Cows in the Haze (2)

See Part 1 of this story here.

Chinny took the bag from me, peered inside, then marched silently upstairs. I stared at her open-mouthed as she walked away, but for once words failed me. There was no lying this one away. Minutes later I sat before a panel consisting of her and my mother, with Manuch launching his eight year old self in and out of the room like the restless soul he was. He was curious, but caught between listening in and punching the throw-pillows in the sitting-room. Kickboxing was his current obsession.

The evidence was laid out between my accusers where they sat on Manuch’s bed; I was left alone to face them from my bed on the opposite side of the room. Mum was obviously distraught, but trying to keep it all together by wringing her hands tightly.

“What’s this?” she asked simply, gesturing at the packets of Lexotan, Dulcolax, Valium, Quinine and others. I chuckled at the unlikely combination. That was the oddest mix I could come up with. She already suspected the truth, but wanted to hear it from me.

“Is something funny? What’s all this?” she asked again.

I was pissed at having been found out, so offhand was my reply: “Well I imagine that sort of mix would cause some poisoning in my blood. Maybe worse, if I swallowed them all. Or something like that.”

At this, the confirmation of her fears, my mom took her head in both hands and released a long, chilling aaaaaeeeeee sound. “You want to kill me? You’re trying to kill me!”

Mild irritation turned to anger. “Actually it’s me I was trying to kill but sure, let’s make this about you too.” I exhaled smoke, then sunk the blade in further. “Hey, you’re the one who’s always using Valium! You gave me the idea.” She seemed not to hear me, just beat at her chest and continued emitting that strange, blood-curdling sound. I shook my head. So dramatic. What would her reaction be, if she knew about the failed chemistry lab robbery? Or any of my other weaker efforts? This may not even have finished me off anyway, though the next attempt might have.

The night crept on. There was much crying from my mum and sister, while the multicoloured ball that was younger brother bounced in and out of the room relentlessly, completely ignored by all. There was plenty of talk, lectures about life. Things I’d all previously considered but decided to stack behind a solid wall. Going back into the fog, I took it all impassively, mostly just distantly annoyed at having been discovered. They started to ask these questions I considered blackmail: What if Manuch had found you dead? Don’t you care about us? Do you think we don’t love you? What would we have told everyone? Do you imagine God approves?

At some point I screamed, “I just don’t want to feel anymore!”

But the preaching continued, till eventually I stopped hearing them altogether and retreated inward for solitude. I started to paint the picture for myself: The void at home—no half-decent male to guide my little brother. My friends, family—my grannies—crying for me. And finally Mum here, having to keep saying the words “my son is dead.” Feeling guilty, taking the blame. Who knows what she’d do to herself? They say a parent should never bury a child, and just then I understood why. Huge cracks developed in my resolve, but ultimately I just wished I wasn’t around to feel sorry anymore. Only girls were meant to carp on about emotional things. I was sick of it.

For a long time I was only vaguely aware of the voices outside my head, until some movement caught my attention and I looked up. Manuch had walked in holding a tray, beaming from ear to ear. No one understood why, but that did it for me. The instant I saw him, the dam with its perilous cracks burst forth in monumental release, pulverising my will to dust.

Small, sickly Manuch, who’d fought cerebral malaria some weeks before. His fevered brain had him speaking gibberish, all the while convinced he was making sense. He was alarmingly fragile, yet the brightest light in the world. He stood there now like nothing had happened, grinning foolishly and presenting me with a treat. I’d smelled the spicy, roasted beef and knew that it was suya—a roadside delicacy, a family favourite we considered a cure-all for all foul moods. It was too late for him to go outside, so he must have sent Ahmed to get some from around the corner. The purchaser of my poison was, unwittingly, also the procurer of panacea.

He probably took money from the change jar, but how bold! Small hands grasped the tray with the newspaper-wrapped strips of meat, holding it out as if to say, See? It’ll be alright! He was proud of himself, completely certain that suya was the solution here. My little brother—apprentice in all things mischief, my partner-in-crime and all-round silly guy—he was trying to help me. It was too much. I broke down, crying incessantly for a very long time. Mom held me and cried along. Chinny was at the corner, secretly wiping off tears and putting up a tough front for Manuch, who kept on smiling, mostly just anxious for me to start eating.

By the time it was over, I was cleansed of the need to not feel—to end my life. I looked at the hurting faces around me and felt a new emotion—shame. The pain I’d just caused was too great a price for my freedom. The words “I’m sorry” were in my throat but couldn’t be uttered for crying. They’d never trust me alone anymore, so that was a new worry for them, an extra burden. I was a selfish coward who didn’t even deserve to die. We blew our noses, ate suya, then went for tea—full cups all round—until retiring to bed.

Sleep was scarce, so I returned to the window and peered outside. The fog had lifted.

 

Image by: Ulrich Peters via Flickr
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