Visualize this.

You close your eyes.

You sit under the shade of a tall, sweeping palm tree, on a reclining baby blue chair, a thin towel bunched up at your feet, your legs stretched out long.

Your fingers drop down to feel the smooth, cool sand, not sticky or clumpy or wet, smooth and fine. You burrow your hand a little deeper into the sand where it naturally becomes moist and enjoy the coolness against the top of your hand.

The sea is blowing you its best breezes, and they fan your face.

The air smells salty.

When they come over and offer a massage, you oblige. Why the hell not?

She starts with your back, circling her thumbs a little below your neck, moving outwards, following your shoulder bone, slow, symmetric outward movements.

She does the same along your back, massaging each patch of skin, loosening each muscle. With every next movement, you sink a little more into your chair, the gaps between you and your chair (caused by stiffness) closing, until you have molded yourself to fit right into its surface.

She lightly thumps you along your spine.

Then come the arms. Your arms are taken between her hands and almost warmed, as she rolls them back and forth, the fat accumulated jiggling inelegantly, but no matter.

She rubs your feet gently, presses and releases your legs, until the word stiffness holds no meaning for you.

Your mind has slowly dulled, as you straddle the line between consciousness and unconsciousness; but gradually you are pulled back to alertness.

You can hear the children laughing in the distance, feel the sea breeze, tell the exact texture of the sand.

Your alertness does not diminish your relaxation, instead you are left with a sense of peace – true relaxation – in your heart. A warm compassion fills you, for people you know, you don’t know, yourself.

You are a part of something bigger. You are loved, you are lucky.

You are grateful. You are at peace.

You open your eyes.

Your computer screen is staring back at you, demanding you work. But your previous tension has dissipated.

The beach and the massage may have been imagined.

But the smile on your face, as you resume your work, is genuine.

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Eyes Spy

Author’s note: So, my friend Richa Gupta (www.purplericha.blogspot.in, go check her out) started taking words from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (go check that out too) and describing them, her take on them. I kind of stole that idea and tried my own version with the words adronitis, so here it is.

adronitis

  1. frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone—spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the center of the house—wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easing into casualness, until you’ve built up enough mystery over the years to ask them where they’re from, and what they do for a living.

(Source: http://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com)

When I wake up, I realize that things look slightly sharper. It’s hard to describe exactly what was different, just that everything is sort of more vibrant.

I shake myself and make my way to the bathroom, allowing a tune to bounce around in my head as I brush.

I don’t take much time in the shower – I never do, and after ten minutes, I’m in the kitchen, in my uniform.

After making myself coffee, I go back to the dining table where my mom is stirring her own coffee.

There’s something about the way she does it; her spoon clanks against the porcelain harshly, her hand is tight around the mug, her limbs stiff. I look at her and feel an irritation I know she is feeling.

Frowning, I walk over to her, “What happened Amma?”

She looks at me in confusion, “What happened? Nothing happened.”

She smiles at me sweetly, and kisses my cheek, as though she were never irritated.

“You look angry,” I say.

“What are you saying? Now if you miss the bus, I will be angry.”

I go back to my room to pack my bag, and by the time I’m done, it’s time for me to leave.

I’m still uneasy about the irritation I felt. What was that?

It’s as I say good bye to my mom, that I see it. My dad comes out to see me off, and my mom shoots him a look. It’s a normal glance, but it also isn’t.

It’s laden with the skin-prickling irritation I felt earlier.

My mom’s smile blurs for a second, and I can almost see tear tracks down her cheeks.

My mom is unhappy with my father.

I head downstairs uneasily.

***

I must be imagining it. But I know I’m not.

It’s obvious. My mother doesn’t love my father. No. She does. Of course she does.

Or maybe she doesn’t show it.

I would have seen the signs.

There are things called secrets.

No. She loves him. I’m the one feeling irritated.

I try to throw off the feeling as I walk over to my bus stop.

There are so many brightly coloured parents and uniformed children here.

As I watch them walk back and forth, talk, laugh, dance, their forms seem to change.

The little boy who lives below me is suddenly looking guilty. He’s looking at his friend, but I have a feeling that he’s actually trying to look for the dog who got lost because of him, something no one knows.

The security guard looks at all these children and remembers how heart-broken he was when he learnt that he would never be a father. He always told everyone else that he never even wanted children.

Of the uncles who are talking to each other, one’s wedding ring glows a little less brightly, because of the 20 year old employee in his office. Another one plays with the keys of a car that he stole.

The teenage girls glow in emotion. A deep mistrust, crazy insecurity, a desire to run away.

But so do the teenage boys.

One of my friends looks like he’s flirting with one of my other friends, but he isn’t, not really.

He’s trying to replace the image of familiar curls and small nose and toothy grin, with the girl he’s talking to now.

What’s going on?

My head swims with the overload of information. Am I reading their minds?

Are they all thinking of something scandalous?

I’m in a daze as I get into the bus, and as I walk down the aisle to my normal seat, I see a girl who hasn’t been eating her lunch, and a boy who has seen a dead body.

There’s a little girl who knows her best friend’s crush and a younger boy who desperately wants to be a fish.

I can hardly think.

I lean my head against my arm, and shut my eyes.

What is going on?

Why do I know these facts about these people? How do I know they are facts? Because I can feel it. I can feel the guilt, the grief, the desire.

Each time I look at a person, they become something else, their secrets, I guess.

I’m seeing secrets.

I jolt up at the realization of this power.

The girl next to me loves her brother more than anyone else in the world. I feel affection rushing through me at his antics, at his smile which becomes cuter and cuter as he grows more teeth.

I frown. That‘s her secret? She loves her brother?

She guards him fiercely. But why is that a secret?

She sees me looking at her, and makes a face. Immediately, I lose my connection to what she is feeling. I see only her startled face.

“Sorry,” I murmur, turning around to face the other….secrets.

I can see the muscles of one boy who is asleep, muscles strengthened by sport. The boy whose parents believe he only studies.

A girl talking to her friend is looking at her with a little more than platonic interest.

Power.

This is what it feels like.

As life flits by through my window, I see thieves and murderers, sex addicts, heartbreakers, the heartbroken, and a woman who is most definitely an alien.

She looks at everyone as though she is studying them, as though they are foreign to her. The human species is foreign to her.

She can’t wait to go back home.

The bus trip is both enlightening and exhausting, as I realize that I can literally see people’s deepest secrets.

Most of the secrets seem to be some crime they could never confess to, or a deep rooted negative emotion.

I stumble my way to class, when one of my bus friends greets me. For a second, her face flickers to an expression of someone enjoying a breeze (and I know that it’s in a secret location), before she asks me why I was staring at the girl I sat next to on the bus.

I shrug, and she shudders, “That girl is scary. The death stare she gave you, gods.”

Scary. Powerful.

Wasn’t her love for her brother something that mellowed her?

That‘s why it was her secret.

***

In class, I realise the girl behind me wants to leave her parents and go away. Her guilt translates into an overwhelming nausea.

This power – or whatever it is – doesn’t stay, I seem to get a snapshot of what each person’s deepest secret is and then I’m looking at a normal person. Except they’re no longer the same.

This class is teeming with emotions.

Best friends resent each other, they are competitive and jealous.

There are secret loves. One boy has a desire to control everyone in the room, he is a bit bossy, but you would never have guessed…

Another girl wants to hurt people. Desperately.

She swallows her rude and cutting remarks, but she enjoys the power she holds when she makes people flinch.

She smiles at me.

Another boy believes everyone in the class is in love with him, and he’s very ashamed of it.

The teacher teaching right now hides a resentment towards her child, for whom she has given up everything.

Many people hide a guilt or sadness, a sense of alienation, but then there are others who have totally random secrets.

One boy in the opposite class has a totally different personality online.

One of the teachers has encountered God…and doesn’t like him.

A little girl can fly.

The secrets of the children are more innocent, but some of them have seen and heard horrors.

I want to cry. I can feel everything they are feeling, have felt, will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

My own best friend isn’t who I think she is.

None of these people are.

And there’s so much sexual confusion. It’s disgusting.

I don’t want to know this. Not all of it.

Well, this will cure my ear for gossip. Or maybe not.

***

I don’t bother to look at my parents when I come back home.

I can see the lack of their love in the drying paint on the walls, the hanging paintings.

How much of this is fake?

I throw my bag down, and fall flat on the bed before sobbing.

I don’t want to know this. I don’t want to know this. I don’t want to know this.

I don’t want to carry the burdens of others, people I will never know.

I finally get up to look at myself in the mirror.

My vision blurs just a little.

The soft brown eyes grow more observant, more cruel. I feel my heart leap with power.

My stomach twists with disgust.

I know things about people that I have wanted to know, that I don’t want to know. I will ignore my parents’ distant relationship, I will observe the friendship tensions more carefully. I will choose what I want to see, I always have.

I will judge the people whose secrets don’t matter to me. I will live in denial of those secrets that affect me.

I will not help those who I have seen suffering. I will not report the criminals I saw.

I am not the empathetic person I thought I was.

It strikes me how selfish I am, how cowardly.

Is this who I’ve been all along?

***

The next morning everything is back to normal.

I cannot read beyond the facial expressions and body language of those around me.

It no longer matters.

I can tell you exactly what makes up the real core of each person here, and yet the only thing that weighs in my mind is the previous night’s revelation.

How could I have never seen myself for who I really am?

Perhaps the deepest secrets we have are those we hide from ourselves.

 

Portraits

If writing were art,

Then there would only be a few portraits I would make.

The first is Wonder’s,

Wide, greedy eyes, a hint of a smile, eyebrows raised in realization,

He reaches out to snatch the secrets from the eyes of strangers,

Falling a little in love with their mystery,

Allowing himself to write stories for them,

Reveling in his own insignificance, letting the universalities of humans connect him to people he does not know,

Through something as simple and as intense as a gaze.

Wonder’s eyes feast on beauty,

White clouds against fresh blue,

Stars scattered across a purple-grey sky,

Newspaper articles of what is further, what is beyond.

Her long eyelashes, his smile.

Wonder lights up when he understands,

Puzzle pieces that fit together so well –

How? Wow.

But when I try to draw him,

His chubby, short arms become sticks,

His eyes, cartoon-like.

And no matter how many times I try,

He more or less turns out the same,

Expressed in repeated phrases of obviousness.

So the feeling trapped inside my stomach, the wow feeling –

Inspires nothing but a duh from others.

 

The second portrait, is Love’s.

Or my version of Love.

I have never seen Love before,

I have only vaguely heard from others that he exists.

That he is the smile of the beloved,

The smell of their perfume,

The touch of their hair,

The taste of their lips,

The sound of their laugh.

And the feeling of intensity – happiness, maybe, or sadness.

But I have never seen him.

So I paint myself an imagined version,

I paint myself his heart, his strengths and weaknesses,

Write letters to him, write the responses,

And whisper to myself, ‘This is him. One day, he will come.’

 

I am familiar with the third portrait though,

Infatuation.

Infatuation looks different each time.

I wonder if there is anything in common between them at all.

But there is the same feeling of tingling palms,

And butterflied stomach,

The sinking heart,

And eye flirting.

Infatuation is limited to the structure of his face,

The brightness of his eyes,

At most, how he makes me laugh.

I draw him in the landscape of now,

With imagined dialogues,

And replayed moments.

He won’t last longer than tomorrow.

 

The fourth portrait is Self Pity.

She is the painting in the museum

That you keep thinking about,

Each time, your stomach sinking a little more.

She starts out as wisps of grey,

And her colours get bolder and intensify into an endless pool of black.

Drawing her, recreating her, it’s not good for me.

But no matter how many times I tuck her behind my bookcase,

She always ends up back on my wall.

 

The fifth is Guilt and Fear.

When I colour them, they don’t stay within the lines.

The colour pencils taking their own routes,

Until I nearly break them in anger.

They don’t seem all that different from Self Pity,

No matter how much I try to discipline them,

Structure them,

They explode in my mind, messy, unreasonable.

No matter how much people say expressing helps,

Some portraits shouldn’t be drawn.

 

The sixth is Connection.

Connection has no form but awareness.

When something is flooding you, filling you,

Connection looks like what you are connecting with.

It sounds like music, feels like the breeze, looks like the shared smile.

I do not know where to start to recreate it,

So I just paint what I connect with.

But the feeling itself?

I don’t know enough about words or colours

To show you how I suddenly feel more than myself.

I am taken in, involved, bigger.

Less lonely.

I am full.

 

The last portrait is Frustration.

The frustration with expression, of how it will never be enough.

Sometimes, I think that I will run out of new poems to write,

Circling back to the few portraits again and again,

Until maybe, maybe I get the words right.

And the barrier is broken.

Maybe I am wrong, maybe the last portrait is Hope.