He hid it behind a smile…

I woke up with the same dream. To be frank, nightmare. But who cares?

Human nature is marvellous. I mean, how quickly we get adapted to pretending! It is so weird, people who I meet daily don’t even realise what I am going through. They sit next to me but fail to notice that my chest heaves up all of a sudden. There is no air in my lungs and I feel like I could choke up on my own breath. Maybe I am good at hiding. Maybe my face doesn’t give away my anxiety. Maybe my eyes easily hide their pain.

I don’t know.

It’s funny though. Because I come to know when anyone is having a bad day. One good look is all it takes for me to know if they are as fine as they claim to be. And it doesn’t even have to do with knowing them or not, I pick up moods of random strangers too.

My best friend says it is my super power. It is sad that at times even she doesn’t realise that I am depressed.

Never mind. Maybe it is my super power after all.

I cannot remember a time when I smiled because I wanted to. It’s almost every day that I am pulling up a facade. It’s become a routine.

But it wasn’t this way always. There was a time when I woke up with pretty dreams and not nightmares. There was a time when adrenaline rose my heart beat and not anxiety. There was a time when I looked forward to each day like it was the last one.

And now, I wish each day to be my last one.

Every day, I feel that I’d give up. That I would not be able to drag myself to the end of the day. Every morning is a liability. Work is a punishment. And when that gets over, loneliness brings along her closest friends together to my apartment and we have a party night.

Weekends are worse. All the more time to hang out with loneliness and her friends. I spend them on a couch with my earphones on, volume up and scrolling down my news feed, laughing at the pretence of many more like me.

And if I happen to close my eyes and nap, I see his face.

I hear his voice.

I feel his touch.

He who promised to be the only man who would not hurt me.

My Dad.

But he did hurt me.

He left me here, in this world, all alone; when he had promised he would always be by my side.

I never knew what a mother’s love was, didn’t even crave for it. Because dad was there, packing my lunch box, plaiting my hair, singing me to sleep, giving me every kind of pep talk. When I had my first period, he freaked out more than I did. He researched all through the net to help me out with my acne and mood swings. He brought my sanitary napkins and even cleaned the stained sheets.

When I first entered college, he told me he would be okay if I had a boyfriend but I should understand that relationships need to mean something before I get into them. He discussed my crushes and gave me courtship tips. But when I finally fell for a guy, he couldn’t even bring himself to be nice to him. We were so deep in love that he was scared he would take me away from him.

And look, he is the one sitting there, up in heaven, far, far away from me.

Whenever we had a fight, I would not talk to him. This time he seems to have taken our fight way too seriously.

I AM SORRY DAD!!!!

How many times do you want me to apologise? How much more should I cry to bring you back? I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean anything I said. Please come back, Dad!

If half the world is full of people who don’t even realise how hard it is for you to cope up with life, there are those who are too happy to even give it a thought that maybe everyone doesn’t have a life as perfect as theirs. They annoy you being their happy-go-lucky self!!

The worst part is, I’ve got to deal with someone like that every day at work. And worse than worse, that happy soul is my boss, Karan Sharma!!

Every day he walks into the office showering good morning wishes to everyone right from peons to his assistant. And his greetings are bright enough to irritate the sense out of me. How can anyone be so happy early in the morning? Especially, when they have to deal with facts and figures all day!!!

Almost every day he is in such a weird party mood, ordering snacks or lunch or drinks for everyone; gathering each one around in a huddle amidst the desks for the said “party”! I mean okay, there will be people who could kill for a boss like that, but come on, just because you are perfectly happy, what gives you the right to make others feel deprived?

I know it’s irrational. But I can’t help being irritated!

My irritation though, has a stronger ground than this. I might’ve been successful in deceiving other colleagues with my facade, he is no one to be fooled. He sees right through me and tries to make it better for me. And well, THAT’S WHAT IS IRRITATING. I don’t want anyone sympathising with me and getting all nice to make me happy. I’ve accepted that I cannot be happy without Dad and I am not even going to try.

But he doesn’t seem to give up!!!

The other day, I was working late. And well, he hardly seems to go home. He walked up to my desk with a coffee mug in hand. I felt nerves creeping up as I became aware of his presence.

Well, I trusted him enough to know he wasn’t creepy. What bothered me was, he will talk and even make me!

“Deadlines?” he asked.

“Umm… well, yeah Anisha’s!” I confessed. Not that I minded staying up late in the office, but Anisha needed to learn to manage her work. If he would talk to her, it would only be fair.

“Funny, how I cannot find her around when you’re doing her work,” he observed.

I just shrugged my shoulder in response, accepting the coffee mug. After all, I did need one.

“You’re not saving her ass, you’re trying to stay busy,” it was not a question.

I looked up over my cup.

He didn’t have to guess everything!!! How did he even do that??

“Empathy, Isha, empathy….” He answered my unspoken question with a tired smile.

And just like that, he walked away…..

Empathy.

That one word kept echoing in my head as I headed back home. When I was under the shower, it felt like that word was landing on my head instead of water. My pillow screamed it and so did my morning tea. For the first time in two years, after losing Dad; I thought about something else.

Empathy.

I booked my cab and as the driver called, I seated myself in the car.

Mujhko ye zindagi
Lagti hai ajnabee
Chaav bhi, Dhoop bhi
Har naye pal hai nayi…

The stereo repeated my father’s favourite song and I found myself crying after a while. As the song ended, the cabbie turned off the stereo. He must be in his sixties.

“What happened, child?” he asked.

For a second I was stunned to hear a cabbie speaking in English. Then I took a good look at his clothes, they looked too expensive to belong to a cab driver.

He looked at my amazed expressions from the rear view mirror and chuckled.

“I am retired,” he said, “Nobody gives me a desk job anymore. And well, I like to work even if I don’t need to. I’ve always liked driving, so why not!”

I smiled. This was so like my Dad. Even he would have hated sitting at home.

“You’re sad again,” he observed.

Why the hell was everyone observing me so much?

“You remind me of my Dad,” I answered.

“You remind me of my daughter,” he replied, “I lost her when she was around your age in a car crash.” His tone suddenly became grave, reflecting my own thoughts.

“I too lost my father in a car crash, I had fought with him before he left,” I tried to be as dry as possible about it because I was only an inch away from breaking down.

“Funny how we think all these crashes and accidents only happen in movies to add up to the drama in life until we lose someone we love,” he had entered a different infinity.

The memory of that day flooded into my head. Dad and I were having an argument about my marriage. He didn’t want me to marry Anirudh because he thought he was a wrong guy. Whereas the real problem was that he was scared, scared that he would lose me.

And, I gave him that reality check.

It hurt. It hurt to see him hurt. But he had to understand, no matter what I was not leaving him alone.

“After all this time, you think that I am selfish enough to stop you from being happy?”

His very last words to me came back to me like daggers piercing my chest.

He was being selfish, yes he was.

But so what? Could I not let him be selfish for once after all that he had done for me? Could I not sacrifice one little thing in life for someone who loved me as much as was possible to love another person? Couldn’t I just shut up and hug him right there?

I could. But I didn’t.

I just stood there and let him go. For whom? For the guy I didn’t marry anyway? I couldn’t bring myself to do something Dad didn’t want me to. But I was late. Very late.

I feel like the jinx of everyone’s life. My mother died giving birth to me. My Dad died unhappy because I called him selfish. And the only guy I loved, I broke his heart and shattered him to many pieces. He had said he would wait for me even if it took a lifetime, I hope he does not and moves on.

Anirudh’s calls to make sure that I was alright started to bother me. One, because I wasn’t ever going to be alright. Two, he wanted me to be alright. Three, I was breaking him and not letting him get over me.

And so, I changed everything. My city, my number, myself….

The car stopped in front of my office building and I came back to earth. I asked the cabbie for the bill.

“What? You think I am going to charge my daughter?” he said with an earnestness so touching that I didn’t quite feel like violating it by offering money.

“Bless me then,” I said.

I lowered my head as he placed his hand on it and blessed me for a while.

“You must be thinking what a funny old man I am,” he tried to make the moment less tense.

I shook my head.

“I understand. I can feel your pain,” I said.

“I hope your empathy never dies,” he said as I got down from the cab.

Empathy.

The reuse of the word took me back to the encounter I had with Karan yesterday. I reached my desk and stole a glance towards his cabin. He was not here yet.

I settled down on my chair and began working but my mind kept wandering to that word. Empathy.

He meant he felt my pain?

How could he when he didn’t experience such pain?

Or did he?

He, who was the jolliest person I knew could empathise with me because he had suffered too?

Or he just noticed me?

I decided on the latter because the idea of he having to experience such pain seemed absurd.

That day, Karan didn’t show up at work. I wondered why?

Next morning when he arrived he was his jolly self again. Greeting everyone with great enthusiasm, working with a diligence he seemed to manufacture at home.

I was in his cabin that afternoon, there was a meeting we both needed to attend and so we were preparing for it. As we sat discussing the bullet points, we broke into an argument about a certain fact. Nothing serious, just that there was this law he had got wrong and wouldn’t admit.

“Damn it, Neelam! Even I have studied this law!” he said and I stopped.

Neelam?

He knew my name was Isha. In fact no girl in the entire office was named Neelam.

He stopped too, as he realised his mistake. And for that one second; I saw pain floating in his eyes. The kind of pain I have felt, keep feeling. In that one second, I believed that he could empathise with me because he felt my pain.

And as that second passed. Everything came back to normal. We were back to discussing the law; totally ignoring the existence of Neelam.

Since that day, I looked closely and behind the facade of the jolly and fun man; I found a person with very, very sad eyes. How did I not see this first? How did I not realise it before? I, someone who cliamed to pick up moods of random strangers.

The day we had a seminar, it was quite late and he offered to drop me home. The silence in the car was deafening. I felt as if I’d explode if I did nothing to break it.

“Who is Neelam?” I finally asked.

As he heard her name, his grip on the wheel tightened and his jaw hardened. I saw the tinge of that immense pain again on his face as his mouth thinned into a hard line.

I did not ask further. Could not. Something about his demeanour said I shouldn’t. The rest of the ride succumbed to silence. As we pulled into the drive way of my building he asked,

“You live all by yourself?”

I nodded in response.

“Must be getting lonely, doesn’t it?” He asked as if he felt it, meant it.

“It’s been two year now, I have adapted,” I gave him the standard response I had set for anyone who asked me this question.

Of course it was a lie but people seemed to buy it. He didn’t though. He exhaled a sad smile in response. As if it was the lamest way to cover up.

“It’s weekend. Maybe I could tell you who Neelam is, if you care to hang out tomorrow?”

He wasn’t asking me out. It sounded more like an attempt to befriend me. He was alone, just like me. I could feel it. Empathy. The word did not seem to leave my existence.

I agreed.

Maybe I could do with a friend.

 

 

 

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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