I WANT TO BE FREE…
Short Story by Lipi Gupta
Entry for the LIT-O-FEST IdeaIndia.com Creative Writing Competition
© All rights reserved
“Roshini?” Came the voice of my mother. She must be standing at the door. “Beta, you asleep?”
The room was dark as I preferred it to be free of the light. Staying awake still makes me a lot tired and my eyes were always droopy and drowsy. My visibility was affected too and was decreasing day by day. However Dr. Murthy promised me last time.
“Roshini, your eyes will be fine after the surgery. I promise you. Don’t you worry at all.” He smiled at me like he always did. He always told me. “You are beautiful.”
I knew he liked me. I never understood why though. I know he was lying when he said I was beautiful; he hasn’t even seen my whole face properly. I have never taken out my scarf in front of him.
I clenched my mouth in my hands so that my mom can’t hear me. I am sure she knows I am still awake. She knows me best. She always used to say,” I knew you were hungry even before you cried. I know everything about you.”
“Roshini, beta, just sleep. It’s okay if you don’t want to go tomorrow. No one will force you. If you are not ready, you don’t have to. You know that.” Her voice was ever so calm, never betraying the storm she must be having in her mind. “Just sleep. Good night, bachcha.”
Papa was saying something, but I couldn’t make out as his voice was muffled off the door and died completely as my mother shut her door.
‘She must be gone to sleep.’
Every night sleep was difficult to me. First nine months because of the pain and past three months fear, memories, pain and crying took turns. But tiredness usually grips me soon and I pass out deep.
“You talk a lot as you sleep.” Mom always told me. I know what I’d talk about now-a-days. Earlier I used to recite all the chemical reactions of my syllabus. My chemistry teacher was monstrously strict. Sudden giggle escaped my mouth as my mind registered irony.
I had to stay calm. I had a huge decision to take tomorrow. It was the day. Eyes were feeling so heavy and droopy by now…but the sleep evaded me.
I decided to slip on glasses and check some social media messages. I never got too many anymore, but I could know what others were doing. As soon as I opened the app, picture of Aparna smiling in her red bridal dress with Sarthak popped up.
Tears started flowing again from my eyes as I felt a sudden wave of jealousy hit me. I closed it immediately. I shouldn’t have opened it.
“I am getting worse. I hate myself.” The words escaped my mouth and tears escaped my eyes before I could realize. It wasn’t anything new though.
Instead I clicked open the gallery in the picture section and a picture taken eleven months and nineteen days opened up. The picture was a dream. A girl in blue top, smiling in her thoughts, innocence on her face and beauty was reflecting. She was standing in front of a commercial refrigerator full of cakes. Looking that picture hurt me too so I decided to shut the good for nothing phone off.
As I kept the phone aside the day came looming up in my eyes. It was mom’s birthday and we were having a simple dinner at Roogi’s. I decided to surprise her with a red velvet cake which was her favorite.
Me, Shruti and Raghav was to be dining with our parents. Sruthi was very happy and running around.
“Oh my God! He is so cute, Roshini.”
“Shruti, I am not chasing him.”
“You need a boyfriend, babes.”
“Right now, I need a cake. I don’t need any more boyfriends.”
“Any more?” She stopped in track and looked at me surprised. “Oh my God! Roshini did you say yes to….?”
“Yes. It’s Kamal for me.”
“Wow…” Shruti started jumping like a kid. She always felt happier for me, more than me. She suddenly realized she was in confectionary and her eyes grew wide with embarrassment. Her ‘oops’ face. Suddenly she hugged me tight.
“Kamal, I love Kamal. I mean he loves you so much. I am so happy. I told you; you loved him too. Will he be there tonight?”
“No. It’s just you, me, Raghav and mum-dad. Small dinner. She even has no idea of cake…let alone a whole human. I will tell her, but not on her birthday. I don’t know how she will react.”
“What about Tarun?”
“Please. He has no sense. He is just a force bearing goon. I saw him bribe students for voting him in student council elections. He is not a good guy and you know it. He proposed to me two weeks back. I am sure he must be over me.”
“Hmmm…” Suddenly she hugged me tight again.” Am so happy, babes. I’ll tell Raghav about it and we can double date.”
“Shut up. No ways.” That was a huge one to my head. “It’s weird enough that you, my best friend from past four years, are dating my brother.”
She pouted. That expression always made me smile.
“Aww… I love you and him too. I will tell him myself. Then you can chat with him all you want. No, I will never double date with you.” I cleared that before she could say more. “You stand here and I will bring the scooty upfront.”
“No, first tell me everything.”
“Okay, you know how we are friends from past one year and he proposed to me three times past four months. You only always said that he likes me a lot and is serious about us. But I never understand these things well. So, like you always teased me with, I also liked him back; a lot. So two days back, I don’t know something came over me and I called him middle of the night, you know. I just had a feeling so I did. Don’t look at me like that.” I was stammering and repeating words like an idiot.
“You didn’t even talk to me?”
“Listen now. So I called him and he was all groggy and sleepy but awake and asked “Are you okay?” So I said “Yes and Yes.” He couldn’t understand so I told him, “yes, I am okay and yes, I like you.” Dumbo couldn’t say anything for a whole minute you know. At the end he was like, “uh…sorry.” And I teased him if he didn’t hear me and he said, “I don’t know if I heard you right.” What a dumbo.”
“Shut up. You are dumbo. What next?”
“What next, I said, “Yes, you have. Good night.” And I cut the phone. He rang me back thrice and four times next morning. But it felt so weird I never picked up. I don’t know how you guys do it. Wait, I don’t wanna know.” I was talking fast or thinking aloud, I had no idea.
She suddenly clicked a picture while I was smiling and talking engrossed in my thoughts which snapped me out. I made a face and she smiled.
“I got it. Now go and bring that scooty. Don’t get late to your mom’s party.”
“Did you talk to him after that or not?” I was near the gate when she asked aloud.
“Yes..I got the lecture….and the kiss.” Oops face was mine this time as I saw an aunty coming inside hearing me. But then she smiled and moved on.
Embarrassed and the kiss on my mind, I was walking towards the scooty. I parked it down the road. Suddenly somebody grabbed my shoulder and turned me and…
“Huh…Uh…uh..” Suddenly I was pulled out of my dream. Glasses still on my face, I couldn’t see anything. My breath hung in my throat, dress wet with my sweat. Switching on the light; I gulped down water. It was still cold. Tears came again. I was crying again. I knew I cry a lot, but I couldn’t stop it.
Kicking off the blanket I went to the cupboard and took out the small mirror and looked at my face. My vision wasn’t as dim even in the dim light and I could make out the face in the mirror very well. Eyes were bulging out in the eye sockets that were swollen and visible outward. Lips were dark and charred with right side bent downwards as if melted. Scars covered the cheeks and forehead and the nose has a melted look. I had no space which was plain or normal. I looked like a partially melted wax statue; I was just very dark to be a wax statue. Every millimeter of my skin was darkened and burned by the acid that was thrown on me.
My hands cupped my mouth as I screamed and wept in my hands. Reality dawning on me like it did every night.
“I am not me…I am not me anymore. He killed the ‘me’ in me…I hate me. He killed me. I hate me.”
Shaking and trembling, I fell down on the floor, head hitting the bed post, lowering my head into my arms on my legs as I wept and screamed within me.
“I don’t want this, God. Please…Please let me die. I am hideous… kill me please. I look hideous. Please…pleasssssee..” My muffled pleas sounded joke to my own ears. I could hear the laughter I was about to face tomorrow. “I can’t go. I will not go to the court. I will not go to the court.”
I started banging my head on the bedside.
I haven’t met anybody past this year. Friends were gone. Relatives were gone. Kamal called me every day but I refused to talk to him or meet. Shruti was allowed only to the door. Me, mom, dad, Raghav and my doctors; that was my life.
“What did I do? I didn’t love Tarun. What did I do wrong, God? Why me?”
Closing my eyes, I saw a flash second of Tarun’s face as he said, “If not me, no one else.”
He emptied a large syringe on my face as the hot liquid trickled down onto my lips over my nose. For a second it was a sweet burning which turned into a feeling as if I was being branded by a red hot iron brand. The liquid travelled down to my chest and everywhere the burning sensation grew and grew unbearable. A bloodcurdling scream fell in my ears as I fell to the ground and the liquid passed over my eyes. There was no fire, or nobody could see it while I was being burned alive. My shrieks were mixed with shrieks of other people as I heard Shruti’s screams.
“Roshini…Oh my God…help us please…please. Roshini…. Bring me milk. Lots of milk and water. Normal water please.” She was screaming on top of her lungs but her voice was fading in distance as I burned. I burned alive outside and inside. I passed out; but I don’t know when.
“If not me, no one else.” The hiss still haunts my ears and my mind.
Nine months in and out of hospitals, I never saw my face. My face was gone. I was gone too. Just a shadow controlled my body. I had nothing left. Nothing at all. I had no aim, no life. Just an ugly burden on people around me. My parents have no choice, my brother doesn’t opt his choices, my friend fulfilling her duties….and Kamal….he hasn’t seen me. He should go. I have nothing for him. I have nothing for me even.
I sobbed and sobbed. Shaking. Screamed as I heard my mother’s door open and my parents sitting outside the door. They always did that. I told them to not to come in when this happened. They removed everything from my room that I could use to end this. I didn’t even have a nail or a nail-clipper. They told me once, “Fight your battles. We will not interfere till you ask. But we are right here for you…right here.”
They were sitting outside the door as I screamed, not even bothering to muffle my sound anymore.
“Kill me. Kill me.” I was shaking and trembling hard as my back touched the bedside again and again. “I don’t want to live. I wanna die. Kill me please.”
Tears flowing off my eyes. Crying and screaming on top of my lungs. When the suffocation gets enough of you, you feel the life leaving you and you feel that each suffocated breath passing your chest. I wanted it over tonight. I had no way of facing the people outside. The people can’t do anything. They can’t finish my misery and they can’t finish me either. I knew dying was what I wanted. So many times I hoped it was just a dream, that I’d wake up anytime, but I couldn’t. I was stuck in this nightmare for life.
Beep…beep…beep… The phone beeped on my bed bringing me out of my outbursts. My parents are still sitting on the cold floor outside. May be Raghav was there too; I had no idea.
I drank more water as I checked my phone. Must be some promotional message. They were consistent people, never knew I have nothing they can promote anything to. No one else messaged me much.
I opened the message and it was Kamal’s. I usually deleted it but a picture file was attached and I clicked it opened. The picture was a weird one of a man sitting with his head in his hand, in what looked like a prison in shape of his head. Looked like he printed it and clicked a picture after writing on it. There was a poem below it in a scrawny writing.
Prison of my thoughts,
Prison of my feeling,
Captive of my beliefs.
Tied in its perception,
Drifting in its notion;
Beep…beep…beep… Another message came in.
This poem is not whole. It has a story. What should the man do? Should he kill himself in the brain….or should he escape that prison?
Beep…beep…beep…the message popped below.
Roshini. Those feelings…that feeling of constraint and the feelings of not being good enough are in your head.
I love you. Your parents love you. Your brother and Sruthi love you. With that face, with that fear, all those tears and the struggle that is yet to come…we love you. The question is- Do you love yourself too?
Nothing matters. Even if you don’t go tomorrow. We will go and fight for you. Your fear will let up. You’ll be free. You’ll overcome…one day.
Till then we will be your courage. Don’t block us.
No more messages came. More tears followed though. Tiredness gripped me so hard, falling down on the bed felt like the only option and I took it.
Morning sun never glowed in my room; I made sure all the curtains stayed closed. Mechanically doing all work and getting ready was a better option. My mind was blank and free of wandering thoughts. The man in the prison was printed in front of my eyes as I told mom to get ready for court. I knew I wanted that man in prison, not me. She looked puzzled, but mostly she looked proud.
“We shall overcome…” my head kept of rewinding the lyrics as I gathered up the small courage I had. I had seen Tarun against a glass wall once after the incident, for the identification. But today he will be standing right there at a distance of ten steps. May be I will get to slap him. But I didn’t have the courage to do it.
Time came and I wrapped my face and head in my scarf, put on my huge shades and wore my full sleeve jacket and gloves. Raghav went to bring the car upfront. Holding my mother’s hand only, I walked around. I took her hand as she smiled at me. Papa opened the gate and I saw Kamal and Shruti standing just outside the gate. Shruti had a scooty helmet in her hand.
“I was hoping I’ll get a free ride.” She winked. Tears welled up in my eyes as she hugged me tight. “We’ll get him you know.”
She let go of me and smiled at me. I smiled back. She wouldn’t have known because of the scarf as she kept staring in my eyes; transferring energy I think.
“You ready to do this?”
“Yes.” I nodded my head. “I hit my head on bedpost last night. May be my brain stopped working; but let’s do this.” She smiled and hugged again.
I looked at Kamal as he kept looking at me, the ‘me’ he could see. It was weird seeing him again. We were friends for a year, in a relationship for two days and I ignored him for another year. Last night he helped me again. What was he to me now?
“Tied in its perception…Drifting in its notion..Constrained…Confined..Cramped up…?” the question was clear in his eyes. He looked at me the same way he always did.
I had the answer now.
“Till a wave comes..
To engulf it whole.
That embrace the beauty..
Enrage the vigor…
Giving the release.”
A deep cold breath passed into my lungs as my trembling hand removed the gloves, shades and scarf one by one.
“I want to be free.” I was free in front of everyone. My distortion, which was the only beauty I had, was free. Nobody laughed. Everyone had proud in their eyes. Sun shined bright as I heard my mother’s squeals of happiness and the smile on my brother’s face while he was driving out the car. I was free. I was free of my brain.
Sometimes our brain becomes our captive and breaking free from its bounds become necessary to our freedom. That one step can lead to that freedom.
I tried to express in my words the pain for which no words are enough. I mean no disrespect to anybody and the work is purely fictional. I did research on Google for acid attack victims and I heartily salute them for the struggle they go through.