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The Bag on my Back

The Bag on my Back

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  29 Oct 2018 9:06 AM GMT

Rupanjali Baruah

I catch my reflection in a piece of mirror lying at my feet. I wish to look away, the other face of me would not let me because if one of them were lost, I would be lost altogether then. I and that other face belong to each other, and if I should move out of the periphery of this fragment in a mirror, the other side of me would remain defaced for the rest of the day. Sometimes I wish to let go or bury my desperation on a patch of unkempt soil or tumble headlong in a pool of cool water and listen to a soft word of a lullaby of mother who would hush me, as I would lie once again on her lap just like those good old days. And I have too many other things to unburden, all those things that I have been carrying with me for so many years in a bag that has become heavy with guilt of each day slung over my back. No one however knows that I have had this bag on me because I alone know the secret act of that backpacking.

I recall very clearly the first time I had done it; a fear had wrenched me and made me clench my two fists too tightly, it was difficult for me to breathe. The ventricles were drawn suddenly too tight and they would not let a small draught of air pass through. I wish now that I had some other thing to do then, I should not have listened to my schoolmate who gave me that bag saying, ‘Try it just once, it will make you feel nice.’ I could have felt nice by wearing a clean white shirt or by clearing the crack in between my feet and that would not have made the sudden seal in my veins the first time the needle had pricked my skin. I had circled with that one thought of guilt over that sensation, my hands were by then beginning to burn, I heard ten thousand voices speaking to me in low quiet whispers, but I saw only the many possibility of happiness arriving towards me if only I carried the bag on my back, always. Strangely it has remained with me gathering more mournful memories and dust of guilt inside it.

That bag is still on me.

It suddenly exhausts me. I wish I could set aside and with it all those decrepit matters of the past. I have to find a way to escape out of that terrible past. This would be the object of my next confession though I don’t know yet when that would happen. Who would listen to an addict? No one possibly. I am but certain that after one full confession I would be out of all those blasphemies that were thrown at me, its other fallacies. I would then pretend for one whole minute that I am not me, whom you see every day lying on the pavements or at railway platforms begging for a little attention, possibly.

I have seen in that mirror a pieta of a kind that is in many men, it worries me, the first one was of a mother and son – the woman wore the acceptance of defeat at their last final meeting, while the son at his moment of death still went on conquering the rest of the world though his whispers did not quite reach her, there was nothing between then, only a veil of death, that moment too remained later frozen in time in a piece of Carrere marble, struggling to go somewhere else, just like me.

And there was that other pieta that I read in the story of Savitri who wrestled with her destiny to carry her husband out of his death bed, she had held on to the faith of a prayer that arrived suddenly upon her lips; it brought her a joy that filled her up entirely while his face grew pale white, ashen caught in a fearful metamorphosis when a man turns into a dead man, just like me.

I too once held the reins of living happily, just like the other men on the street, until a seduction in a voice, coaxing me softly, had suddenly seized me and took me inside a long dark tunnel very quickly. I have been running on and on and on and still I have not found the shimmer of a light to lead me out of it. Meanwhile that seduction has become a mere thing, and today it has become a long sweeping motion of a hand that easily picks up the vial of pale white liquid and the needle that quickly takes me to each door that would open easily at my calling, the whole world would come to rest at my feet and I would conquer the snowflakes and the stars, in fact everything with one sweep of my right hand, it requires only a simple gesture. This faith in that feeling is my cocoon for the rest of the night. I treasure it as long as it must.

It is only when the night leaves me that I then have to look for other dark recesses and so I shut my eyes too tight to avoid the arrival of light from too many places; in the dark corner of a coffee shop, inside cinema halls, and in the hollows inside my shoes. Sometimes I hear too many voices throwing abuses at me and I want to yell back saying, ‘Shut up.’ They don’t shut up, they urge me to get up, splash of cold water all over me, I try to step out of that whirlpool, too many voices follow me everywhere. I cannot shoo them away, instead I see the ear and the earring on one side of the face of a woman; it is a shimmering round thing like the moon above me hanging on a piece of blue string, just as I see it often upon my mother’s neck on some evenings or the way pond water holds the fireflies on a quiet surface of night. A smell of hemp idling is in the air all over me. It begins that same non-verbal humming, rising from the pit of my stomach.

I begin to undress the events of last night; it is the same story each night. I do not have a new shirt to change the color of the night. Layers of incidents return; how conversations stopped as soon as I walked into a gathering of aunts and relatives, how their laughter became a mere sneer in the corner of their lips the moment they spotted me. I stagger again with the rush of that old feeling. An ache is again on me. I open my bag. This will help me live through another day. I am almost certain of it.

The kettle hisses; it is ready with full steam just like the railway engine that lets out a small scream every time it enters the station yard. It is another kind of seduction, of another sound. I always wait to hear that quiet hiss; it wakes me up too quickly, just as I did when mother poured out tea into two beautiful porcelain cups with saucers with floral prints, every morning at six.

I try to shrug away that tight feeling, I pull out the few magazines from under me, they were the bed sheets or rather paper sheets upon which I had passed last night. I go back to catch the rest of my sleep for the day, this time perhaps on some other pavement in another street.Suddenly I think of mother, I think of going home. I don’t know which road would take me home.

I begin to feel very cold as I think.No one would cry the day I die. No one.

The two words linger roll in and out of me until I ache somewhere. I carry that ache for the rest of the day just like that bag on my back. I want to put it down and leave it somewhere, let it remain unfound at a deserted station. Or else I would become worse than that pariah dog that curls down every night at the same spot where I sleep, sometimes someone kicks it, it yelps with pain or humiliation I don’t know it, and yet sometimes someone feels sorry for it and feeds it a stale piece of bread. No one feeds me, not even that piece of stale bread, and truly, between me and the dog, I am the unlucky one. So am I. And just then I decide to be the lucky one, once again. Everyone would look up and not down at me. I would do something to earn a word of merit.

I think again of home, of going back home.

A lamppost with one round glare is staring at me. I set aside the bag from my back at the foot of that lamppost, I walk on without looking back at the bag.I look up. A blue star is keeping an eye on me. I am not alone, not anymore because in my new dreaming would begin my new responsibility.

(A true life story of onetime hardcore drug addict who is now a reformed man and counsels and runs his own rehabilitation centre.)

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