I woke up at the stroke of three and stealthily approached the window that faced the garden. Unlatching it ever so gently to avoid creaking, I looked at my backpack that lied on a table near the window, containing a few fillers. Having checked the contents thoroughly, I held it firmly to my breast and jumped out.
It was dark outside . My baby steps finally reached the main gate and for the last time, hopefully, I looked back at my sweet home – a home where everything was normally abnormal.Without giving a second thought to my bold decision of leaving the house, I paced up , leaving behind the image of my house fading in the darkness.
I walked until the first ray of the rising sun glistened the horizon. My weariness had subjugated my determination to leave the city premises at the earliest. By now the deserted road was animated with pedestrians and speeding vehicles, incessantly jamming each other’s path with verbal duels. Seeing a wooden bench at a roadside , I sat and rested my head on the backpack.
Suddenly I felt a sort of tremor inside me.It was an alarming hunger pang wanting to be satiated. I looked for my small purse inside the backpack and took out some cash , sufficient enough to buy a loaf of bread. However my search for a reliable food stall proved futile. Thus resuming my fatigued walk, I came upon a woman who was standing at a distance with a child.
“ Ma’m where can I find a bakery?” I asked her in my perturbed voice.
“I don’t know.” She replied hastily and stared at me. Before she could enquire about my details, I thought it wise to walk away from her. So this was going to be my first ever ordeal in life, away from the comfort zone provided by my parents.
I sighed and resumed walking until I came upon a restaurant, buzzing with early morning quests.I walked in and sat comfortably on a chair. Soon a short man with a long menu approached my table and I ordered a heavy breakfast of two boiled eggs, six slices of bread and a glass of chocolate shake. The waiter smiled at my menu and left. After a while, my eyes sparkled at the sight of the contents laid on my table and for the first time in my life, I had consumed what I wanted.
I left the restaurant after paying the bill. Outside, the sunlight was at its best , warming the day every minute and I had no shield except a cap to keep myself invigorating . I wandered perpetually, gazing at the shops adjacent to the footpath, sometimes enjoying window-shopping , totally unaware of my destination.
It was now 3.00 pm. Finding a shelter again at a roadside under a huge mango tree, I decided to halt and take a few winks before resuming the journey again. However I could not sleep . A sort of fear blanketed my mind. What would I do at the nightfall? Where would I go if someone chased me?
I clasped the backpack and now my prime concern was to tactfully find a refuge atleast for a few days before I could proceed further in my plan. I sustained my trek hoping to find a home away from home to relocate myself.
Soon my wandering eyes caught a glimpse of a colony of houses as if they awaited my visitation, eager to inhabit me. Securing some pints of confidence, I knocked at a door. An old voice answered the knock. She must be in her fifties. I was let in and offered a glass of water. My body was slumped from fatigue due to wide-awakeness. On my request the old woman left me to arrange for food and before she could return with her kind gesture of composed hospitality, I surrendered myself to the arms of a deep sleep.
A stroke of wheezing interrupted my sleep. On waking up, I found the old woman seated beside the sofa where I lay. Her face saddened at my agony as I requested her to take out the medical kit from my bag and give me the prescribed medicine. She did so smiling at me now.
Having taken the medicine, I told her that I had asthmatic attacks since the age of eight and had been under heavy medication. The woman wondered at my recounting and said, “ Dear ! I don’t mind your stay with me as long as you desire but for God’s sake, please let me inform your parents about your stay here.”
“ No No No ! I am fine. Please don’t trouble yourself. If you promise to remain quiet, I will stay,else I take your permission to resume my journey.” I cautioned her to which she seemed to oblige though hesitatingly.
“Ok Dear! Now have some food and go to sleep. We shall talk in the morning.”She said. Perhaps it was an inclination of assurance to refrain me from any kind of negativity that would further worsen my health.
As I lay on the bed that night, I felt at ease both physically and mentally. I had never experienced so much comfort in my life, for until that moment ,I had been living the life of a vegetable which had no life of its own without the culinary demands of its cook.
I turned my body towards a wall poster, up on the wall and adjacent to my bed , that had the picture of a sheep resting beside a lion. I admired it in my own ignorant way for I was too young to philosophise on the theory behind ‘the wild and the mild’concept. But the only thing that glowed in my mind was the idea -‘to live and let live’- and from this frame of reference, my mind took me down the memory lane when I was just two. I could then discern that something was wrong with me before attesting a fact that everything was wrong elsewhere…
My mother being an airhostess often flew…leaving the familial responsibilities at the mercy of God. She was a well – nurtured snob and the credit for her null vanity was accredited to her mother who left no stone unturned to ruin her daughter’s otherwise happy life. Since I was the only child, the Damocles’ sword of vanity often hung above me. Even at a tender age of five, I foresaw a tough life ahead till I disentangled myself from the clutches of sheer vanity.
I remembered the day when I had had the first stroke of asthma and immediately I was rushed to a private clinic. A long list of medication followed and amidst this chaos , I saw my mother waving a large number of currency notes at the doctor, who hastily took them before my mother could ask him the actual cost of the treatment.
That was just the beginning of my mother’s egotistic drive who was totally unaware of the repercussions for housing an attitude, that would tumble the significance of all relationships .
My father, a high- profile business person, hardly made his presence visible at home. He was a workaholic and I wholeheartedly attributed this credential to my mother who could never project herself as a good life-partner to him. He yearned for her presence at home and his only escape from his loneliness would be to visit a club and return home late, heavily drunk, and pick a fight with my mother. This happened every night until she was counselled to admit me in a boarding school.
Despite constant whimpering, I was taken to a boarding school. As my mother was about to leave, I fell on her feet and cried , “ Mom! Please have mercy on me. Don’t leave me here… I will die.” The only words of consolation from the so-called affectionate heart of my mother were: “ Darling! Don’t worry. Mom will visit you soon with lots of medicines so that you will be fine soon.”
That night, in the dormitory,away from home, I wept incessantly and the only person who stood beside me to wipe my tears was my w—i—l—-d loneliness…
I considered my boarding school stay, more of a hospital than an educational institution. The matron would only ask me about my health and my mother’s next visit with loads of medicines in a box. Soon I realised that I had become a subject of ridicule in the campus. Some even nicknamed me ‘Ms. Asthma’. I bore it all in silence and tears and nobody or nothing meant anything to me.
Meanwhile my family doctor’s prescriptions swell with an increase in the doses. One could actually visualise me, all draped with medicines which my mother lavishly exhibited to my teachers and room-mates as a part of her hollow pride. My health issue was discussed in every forum that fed my mother’s psyche on every visit to the school.
Now to add fuel to the fire of my disgust , she bought me pairs of footwear that I had to use periodically during a day. She also got my face covered behind those out-of-the-world woollen mask , leaving those protruding eyes, completely projecting my persona as that of a female buffoon who would jump around, throwing tantrums, and finally rest at her master’s behest.
That year a very delightful thing happened. I failed in all my exams. The principal advised my mother that I was concentrating more on my medicines, clumsy clothes and footwear rather than studies so it was better to take me away. There was no one who could understand my plight and actually take me away from my mother’s captivity . But this seemed a distant dream and I silently obeyed the will of my fate, though I was happy to leave the school.
My mother came out of her BMW which had been gifted by her unfortunate husband. Actually it was the other way round. She had demanded a brand new car to visit my school as an act of vanity. “O Mom! How I wished that I could leave you in a merry-go-round and never allow it to stop until you begged me with a promise that you would stop experimenting with my life !!!..If wishes were horses…!”I heaved a deep sigh and followed my mother’s instructions like a robot and left the school for ever.
After my return, my mother made some desperate attempts to admit me in reputed schools but her conceit would reach the places before us and we would be shown the door humbly. Finally it was decided that I would get all my education at home under the supervision of home-tutors.
Each day I would look out of the window and see small rabbits gleefully chasing one another. I would throw a few pieces of carrots and enjoy watching them gobbling. The beautiful flowers at the garden invited me to feel them and become one with their glory. Instead I would gaze at the sky, waiting for an angel to fly down and carry me away in her arms. But no angel came and in the wait, I cleared twelve seasons of my life on the globe.
And then something happened that turned out to be an inflection point of my life. In order to bring back a smile on my saddened and hardened face , my father bought me a German Shepherd on one of my birthdays. I did smile, not because he had fulfilled one of my wishes, but due to his sincere attempt to show that he cared for me.
After a week, I took the dog to the garden to play. As we enjoyed chasing each other, a boy, standing beyond the garden fence, picked a huge stone and hurled at Gemmy(the dog). Gemmy got hurt and started barking. I had never heard a dog’s bark at close quarters so I screamed and ran. Gemmy chased me, barking until I fell unconscious.
That night was the most terrible experience of my life . Due to my fearful run , I had a severe asthma attack and was immediately rushed to the hospital. A few hours of my stay in the intensive care unit showed signs of improvement . I returned home after five days and found that Gemmy was nowhere. I desired to see him and it was only in the evening that the news of Gemmy’s departure reached me. I felt an uneasy calm at home. Surely something had gone wrong in my absence.
The days passed on and one day, in order to amuse me with a story, my mother narrated the tale of a princess who loved her parrot more than her life. Once as the princess lay ill on her bed, the parrot kept screeching. Unable to bear the princess’ discomfort , the queen called for a villager who took it away and strangled it . My mother concluded the story saying, “ See dear! How much the mother loved her daughter and got the parrot killed to comfort her. Your mom is also like her. Do you love me?”
I suddenly felt my blood curdling and a chill went down the spine. So I was right.Something dreadful had surely happened to Gemmy too. I did not say anything and pretended to sleep. As my mother left the room, I opened my eyes and sat on the bed, the whole night. No. I could not stay with them. Some day, in order to satisfy their egos, they would kill me too.
My winking eyes perceived a plan to leave them forever and if caught, I would request the cops to arrest them for such a heinous crime. I would surely froth out my hatred towards them and would love to see them die in prison.
Thus one fine day, I broke the shackles of all inhuman bondage and left them …
“ Wake up Dear! Freshen up to see a surprise awaiting you.” The old woman woke me while chanting a prayer. The second part of her statement sprung me up from the bed. After completing the rituals ,I joined her after an hour. She took me to the backyard where my eyes met a tiny white ball, placed at the centre of the ground. I went near and jumped with surprise finding that it was actually a baby rabbit. I smooched it all over and laughed heartily at its moves.
After playing with it for a while, the old woman took me to the western side of the backyard and there lay, the very special treat to my eyes, several cage-boxes inhabiting puppies , kittens , birds of different species , rabbits and squirrels. I almost shrieked with joy and ran towards each box,waving my hands at them. Some of them got frightened at my outburst of extreme joy and hid behind the others.
My happy hours were interrupted by a call for the evening tea. As we sat across the dining table, I said, “ Aunty! Can I stay with you forever? I will take care of you and will never disobey.”
“ No . Not at all. You cannot stay with me.” The old woman’s ruthless words pierced my heart. I looked down at the tea-cup and began to sip the tea slowly and sadly.
“ You can’t stay with me but you can stay with my animals and birds…forever.” As I heard these words I ran towards the old woman and kissed her persistently. My adventures and ordeals had come to a standstill for the time being and finally I could taste the elixir of contentment.
Looking at the gleam on my face,the old woman said,“ Dear! Remember that a flower grows in a particular place but it never knows the destinations where its fragrance carries its identity…”
“I love you and will always live with you.” Saying so, I hugged her.
AFTER A WEEK
The doorbell sound clinched the old woman’s absorption from the newspaper. She kept the newspaper aside and walked up to the door. She was astonished to see a middle-aged couple smiling at her ,as she opened the door. It was six in the morning and hardly a time to visit a stranger. However, remembering her ever-warming note of hospitality, the old woman called them in.
“Yes. How can I help you?” She asked them.
“ Ma’m ! Sorry to disturb you. Actually we have come here in search of a twelve year old girl who has absconded from home. She is our daughter and sources informed that she was last seen in this locality. Here is the photo of the girl. We would be much thankful to you if you could provide some information on her.” Saying so, the middle-aged woman handed over the photo to the old lady.
As the old woman looked at the photo , her face grew pale.
“ She is suffering from Oneirophrenia – a kind of mental disorder. A few days ago, she was chased by our pet dog which resulted in our daughter stabbing the dog several times with a kitchen knife.”
…The middle-aged woman continued addressing the old lady as the latter trembled with fear and sat on the sofa with a slight imbalance in her body…
“ After the incident, she left the house. It is imperative to trace her before she falls into another delinquency.”