Golden, like a basket of light. Strong, orange tones at the corners. Light swatches of pale blue mixed with a deep purple.
My eyes start to water as I haven’t been blinking. Slowly, I draw my eyes reluctantly away from my window, back to my textbook.
The sunrise looks so beautiful. It still lingers in my vision, even though I’m looking at the question in the book. I stare and stare at it. “Find the value of ‘y’ if the value of ‘x’ is…” My mind slips off and after five minutes I’m still trying to figure out the meaning of the question. My eyes are trying hard to be awake and my head keeps jerking down. I have been awake for nearly 23 hours now. My eyes sting and I feel exhausted. My throat is dry, even though I drank water like ten minutes ago.
I have a very important exam today. For days, I’ve had nightmares about this exam. I would feel very nervous when any mention of this exam was made. So much so that I couldn’t concentrate on the questions the teacher was discussing, which were important for the exam. I would visit the library at least for a month, in hope to find a guide for somebody who was a beginner on the topic, like me. All around me, in the library I would see students with huge reference books by their sides. All I had was a notebook, hoping to collect all the important points on the chapter. Seeing those students, my confidence level hit rock bottom. They knew what they were doing. But I, even after days of struggling, could manage to learn only so much.
This is my last chance to save my scores so that I could get on to the college list. I don’t want to be the only one who remains here, when all the others are in a good college. I don’t want to feel like an outcast. Nobody wanted to be friends with a girl who wasn’t good at math, right? Those who are good at anything else aren’t given a second thought. All these are the reasons why I want to be good at math.
It feels like everybody except me, can score an eighty. I feel like I’m the only one who is stuck in one thing for days on end when the others are miles ahead. It feels like everybody can score well on a test, without studying when I have to spend days, studying for the test.
I hated the stares I would get when I got a question wrong. I felt humiliated when the marks were read out loud. The people don’t know about the sleepless nights, the cries of frustrations I have had, to just be above average. All this just so I could walk in those corridors one day. All this so that I don’t appear just like somebody in the crowd. All of this so I could feel like I belong here, I am normal. That I’m not the weird one, that I’m good at math or science. That I have brains.
I am here. I am at the examination hall. Just a few minutes away from the class. All this never appeared this scary just a few hours ago. Yet now, it dawns on me that this is my last chance. My palms are sweaty and I am trying to walk straight. All around me, there is casual chatter. After a few minutes I reach the class and go to my seat. Even though I have already sat down, I get a faint sense that I’m still trying to sit. The walls of the room look confining and I feel dizzy. The papers are given out and I clutch at my skirt tightly.
An hour later I find myself in the washroom, crying.
The granite steps are hard and cool. The plants sway gently in the wind and this sight calms me. The paper is still next to me, almost wet from my tears. I sit like this for some time.
I don’t know how much time it has been and my back starts to ache. A person comes and sits next to me and I turn and look. I look into a pair of brown eyes. The edges of her mouth crinkle from her smile.
“You’re not allowed to be here.” I snap back into reality on hearing those words. “Yes.”, she says.
“Its time for me to go home, why don’t you come along?”
“Yes ma’am.” I say.
Her brown hair appears familiar and I feel like it should belong in my class against those white walls. I loved the forty minutes I had with her thrice a week. At the end of the class, I felt happy, that I am good at something. Her classes made me feel alive. This was one class where I felt like no one would dissect my brain open to find what was there. Her warm, but still firm attitude made me love her classes. I felt thrilled whenever she would walk down my aisle, glancing at our paintings. Even if it was just a glance, I felt like she could figure out all the measurements, all the tones used in my artwork.
None of us says anything till we reach the road. The evening air feels cool on my neck.
The trees sway as if to brace itself for what is coming.
“So…?” She speaks. Her tone is comforting, yet has a slight edge to it, which feels like she thinks it’s all my fault. I look at her and I resist the urge to start crying. Somehow, somebody else saying it makes it more real.
“I…” My voice breaks and within no time I am crying. She puts a hand on my shoulder and doesn’t say anything for a while.
I finally break the silence by saying, “I’m sorry I’m a mess. If only I would have studied harder-”
“Listen here” She cuts me off. I look into her eyes and her eyes look worried. They almost look as if they are pleading me for something.
“You don’t have to be good at math”, she says. This catches me off guard. I did not expect her to say this. I thought she was going to give me advice on how to score better. I thought she was almost joking. I turn to look at her, expecting her to smile, but her eyes are adamant and firm.
“Yes. You don’t have to be.” looks like she read my expression.
“There are so many more things than being good at studies. Have you ever looked beyond that?” She waits for me to answer.
“No…” I answer, embarrassed.
“Exactly. You don’t have to be good at something to be accepted.” This grabs my attention.
“Look at yourself. You have so many things in yourself that are amazing. You don’t have to be good at something just so you are recognized.”
“Tell me one thing. Why is this exam so important to you?” Again, she waits for me to answer.
“Because I want to be felt real, to be seen as somebody…?” my voice goes small. I now realize how stupid it sounds. On seeing the look of my face, she says, “Did you see? How small that sounds?”
“You are capable of so many great things. You cannot call yourself great, if you only try to be good at what others are good at. Stop enclosing yourself in boxes and see beyond it.
“See your interests, your likes, your gifts.” She puts a hand on my shoulder. “You are amazing, your artwork is brilliant.”
“I love the way you focus, the look of sureness in your eyes every time you paint. There’s a thrill in your eyes every time you hold a paint brush or every time you mix colors on the palate. And your artwork is so true.” I had never heard her say anything about my artwork before. Only those stern eyes on every one of our canvases, quick to point out any flaw, any smudge of a line on our work.
“It reflects everything so beautifully.” She pauses and lets out a sigh.
“So please” she puts her hands on my shoulders and continues, “love every aspect of you. Stop wanting to be accepted by others. First accept every flaw and gift of you.” She smiles and her eyes sparkle. I feel light, as if her words embraced me. Somebody who thinks I’m good at something. Somebody who feels that I’m not only okay at something, but great at something. This realization hits me and my eyes well up. My heart feels like somebody has broken it open and revealed something beautiful inside of me.
I look at her and I manage to smile and I end up crying. She puts a hand around my shoulder and I can see the sunset at the corner of my eye, This time its stronger, almost red, powerful. Like as if it has realized its great value and decided to shine, just like me.