a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
I remember when I first saw him. Never had I seen a man look so beautiful. In the dimly-lit tent, where all the village drunkards sat for an hour or two, he was the main attraction. All the clinking mugs and raucous laughter came to a standstill as soon as he entered the tent.
I remember how I had forgotten to rub my hands in the chilly December air when I saw him twirl. Shivers which would have made me uncomfortable were left forgotten, like everything else except him.
He was a tall man, and so fair that I wondered if he had come from the moon. Just like how people must’ve wondered when they looked at me, the only fair man in the village. Not anymore. He was just like me, perhaps even fairer.
His cheeks glowed with a hue that belittled all our lanterns. I watched in sheer awe as every lazy eye effortlessly landed on his bewitching smile. The rich olive green of the tent had faded into oblivion, while trying to make way for the blue silk around his waist. In the waning moonlight, the anklets and ornaments that bedecked his body moved ever so gently, as if they were imitating his eyebrows.
Very reluctantly had I entered my useless father’s drinking crew. The curiosity to find out what made him accept his sleazy reputation had gotten the best of me. What had made him overlook the wild mane around his chin, the sneers of the villagers and our penniless pockets?
The answer was one I already knew; the shadiest spot of the village was full of round-bellied vermin who had found solace in alcohol. And yet, I stayed.
In the one hour and five seconds he danced, he made me forget what it was like to be human. To be the son of the most filthy man in the village. For those minutes, I was just a wild sunflower; begging for just one more glimpse of the new Sun I had laid my eyes upon.
A drunkard’s son becomes a drunkard, the villagers used to say. "Even a sensible one?” I had asked them. “All sense escapes a man as soon as he enters that place,” they’d whispered, but I had laughed. Just like I laughed now, banging my fists on the wooden table, admitting my defeat. They were right; even a sensible man could lose his mind here. Except the reason wouldn’t be alcohol.
I felt the loud thud of my father’s arm patting me on the back, mumbling, “This is the life, my son!” and from the corner of my eye, I spotted him. Like a doll possessed, he weaved his way around the tent in circles, stopping just for a second at each table. Even after drifting away from us, his eyes kept lingering around mine and even smiled a bit.
And so my eyes said it. “Wanna walk by the lake?”
At first his pupils widened but then diminished ever so slightly. Against the mocks and jeers of the old fools I heard him say, “Yes.” I hope they noticed the smug look on my face when he slithered away from the tent taking my wrist along, fulfilling its age-old wish.
Silently, we walked towards the lake. I glanced at him sideways, only to notice how bare his face looked without the usual enchanting look it bore. Slowly, he unbuckled the anklets caging his feet and threw the necklace suffocating his neck. With them, he also lost his charm.
“Nice to meet you, friend.” he said, advancing his hand towards me. My fumbling lips couldn’t muster a reply, neither could my hands match his enthusiasm. Friend, they moaned, furiously licking their wounds.
Then he turned to me, and I just stood there, rooted to the ground. Wiping off a rogue tear, he began ruffling his hair and smiled. “Now do I look more like a friend?” he asked, his eyes glowing with mirth.
My eyes started searching for the answer. They hopped from top to bottom and shrieked. This wasn’t him; it couldn’t be him. His neatly arranged hair stuck out like thorns and the black encircling his eyes had started to smoulder. His eyebrows didn’t look as bushy and his lips weren’t even red.
The trauma ended when he waved his hand at me, and with three fluid steps landed headfirst into the water.
But little did I know, I had lost everything. His moon white complexion had faded into a pale yellow, just like the colour of the grin he gave me. All those nights I had given him; the jingling of his anklets and the aroma of his heavy jasmine perfume, even the twinkling of his eyes was as fake as the powder he had rubbed on his face. All those hopes of finding another pearl among heaps of pebbles had vanished.
He flung his arms into the air and called out my name, but my ears refused to acknowledge his presence. My eyes slipped away from his silhouette, feet carrying me towards the tent. Just for a minute, my mind tried to accuse my heart of the crime it had committed. But I had chosen my heart over my head a long while back. Betrayal, my heart chanted, taking control over my body.
I knew that the lake was surrounded by a forest inhabited by beasts of all kinds. Other than that, I knew that every step he was taking into the lake was leading him into the stomach of a crocodile.
I knew that he would survive for maximum fifteen minutes.
And then I heard it; seven minutes. His deep voice brushed against my ears, pleading me to stop. But my feet kept on moving till they heard the last of his tattered breath mingle with the breeze that touched my hair. Another fake, it chimed as it flew back to its retreat.
The next evening once again found me in the arms of the tent, lost in his eyes and the maddening sandalwood perfume. Even in the orange light of the lantern, I promise he looked like the moon.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.
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