Yesterday was a rather rough day for me. In fact, it was the very first time I was angry and pained to the point of nausea. I had spent an entire evening shouting ‘Fire!’ in a land where people didn’t understand the language. They came by to warm their hands and cursed when the embers singed. They went away angry. And I kept shouting ‘Fire!.’ They came later when there was no danger of being hurt. I wasn’t hurt either. Everything I had was burnt. I calmly collected my cinders and said hello. We were all polite in the dry, slightly pasty drizzle of the ashes.
Yesterday, I confronted my worst fear – of being told, ‘Sorry. Don’t know how to tell you this – but you’re this way.’ It’s not a hard thing to take unless, like me, the ‘this way’ is the only way you’ll ever be. Like the crude compost that will never find itself lining a crystal centerpiece. What I had to offer from a distance were wist-scented lilies; up, close, and personal it was a different story though – brown, mushy, and smelly. But that’s where my flowers bloomed – if anyone cared to notice.
The real fear about a fear is unpreparedness. You don’t expect pain. You don’t expect disbelief. You don’t expect to keep smiling foolishly expecting to be told that it was a joke when it wasn’t. The real fear about a fear is that it is true, and that truth is a secret between you and yourself that someone else has come to know. The real fear about a fear is that it always knocks you out grasping for the hand that struck you.
So, yesterday, I was unprepared – completely and absolutely, for my fear to come tripping me up. Sure, I fell, I bled, but then it was okay. The thing about falling to your fears is that you never get up with your eyes closed.
Yet, I could’ve used some kind of loving. Never knew that emotional pain could blank you out. I was trying to observe it all as an out-of-body experience but the pit of my stomach, the lining of my eyes, and the hollow of my heart burnt. They cried ‘Fire!’ and I couldn’t just come and warm my fingers.
As my roomie and I walked back to our apartment at 10:30 in the night chill, Z looked at me and said, “Don’t worry.”
“Whatever it is that makes you look yellow.”
“That’s the streetlight.”
“Yeah. You’re right. You look funny.”
As we crossed the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of a sheath of muted turquoise.
“I want to swim,” I told my roomie.
“ It’s cold.”
“I want to swim.”
“I want to swim.”
I changed into my costume and went out, bribing my roomie with Mountain Dew and chips. She doesn’t swim. I do.
I stood by the pool – like a leper. I was so dirty with failure – the wrench of rotting meat clung to my hair and refused to let go.
Word: disgust; Synonym: Mukta
“I’m scared of water”, Z said, looking longingly at it.
“You talk to me then, while I swim.”
I walked down the pool steps. And with the last step, I closed my eyes and submerged under water.
I was six or seven years old standing by the pool not wanting to go in. My brother was in the changing room acting cute and podgy with a foreigner. Some kids were calling me ‘fatty’ in Arabic. I stood transfixed. I couldn’t go in.
Papa came out after his pre-pool shower and took me away from there. As a child, I always cried silently. My brother bounded up from behind.
“She’s crying because she can’t fit into the pool?,” my brother asked. (I propose to introduce a legislation against younger siblings.)
“My daughter is meant for bigger things”, Papa said.
And there we were. I stood, looking transfixed at the sea.
“You’ll learn to swim here.”
Getting into the sea everyday was an ordeal. Sometimes parents would point me out to their kids and ask them to finish their vegetables or not reach for the second donut. They’d threaten that if they disobeyed, they’d end up looking like me. The walk from the beach mat to the first lap of the waves scorched with shame. But I learnt to swim and more importantly, I learnt to enjoy the sea.
Last night, as I entered the pool, I was six again – but strangely with none of that six year old’s grit who could square her shoulders, glint at the sun, and splash in.
I was entering water after a really long time. And after a really long time, I entered it with incisive heartache.
But with the first stroke, I was soothed. Papa had once taken me to the ocean floor where I’d seen luminous forests of reefs, corals, and fish. Some were pretty and dazzled, some others looked distorted and gave out funny smells. But the sea embraced them all.
The waves undulated for both, the glistening pearl and the slothful oyster; the azure diffused for the smelly catfish as well as the silky moss. The sea caressed the tenderness in the worn-out, the innocence in the guile.
I was never ugly for the sea.
Last night, my pool surrounded by trees and shining under the stars, beckoned with a surrogate comfort. I swam with a vengeance, splashing about with fury. My roomie watched and looked away. She was embarrassed that I was probably going to cry. So I swum with my head deep in the water’s womb. Tears stung my eyes but were wiped away gently. The water understood my anguish. It knew I never wanted to hurt. It knew that I’d tried hard and earnestly. It knew that I needed help but couldn’t ask for it in a language that wasn’t understood. It stroked my scaly, dry arms and ran its strong fingers down my back.
It would hold me for as long as it took.
After a while, I floated on my back looking at constellations and silhouettes of leaves. I saw the span of a bat circling the moon and milky white flowers falling softly like half-dreamt dreams.
Water lives. It bequeaths without dying. It takes your soul from a ravaged body, soothes it between its sheets and cloaks you with it when you’re done.
My roomie had begun talking about the ‘Harry Potter’ flick, which meant we needed to be inside and warm.
As I walked back home, I turned to see the water still rising and falling to the angry movements I’d pierced its surface with. Soon, the projected disquiet would settle.
The centre of the pool seemed to glow as if a trap-door had opened under the waters and a large jewel thrust its splendor upwards.
“Ssh”, it whispered.
“Likewise,” I replied.