Thursday, August 16, 2012

Who Died?

The birth is still vivid in her mind.

It was late on a summer afternoon; the room was dark and the window was open. A fan with yellowed blades and cobwebs droned over her head.  The nurse had yawned and dragged her noisy feet to disappear behind a tattered green curtain. Fragments of muted conversations from adjacent rooms and infrequent bouts of cough interrupted the languid hours. Her head was bent over a book when she had heard the footsteps. The adjacent chair was drawn and she had acknowledged the arrival with a polite smile and a brief nod.

A whirlpool surfaced in undisturbed waters. She hadn’t been aware of it growing inside her; the violent realization of its impending birth flushed her skin and numbed her feet. A fulminant throb arose in her temples. This didn’t belong in the future she had envisioned. It was ectopic, and it had a quiet birth. There were no witnesses. The one in the chair had looked away.

She found it illicit. She felt ashamed, she kept it hidden, she arrived late, she left early; she didn’t nurture it and prayed for its early death. A fear beset every waking moment of her life; they had known all along, had mocked her futile attempts to conceal it, were entertained by her fluster and forced cheer, had noticed the furtive looks and the sweat on her brow, had seen the bloodied aftermath of birth!

The ectopic was sly; it lurked in shadows and read between lines. Unknown to her it followed certain deft fingers, a furrowed brow, the insidious curve of a smile, the laughter rising in a throat, the voice uttering a name, the impatience in a stride, the defiant pride in every movement , a thinly veiled sarcasm, and a boldness that was almost offensive. The observations fueled the its desire to survive; and this appalled her. Each night she shut her ears to its whimpering cry for attention and ignored its stifling weight on her chest. Strange thoughts had begun to afflict her mind.

Fate chose to cause an unexpected breach; eyes had looked away and it caused her disproportionate agony. This was the creature’s moment! This was its chance to push away every deterrent and to finally belong. It was no longer ectopic; she reasoned its birth and existence beyond her control and accepted it. Emboldened by her attention the creature had grown by leaps and bounds, and told her things that made her heart sing. She decided to rear it away from prying eyes and nestled it in the warm cocoon of her heart. She felt determined that no one should ever know.

But then fate chose to mend the breach! By now creature was a part of her, and they shared the joy of following the insidious curve of a smile. She neither flaunted its existence nor concealed it. She knew the sharp eyes had sensed it; but feigned indifference. She found it hard to mask her delight on hearing the familiar footsteps. She longed to go back to the summer afternoon, and relive the inconspicuous birth, even declare it! The creature glorified the past for her, showed her signs that stoked flames of fanciful imaginations and drained her of reason. She was a torn leaf caught in the hurricane.

The creature pulled the strings now. It longed for approval, for assurance, and for acceptance. It needed to know. It told her to take a risk that could never be undone. She acted on the dreaded impulse. Time stopped and the heart beat wild. She had foreseen the never-ending wait, had steeled herself for it, but it embittered her all the same. Reason told her to wrench away the parasitic creature that clawed to her heart and bled her. But it had sprouted an umbilical cord, fragile yet firm. She could no longer destroy it; she began to ignore it. She had cloaked it well and it couldn’t surface even in moments of solitude. She avoided certain places. She relied on time to fade her from a memory, and was jarred by the delayed understanding that she had never been a part of it! The indifference had been real, not feigned.

The creature still clung to her. A chronic sore, a dead tooth. On most days it remained a frail yet unsightly vestige of disgrace and hurt. When sleep eluded her or familiar laugh lines danced around random eyes or she tread roads that were uncomfortably near; the creature tried to snake out its ugly head in a desperate attempt for revival. But she had honed her reflexes and thrashed it without a second thought.

She had waited more than a year for the fragile cord to fall off. It began yesterday. An ordinary conversation had surfaced names and words and facts; she had continued to smile and nod, while the creature howled in pain and angry fists beat wildly against her chest.  Questions that had hovered in mid-air had found closure, confirming what she had always known. The cord has started to detach, the creature is too feeble to stir anymore. She will mourn a little when the end comes. She will be the lone mourner, and bury it in a deep grave. It will be a quiet death. She will no longer question how, why and for what purpose was it born; when an early death had always been imminent.

The torn leaf would settle again on undisturbed waters. She will overlook its phantom stirrings on long summer afternoons.

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