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If anyone ever said we become our own as we grow old, they were wrong. Shanky’s uncle, The Chill Dad’s brother, used to say being a child was like running like a headless chicken. You were aimless, directionless… you didn’t know what you wanted, you didn’t know what you liked, you were easily impressed, easily motivated, easily manipulated. You thought sitting on a roller coaster epitomised the concept of adventure. And, when you became a teenager, that definition changed to pushing the bike you were driving (which you weren’t supposed to in the first place) past 80. Maybe you knew at the back of your mind these activities were a poor substitute to happiness, maybe you even knew the life you were living wouldn’t last forever, but you were content ignoring it.

And if you thought that deep satisfaction you felt from these activities would last forever, you were, as the same uncle of Shanky’s would say, wrong to the high heaven.

Because, like Midhali, a lot of people really come into their own only when they’re well into their adulthoods. When life has beaten down that sharpness you proudly wore around yourself like a cape as a kid into a blunted thing of insignificance and unimportance.

Of course, for our dear Midhali, the change that years brought her were, shall we say, unavoidable. We can’t say with absolute certainty whether her deterioration (because that’s exactly what it was, and there’s no point mislabelling it) was caused medically. She never went to a doctor to get herself checked. There were no physiological alterations, none that she saw at least, and so she attributed whatever was happening to the silliness that lives inside a lot of us.

“They’re just silly thoughts,” she would tell herself; sometimes even to her own reflection in the mirror, as the last of the recurring image burned behind her eyes. The same image that often appeared in her dreams. That of standing right where she is, in front of the mirror, an object in her hand. This object resembled a scalpel, and the hand holding it was trembling. The eyes looking back at her in the mirror were pleading her. Begging her to not go through with it, to not bring the scalpel any closer than it already was. The sounds in her head – not voices, she didn’t want to even consider that possibility – were wrestling with one another, each one trying to best the other.

Oh, these sounds weren’t the callings of the supernatural, nor were they prophecies of an impending doom. It will perhaps sound anticlimactically funny, but these sounds were literally anything, from her favourite songs to a tune she had heard that stayed with her, from dialogues from movies and shows she watched to conversations that her mind replayed. Like the other day when the first thought she had upon waking up, the time when the world has still not come into focus and you’re emotionally and mentally at your most vulnerable than any other time of the day, was actually the song, Dream A Little Dream Of Me. It wouldn’t leave for the entire day. And while the haunting quality of the song, something which a lot of people strangely disagreed with, had a magnetic allure to it, the fact that it just won’t leave was deeply vexing.

These and a whole lot of other things that kept egging her, pushing her to do what she was on the verge of doing as she found herself standing in front of the mirror; tears streaming down her face, her own voice trapped somewhere far back in her throat, her eyes red and streaked with terror and fear.

But she knew she would do it, because there was just no alternative. Oh, it would hurt. If the prick of an injection can send a current of pain through her, digging into her head with the scalpel would be infinitely agonising. There would be a mess, maybe one that would put Tarantino movies to shame, but that’s inevitable and unavoidable. She would writhe in pain, but did the gods not say there would be no redemption without sacrifice?

This was her sacrifice.

From the little gaping hole, she would insert her tweezers and pull it out. The slimy, slithering worm. And it would be screaming. Except that she would only hear the sound of it not in her ears, but inside her head. She would squash it between her fingers, its redness oozing and dripping into her hands. It would cry out, and that would agonise her, but soon all sounds would cease. The source of her madness would die; the madness which had kept her up on countless nights, which would often distract her so much she would lose time.


And, just like that, as she would blink and open her eyes, that horrifying image would… just vanish. As if the fraction of a second when her eyes were closed had erased all her sufferings and wiped the proverbial slate clean. But it would return; of course, it would. When the world got a bit too much to deal with, when the monotonies of her life became too heavy to carry, when her mind turned dark, it would come back. Just when the world turned too loud – the sound not audible to her ears but in the depths of her mind – would that desire return; the desire to pluck the worm out.

Mompy had been working through his share of problems. But, of course, his problems were self-inflicted; and, if she were being honest (something she found herself being less and less with each passing year of their marriage), too inadequate to be complaining over. Adulthood had finally caught up with him; and he now realised life wasn’t one party stop after another. He had lost his friendships to the invincible concept that is time, and had now become a victim of his insecurities.

She felt for him; his struggles, as trivial as they seemed to her at times, were genuine. Here was a guy she had never known to be insecure, had in fact thought he was impervious to any kind of self-doubt, but something – and it could just as easily have been a change in the direction of the wind, for that matter – had disarranged the qualities that made him the fun-loving, jovial Mompy he once was.

The Mompy she had fallen in love with as a girl.

She had thought to ask him on more than one occasion to reconnect with his friends from childhood. What were they called? Oh, yes. The Four Boys Club. Hadn’t Mompy remained in touch with Shanky for a while after school? Whenever Mompy came back home – he had gone away for college – he would visit Shanky’s house once or twice.

By that time, the state of Shanky’s house, just like her mum’s following The Chill Dad’s death, had worsened. It was still one of the biggest plots in the locality, but it now seemed to have developed an air of sadness around itself, one that sucked the very warmth you associate with a home out of it. There were no obvious changes in the house – the walls were still pale yellow, the gate that still creaked as it moved along its hinges, and the fragrance of incense that had always governed the house still unmistakably present. And yet it had been pushed, forced down into submission. Maybe that was why Mompy couldn’t keep up his friendship with Shanky for long. Eventually, he stopped going over to Shanky’s altogether.

Maybe Mompy could look up Shanky and see what he was doing?

Or what about that guy Bandem? She knew he had feelings for her; women always know, no matter that she had dissuaded Mompy when Mompy suggested it. Things can turn horrendously bad between boys when a girl is involved, and she didn’t want to be in the center of it. As far as Anpag was concerned, well, she would never know what happened to him. Mompy himself wouldn’t become aware till years after, and he never mentioned it to her. Besides, she knew – because, hey, women always know – of Anpag’s disliking towards her. Anpag never said it to her; she never believed he had the courage, no matter how cocky he showed himself to be. His outspokenness was only a poor compensation for his lack of wit, and she had never been able to understand how the rest of the three tolerated that egotistical buffoon. Nevertheless, just like in the case of Bandem, she never thought to intervene. The dynamics between boys is marked by ego; you may be the best of friends, but just the slightest of disagreements can break the ties they forged years ago.

It was painful to watch Mompy descend himself into this hole of frustration, but what was even more irritating was how he was in a way making her responsible for it. You ever realise the friends we have today are actually all your friends? he had said to her. Wasn’t that laying the accountability of his frustrations on to her? Especially when she was going through her own troubles – her mind refusing to let up, throwing itself into overdrive and heaving at her thoughts and visions and tunes and memories that just wouldn’t let her rest.

That’s what she wanted. Rest. For her mind to go into hibernation, and take a long nap till her body could catch up; which already had been affected by many a sleepless night, exhaustion that often made her lose track of time, and elevated blood pressure levels which were only worsening with age.

The funny thing was, she knew it would never happen. Not until she actually decided to go into her skull and pull out that worm that had infested her thoughts.

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