She sat there, her headphones blaring into her ears and the car’s air conditioner beating away the summer heat away from her body. She was there but her mind was scattered and dripping from her head. Like water in cupped hands she often felt like her sanity was flowing out. She tried to cup the hands tighter but her sanity was stubborn, it refused to stay.
She shook her head fiercely, like that would shake her off her thoughts and tried to concentrate on the music that was playing on full volume, making her eardrums ache. Every time the car pulled a little bit forward her heart jumped right into her throat and beat crazily. She wanted the traffic jam to last forever but the car moved another meter closer to the beautifully built mansion with tables flourishing with food, people awaiting her command, and the money of wealthy parents. The mansion which in a few minutes would swallow her, imprison her mind and body as it had been doing for the last 17 years. She was about to go inside what looked like a castle from the outward eye but was nothing more than a fancy dungeon.
She looked at the car’s sleek black and bullet proof body and wondered how she was shielded not only from danger but also from happiness. Her nails involuntarily dug into her thighs as she thought about the lonely, cold walls of that house, her footsteps that would echo in the complete emptiness. Tears clouded her vision as she thought about the table at dinner where all the chairs would be empty except one- the one she would be sitting on, cutting her food into particles with her knife because she wouldn’t have the appetite. She never did. The only reason she would be sitting there would be because her mother would have made that routine call telling her, “I’ll be late today. Have your dinner, okay? You have to stay healthy. I love you.”
But they both knew that staying healthy was just a fantasy for her. Nevertheless, she would obey the orders of this stranger she called Mother because she loved her in spite of the fact that she only heard her voice over a phone every day and occasionally saw her face appear in her room. So she loved every stranger which meant that she loved everyone in the world, for they were all strangers to her.
She could see the mansion now. It was like a Christmas gift box wrapped in sparkly paper but lacked the actual gift that would give the child joy. How ecstatic every vein in her body had been when she had gone on her monthly visits to her father. Not because she would meet him but because she would finally get to see how much the world had changed since she last saw it. She had drained her chauffeur out of verbal energy with the curiosity in her eyes- the eyes that resembled that of new born baby’s, still unacquainted with the world.
But that seemed like ages ago, almost like it never happened. Like a memory from a fairy tale she had dreamed of. Her fairy tale- being forced to go to school, attend boring lessons, complaining to friends about a dress she could not afford, eating stale food from the cafeteria, walking a long distance home while gossiping and giggling with friends. This fairy tale of hers was reality for those girls she could see clutching their stomachs from the blissful ache of laughter. She emptily smiled at them not knowing what to feel.
Suddenly someone tapped on the window across her seat. She immediately removed her headphones and stared at the amputated old man with ragged clothes begging for alms. She looked at the man as if he was a treasure she had been looking for. She reached into her pocket and brought out a Tk500 note and was about to offer it to the man when her chauffeur shoved it out of her hand and told her with lingering irritation underneath his voice “ The maximum amount you can give him is 20.” She blinked at this information but understood really well- less is more. She gave the man a Tk20 note instead and watched as the old man gave her a marvelous toothless smile and a gesture of blessing. She felt her heart expand more than it ever had. She grinned like an idiot.
For a long time after that she would replay that incident and wonder how that small Tk20 note was seeing more of the world and its inhabitants than she ever had and probably made the people who received it as happy as that old man had been.
So, she gave a beggar a Tk20 note every time she went on her visits. At times when she was not lucky enough to be stuck in traffic, she would slip a note through the window and let it fly towards the footpath. Then she would sit back and imagine its journey and came to the conclusion that it would have a better story to tell than she ever would. When she let the last note slip through the hospital window, she smiled at the end because she knew what she felt- happiness.