For some, the start might be a violent race of emotions. For some others, it might be a capturing gaze, and yet for others, it might be an electrifying touch, a drunken night in a party, a random prank call, or a letter, text message or email that came from nowhere. For a very small number of people, however, it’s unexpected as rain in autumn. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, I fall into that category.
The problem with my friends was that they were all boring. Well, perhaps not quite boring, but not my type either. I’d sit by them, we’d talk for ten minutes, and then we’d be out of words to say. Then, we’d continue sitting in that expectant pose, our beer glasses poised before our lips, but never tilting. I could almost hear both of us think: “what should I say?”
It was a really strange circumstance. Many things happened in our lives. Many things happened in our friends’ lives, our relatives and their relatives, their relatives and their relatives’ relatives; but in that moment, in that moment of being without a word to say, of our minds coming to a grinding halt, there seemed to be nothing to say. No matter how much we drank – there used to be a wall, an invisible wall, between my friends and me, and believe me when I say, I don’t know who constructed that wall, who put it up in the first place. The problem with invisible walls is that you don’t see them being erected. You don’t see workmen attacking its surface, moulding it, shaping it. But you sure as hell feel the pain when your head bangs against it. That’s how I felt. That’s what I felt. Pain. The pain of being out. The pain of never fitting, never fading in, always sticking out like a sore thumb, or like the middle finger that has flown up in a gesture of irritation or dismissal. I never belonged. I always watched from outside, as though there were borders between me and others, as though they regarded me with pity. As though, given the choice, they would want to be far, far away from me. Maybe it was that I was an orphan. Maybe it was just that I didn’t laugh as much and told dirty jokes as much. Maybe it was that I hated parties, even though I had a very valid reason: the more fingers there were, the more the sore thumb stood out. That is what I was. The sore thumb. The bystander. The watcher. The outsider.
Perhaps, that was what I should have been. Perhaps, that’s what I must have been. Perhaps, perhaps I should have never wished for a change. But then again, as I think of those moments, those brief moments, those glimpses of victory, those days of comfort and happiness, and those deep eyes, eyes the colour of which I can’t even attempt to describe, I come to the realisation that, somewhere in those twists and turns, somewhere along that winding road the beginning and end of which I didn’t know, I made the right decision. And I stuck by it. And in a way, I succeeded; I got what I wanted, even though it was not how I imagined it to be.
It was from one of those parties that I was returning that night. Exhausted mentally more than physically, I sat down on the edge of my bed, sighing repeatedly for no reason I could understand. I hadn’t even turned the lights on. Why would I? What was there to do that was not possible under the cover of the darkness? I didn’t need light. Not now. Maybe if there was no light, no one would see the thumb that did not belong. In darkness, everything was forgiven. Everyone was the same, for a while.
I removed my shoes and dropped them by the bed, with the impatience of one who has been robbed of sleep. I removed my clothes and put them, crumpled, on my shoes. Almost naked, I slipped under the sheets, and closed my eyes.
I still didn’t understand why I had to go to all this trouble, go to parties and get-togethers, and always come back, sleepy but feeling awful, drunk but aware of everything, and fall asleep in a dark and brooding mood. There was always something in their speech, in the way they acted, that I never could tell them I’m not coming. They were trying so hard to make it seem as though I belonged with them. It was exactly like how the hand wouldn’t be able to let go of the thumb; no matter how out-of-place it was.
As I smiled grimly to myself in that half-asleep state, I felt a presence pass over me; my whole body shivered as though in protest, and I could feel every single hair on my body slowly lifting. I took in a shuddering breath. Every hint of sleep, every trace of moody and dark thought disappeared in an instant.
I could feel the animal instincts taking hold of my body. My muscles tensed, my mouth opened in a silent scream, and the only thought in my head was survival. There was suddenly a reason to hurriedly reach to the stand beside me and press the light switch.
The bed lamp flickered into life, and, sweeping my gaze, I lifted the light, searching for the cause of my unsettling dreams. There was nothing. No one. For all I knew, it could’ve been a draft of cool air from the open window in the other side of the room. I gritted my teeth. Somehow, my mind wouldn’t accept that explanation. But what could I do?
I put down the bed lamp on the stand, then turned it off and lay back. I kept counting in my head in an effort to ease my tense muscles, but I could still get no sleep. Some time in that uneasy night, I fell into an even uneasier sleep. And that was how it started.
It wasn’t for my country. It wasn’t to save the world. Now that I think about it, it was all for survival. It was all instinct, like that very first night. And what drove me was the unknown; like that presence that passed over me that night.
Some may call me a hero.
Some may call me the Truthbringer.
I call myself the one who survived.