‘New year is five days away. Who are you going to celebrate it with?’
‘I don’t celebrate New year, at least not when the others do.’
‘You have a complex personality. I’d love to get to know you more. How about a video call?’
‘I’d prefer staying anonymous. ‘uninterested emoji’.’
Then I shut my laptop. Today I spent all my day working. My eyelids are struggling to open every time I blink. Every body part I move aches and I just can’t wait to hit the bed. I walk into my room and literally throw myself on the bed. The pillow cushioning my head; the mattress hugging my every curve and the blanket protecting me from the monsters hiding under my bed and from the detestable humans outside. This my haven.
I woke up frightened, with sweat trickling down my forehead. This was the ten millionth time, I’ve had this nightmare and yet it was successful in scaring the hell out of me even today. I can’t help but think about the nightmare.
How viciously my step mom was standing on the stage with her daughter, telling despicable things about me. The audience was laughing hard at the hideous things they were telling. She was narrating another false and shameful story about me when her eyes landed on me.
“There she is, the stupid pig,” she shrieked. All the heads turned towards me and while a handful laugh, the others looked at me with disgust. I scan the crowd for my dad and when I found him, I pity him more than I pity myself. He sat in a corner, staring ahead. The last thing he wanted to do was to listen to my step-mom. He was unaware of his surroundings and of the event that was going on. He sat there mourning the death of a loved one. As I focus my attention back on the audience, they are no longer the audience. They’ve transformed into my schoolmates. Their shirts untucked and a brutal smile spreading across their faces. I try to run, but they catch old of me moments later. Just then I pass out in my dream and wake up in real life.
I get out of my bed, feeling drowsy. I pick up the chalk from my dressing table and draw a straight and short line on the wall. According to the Gregorian calendar, I’m twenty-six years old, but according to my calendar I’m six years old. According to my calendar, you are truly born only once you learn to relish life. I return the chalk to its original position and enter my bathroom to freshen up.
Standing in the shower, I try to think of a dish for my blog. “Aha!” I exclaim when paneer sandwich comes to my mind.
When I was fifteen years old, my mum would make me a paneer sandwich. Making a paneer sandwich was her forte. Having an Indian mother is a bliss, you are even more fortunate if she’s mastered making chicken and paneer the Indian style. But you are not so fortunate if her forte proves fatal for herself.
Never has dad failed to come to my mind when I think about mom. Memories come flooding back, good and bad. Dad’s love for his family knew no bounds, and when mom died, he was devastated. But the shock did not stop him from bringing my step-mom home after two days. My step-mom couldn’t take his first wife’s place. They didn’t even sleep in the same bedroom. My step-mom used to sleep with her daughter in her room, and my dad slept alone in his room. The reason behind his second marriage is still a mystery for me. But I know one thing for sure, he never loved his second wife. His second marriage did not stop him from mourning his first wife’s death either.
The rest of the day went by smoothly. I recorded myself making a paneer sandwich and uploaded on my blog. When I was done with all my work and the household chores, I logged into the chatroom.
‘Hey, are you a student?’, a person with the username ‘Annika’ texted.
‘Hi, I’m afraid I’m not.’
Annika: ‘Do you miss your school days?’.
Annika: ‘Did your school host charity fashion shows?’.
This question caught me off guard. I started having flashbacks of my life past moving out. Losing my balance and falling off the ramp, my step-mom and step-sister laughing at me instead of helping me back to my feet. My step-sister narrating the whole incident, in a sing-song voice to her friends, and that is when all the laughing and bullying started. Nobody hesitated to walk up to me and slap/kick me. Most of the days, I used to come home with my uniform drenched in blood. Complaining was of no use. My father was fighting his own battles, and I didn’t want to burden him anymore, whereas my step-mom enjoyed tormenting me.
How brazenly my step-mom used to tell false and abhorrent tales about me to the guests. Some guests enjoyed and took active part in the conversation while others sat back, stared and judged me. How vulnerable I used to feel. The panic attacks I used to have and still experience in the middle of nights are because of them, and later I discovered that I was diagnosed with Anthropophobia.
The sudden rush of terrible memories was too much to handle. I shut the laptop, took a sleeping pill and went to bed.
I woke up to a strong smell of coffee. I look around and see a mug full of coffee on my dressing table. I must have kept it there before logging into the chatroom. I get out of my bed to complete my daily morning ritual. I pick the chalk and head towards the wall when I see the calendar WIPED OFF. Another realization kicks in, the mug of coffee is steaming hot. Someone is inside my house. Suddenly I have a panic attack. The thought of facing a stranger, helpless and at its mercy, made me feel miserable. I forced myself to stay came, but it’s difficult to concentrate when one is sweating profusely and when your knees are buckling. I barely whisper, “Who’s there?” and wonder if I should repeat it when my question is answered.
“Mia, it’s me, Alex.” He said, walking into my room sporting his brightest smile.
“Dad! How did you get in?”.
“When you moved out, you remember, you left me a note with a spare key of your house? The note said that you are always with me and when I’m over Astha’s death and ready to meet people again, I’m always welcome at your place. You remember that right?”
“Of course dad. But why the hell did you wipe out my calendar?”
“Its time you get out of your world and your little shell and start socializing.”
“Dad, now socializing is impossible for me. Thanks to your beloved wife (chuckle), I’ve been diagnosed with Anthropophobia.”
“I divorced her.” He said with guilt.
“Why?” I asked, or rather squeaked.
“She’s extremely cruel.”
“But the damage she’s done cannot be undone.”
“I’ll help you with that.”
And since that day, dad is living with me. I regularly pay the therapist a visit, and now the panic attacks are less frequent. I eked out the courage that was left and recently joined a company, and I’m doing just fine.
“You used to jump around with joy, if your mum made you a paneer sandwich and braided your hair on the same day.” My dad said, walking out of the kitchen.
“Yeah, but why did you marry again?”
“I didn’t want you to fall apart. I thought she’ll look after you.” He sighed.
“But it didn’t turn out the way you expected it to, right?”
“Nevermind,” he waved it off. “I’ve made you a paneer sandwich, and I’ve learned how to braid hair”.
“Love you, dad.”