Sandhya lost track of time.
Hugging her knees close, she sat staring blankly. Shafts of dust-laden light filtered through the creaks in the window. The damp air felt cold. The tears had dried. Her eyes grew accustomed to the surroundings. The musty attic was stacked with unused household things, knickknacks, broken lamps and mirrors, mattresses which she hadn’t been able to get rid of.
It was exactly how she dealt with her life too. All that extra baggage she carried about – the failure, unfulfilled dreams, insecurities, feelings of worthlessness and the burden of having become a completely different person. Over the years each regret, negative emotion and experience had formed a protective layer.
She had cried in pain. Those hardened walls of resolve she had painstakingly built over time to protect herself had broken destroying everything. Silently they had crumbled engulfing her. Even as devastation struck there was no sound. Almost like her entire being in unison was mourning the breaking of those walls.
She choked with the suddenness of this emotive catharsis. She was breathless. But ironically in the midst of this, remnants of her soul refused to die. It was still beating. Why? Was there any hope? Was there any reason?
She heard footsteps. She looked up trying to focus towards the sound.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Chaya.”
“When did you come?”
“I’ve been here for a long time now. I knew I would find you here.”
Chaya came and sat across her at a distance. She was smiling. Her lovely face radiated strength. It reflected hope. It helped to curb the pain. Chaya always had that effect on her. Sandhya’s heart beat faster. The struggle she was losing only a while back against the overwhelming swirl of emotion was abating. The soul was winning. Finally a gasp of breath. Breath of life.
Sandhya stared at the one person who mattered the most sitting across her. Her smile so sweet, loving and full of life. Her face reflecting confidence, hope and the will to live on. Was this her reason to live?
“What happened?” Chaya asked.
“You know. You’ve always known. I just couldn’t deal with those questions again. What are you doing with your life? Why are you wasting away? Why do you always crib without taking a stand? Either stop cribbing, take control of your life or just let go. Do something you like doing. Set goals for yourself. Achieve them. Recently I have been constantly reminded of how worthless, my life personally and professionally had become.”
“Yeah, but why the sudden outburst? You’ve heard these things before also?”
Sandhya continued, “I really don’t know. It’s been on my mind lately and looking back at my life I’ve tried to figure out the possible reasons I am, the way I am. Since childhood, I have been a loner. You know, that in spite of being younger, I was always expected to behave like the elder. It was understated and subtle; perhaps a very natural reaction if I look back now considering my sister was born very early to my parents. Their first child, so she got away with murder. And I grew up having to take care of myself; an expectation that made me very lonely. I was painfully shy, played on my own, made imaginary friends, talked to myself, hated crowds, loved to read and started penning my thoughts since there was no one to talk to.”
“Yes, I know that,” Chaya said. “You’ve always craved for support but could never express it. In turn, you became overtly independent almost like a reaction to protect yourself. I think it did help to cover up the fear, the longing, and the apprehensions. You have always been emotional and receptive to others but since you internalized those feelings most people found you cold, unresponsive and reserved. Some maintained their distance which was good, as you scared away unwanted attention but at times it was a loss. So you clamped up even further.”
“You’re right, Chaya. In all my relationships either professional or personal, I have tried to fit in and rarely got the opportunity to be myself. What others thought about me mattered and my personality was moulded by that. I have always tried to blend in with expectations. I’m always trying to be nice. At times I have wanted to break free but the experiences somehow have left me bitter. So I shrunk within. The more I lacked confidence and withdrew, the more layers formed on the real me and so the cycle continued.”
“Yes but that still doesn’t answer my question. Why the sudden outburst today?
“My ego took another beating at the party today. Everyone was comparing their lives and suddenly all eyes were on me asking for explanations – why was I still working at a place which didn’t respect my capabilities or pay me well? Why I couldn’t realize my potential? I was capable of so much more. I was neglecting the family. There was no work-life balance. I failed to prioritize or give due importance to the family. It just continued on and on. I couldn’t take it anymore. So I snapped.”
“You’re still not answering my question?”
“What do you mean?” Sandhya shouted. “Didn’t I just tell you the reason for the sudden outburst?”
“Yes, you did. But what you still haven’t answered is, why now? These conversations have been happening for a while now. Every time someone brings this up, you get upset. Then you try and make changes in your life but after a while, you again go back to being what you were. So what is different now?”
“I am tired. I am just tired of living the jaded life of a daughter, sister, wife, friend and worker. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want to break free from it all. I don’t want to be this spineless person living a meaningless existence.”
“Then who do you want to be?”
“ME”, Sandhya cried aloud.
Chaya smiled. “After all this time, you have finally decided you want to be you, the real you. I am happy for you.”
“But I’m petrified of trying. What if I fail? I am not strong. I don’t have the courage to stand up for myself. You know that. It means turning my entire life upside down. It means people close to me will get hurt. It means that it will make me even lonelier.”
“So you’re still undecided. You are still holding back. Why did you think it would be easy? Life never is. It will take determination and courage. Yes those close to you, who know you as you are today, will wonder at this sudden change. They will question your motive. Do you know what to say?”
“No, I don’t. But I know that I want to change. I want to be a better person, someone people will respect. I know I want to be good at my work. My family is important to me but they have to understand that I am my own person too. I am tired of falling in line with expectations, of neglecting my own needs and thinking of what others might think or say or react. No, other than this, I don’t know how to explain this need. But I don’t want to hurt anybody,” the tears came down again.
“I know what you want and why you want it now.”
“Suddenly you’re at a crossroad where you feel the time is short. You have to make a difference in your life now or else the real you will always remain hidden. You have to unlearn so many things. Yes, people will get hurt but then you are not a bad person so you can’t hurt them as much as you think you will. As you evolve, so will people around you change and that is how life is. Remember you are not changing at all. The things you envisage for yourself are those that are the real you. So, you will only be rediscovering yourself and what you think are changes, are actually you losing those layers of protection you’ve been carrying about.”
“You think so?”
“Sandhya, you are the most beautiful person I know. We have been together for so long yet you just stopped loving me and pushed me away. But I have been waiting. Love me as I am Sandhya.” Chaya pleaded.
“Love you? But is that right? Doesn’t that make me selfish, that I’m thinking only about myself? Won’t they question that I’m not giving importance to the family? I’m pushing them away. They may break the ties and then I will be left feeling even lonelier.”
“No. Loving me does not make you selfish. It only means you respect me for who I am. I will always be there – your shoulder to cry on, to lend you a helping hand, to pick you up when you fall, to nudge you to take that chance, to hug you when life treats you badly. I have so much to give you. I love you so much, it hurts. And I know you care for me too. I know you were ashamed to ask me for help. But I will not question you for I know the answer. I have been a silent spectator to all your foibles. I know.”
“But I am scared. What if I fail?”
“Listen, together we can be strong, can support one another in times of need. Together we don’t have to fear the world. Together we will make a difference. I will not stop loving you, ever. I do realize that you need me as much. You have lots to offer. You are made for bigger things. Get up. There is so much to do. Time is ticking and there is not a moment to lose. The world out there is waiting for you. Come with me. Now!”
Chaya smiled creating ripples of excitement rush through Sandhya. Her face broke into a smile, the same smile which stared right back at her.
Finally, she was going to break free. Free from the rut, the mundane living, shaking away the dust that had settled on her soul. The questions didn’t matter anymore. Chaya was her reason to live. Her heart filled with love for Chaya who made her feel like a woman, the woman who had laid trapped under layers of hopelessness and fear. But not anymore.
As she sat smiling at Chaya, her face slowly blurred from view and in its place, Sandhya saw her own reflection in the broken mirror.
After ages, her throaty laughter echoed through the attic. She was going to live for herself. She was going to embark on a journey to rediscover herself. She wrapped her arms around hugging herself tight. This was a new beginning.
She cried aloud, “I will survive. I’m alive.”