My head drops and my glasses slide off my nose. I start sliding down and I can feel my legs stretching forward. My neck hurts but I know its not because of this position. Hours of studying, and tutoring is the reason for the constant soreness in my neck.
I feel a cold hand on my back and I suddenly jerk up. The hand withdraws quickly, as if scared by my sudden movement. A pair of twinkling eyes meet mine. Next to me, an old Chinese woman, wearing a red sweater is holding a cane for support.
I can feel the heaviness in the air. The air smells like sweat, Cologne and dirt. The room feels too small for me with every turn of the head.
“Are you alright my dear? Are you feeling dizzy?” She asks. As far as my eyes can see, people fill the train.
“No, I’m alright.” I say to the old woman, trying to smile.
My head does feel a little dizzy. I look out the window and a construction site comes into view. All the metal looks scary and terrorizing. Smoke fills the sky and I feel the air tighter than before. My head feels tight and my thoughts, too many to be confined in my head.
I can’t remember the last time I was asked how I was feeling. I was only expected to be a certain way. Back, home, no one really cared how I felt. It was the same routine everyday: Get up to loud shouting, clean the dishes, get scolded for being a minute late, and go back to bed with buckets of tears waiting to be spilled out.
My adoptive family was like any other normal family. They appeared so simple, and ordinary from the outside. You would expect them to have dinner together at the dinner table, or spend a night out at the backyard, all the things a normal family would do.
My adoptive dad’s second wife, came into the house with two of her children. She couldn’t stand to look into the eyes of a person who was adopted. Pictures of her children were stuck on the walls all around the house, where you could find mine only if you searched the entire house very carefully. Out of all the three children in the family, I would go to bed almost hungry. A quarter of a biscuit would be given to me, while the rest of the kids got around four or five. I was asked to remain at home, when the rest of them were taken to movies or shopping. I was expected to stay back after every meal and clean. Any slightest bit of hesitation or disapproval, would mean that I would have to go to bed hungry. I looked at them making snow mans out of the grilled window. That house had confined me for all those years. Every night after dinner, my bed-light would glow bright. I sat up late, with puffy eyes, studying after a day's chores.
“You should be grateful we adopted you!” My adoptive mother would shout every time some small thing would go out of line. Every day I would go to bed dreaming of the day I would be free. I longed to be cared by the mother who gave birth to me, hoping it would cure all the harsh memories that came to mind. For months, I planned my escape. Every day I watched my them lock the huge doors of the prison in which I was kept. At some points, I gave up any hope of meeting my real parents.
I still remember the day as though it was just yesterday. My family were being interrogated for being a witness in a drunk-drive case.
“It looks like, we have gathered all we could. Good day, and thank you for your time.” The cop smiled and started to leave, when his gaze fell on the side window. I was huddled in the corner with my forearm, with the gashes exposed. Tears were streaming from my eyes.
It took a few seconds for the cop to figure out that I was an abused kid, who was struggling to become free. He walked back in, on the pretext of questioning every family member.
“Are you sure you have only two children?” I could hear the cop’s voice.
“Yes.” My adoptive dad replied without any hesitancy.
“I doubt that because I swear, I saw a figure move near the window. Unless you have a pet, which I doubt, it is very much a real person.
And so began my adoptive parents’ hesitancy to allow the cop to interrogate our house. Finally, after I was found, my adoptive parents were taken to the police station along with me.
Standing at the metro station, I looked up to the clear sky to see a few birds flying. It looked like they were free, free from anything holding them back.
It had been a few weeks after I had turned eighteen. I packed off to college, hoping that the life I was going to live would be easier than the life I would be leaving behind. Not even a week into college, I faced a problem. The rent which the landlord and I had agreed upon, now became three times the original value. So, I searched for another part time job, and found one, of a waitress. I worked four nights a week, and the rest of the time was spent in tutoring. Not to mention, the sleepless nights, where I would stay awake, studying for tests.
Every day, as I rose, I had a little hope of life being beautiful. Every day, on my train back from college, I would pass the ‘The Quiet Beck’, the creek that had got its name for its serene, calm waters. But every time, we passed that, it would appear just as mundane, ordinary and stressful.
The train stops at Wellington station and a group of people get out. The train empties out a little bit, before another group of people come in.
A middle-aged man, wearing a brown coat, sits next to me. He has a plastic bag clutched to his hands so tightly, that I can see a few red marks on his palm. Beside me, he has kept a brown leather bag, in which I can see a purse and a few books.
After a few minutes, I hear a snore from my right. I look down and his bag is already on the ground. I bend down and pick up the items which fell out from the bag: A leather diary, a pouch, and a purse. A part of the photograph is visible. I take out the purse and examine it. The leather at the corners is torn and the color is a faded brown.
The inner compartment has a photo of a baby. Eyes, like those of a deer are looking back at me. How familiar is this face? It feels as though I know the anatomy of this face very well. The sparkle in the eye, the silkiness of the hair, I feel as though I have memorized all these features. I turn the photo behind, and I see a name: Starla.
The same name, that my adoptive parents used to shout, whenever I did a mistake. The same name that my siblings would sneer and tease. The same name that was printed below my photo on the wall, like the one in this wallet, back at home. My hand trembles and I feel my T-shirt sticking to my skin. I turn and wake up the old man. He wakes up with a start and looks at my hand. The wallet is thrown on the seat and I am clutching the photo, not wanting to free of this piece of evidence.
I don’t introduce myself, or give an explanation. “Sir, who is this?” My voice comes out hoarse, and a little louder than I had expected.
The man stirs, as though he wasn’t disturbed by my shout. “This?” . The man points to the photograph. “She was my daughter. A little carrot if you ask me. She was adorable.” The man smiles and I can see tears brim in his eyes. “Of course, that was a long time ago. Now she is remained by only my memory.”
“What happened to her?” I ask, unable to contain my curiosity. He looks down and a single tear drops to the floor. “She was given away. My family could barely afford two meals a day. At this cost, bearing a child was too much of a burden. We struggled to make ends meet, but we failed to bring our daughter up.” He paused here, and his voice trembled. “A father, is one who stays with their children no matter what happens. Supports them, even if he has to remain hungry. But I didn’t do that. Like a fool, we completely got rid of her. The sight of the brown basket in which she was kept, under the tree is still clear in my head.” He wipes his eyes with his sleeve and I realize that I too, am crying.
“And her name was Starla?” At the mention of my name, he looks up at me for the first time. He holds my hand, and I feel a sudden warmth. His veiny hands grip mine and the door of the train opens.
The sky is a shade of dark blue. I look up, and my eyes water because of the wind.
The last few hours were none like I had never experienced. My dream, which I was almost giving up hope on, came true. I was now being comforted by my birth father, and I felt like just a single hug cured all the trauma of my past. Looking into his eyes, I felt alive again. He clutched my sweater tightly, and I clutched him even harder, afraid of letting him go.
“How beautiful you look!” He says, with tears in his eyes. “You’ve grown… really beautifully” He says and I knew he meant it. Not like the fake compliments, I had received from my adoptive family all along.
A soft wind blows, and I realize we are near ‘The Quiet Beck’. The water appears as a smooth glass sheet under the moon light. The trees sway to the rhythm of the wind and I feel elevated. It is only now, that I realize that this creek is so beautiful. The mere sight of it calms my mind. My father holds my hand and smiles. I look into his eyes and say, “Thank you”.