Could aunt always do that? Control the blue? Like it was an extension of her. Was it the same for me too? I don’t know. Try as I might, I cannot control it. It doesn’t change around me. Ever the unperturbed blanket wrapping me. No gales leaping off. No blue of the rest of the world reaching down. As if they’re both perfectly happy as they are. What is different about me?
“I told you, it just won’t do. No dresses for me, thank you. You guys should learn to just listen to me.”
She had changed out of the dress ruined in the accident. I was bandaged, the bleeding stopped, the injury covered. Everyone was completely satisfied there were no tears I was crying, no pain I was suffering. It was only then that they could turn their attention to the mess. Not just the cream all over us. That wasn’t the most concerning. The blood was graver. In smears and splatters over the clothes. Over Aniya’s green dress. The moment our eyes fell on the blotches of red over green, gasps erupted. Of delight from Aniya. Of horror from the rest of us. How could this happen? The most perfect dress ruined in the accident. If only Aniya wasn’t as delighted and happy as she was, it might have been a disaster of catastrophic proportions. If only Aniya wasn’t Aniya.
Hopping with joy, she left for her room. Happy to change into her torn jeans and tee. She was first ready among us. Waltzing into my room to check on me. It was good that I had decided to wait. For her to pick what I was to wear. She pulled out the pair of jeans the exact shade as hers. The same tee as she was wearing. We looked like we were in uniform. Dad’s groan was the reaction we knew to expect as he saw us. The rest were smiles as always. We were ready for dinner.
We were in the car, driving to the restaurant, when Aniya finally let it out. I was surprised she could hold it in for so long. It was bound to blow up into an argument. It was a wait to see who would take the bait, and the winner was aunt.
“If only you were more of a girl, a proper girl, it wouldn’t be so.”
Everyone burst out laughing at the remark. The thought of Aniya as a proper girl along the lines aunt was talking about was funny. I would have said it was impossible, if I was dumber. I knew to be quiet, out of the argument. Because I knew the bashing was coming. I knew what Aniya’s defence would be. I was bang on target.
“Well, I did wear the dress. I tried. If you want to blame anyone, blame the accident. And the victim,” Aniya said just as the bashing was starting. Shutting up everyone in a second. There was no way anyone was going to say anything to me. That just wasn’t possible. And with Aniya throwing me up as defence, there was nothing they could say to her either.
Grinning, Aniya blew me a kiss, clear for all to see. And burst out laughing maniacally in celebration of her victory. Inviting me to join, an invitation I gladly accepted. An invitation that the rest were just as eager to accept, even if it wasn’t extended to them. It was how the night was supposed to be. How the party was to go.
And it struck me.
It strikes me. They never could say anything to me. Always looking out for me. Everyone of them.
Aunt had her eyes more on me as she told her stories. It didn’t seem so then, maybe because I never really thought about it. But it certainly does look so now. I always was the dearer one. Was that why she was so hard on Aniya? I couldn’t think of a single instance when aunt was even slightly angry at me. When she looked at me with irritation. When she looked at me in any way but with fond love. When she said a single word that was meant to do anything but make me feel good. Always directing her anger at Aniya instead. Was that what was happening?
Was Aniya meant to look after me? Was that why Aniya was always with me. Always smiling. Always making me smile. Always standing in front of me, protecting me. Giving me strength whenever I was down. Always with the answers for me. Was she meant to be my guardian?
And mom? What about her? Was she in on it too? No, she couldn’t be. She was the greatest mom in the world. Nothing could overtake that. But was there more to it? Did she also think me to be someone to be protected? Something to be extremely careful with? Was that why she was always with me? Was that why everything else came second?
Was it so with dad too? And uncle?
No. I had the coolest family. That I wasn’t wrong about. The greatest mom in the world. And the coolest dad. Who would teach me everything they knew, and let me be everything I was. Who were a part of my life, and everything in it. Aunt and uncle were family too. And Aniya. The six of us were the best family one could have, and I was lucky to have them.
But then there is the dark side. The nest. It didn’t make sense, a lot of what she said. But now it does. If she was tasked to be looking after me, then it made sense. The attraction of the dark side. The need for freedom. The girl she was, it must have been suffocating. Like a prison. Always having to put herself second. Put me above all else. Put my needs above her own. It is a difficult idea to ponder over. Did she resent me?
It cannot be so. Because it was always she who decided for the two of us. It was always she who spoke for us, and I listened. It was she who chose for us, and I happily accepted. It was she who led the way, and I followed. Even if she was tasked to look after me, it shouldn’t have been too hard on her. Not just because she loved me as much as she did, but also because she could be herself with me.
It still must have been hard on her. Which was why she took us to the dark side. But what exactly was the dark side? Was it about her freedom? What exactly was there? Nothing to hold us back, she said. Was that what the dark side meant to her? Nothing holding her back. Did that mean I was holding her back? Weighing down on her? Was I her the cause for her need for the dark side? If so, why did she have to take me along? Was I such an integral part of her life that she had to have me everywhere? Even when she was finding an escape from it all? Was that a good thing? Or was it just another burden to her?
The questions plague me. Make it impossibly difficult, chasing after the answers. Frighteningly so.
And what about all the teasing? As if we were more than what we were? Worse than the teasing at school were the teasing smiles at home. Was all that something else too? Was all of that an act too? To protect me? And if it was, what exactly was I being protected from? What was it that was such a danger to me that they had to dedicate their lives to my protection? Or, was I just being conceited?
It confuses me. Everything. I wish one of them would wake and give me all the answers. Would tell me all this was a nightmare, a silly nightmare that we would all laugh over at dinner. Any moment now, Aniya would come leaping into my room, falling onto my bed, waking me from the nightmare.
But it isn’t to be so. I know by now that this is no nightmare. This is really happening. And I am all by myself with the questions, to find the answers for myself. I have to endure the pain, swallow the tears. Keep looking. Seeking.
It must be so. All of it. Which must also be why Mr D came to me, asking for me to find the answers. It must be why all of this is happening. It must all be because of me. As much as I try, I know I am falling. Collapsing on myself.
Was it all a lie? Could it really be so? It is Aniya again, who comes to my rescue. Showing me the way.
“When you have your own world, like we do, our own dark side, then you can be truly happy. At peace. Because out there, in our dark side, anything and everything holds. We do as we do, we are as we are.”
Hearing her voice is calming. Everything about her is. I feel stupid for doubting her. For doubting us. All of us. Whatever they might have kept from me, it didn't mean all else was a lie. What we had was real. We were a real family. We were the greatest family. So what if there were secrets? That didn’t in anyway lessen what we had, what we were.
I see it then. The secret. What they kept from me. It didn’t surprise me as much as I would have expected it to. Almost like I knew already. Like I had unconsciously figured it out, a long time back. Like it was that knowing that kept me apart. That made me feel different. That made me unsure of all else around me. That made me what I am.
There’s an audible click in my head, as another piece falls into place.