Unshackled

A chair, a table, a plant.

On the table, a fishbowl, in the corner of the room.

A splash of golden on grey.

It is an itch that refuses to be dismissed, like a picture placed slightly tilted in an otherwise perfect room.

My forehead leans on the glass box, my eyes pressed against the surface.

A goldfish darts past, a bolt of sunlight. It doesn’t spare me a single glance. I am ignored; as it is ignorant of my existence.

I wonder which one of us is the slighted one here.

The world beyond those four glass walls is incomprehensible to it, only a distant dream, the faintest litany. My world ends with this tank.

The only difference between us is the side of the wall we stand on.

Water and air.

Captivity.


Every once in a while, it buts its head against the glass, striking at its tank with its fins.

It swims around the tank, once.

Twice.

Another thump.

Repeat.

There’s something slightly off about the entire scene. About the way its body moves. Stiff. Almost brittle. The eyes are glassy, unfocused. As if it sees something here that I can’t see, living in a universe completely different from mine.

It swishes past me again, moving in those hurried, jerky movements I’ve grown so used to.

I imagine it wishes for freedom. For the glass to shatter and set it free. To see the world from the other side of those walls. My side.

I trace its path with my hand over the glass.

Another thump.


Then one day, it happens.

At first, the crack in the glass is small. Barely the length of a hairpin. I run my hand along the fracture, feeling the tiny welt scratching at the delicate skin.

The goldfish thumps on the glass.

I press the tip of my index finger on the fissure, slowly pushing in. The glass strains under my finger, cutting through the sensitive skin. A bead of red surfaces.

The fracture spider-webs across the tank, creeping along the surface.

One more prod.

A single crack echoes in the room, a muffled gunshot.

The tank shatters all at once, and there’s a mesmerizing beauty to it, to the way the glass seems to implode on itself as the water gushes out, pulsing. Shards of glass fly around me, flipping slowly end over end, the sunlight catching in each piece. A thousand tiny, beautiful rainbows.

The goldfish is swept out onto the floor, flopping as it struggles to breathe.

Blood drips onto the wet floor from my finger.

I watch as it thrashes on the wood, breathing out the last of its oxygen into the swirls of red.

There’s a certain irony to it.

My life-source mingling with its.

Our worlds have collided.

Hands claw at my throat, and my lungs seem to be surrounded by metal bands. I wheeze in, and my breath whistles, like blowing air into a clogged pipe.

The tank goes blurry. The table, the chair, the plant. Fading away.

Only the fish is left.

The fish and me.

The fish is me.

I was never meant to be unshackled.

 

Photo by Sadiq Nafee on Unsplash

 

 

 

Advertisements

Faceless

It all started as a game.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a people-watcher.

As a child, I would watch people for hours before even attempting to talk to them.

I’d scrutinize how you spoke. What you wore. When you laughed. What you liked. Whom you talked to.

I would watch and watch, try to figure out who you were. What you wanted.

And once I put together the pieces of your identity, I would form my own, making sure they clicked.

It was like a puzzle that only I could finish and it amused me to have that sort of power over you: to control exactly what you see.

But under all of that, I’d ensured that I was that girl:

The girl you want to speak to.

The girl you share all your secrets with.

The girl you like.


I flit from one person to the next, as graceful as a butterfly.

Always smiling. Always pleasing.

You come to me when you don’t have anyone else, and it’s my shoulder you cry on, it’s into my ears you whisper your darkest secrets.

I soothe. I comfort. I encourage. I motivate. I charm.

And when I’m finally alone, I laugh.

I laugh at the world, at how gullible you are, to think you know me, to trust me the way you do.

I laugh till I cry and then I cry till I can’t breathe.

The tears never end, it seems, they flow and flow relentlessly, leeching me of everything.

The real joke was on me, all along.

And I’d never realized.


I look in the mirror and don’t recognize the shadow that looks back into my eyes.

I don’t ‘like’ her.

In fact, I despise her.

I see myself wrapping my hands around her throat and squeezing until the light slowly fades from her eyes.

And then, I realize the girl is me.

The irony: I’d gained the affection of everyone else, only to realize that I couldn’t win me over too.

Alone, I’m a coward. I’m despicable. Spineless. A doormat. A hypocrite.

I morph myself to suit the people around me. My very identity is built on everyone else’s desires.

I’m no one without someone to please. Nothing without a task to complete.

And there is nothing left of ‘me’ now, of the person I could have been.

Before. Before all the masks.

 


When I look back, all I see is crushed dreams, and when I look forward, I see an eternity of nothingness.

But it’s what I see when I look within that truly scares me.

Underneath all my masks, I am faceless.

 

Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash