STORY TELLING

THE STAGE

I walked down the crowded street, filled with the sound of people screaming and shouting, beating drums and dancing. Yet I remained cocooned in my isolation, the festivities behind me, bouncing off my disinterested skin.

I was much more interested in looking through the windows of the houses I was passing by. I kept gazing through the windows, peering in as if I would see something different from what I had seen every single day, for seventeen years of my life. I was passing the Sharmas window now- my house was only a few meters away. But I could afford to stay out tonight; my family would be too busy in the procession to chastise me over my curfew. They were highly disturbed by my strange habit.

Maybe she’s looking for someone.

Maybe she’s a pervert

Maybe she’s congenitally stupid.

And then Chayan Maasi realized- Arrey no! She’s just curious! There’s nothing wrong with that.

Some say that being overly curious is highly virtuous- it indicates high levels of intelligence, Rita Aunty insisted.

Others contend it strengthens your relationships beta, Pushpa Bua stated.

It correlates to happiness, Veena Chachi said wisely.

For me though, it brought excitement to my life.

In the society we lived in, privacy surmounted all else. We knew better than to engage in public displays of deviant behaviour.  As a result we met at tea parties and birthdays, yet we could get by decades without really knowing each other.

Every single time I looked through a window, and it was quite a routine practice, I would look at the house inside and gauge for myself what the family must be like. Soft colors and an overflow of cushions, they must be warm and friendly.  Scattered toys and walls with writing, they must have a young child. I could retreat into my mind and I could weave a whole story around that single window and pretend like maybe, just maybe, I was a part of that story. For a while I could just fall into my own head and pretend like it was all okay, that I was a part of this large colorful world and I wasn’t colorless and ugly.  In my head, I had to remember reality, so I peered into windows hoping I could exchange all that unhappiness for just a shot of sunshine. And I found that, it worked.

I was passing the Dalmia’s house now: big, large windows made of wood with fine detailing. The curtains were always drawn but just the construction of the windows was enough for me. I’d conjured up a whole fantasy in my head of a rich boy falling in love with a poor girl and fighting against all odds to sustain that love. It was clichéd, but I never said I was original. And I always followed the rule- the story must be happy.  If it wasn’t, it would defeat the purpose. Sadness chases reality; they run around in never ending circles, always hoping to catch each other.

As I crossed over to the Lal’s, I glanced away from the window, staring resolutely ahead. They had a small window, the smallest on the lane but it was still a window, half obscured by the drapes covering the inside. No, I told myself, don’t look. The entire block knew their family happenings. The screaming at night, the crashing furniture- it was all discussed with vigor, which I found truly disgusting. They’d been living apart for over a year and yet he still had his key. He walked in at his own convenience, prepared to browbeat his wife into forgetting the divorce.  It was looked down upon to wash your dirty laundry in public- civilized people bruise you where it can’t show, or display their displeasure by cutting you off without a word- but once you do, your entire life is an acceptable subject for discussion. I couldn’t look into their window without knowing their story already. And if I knew it, I didn’t want to hear it. It wasn’t a pretty story and there was no space for me to weave my magic. As soon as I looked in, I wouldn’t see the plush drawing room beckoning my imagination- all I would see is the screaming over custody.  I had almost crossed it, when despite my best efforts; I glanced back at the window. And I froze.

Because what I saw wasn’t the crashing of flower vases and throwing of keys- it was clenching hands and a struggling woman. Here I didn’t need to pretend or imagine. I could see it happening in the muted light from the single lamp that illuminated the drawing room in poor light. Bijender Lal, wrapping his trunk like hands around his estranged wife, Lippika Lal’s throat, and squeezing. She struggled and thrashed but she was slight and you didn’t stop reading when you got a paper cut – his bruising grip overpowered her. The procession carried on, and the singing and shouting had drowned out her cries. I felt my heart pound and my skin prickle and a thousand thoughts, pulsing in my head, demanding to be heard. Anger coursed through me, because I was powerless. I was powerless to create, powerless to imagine. Now my head was full of reality and the windows were no longer my sanctuary.  I looked down at the pavement, afraid I’d smash the window if I kept looking. I could hear people sniggering at me, I could hear their cat calls, I could hear my father tell me he never wanted a girl, I could feel the angry kiss of the cuts on my thigh and most of all underneath it all, I felt sadness. A bone deep sadness that would never go away. A gut wrenching sorrow that would be mine forever because my haven had been ruined. I looked up through the window again, furious.

And suddenly it all stopped.

My heart stopped beating a frantic rhythm against my breastbone and my breathing became normal.

The powerful beat of my blood had been replaced by numb but consistent chanting- they broke the rule, they broke the rule, they made you sad, they made you sad.

I looked at Lipika Lal, still struggling, and I turned and walked away towards my house, careful not to glance into any other windows.

I had brought the curtain prematurely down on the final act of my final play, because I refused to write anymore.

Pallavi Baraya

Student Reporter

August-2016