(A Short Fiction)
Twelve years later, V___ wakes up tormented by the nightmare. An unsatisfied, undesired feeling that will not go away – all these years and, for no reason that he can think; he has tried hard to remember if he had talked about, thought or alluded to her yesterday; anything which might have caused the dream but, no, nothing whatever comes to mind, then why should she be intruding into his dream again and giving him restless mornings?
He still remembers how he had been rude to her initially; perhaps what he felt was the result of guilt from same. Yes, that will make sense. The left-over of the feelings are the waste that is most harmful to the environment of the psyche. But what could he have done? Just last year he had changed school as he had come to stay at his grandparents’ home after his mother’s death following a long period of illness (his father had died a few years back).
He was a highly reserved skinny new admission to the school with a tragic background and so he got attention for all the wrong reasons. There must be a look of sorrow on his face, or perhaps it was his refusal to blend in with people, but there was something for sure, which filled people with pity, sympathy or curiosity – it was difficult to tell which of these drives were behind what questions of different people; teachers, students etc who would ask him about his past, his family condition, source of family income etc. At first, he could answer these questions, tell the stories to satisfy them – with a matter-of-fact tone that wasn’t at all sentimental, it was even impersonal, the very same tone with which he might have told other simple stories. He told them because, at fourteen, he was still innocent for his age, and hadn’t learned that some things should be kept to oneself as a part of social etiquette. He thought they were just trying to know about him just as they would have tried to know any other new admission.
But within a couple of months, he started feeling cheated in some way – he realized that he could get no good of sharing his story and that he was always worse for it. For even where it was a mere curiosity, he felt that other person had denied him some sort of quid-pro-quo. That he too wanted some piece of other person’s history – but nothing would have been as big, as worthy to stand in exchange. Those who pitied him he hated for obvious reasons. Pity is always hate-able – for a person who pities others assumes that the other person is inferior to him or her just because that other person suffers. But what he hated most was genuine sympathy – because, unlike those who pitied him or were merely curious, he couldn’t scorn these last people, who felt a genuine concern for him. In fact, their reaction seemed right. But he didn’t want any concern from them. He wanted to be treated like other kids. If he broke rules, as he was often doing – not finishing his homework, not bringing books to school etc, he wanted to get punished for all these things like his fellow students but they were easy on him. He was no longer comfortable with school rules but that should have been his problem. He didn’t want these favors, they were of no use to him; they repealed him. He didn’t reject them because he thought it would have been impolite to refuse. And he couldn’t say so to them – the ones who felt genuine concern for him.
But, for the future he decided, never to entertain any other soul with his history. He started answering even the simplest questions of his fellow-students and teachers with a silence, that he thought was merely assertive of his right (of staying silent) but which some of them found rather arrogant. Still being seen as arrogant was better than being thought of as inferior.
And then she became his class teacher. Like all, she soon asked a question that would have taken the conversation to his background, he broke the conversation with a silence that he had got into a habit of lapsing suddenly into, whenever the conversation reached a point from where it would lead to his history. He didn’t want her favors, he was getting enough without asking; but she must have heard it from somewhere else, they all seemed to like talking about his family history, because soon she was doing him favors. Ever since he had assumed the role of arrogant one, the favors had stopped coming – but she seemed to ignore his arrogant behavior – how he hated her for that. But he knew that his hate wasn’t unjustified, and when her favors kept on coming, he started feeling guilty over his hatred. But no he must hate her, he knew, that is the only way he could keep his arrogant face in face of her ridiculous kindness. And he tried, tried a lot. It was a contest between his wish to hate her and the guilt he felt for trying to do so – and in the end, the guilt won.
But even when the guilt did win, he refused to acknowledge it, the thought of apologizing for it didn’t even cross his mind – what a mindlessly difficult conversation that would be. And thus guilt continue to grow inside him.
And then that fatal day, he still curses that day, he was sitting in his lecture, when having just finished a sketch he was doing; he was in a habit of beginning the day with a sketch – during her lecture; he looked up at teacher for a change and to get a hint of what she was discussing. And he was still trying to guess the subject of the lecture when the ridiculous women … oh, if only he could hate her, move a couple of steps forward – a slight moment perhaps made subconsciously, and easily ignored by all but our unlucky kid, whose life had become much harder because of that easily-ignorable, silly movement – for her movement, to a point where daylight illuminated her face only slightly more, nothing striking to anyone else – had struck him hard, and prompted the realisation, along with another realization – that of his rising heartbeat, that he was in … no, that can’t be, what was it then? Could it be? No, how could it be? … he had never felt that way for any of his classmates or other girls of his age … oh! The tormenting possibility, if only he could hate her. But she was a teacher, married …. but it isn’t as if it was sexual, he argued with himself, and it was true – and over years that argument would sometimes console him, but what then was nature of his feeling, he had never felt that way towards anybody else. It left him with a need that he will never know how to fulfill, he didn’t want to ‘have her’ in any way – not even if she was her age and unmarried, he would never have thought of it, no, he knew that then what was it he was feeling?
He had taken his gaze away and knew that he will now have to do for right reasons what he had been doing for wrong reasons, avoid her. As far as possible. And he was right in that choice, even a mere look at her could set his heart trying to get a stroke. It is a beautiful thing, the heart is, whenever one feels like dying, it starts working faster, trying to kill one by a stroke. He couldn’t avoid being in her class, but except for that, he avoided her. And yet she was nice to him, why should she still be nice to him? Did she know? Did she pity him for that? Or made fun of him? But all those suggestions made by the mind to soul failed to prompt a hatred for her.
If only he could bring himself to hate her for a little while, he would have easily stabbed her without hesitation.
But we are not here to give a complete account of his life , we are here to give an account of the dream which we mentioned in the title and the first paragraph before taking a ride down his memory lane. So now we must crawl back to the night of dream as we see him already having finished both school (she was his teacher only that year) and college a few years ago, both with great difficulty and a failure in life ever since. He should have been over it a long while ago – he has done the right thing, keep away from her, never told about it to anyone, and it was right because of that way no one but he could be troubled by this, that … and if he suffered, then perhaps he deserved it.
He has tried his best to get over her, but couldn’t – and now, years later, when he couldn’t even remember what she looked like, he has this ridiculous dream:
It begins at the end of a class and everybody was leaving the class – why? Was it the end of the school that day? In real life, she always had first lectures. Why had he stayed behind? The dream suggested no good reason but it could easily have been to avoid the crowd as was his habit. Actually, he didn’t remember seeing the other students, but only their vague form, and sounds of them passing by – they were indistinguishable from each other.
Next, he notices that she had stayed behind too, she of all people – this was where it started the slow process of converting into the nightmare, he sat there waiting for her to leave because …. he didn’t want to be in a lift with her. ‘Lift? Of all things, lift? Why lift? Which school in good grace’s name has a lift?’ He will wonder upon waking up. And of course, you may add another question ‘did other students used lift too?’ because it would be a rather busy thing. But let us not forget that is a dream, perhaps given how anxious it has made him, we should rather keep the word ‘nightmare’.
Anyways, so he is waiting for her to leave – not wanting to be with her in the lift, why didn’t he thought of beating her to it? Again the dream kid had not considered this possibility but if you are bent upon rationalizing, let us say he was afraid she might call him to wait for her, and there were tragedies enough in his life, as it is, without him wanting to create another one – by talking to her. But he didn’t consider the other possibility, for as she was passing by his seat to leave the class, she turned her face towards him and said, “V___ Let’s go”. She just couldn’t leave him alone even in his subconscious. The voice was clear, an easy command that he knew he must follow. It was then he saw her, only a running impression – she was the only one he saw in the dream, for one never sees oneself in a dream and the other students were only seen by him, as we have already said, as vague forms.
And he knew he was trapped. If he didn’t follow the command she might stop and want to talk to him – anything but that, those three words should have been enough of a nightmare to wake him up.
And so he is following her, except he is being slow – he doesn’t look in front where she is walking ahead of him but rather down to the floor, he slows his steps so that he may lose himself in one of those empty classrooms until she is away.
But no, she must stop to wait for him “V___ walks slowly.” She says with an easy, encouraging smile that he was used to be getting from is teachers who wanted him to open up. He has always hated those smiles. Her use of his name instead of ‘you’ had made him shiver for a moment – it had that impression of being slightly flirting, a tease that women often employ when they don’t feel threatened by man they are talking to and know that the man will only feel uncomfortable, just as it made him feel, it seemed cruel to him that she should find joy at his expense. That is it, he is going to get hold of a gun as soon as possible and shoot himself, he didn’t try any other tactics, he knew he must be with her in the lift for those few seconds.
They are now in the lift. And for a moment, while he was entering he gets another glance of her as he goes and stands behind her in the lift. She was wearing a long shawl hanging from her shoulders like two long curtains – one on each side, each of which was as wide as her own waist – and the dressing style which would look cartoonish in real life, was giving her a majestic, queen-like aura, she carried herself in a dignified manner just the kind you would expect from a teacher in presence of a student to hold. She looked like a queen in that dress, and he, he was a harmless slave whom she would only pay attention to, whenever she felt like.
She never dressed like that in real life – and he didn’t recognise her face in dream, now or before or ever, his impressions regarding her face were too vague throughout his dream, nor were there any other indications to that effect, strange dress should have suggested a stranger and yet, in his dream he knew it was her from very beginning.
At that glance, he also had that momentary realisation, within dream that is, that the only two things he could think of at the moment were – she standing there outside him, beautiful, majestic, lively and all; and his own heart, a lifeless tissue chained by thin bloody arteries and veins, racing in his chest reacting to her, a phenomena, an image which might as well belong to another world. The contrast of worlds that those two images suggest (the image of heart, which dream suggested to him, was a colored diagram, he had remembered from some science book) and fascination from the observation that there might be a connection between two gave him a temporary relief within the dream.
Back from break, And now they were in lift, she was standing in middle and he in a corner on behind, her back to him – on which he was stealing a glance every now and then, wondering what she was thinking – her face was towards door, expressionless, from her face you would think she might have forgotten his being there. Why, why, why should it happen to him? Logically, the journey by lift should end in no time but to V__, it now already seemed to have been going too long (in dream it didn’t occur him to wonder about the reason behind this prolongation) and about to go on much longer – too long for him to keep the secret, he now felt as if his secret was in throat trying to come out of his mouth; and, he had realised, that if only she was to look at his face, she would have guessed it; her eyes will fill with disgust and she will hate him – he realised that more than her kindness, he wanted to avoid her hatred and disgust. But now he was going to get them, any moment … even if she didn’t look at him otherwise, the secret in his throat would come out, he just knew it would, … as vomit, a sort of big ugly, juicy ball, rather two, three such balls of mud like substance from his mouth with a big gulpy noise and she will turn around hearing the noise and …
But it didn’t happen, the very fear of this was enough to wake him up to his pathetic reality, sweating and scared.
- By Sidharth Vardhan
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