Nothing to do or undo. Nowhere to be. But your alarm clock hasn’t gotten the memo yet. Exactly at 5.30 am, it lets out a wail assaulting your eardrums before gradually moving up to your brain. Your eyes take in every ray of light trickling in through the window. Slowly and reluctantly, you push yourself off the bed.
A few hours later, you are curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea, idly scrolling through the TV Channels. A sappy rom-com with cheesy one-liners and probably a predictable ending. Switch to another channel, please. When it comes to romantic ideology, you have a lot of growing up to do.
COVID- 19 statistics. Graphs. Data tables. Haven’t you had enough of those? Next!
A young boy of around three or four is standing in front of an ice cream truck with his parents. Now, that looks pretty interesting. The parents are laughing at the way the little boy is licking the sticky cherry red mess off his fingers— remains of what looks like a popsicle. Seeing the look of unabashed joy on his innocent face, your heart starts to melt quicker than the frozen treat does. When was the last time you ate one of those? No, the frozen fruit juice on the stick doesn't count. The kind that’s made of fructose corn syrup and colours? The kind that’s so bad for you that it tastes so good when it melts in your mouth? When was the last time you had one of those? More than fifteen years ago, wasn’t it? A decade and a half old memory, still vivid as if it happened yesterday. It was your sixteenth birthday. Your best friend gifted you a box of orange popsicles, cooler included. Quite a strange gift but you loved it. You ate until it made you sick. You threw up. Then ate again. Next day you and your sister made a bridge out of all the popsicle sticks. But that was before you decided you wanted to be a famous actress. Before you decided the extra layer of fat above your waistband would mean rejection.
Talking about rejection, your eyes flicker towards the phone resting on the table in front of you, for the tenth time in less than an hour. It lay there, awfully quiet. You unlock it anyway just to be sure. No new notifications. You are yet to reply to Aunt Maria’s message in the family group chat. She wants all of her nieces to organise a surprise sixteenth birthday for her daughter.
Has she forgotten about coronavirus— the ultimate party pooper? But you know you don’t want to waste time explaining to her why a birthday party is practically impossible when the whole country is under lockdown. You are going to leave that job to your sister, aren’t you? You trust her ability to handle family drama, irrespective of the magnitude. Ironically, you are the actress in the family. She is not.
You are supposed to get a call from Alice, your agent to let you know how the audition went. The audition was last month and you have been patiently waiting since. After you came out of the audition room, she showered you with praises. You were magnificent. I would be surprised if you didn’t get the role. Those were her words. It did great things to your ego. But that one nagging thought stayed on. The same thought that keeps poking at you every time you look at the unopened boxes in the bedroom.
Facebook. No messages there either. People talk about how the pandemic has shaken their lives. Moms discuss their daily struggles with online learning — converting mixed fraction to improper fraction and vice versa. Johnny, a guy whom you dated a while ago has posted a photo of himself with a TV show director. Instead of commenting under his post, you send him a private message. ‘ Congrats Johnny! I am so happy for you.’
Why hasn’t Alice called yet? You wonder again. The role you auditioned for, is supposed to lead you to the much-awaited career breakthrough. The role — the reason you are here, in a tiny apartment, 60 km away from your hometown. The role— the reason you quit the ‘stable’ job at your mom’s friend’s salon( Your mom is yet to forgive you for that). Everything revolves around the role.
You thought you knew how to deal with the stress. You keep yourself busy, always channelling the negative energy into something light and fun. So far it has worked well for you, in every aspect of life. You have a solution to every problem. Bad breakup? Go out and breathe some fresh air. Didn’t get a role? Go out and breathe some fresh air. You feel like someone has taken that choice out of you now. In the news, they are talking about a possible extension of lockdown, fearing a second wave. You can sense your confidence starting to wobble a bit.
You are in your bedroom surrounded by the miserable-looking boxes. Stinky carpet. Leaky kitchen tap. Alice hasn’t called yet. You are bored. Johnny replies with a ‘Thank you, Jenny. I miss you. Do I still have a chance?’ You block him.
You finally open the first box— the biggest of all, wanting to do something with your hands.
Books — old and dusty. Not going to read them. Art supplies — unused and untouched. Not going to need them either. With a scowl, you push the junk box back to the miserable corner.
Every day, you oscillate between the two versions of yourself. The one who thinks lockdown is almost nice as you get to finally have the much-needed break. And the other one who is afraid to return the landlord’s calls. So which one is the real ‘you’? Like everyone says, are you using your time wisely to reevaluate your life? Or are you too busy thinking if the tiny holes in the yoga pants are worth repairing?
Wait… What’s that noise? Your phone. It’s ringing! You sprint towards the bedroom, grab it and answer with an over-enthusiastic ‘Hello’.
“Hey, Jenny! How are you girl?” Alice sounds equally excited, her smooth voice flowing through the phone line.
“Now that you called me, I feel better.” You say with a laugh.
“This is what I like the most about you, Jenny. Your confidence.”
“Can we talk about the audition now? I’m sorry if I sound rude. But the wait is killing me.”
“Oh! Of course yes! ” Pause. “Well, Jenny. I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”
“Call me crazy. Can I have the bad news first?”
“ As you wish my dear. Unfortunately, the director decided not to offer you the role of the heroine’s sister. He wants someone younger, possibly in their early twenties. However, …”
Here comes your good news, otherwise called consolation prize. Depends on where you put the emphasis on.
“...the heroine’s aunt’s role is yours if you want it. The director loved your performance so much that he doesn’t want to let you go empty-handed.”
“That sounds...wonderful. Tell me more about it.”
“A middle-aged woman with some hidden dark side to her. They think you have the skills to do it. So they asked me to check with you before they ask anyone else.”
You sense a ‘but’ coming.
“They have a demand though. Not a demand. It’s actually a requirement. Since the woman is portrayed as someone with a lot of issues, they think it would look more realistic if she is overweight. You get what I am saying, Jenny?”
You get it, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean you are going to like it.
“ How overweight are they talking about, Alice?” You ask, your voice shaky.
“A size 22 at least.” She says, her tone hesitant. “If you‘re interested, they‘ll make all arrangements. The nutritionist. The diet. All the other expenses involved.”
You quickly do the calculations in your head. For you to become a size 22— it would mean gaining around 100 lbs. Your mind flashes back to your past. Years. Hunger. Fatigue. Cravings. Self-loathing.
“Is...the weight requirement negotiable, Alice?” You ask, as a last resort.
“I wish it was. You aren’t exactly getting younger, Jenny. You and I very well know how sexist and ageist the movie industry is. But does that stop anyone from wanting to be a part of it? Not at all. Fame, money— we want it all. Like a moth to a flame, we’re all drawn to it.’’
“Choice is yours, Jenny.” She adds.
Choice. That’s the keyword here. Earlier on the phone, your mom had hinted at the absurdity of chasing a unicorn career when you could choose a stable one. Time to make a choice. Between stability and passion. What would you choose?
“Wait. I got one more question, Alice.”
“I’m all ears.”
“The diet you told me about— does it allow popsicles? Not the frozen fruit juice on the stick. The kind made of fructose corn syrup and colours? The kind that’s so bad for you that it tastes so good when it melts in your mouth?”
“I’m going to pretend you didn’t just ask me that, Jenny.”
Lemon lime. Berry punch. Grape. Blackberry ombre. You choose happiness.