Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

Unseen 

 

 

I don’t remember when it started. At first, I’d tried. I texted in the chatroom. Joined in on classroom discussions. I stayed around for breakfast and lunch and ate with everyone else and laughed whenever they laughed. I don’t remember when I stopped trying, only that I did. It was so easy too. So natural. Nothing really mattered after that.

 

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Newton’s law of Inertia: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

 

Aristotle: Nature as the force that moves us to the state in which we belong primarily.

 

The carving on my desk: Return me home. Return me home.

 

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I go straight to the library after arriving in school, then stay there until the bell rings for class. When it’s time, I pack my books and carry my backpack up to the homeroom. Two sets of staircases, then fifty-two steps down the corridor. At the fiftieth step, I stop. Think of what it would be like to walk into class with my backpack on while everyone else is sprawled across the seats, snickering to themselves. I consider leaving my bag here, sneaking into class, pretending I’d been in the restroom all along. I consider hiding my bag just outside of class and darting in at the last minute, so there’d be no time for anyone to wonder where I’ve been. A group of boys pass me so I fall to the ground immediately, pretending to rummage through my books. When I can no longer hear them, I sit. Kneel on the corridor, unmoving. All of a sudden, I want to cry. No one, absolutely no one is around.

 

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Dream of pulling my tooth out. There is blood but no pain. It feels strangely calming, like picking at a scab. Thirty-eight minutes past midnight, I am bent over my phone, reading, then rereading: Pulling teeth can indicate that you might be facing a radical change in your life. It can also indicate that you have a difficult time ahead of you.

 

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Saturday, Papa asks me to drop my brother at badminton class. Leave him with his friends, he says. Sarvesh, isn’t it, he asks my brother, beaming. My brother is wearing his shoes. I watch as he ties, unties, then reties the laces. Yeah, he says, fumbling with the knot. Sarvesh.

 

When we come to the court, the kids have already started. I ask him where his friends are. There, he says, pointing to a cluster of boys. Okay, I say. Have fun. I try to smile briskly and pat his back like papa would have.

 

He walks a few steps forward, into the court, and then turns back. You can go, he says. I’ll find my way. It’s okay, I say, nudging him on. I’ll wait here for a while. He hesitates, then nods. Two nervous jerks of the head. Instantly, I am reminded of myself. Go on, I say, more forcefully this time. I watched as he walks, a few more slow steps, hunched over as if just recovering from a blow. Then looks over his shoulder, checking to see whether I am still there. Frustrated, I walk off, pretending to leave the court. I watch him from the windows outside. Ten metres from the boys, he checks again, making sure I’m gone, then turns and walks stiffly to the corner. There, he shakes himself out, a single elongated tremble, and runs alone around the court. When he passes the boys, he lowers his eyes and moves as noiselessly as he can, hardly breathing. Standing there, peering through glass, I am shaken with the deepest hatred for his weakness. I imagine walking over to him and slapping him, once, hard, right across his cheek. I imagine his head snapping back, the way he would look at me, not wounded, not fearful, but the quickened acknowledgement of my anger, then a glance down to his feet. When he comes back from class, I look at him with disgust and tell him to get in the car. Neither of us says a word on the way back.

 

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45 kgs. 99 pounds. Lowest yet, and I’m eating around a thousand calories a day. So much room to improve. Back when I was fat, I used to hide under desks to make myself disappear but soon I could press myself against a wall and say please please don’t please don’t look at me and they wouldn’t. Was that when I forgot what it felt like to look at people in the eye and know they’re talking to you. Was that when I forgot what it felt like to not see yourself. It’s the seeing that’s the problem. It’s late. Who have I been talking to. What am I saying. I put my phone away. In my journal, I tell myself how proud I am, how far I’ve come. My hand is stone pale against the sheet. In the side of my wrist, the bone curves along the skin, flesh stretched tight. There’s a bruising at one point where there’s been too much friction. Absently, I rub my finger on my wrist, back and forth, back and forth.

 

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The next day, I walk from the library into class five minutes early, my bag clutched over my shoulder. They sit there, laughing among themselves, clustered in dirty swarms, their arms slung over each other as if they share a body. I stiffen, wait for someone to call me out, ask me where I’ve been. Slide into my seat, drop my bag down, relieved to have made it. No one has even glanced in my direction. I breathe out. Then ache. Once, hard as a period.

 

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Normalcy bias: the tendency to underestimate the possibility of disaster.

 

Depressive realism: the theory that depressed individuals make more realistic inferences about themselves and the world than non-depressed individuals.

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I walk into an exam hall late after sweeping the entire school for a scientific calculator. The room is still. Someone snickers. On the desk where I’d left my stationary, there is now a boy.

 

Are all the seats taken? I ask the examiner. He looks at me awkwardly. He checks for extra sheets. There are none.

 

One girl points out that it was me who came first, that my place has been taken by the boy who did not sign up.

 

Should I leave, the boy asks. He is smug and confident and unconcerned. The examiner is vaguely embarrassed. Someone snickers, again.

 

No, I say. My voice comes out choked. I clear my throat and speak louder. I’ll back out. I turn, walk out of the room, close the door as softly as I can. There is nowhere to go. I have none of my books. I have no one to talk to. A paper airplane scrapes down the corridor, carried by the wind. Then, a dead stillness.

 

A few minutes later, I’m sitting in the counselor’s room. The counselor is missing, so I let myself cry and then I can’t stop.

 

Half an hour later, I’m eating my granola bar, tears still staining my cheeks, salt mixing in with the granola, when a classmate walks in. She’s the one whose charger I lost. I’m convinced she hates me. I feel pointedly the wetness of my eyes.

 

You’re here? she asks.

 

Does it look like I’m here? I want to say but I nod instead.

 

I chew loudly. A thirty minute run for these three hundred calories. Fifty to be safe.

 

I didn’t think you’d come to school, she says over her shoulder, walking to the book shelf. You’re almost never in school these days.

 

I haven’t missed a single day this semester, I say, confused.

 

She looks me strangely. I am aware of the granola crumbles on my jaw and neck. I do not sweep them away. I sit very still and glare. She waits for a second longer. Then leaves.

 

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Sleepless night choked with nightmare. Is that even possible. I text an old friend about the dream about pulling my tooth out. She isn’t online, so twenty-five text messages- yes, I’ve counted- go with no reply. Twelve hours later, she still hasn’t seen it. Fifteen hours, she’s online, looking at her chats, but she doesn’t open this one. I switch my phone off and lie down. Why won’t she open? Twenty four hours. I consider deleting them. I mull over this for an hour, then decide there’s no point; she’d have seen the notifications anyway. An hour later, I try deleting, but the option’s gone. Twenty seven hours. I’m checking my phone every minute. Why won’t she reply? Has she seen it? I lie face down on my bed and then get up. Two days. Nothing. I picture her annoyed, looking at the message. Laughing to a friend about me. So fucking annoying. Desperate bitch.

 

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Apophenia: the tendency to perceive patterns and meaning in unrelated stimuli. Associated with the first stages of schizophrenia. An error of perception. Like poetry.

 

Lately I’ve been going through flashes where I get sucked into this dreamscape where everything is pale and slow and I can’t get myself out. I raise my hands and touch them to my cheeks but they don’t feel like mine. Lying on my bed convinced I am slowly disappearing. Last time it happened, I took a blade out and watched the blood trickle, drop by drop. I felt no pain. I’d always thought there were lines you don’t cross but it feels so right. So natural. My body my own. I consider seeing a therapist. When I ask my dad, he says nothing. Then: the first thing they’re going to ask you to do is stop writing. Stop reading too. It’s the first thing they asked mother to do. I say nothing, do nothing.

 

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I stop texting altogether, though some days, when a classmate asks a question in the chatroom, I answer. 

 

The first time I hit send, it’s after a two month break. I make sure everyone is online, so I won’t be the only one on the chat. What research articles do we have to study for cognitive biases, a girl has asked. My answer pops up. Took me fifteen minutes to type it out. Twelve revisions. Just to say: Baron, Jonathan (2008) for the attentional bias. I hold my breath. Wait for a sign of gratitude, or even just acknowledgement. Another student enters: is it the bbc, he asks. No, she says. I think it’s the Deccan Chronicle. I don’t think we’re talking about the same bbc, he says. I set my phone down, confused. An hour later, I check to see whether anyone has noticed my answer. I scroll up to see it sitting there, alone and unnoticed, and I am filled with the deepest, centreless shame.

 

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Rene Descartes: I think, therefore I am. Pretty thought. Nothing is real but only occurs with awareness. In the end, it is the awareness that is the problem. Anosognosia: the medical term for not knowing your disease. Patients insist nothing is wrong with them.

 

A girl screams in an empty room, no one to hear her. A girl screams in a room of girls, no one to hear her. Not even herself. Isn’t that happiness. Wouldn’t that be pretty.

 

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I stand for fifteen minutes in line before I reach the checkout point. Push my basket onto the counter and unload my purchase. Cauliflower, lettuce, corn crackers, laxatives, five bottles of diet soda. I wait for the man to start billing, but he turns instead, calling out for the next person. The woman behind me shuffles in front, placing yogurt, milk, chips, a bar of chocolate. She’s fat. The type of fat where flesh spills over her body and droops towards the floor like liquid frozen in the falling. Rage rises in me, sudden and sharp. Excuse me, I say. She turns around. I was here. I was standing in line. You just cut in front of me. She never looks me in the eye, but nods, as if deeply concerned. The flesh on her chin spools across her neck. She turns back around and continues. A box of Foxes, two tubs of ice cream. I picture her leaning back on her couch, yellow flesh dripping over the cushions as she shoves another spoon of ice cream into her mouth. Excuse me, I say again, louder this time. She pays and then leaves, languidly. Bitch, I say, underneath my breath, and move my items forward, but another man behind me reaches over my body to set his basket on the counter. And how are you doing today, sir? the counter attendant asks him, pleasantly. I stand there, numb, then run out of the store, eyes stinging.

 

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Walking down the hallways soon brings with it a profound fear. I stand, my hands wrapped around me, my head tucked into my chest, collarbones stone sharp, holding my breath, stone still, waiting for everyone to pass by.

 

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Dream of a single sock. Frantically I search. I find nothing. I wake sobbing.

 

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A proverb: True freedom is not a life without responsibilities, it’s a life where you can choose your responsibilities.

 

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I choose my diseases and love them. Return me home. Return me home.

 

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 Shreya Vikram is a writer based in India. She is the recipient of the Dorothy West Scholarship 2020. Her work is forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, Salmon Creek Journal and elsewhere. You can find more of her writing at shreyavikram.com