March 30, 2009

Walking Downstairs

(I moved out of hostel a couple of weeks ago. I lived here for four and a half years. The nostalgia is strong.)

I decide to leave the fan and the bathroom light on despite all the warnings. I need the ventilation, so fuck the electricity bill. The college can pay that, they take enough money from my parents anyway. From across the room I check myself in the mirror over the basin, squinting into it as though if I try harder, I might see something I actually like. I sigh and move out, without locking the damn door. I can't lock it because I broke the handle a long time ago for some obscure reason. I descend the stairs slowly. Four flights to go.

I notice the dusty and empty telephone box made of wood in the corner. It houses about six hundred horny lizards whose children grace the walls of all the rooms in the hostel. Every student has a cellphone now, so the sound of the telephone ringing louding in the corridor is a distant, almost mythical concept. Time changes the little things. I look at my toes as they flex and unflex with each step I take. They are dirty, desperately in need of a pedicure and good moisturizing lotion. But feet are at the opposite end of the psyche, worlds apart. And right now, my life consists of trying to be moderately sane. Right now, these neglected toes don't belong to me.I shrug to myself, and make a mental note to buy closed shoes next time.

I turn around the bend. There is lizard shit on the floor. It's flattened. Trampled faded lizard feces. I'm not disgusted. I used to have lizardophobia but since they are everywhere, they have sort of become like unpleasant wallpaper. You can get used to anything. As the view widens out, I see her, the bitch I hate the most in this place. She's on the phone with her retarded boyfriend, who I'm sure only stays because she gives it up good. I feel violent nausea rise as I remember how she made me so miserable at one point that I wanted to quit studying and run away somewhere where the horrible lies she made up wouldn't get at me. She repaid my friendship with deceit, and I no longer have words for her. I snarl automatically, glare at her pouting lips as she simpers on, and force myself to walk. Bitch bitch bitch. I hope you fuckin' die.

The next floor is a familiar one, I lived here for two years. The faded notice in green greets me, “Please put leftover food in the bins. There are rats on this floor”. I smile. I love those rats, the little buggers. They fight for survival in this alien environment and they survive each bloody night, braving rat-traps and nasty poison bait, more trouble that I've ever had to face. Maybe I should leave some chips on the floor outside my room once in a while. I wonder if they unconditionally love each other? If they do, well, rats are the shit.

“Excuse me, I was wondering if I can borrow your surgery text? We have an exam in two days and I heard you have Bailey & Love? I'll just need it for today and if it's not a problem...”. The hesitating voice trailed off as I stopped and turned around. A junior was standing on the stairs, two steps higher than me. She had frizzy hair, wore shapeless clothes and I didn't like her face. I have seen her around, singing and dancing to herself in the corridors, when she thought no one was watching. But I was. I hate her. I hate that in her world, there is music and lightness. She has grace. I have nothing. “NO I won't give it to you”, I reply with as much bitterness as I can inflect into that word. There is a pause that seems to go on forever. She is shocked, she starts to stammer, but I cannot hear. Her face is falling. I suddenly see myself like how she sees me, the image flashing in my head. I look so cruel, so ruthless. So bereft of hope. Her mouth moves, but my heart is beating so loudly I cannot understand her words. She starts to move away. Rejection. How do you feel?

I avert my face and continue on my way. My head reels. She didn't deserve that. She's a happy person and I spoilt it for her. I took away something I want so badly but I can never use. I took away HER joy. Who am I to do that to her? I want to turn back. I want to tear upstairs and get the book. I want to run and throw myself at her feet. I want to lie protrate with dirt in my mouth and scream to her that I am not worthy of her request, that I am so honored she trusted me enough to ask for something from me. I want to beg her for forgiveness till my voice is hoarse and my tears are drenching her feet. I want to go on talking and explaining and force her to listen to me. I want to say, please do understand me, I'm not the person you think I am, you have to believe me. Please believe me. I want to hold the book out as a burnt offering, as a sacrifice that should mean something. But that will never be enough anymore. Her neurons will permanently discard me as a negative, I'm sealed-off forever by an indestructible sheet of frosted glass. I attempt a glance backwards in desperation, but she is no longer there. I don't slow, there is no point.

At the bottom is the Warden's room. She's a little old nun who has hypertension and diabetes and a voice that could belong to a frog that sings soprano. She is good and sincere but with an instinctive anti-Protestant streak that colors everything she says to me and sometimes completely overwhelms me. She doesn't like the fearlessness I seem to portray, but I know she is in total awe of how brutally honest I am. I think I scare her. She asks me why I didn't attend the Morning Mass. I mumble something about being sick and stumble out. The sun is too strong, too bright, too happy. I stop, uncertain. I want to turn back and just go lie on my bed again. But there are four flights of stairs. I don't look back in anger.

And tomorrow, I will walk downstairs again. Maybe.

March 13, 2009

To Count Your Blessings

Last night, we were three children, driving around when we shouldn't have been. We sneaked out of her house together in the dead of night and met him near the corner store. Three medical students, from three different cities, back in the place we grew up. We were high on life, high on other things, drunk on youth, drunk on too much alcohol and time. Too much time and nowhere much to go. Ambition always comes later, usually too late. We climbed up some deserted stairs in the hospital and sat around on discarded and broken ward beds. We talked then, about our defeat, our slow but definite decline into our own little shitholes, away from the bright beams of optimism preached at us from the minute we took our first hit of life. Puff puff pass.

Feeling quite saturated, we decided to leave. It was unsafe to be seen as we are, our eyes red and breaths smelling. We reeked of more than sadness. We reeked of terrible thoughts we hoped our expiration would take away on the warm breeze. We hoped.

"Pass me a cigarette"
"I can't find the pack"
"What the fuck, I need a cigarette"
"Let's go look around for a shop that's still open. Do you think you can drive?"
"Fuck, yeah. I can drive even when I can't stand. Ha ha"

But that's what they said when they were still talking and the trucks hit them. Or before they ran into poles or poor people sleeping on the pavement. The blood cries out to me.

"Okay, then. Let's go back near the stairs. You must have dropped the pack there."

He reversed and drove fast, bringing the car to a jerky stop. It must have been minutes, but I felt alone with my morbid thoughts for five thousand long years.

"Since it was your fault, you can get out and look for the cigarettes. Hurry up."

I opened the car door and prepared my cooling brain for the search. Wait. Something shines in the grass. I reach out and pick it up. The cold, rectangular metal is familiar in my hands. It's my mobile. When did it fall out? Was it lying here since the last time or did i just drop it? Time sense was getting a little foggy. "It's a miracle", I proclaim excitedly. I have found something I didn't know I lost. It really was a miracle, considering the state we were in. I make a cursory search and announce briefly, "No cigarettes". We curse many things.

Now we are flying down the main road, a two-lane street that was dangerous enough during the daytime. So many people have died on this road.. students, doctors, patients. But we are invincible, like only children can so certainly feel. "Watch out, DAMN". We miss the little old lady by an inch. What is she doing out at this time? It's time only for the women of the night, the lonely men they comfort, the homeless... and the bored. Like us. There is no room for anybody else. Old lady, go home. Go home if you know what's good for you.

We pass shop after tiny closed shop. Then there is light. "Look, that guy is just putting down the shutters. Quick, go get some cigs." Cigs are vital to preserve the memory of this night as a tolerable one.

I watch the transaction from the comfort of my car seat. I wonder about the men who own stores like this, drunk as you or me at the end of the day, trying to numb that ever-present sense of failure. I think of their children, the ones who don't get to go to school. I think of their wives who they beat up but can't live without. I think about whose life is more important, the shop guy's or mine. If we are all the same, then why do I have more money without having to work so hard for it? He probably sacrifices more in the course of a month in pleasure than I do in a day. He's probably more honest with himself. Why do I take up more space in the world, more air, have more needs, more shoes?

We are on the way back, driving fanatically fast in eagerness to just settle down again. The shops are a blur. They are small and insignificant, selling lots of random things. Including "Injurious to Health" products to rich, spoilt, wasted young people who don't give a fuck. It's business as usual. And at the end of this cycle, we die. For all our technology, for all our haute coutour, not one bloody soul can say exactly what happens after we pass out for the last time. However, it must be something good because, you know, all the bodies are always smiling before they close the coffin lids.

We park at the beginning of her drive to allay the suspicion of the guards, hoping her parents won't wake up. We talk again. I listen more than I speak this time. We sound so bitter, so fuckin' angry. Like the world actually owes us something. Like we don't already have so much more than displaced Iraqis, the child soldiers in Sudan, the wives and girlfriends praying for their American soldier boys away from home for the first time, the families of the policemen who died when terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team.. oh the list can get so horrendous.

We have too much. We are so blessed beyond measure.

I'm tired of whining, I'm tired of crying. I'm tired of  not counting the heaps and heaps of things I have. Sitting in his car, my mind so chemically screwed up, I have decided to become an adult. Yes, last night was a night to remember.

Today I'm at a club, chucking vodka shots. Three, four, five. Then I go and dance like a wild child, making sure I get that attention. As I head back to the table to order some whiskey, he shakes his head and says, "You are awful. You'll make a terrible mother". I grin. No way. I'll be awesome. Because I'm an adult now. What I'm doing is counting my blessings, enjoying the things this mysterious life has to offer. Like a dance floor in a democracy, even when they play shitty music. Like friends who'll pick up the tab and pick you up off the floor when you get too drunk. Like being able to get low and make people stare. Today I'm counting the fun things I have.

And tomorrow, with a horrible hangover, I will work my ass off and study, (get married, change diapers, have a mortgage) and do all those more annoying  things I am put on this earth for.
Because I am so very grateful. I really, really am.