By Aarushi Sali
I sat there with my headphones on, listening to yet another kid read the same dialogue in German. Page number 75, arbeitsbuch. As he read towards the end of the dialogue, I unmuted myself and explained to him the vocabulary and the grammar pattern. It was his last class today. “I really enjoyed class ma’am,” he let me know. “Me too,” I sipped on my masala chai. “Do well in the exam. You’re doing well. Practice the verbs a bit more.” “Yes ma’am,” he replied. An undertone of courtesy and respect. “Tchüs,” I said in German.
The ding of him logging out of the zoom meeting hit my ears, traveling through me as the feeling settled in. The feeling of never needing to take this class again. I closed my eyes, gulping the last sip of my chai. As the hot liquid coursed through my throat, I took off the headphones.
Noise. It hit me. 9:15 pm. The bustling streets of Mumbai came alive. The noise trickled in through my open window. My desk was right in front of the tiny window on my 9th floor apartment. My head rolled back.
The mundane state of my life engulfed me. A feeling of dissatisfaction blooming at the pit of my belly. My toes curled in discomfort. I felt displaced in my own body. I am 23 now. Still in college, and my life today is a far cry from what I’d imagined it to be.
A breathy sigh left me. I got off my chair and picked up the now empty cup of tea. Taking it to the sink in my kitchen. Looking around the tiny apartment, I felt like I had failed. I truly had. A year ago, I had imagined myself today; in a big apartment bustling with friends, a job to look forward to, and doing MBA in a known university. And here I was; teaching German for a living, washing a cup in a tiny kitchen attached to the only room in my house. The living room was small too, with a desk in front of the window and a sofa-cum-bed I slept on. This was all my miserable life could afford for me.
My thoughts were interrupted by my phone vibrating, flashing ‘ma’ on the screen. Immediately picking up the phone, I put it on speaker. “Hello ma,” I greeted my mother. “Hi Baccha,” she said back.
Ma called every night and told me about how my life held great opportunity and prosperity. She was probably the only person that believed in me. As our conversation continued, I put some maggie to boil. My staple dinner, just a bowl of ten rupee noodles with melted cheese. Nothing healthy or fancy. Another thing I’d hoped to achieve by now, a healthy and balanced diet. Guess not. I was too miserable to afford that either.
“Listen Sonakshi,” baba– my father – spoke in the background. “Yeah?” I urged him to continue. “Could you take classes for a friend’s son?” I didn’t reply. I couldn’t. I promised myself today’s was the last German class I’d take. Then again, what choice did I have? I needed the money. “Beta?” Baba searched for a reply. “Yes baba. I can take a class. “But they have to be in person,” he said. “What?” my voice squeaked. My larynx shrinked. A million things ran through my mind “IN PERSON?” I screamed over the phone. “He will pay more,” Ma added. “So?” I questioned. Tone harsh. COVID may have reduced but, I had found peace in the comfort of teaching from home through screen. A full-proof way to stay forever hidden. “Can he come to your place?” Ma said. To do what, exactly? Admire the miserable state I reside in? “No.” My answer was firm. “He’s willing to pay 20,000 rupaye,” She added. The wheels turned in my head. My usual income per student is only Rs.5,000; this was four times the money. I could stay off work for at least three months after class. Then, I would get time to explore other jobs. With a rock over my heart, I agreed. The money would be worth it.
My parents ended the call and I sat down to slurp maggi. How has life become this bad? Where had I gone wrong? I pulled out sofa-cum-bed and lay there. Bare. Devoid of emotion. I felt alone and strangled. And that’s how I slept tonight. Feeling empty. Slumber wrapped around me as my thoughts strangled me like reptiles’ prey.
I sat in my living room, waiting for Bhagyam. My newest student. I had called him to my place. The bell rang and I took five steps from my couch to my door. The short distance ridiculing me for not having a bigger apartment. I shook off the thoughts and put on a big smile for my student. I opened the door.
Holy. Mother. Of. God.
There stood a beautiful MAN. Not a school going boy. A beautiful man. Fluffy hair and a smile that could start wars. Much taller than me. And lean. I froze. Was this even my new student? “Hello,” he smiled awkwardly. Pulling me out of my trans. “Hey. You are Bhagyam?” I questioned. “Yeah,” he shifted uncomfortably. “Sorry,” I invited him in. “I thought you’d be around 14 and going school.” He chuckled, “Nahi. I’m 24. Need to learn German for my current project at work.” I nodded. He worked and was only a year older than me. What was I doing wrong?
And with that my first class with my last student started. As class went on and I taught him some alphabets, I realized I was having fun. Giggling now and then when he complained about every word having genders and patterns.
I felt comfortable. Safety. I hadn’t even met Bhagyam before and being in close proximity with him felt like curling up in a blanket fort one built as a kid.
Classes continued on a daily basis, I always fished for reasons to extend our weekly classes to weekends. Take the one hour class for two hours. I looked forward to them. I even started putting effort into what I wore. And this new excitement lasted for three months
Today is his last class. Something in the pit of my belly sank as I registered him for the A1 level exam. He was doing well in classes, and the extreme amount of extra classes I took with him allowed him to complete the syllabus in less time. I was quite proud of him. He sat there beside me on the couch of my apartment which I'd come to love knowing he came here to study everyday. A language I taught him, something that belonged just to us. “Your exam will be held in two months,” I told him, his ID number flashing on my laptop screen. He merely nodded, “I wish classes could keep going.” “Why?” I turned to him. Begging for him to tell me that he felt what I felt. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I just look forward to them. They’re fun.” “They are.”
Say something, Bhagyam, Please say something. “You’re fun actually,” he looked at me too. He smiled a rare fond smile. One that was reserved for when he talked about things he liked, like cats and oatmilk. And me. He smiled at me. I smile I wished I could preserve. “I see,” I urged him. Longing for him to do something.
With that, he got up. My heart flopping to my feet in disappointment as I walked him to the door. Giving him a small smile as he stepped out. “Auf Wiedersehen," I greeted him in German as he waved to me. “Bis bald,” he called back. And I stood there, watching him walk away. And with him left any hope I had to get out of my miserable life.
I closed the door. Walking back toward the couch, I sat on it. Pulling my legs towards my chest, I traced the place where he used to sit every day of our class. My fingers reminisced the remnants of his warmth that would slowly slip away. As the warmth faded, so did any consciousness left in my body. Slumber pulled me in. _______________
I looked in the mirror. White. The color of morning purity covered me in the form of a kurta. My skin covered, my dupatta falling.
Should I go? I asked myself. I had spent an hour getting ready after the call had ended. The call from my eldest brother. The call informed me that my mother had passed. My role model had faded. Gone from the face of the earth.
My brother had told me to come to the funeral. She had passed while reading her morning prayers, in peace I hope. Doing something she found peace in. I tried to comfort my broken soul. But I felt scattered. Like every inch of my heart had screwed itself over and ripped apart. Finally giving up on the thin thread that had been holding me together. She was gone. My mother was gone.
I squeezed my eyes shut. Trying to forget. My hand slapped my cheek, the sound infiltrated my room and the stinging stayed. And yet, I felt more pain. My chest was collapsing. I was collapsing. My knees felt nothing, my legs numbed. I was on the floor. I was on the floor. How? How? Why? Why? My torso gave out too, and I curled on the floor. Ugly sobs left me as my chest hurt more. I wanted this gone. I wanted the pain gone. My nails dug into my chest, and yet the pain stayed. I needed it gone. I wanted it… Gone. __________
Four days. Four days since it had happened. I hadn’t left my miserable apartment. My stomach grumbled for food and my phone rang for probably the millionth time. I hadn’t shown up. I couldn’t bring myself to go to the funeral. Too much. Too many people. The reality of her being gone.
I rolled in bed one more time. I had no intentions of getting out. I’d stay here till my body dissipated. The same way my mother’s is. Then I’d be cremated. The same way my mother was. And then I’ll be with her. With Ma.
Something rang one more time. Not my phone. It was my doorbell. I pulled the pillow over my head, grumbling in annoyance. Like a teenager on a Monday morning. The bell rang one more time, and I continued to ignore it. Once more. NO. Whoever it was, needed to leave. It rang one more time. I didn’t have the energy for this. One more time. Go away. Another time. Please, go away. One more time. My patience left my body and I got off the bed. Irritation flooding through my veins as I flung the door open. Bhagyam. He was just standing there. Suddenly, becoming aware of everything, an uneasy feeling crept around my neck; choking me. I was wearing the same kurta I had put on four days ago. I smelt like I hadn’t gotten out of bed in four days, which is exactly what I had done. I was a mess. And I missed my mother’s unnecessary calls everyday. I stared at him. “Can I come in?” he asked. I shook my head. “Please?” “What are you even doing here?” I countered. “You didn’t show up for the funeral,” he replied. Oh. I forgot he was a family friend. “So?” “I’m sorry for your loss,” his voice traveled through me. Don’t remind me of my loss. I shut my eyes, “Please. Leave.” “Sonakshi.” He said my name. Music to my ears. And yet, my chest still hurt. “My mother just died,” I stared at him, feeling a tear trickle down my cheek. Something flashed in his eyes and the next thing I knew, he was inside the apartment that held my misery. And he was holding me.
The comfort and safety I felt during classes engulfed me. A sensation that didn’t match anything about this pierced through me. This was wrong. I hated this. On one side, my chest screamed in agony at the loss of ma and on the other, Bhagyam’s hold on me brought about emotions I could barely recognize.
I lost control. And hands reached for his chest. And I sobbed. A blood curdling noise left my lips. My tears gushed down as I held onto Bhagyam’s warmth. As if that was all I had left. I wailed as the pain in my chest increased.
And I accepted the fact that she was gone. Faded away.
I stood at the Goethe Institute, Mumbai. Bhagyam, walked out of the exam center, looking relieved. His golden skin glowing in the sun. I ran to him, hugging him. Leaving a peck on his shoulder. His arms wrapped around me on instinct. I squeezed his torso. He was all I had left. “How was the exam?” I asked as we started walking towards the exit, our fingers laced together. “Good actually,” he sighed out. He had been stressing about it. “I told you. You were doing good in classes.” “Classes with a teacher that had a crush on me. How do I know you didn’t lie?” He joked. “Because I wouldn’t want the love of my life to fail,” I pulled him closer. He was here. Still here. Still mine. Not gone. Not like Ma. “I adore you,” he whispered. “I know,” I said and we got out of the protection of the tree.
After stuffing our faces with kacchi Dabeli, we went back to my apartment. Still small. Yet, it wasn’t as miserable anymore. It was filled with memories of us. And we stayed there, in each other's embrace. His warmth with mine. We loved each other.
His love engulfed me, the feeling of protection wrapping around me. I had found myself longing for it more everyday. His smile. His warmth. His comfort. Him.
After Ma, and her death. He was my only hope.
My only light in the darkness of my misery.
No. Please no.
There was no way I would survive this.
I stared at Bhagyam. Laying there. On the hospital bed. Unmoving. “Please come back,” I whispered. Holding his cold, unresponsive hand. “Bhagyam,” his name left my lips as a last attempt to bring him back. “My love?” I said out loud. “Bhagyam!” I screamed. An indescribable pain twisted through my body. My organs are squeezing shut. I squeezed his hand. Why? What had I done wrong? I had only loved him. Why must the world take him away? It already took ma away. I laid my ear on his chest, praying I’d hear a heartbeat. And I heard nothing. He was hollow. The heart he promised would beat for me, had stopped beating. The same way ma’s heart had given up. His heart had given up too.
I sobbed into his now-cold and hard chest. Longing for his warmth, I cried more. What had I done wrong? I asked myself again. Why was he gone too? Why didn’t his heart beat a melody through my ears? Where was his heartbeat?
“Don’t go away.” I whispered.
The heartbeat filled the white room. The time was gone. It was too late to kill it. Far too late. The doctor wiped the jelly off my belly and smiled at me, “you’re 14 weeks pregnant. Congratulations!”
It had a heartbeat.
Another heartbeat that I was bound to lose.
I was unable to feel anything. Bhagyam should’ve been here to watch his child on the screen. To hear his child’s heartbeat. Ma should’ve been here, to smile about how I’d enjoy motherhood. But they weren’t. I sat in this white room alone. Scared. Unprepared.
I couldn’t take care of a baby. His baby. I wouldn’t even be able to look at it. Not without him holding it with me. Not without Bhagyam holding it the way he held me. Close, tight and protected.
I walked out of the sonography room and up the stairs of the hospital. The same one where he died. Where they couldn’t save him. Where they let him lose his last breath. The same hospital where I had screamed for him to come back. The same hospital where he went away.
I pushed away the sight of his corpse from my mind as I reached the rooftop. I placed my hand over my belly. A life. Alive. A heartbeat was growing in me. A child that would carry parts of Bhagyam. His eyes, his lips, his nose.
But Bhagyam was gone. Ma was gone. The child would have no father or grandmother. The universe had taken away the people I loved most. How did I know it wouldn’t take away my baby? How would I know it wouldn’t make my child go through the same pain? Bhagyam’s child deserved better. My baby would feel pain too.
The sun set as I stared at my belly. Still flat but, it would grow soon. I looked at the sky. If the concept of heaven did exist, I hope Ma and Bhagyam are happy and at peace.
But, what about me? I wasn’t at peace.
As I watched the colors of the sunset come undone in the sky. The beautiful spread of red and pink painted the clouds.
I closed my eyes. Thinking about Bhagyam holding me and Ma playing with Bhagyam’s child. Her grandchild. He would hold me and our baby. Tell us how he loved us.
I thought about Ma, how she would knit clothes for , my child. Cook kheer and sweets to feed the little baby. How she would love it as much as she loves me.
I felt the air push against me harder as fell.
I fell downwards.
I fell harder and faster.
I was gone.
I was gone too.
By Aarushi Sali