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And she said, looking at me with eyes reluctant to leave me. “Lie down for a bit, then we’ll watch some movie on Netflix tonight? It will be okay.”
The second winner of our September 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Janani Balaji.
The rope was uncomfortably rough around my neck and I remember thinking that I should have chosen something less painful…my blue silk dupatta would have been nice, and stylish…my mind rambled even now. Then, the sound of shrieking rang in my ears and the world faded to black.
I was strangely relieved when I awoke, but upon realizing that I had no sensation in my entire body, I came to the conclusion that I was probably dead. At least, until the ringing in my ears slowly dissipated and the white noise cleared up into something more recognizable. A steady, rhythmic beeping beside me and some muffled whispering.
I pick a few words out of the whispers. ‘Coma’, ‘stabilized’, ‘months’, and ‘I failed you, my baby’ seem to appear more than once, and a woman’s stifled sobs seem to be prevalent. It sounded strangely familiar, and the sound filled my ears as I slipped back into oblivion.
The next time I regained consciousness, I heard more voices. It seemed like there were a bunch of people in a small, cramped space. Most of the voices seemed to be inquiring about my health and whether it was likely that I would be awake soon. The sweet scent of flowers wafted by my nose, and the woman who was sobbing was now just sniffling and passing out ‘thank you’s to everyone else who’d come. Among those voices, two stood out to me, starkly contrasting against the haze of all the others. I felt pent-up rage and hurt pool behind my eyes as I remembered why I was here.
It was all their fault. He…cheated on me. Him, the one person I’d ever loved cheated on me, with her…my closest friend. I still couldn’t believe it. The shock and betrayal gushed in anew, or rather it felt more like ripping off a scab that has still not healed, and I felt the pain gush out once more.
I had smiled, saying, “Both of you are the most important people in my life. One of you…at least one of you could have just told me!” To see them both kissing like that, I was proud of myself for having handled it so well. I was so dignified, and they all called me an emotional child. But then, tears streamed down my face the whole journey back home. I was drained, dead, nothing mattered. Was life worth living anymore?
The moment I had walked past the kitchen she had noticed something was wrong. Just like her to ask, “Did you eat something? All ok?”
I had hissed back, “I am not a child!”
But a second later, even before I dragged myself to my room, she had caught up with me, a glass of her cold coffee, smelling of cinnamon, just the way I liked it. One look at me and she knew I had been crying. Again she had asked me, “All is ok, Rani?”
“Just leave me alone, alright!”
But she wouldn’t. She sat next to me on my bed, gently running her hands through my hair. Ugh! They smelt of the disgusting onions she must have been cutting.
“Stop it! My boyfriend ditched me okay. You were right, is that what you wanted to hear?”
I could see her wince.
“When is the dinner getting ready Radha?” I heard my grandma yell out.
“Amma, I need green crepe paper for the homework! Did you buy it?”
“Radha, who has moved my spectacles from the TV stand. Come here now!” My dad was calling out.
She took a long breath and hugged me hard. “No, that’s not what I wanted. But life is like that. Sometimes it throws us curveballs, but it will only make you stronger. It’s hard today, I know, but, accept it and let it go.” She would have gone on her lecture for an hour. But ‘Radha’, ‘Amma’, and her many names were being called out in increasing tones of anger and desperation. Another sigh.
And she said, looking at me with eyes reluctant to leave me. “Lie down for a bit, then we’ll watch some movie on Netflix tonight? It will be okay. Your CA exams are coming up, let’s focus on that now, alright?”
It will be ok? CA exams? What planet did this woman live on? Did she not understand there was nothing worth living for? Accept it? Why? And what for? Rakesh, those brown eyes I had dreamed of looking into for my whole life…they had someone else in them. And Nayla, my best friend, I had told her every bit of my love for Rakesh, yet she had not stopped to think of how it would affect me. And this woman, my mother, was telling me to accept it? So what if I topped CA, without Rakesh…I could think any further. Then I saw that rope I had from my drama set.
If I had listened, I wouldn’t be in the hospital…flitting in and out of a coma…now, I had to accept this.
Those two voices, asking with so much concern about me – Rakesh and Nayla… it hurt, but not remotely as much as I thought it should.
One by one, the voices dissipated and all that was left was the sniffling, sobbing woman…my mom. Sitting down at the side of my bed, she clasped my hand in both of hers and ran a calloused, soothing hand over my knuckles. I wanted to tell her I was okay, that I was stupid and self-centred, and that she was right — but nothing moved.
She then choked out a few lines from my favourite author:
“You wait, longing to hear
Words of reason, love or play
To lash or lull you toward the hollow day
I’m sorry I couldn’t do that for you.”
But she had. And she was right, she had made time, she had always been right there — loving and rational. She had given me my solution. To accept it and move on. Her love, even through hands reeking of kitchen smells… told me that I was important to her.
But the fact was, she had not mattered to me then. Her love meant nothing. I just wanted Rakesh. Was desperate for it to the point that I pulled…this? I had decided that nothing mattered. I had ignored every single bit of love that was showered on me — my mother’s long nights staying up with coffee and toast for me to get through my nights of studies, my dad, quiet and stoic, yet making sure he was there every night to pick me up from that tuition, my grandma with her regular Hanuman Chalisa for me every night…I had not cared for anyone, not thought about anyone.
Why did it have to take such a close brush with death to realize this? Or had I known it all along and the realization had just surfaced?
Did I need to waste years of my life rushing in and out of the home that loved me? Why did I only break into tears for no apparent reason at home? Why did I need to refuse help, until it came to the point that I couldn’t sort my emotions from emptiness? Where my only perception of myself was the whispered rumours I heard? I’d wanted reason — a reason to live, a reason to get better — but when that reason was offered to me, I had turned on my heel and fled from it. Stupid, that’s what I was. Throwing away the love that I had, for…for nothing.
I missed my mom’s hugs. I wanted her to stop crying and blaming herself as she stood by me night and day. I hated pushing everyone away. I despised living like that. I wanted to tell everyone I was sorry. Living life like some poor abused puppy when I was perfectly fine! There was nothing wrong with my life except for the fact that I wasn’t willing to put any effort into it. I didn’t need to get better when I was already fine.
I just needed to wake up.
My mother ran her fingers over my hand as more and more willpower coursed through my body and I managed to flutter open my eyes.
She looked at me, shocked, as I smiled my first real smile in years.
I was finally awake.
Editor’s note: In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month got bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry.
The writing cue for September 2019 is this quote from the poem Someone Leans Near, from the book Five Poems by Nobel Prize awardee Toni Morrison, a towering literary giant, who passed away recently on 5th August 2019 at the age of 88.
“You wait, longing to hear
Words of reason, love or play
To lash or lull you toward the hollow day”
Janani Balaji wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: a still from the movie Dear Zindagi
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I am Janani Balaji. A grade 9 student, 14 years old and passionate about writing
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