If I sit here, in this room for just a moment, what would change? What would happen?
Just a minute, one moment. All to myself.
Would the world change if I let myself forget about it?
It forgot about me. It forgot about me a long time ago.
So now I sit here frozen. Frozen in time. I can’t move. I’m trying so hard, but I can’t. I sit here staring at my legs, willing them to work.
I’m willing myself to move, I swear.
My legs won’t work. My feet won’t move. My toes won’t wiggle.
The room is so small, all I can feel are his eyes staring at me. I don’t like it. This man, this place. Is he supposed to be a doctor? I didn’t need to be fixed. They did. Why didn’t anyone see that? I was okay. I was alright. Why is it that I can feel nothing but his eyes? Why is it that my body won’t work? I don’t remember anything happening, what happened? I remember my mother dragging me here, to this room, with this man.
“Look at me, Meena”, he says. “Talk to me.”
Doesn’t he understand that I don’t want to be here? That I don’t want to talk. I just want to leave. Leave this world.
I close my eyes.
I think of the beach. I see the blue waves lapping in front of me, taking me in like the world pushed me out. I wiggle my toes in the sand, I stand up and run. I run, because I haven’t in so long. I run till he disintegrates from my mind. Till there’s only the sea.
There’s a girl in front of me. I look at her closely, her curly dark hair, her lean figure, her eyes. I look right into her eyes. They seem lonely. Like mine.
I stare at the sea. There’s something about the rhythm of the waves, about the way the water splashed onto my face every few minutes. About the feeling that at any moment, I could be pulled in. That I could be a part of it all too.
Is there anybody out there? This is always the echo of my thoughts. The echo of my dreams.
I look back to say something to the girl. But words had long ago betrayed me. I turn around and there is no one out there. The girl is gone. The waves have pulled back.
But at least I have the sand. At least my toes are wiggling.
I sit back down in the sand and look up at the sky. At the clouds above me. The sky was so blue, so blue like the waves. It reminded me of rainy days.
“Meena, talk to me.”
What does he want me to say? I did it. I went past the gate? That’s all. He already knows that, and I have nothing more to say about it. He has the darkest eyes I’ve ever seen. Dark, like there’s a world of secrets behind them.
Life would be easy if I could be the Blanche DuBois of my society. Claiming magic over reality, claiming desire over need. But I knew the difference between illusion and delusion. I knew that knowing was better than not knowing, that the reason I’m here today, here right now, is because of that. All I want is for everybody else to know it as well.
My life here had always felt so charged, so scientific. I would finish high school, become a biology professor, and then I would be matched off with a partner. Everything in my life was predetermined. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it.
I placed my hand on my chest, right above my heart and I took a deep breath. Breathing in the lub dub of my heart, synthesising the flow of blood from my ventricles to my aorta and back again. I wish my life could flow as freely as my blood.
I remember asking my mother why I couldn’t be a painter one day.
“Meena”, she said. “Art is not a proper form of life.”
She told me that we exist as highlighted forms of the single atom, and that it was wrong to try and blend in the way that art did. I didn’t really understand what she meant; I was so young, too young. We were standing at the top of a staircase in front of a building. The building I had grown up in. I used to love this building as a child. I loved the way every edge was pointed and sharp, and the way the top was just glass. So that you could see nothing but the sky if you stood in the middle of it. But growing up meant that I had grown out of it as well. I wish I could have taken her with me, my mother. I wish I had grabbed her hand, and run down the stairs, out past the gate.
I understood what my mother was saying the day I went past the gate. The first thing I saw was a long path, cobblestoned and glistening. I walked along it, not knowing that this was the day I’d finally understand my world. The sun was so bright; we barely got sun behind the gate. At the end of the path there was a line of houses, each a new colour and a unique design. It looked so different from the buildings we lived in, where everything was boring in its exact sameness. The sidewalks had paintings, and pictures. There were little children laughing and drawing on the pavements. I had never seen anything like it before. That pure bliss. I wanted it, I wanted it so badly.
I ignore his voice, and drift back to the sea.
I am floating in this world. I am floating like that one empty coke can in the middle of the sea. Floating like the clouds in the sky. And it feels good. It feels so good to just float for a moment, to have no balance, no gravity, nothing to pull me down.
I float right up to where the waves were licking the sand, I lie down. I pretend that this is my life. That this has always been my life. I move my arms and legs and make a sand angel. The sun feels so warm on my skin; I haven’t seen it in so long.
I don’t know why he’s trying so hard. I have nothing more to say. I already said it all.
I close my eyes.
I try to go back to beach. But it isn’t there anymore. The water has turned into stairs. And the sand into concrete. Behind me, that big building, that spelt illusion. I try to run, to run as far away from here as possible. Because I recognise these stairs, this ground, this place. The last place I’d ever want to be.
I shake it off.
But they keep coming. The memories, that moment.
I think it was a Monday. I’m not sure. But it feels like it would be a Monday. Mondays are always meant for beginnings. And this, if anything was the beginning of it all.
I remember how my room was really dark that day. The days had started becoming shorter, and my window wasn’t letting in any light so I decided to go outside. I walked and walked until I ended up in the building. It was tall, so tall that you would think the world ended on its brink. I walked into it, looking for a place that was peaceful. That was when I got to the stairs. There was a big arch, with Corinthian pillars that opened up to them. In one word, they were grand. There was something about the marble they were made from that seemed like they were from a different time, a different world. And at the bottom of them was a gate. It was scary, standing up there. But it was powerful. I remember that most, feeling invincible on top of those stairs.
“Let them in.”
How does he know what I’m thinking? Why is he in my head? I can’t do this. I try and get up. But I can’t.
My legs won’t work. My feet won’t move. My toes won’t wiggle.
His eyes were so dark. They reminded me of that day. There was this blackness that encapsulated them, making them seem as if they weren’t real. As if they weren’t real at all.
“Are you ready to talk now?”
I wasn’t. But I nod anyways.
I stare at the blank paper on his desk. He catches me looking at it.
He hands it over and we decide that I’m going to write down what happened while we talk. I’m going to write, because it’s the only way I know how.
It was such a beautiful day. That’s the only word I can use to describe it. Beautiful. There were so many clouds in the sky; they created a shadow over the stairs that the building opened up to.
My old friend Alisha came up to me while I was looking at them. We hadn’t spoken since things began to change. Since I went down the stairs that day last year.
I had always been curious. Curious to know the results to my math test, curious to know what came after life, curious to know what was beneath the stairs. The gate there was always closed, and I never saw anyone walk through it.
But I did. And that was when I knew. I knew that we were in a world that didn’t exist at all. That everything they told us inside those gates, everything was a lie.
“What do you mean a lie?”
Don’t you see? I could tell you that I was okay, that I was alright, to get out of here. But that would be a lie. That’s what I mean. Can’t you see beyond the gate? We live in this bubble, where sadness does not exist, where courage does not exist. Where illusion is the only thing that does.
I see his eyes glaze over as I say this, but I ignore them.
“I don’t understand.”
His dark eyes locked onto mine. I saw a reflection of what I looked like in them. My messy hair, my eyes full of fire. My mouth curling into something that wasn’t a smile or a frown.
So Alisha came up to me, and told me that they were going to let me go. I tried to tell her what I knew; I tried to tell her that this wasn’t what we were supposed to be. But she refused to listen.
A puppet of the institution.
“Is that when she pushed you?”
I told her what was beneath the stairs, behind the gate. I told her that I knew that the word beautiful and pretty were parallels of each other. That thoughts meant nothing if they were never spoken. That the world wasn’t defined by black or white. But she didn’t reply. Anger seethed through her face. But not through her eyes. Her eyes seemed devoid of anything at all. They glazed over then, dark as ever, and she took a step back. She whispered the phrase,
“There’s something wrong with you, you know. We’re all the same here; stop trying so hard to be something you can never be.”
“And then she pushed you?”
And then I jumped.
It was quiet for a long time after that. Death was unspoken off within the confines of these walls. I think that’s why my toes won’t wiggle. That’s why they sent me here. To keep me quiet.
Why did I jump? The question is why am I still here? This place isn’t real. These people, these people aren’t real. Don’t you get it?
“You have a problem.”
No one understands. I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to be behind the gate. In a world that isn’t this one, a world that doesn’t elude illusion as reality.
I never thought about it until now. The way everyone’s eyes here were different. I could feel the raw pierce of them, always on me, wherever I went. But that day, when I left the gate, no one had dark eyes. I didn’t know until that day that eyes could convey so much – a feeling, a gesture, a memory. But the people I met outside the gate were different. They were kind. They exuded this feeling that I can’t even put into words, but it felt like they had this warmth, this warmth that they wanted to extend to those around them.
“Meena, there is no gate.”
I tear the paper into pieces. I want to run, run away from here, from him.
But I can’t.
My legs won’t move, my feet won’t work, my toes won’t wiggle.
I close my eyes.
If I sit here for just a moment, what would change? What would happen? Would the world change if I let myself forget about it?
I opened my eyes; there was no one in front of me.
Maybe it would.
I let myself drift off into illusion.