the nice man, I might have stayed back thinking that it could work out to something better, something beautiful. I might have thought that the sacrifices in the pursuit of love are massive, but maybe the gains are too. I might have thought that staying back in Bangalore for a while would be alright, it might be really nice actually.

Here I am now, without parental support, without the social support needed, cooped up in a beautiful house and somewhat heart-cracked. I have no place to go but out. I have nothing to do but leave. And leave I must now.

Maybe now I know Why, Universe, or I think I know, but if I do all that I can, will you come through for me at the end?