Dark. Dark enough to leave all but the crudest details visible. Cold. Cold enough to feel it bite, canines sharp and powerful, piercing through layers of flesh. The bed. Messy. Pillows and blankets were strewn all over. A guitar. Unplayed. Unloved. Carelessly thrown aside. One notebook. Empty. Emaciated. Pages creased and torn. Filled with potential that was never realized.
The chair. The right hand of the bed, yet ever so different. More warm, more reliable. More familiar. A face of friendliness in an ocean of adversary. Right ahead, the table. Dark in nature. Still, solacing to touch. Finally, the laptop. Unassuming. Underwhelming. Seemingly unsuitable as a means of comfort. Flipping the lid, watching the life return, I grasp at the fragile warmth provided. The bluish-white light bursts out; the sole bright aspect of the disappointing room. Harsh at first. Gradually softening. Lightning up my vision and allowing me to see once more. I start to type. Keying in the password, I wait for it to register. My eyes explore the newly made room, inspecting every inch of it. Marveling at the drastic change created by the light.
My sight gradually arrives at the bed. Shows me the guitar and notebook. Highlights the wear and tear from a year of unfaithfulness. Right on cue, the preacher appears. Ready as always to deliver another sermon. Having no choice but to sit and listen to, I prepare myself for the mental agony. For the torturous abuse that is to follow.
“You are? A mess? A disgrace? A failure? Correct! Potential? Accomplishments? Chance of success? None. What’s that you’re thinking? Oh, I’ll ‘try’ you say. Like I haven’t heard that one before. Failed routines? Broken promises? Disappointed dreams? That’s you right there. Oh? This time will be different you say? If that’s true, why are you on your computer gaming instead of doing work? The guitar, the notebook. Both are right there. If you truly wanted to accomplish something, you would be hard at work practising on the guitar. Writing stories in that notebook. Honing those crafts. But you’re not. Do you want to know what you are? Weak. You’re W … E … A … K. What else did you even expect?
The sound of a message, providing me with a respite from the lecture, providing me freedom from the preacher. Averting my eyes from the constant reminders of my flaws, I instead search for the source of my liberation. Looking left and right, opening app after app, attempting my very best to investigate into and find the source. Finally, exhausting every option, dragging my finger on the trackpad, my cursor lands at the Skype application.
One hand assigned to scrolling, the other supporting my leaden head, I attempt to keep up with the impossible influx of messages that keep pouring in every second. Like a stampeding herd, uncontrollable, overwhelming, the messages overcome me. “What could cause such a rapid conversation? One where everyone is so focused and engaged?” I ask myself. Curious to know, I start reading; hoping to find out exactly what is making everyone so excited.
“Finished AP physics. Working on chem now - Hide” the first one reads. “Just won another HS debate-Wade” the second one boasts. “But, we are just MS students.” I cry out, unable to accept these messages as anything but empty lies. Not wanting them to be anything more than empty lies. The third message somehow makes it even worse, reading “ Vector Calculus is so much fun!” by Justin. Scrolling through the rest of the chat, the topic of conversation changes not once. “Not even once!” I yell, crushing my fist into a ball, needing a source to vent out my frustration. “What are they? Some kind of gods?” I scream, slamming my hand on the table, taking long laboured breaths in a bid to keep control. “Of course they would look like gods to you.” the preacher explains, appearing as though a response to my screams. “Successful people and their hard work always look like magic to failures like ...”
“Shut up!” I interject; hands over my ears, desperate to block out the sound. Pressed so tight, my ears are tinged red. My eyes are shut, pressed as tight as possible, hoping that the dark will somehow help. Trying my best to deny the voice. Trying my best to deny them … “Truth” the voice fills in, completing the thought I am unable to complete. The thought I don’t want to complete. The thought that I want to deny, no matter what. And it’s with that admission, that the rest of the unwanted thoughts come out, no restraint on them anymore.
“Compared to the three of them, I am nothing. Hide. Tall, confident and commanding. A science genius who is the winner of countless science olympiads. A future Nobel laureate. Wade. Socially awkward, true. Yet, one who cannot be bested in debate and renowned in the world of debate and MUN. A future successful lawyer. Last of all, Jamie. Honestly, is there anything he can’t do? Ironic how someone so short can achieve the tallest of achievements. An MS student in an advanced IB math class who finds the study of quantum mechanics easy. The prized pupil in every teacher’s eyes. Most likely to go on and make some amazing discoveries that will forever change the world.”
“A failure like you should consider himself lucky to even know them.” the voice taunts, a grin running across the conjured image in my mind. “Honestly, you would be 100% lost without them.” it jeers. Testing. Experimenting. Pushing, to see just how far it can go. “ I don’t even know why they bother with a pathetic scumbag likey…”
Slamming the lid shut. Pushing the laptop away. Rising up. Grabbing the guitar. Not forgetting the notebook. Getting my earphones and phone. Heading towards the door.
“What to write, what to write?” I ask. Clutched in my hand, a razor sharp pencil. A product of excessive sharpening. The eraser, no longer pristine white but instead a dark grey. The paper, blank save for a few grey smudges. Torn as a result of the over-aggressive destruction of words written upon it. Casting the pen aside, shaking my head, I admit the truth. “This isn’t going to work …”.
The book, nothing more than a blur of black and white. Painful to look at. The footstool, below the bed. Placed to ensure that my eyes cannot touch it. The guitar, no more than an obstacle to peace and calm of mind. “I hate music …”
“ I NEED to do something. Achieve something. Anything. To prove everyone that I’m not a failure. To prove myself that I’m wrong. What to do? What to do …? Writing? Tried that. Guitar? Didn’t work. Ughhh. What else? In … investing? Y … yeah? Um, yeah. What a good idea. A great idea. Brilliant in fact. Brilliant in the fact that it’s impossible for me to do. Just like everything I try. I … I can’t do this. I … I just can’t. Always comparing. Always competing. Always vying for achievements. Success. The pain? The hurt? The fact that the very thought of this kind of life makes me sick? That I kills the real me from within? None of that matters they say. It’s not about doing what you. It’s about doing what society wants. Any … ANY other path, choice, opinion? No. That’s just how the world works. And with that, I go ahead, grab my guitar and get started once more.”
Resolved to give my undivided attention to practice, I grin as I imagine myself mastering ‘Asturias’ by Isaac Albéniz. Motivated once more, positioning the footstool, opening the book, I grab the guitar. “Let’s do this …” “Akshat!” someone yells out, cutting me short. “Why is it always me?” I plead, joining my palms together, raising them to the sky, asking to be spared. “Akshat, go down and take a walk! You’ve been sitting on that laptop the entire day and NEED fresh air!” my mom hollers, demonstrating once more her ability to choose the worst possible moment to interrupt me. “ I’m … I’m busy with work mom.” I try, playing the start of the song as a method of convincing her to rest her case. “Then tell me how you have so much time to go and game with your friends. Surely you were free to do this ‘work’ then?” she accuses, making me realize just how lost my case is. As though a reflex, my body turn towards the only solution it can conceive. Nostrils flaring, a snort coming through, I scream out the first thought that comes to my mind. “Can you please shut up and let me do what I want to do?”. Any regard for respect, politeness, my own thoughts is thrown out as my body relieves its frustration in the only way it can. No response emerges through, signalling my defeat.
Grabbing the nearest thing, throwing it, picking it up and throwing it again is my first action. Snapping the pencil in half is the second. Messing up the entire room, the very action that is the bane of the household is the third. As I walk out, I can’t help but make one final retort towards my mother. “Hope you enjoy being the only reason your son will fail in the future. It’s your fault I will never amount to anything in my life …”.
10 meters x 10 meters exactly. Not more. Not less. Partitioned unevenly into 4 areas that are further fractionated up. Enclosed with dark wire, the barbed, sharp edges threatening to draw blood if one dares to approach them. Obstructing your path. Restricting your movement. Constricting even your thoughts. Your feelings. I grasp at the gravel surrounding me, I am met nothingness. Gone, is the rough texture. The coolness that had once eagerly greeted me. Gone, is the familiarity that would always comfort me. Gone, is the thing that kept me going on. Kept me from giving up. It’s gone. Breathing hard. Clutching at something. Experiencing nothing. Feeling everything. Seeing something red. Watching it drip. Gazing at the pool. Staring as it grows. Getting bigger and bigger. “I can’t breathe. I’m losing it. My head. My throat. My heart. I need to … to escape. Run … RUN. I ca … ca … can … can’t do it. Move … MOVE. What’s happening? When will it stop? Help. Help … help … help. Anyone? Please.”
“Great job cutting yourself.” he grins, pulling me up. “Seriously impressive how you somehow manage to always end up tripping over yourself,” he adds. “Shaddup Dhruv!” I mutter, a dark scowl on my face. “10/10 for stupidity.” he taunts, giving me a round of applause. “It’s not funny.” I retort immediately, scowl deepening. “Insensitive jerk!” I growl, the words more animal-like than human-like. I exhibit all the stereotypical signs of anger, the cracked knuckles, the gnashing of teeth. Even the flaring of the nostril. “Sure I am …” he replies, unfazed. His face breaks out into a smirk, signalling that it’s time to give up the act. A broad smile appearing on my face, I shake my head in disappointment. “Nice try,” he says, the smirk changing into an expression that mirrors my own. We stare at each other's oversized grins, erupting into laughter, the pain all but forgotten …
Clawing towards the exit. Escaping the only thing on my mind. The pain all but forgotten. Grabbing the latch. Tugging at it. The door finally opening. Yanking it open, I hurl myself out and collapse onto the road. “Why did that memory resurface after all those years, only striking now? Why did it decide to taunt me, reminding me of the past? Why did it …”. I push myself off the ground and grab the nearest structure. A wall, located behind the basketball court. Once white. Now, streaked with foul, odious coloured substance. Using the staunch wall as a support to bear the burden of the memory, I make my way forwards.
It’s not long before my hand encounters something on the wall. A clay-like feel to it. yet foreign to touch. Warm too. My fingers a tool, I experiment with it in order to glean more information. Playing a game to lure my mind away from the memories, I continue to use my sense of touch to figure out what the substance is. It is then that the nausea hits. All at once, I’m fighting the contents of my stomach from breaking out. Keeping them locked gets harder by the second. A headache that hammers away at me, the stomach that riots incessantly, it’s obvious that my own body’s become, my enemy. As if confirming this fact, yet another riot breaks out, Another attempt to escape. My clenched stomach, constricted throat, and the barricade of teeth seem no match for the revolutionaries. The last resort, my hand pulls free from the substance and flies towards my mouth. “So that’s what caused nausea.” I realize as the hands soaked in s*** heads straight towards me.
My eyes flick to and fro. I contemplate the different routes I can take. My foot is firmly planted on the ball, not giving anything away. “Anytime you’re ready …” Luca yells, his face set in a permanent sulk. “He looks like a clown,” I mutter, wisely keeping my voice low. Ensuring that his mood doesn’t go sour. “We haven’t got all day you know,” he calls out, tapping the imaginary watch on his wrist for further emphasis. “Alright, time to go ...”.
“And ...he’s off! Sprinting to the left, WOAH what a beautiful rainbow. Now he’s darting in the opposite direction, no doubt a brilliant ploy to confuse the goalie gentlemen. The goalie rushes towards him in a desperate last attempt and OHHHHHHHH, a perfect Maradona turn shuts him DOWN. It’s an open goal now, nice and easy does it. With this shot, there is no doubt in everyone’s mind that he is the MVP of the match. Lining himself up, he shoots with all of his might AAAAAAAAND …”
The ball goes flying into the goal. The crowd cheers. Teammates pile on top of me with joy at victory as the reporters crowd in for tomorrow's headlines. It’s the sickening crunch of glass breaking that shatters my dream.“ And he misses.” Luca calls out, the words nothing more than a whisper as the light fades. My head throbs, as though it was the one hit by the ball. My stomach feels perfectly ready to lose the spinach lasagna. The very lasagna that sat on a plate in front of me just an hour ago. “Okay, just don’t think about throwing up. Anything but that. Uh … spinach is green. Green … green.I spy with my little eye … green trees. Green Grass. Green Basketball court. What else? What else is green? Um … Um …”. It’s as the vomit reaches my mouth that I realize I have my answer.
As the last bit comes out, I turn on the tap and wash my hands, slathering half the bottle of soap for good measure. Engaged in this simple, straightforward task, my mind is free to wander around. “ Another one. Another memory from that time. 2 memories from the past that was supposed to have been buried away forever. 2 memories from those times …”.
“It was different back then. Not in the sense of ever-changing factors such as age, hobbies, and dreams. Something more than that. It was the feel of that period of time. A … good feeling. As abstract as that description seems, it was the only one that was true. It wasn’t like today, a time of competition and contention. A time that feels full of despair and hopelessness. A time with a … bad feeling. It wasn’t like the early years either. A time of constant moving, shifting and instability. A time where all I could feel was loneliness and isolation. A time with an equally bad feeling. That one brief patch of history, however short, was the one part of my history that I did not hate. The one respite from everything I loathed. It was different back then …”
“And that’s why those memories keep coming back.” the voice in my mind says. “Even though you try to deny it, you want those times back,” it repeats. Bursting through the bathroom door, I race out towards the pool in an attempt to run away from the voice. “Dearest. Those memories aren’t harmful. They aren’t trying to hurt you.” it says, adopting a soothing tone. “Darling. It’s okay to not want to be some Nobel prize winner. It’s okay to not want to be rich. It’s okay to ignore what society tells you to do. Do what you want to do.” it advises, the words filled with warmth. Words that make it seem as though the speaker is comforting me. Supporting me. Looking out for me. “It’s fine to want the past. Fine to want happiness. Look, I’m not that demon that haunts you. I’m the angel that protects you.” it adds, icing to the cake that is offered to me. No longer able to resist, determined to let the sweetness of the past get rid of the bitterness of the present, I grab it.
I race towards the table, stopping for nothing. The chairs, old friends, greet me with genuine emotion. Providing me with every comfort, fulfilling every request, listening to my every need. The BBQ lies nearby, still bright and cheerful as ever. The bright blue pool shines bright, ripples forming all kinds of shapes. Animals, plants, even planets and rocket ships. Beautiful shapes. It extends an invitation to dive in. To journey through and explore its depths. To embark on a new adventure. And this is what convinces me. “This is what I want …”.
“So what are you guys doing this summer?” I ask the question nothing more than a way to kick-start the conversation. After all, the answer is obvious by now; one mundane month abroad followed by one magical month of soccer, basketball, and sleepovers. I look at them, waiting for the expected answer. Neither of them makes a move to answer my question, confirm my thoughts. “Is there something wrong?” I ask, my voice slightly more high-pitched than normal. They continue staring at me, silent as night, revealing nothing. “Guys?” I ask, my voice even higher than before. I close my eyes and count to ten, desperate to get a grasp on the situation. Upon opening them, all I see are nervous glances being exchanged between Dhruv and Luca. Unable to take the silence, I decide I’ve had enough. Slamming my fist on the table, rising up, kicking the chair aside, walking off, I make my way back home. “Wait!” Luca calls out, his voice just as high as mine. “You see ...” he falters, unable to continue. It’s Dhruv that completes the sentence. “We’re both moving out.”.
The chair is cold now, stiff as though a perfect stranger. No longer inviting as it pushes me away in fact. The BBQ has died out by now, dark and cheerless. I turn my gaze towards the pool, looking for the invitation that had been offered to me. All I am met with is oily black, the pool filled with an ominous and foreboding darkness. It washes away the illusion of the past, leaving one thing clear. There is no future in the past.
I make rounds of the pool, no destination, no purpose, a single question running through my mind. “What now?”. It’s the second voice that answers. Layered with that same sickly-sweet tone, it tells me once more, “It’s okay. Everything will be alright.”. “Just believe me,” it adds, trying once more to reassure me. But the would-be reassurance sounds spoilt, the promise rotten to the core. “Trust me … I’ll make it all better,” it says, confident in the fact that I will trust it. Will listen. Will believe that it’s there for my sake and my sake alone. It’s that very confidence, that belief, that sickens me to the core. “Shut up,” I say, words barely more than a whisper. “What’s that?” it asks. “Shut UP,” I say, louder this time. “What’s that?” it asks, once more faking. Pretending it can’t hear me. “SHUT UP!” I scream. This time, I get a reaction. Or rather, the lack of a reaction as all I receive is nothing. Silence. I am alone once more.
I walk forwards, heading for home once more. Each step takes more energy, the effort increasing exponentially. The worries and fears of ‘success’ cling to me. Burden me. Condemn me to stare at the ground, unable to look ahead. Every inch of me is filled with regret at this choice, this decision. The path that is torturing me with death. But not the kind that’s over nice and easy. Rather, the kind that will last my lifetime. Filling me with pain and despair. A death that won’t kill but wound. Extinguish any hope. Any joy. And I will choose this. This is the decision I will take. After all, what choice do we have?