A story of love, loss and second chances by Nikita Singh, releasing this Valentine’s Day.
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This was another reason why grandmother poisoned mother’s ears with lies of how I was beaten up by boys sometimes and that she had to hide me from the boys or they would do “unimaginable things” to me when I grow up.
When I close my eyes, against the harsh fluorescent light from the streetlamp, I imagine seeing the world from the insides of my tissue thin-eyelids that are orange like the horizon. My sister tells me this is a stupid habit I really need to grow out of, she tells me it scares her when the folds of my eyelids reveal just the whites of my eyes, for a minute she is reminded of the lunatic I claim to be. I know.
My sister and I have always been different. We weren’t best friends, we weren’t worst enemies either, we did stand up for each other, but not more than we stood up for our own selves. In a house of ordered madness, you simply had to. When I say ordered madness, you flinch. Is there even such a thing?
Oh yes. There is.
I’ve been told from when I used to wet my bed at nights (and blame it on the monster that pressed my body flat to my bed, making my bladder weak) that I had one leg in the clouds and one leg in the real world and to quote my grandmother in her wheezy reprimand: “one day the girl will tear in two”.
And tear in two, I did. Two. Two million. Does it even matter anymore?
Once you tear apart, you’re torn. Forever.
Obstinate girls get nowhere in life. My grandmother’s raspy assaults would haunt me for a lifetime. Long after she was dead and gone.
Kshitija the Obstinate. She’d shout as I played with the boys in the street, the boys would cackle in response and having finally found a name that I’d finally flinch to, all the boys who had lost to me in a round of Goli, would shout Kshitija the Obstinate, till I threw the ball at one of their bicycles that would be propped precariously to support all the others too, and watch them topple like blocks of dominoes, and then run away.
I had always played with boys. This, to my grandmother was unacceptable. This was another reason why grandmother poisoned mother’s ears with lies of how I was beaten up by boys sometimes and that she had to hide me from the boys or they would do “unimaginable things” to me when I grow up. I think mother knew I was the one who beat up boys (quite to her embarrassment) when I lost a game but out of respect for her mother, she let the old woman talk and pretended to take heed to her advice.
When the whole colony of boys called me Kshitija the Obstinate and booed me to my corner, there was one boy who didn’t. He would simply drop his cricket bat on the red sand and follow me to the rail roads and roll marbles on the rail tracks and not mind the boys calling him harsher names for sticking up to me. Sometimes the boys wouldn’t pick him to play just because he stood up for me, but this boy wouldn’t mind. He had large glassy eyes that would radiate when I looked into it and I always thought his eyes were too large for his bony face, but beautiful nevertheless. Like a girl’s eyes. Dark and rimmed with kohl. We would just sit in silence, him rolling coins, marbles on the rails and I sucking on the insides of my cheeks to not let the tears flow. After avoiding my gaze for a good hour or so, he would walk towards the labour settlements and I’d not see any more of him for the rest of the day. Sometimes, he would show me how to flatten coins into tiny sheets by letting the train pass over them. Sometimes he would bring me honey filled sweet shells in handfuls. We never talked. We just ate the sweets in silence, watching the trains buzz by us, and suns set down and rise up on us.
One day I told him my name didn’t mean obstinate. He told me he knew.
That was the first time he spoke and I saw his dimples crater into his cheeks when he smiled. “Kshitija is the place where the sky and sea meet” he said, nodding to himself as he wiped his hands on dirty trousers, not looking at me. “Horizon”, I whispered weaving my fingers into my hair and not being able to take my eyes off his. Shrugging, he countered, “Means the same, but mine’s more poetic.”
I was only ten but I knew I had fallen in love with a nameless boy I met at the railroads every day.
When we were grown up enough to get drunk on poetry, he’d bring me scraps and pieces of his poems, tied securely with used ribbons. I’d take some of it back home, disguised, rolled into my school socks or plaited into my hair and on days when his poetry would feed me enough courage to bring it back home, crumpled in my fist, or in my uniform pockets, I would finally stack it up with the other poems, inside my pillowcases or in the laundry baskets.
He did not know how much I loved him or even the fact that I loved him. Because I was just his railroad friend, whom he could share his poetry with, without being judged and that was all. Some days when I brought him food snuggled inside my school bag, claiming I made it myself (when it was actually a packed tiffin from home) it made no difference to him. He would eat without talking; only nodding in reply to whatever I asked. Some days when we met under railway bridges, there would be gashes in his arms. The hurried shock with which I nursed him with fabric cut from my school skirt, did not move him as much as I thought it would. He wouldn’t even tell me how he got hurt. It was always a dimpled smile, sometimes not even that.
In many ways he was a mystery and it didn’t really matter to me.
It did strike me that I was the one who loved him and he did not love me back, I wasn’t oblivious to that fact.
But I loved him wholly and I thought that kind of love, was enough for both of us.
Grandmother shook the house on its foundations when the boys ratted on us to her. I stayed at home for seven days, my arms still purplish from the ill-aimed belt attacks my father lashed on me all day.
“That boy! I thought only he was following you! How could you like him back? You were born to destroy our family honour, you swine!” Each lash felt like ice on my hot skin as the weight of his words sunk inside of me.
My sister would later ask me if it was the same boy who walked behind me every day as I came from the railroads to home. She had told on him long before the boys had. She told me he looked like a ghost, with his ashen face, dirty pants and unkempt hair and she was scared for me and that was why she had told grandmother. She talked of how he’d leave only after I switched on the light in my room. She thought he was a lunatic. My father had him taken care of, she said. She said I needn’t worry.
“Have you seen his dimples? He has beautiful dimples when he smiles.” I told her matter of factly, pressing ice over my hot, bruised skin.
“You’re mad too.” She said, rolling her eyes, turning to face me and said: “You’re mad” one last time before she rolled off to sleep in my corner of the bed, with a text book laying open and untouched on her stomach.
His gashes made so much sense to me as I ran from home that evening, after my sister had slept, only after the house had welcomed the last rays of the sun and dulled with the night. I ran to the rail road, my bruises burning from the wind whipping cruelly against my bloody arms and legs. In the orange hues of the setting sun, I saw his bony silhouette, hugging his knees to his chest. Till then, we had never really called each other by each other’s names. Pronouns had been enough; Pronouns had been safe for a relationship, as undefined as ours. But right then, my parched lips needed more than superficial pronouns and for the first time in ten years, I called him by his name; my voice broken from the inside, like I had no life left in my bones. But each syllable of his name caressed my tongue like a lick of salve against my wounds: Ishraq. It filled my mouth with all the warmth in the world. A name that I had only whispered in the privacy of my room, over and over till I was washed by a drunken feeling that left me exhausted, till then. The name that was beautiful than all other names in the world combined. Ishraq.
I remember how it sounded so much like the azaans that blared to life from the loudspeakers all over the town at the break of dawn, it sounded so much like a call to worship, a prayer for forgiveness, a lifeline to hold onto. The sleepy town broke shook of its silence like a shroud as a low “Allah-hu-Akbar-Allah”, blared from distant speakers. He cupped his hands towards the sky and kissed the earth, staggering to kneel all the while. I propped him up. He let me. He brushed back my hair, his thumb flicking away beads of tears that escaped my eye. And with the mullah’s azaan in the backdrop, I knelt beside him and he let me touch his bruised forehead, broken lip and beautiful dimples, smiling as I put my head against his chest, listening to the low whirring of his heart, wondering if he could hear my heart beat his name in loud little pumps.
I hate myself for not remembering that evening in whole. He kissed my bruised lips, and then kissed all my bruises one by one, and for the first time, he cried. He called me his horizon. He whispered my name against my matted hair as we hugged fiercely, holding delicate time in between our pressed bodies. I drank my fill of him completely and all at once, saying mouthfuls of his name, greedy mouthfuls of his name, in between pained kisses and raspy apologies.
He was a sewer worker’s son, so his father’s lack of money to strengthen his son’s body for twenty years, nullified my father’s power to destroy it in a fateful minute. My father even paid for the medical expenses which were later used for a hasty funeral pyre and a party of paid-crying-women that made funerals more authentic. I hope they cried for me. I hope their paid for breast beating and wailing would be enough for me as well, because my body and mind went numb for days after that.
I did not cry because I couldn’t and I hope he doesn’t mind.
Mt father later paid for my hospital bills, my medication, my alcoholic bouts.
What my father couldn’t pay was a price so inconsequential. The answer to which, lay in a crumpled piece of paper Ishraq pushed into my palm, as he whispered my name, never taking his eyes off mine, even smiling for me one last time, his beautiful dimples cratering his cheeks (or was it all in my head?) as my father pulled us apart and beat him to death. A piece of paper that lies crumpled inside my pillowcase, faded with uncountable number of tear stains, mottled brown with the passing of years.
“For where the sky meets the sea, is a magical place that words cannot quite describe.
In russet red to firebrand yellow streaks, in the colours of madness, of lust, of love.
What happens when the worlds come undone, a canvas torn apart from the middle,
What happens to the sea where horizons cannot happen?
What happens to the sky that cannot paint a million colours?
Every time a Kshitija is born to create horizons, an Ishraq is born to light her skies,
Who can put off the sun from lighting the skies?
What man can extinguish the sun from burning his light?
I will always shine for you, my obstinate feisty girl. For you, forever.”
And below that his name signed with mine, in a childish scrawl of love, like he was probably smiling despite himself when he wrote that; I wasn’t there, I did not see, but I know. I know.
My father, how much ever hard he tried, could not pay for the horizons that shattered inside my soul.
When I close my eyes again, against the harsh fluorescent light from the streetlamp, I imagine seeing the world from the insides of my tissue thin-eyelids that are orange like the horizon. My sister tells me this is a stupid habit I really need to grow out of, she tells me it scares her when the folds of my eyelids reveal just the whites of my eyes, for a minute she is reminded of the lunatic I claim to be. I know.
As the evening breaks and the mullah sings for the three thousand sixty fifth time after the last time Ishraq smiled, “Allah-hu-Akbar-Allah” rings inside my head like a bell: Allah hu Akbar, God is the greatest. Allahu Akbar Allah. As the azaan covers the night in a blanket of peace, I only want to imagine Ishraq. His beautiful name. His glassy eyes. His lips melding against mine, racing time in calculated urgency, whispering Kshitija, my Horizon over and over till words get lost to the cries for help, that ghost of a smile I could only have imagined as I stood there one moment and fainted the next, of blood spurting from his mouth, drowning words of love that wanted to escape death.
“I only want to imagine the sun between my sunset eyelids and wide eyes”, I tell my sister as her face creases to a frown and she whispers, “you’re mad” as she proceeds to ignore me from her lawn chair.
He told me his name means the emergence of daybreak. The sun.
So I close my eyes again, against the harsh fluorescent light from the streetlamp, I imagine seeing the sun from the insides of my tissue thin-eyelids that are orange like the horizon.
Image source: shutterstock
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Poet. Published Writer. Spoken Word Artist. Entrepreneur. Avid Reader. Amateur Boxer. Wannabe Motivational Speaker. Dog
What a beautiful word play…Loved it!
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