It’s 1 am but I can’t sleep because my cousin, Rajeev’s bedroom light comes directly into the kitchen, where I sleep. He is studying for his exam tomorrow and I can’t even ask him to shut his door, basically because I don’t want to make him mad. He doesn’t like it when a servant tells him what to do. Last month when I had an excruciating headache I made a mistake of requesting him to lower the volume of his music player. He replied with a kick to my stomach. Bloody donkey, I’m not really fond of him, for obvious reasons. Well, as I’m awake tonight anyways, I thought I’ll tell you a story, my story. I’ll keep it to highlights only though. I might not get another chance to tell this story because I’m supposed to leave very soon from here to be once again with my parents. Oh! Just the thought of leaving this place gives me joy.
I’m 17 years old and I’ve been living with my aunt, my mother’s sister, for 4 years now. Well, more like working for my aunt for 4 years, as a domestic servant. I don’t really complain about it because in this cruel and selfish world they at least took me in and they feed me, provide me a roof. Yes, I would have loved if I could continue my education but beggars can’t be choosers, right!? Everything in my life was better than this. I lived with my parents and my baby sister. My sister, she was 4 years younger to me and after her arrival in my life I never needed any other toys. I still remember when I first held her in my arms, I was shivering and sweating. She looked so fragile. I feared that I might break her. Her small face and those googly eyes had me mesmerized. Oh! How I miss her!
“Mummy!” my sister said holding my t-shirt with her little nervous hands, she was hardly audible as she stood outside the door trying to wipe tears off of her cheek and gasping for breath. I was eleven. My mother had not been keeping well for sometime now and as I stood there in front of my weeping sister, looking at the chaos that my neighbors had created in my living room, I knew, I knew something was not right. A man, I don’t remember who he was, maybe one of my neighbors, asked me to stay outside. I protested asking to let me in and see for myself what was wrong. I practically stood on my toes to find my mother or father in that chaotic room.
They told me my mother was no more. I cried, I cried until I forgot to breathe and had to gasp for air, I heard someone say “she’s in a better place now” I wanted to break that person’s jaw. I was angry because I was busy playing cricket while my mother was in her last moments and I couldn’t help but imagine how it must have crushed her when she didn’t see me by her bed in her last moments. After an hour when I finally had the permission to say goodbye to my mother, I didn’t want to. I was scared and somewhere deep down believed that if I refuse to acknowledge the reality, it’ll no more be the reality and she’ll comeback. I still remember her face when I went to say my final goodbye. I didn’t understand the peace on her face. I do now.
This was just the start. A year later all the same things started again, the same illness, weakness and the regular coughing; only this time it was my baby sister. “Bhai!” she said as she held my arm in her little hands trying to get a strong grip, I looked in her eyes and it killed me. With one hand she held me and with other she held onto to Ronny. Ronny was this purple stuffed toy, a dog, that I gifted her on her 8th birthday, 2 months ago. Her eyes filled up with tears ready to overflow and wet her cheeks at any point now. It was like she was asking me to help her, somehow save her. I too wished I could. My father and I were there, by her bed. I sat there as her cries turned to weeps and finally there was silence, her grip on my arm loosened and Ronny rolled down from her chest landing on her pink bed sheet.
Around the same time I started feeling that people avoided me. My friends didn’t want to play with me as they said they were forbidden to do so by their parents. There was my best friend who at first defied his parent’s instruction and played with me but he got into trouble at home when they found out. So that stopped as well. My father anyways had a job that could hardly feed us and he lost that as well. Subsequently I was removed from the school too. I was so confused. All my time went into figuring out why were all those things happening to me. My father and I just grew apart. He was not himself and not there for me when I needed him the most. I blamed him for my mother and sister’s death, I always told him “why didn’t you just take them to a hospital? Did you want them to die? I think you did, you murdered them!” It was only fair of me to say all those things, I was angry and lonely. I felt my father was an irresponsible man. Later I found out he was not a man at all, he was a monster.
Eight months after my sister’s death my father dropped me off at my aunt’s place as he had to visit our native place which was in another state. He was to return in a month. He seemed emotional and had tears in his eyes while dropping me off, this was the only emotion I had seen from him for a long time. I felt a little assured that somewhere deep inside he does care about me. My aunt lived in the same city; they were not rich but better off financially than my family. My aunt treated me very much like her own son for about a month. I used to sleep on the couch and could eat on the dining table but my sheets and plates were kept and washed separately. I assumed it was because they considered me an outsider. After a while I was shifted from couch to kitchen floor, the requests to do household work were now orders and the sweetness in the tone had withered away. I waited for my father to return while I was trying to figure out the reason for the hatred that was directed at me.
One day I over slept and my cousin missed his breakfast before school. “You ba**ard, you just want to eat, sleep and have fun, don’t you? You’re a lazy bum too, just like your father.” Her nostrils flared as her sharp words penetrated right through my heart like a needle.
“You wouldn’t say that if my father was here, I don’t want to live with you anymore. I want to go back to my father.” I cried while stepping away from her and looking only at my feet, I was too scared to look her in the eye. After all I was only 13.
“Well for that I’ll have to kill you!” She replied instantly. Now I could look nowhere but in her eyes. I could tell she regretted saying that.
“What do you mean? Where is my father?” I asked as I walked up to her.
“Tell me, where is he?” I shouted. “He never intended to come back because he knew he was going to die. He’s dead. He finally died.” She said with a hint of disgust.
Still trying to get my head around the fact that I was all alone now in this world I went and sat on a chair in the living room. I was suddenly feeling too weak to even stand. I wasn’t really close with my father but he was still my father. “What happened, how did he die?” I asked, not sure whether I wanted to hear the answer. My aunt came and sat across on the couch.
“He was finally taken away in the same way he murdered my sister, in pain” she said, her eyes got all teary as anger and disgust in her voice were replaced by woe and agony.
“Murdered?” I asked as my eyebrows dropped in confusion
“Yes, murdered, he knew before marriage that he had it and yet he… That son of bit*h, he knew.” She shouted as anger again gained precedence in her tone. I looked at her clueless. She knew I was unaware of or rather intentionally kept away from the truth. Before I could ask her anything she stood up and started marching around. “Your father had AIDS and he knew, yet he married my sister and had two kids. That monster, he deserved to die a more horrifying death. He killed my only sister, your sister and you will die too!” My aunt said and burst into tears. I couldn’t believe her first but then all of it made sense now. I was searching for a reason for all the wrong that happened in my life in last 2 years and now had my answers.
I had tears in my eyes and clenched fist. I too felt good that he was dead. I was furious. It was more painful to admit that my father was a monster than the fact that I’d be dead soon. I spent nights, crying and being angry on my father followed by nights crying and being scared of death. This went on for months. I finally made my peace with the fact that I’m going to die soon. My aunt’s hatred for me grew. I reminded her of the man who killed her sister. Everyone expected that I’d be dead in a year or two, everybody prayed for it, including me but my good luck or bad that I’m still alive after four years.
They say “Live each day as if its your last” I’ve been doing exactly that for past four years, it is not as glorious and exciting as they make it out to be. Now, after all the things that have happened to me, I still want to live. I have no reason to live but I want to. Maybe it’s just the basic need of survival or the greed of life that we share. It’s so stupid. I know that it’s not possible for me to live too long. Especially after past two months, you see my health has deteriorated pretty drastically. I’m barely able to stand for more than an hour, I’m often breathless and I feel weak.
People are so scared of death and keep running away from it. Everybody wants to live even if life is ruthless whereas death is the end of desolation. I think we’d be much happier and secured if we could only learn to embrace and accept death instead of being scared of it. But what do I know, I’m just 17. It’s my birthday next week and some reason I feel I won’t make it. I feel I will never turn 18. It’s probably nothing, just anxiety and fear I guess.
Okay, now Rajeev’s lights are off and I should probably crash too. I’ve to get up early and make some breakfast for my cousin.
*Rajeev wakes up with the 6 am alarm, gets ready for school and walks into the kitchen for his breakfast only to discover that his cousin is still asleep. Rajeev kicks him to wake him up but he doesn’t react. Rajeev kicks again, he is not smart enough to notice that his sick brother is at peace now, he is not breathing.*