I woke up yesterday wanting to die.
I never knew you could wake up like that.
It felt, like a forbidden mantra, it was given to me in my sleep. Like some age old witch with eyes sucked in the wrinkles of her face gave it to me. As if when I sleep my body stays in my untidy bed and my mind floats into oblivion. There she lives. The witch. And after so many invasions to her private place, she finally decided to end that shit. So looking straight into my eyes, with a grim smile, she gave it to me. “ I want to die”— the witch’s mantra. And I woke up.
But I didn’t die yesterday. Why? Because things got into my ways. You need to have a space to die. You can’t just die in the middle of your office meeting, or someone else’s house. You only die once! You need to do it right. I mean you think your life requires things, wait till you decide to die!
So now I am living with this desire that demands full attention. I can’t die half-heartedly. The last moment of my consciousness cannot be how my mother is managing the house now that I am occupied.
We are expecting a lot of guests today.
I need a very personal moment. “Private zero hour.” When I am the only thing on my mind. I wonder what that would be like.
I don’t have any romanticization about how people will react to my suicide. I know exactly how. I am good at that way, calculating and knowing things is my jam. It always served me good in exams, I usually knew what questions particular teachers would give. You can almost all the time tell what people are and what they want by looking at them. By seeing them.
I wonder if Badol ever saw me.
We were in a five year relationship. Our University years. But you know what I mean. The relationship or the naked nights doesn’t qualify as “seeing”. I mean he loved the beauty mark in my lower back, said it kind of looked like a lone boat. But that’s that.
Then again if he saw me there wouldn’t be a relationship. I saw him. But I still said yes as soon as he proposed. Sometimes I just let things unroll. Or maybe I needed someone to love my lone boat.
Now Ma is looking at me all creepy and for a split second I thought, “Does she know?”
She is saying something. Oh she is irritated because I’ve messed up the salad bowl, carrots and cucumbers are all in different shapes.
She doesn’t know.
Baba retired from his job last month, and in a month we have a booming vegetable garden on the roof and a paradoxical chicken shed in the back. It looks like a chicken shed, it says it’s a chicken shed, but since the all four chickens have died it is now being used to keep the antiquities of the house.
They are happy. Ma and Baba.
He lives like any sensible man around here would live; stern, avoiding all kinds of discomfort and bragging about chivalrous acts only in friendly crowds. And to that she provides amazing housework skills, dormant pride in her husband’s position, secrets and fear. How can that combination not be happy!
I’ve been mediocre in all the things I’d done in life. I had scored barely enough just to qualify for things. House works I do plenty, especially these current days. But that’s just done for the sake of it. I’ve never been able to groom myself to the standard of womanhood. Badol used to say, that made me adorable. An adorable chaos. Smrity said it made me look brat-ish. Too brat to fix your hair. Too brat to iron your dress.
Smrity did things so that I don’t have to. She took the first bullets of everything. And at the End she rectified everyone by marrying a rich manly man. She used to love a guy who was a lecturer in one of our local colleges.
“Used to”, that’s a cruel term! Maybe she still loves him.
I could’ve married Badol just because the quota of sacrifice has been filled, they’ve got their martyr.
Smrity the martyr and mother of a child came today. Here to the home of her childhood.
A sky white one story building with a bronze colorless gate, vegetable leaves showing by the roof and a Kamranga tree in the back, which smells like chicken nowadays.
Growing up I hated that Smrity took the tolls for me. Got slapped because I was unruly. I wanted to get slapped for my own deeds. I wanted to take my own fall. It felt like I wasn’t important enough to get slapped. “Only the worthy shall be slapped!” So I took my “misdemeanors” even further. Didn’t talk to the relatives. Stole Sumon vai’s cycle and tried to ride it a million times. Didn’t cover my hair going out, it flew high, higher than our father’s patience.
Now Smrity stands behind me measuring my silence. Does she know?
—How’s your job going?
—Ma says you only eat one meal a day. What’s up with that?
—Nothing. I don’t feel hungry.
She was quiet, I kept washing the dishes.
—You know what, you never grew out of you teen-age phase. And it’s bloody annoying. Honestly there’s nothing more annoying than seeing a grown-ass woman acting out as though her teen rebellious age is going on!
She’s testing if she still can get to me. That her words still evoke reaction. She’s also trying to disguise her discomfort in anger. Twenty-seven days ago I went to her and said things that changed our dynamic. And she doesn’t know how to cope with it.
But on Smrity I am counting. She’s the one I choose to be the messiah. After all she’s always been my savior.
In any other time, this family gathering that’s going on in this house, would make me extremely agitated, hostile, numb, and sad all at the same time. But not today.
There’s a strange calmness that came over me. And despite the salad bowl; the table setting, the chicken curry, the mutton biryani all are going pretty much smoothly.
—Why are you being so weird?
—Did you ever mind that I never called you didi?
—What? No! And I asked you something!
—Sometimes when you sat quiet in your table, as a child I thought you were upset because I didn’t call you didi or apu…or something like that.
—You are doing everything robotically! Here to there and there to here! And why are you being so clean? And when I sat quiet in my room there was a million other things going on in my life, everything’s not about you!
—Did you know that Sumon vai brought the three legged color box for you, not me? But I just grabbed it and he was so annoyed he let it be.
—I think you put your weirdo cap on extra carefully when people come over. You know life’s a bitch!
“Life’s a bitch?” Why is she preaching?
Maybe her husband humiliated her a little, or ignored her, or something happened with her in-laws. It wasn’t her kid, he is a good kid, kind of looks like Sumon vai.
But it’s true. I cleaned everything with surgical precision today. With god-like meticulousness. Our whole house smells like a freshly bloom Rosemary today. Except the Kamranga tree in the back, that’s beyond salvation!
Why did I say Rosemary? I have never seen Rosemary! I don’t know what they smell like!
Isn’t it what life is? That I was supposed to die yesterday but instead I washed and cleaned the house with Surf Excel! Life is ruining plans. Life is missing deadlines!
Smrity always hated that she didn’t know what’s going on with my life. And to that I always thought that she felt entitled to my life because she made much of it easier. And also honestly, I just didn’t know how to share. I knew, even as a kid, that there’s something off in me.
She shared her life with me as much as she could because she thought it would bring us closer. I didn’t because I thought it would tear us apart.
In my mind I was never a stubborn child, though everyone disagreed. I was just quiet and always had my reasons .I was very sorted in the head. So when Sumon vai died in front of me I kept searching for the reason, the logic, Why? I didn’t cry. When Baba came to the Hospital not even then. When Baba broke down on the Hospital floor and howled like a child, not even then. When Baba looked at me I was terrified he’s gonna get mad that my hair is not covered. But he didn’t see anything, he stared right through me. And I just sat there, stiff, in the waiting lounge, a piece of chocolate clutched in my right hand.
Why did Sumon vai has to die?
It’s sort of a farewell party, today’s thing. Of course not for me!
Baba and Ma is going to Hajj. It’s been their lifelong dream. And they look genuinely happy today. Usually their happiness give away to despair real quick. Not today.
I don’t mind being here, in the kitchen. Especially when Ma keeps it so beautiful with plants and blooming yellow flowers and washed and dried dishes and tiny mugs.
As I am willingly laboring away here, the rest of the house is buzzing jn front of me. I am simultaneously present and not present.
The women that came here today, they don’t like me. I am not saying that the men do. But the women especially don’t. And there’s nothing to like. I tend not to go along with their make believe world, so around me they get tensed. And I think they really started to get angry with me when I refused to get hugged at Sumon vai’s funeral.
How dare you refuse people’s pity?
I’ve always been around women like that. Bruised and battered. In here it’s hard not to.
Women who swallow abuses. They have been swallowing things before their tits started growing out. They swallow deep disgusting darkness. Then they become mothers and pass the craft to their daughters. Women who look the other way when another one of them gets broken apart. Women who push other women down and stand on their throat. Women who act. Women who stay skinny and women who become fat. Women who groom and women who let go.
It’s all been practiced and performed for ages.
This house has four bedrooms, one for the Ma and Baba, and three for the children. To the left from the kitchen door there is the most beautiful room there is. The room that I wanted to have.
I was selfish that way. I wanted to have beautiful things.
I am selfish that way.
The door says Simon’s Sanctuary on top of it. Yes we had a Simon in our family. And a made up Garfunkel.
The made up Garfunkel now presides over a house that is not her own, to a room where she doesn’t belong. Made up Garfunkel now preaches, ”Life’s a bitch!”
As soon as someone comes to our house they become the involuntary audiences of an up and coming and yet well establish band. Ma becomes an enthusiastic talent manger and shows the video of Simon and made up Garfunkel singing together.
“ Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme……”
The first time people watch it they get really invested in it. But Ma loses count and tells the same story to the same persons over and over again. She doesn’t care who’s sitting in front of her, she has to tell the story repeatedly. Details grow by each narration. People get agitated and a little irritated maybe, but Ma doesn’t see it.
Ma the ancient mariner.
Sometimes you have no other preoccupation in life, no other fullness, so you hold onto you griefs. They are the things that make your story worthwhile.
Baba broke Sumon vai’s guitar in half in the first year of his University.
He wept for it. Sumon vai was quick to cry. His made up Garfunkel cried too, but that was okay. His was not. Baba couldn’t believe that a twenty year old Man would cry. Publically!
Baba didn’t know that what had happened one night was, Sumon became Simon. And Simons could cry. It made their guitars sound more majestic!
Smrity is not looking back leaving the house. I wouldn’t want her to.
She will board her Ma and Baba to the plane and come back tomorrow morning. For me..
Twenty-seven days ago in an evening like this I went to her, to the room she didn’t belong, sat in front of her and said, “He raped me.”
She was quiet. She looked at me that day.
-It was your first time. First times can be jerky. First time you don’t get it properly. It can be confusing.
I didn’t say anything.
She thinks I was a virgin. I stared at her. Even if I was a virgin she thinks I couldn’t tell the difference between a rape and a non-rape.
Then I saw her. She was a virgin.
Coming home when I told Baba I wanted a divorce, the day after the marriage, he was so furious he lost words. And for a minute I thought why he never even paused to wonder. Wonder why his child would say that. But that was just a minute.
I am not what you call a “Pretty Woman”. But I know I look breathtakingly beautiful when naked. Badol was a pretty man. And he looked like an angel when naked. He was David when naked. He always felt a little shy, and uncomfortable with his body. I loved that about him.
I used to go for walks with him in the sunsets. His eyes were just made to watch the sun go down in them. The long lashes would always feel like the leaves of a beloved tree. When shadows would fall across his neck-bone I always wanted to be in his arms. I wanted him to hold me close. I wanted to see his goosebumps when I put my finger on his shadows that grew by the darkness.
My first night with him I was determined to make it a beautiful one. Because you know… I wanted to have beautiful things. So his excitement turned into passion. Touch of the finger tips created magic upon which the Universe first came to being. Skin to skin. Tremble to tremble. The sprouts and baby oceans.
He knew deep in his heart it wasn’t going to make it, our relationship. So when I said goodbye to him, he was quiet and said with a murmur, ”Okay.” I loved him for that too.
I wanted to be with the man who had magic of his own. You know doing the entire production by myself was wearing me out. And somehow I knew I was gonna meet him, the man who’s out there, who knows when to hold on to in silence and when to kiss. Now that I’ve decided to die I feel bad for him. He’s never gonna meet me. What a waste!
Smrity didn’t know about Badol. She thought I was a virgin. A virgin who doesn’t know what a rape is.
You know what I wanted to do?
I wanted to walk. New roads. And old ones. And watch people. Watch their stories. I wanted to venture out of the system while staying a little part of it. I wanted to beat it. I wanted to outwit it. And I thought I saw things. And had a plan.
I always thought of it as funny that in here men sometimes get married just to get laid. So when the time came I assessed and pointed to the one who seemed most nervous and week. And I knew when I meet whom I supposed to meet I will get out, and until then I will carry on with my life.
I have looked at Ma in between these past twenty-seven days, and thought, in her first night, was she the virgin who didn’t know what a rape was? Did Sumon vai come out of it? I know Smrity and I didn’t. You can only hold out for so long. You can’t be raped if you comply, right?
So you become the accomplice in your own murder.
When the man showed up at our house after my bailing out from his house the first day, not saying a single word, my mother was besides herself. She couldn’t believe her daughter’s luck.
I went back and made the man terrified every night. I was unusually strong for a woman, everyone said growing up. So he couldn’t manage to untangle me. Though he tried relentlessly. He must’ve read the King Bruce’s story growing up. The meek, week man.
I had realized how much strength my muscles carry, when the first time someone squeezed my breast in the crowd. I was in class eight. Anita was with me. We were in one of our little adventures, discovering the town. The first shock didn’t pass out even, when the man stuck out his hand again. I grabbed his hand and started to beat the shit out of him. Anita was shouting, she didn’t know what had happened. But she knew. We had to know. I went blind in rage. Rage in its purest form. He was bleeding. The crowd was shocked.
I would hide my ‘not at all delicate muscles’ listening to the bed time stories Ma told. I thought that would disqualify me. Suman vai and Smriti looked so lovely that the heart of a little-girl-me would get really scared, and I would get teary. I wanted to be a part of that beautiful family picture. Dark night out, and in there a bed full of pretty children with their pretty mother. So I would hide under the chador, even in the summer. Arms and legs inside.
And there was this one about a fox who opened up a school for the children of a jungle. Because he was disgusted by the savagery of them, and shocked by their schooling system, in that they had no schools! So the animals, including a mother crocodile with seven children, brought their kids to the school. All the animals were relived thinking they did their parentings right. Until one day they came to the school and an empty playground stared at them. The Fox had made lunch plans with their kids and when finished, went away. The crocodile mother was duped. Every time she came by, the fox paraded the same hatchling over and over again. Because all six of them he ate one by one, then there was one.
That’s the story. And as I hated school in my childhood, I always got chocked up in the mornings, thinking, ”Ma knows the story, still why is she bringing me here!”
She didn’t know.
So here I am in the middle of my bed. All cleaned up, my room looks beautiful today, not Simon beautiful, but beautiful.
I always thought sleeping pill is a cowardice way to die. I’ve thought about suicide numerous times. Not in a life-changing-decision kind of way. Just pondered ideas. I’ve always liked it. Choosing your own time to die. It made sense to me.
You don’t get to decide your birth, it’s just a random, arbitrary thing. Whatever it is, after your consciousness forms, you have to bear it. The burden of life.
Cutting your wrists sitting in a white floor, with your favorite music on, seemed like a good plan. Watching the life drain out of you. Until one day in my early twenties I really imagined it looking down at my hands.
From the hospital to the house till the burial, I’d
spent the whole day with Sumon vai’s blood. My hands were covered in thick red.
I sat in my room, this room, in that corner. I didn’t know blood had a smell.
But it had, and the smell was nothing like Sumon vai’s.
His life drained out in front of me. I couldn’t stop it. I held my hands where he broke like his guitar. And it didn’t stop.
I was spared.
Curled up in my bed, just now I’ve realized deep down I always knew, I would commit suicide. Just not this soon maybe.
It’s not an overpowering emotional thing for me, now that I’ve started to swallow the pills. It’s just where my calculation led to. SWALLOW.
Ma and Baba by now has boarded the plane. Maybe Smrity is in the gate saying goodbye, asking for blessings and forgiveness. I’ve always liked the chant of Hajj.
“Labbayk, Allahumma labbayk,
labbayk la sharika laka labbayk,
Innal Hamda wan nimata laka wal mulk,
la sharika lak.”
There’s something ancient and hypnotizing about a mob of people moving in a circle and shouting to God,” Here I am, God, here I am…..”
They will shout,
Ma and Baba. Then Ma the ancient mariner once again will tell the story of her
only son who decided to become Simon one night. To God she will whisper after
“Here I am…!”
“Now tell me, why Simon had to die?”
Smrity would understand. She’s the smartest person I’ve ever known. And she would spare her parents. By the time they get back Smrity will make sure this house looks like it never had a selfish brat who wanted to have beautiful things.
Only one is left in my hand, the sleeping pills.
Then there was one.
The witch is smiling her grim smile.
My fingers are slipping away from me. So quiet is the night that I can here the pills spreading in me, my blood detecting danger signaling the brain, the brain trying to shake it off. My brain. It has always been my greatest ally. If it feels betrayed by this, after all the things it has done for me, it has a right to. I imagine the pill’s blue stream against my red blood….Beautiful!
I used to hate my memory for the tricks it played on me.
Whenever I wanted to remember the happiest moments of my life, the top always was me in the back of Sumon vai’s bike. My arms spread beside me. I felt like a bird, my hair flying higher than ever before. And I was laughing so loud Sumon vai had to shout to me to stop acting like a lunatic.
Then he stopped, took off his helmet and told me to put it on. I didn’t want to. “If my hair doesn’t fly what’s the point of riding your bike?” He said to put it on, and the next time he wouldn’t make me.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next. Maybe I do.
I was laughing like a lunatic.
A car came. I don’t know. Or maybe I do. I know things. That’s my thing.
Came his way.
Simon was very careful, driving along the footpath line. He didn’t want anything happen to his brat sister. He didn’t see it coming.
I had an aversion to carefulness after that, now that I see me in retrospect. Who am I to be careful when Simon the careful biker wasn’t served by it.
All through school I knew in heart he was distracted by his younger sister’s laugh. Which I didn’t tell anyone. If I wasn’t laughing, would he be here? If I wasn’t wearing his helmet, would he be here?
My happiest memory. Riding in the back of my brother’s bike.
I am fifteen. I’ve just started to fit in, in school. Sumon vai is twenty three. He has just finished his graduation. He’s really hopeful for his future, gonna do so many things. Smriti is twenty. She’s in her first year of University and a talk of the campus she’s so bright. She didn’t come with us.
Then there was one.