She’s a Runner. Not the long distance kinds, although, she does get the urge sometimes (who doesn’t?).She runs in her mind, rather with her mind. She runs from Situations. She is an Unhappy Situation Runner. Perhaps ‘unhappy’ is not the correct word. Any Potentially Deep Feeling Triggering Situation Runner (preciseness has never been my forte).
She was not always like that. Took pride in her ability to deal with whatever was thrown her way. The tough times , the desperate times , the ugly times . You name it. She could handle it .She was in fact, the go to person for other Runners. For she had an empathy that at times was her undoing. She did not just feel for people.She felt with them.
But then it happened. That Mother, no, Father of all Situations. (Pun unintended…or intended ?… heck whatever!) It grabbed her by her crazy long hair and dashed her against the wall .No wait, there were two walls. Parallel walls. Soft, tear -soaked, hard-hitting walls. Alternatively, she was dashed against the two for months….. or was it a day, she cannot remember. She felt so much, she did not want to feel any more. Decomposing in that vertigo of love, loyalty, duty, desperation, regret, rage,faithlessness…… and pain. Always… that soul squeezing pain. She was left with only one emotion, a visceral hatred for any emotion. So she dug her nails in, clung to one wall for (not so) dear(now) life and made a deal .
That was two years ago. And she has stuck to her end of the deal. Any average day. Check. Any average Situation. Check. Chance of triggering any ‘deep’ feelings ? No? Engage. Yes? Run.
Be safe. Be ‘happy’. Stay alive.
So she stopped watching the rain. She stopped listening to music. At least the kind she liked. Stopped reading novels, ‘discovered’ self-help and plunged into the genre with a vengeance. Avoided newspapers, only the supplements, the ‘happy’ stuff. Avoided news channels on TV(but then they are impossible to avoid ,aren’t they?), only Comedy Central for her. Avoided one on one chat time with students whose eyes hinted ‘that’s not all, there’s something else, could you help?’Pretended she could not see.
But life is never a good deal-keeper, is it? She became a Runner AND a Dreamer. But dreaming’s good, right? Not for her. These were not dreams of two years ago, woven with gossamer threads, lying in her hammock on the terrace, staring at the rain-drenched stars . She became a Dreamer because it turned out she wasn’t a good Runner after all. She could not out-run the Situations .They started catching up. Appearing as dreams. Terrible dreams. All night she would swim about in that phantom slurry of avoided faces and undigested emotion vomit and wake up in the morning Feeling. Feeling what? She didn’t know and didn’t want to think about it too.It was just there .A Feeling. A niggling presence that would fade slowly away as the day wore on. She kept on playing the game. At least the days were her choices.
Then came the rains. It poured and poured for four days. She looked out the French doors of her living room. The rain couldn’t touch her. She did not try to touch it. Drank tea. Made cutlets. Discussed it with family in the usual way. Yes, it’s been raining. Yes, it’s good….. Not necessary to keep the AC on all the time so that’s great….
Finally the water stopped pouring outside her windows but it started trickling into her sanitised world through the news papers and news channels . There were floods in the hills. The Yamuna had breached its banks and swept away entire towns and villages. She would catch fleeting glimpses of the horror stories while switching channels. Caught flashes of scary photographs as the newspaper pages were turned across the breakfast table. She was determined not to think about it, the devastation, the misery. She played her avoidance game. She realized she was fighting a losing battle That day she had woken up with the Feeling as usual but it refused to fade away as the day wore on. She ignored and waited with the assurance born of habit. Nope, still there.
It was after dinner time. She was surfing the net. The husband was watching some movie. He knows about her game. Knows about most stuff without being told. She calls it his old soul wisdom. In his own silent way of loving he has given up watching his beloved news channels when she is around . Tries to accommodate her whims and weirdness but forgets sometimes.
Today he was distracted. The swollen river had almost reached the danger level in their city .On the way home from work he had seen it flowing boisterously, just inches under the bridge a few kilometres from their home. He switched channels. She suddenly heard the shrieking , melodramatic voice of the TV reporter urging one and all to survey ‘nature’s dance of destruction in the holy town of Lord Shiva’(gawwwd! where do they get their script writers!). She shifted restlessly, then looked up, giving in momentarily to that macabre fascination of human kind to watch destruction from the comfort of their living rooms . Aerial scenes of planks of wood and metal bobbing around in muddy water. Then the camera zoomed in on a face. A man’s face. Twenty something perhaps. She saw raw grief in the eyes. An unhappiness almost painting-like in its unadulteration. She had seen that kind of grief before. Two years ago…
The channel had chosen well. The face was a TRP magnet.
“I lost my parents …” the man began to reply to the inane questions of the reporter.
“Change the channel”, she hissed desperately.
He did. Next channel. It was running the flood story too. Five seconds. The face again. She got up and left the room.
She lay down in the bedroom and shut her eyes. The face appeared in the foreground of the flooded hills. She had expected it. Slowly she painted the scene black. A connected thought. She painted it black too. It went on for some time. She began to fall asleep. Neat trick that. She had learnt it courtesy of one of the self-help books, or was it ‘ The Mentalist’.
She woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of heavy rainfall above the hum of the air conditioner. Perhaps it was the sound that had woken her up. It wasn’t a light pitter–patter . The noise made her think of water sobbing inconsolably on the roofs, down the walls ,across the roof tops, in the gutters. The lights were off, her husband lay in that deep peaceful sleep she was sometimes envious of. What! How could it start raining again?It had barely stopped for a day …she got out of bed and padded out into the living room and looked though the glass windows,fully prepared to confront scenes of wet pandemonium on the terrace. It was so quite over there ,her fuzzy brain did a double take. No rain. Not a drop. Just a lazy breeze making the black leaves of the potted plants flutter erratically. Eerie dry darkness.
She came back inside lay down and shut her eyes . There it was again, the sound of the persistent ghost rain in the dark bedroom. She went to check the faucets in the bathroom. Nothing there.She came back and lay there listening for some time, then turned on her side to block one of her ear holes to check if it would diminish the intensity of the noise. Nope. It gushed on, grating on her nerves. Was she going crazy? She shut her eyes tightly. There was no image to block out. Just that ghastly noise that was filling her senses.
Finally, she got up, went out of the bedroom shutting the door softly behind her. The silence outside was bliss. She went to the study as if on auto pilot and switched on the TV .Sitting down cross-legged on the floor in front of the screen she hesitatingly flipped channels till she got what she wanted. They usually repeated the same stories through the night unless something more horrifyingly newsworthy came along. There it was, the face. This time she listened to his story. She clutched the cushion as her body convulsed with the silent tears of shared gut- wrenching grief that connected her with that stranger. She felt a deep empathy , in fact, almost a maternal kindness that wanted to protect him because she knew those emotions she saw on his face were going to change his life forever. And then she cried some more , deliberately picturing the faces and the Situations she had avoided these past two years because she had not wanted to feel again. She thought about one particular face that she had silently blacked out every night . The face that haunted her with maddening consistency in every dream. With excruciating thoroughness, with every atom of her being, she engaged with the emotions she had been avoiding and cried for closure. When the tears had stopped raining down her face, she got up and returned to her darkened bedroom to lie down in exhaustion .As she started to fall asleep she realized she could hear the ghost rain no more.