“Do you remember the story? Of the beast? Of course you do. You love the story after all. I’m not sure if she told you everything. Let me just tell you myself. If you’ve heard it already, it’ll be like you’re hearing a favourite story again. This time from a different person. It might even be better. So, among the many things the beast could do, one was the ability to break through the limits. Not just of himself. Legend has it that he could even help others break through. Some say it was why he could be so powerful. The problem was that no one could really learn this from him. How could they, when it was too difficult to even understand. What he said was that, there are locks we place on ourselves. Unconsciously. Through our interactions in the world. We listen to others define the world for us, and knowing no better we believe them. We have our world defined by others, who knew little about what is in you. Its not really a problem, until all that starts to keep you from realising yourself. How can one get powerful, when one can’t even understand oneself. It sounds so simple, like the many things so many others have said through history. But it’s actually quite complicated. As complicated as it can get. Reading one of the ancient texts on the subject, I realised what she had done. She had a treasure. So very powerful. Still a kid and already one with the stream. How was she to hide you then? By blocking you, away from the stream, from your synchronicity with the stream. By keeping you as far from yourself as you could be kept. Making you feel as uncomfortable with the world as you could be.”
Am I different? It is a disturbing thought. Stranger though is the lack of feeling. The surprise. The shock. There is none of it. Almost like I already knew that I feel so, that I am different.
Like I always knew. I don't really fit in. I’m not the same as everyone else. I’m not like the rest of the class. Maybe that’s why I was so quiet. That’s why I never could strike a chord like Aniya. I never really had any great friends. Like Aniya. We were like light and dark. As long as she was with me, none of it mattered. Maybe that was my blindness. The absolute happiness being Aniya.
But I was blind to the building up, the relentlessly growing distance between me and myself. Even after it had grown into a distance unscalable. It didn’t matter. Until I looked back. Until I am alone now. They are gone, and I realise how truly alone I am. It is frightening. With everything else, unbearably so. The courage I find in myself surprises me. I know I have to hold on, but the fact that I do is astonishing.
“Here was a boy. Absolutely at ease with his family. So free with his dear friend. Never leaving her. But unable to find comparable comfort with anyone else. Unable to speak comfortably one sentence with the waiters. Such disconnect with anything beyond his family. Such inconceivable discord tearing through him, and so clueless about it. I knew in that moment, you were the treasure. You were the secret she was hiding. The thing she was keeping from us. The thing that blinded her to everything else. And I had to know what was so special about you. I had to understand the treasure sitting in front of me. But I couldn’t do it myself.”
What was so special about the night? What made it so very different from every other party? It wasn’t the gifts. It wasn’t the dinner itself. It wasn’t that it was just the six of us, the way I loved it best. It is almost shocking, to realise how much better I feel, it being just us. No one intruding. Even if it was Vikram, an ever present party at out celebrations. He wasn’t a part of my party.
The menu for the dinner was already decided, everything ready for us. The chef having prepared to his best ability. The waiters waiting for us, to welcome us with the best of their hospitality. The usual birthday song welcoming us to our table. The cake the same. The laughter, the mirth, the warmth, the merriness, everything the same. As we were getting up to leave, came the surprise.
Long after the closing hour, long after all other customers had left, we were still at the table. The entire staff of the restaurant singing me the birthday song again. We were all laughs, even tired as we were. If we weren’t so lost in the madness, we would have realised our stomachs were screaming in protest, against the excessive laughter. It was as if they were suffering a gruelling workout. The waiters had all pulled hats over their heads, hats that would have made any clown proud to wear. They were whistling tunes as unharmonious as could be. The most horrid cacophony. The funniest noises, perfect for the night. As if everyone was drunk out of their minds. No sensibilities holding them back. Walking us to the car, waving us off, as delighted as we were.
And I saw him. In the midst of the rest. In the same dress as the rest. Indistinguishable in every way. Except his eyes. Staring right at me. Watching. Waiting. I wouldn’t see him until after the accident. Until I woke in the hospital. Until he would introduce himself as Mr D.
“Luckily, I wasn’t alone. I hadn’t walked away from the family, like she had. I had to keep it quiet, and I knew the guy who was perfect for keeping secrets. Who would do me a favour, without any hesitation. A smart guy. Perfect, with of his love for drama. Looking at you, he saw the difference. The seal was weakened. Maybe it was the happiness of the birthday, or maybe something else. Whatever it was, he saw that the seal was as weak as it could be. You were as close as you could get to the you locked away inside. A little push and you would find you. He did just that. The simplicity of the plan, the beauty startled me too. He called everyone, sang you the extra song. Made the night a little extra special. Made you feel a little more like you. And he succeeded. You found you. And look at how amazing you are. You are a true treasure. The awakening was so explosive, forgive me putting it so but there is no better way. Explosive is what you were. Spectacular.”
Mr D was his goon. All of it had been their plan. According to their design. I was a mindless pawn, dancing to their tune. Walking along their direction. Ending up exactly where they wanted me. I was a fool. I am a fool. It had been all about me, everything. My family was trying to protect me, and they lost. To two guys, whom it took a song and some celebration to defeat entire lives’ worth of effort. I had lost them all, leaving no room for another shot.
Explosive. Spectacular. These are the words he uses to describe me. To describe the night. They feel right. I feel deserving of them, and nothing else. The walk through my memories, burning them, painting them all in the dark shades of lies, had been my doing. I can blame no one else. Not even Vikram, or Mr D. I lost faith in my family, doubted them so easily, I feel deserving of everything Vikram said. And it angers me. Being called explosive. Spectacular. Being called a treasure. Being put in the centre of everything. It has me seething with rage. Taking me back to all the memories, changing in my very eyes. Turning blue. Showing me the truth. Destroying the happiness, the joy of the memories. Mutilating them into something else, something distasteful. Something void of warmth. Something that felt nothing like me, like us.
I hold him responsible. The man who called himself our friend. The man sitting by my side, recounting his story in such comfort. Without any real care for my suffering. Only concerned with his story. And his discovery, his uncovering of the hidden treasure. I reach into the memories, all the times I saw the blue different around me. I try to feel like I did back then. I reach for the emotions, to bring them back. I can hardly even find them though. The harder I reach, the more distant they seem to get. The more difficult to bring back. I find Vikram’s words coming back. All they had to do was make me feel happy. More myself. I hang on to the words. I just have to feel happy.
We are home. They’re all waiting for me, to give me my presents. Dad is first. He gives me the pen he and I have been looking at for the last month. A pen that would do his collection proud, but is mine. In my hands. A pen that would probably be my start. Mom got me unlimited access to the electronic library she knows I would love. All my favourites included in the library. It wouldn’t be me by myself either. She would be reading with me, reading for me and I for her sometimes. Uncle and aunt give me a year’s worth of sodexo passes, the perfect gift for Aniya and me. They knew well, the greater part of the passes would be Aniya’s. But she would always drag me along, and that made it fine. They are all gifts I love. But the best of all is Aniya’s. The one I am waiting most for. And when she whispers her gift, in my ear, I know the wait has been worth it. She is leaning against me as we sit in the car. Aniya and I in the back. Mom and aunt in the middle. Dad and uncle in the front. I remember still her gift for me. Holding on to her, the words come back, and I feel blessed. I feel like we are in heaven.
It starts deep in me. A tiny spark. Like something awakens in me. I feel anew, reborn. Sensations I have never known erupt in me, spreading through like a forest fire going wild. I am ablaze, feeling like I am ripped out of myself. I feel the emptiness, like I did when Aniya reached over and kissed me in front of the whole class. Like we were back at the nest. Drunk. Dancing to the song of the night, to the song of freedom. I feel like I am sleeping beside mom, smiling in my sleep to her whispering, telling me she was right there. Like I am with dad teaching me to drive, telling me to go crazy. Like I am sitting by aunt, listening to her tell her us the story of the old man, imagining his new world. I feel like I am standing, staring at myself.
In the embrace of the blue, of the stream, I feel like I am looking at an infant. I feel inexplicably different. Like something snapped in me, and fell into place. I smile at the infant me, as it dissolves into the stream. I smile a bye, looking on until the infant me is gone completely and only the empty stream remains. The stream is a mirror, showing me what I am. I can’t recognise myself. I feel light, all my weight absorbed by the stream. I feel released, elated.
The room returns. I am strapped to the bed, to the tubes and the machines. He sits by me in the chair, the same chair his goon Mr D sat in. It is just the two of us, Vikram and I. The truth. And the end.