I am running, running away from everything. It has become so easy to run with the wind. Much easier than turning around and facing the storm.
I have always been paranoid when I embark upon a journey. Did I take all I need? Did I leave something behind? Did I secure the lockers? Did I switch off the gas connection? Did I switch off the electricity? God! It is the most stressful part. Sometimes I lock the door only to open it again and barge in to check something I might have forgotten. Sometimes twice, even thrice.
It is not just when leaving home. Even when I check out of hotel rooms, I need to do this ritual, and yet, I am not sure for the most part of my journey. At least, not until another serious event diverts my senses to the moments ahead.
Today is no different. Today, I am checking out of the hotel. I am at the elevator. I run back to the room. I glance around for a moment and rush to the bed. I look under the mattress and in the drawer of the nightstand. Satisfied, I enter the bathroom. I rummage again through the unused toiletries and see none of my personal stuff remaining. I saunter back to the elevator, half-satisfied.
Wait! I didn’t check the wardrobes. Shit! I rush back to the room and open the wardrobe. I open the locker and find it empty. Before I leave, I slide the unused hotel nightgown laid out on a hanger rod and peer inside.
The image strikes me like a flash of lightning, blinding me. Earlier, I used to wonder if it was a person or a ghost, or a poster, or a figment of my imagination. But now I know “who” it is. It is the “one” chasing me and the “one” I am running away from.
The lips open, pleading. “Ma’am, take me home. Please.” I scan the similes slowly from the pleading eyes, quavering lips, skeletal arms, and fragile torso that ends at the midriff. Nothing below. No Legs! Nothing below the waist.
I try to scream but my voice wouldn’t rise. Perspiring profusely, I try to run away. My feet wouldn’t move.
And then the godsent voice of the housekeeping boy brings me back, to life.
“Checking out, Madam? Any luggage to be brought down?”
I bolt from the room.
Gosh! I lose a precious half hour in this needless ordeal. Just when I think I am running away from problems, I run into infinitely more. I miss my flight.
I have been running like this for a year now. Running away worked for me. At least in the beginning, it worked. There was a liberating feeling with the escape from problems. I realized that all questions need not be answered, nor do all problems have closures or solutions. That kept me from being chased by problems. But for not long, I soon started tripping in my path.
The sprints began when I discovered the wide difference between what I wanted and what was being offered to me instead. Now, on the latter side of my thirties, divorced, rich, independent, and leapfrogging up the corporate ladder, the running should have stopped. But no, not yet. The chase was still on, only the demons were different.
For me, the chase must end. I did not have the energy in my legs to run anymore. I have run more in my short life so far than a marathon runner does in his whole career. The only difference was that I ran for survival, for life, away from deceit, and discrimination.
Just when I think completed one, a new lap begins at the finishing line.
This time, it began with a new love. Probably “love” was the solution. Companionship. At least I won’t be running alone. Or together we may end the chase.
I vividly remember gulping those extra shots. He insisted. And why not! I would do anything for him. We found excuses to ditch the party amidst the chorus of “oh-oh’s”. What was meant to be a one-night stand with him had become a desire unlimited. We were seeking each other on an almost daily basis.
I was at the wheel. Rain lashed against the windshield as I drove down the deserted street to our love nest, going a little over the speed limit in my excitement. The wheels skidded a little on the wet slippery road, but I kept the car steady. I noticed movement ahead in the dark. A girl on a bicycle came into sight. I turned on the high beam and honked hoping that she would sidestep. But gosh! She was coming straight at us. We sensed that she was being followed. I slammed on the brakes and turned the car to avoid her. The sound of the screeching brakes and tires skidding on the wet pavement shattered the still of the night.
The loud thud that followed confirmed the impact. Too late. We watched in horror as the bicycle was thrown up, hitting our windscreen first before coming down in a mangled wreck onto the sidewalk. We couldn’t see the rider initially.
I rolled down the windows and the sharp spray of rain hit my face. And then I heard the impromptu scream. I looked at my companion. He seemed okay after the initial impact. We got down.
Another flash of lightning struck. A few meters ahead we saw the boys who seemed to be chasing her on bicycles. The rain was splattering harder. Seeing us, they covered their faces in unison with their raincoat hoodies and turned around, retreating hastily.
As my eyes adjusted to the night, I saw the girl writhing vigorously face down on the rain-battered road. Half of her body below the waist was under the car between the front and back wheels. I knelt beside the wounded girl and held her face in my palms.
She was surprisingly conscious and spoke feebly, “Ma’am, take me home. Please.”
A car approached from the opposite side and stopped near us. Two men walked over to us. Together we moved her out and stretched her onto the wet sidewalk. I vaguely remember losing consciousness after I saw the extent of the bodily damage that I had inflicted upon the poor girl, especially on her lower limbs.
When I regained my senses, I was in the police station.
But he was nowhere to be seen! The scoundrel!
The boys were apprehended soon. But my ordeal continued for a few more days. I left it to the insurance company and the police to work out the settlements, both across and under the table. It eroded my bank balance significantly.
I didn’t dare to meet her after that day of the mishap. I still remember her pretty face beside the front wheel of my car, with pleading looks for help and a smile of gratitude amidst the grave circumstances we were both in.
Three months later, I left the town. I ran away, leaving many things that I had, that I loved, and cherished. I left a workplace where I had carved a niche for myself against all odds, singlehandedly, and succeeded. I never loved a man again.
I thought my problems wouldn’t exist in the new place. I had new issues to handle that would distract me from the nightmares that kept haunting me.
But then the things I was running away from, refused to stay put. Instead, they stayed just a layer below my skin, mocking me for my stupidity to believe that it was all over. The chase continued.
I realized that I was trying to harness a possible closure to a problem that was not solvable. I kept running but the problem was gaining yards on me. Reaching closer to me at every new place, new job, and new situation.
By running away, I totally lost that part of me that was strong and passionate. And the sense of esteem that I used to carry around me by facing calamities head-on. Instead, I became a grenade with a loose pin waiting for that one slip to explode.
She was following me everywhere. In my thoughts, in my dreams. A half-bodied pretty face, pleading and thanking me at once. She appeared in the shape of the monsoon clouds, in the ripples of the pond, in the peeled paint of my wall, and even in the foam that my washing machine drained out.
I wilted at the thought of her immobility. I saw through her in many other ways as well. I imagined her mother who probably wakes up every day wishing her darling daughter to leave this universe than suffer helplessly. I imagined her distant aunt visiting this decapitated niece with useless oranges, apples, and sympathies. I remembered her drunk oaf of a father who screamed at the police station, “I wish she was raped instead of ending up like this.” I should have grabbed the rifle from the sentry and shot him then and there.
With remorse and repentance as the pacesetter, it narrowed down to seeking a respite, rather a full stop. There was just one option left.
I remembered her pleading, “Ma’am, take me home. Please.”
The adoption process was more stressful than I had imagined. The age factor is very critical in these situations. I was way too young to adopt someone as old as her as per the extant laws.
My lawyer friend found a loophole, due to the special needs of the girl. The father had to be bought off on the sides as well besides the agreed payoffs. Am sure that oaf would spend all my hard-earned money on booze alone. The mother seemed to be reluctant but cognizant of the better situation for the girl under my care. She was unsure if she could handle the separation. But she signed the papers next to her husband’s signature.
And what would I do with her child? Well, that was a problem for another day.
It is a long wait for the next flight. I open my iPad and go through the documents. The adoption papers are in order. Perfect! A screechy voice from the PA system announces the departure of my flight. At last, the chase is coming to an end. A new voyage is about to begin. I have never looked forward to a journey as intensely as this trip.
As I settle into my seat, I have one final look at the messages on my phone. Twenty missed calls! From my lawyer.
Sigh! The phone is in silent mode. Twenty calls and one message “Call me! Urgent.”
The boarding is not complete. I can still make calls.
The call is answered within the first ring. I just listen.
As I try to assimilate the message, I feel myself sucked into a crater deep below me. I try to scream. I lose my voice. I cannot mouth a word out of my lips. The phone drops from my hand and I slump onto the side of my seat lifelessly.
Through misty eyes, I can hear the air hostess enquiring if there was a doctor from among the passengers.
I muster up a little bit of strength and beckon the air hostess.
“I need to deplane. Now”
I am in my car. The lawyer is calling repeatedly. I don’t bother to pick it up. What else could be worse?
A message pops up on my phone.
It is from the lawyer. It is a video link.
I click on a video link that opened a news clip from a local television channel.
“in an unfortunate turn of events, a family forced into giving away their accident stricken differently-abled teenaged daughter to adoption end their lives together at the suburbs of…..”
I keep running. A lot more ground to cover.
The final post just got moved ahead a few more years, till the end of my time, probably!