Today was an exciting day. A patron sponsored drinks at our hostel, and they served us sodas! Ma, I cannot remember the last time I indulged in a kala-khatta soda. The fizz, the bubbles, the salty-sour-sweet taste! But this one was of inferior quality, unlike the ones we used to have, and the grimy, spotty plastic glasses cheapened the experience for me. But despite the bitter taste or maybe because of it, I drank it too fast and developed a brain freeze. As I stood there clutching my head, your advice of sipping slowly twirled around me like a cartoon thought bubble. I missed you so much at that point, mama.
Memories of our house flooded me. My room, the swing in our yard, our Friday night monster movie marathons. I would have drowned in the seas of longing, but my new friend, Tweisha, interrupted the flow.
Mama, you will just love Tweisha. She is of the same age as me and is just the kind of friend you aspired for me. Tweisha is kind, responsible, and oh-so-polite. Her manners and etiquette are to die for. Once, while I was eating rice with my hands, she tapped on my elbow, and in a soft cultured voice, pointed to a spoon.
“We don’t use our hands to eat food, Mridul.” The admonishments may have come from her, but they were spoken in your voice, mama.
I will end this letter here. Waiting to escape from this place.
Lots of love,
PS: Say hello to Papa for me. He left without saying bye and I just want a chance to talk to him.
I *really* miss you and your hugs. Want to go back to our old ways.
My very dearest Mama,
Do you know what we learnt today? The laws of Newton. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Isn’t it true, Mamma? I never thought much about it previously. I guess in the earlier days my actions didn’t have irreversible reactions. I spent a fair amount of time daydreaming (guilty!) about the clever Mr. Newton. I wondered if his mama was as wise as mine. Or as loving as mine. Then, when the teacher rapped on my knuckles, I was forced to give her my complete attention. Mr. Newton’s exploits could wait for another day.
For lunch, the mess served us matki ussal and rice. The ussal was watery, and the sprouts were far and in between. My fingers curled around the mounds of rice until I spotted the spoon. It lay next to my plate. A lonely piece of cutlery. It reflected me back. I appeared somewhat distorted, but it was still me. I picked up the spoon and ate the rest of the meal with its help. You would have been proud of me, Ma. I am doing what you asked me to do. I am changing to be a better version of myself.
Lights will be off in the next ten minutes, and I have a geography test tomorrow. I am ready for it, but I wanted to write to you before I retired to bed.
I love you, ma, and I am waiting to get away from this place.
With a lot of love and warm kisses,
Are you still angry with me, ma? Sometimes when my mind goes over that day, I remember your anger. You were humming with it, but later you forgave me. Didn’t you? I never gave Papa a chance to forgive me.
Now, I guess I will never get his forgiveness.
My dearest Mumma-tumma,
I had the weirdest dream last night. Do you want to know what I dreamt of? I assume you are nodding your head, and the tight curls that cap your head are quivering. Oh, how I would love to stick my fingers in them when I was younger. Wait, let me continue about my dream.
So, I dreamt I was back home, and we were dining at the Italian restaurant that is your favourite. Right after you dipped your garlic bread into the olive oil bowl, a hoarse voice offended our senses, as if covering us with intangible slime. Jay stood in front of us like an unwelcome apparition, and your clear eyes narrowed with barely controlled distaste.
The same Jay who used to be my BFF, dressed in his uniform of sorts, a black t-shirt with acid-washed, untidy black denim, and white shoes with back stripes and red socks. His eyeliner-lined eyes stared back into yours. Even though he addressed me, his gaze was fixated on you. I found it rather strange, but then Jay IS strange. Then, he, unexpectedly, leaned forward and picked the uneaten piece of bread from your plate, dipped it in the oil again, and chomped off a hearty bite. Your mouth shaped itself in a moue. He left the rest on your plate as he tipped his hands into a salute and stomped off. His black lipstick marred the edges of the chewed-off bread. I found myself staring at that piece of bread with traces of Jay on it. The uneven, jagged rim yawned itself into an open mouth, resplendent with black lipstick. And then suddenly, that hole developed pouty lips and started to speak to me.
“Give into me. You want me. I know you want to do it. Pick me up, Mridul. Pick me up.”
It even knew my name!
That’s when I woke up, screaming. My heart lodged itself into my throat and I noticed I had kicked off the bedcovers that had haphazardly settled around my hips. I shivered and tugged them until my neck. Not covering my face as you had warned me. I didn’t dare close my eyes, but stared at the clock as it ticked its way to dawn. One click at a time.
I am sorry if this communication disturbs you, mama. It was quite disturbing for me too. Thoughts are escaping my brain and dragging their kin with them.
Help me escape this hellhole. I want out. I want out. I know what I want is not possible, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting it.
My dearest Mummy,
What. A. Day. Tweisha, my friend whom I spoke about earlier, uncharacteristically, tried to escape our hostel! What a heel! We were together the entire day, but not one hint she let loose. I had NOT an inkling about her night sojourn. When night arrived, she braided her bedcovers (after stripping them into narrow rows) and tied them across the only window without a metal grille. The mess kitchen! How she gleamed upon that fact is a mystery to me, mama. Tweisha managed to reach the main gates but was accosted by the security and dispatched, rather unceremoniously, back. She is holed in with the principal while we await her return.
I wanted to confess something to you. It turned out that you were right about people like her, mamma. No one can be that perfect, right? I couldn’t see through their illusions, but you had been aware. I am sorry I let Tweisha trick me into being pals with her.
As always, you are right. Tweisha is not a suitable candidate to partake in my friendship.
I have to go to bed. As Papa used to say, ‘Catch you later, alligator.’ I know he won’t visit me, but I am so happy you can, ma.
Lots and lots of love. Want to hug you with desperation!
As I dash this letter to you I wanted to know that I have aced my examinations this year. I am the highest rank holder in the class. Heck (sorry, but too excited!), the entire hostel! I stood first in the ninth grade defeating Ms. Goody-Two-Shoes, Tweisha. Earlier, I had started to believe their words when they kept hammering at me. About the fact that I am not good. And that my straight-A average will spiral downwards and that I will not be able to handle the pressure. They have been proven wrong. My straight-A record is unblemished, except for that one exam, and I topped the class.
Today, I experience relief at my restored abilities and my confidence. I can still do it. I can still defeat all my challengers and soar over them with better grades and marks.
Thank you, ma. I knew we could do it. You didn’t lose your faith in me, did you? I knew you would not. You are my biggest cheerleader, my tormentor, my coach, my supporter.
Back to class now. I just popped in to the room to write to you.
Depression is licking at my feet – it has forced its way into my mind again. I don’t want to go down that path again. Save me.
I forced myself to sit at the desk and write to you. All I want to do is curl up on my bed and never leave it. There is a perpetual cloud hanging over my head. The mist covers me–its gelatinous fibres cling to me till they wholly cover me with their unctuous selves They enter my wind canal, obstruct my air passage until I cannot breathe. Until I don’t want to breathe.
I am okay now. But I was not for some time.
I lay in bed shivering, my head rolling back and my eyes staring at the fan that rotated, unconcerned about my plight. My lack of oxygen as it pumped air into the room. It circulated on and on. Not stopping, not bothering to ask me if I am okay. It just kept moving. In a part of my primitive brain, I wanted it to stop, I wanted the sensations to stop. Everything to stop. But nothing happened, and I kept gasping for air, and it kept eluding me. My lungs were on fire, and my heart palpitated its way out of the ribcage.
I writhed on the bed, damp with my sweat despite the revolving fan. At one point, I thought I was dead. That the lack of air had damaged my brain, and I was a vegetable languishing on the sweaty bed. Like a rotting piece of bottle gourd. Green, going soft. Squishy. Icky.
After what felt like ages, I got up and went to the washroom where I washed my face. You have always taught me that first impressions matter and to look neat and well-put. I combed my hair, applied kohl to my eyes and took a deep (thankfully, unrestricted) breath, and smiled at my reflection in the mirror.
With a wet index finger, I drew a smiley on the stainless steel mirror. That lopsided smiley made me grin, and then laugh with abandon, mama. I laughed till I couldn’t breathe, holding on to the basin as my body convulsed in mirth. Then I controlled myself. Your advice is that any excessive emotion is detrimental to one’s image. I nodded at my metallic doppelgänger
and left the bathroom to return to my room.
Once there, I cleaned everything, till all the surfaces gleamed. Even the offending fan’s blades were not spared.
Just like you always wanted, my room now shines. I am the only black hole in it though.
Today I missed your warm hugs the most. To lay my head on your bosom, to feel your heart beating steadily as your arms embrace me. Cocoon me. Mama, I miss you. Take me home from this hostel. I go back to our life the way it was.
I will never disobey you again. I promise, Ma.
With endless love,
Happy Birthday! I wish I was home so we could celebrate it like we did every year at the club. With the champagne flowing like water and me going around sipping from empty glasses till I got a good buzz going. You would invariably figure it out, and I’d be banished to my room with a huge piece of cake tottering on my plate and a hasty kiss on my sweaty cheeks.
I have no presents for you this year as I am here and you are there. All I can do is wish you a happy, happy birthday and cover this letter with kisses. I have flicked the girl in the lower bunk’s lipstick and will make kissy marks on this letter. Don’t be appalled!
I miss Pa so much that it hurts. I miss the way he would make funny noises and faces and dance with me while I stood on his feet while you clapped your hands in glee. All the conversations, fights, arguments over cricket’s GOAT.
My life is so empty. School, food, hostel. Nothing to do and nowhere to go. No one to meet. I ache to sit at the marble table (that I hated so much) under the bright chandelier that shone like the moon on steroids. (I know you will hate this analogy, but it fits!) Papa screwed up his eyes while you glared at us while we giggled and laughed. Where did those days go?
It is not that I dislike this hostel, I just want to come home. To be a family with you and Papa again. To be under your roof, safe under your love. To return to innocence.
With a love that crosses all oceans’ depth
Mridul, your ever-loving child.
Nowadays, I feel renewed vigour in my life. Life feels it may be worth living. Papa may have deserted me but with your love, I can make it in this world.
Confidence sprouts off me from every pore on my body.
I can do this. I will survive this. I will conquer this.
When I think of today, I am reminded of Newton’s Third Law. I think he was very stupid to come up with it. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Why must one have a reaction at all? Why can’t we ignore it? Knee jerk reactions suck. How about just inertia? But then, who are we to deny Mr. Newton his due?
Our hostel has a new student. Her name is Reeya. And she is an average-looking girl with long, dull hair. Her only redeeming feature is her smile, and it arrested my attention till my gaze flew downwards.
To her arms exposed in a sleeveless shirt. She sported a butterfly tattoo.
That butterfly tattoo reminded me of the weird phrase you would spout: If a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian rain forest, it can change the weather half a world away. It is only now that I understand its meaning.
The butterfly had flapped its wings, and all that could be lost, has been lost. I made a mistake, and I have been paying the price for it. My punishment is to stay here at this place–a punishment to be away from you. My punishment is your distance. And I am the reason for it.
I kept staring at the butterfly tattoo, rainbow-coloured image. Till I felt I am that butterfly, and I can fly away from this hellhole to be with you. To fly to the clouds, to be free. To be a star. To be with you.
But I am shackled by my body–the very breath that I inhale, the treacherous breaths, that I take–they deny me the freedom I seek. They hold me in this inescapable prison of my bones and blood, while my soul aches to break free. My hands clenched into fists at the sight of that inked arm. I wanted to step up to her and lash out at the girl. But I knew that you would not like it if I overreacted, so I controlled my urge.
Mama, I returned to my room and sat on my top bunk bed and thought. And thought. Of Newton. Of butterflies. Of rivers joining the seas. Of mothers denying their children. Of fathers refusing to speak. Of Papas stomping off. Of retaliation. Of punishment. And of solutions.
I drew the bedspread up to my neck and with my diary and pencil under my pillow, I closed my eyes.
My words, my only company. My words, my only solace. Empty promises.
Mama, I am sorry for everything I did. Everything I set into motion. Let me come home, please. Let me escape from this prison of guilt.
Please, just once.
With so much love.
I hope this email finds you in the pink of health. Let me introduce myself. I am Karuna, the new principal of the ‘Juvenile Borstal School’. Earlier your interactions were with Ms. Alpa, but she received her transfer papers a few years back and is not in charge of this remand home anymore.
Ms. Alpa wrote clear, concise notes about your daughter, Mridul who is a resident here. Mridul had been showing great progress and moved steadily towards her rehabilitation. Her nervous breakdown was a thing of the past and she had recovered from it and was in complete control over her facilities.
Everything proceeded well until last week when a new delinquent arrived. The girl, besides her colourful personality, had a colourful butterfly tattoo on her forearm. I was unfortunately not aware of Mridula’s reaction to a butterfly tattoo and her associated history with it. There are so many files and so many patients that it is difficult for a single person to be well-acquainted with every patient’s details. Only after the incident, did I check Mridula’s files to realise that her arrest and subsequent sentencing were triggered by her mother’s refusal to permit her to get a tattoo. I think Alpa should have highlighted this point as a catalyst for Mridula brutally murdering her mother with a chef’s knife rather than burying it in obtuse and overloaded information.
Anyway returning to the point, Mridula was declared dead today. She penetrated her thoracic cavity with a sharpened pencil. By the time she was found the next morning in the dormitory, the rare mode of attack had caused her to bleed out. In my expert opinion, she was still punishing herself for her killing her mother. You can note the similarity in her modus operandi: stabbing. While your wife was stabbed 12 times, Mridula had 11 minor wounds and one, of course, a fatal one.
As part of Alpa’s treatment, she had encouraged all her patients to write diaries about their feelings. For their victims or their roles as victims. Mridula was an obedient child, and she followed those instructions to a T. Along with her personal details, I would request you to come and collect her diaries. She has managed to rack up several of them.
If her personal effects are not collected by Saturday (upcoming weekend), I will hand them over to our recycling vendor.
We are sorry for your loss.
Thank you and I hope you have a wonderful day.
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