“What do you see?” probed my mother with a worried look on her face, a look she failed to hide.
It’s been weeks and I have grown tired of seeing things in the day time. Yes, day-time. The remnants from my nightmares born from fragmented pieces of sleep, becoming nightmares in the day. And I drag myself through the day just like I have been doing for so many nights. The withering pictures linger in my mind every minute during the day and I catch myself lost in the ensnaring nightmare.
As a child, I used to have nightmares, memories of which I could never forget.
After a period of time, the nightmares stopped. I guess that’s what bothered my mother.
“What do you see?” she asked again with a look of concern. I pressed hard not to remember anything from the faded pool of memories that start haunting me as night slowly walks in. I looked at her and realized I had to make up a story soon. I had seen that troubled look many times. Quick! Quick! I told myself. So I recounted a totally different dream to her. A lie. That I saw shabby houses and screams all round, of little girls and women being tortured, of men being violently hit, furious mobs around and things being burned down.
There! She seemed satisfied if not really happy. Guess she expected the same old story.
About a woman. In a dark brown saree. Falling, from a height what must have been about 15 meters. From a building. First slowly, then faster and then being thumped on the ground. Chest on the ground. Face sideways. Hair still the bun dangling over her face. But all she is now is a mass lying in a pool of her own scarlet blood. She’s dead. There’s no doubt about it. I stand watching this as though she was someone I know. Horrified and tear-stricken at the same time. Suddenly, she raises her blood-stained face, her hair obscuring most of it. Looking me in the eye. Her eyes, I notice, are darker, empty, nothing but wearing a heart-tearing pained look.
And then before I can understand, her lips move. I am horror-struck. Tears that were flowing in full-force until now have slowed down. Did she say something or did I just imagine? And before I can even blink my eye, they are taking her away. I try to stop them. Hoping she is still alive, hanging onto the last bits of her dear life. But I am pushed away, ushered in a corner. “She’s dead,” someone says and I yell “No, not yet”. And I would end up screaming in my sleep and waking up half of my family.
But I wouldn’t tell my mom that. I couldn’t tell my mom that.
For a very long period of time what must have been years, I used to conjure up things that the lady from my dream was trying to say, coming up with self-made stories and filling my parents with dread of something that wasn’t there. That’s when I guess they made it a practice to make me recite prayers, certain anti-evil religious spells that gradually filled up the void in my mind that had housed that nightmare. They made sure I slept with an object of iron under my pillow, mostly a key.
“You still say your prayers at night, don’t you?” She inquired. Sometimes I wonder how parents know exactly which nerve to press and make you feel even worse. To be honest, no I wasn’t. But I didn’t say as much to her. My silence answered it for her.
“It was easier to make you understand what we thought was right when you younger. You would listen. Now? Well now, we expect you to understand and not being made to.” I didn’t know what to say just then. “I hope you haven’t -“ started my mother when I had to cut her short. I knew what was coming like those numerous other times. “No mum, I do believe in God”, I completed. She waited for more but I chose to remain quiet.
“You were three and a little more then” told my mother without meeting my eye, “when it started. You would wake up screaming and sweating in bed at nights”, she continued. She kept her eyes fixed at a point on the knife she was chopping the carrots with.
For a long time, she did not look up. She was afraid I would see the fear that had been a permanent tenant in her mind back from those years of my life. I gathered, whatever memories she had of me from back then, must be real terrible. I was still wondering how she knew I was spending sleepless nights, lying awake up to five or six when she threw something really unexpected and maybe, weird.
“Is it because of the books you read at bed-time?” and before I could defend myself she concluded, “Yes, that is it. How many times have I asked you to not read those sick murder and crime stories at night?” That’s when I realized that maybe she was trying to convince herself more than convincing me. I intervened. “Mum, I have just been busy and too exhausted lately. Nothing more. It’s not the books, I know. I will begin to pray. I promise”, I said. Now, I have never been an anti-God person. I do believe there is THE ALMIGHTY sitting up there. I do pray – Thanking God for everything gained. Mourning a little on every little loss. But lately, I haven’t been the-pray-before-you-go-to-sleep girl. But I will try. I assured her.
It was only later I would learn that my mother had found my diary on the bed-side table while I had slept over it. Only later I will find that the mad scribbling I have been doing for days, filling pages with the gory details of the nightmare were already read by her while I constructed a lie when she asked.
It made a lot of things clear.
Why I couldn’t find my diary as though it had disappeared in thin air?
Why did it have to appear in my bag when I left it at the bed-side table?
Why did mum have to come and sit with me at nights since the past week?
Why had she adopted a standard coming-home greeting – “How was your day? What did you do?”
Why did she have to come to check on me at nights when I pretended to be asleep?
Why did she call me on my phone frequently these days while at work?
and Why did she almost force me to tell her I was spending disturbed days and nights?
It explained to me the dreadful look in her eyes, the creases of concern on her face.
A rush of shame engulfed me for having lied to her. But I was quickly taken-over by rage for having my privacy breached. I didn’t know what to do. Should she have done what she did? Was she right in invading my little space like that? And was I the right person to decide that? Didn’t I lie to her?
I spent days of avoiding any possibility of the slightest conversation with her.
I avoided looking her in the eye for whatever brief moments our eyes met. She knew and I could see it etched on her face. It only made me feel worse. For not having control over myself, my emotions. For being tactless in handling my issues and concerns. For making my worries, hers.
But in the meanwhile I had also learnt that I had to mask my expressions well. I still don’t know what caused the nightmares to return but I promised myself of not letting her know about the growing panic and the constant state of dread.
Not showing the weariness in my eyes, the darkness caused by the limp figure covered in red while I struggle to live with the nightmares in the day.
© Asha Seth