There was a buzz on Facebook and Twitter, 12th grade results were announced. I had been dreading this day since I gave my exams two months ago. My father called me, and he asked my roll number, he must have heard it somewhere. I was reluctant at first but I gave him my roll no #######.
I quickly went to my room upstairs, my heart was beating hard. My heart was falling, the beats were going low. I felt the weight of the world over my heart. I fell on my bed, staring at the blades of the fan. They seemed to be moving, maybe I was hallucinating I don’t know. I closed my eyes, flashes of me sitting on that wooden table where I gave my exams. The initials of my name that I had engraved with my pen when the question papers took time to arrive in the hall. Remembered the faces of my classmates, and those who I had never seen on tables next to me. Their faces were absent of smiles, probably they were tense about the expectations of their own families.
My biggest enemy. They weaved my dreams and never asked if I had a dream. Expectations to be better than my other cousins and become rich, Yet here I am tormented by existence and feelings. I turned over to the right side of the bed. Staring on the pattern on the Hand-woven Kashmiri carpet. I wondered how my mother would flaunt to her cousins and my cousins. My father doesn’t flaunt much, sometimes he doesn’t like me. Maybe he likes me but he never showed. But he is a darling of a father, he supports me but enforced his dream on me. To be an Engineer. I never wanted to be an Engineer. Physics, Chemistry and Maths are like those dark monsters that I am scared of when the lights go off. Crawling over my skin, spreading their venom inside of me.
I had a great feeling that I would fail my 12th Exams, but I didn’t want to believe it. You see, I have a weak heart, and I am very sensitive to things. I like to keep emotions inside of me, I seldom cry. My parents choose my clothes, the things I wear. I don’t like them honestly, but I don’t complain. I have learnt to shut my emotions coming on my tongue.
You see, my family and those who are aware of my existence say that I am a shy kid. But I am not shy, I am quiet. I have learnt to see people talk, scream and shout on each other. Their words are noise to me most of the time, and I like to observe their mouths move. Their teeth appearing when they laugh over a joke or if they are bitching about a person who is not present. Spit coming of their mouth like the rain falling on the tinned roof of our shed when they are shouting. Their nostrils appearing like the two holes of a rifle as if to shoot someone when they are angry. I have always found the sadness they talk of very pretentious, I know how sadness looks on a face. But they change their faces like the colour on the chameleon, going from one circumstance to another. That’s all I do.
Only two knocks on my door I wondered. No screaming in joy from my mother, she didn’t even tell my aunt or grandmother about the news. Mourning had taken over my heart.
Maybe she didn’t know how to unlock the keypad to dial my father’s number or maybe the battery had gone off. Maybe something had happened. I tried to distract myself.
I heard steps going downstairs. And the kitchen door opened late, I know it takes 7 steps to enter it and then there is a noise of the Door. But it took more than the time it usually takes.
Mourning once again entered my heart like that black smoke from a furnace. I got off from the bed, stood up. My knees were shaking, I opened the door slowly. So that nobody hears its sound. I slowly came down from the stairs on the tip of my toes. I took tiny steps to the kitchen door. I overheard my mother calling her parents and saying “He has to re-appear in only one subject”.
I had sudden pain in my chest, like an old rusted arrow had pierced my heart. I was falling, I couldn’t stand on my legs. The earth had just shook under my feet. I tried to hold the half-opened door of the bathroom. It couldn’t hold my weight, it banged the wall. The sound was so loud that my ear drums buzzed.
I quickly closed the door, and locked it from inside. I saw the mirror, and I wanted to see my reflection in it. But I hesitated. The pain in my chest had tightened the noose around my blood veins. I was breathless. I walked a step or two, turned right. And there I saw a boy, who used to look at the mirror whenever he was sad or happy. Mirror was his best friend. He used to make funny faces when sad, and the mirror cheered him up. He tried to have hairstyles of different Bollywood stars, and only mirror ever got to see it. He sometimes looked at the mirror and he could hear the mirror saying “You are so handsome”. He sometimes thought he was handsome, that boy ventured into streets with that thought. And when the prettiest girls of the block walked past him, they didn’t even look at him. The mirror had to lie sometimes. He walked the usual way, fast and head bowed down.
I have failed my exams he talked to the mirror, his eyes sunken. His eyes had lost the twinkle, sparkle of his innocence.The air was getting stale in the dark bathroom, the Muezzin had finished the Maghrib Azaan.
He waited for his Mother to come out from the kitchen, there were no noise of TV serials from the Kitchen. Mourning had spread in the house like the darkness outside. Door screeched, and his mother walked slowly like she was mourning the loss of a dead close person. She went upstairs possibly to deliver the news. He moved away from the mirror, seeing himself walk past. He paused, and he walked back. Looked himself again in the mirror. He came close to the mirror. Breathing. He looked himself in the mirror again, blurry image of himself. He raised his right hand, and drew a smile on it with his index finger. He took a step back and looked again. He felt short of breath, his knees getting weak. He screamed so loud, as if he was terrified of himself. He punched the mirror so hard that it broke into pieces with smears of his blood. Mirror was dead.
I ran away from the room, my mother had heard my scream. I ran to the door, and opened it with my hand quickly. I shut the door hard. The hinge pierced the bleeding wound in my hand, it tore my flesh on my fingers. My grandmother looked from the window to see possibly who banged the door so hard. She screamed my name, I took the slippers from the floor. Running barefoot and went outside the house.
I ran as fast as I could, people were staring at me. Blood was staining my black shirt, it wasn’t visible. Maybe the people were staring my hand while running fast. Maybe they saw me, that I existed among them in their society.
I kept running, until I was short of breath, until my lungs felt like frozen with the icy air. I reached the banks of a lake. For a moment, I did thought of drowning myself in its murky water. But weak hearts are cowards too.
I sat on the edge of the bank. Looking up the dark sky, their was no moon. “Perfect”. I thought of my father who would have to stop mentioning me to his friends and relatives. I thought of my mother who wouldn’t show off that I passed my exams to her neighbour friends or her bitchy relatives. The thought of me being at home, like a parasite on the money and care of my parents killed all the little spirit I had.
“78 Missed Calls”. Father, Mother, Uncle, Aunts, Cousins and Classmates had called. I opened my Facebook, “20 Wall posts and 7 messages”. I was never so popular to get so many notifications, I knew they were asking about my results. Deactivated my account.
It was getting cold, like frozen cold on a winter night. A dark night. I stood up and started walking. I saw some young guys smoking in a huddle in the park. I never smoked, I wondered if it would help. I checked my pockets, I had no money. I kept walking.
“Oh son of Bank Manager”, I kept walking when I heard this, he shouted again. I kept walking. I felt a hand over my shoulder. It was the physician from our block. He asked where I was going, I said home. He looked at my red face, and he saw my body shaking due to cold. “Why are you shaking?” he asked. I told him, it’s the cold. “Why are you not wearing phiren?” I shook his hand away but he caught hold of it. He held my hand tight, and I felt the pain of the wound on my fist. All this while it had become numb. I tried to shake his hand off and run away. But he slapped me hard. I wanted to kill that bastard. But I felt no strength. He dragged me to his clinic, the place I dreaded the most. Where I had to endure sufferings of stitches and stupid tests.It had medicine or kill pills as I called them on the rows of shelves. Since I always choked on them, I couldn’t swallow these pills. Hence the name.
“So how was your result?”. “I didn’t see yet”. He looked at me. I think he knew I had failed. He did the dressing on my hand, I left the shop. I walked past and I saw my father coming towards me. I wanted to run away, but there were people around. So I didn’t want to break the ‘ethics and standards of society’.
He took his arm out, and I put my hands up as to save myself from the beating he was about to give me. But he put his hands around my shoulders and walked with me. “Son, failing exams doesn’t mean you are a failure. Your success is determined by how you carry yourself in adversity not by the number of marks you have secured. Secure you life not your marks”. Well, honestly this relieved the state of mind I was in.
I came home, the whole family had assembled in our kitchen. Seems my failing in exam had created some unity. Nobody talked to me about exams, usual conversations about relatives and politics. But they stared at me while I was eating.
Somebody was knocking on the door, Dad went to see from the window. “Neighbour”. He came inside, and inquired “So beta, how many marks?”. I raised my head up and before I could say anything, uncle said “It couldn’t be seen, the server is down.”. “You should’ve told me, I would have seen it.” So he sat there for a while, this bribery addicted son of a bitch.
And then came the calls, same questions and answers.
I left the room. Saw my mother who was looking at me from the corner of her eye. I went upstairs, I opened the door of my room. Put my hands up for the lock in the dark. You get used to it. But it wasn’t there. I put the lights on. It was removed.
My cousin brother was told to sleep with me. “So suicide is cancelled tonight” I told myself.
Suddenly the door opened, and I closed my eyes to act as if I was asleep. It was my mother. Sometimes you know a person by their shadows or the sound of their steps. I knew it was her. She turned the lights on. She kept staring at me and looking at my hand. She was crying… Something in me moved too. I felt something melt.
Mother took out the prayer mat, and started praying. After she finished, she started moving her fingers on the rosary, chanting in a low voice the Quranic verses. She kept looking at me, now and then. I could see she was crying while praying for me. She came near me, her hands combing my hair. She blew some air on me, must be the prayer air.
She kept moving her fingers in my hair…
She left the room, giving me a last look. Door closed.
I thought to myself, why couldn’t the society value humans in us, not the amount of crammed up knowledge within? I wondered why a humanness has become a passe and degrees, marksheets are the trend. What is a society that treats its kids as machines, who are going to shoot things that raise the status? What is education if it doesn’t teach humanity and humility? What is the purpose of a Human society, that subjugate the Human over their frivolous expectations?
I told myself, that I wouldn’t be a fool to kill myself just because I am going to be treated like an illiterate person who is good for nothing. Who decides that I am good for nothing?
I told myself, what ever failure happens in life there is always a greater wisdom behind it. If I worry too much about failures, I would be a slave to them. Damn the expectations of a society, I am going to be a better human being. Anything else is a bonus.
Degrees, Marksheets, Grades don’t matter. Hikmah does.
“Verily, with hardship there is relief.” (Quran 94:6)