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Raima could see a younger version of herself in Arzoo. She’d been a broken girl once. Could she help Arzoo rewrite her life story?
Raima was running late. It had been a busy day at work, with the designs for the new client needing to be completed.
The rain had slowed down the traffic, and a splash of rain water into the water, from a puddle, had left her socks wet.
Evenings at Dr. Purohit’s clinic were especially packed, and she was concerned about upsetting the appointment schedule.
The auto screeched to a halt, and she rushed inside, without waiting to collect her change.
The nurse waved her into the packed waiting room. It was just another day at the clinic, abuzz with activity.
Ordinarily, she wouldn’t have given the patients seated in the room another glance or thought. But, today, she was struck by a young woman, in her twenties.
She sat there, a blank expression on her face; her eyes staring straight ahead, not even trying to focus on the blankness ahead of her. Her t-shirt, though it wasn’t too big for her, hung loosely on her shoulders; as if she had shrivelled up inside her clothes.
She was with an older woman, and they resembled each other somewhat. The mother, it must be.
The chill of the AC made Raima shiver. She would come down with a cold if she didn’t take her socks off. All the cubicles were occupied, and she found a vacant seat in the back row.
As she reached for her socks, she heard someone speak to her, “Here, take these.”
She looked up surprised. It was the mother, handing her some tissues.
What was it about this young woman who must be a decade younger to her, that had arrested Raima’s attention? Even her mother seemed familiar. Did they also feel the same?
Just then, the nurse called out to her. The cubicle was ready.
She always felt relieved that the cubicles at Dr. Purohit’s clinic didn’t smell of bleach and disinfectant like hospitals usually did. She hated that smell, and the memories it brought.
Even now, she looked for doctors who had their own offices to avoid going to hospitals. The walls were white, but the paintings in the rooms and the lovely terrariums broke the monotony.
Another thing she liked was that being on the top floor, they could leave the window blinds open if they wanted to. These places often made her claustrophobic, and the feeling of space helped.
Even inside, the image of the girl she had seen lingered in her mind…her eyes had been blank, but her continuous wringing of hands showed her unrest.
It also drew attention to the bandage on the girl’s arm, which must be the reason for her visit. Of course, anxiety was expected at a doctor’s appointment, but the girl had seemed agitated. It was as if she didn’t want to be here.
Raima still couldn’t put her finger on why her thoughts had fixated on the girl, among all the patients in the hall. She took her seat, and waited.
A soft knock on the door, and they entered.
The lady who had offered her the tissues was coaxing the girl into the room, towards the chair.
Raima glanced at the file that had the name, ‘Aarzoo Gupta’ printed across it
“I would like to see her alone,” Raima said softly.
“But, she hardly speaks. I will be able to help.”
“Of course you will. But, I am equally sure that she will be able to help herself.”
Raima escorted Mrs Gupta out of the cubicle.
Aarzoo sunk deep into the chair that she had been reluctant to occupy a few minutes back. Her feet were firmly, almost defiantly, placed on the ground below, as if someone would try to make her get up.
Her face tense and body rigid; she wouldn’t make eye contact, even when Raima called out her name. This time she focused her eyes on the torrent of rain outside, and was completely still and silent.
Even in the soundproof room, it was as if the sound of the falling rain was filling up the space between them.
No response, not even a nod, when Raima called out her name.
“They can bring me here; but they can’t make me talk,” Aarzoo seemed to be saying, without speaking it out loud.
Raima would usually have opened the file, studied Dr. Purohit’s notes for the specific counselling plan that the senior psychiatrist would have outlined.
Instead, she sat beside Aarzoo, and took her hands in hers.
Aarzoo looked up, confused.
“Each moment is a chance that is gifted to us to grow, find ourselves, and love ourselves a little more.”
“Why are you saying all these things without even asking me anything?” Aarzoo’s voice was reduced to a whisper.
“Hmm. No, I didn’t ask you anything…”
Aarzoo waited. This counsellor was strange, she thought.
Anyway, at least she wasn’t asking her a million questions, or worse, spending the entire session just waiting for Aarzoo to speak.
“When I entered, the waiting room was full and you were right at the back. Yet, all I could see was you.
The hum of the TV, the other patients murmuring as they waited, the beeping tone of text messages, everything seemed to be in the background; fading away. It was as if you and your mother were the only people there.
I could hear your mother telling you things would be okay. I heard the voices in your head screaming that nothing would ever be okay any more.
I felt the chill that you felt in your heart. I felt like I knew you.”
Aarzoo felt stung. How could this lady imagine she knew what Aarzoo had gone through? How could she even imagine?
“But I don’t remember knowing you. Have we met before?”
“No, we haven’t,” Raima assured her and continued, “I felt like I was seeing myself. More than a decade ago.”
Aarzoo was puzzled.
The file would have mentioned the crystal meth they had found beneath the bed, the vape parties, the money she had withdrawn using her father’s forged cheques, the humiliation she had brought upon her family, and how she had woken up in a pool of blood.
Everyone knew that. She could see it in their eyes.
But what did this woman know of the burdens that Aarzoo carried within her? The demons that she was tired of wrestling; the shame and the guilt that made her hate herself, made her wish she had managed to die?
Raima continued, “I didn’t know what was causing your anguish, but I could feel it. And, I could feel what it was doing to you.”
She felt Aarzoo squeeze her hand, just a little bit, and continued, “Aarzoo, my dear. All of us make mistakes. But we are more than those mistakes. I saw myself in you, and I saw how you were becoming your mistakes.
Whatever mistakes you made are not full stops in the story of your life. They are the opportunity to rewrite the sentences, and give your story the direction that you want, and deserve.
It is the one life that you have, and these are your opportunities to live it to its fullest.”
Aarzoo was angry. In a sudden jerky movement, she pulled her hands away from Raima.
“You speak as if there is a magic bullet to get out of this mess. As if it is that easy! There is so much that will never go away.”
“Yes. You are right. There is no magic bullet. We have to find the magic within us, add it to our life. That is true, not only for you, but for each one of us. Let me tell you about myself, and how I had felt a decade ago when my mother first brought me here.”
There was now a drizzle; and Aarzoo stopped looking outside.
“I was an excellent student, the school captain, successful in everything. I wanted to pursue a course in design and joined a prestigious college. In spite of my parents’ admonitions and counselling, I began to drink heavily.
I told myself I was trying to fill up the void but the more I drank, the emptier I felt. Still, I was unable to stop. I told myself it was a part of the usual life in college and hostel.
I began to hang out with other students and we formed a gang that was known for vandalism. Dropping grades, censure by college authorities, fear of the police, nothing seemed to make a difference.
My parents went out of their way, trying to help me to adjust. They did all they could to help me, hoping I would get back on the right path. But I couldn’t seem to stop destroying my life and future.
One winter night, after a bout of binge drinking, I crashed the car. It was fortunate that there were no street dwellers sleeping on the pavement. I could have killed someone. I could have died.
The physical injuries and broken bones healed in a few weeks, but the me inside that had shattered seemed irredeemable. Living seemed too much of a task, too much effort.
Did I even deserve to live, after all the sorrow I had brought people around me? What was there to live for anyways? I felt like a total failure.
Seeing Dr. Purohit, taking the medications, therapy and the continuous work on myself was a tremendous effort. It took time for everything to fall into place, but gradually I began to heal. I started to understand myself, and accept me and love me as I was.
More than a year later, I finally felt able to get back to a regular life. I transferred to another college, and had to do my course all over again.
It was very difficult to accept this, but I reconciled and successfully completed my degree and training. Little by little my faith in myself kept building up, and I set up my own design studio.
Yet, a part of me remained restless. I also wanted to reach out to people like you; actually, to people like me. It was important for me that people find the strength to rise above their mistakes, and realise that they have the power to rebuild their lives.
I trained as a counsellor and began helping Dr. Purohit at his clinic.”
Aarzoo looked at her, disbelief written on her face.
Raima smiled and continued, “Whatever you feel went wrong; however messed up you think you are; remember that is the past. It doesn’t seem like that right now; and I can understand it.
Honestly, all of it will not go away. Some of it will always stay with you; like a scar after an injury. And the scar may even pain, especially when you least expect it. But you will be able to deal with that.
Tomorrow, whenever it comes, will come. It will be different, but it will be yours. You have taken the first step by seeking help.
The rest will fall into place when you believe in yourself, and begin to work towards changing your story.
I cannot promise you that it will be easy, or fast, but healing will happen. The mistakes that brought you here will become the opportunities for you to build your life, once you let go of them.”
Finally, Aarzoo broke down.
Raima let her sob.
Only once the torrent that she had suppressed had been released, could she begin to find hope within herself.
Raima knew it could happen.
Somewhere, deep within her, so did Aarzoo.
This short story had been shortlisted from among many, for the September 2020 Muse of the Month contest.
Image source: a still from the film Dear Zindagi (YouTube)
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