I sit, huddled in the corner, below the window. Strong cold winds blow through the window, causing my teeth to chatter. Tears stream down my cheeks and I make no attempt to stop crying. At least here, there is no one to judge me.
This place appears to be nothing bigger than a tiny wooden cabin. It smells of fungus and dry wood. My fingers are numb from the cold and feet are turning blue. I cannot make out the shape of my hand in front of me. Even my pale fingers aren’t visible in this dark. The only source of light is the moonlight which comes from the window.
My best friend, back near my home, comes to mind. A faint smell of incense always hit my nose as soon as I entered her doorstep. Her comforting hug could cure all of my bad days. I was often a shadow behind her, timid and shy. She could often be seen greeting neighbors and I, forcing a smile at them. She was my support and sometimes my mouth. Even before it would come out of my mouth, she would say it and the job would be done.
But here, in college, the people first appeared frightening. All those new faces, staring at me made me shiver. After about two weeks, I was desperate to find someone new. The desperation only grew when I would see groups of people laughing, and talking in the cafeteria. I was among those few left-over ones, either at the end of the cafeteria hall or the ones who used to stand with plates in their hands. A particular group caught my eye. I shall never forget when I saw Cara for the first time. Her curly hair fell from her shoulders and her checkered jacket tied at her waist. Charlie and Tim were seated on the table, arguing. Their freeness, and their bravery attracted me. Even in the midst of a storm, I feel like I could still make out the sound of their laughs and chatter. I had no idea, what courage made me to walk over to them and introduce myself.
“Don’t be such a coward. Face the real world.” This is what I told myself before I went over to them. If only I knew what I was getting into. At first, I was overwhelmed to be a part of their group, so their constant orders and taunts didn’t bother me. It was only when I got selected for the art competition, and I told Tim, that their true nature came to light. He wasn’t in the least bothered about the competition or what it was for. But the only thing which made him look up from his phone, was the fact I got selected.
Their words seem to be running around in my mind. Their laughs, jitters and jeers now bear a permanent place in my head. After 2 months in college, I thought I could call them my friends. But what happened just 30 mins ago, wiped out any feelings of friendship I had towards them. Out of Cara, Tim and Charlie, Cara was the one who I had trusted the most. After hours and hours of my questioning them, asking where they were, I would just get a reply from them saying, “Calm down Leah, like you could afford to come with us anyway!”
Today morning, how I woke with a hopeful smile on my face. The hopefulness only grew when Cara said something nice about my sweater. ‘Maybe they are good after all…’ I thought. I had a little hope left in me when the permission to spend the evening in the woods came. ‘Maybe they will like me…’ I said again and again in my mind, trying to wipe out all the awful experiences that were resurfacing in my mind. When it was getting dark and the only thing visible in front of us was leaves fallen on the ground, I felt a pull in my left arm. As I turned to inspect what it was, a huge glop of wet snow came flying to my cheek.
“Ahh!” I squealed. Two hands groped me from behind and tried to strangle me. Someone pulled out my sweater and a huge gust of cold wind hit me. I tried to pull my bag and they all appeared blurry from the water in my eyes. Tim finally jerked the bag and a few things dropped to the ground. They appeared like black blobs to me. I got down on my knee and reached out my hand to grab them, when a hand swiftly scooped those things up.
“Leah Adams. So… How much is in there?” Charlie said. I could hear a few coins fall to the ground.
“Give me back my wallet!” I shouted.
“What can you even get with this money Leah!?” All three of them burst out laughing. Tears started to brim in my eyes, and I had to clutch my clothes to stop crying.
“I’ll tell you what.” Cara said, “We’ll take your phone and wallet and leave you here. That way you don’t have to embarrass anybody else!” All three of them started laughing and cheering. As I started to speak, a huge ball of snow again fell on my dress. More and more followed, that I was unable to get up and fight back.
“Ha ha! Have fun with the wolves!” I could hear Cara’s muffled voice from under the glops of snow on my face. My whole body was soaking wet and my clothes clung to my skin. Shivering, with nothing but a thin sweater covering my body, I wandered until I found this cabin. The smell of fungus met my nose from almost a yard away. As soon as I entered the cabin, it started snowing. What began as a light hail, was now a violent snow storm. I found a dry patch and sat down; my body numb. As soon as my legs touched the floor, I gave way to the waterfall in my eyes, that had built up all these months.
“I shouldn’t be so weak.”, “They will never accept me!” These were some thoughts that I always said before when they almost broke me. Never in these 3 months had I seen them be happy by any small achievement of mine, yet even at the slightest mistake I made, posts about my clumsiness would be uploaded online. After a tiring day of constantly being criticized, I had no one to vent to. So, my pink teddy at the dorm would provide me some comfort.
How a place can appear so welcoming yet also provide nasty memories of being chased in my night pants. Now the comfort of my bed appears like a far-away dream, hard to reach.
“CLANG! CLANG!” a loud banging noise comes from the window. I am too weak to stand up and inspect the noise, but I still make an attempt. As I get up, a face appears in front of the window. I stifle a scream in my throat. The face belongs to an old woman. She appears old only by the strands of grey hair coming out of her hood. The rest of her face looks young and fresh. A slight crease occurs under her eyelids and her eyes never leave mine. She’s clutching a metal pipe and I can see few broken shards of glass at her feet.
“Are your clothes wet!? Oh my God!” She shrieks in her raspy voice. Before I respond, she bends forward and hops inside the window. Faint traces of lavender oil reach my nose, as she wraps a blanket around me. “Care to explain?” she asks.
“I… I… got lost” I say.
“Lost” She raises a questioning eye at me.
“Yes… I was… searching for my dog, which ran away” I say.
“Oh, now come on!” And as she says this, she grabs me by the arm and takes me out of the cabin. Her grip is like none I have experienced before. Its firm, almost as if someone is taking me to a safer world.
We walk quietly in the snow for a while after which we reach another cabin, pretty much like the previous one. But the only thing that separates the two cabins is the warmth which comes out of this cabin. Its almost as if this cabin is welcoming me inside. A shovel is dug in the snow outside and a single window is open on the left. I peer inside and a yellow glow greets me. The old lady clears the snow that had built up near the door and shoves it open. She turns behind and beams a toothless smile at me.
“Come in dear.” I make my way inside. This place is nothing like I have seen before. At the corner a light-blue candle is placed on a table. The inner walls all look golden from the candle’s flame. The cot is filled with purple and blue silk cushions. This whole place looks so mystical that a heater that is placed near the table looks like an odd contrast. She follows my gaze to the heater and says, “Don’t bother about it. I haven’t seen an entire day with electricity yet!”.
She grabs my hand again and pulls me to the cot. She scurries into another room and comes with a clay tumbler in her hand.
“Here. Hot water” She hands me the water and I feel a certain warmth that I’m pretty sure isn’t coming from the hot water in my hand.
“So, tell me”, She says sitting opposite of me. I’m pretty sure my story didn’t appear very convincing. Slowly I tell my story and by the end of it I am a mess. I didn’t realize how much I was holding in until it came out. At the end of it I do feel a lot lighter as if a heavy stone which was placed on me has now been removed.
She doesn’t say anything for a long time and then she gets up and scurries inside. When she’s gone, I sum up my situation. I didn’t know life could be so bizarre. I am finding comfort in a stranger’s house, whose face I have never seen before yet I never felt a trace of comfort around people who were my friends for nearly two months. She returns with something in her hands. This time she sits next to me. The same lavender oil reaches my nose, and I don’t want to let go off that smell. That smell which made me feel so much at home even though I had never smelt it before. She takes my hand in hers and holds it tight. Her hands are not very smooth but they feel warm in this cold. She hands me a dull-yellow handkerchief with some embroidery in the center. The cloth looks old and has a few blotches of ink on one side.
“Take this.” She says. “This is going to remind you who you are. Look at it carefully.” Our eyes meet and then they look at the kerchief below. Actually, the only thing that my eyes are drawn to the first time I see it are the flowers embroidered at the center. The rest of the kerchief looks old and sad.
“Remember, you are strong. The flower blooms even in the dull background.”
These last few words stick to me. Never in these months had I told something nice to myself. I felt that I would only be approved if I was in the popular group. I was so engrossed in getting accepted into their group that I didn’t think about myself. She seems to have read my mind, when she says, “Remember, you may not know who I am but always remember who you are and what you deserve.” Her mouth gives way to a smile. I force a smile back, trying to fight back tears.
As I look into her eyes, I get what I was lacking from a few months: The warmth that I craved for.