I have been walking for thirteen hours. When I had started out, it had been morning. Now it is dark. I can hear the crickets. Even the occasional howl of a lone wolf somewhere. The terrain has changed too. I don’t know where I am. Only that I’m standing on a deserted bridge with no sign of a living soul for miles around. I didn’t have any particular destination in mind when I left home. Just that I wanted to put some distance between me and the rest of the world. I’ve been letting that distance grow ever since.
How far have I come? Have I crossed an entire state? It’s dark and I can’t see any milestones close by. Not that it matters. There’s no return for me. There won’t ever be. I’m done with my life. That is if my life can be called a life to start with. It has been a pathetic excuse of some disjointed, hastily put years. No achievements to brag of, no friends to call my own. All I’ve been is a loser. But no more. I’m tired. I’m no longer in a mood to drag my sorry story for the entertainment of others. I quit. This is as far as I go.
I grab the cold steel of the bridge and try to haul myself. I can’t. The railing is too high. Or maybe I’m too short. A shove from behind would have helped. Whom am I kidding? Isn’t this why I’m here in the first place? That I’m beyond any sort of help. I give another go. All I manage is to stumble on the ground. Great! Even death wouldn’t have me, is it?
I grope around in the dark to see if there’s something to stand upon. My fingers brush against something familiar. I pick it up to examine. A camera. Here in the wilderness! Doesn’t quite add up. I switch it on. The library is overflowing with photos of me.
Mesmerized, I keep flicking the photos. There’s a picture of baby me, moments after I was born. Mom and Dad are both holding me in their arms. She looks radiant. He is beaming. Oh you won’t be so happy with me soon, I whisper. The next one shows me in pigtails. There’s another girl in the picture who’s holding my hands. She was my bestie. The imperative word being ‘was.’ We don’t see eye to eye these days. Or is it that I’m the one who doesn’t see eye to eye with her? I’m no longer certain of anything. The anger and desperation that I’d been feeling have morphed into something else.
I keep scrolling through the photos. It’s like a documentation of my life thus far. There are hundreds of shots, each capturing some long forgotten moment. All happy ones. Each one of them genuine. I marvel how these lovely moments had gone unnoticed by me. But more than that I wonder whom the camera belongs. Certainly not to anybody I know.
I look around me carefully for the first time and feel scared. I don’t want to remember why I’m here in the middle of nowhere. I want to go back home. I want to belong. The darkness seems to be pressing down on me. I want the distance to vanish that I’ve put between the rest of the world and me.
“I want to leave. I’m ready to come home, Dad,” I whisper through the steel bars.
“You can take her home. She’s no longer a danger to herself,” I hear the doctor say.
I hear a click. Gentle hands guide me into the blinding sunlight.
“How long?” I croak.
“Six months, darling,” my Dad says.
“Don’t send me back here. I’ll be good, I promise.”
I don’t look back for a last glance at the cheerful façade of the institution. I’ve spent too much time inside its bleak belly.
© Jonali Karmakar
© Jonali Karmakar