My eye is attracted to the shiny flame, the exciting spark of something new in this old, worn world. What a beautiful fire; warm and gentle, it burns bright like stars in the night and I want to drink it in, drink it in. I want to pull it apart and understand it, hold it in my hand, keep it at my side, tucked in my heart.
My love is like a small child: curious, insistent, true but unable to handle fragile things with the care they deserve. So without thought or permission, eager to know, my fingers reach, my hands grab for that fire dancing so prettily before me.
My skin burns red, and the air is choked by the smell of something gone dark. A broken spell, a dead fire and a choked out chain of I’m sorrys, drowned by tears.
I wasn’t lying, I am a child when it comes to love. But even children must grow up, one day.
Note: It has been a very long time, hasn’t it? I haven’t even been able to write a birthday post this year, even though I have for the last 3 years. A lot has happened, as it tends to when one disappears like that. I hope you’ve been doing well and that you’re spending your time happily this holiday season.
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.
I have been feeling for some time now, dome-shaped glass pressing against my back. Something cool and constricting that has me twisting my spine to espouse its shape.
I am outgrowing my comfort zone. This place that started out as a getaway and then, piece by piece, turned into my whole world. This place where Time passes, but not really. This place where nothing ever grows.
Nothing, not even me. Certainly not me.
But every time I go out, I return more substantial. Greater than what I started out as. And each time, my comfort zone seems smaller. Each time, I have to tuck in my limbs and bow my head, careful not to spill over.
A comfort zone is safe. And we all need that. During years where life is not easy, it is the only place you can breathe. It is the only way you can live. It is the kind of place that is separated from the world, like a Christmas ornament hanging on a tree, overlooking the world, connected to it via a single thread . The kind of place with its own stratosphere, where you can redefine all the laws of the world and turn physics upside down. A place that could be everything you want it to be—and yet, a place that is often small. A space fit for one. A space you have to shrink yourself to fit into. Like you’re stuck in the closet between two worlds.
But my heart is growing bigger now. My brain bubbling with new ideas and wild concepts. Itinerant bits of poetry and pieces of people are finding home in that body now. I am catching onto threads of destiny, getting ever linked to the outside world. I am turning out to be too much for that small place. I cannot contain myself, not anymore.
One day, soon, I will spill. I will burst.
And I will find out that that spherical comfort zone was actually contained in a larger one. That, like the Earth, it is composed of layers. And one day, I will outgrow that one, too. And the next, and the next…
Zara has beautiful hair, as black and heavy as the night.
It is a black so intense that it should not gleam, should not reflect any light, and yet it does. People are in awe of Zara’s hair. There’s always that split second when eyes unconsciously shift to the sheer mass of curls and waves that is her hair. It mostly happens when she takes it out of her bun, and there’s that sudden explosion, like water bursting through a dam, and her hair cascades down her back in ripples, reaching past her hips. It reminds you of something powerful, like Nature reclaiming its rights, in a way. And it all makes her so mysterious, so startling.
She has always been beautiful, in a way the world never failed to notice. High cheekbones, brilliant dark eyes and a sharp tongue. The kind of person you try hard to impress. But people also tell Zara she should do something with her hair. Dye it, layer it, straighten it. But Zara never does. In the most unpretentious way, and yet with a hint of pride, she knows she is beautiful. She does not need to change. Zara is that girl you notice, but more importantly, she is that girl you remember.
Fast-forward a few years, marriage, 2 pregnancies and the drudgery of working an 8 to 5 at the department store have stolen her youth from her. The prominent cheekbones are now a little lost in the pudginess of her face, gained from pregnancy and idleness. The sharp light in her eyes has also dimmed. Zara wanted the dream life, lots of money and lots of travel. But Zara also dreamed of Prince Charming, found him in a humble repairman and occasionally in one of the buff guys on TV.
Zara is not the same person you remember from 5 years ago—dazzling, intimidatingly beautiful. Zara is the person who works the cash register with a weary smile. But ah, Zara is still Zara with the beautiful hair. People, even now, are not aware that they stare. But Zara knows, Zara has always known. She is Zara with the beautiful hair, and the world will notice her, the world will remember her. Even when she is old and grey, and her hair has all but gone, she will always be Zara. The kind of person too beautiful to approach, too mysterious even until the very end.
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.”
You are 18. An adult. You have begged not to be. But you realise that you either get old, or you die.
So now you are 18 and the world you have known for 18 years minus one day is crumbling down. It feels as though not just adults, but the world in general, have been plotting against you and planting explosives all over the place, waiting for 18 years to pass.
And now, you’re having to escape that exploding world, your exploding world, and leap into another foreign, hostile land, all the while unsure you’ll make it or die trying.
And you can’t even look back.
You can’t look back to take in, one last time, the sight of your favourite teddy bear, or the worn copy of “The Little Prince” that you keep — kept. Because it’s all debris now. If you turn to look, you’ll blind yourself.
So you jump.
Not with much of a choice, afraid of the leap, afraid of falling and afraid of reaching the ‘new world’ all at once. And you’re so afraid that you wish that someone would take your hand. But now, you’re afraid of trusting too. Now, it seems that all you trust is yourself, but even then, not really.
You make it to the new world.
Bruised. Battered. Ugly. Crying. Numb.
Suits, ties and grim expressions abound. The world is grey, and no one cares. People bustle around and they don’t seem to want to notice that you’re weak and lying on the sidewalk.
The only happy ones are the drunks. But even then, not for long.
Someone reaches out for you and reflexively, you think it is a helping hand. But it’s not. Hands, you learn from then on, are either for stealing or harming.
But still, as desperate and dreadful as you feel, you think 20.
At 20, you’ll do it.