“If reality were nothing but an agreed upon lie, childhood would be the most beautiful lie we would have.”
It’s always so strange to see childhood friends being adults.
To see them in suits and beards, wearing 9-inch heels and nail polish when I’ve seen them eating glue, their hair a nest, some of their teeth missing or moving precariously in their mouths. It feels like a masquerade, like another school show they’re putting on.
Any moment now, the sticker-beard will fall off, the nail polish will wash off and they will all shrink back to their normal sizes. In this way, life feels so unreal. Like I will wake up from a nap and will find myself in that old classroom with the worn wooden chairs, the smell of flowering trees and summer wafting through the windows, chalk dust all over my hands. And my friends will be laughing at me while my teacher sighs and tells me to go wash my face.
Sometimes, life feels like this weird, far-fetched dream, the kind you have when you’ve had too much sugar during the day.
Other days though, it is childhood that seems too farfetched. Too perfect to ever have been real. Like something a younger version of you would go to a genie to wish for.
But it’s real. Or at least, it seems to be. If reality were nothing but an agreed upon lie, childhood would be the most beautiful lie we would have.
“Every birthday journal entry since has featured the same kind of sentence: “I don’t feel older. How can I be turning 20 when I don’t even feel like I am 19?” […] It felt like the equivalent of celebrating a loveless marriage —an age-less birthday.”
Today I woke up 20 years older than I was yesterday.
What I hadn’t achieved in all the years since I had turned 18, had happened to me overnight: I had gotten old. Ever since turning 18, all of my birthdays have been meaningless. The time just never seemed to pass. I never felt a year older. I felt the days as they passed me by, but never the years. I never felt 19 or 20 or 21. I could never say how old I really was without confirming with myself first: “Is that how old I’m supposed to be? Is that the number I’m meant to say?”
Every birthday since has been me wondering why all these other people were cheering me on, getting me to cut a cake when nothing had happened to warrant that. Every birthday journal entry since has featured the same kind of sentence: “I don’t feel older. How can I be turning 20 when I don’t even feel like I am 19?”
“I used to think the years would go by in order, that you get older one year at a time. But it’s not like that. It happens overnight.”
— Haruki Murakami, Dance, Dance, Dance
I was not older. Somehow, time had passed and I was still trying to catch up with it. To me, it was like celebrating a cargo ship that had arrived empty. It was just a ship that had gone around the sun for a year and had absolutely nothing to show for it. It felt like the equivalent of celebrating a loveless marriage —an age-less birthday.
The years go by too fast. And I once wondered whether it would change anything if I could be 20 for 2 years, for 730 days. I mean do you realise that you only ever get to be one age for a year? (Even so, I feel like I was 17 longer than I was 20. Although I once heard that it’s because the older you get, the more…relative time seems? Because when you were 5, you were living a fifth of your life, which is not much, and now you’re living one twentieth, one thirtieth of it. So it seems like less time in comparison to the whole of time that you have had. I mean, it explains why a year seems like an eternity to a child, but very little to an adult. Does this mean that the older we get, the less whole we feel, the more fractured we are? I don’t know). But if the years were twice longer, and our lifespans remained the same, what would we be like by the time we turned 50?
This next birthday though, I will feel the full weight and strength of all these years on my shoulders. These additional 20 years will show on my face, all these sands of Time dragging down the skin under my eyes, then my voice, my heartbeats.
I understand, now.
How it is that I can have friends who are having children of their own and how others still have curfews to respect. I understand, in a way that is all too real, that it is not ever the number of years that counts.
My glasses glinting with righteousness and truth like Clark Kent at the Daily Planet, knowing I’d saved the world a few times before entering the building.
JK. I walked in behind my placement coordinator who, 5 minutes previously, had to warn a girl on the lift/elevator to not crush me with her bag because I’m not very tall and not very existent. I wish I was lying.
I was introduced.
People asked what I did (Like me being an intern here wasn’t…telling enough?) They were a bit impressed when I said writer, sometimes. Like they’d not quite had that breed of human in their midst yet. I’m also into technology, I spurred on. That was not really received. It didn’t matter much. Everyone knew how to use Word and Facebook.
I was shown a desk with a desktop and those old clacky keyboards that still have massive buttons. But right beside it was a handsome, swiveling leather chair that supported your back divinely. It belonged to someone else, as it happens. Someone who was on vacation. Whose aforementioned vacay prompted the ‘need’ for an intern.
Ay, thanks for the job Mrs A. Now, will you please return and kick me out?
But let me tell you about the people I work with. All women, save for the big boss. My supervisor is a middle-aged woman. Fair-skinned, lightly dusted with freckles and with a pretty face. But people don’t seem to realise that because she’s kind and unassuming. Well, for the time being, let’s call her Mrs…Quatrd’aile. Because that just came off the top of my head.
And then Mrs H. Or Mrs Hautemante, if you will. She brings in the office chatter and liveliness. She’s constantly making home calls with the office phone. Today, she wore an all-pink dress. It was arresting. She’s the kind of person you always wonder about how they got stuck in an office. But there’s probably regulation somewhere that says you need at least one lively/extroverted person in an office. Else nobody would want to work in one.
Then there’s the secretary Mrs…Emile? Greying, curly hair. Nice but not inclined to small talk (Thank God for small favours. Well…aside maybe from the big favour of actually getting the internship. Because as much as I’m complaining, this internship is still a ‘good’ thing. It brings in e x p e r i e n c e. If you do it in a fancy enough place, well…even copy-pasting comes to count for something ).
It only occurred to me that I hated the work as the day ended at 4. Like, one moment I was all *Intense copy-pasting* and the next I genuinely remarked to myself: “Wow, I actually hate this :)”
On the way home, I realised that I was actually going to have to go tomorrow as well.
And that was the exact moment when Ilah.exe stopped working.
No one seems to be stumbling, fidgeting. No one else has eyes lit with fear, with a look that says “Please help me”. I feel like a child lost in a mall whenever I enter the adult world. These places with grey buildings that tower over you, like reprimanding adults. With their menacing, gleaming facades behind which men and women are watching, judging. The kind of place where people always have somewhere to be and you’re in the way.
I feel like an ambitious, overeager child lost in a world of grown-ups. I wanted to go wander by myself. To explore the great, big world the way a 7-year-old wants to know what happens behind the large, closed doors inside the supermarket where only staff members are allowed. But now that I’m alone, even the shelves have turned into threats. Everything is towering, looming. Even the shadows seem darker.
And have you noticed? There never seems to be 2 lost kids in one store at the same time. I’m alone, just drifting. Worry inflating with each step, hoping people won’t notice that I don’t know where I’m going. That I’m only in their way because I can’t find mine.
It is then that I feel like I am just masquerading. Just playing dress-up. Like I put on my father’s shoes to impersonate efficiency and, in too predictable ways, quickly stumbled and crashed. Because I can’t fill shoes this big with feet this small.
Small, small. I feel so small.
But I am learning that the only reason why there are never 2 kids lost in one store is that both are continually hiding from the other. Always pretending that they know where they’re going. For fear that they are the only ones who don’t.
But I know better now. I have seen my friends hide their small, shaking selves behind bold makeup and clacking shoes. Or somewhere off-camera, in Instagram photos of their coffee and car keys.
And I have understood that age shouldn’t be used as a measure for growth. That, at 27 (which seems like a lot, even when you’re 21), you can still feel no older than 17. The thing with age is that it goes on without you. Like a train you’re running to catch but that flies by too fast. And yet, you’re still expected to make it on time.
(I wondered today, how many 17 year olds were living in 27 year old bodies.)
The point is, you can be 30, 40, and still feel like a child.
We’re all playing dress-up. We’re all trying and fidgeting. It’s alright. It’s alright to fumble with your things at 23, to not have a stable relationship by 25, to still stutter out your food order at 30, and to feel intimidated by other people at 35.
At this point, you either black out or you are paralysed.
Either way, no one starts gracefully. We all gasp for air, our throats seized with panic at first, our arms and legs kicking in fear. Ironically, we act like fish out of the water, thrashing around, wrestling the elements. Submerged in bills, decisions, appointments that you don’t know how to handle.
As you awaken the next day, tossed and turned around, nebulous like the froth of the sea, it dawns on you that for a long, long while, it will be just you. You and this vast, endless world. Temperamental, smooth, deep, calm and yet strong, this is what you’re up against. So deep it is that your feet never touch the ground. You are constantly out of your depths. There is nothing that has been as hard, ever. You are trying, heartbeat after heartbeat, to just stay alive. It becomes exhausting to live like this. So you stop trying. You find out that you can just lay back and let these waters take you wherever they will. For a while, that is life. You let yourself get drunk and seduced by weightlessness, over and over.
You do not care, you have no spirit left in you. Until the ocean turns inclement and it takes you by surprise as though you’d forgotten how it could be. Its waters turn you over, swallow you, crash in on you wave upon wave, and your body fights with a vigour you thought you had lost. You wake up one day, sober,your head feeling like an egg that has been cracked open. ‘What am I doing with my life?’
Sometime after, as the ocean is calm again, you meet some other soul. Thrown off a boat, haggard and famished like you. Under normal circumstances, you would have never cared for them. But now you are inexplicably linked, to the end of your days. Because right now, anyone will do.
Little by little, you learn together to hold your breath longer. You learn when to go with the ocean’s tides and when to swim against currents. You are learning that while you cannot find consistency in something this wild, you can learn the ways in which it is unpredictable. You learn to breathe again, to handle the tides, wave after wave. And if you’re drowning again, there’s someone who’ll save you.
By then, you keep meeting others like you. Drifting towards you like lost souls. Soon, with knowledge and the many people by your side, the untamable ocean just becomes life. With ups and downs, and storms that you have learned to weather. And one day you might have a ship of your own and someone to make walk the plank…
Note: This is Day 24 (!!!) of my NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. You can find the previous part for this story here. Short stories (Or just stories) are not really my forte, so if you have any constructive criticism, let me know 🙂
“Some people choose to walk until they no longer feel the wood beneath them. They walk until the only other option is to fall. But some take up the chance to build up speed, to run and launch themselves ahead, into the night, into the unknown. “
On the cusp of adulthood, at the end of the paved road, standing before a cliff with nowhere else to go, a silhouette strangely like mine. A person who keeps looking back to where she came from. You would think, with how much that poor soul is trembling, that there was a pirate’s sword being pushed into her back and merciless waters at her feet. And between them, only a feeble wooden plank soon to be pulled from under her feet if she doesn’t jump first.
I just try to imagine that moment. The lead sinking down in the stomach, stretching it so it reaches even the feet. The roar in the ears, the voices chanting to jump! jump! Being pushed out of a ship that has kept you safe from many a storm before, as you hid deep inside the ship’s belly and listened to Nature wreaking havoc, feeling the sudden, jerky undertow rocking the vessel. But now, on a stormy night, it is your turn. Tonight, you face the storm.
…jump! jump! jump!
Finally, a breath, sharp and something you feel even amidst all the fear and screams.
…jump! jump! jump!
Weightlessness, a brief moment of apnea, of bracing yourself, closing up all you can.
Some people choose to walk until they no longer feel the wood beneath them. They walk until the only other option is to fall. But some take up the chance to build up speed, to run and launch themselves ahead, into the night, into the unknown.
And when you finally hit the water and the first drop splashes, everything around you dies down. The screams and chants fade, there is only freezing water sloshing around, clamping around you like a fist, and a depth underneath you that keeps sucking you in. Your heart is beating so hard and fast it feels like a fish caught in a net, trying to fight its way out.
At this point, you either black out or you…
TO BE CONTINUED
Note: This is Day 23 (!!!!!!) of my little NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. This story is a two-part one (Although actually, maybe it’ll turn into a three-part thing, who knows). You can also read my entry for Day 22 here. And if you liked this story, I’ve also written about this kind of ocean theme before, which you can find here, here and also here. (What can I say, I like the ocean).
“But dreams are bubbles: beautiful, flimsy and with a certain habit of drifting away, far away into the sun. And I have drifted with the winds and the currents, have touched the skies and stars, possibly in sleep. I have felt nebulas bursting underneath my skin, lighting up rooms in my mind that were never before there. I have had lights and darknesses poured over me in equal measures, have had fires ignited in my heart and extinguished in the same minute. I have touched a little bit of infinity. “
I never thought I would live to be an adult.
Never thought I would be roaming the Earth for as long as I have now—20 years and then some. I didn’t think I would “die young”. No, I just never saw it coming. It was all just so far away; an abstract future I told myself to not worry about just now. But I also never thought I would change, evolve, and sometimes even…bloom.
But between then and now, in that time when I was supposed to learn how the world works, how to put on make-up and make connections, I dreamed. Days and nights that were simultaneously long and short, I was tucked away in a world of my own making. And I invited a few people in sometimes. They were called Saint-Exupéry or Frost, Rowling or Tolkien, Kahlo or Jalāl ad-Dīn( Yeah, first-name basis).
But dreams are bubbles: beautiful, flimsy and with a certain habit of drifting away, far away into the sun. And I have drifted with the winds and the currents, have touched the skies and stars, possibly in sleep. I have felt nebulas bursting underneath my skin, lighting up rooms in my mind that were never before there. I have had lights and darknesses poured over me in equal measures, have had fires ignited in my heart and extinguished in the same minute. I have touched a little bit of infinity.
I have drifted back, now.
Into what turned out to be a forced landing into adulthood. I did not have the pleasure of pulling an Icarus, of reaching for the sun earnestly, of knowing how to fly and never wanting to go down again. I did not have the pleasure of loving the thrill of zeniths so much I would die in the pursuit, refusing to go anywhere but further ahead. I was not prepared, so it was not a graceful landing. I was all fumbling limbs, bruised knees and awkward words. Like when you crash a party and everyone stares at you.
The days of wandering, and indeed the days for wonder are not all lost now. But even so, adulthood comes with a few restraints. Restraints which I balk from calling shackles (For fear that is exactly what they are). Yet here I am now. A young adult. Slightly unlike, I’ve been told (at times pityingly or with a sneer, at others kindly) other young adults I know. There are only few my age who do not find intense passions for words, spoken and unspoken, a little weird. They are not many, those who view solitude as a season to blossom, a door, an adventure.
At times too, without pretension, without arrogance—without wanting to disrupt the smooth flow of normalcy—my hand catches onto the inherent sadness of life. I breathe in the history of places, I let the dust and the memories of forgotten lives settle in. In crowds, I let the untold stories of the world wash over me. So, at times, I am older than I really am. Old, ancient, almost. And all the odder, too.
Because what a mess of many things I am.
A young adult, ambitious, eager to see the world yet unwilling to succumb to the cold, harsh ways of the adult life that comes with it.
Young, then. But also old. As if it was not enough, there is also a child’s laughter, bubbling to the surface. The world through a child’s eyes, brilliant, full of wonder, yet also eyes that are calm and a little weary, even distrusting.
The story hasn’t come to an end. Even now, as I am writing it, I watch it unfold. And I write it, I do, in part for others, and in part to reach myself.
“Childhood…I would have let myself become sad a long time ago if you hadn’t been here. I would have lost my way, I would have lost you and I would have lost me.”
“Wait! Wait for me! Where are you going?” cried the little one, running up to the vanishing silhouette.
“Why are you going so fast? Don’t—don’t leave me…You said we’d always be together!”
“Where I’m going,” said the taller one, stopping to kneel besides the other, “you can’t follow. I need to go alone.”
“But you have to take me with you! You have to! You said it that if we weren’t together then, then it doesn’t mean anything. If I’m not with you, you’ll let yourself become sad.” whimpered the child.
“Childhood,” murmured the other, a melancholic smile tugging at their mouth and one hand ruffling the child’s hair, “I would have let myself become sad a long time ago if you hadn’t been there. I would have lost my way, I would have lost you and I would have lost me.” The older one’s voice was now watery, tremulous. “And not having you, I will surely get a little lost, but I’m doing it for you. I can’t bring you this time around. They don’t like children where I’m going. They’ll hurt you. But I’ll always remember you.
I am here because of you, you know? If there’s no you, there’s no me. I’ll come back for you, I promise.”