By Sabreen Ahmed
In the dark hour of the night when her baby slept peacefully, Runa listened to the sound of the ticking clock. It was the seventh consecutive night when sleep evaded her with incessant assumptions, questions and sounds crowding her vulnerable mind splitting it into multifarious bits. She held her 3-year-old tightly for comfort but only tears poured in. In one moment her baby appeared to wipe her tears, singing out a prayer for her, but that was an illusion as the innocent child tossed in her sleep. In the next instant Runa jumped out of her bed to have a glass of water in the kitchen. There was cooked food on the stove; her dinner was left untouched and her maid did not store the leftover in the fridge.
The following morning Runa had an early morning assignment at her office. She worked as an associate for a criminal lawyer in Guwahati and lived on rent at the Kharguli area, while her husband Sameer was posted in Moran as an agriculture officer. She called Sameer at the wee hours urging him to apply for leave for some days and be with her as she couldn’t cope with her insomnia and needed medical attention but feared to visit a psychiatrist alone. She didn’t wish to involve either of their parents with her sleepless trauma. Sameer didn’t seem to pay much attention and gave a plain enough solution of resigning from her job and settle down with him for the sake of their daughter Ruhi. Though their relation was formed on the edifice of trust, Sameer gradually regressed to a difficult partner continually finding fault with every habitual error of Runa. The constant abuses and fault-finding mainly with her blood relations took a serious toll on her mental well-being. She constantly sought for Sameer’s emotional support but he used harsh words and routinely belittled Runa. Yet she hopelessly loved him, as he cared for her in his own eccentric manner.
It was five in the morning. The sleepless Runa went to the bathroom to take an early bath to prepare for the ensuing day. Suddenly her sight caught the reflection of her face in the bathroom mirror. She tried to smile at her reflection but it came as a smirk. She observed a pale yellow tint in her teeth, and looked intently. She was aghast that it was the fourth day that she forgot to brush her teeth. She quickly filled her toothbrush with overflowing paste and brushed her teeth with a vengeance. She failed every time she attempted to smile and eventually burst out in a loud bout of tears. Her teenaged maid Majida who woke up at the noise of her howling cry knocked on the bathroom door sensing an imminent danger. Runa’s cry increased. She opened the shower to pacify herself but her tears remained stubbornly unstoppable. Finishing her bath and wrapping herself in a wet nighty, she came out of the bathroom. She had forgotten to take fresh clothes inside. Majida quickly brought her fresh clothes and she dressed in them.
Seeing her motionless on the sofa, Majida cooked khidchiri for breakfast and maggi for Ruhi’s tiffin. Runa was lost in her own world of barbed wires set by family and tradition; every time she crossed one, another would prick her and devastate her. Ruhi got down from bed in the meantime and came and sat on her lap. It was already 7.30 am. Ruhi’s playschool started at 8.30, while she had her appointment at 9.00 am at her Guwahati Club office. With the face of a zombie she sped up to get Ruhi ready and feed her breakfast but her hands seemed to shake. Ruhi, a pliant and complying child, somehow sensed her mother’s dilemma and went straight to Majida to get ready for school. Runa combed her hair and tried to be presentable. She looked very ill. She felt suddenly so drained out that she couldn’t make herself move out of the door and asked Majida to drop Ruhi. With an expressionless face, Majida plainly refused. Runa had no other choice. Gathering her confidence, she started her scooty, placed Ruhi safely in the front and drove. Reaching her school which was less than a kilometre away, she felt relieved that Ruhi was not hurt and would be safe for the next couple of hours.
As she turned her scooty towards her office, her hands began to shake again. She simply couldn’t go and make herself a laughing stock at the office by revealing her weak mental state. She turned her scooty towards the nearest nursing home and planned to get a check-up done. She went to the OPD section and consulted a general practitioner who gave her some mild tranquilizers and recommended a psychiatric counselling. She recollected her thoughts for the moment and called her employer for a leave of a month citing a gynaecological condition. She just couldn’t tell him that she was not mentally sound to work. She forgot about her scooty and walked deliriously to the gate of Ruhi’s school. Sitting in the waiting area she started weeping incessantly to the surprise of all those present there. She felt chocked and closed her eyes deep to hold back her tears.
She remembered her shivering breakdown on her nuptial night at the proximity of a man unknown to her. But his propensity to know her dreams, his passionate appeal to lead her towards her ambitious flight, to live her life in unbounded trails to reach her goals made him more intimate to her than her most intimate thought. She merged with him in an uncovered, uninhibited totality. And now the same man acts like a stranger to her professional needs. At the drop of a hat, or at the slightest threat from a client who took advantage of his not being in town, Sameer asked her to resign from her job. The arguments of the last few months with Sameer churned in her thoughts like a ceaseless storm and she was totally drained out.
People asked her questions but she had nothing to say; the more they tried to console her, the more apprehensive she became. She couldn’t trust anyone. She still sobbed as she quickly grabbed Ruhi and ran away from the spot with breathless speed. Suddenly she remembered that she had left behind her scooty near the chemist’s shop and rushed to get it.
The scooty still stood where she had parked it. Little Ruhi didn’t understand her mother’s behaviour and wailed to go to her favourite restaurant right opposite the lane where they lived. Runa complied with Ruhi’s wish, though hunger and thirst had evaded her. She ordered momos for both of them and Ruhi sumptuously finished her fill, while Runa still didn’t touch her food. The generous waiter packed the stuff and gave her the bill. Runa had forgotten all maths and ransacked her bag for the exact amount of notes. The homely waiter asked her to pay later as they were regulars in the café. Ruhi pulled her mother towards the scooty.
Somehow they managed to reach home. Majida had finished her daily chores and relaxed in front of the TV. Runa went straight to her bed and covered herself with a blanket. It was the onset of spring in Guwahati and yet she shivered with cold. Majida changed Ruhi and made her sleep in the other room in their two-bedroom house. Runa tried hard to sleep after popping a pill in her almost empty stomach and got transported to a hallucinated reverie. She lost track of time.
After some time she heard Ruhi giggling in the other room and she rushed to find that Sameer had returned home. He came with a week’s leave to sort out matters. His homecoming worsened her situation. She suddenly became aggressive with Majida complaining about the mess around the house, while Ruhi pulled away Majida to take her for her evening walk. Sameer could sense trouble. It was clear to him that Runa was out of her mind. He brought her close to him and kissed her, as he soothed her ruffled hair. But Runa was motionless like a dried-up log. He asked her to dress up for an outing and dinner at the best resort in the city. Runa had already lost track of time and her mind became a tabula rasa like that of a child, a clean slate where one can imprint anything. Little Ruhi back from her walk was dressed up in her finery in no time and Majida too was overdressed for the occasion. Runa simply wrapped herself in a crumpled salwar kameez.
Sameer was tired after the long journey, yet he chose to drive down to a resort downhill. Runa was silent all the way. They reached the destination and Ruhi was taken to the children’s park by Majida, leaving Runa alone, while Sameer went to the washroom. Suddenly Runa started screaming at a man who took pictures of the blooming flowers suspecting him to be a spy. Embarrassed by her behaviour, Sameer left the spot immediately without food and ordered the others to follow him. In an impulse, he drove straight to his parent’s home at Jagiroad making Runa even more insecure about her condition. She was compelled to comply. Ruhi was happy with the sudden decision to go to her granny and Majida was happier as she would steal a chance of going to her own home near Sameer’s parental house. But Runa felt worse. She began hearing sounds. Abuses heaped on her by her in-laws swirled in her mind as deafening sounds. As they reached the house the sounds became louder and she started shivering in fright and went straight to her bedroom. Her hallucination was complete. Sameer had found peace as Ruhi was placed at his mother’s care.
Around midnight Runa’s screams and wails alarmed the neighbours and somebody in the house decided that she should be given away to her parents or else their reputation would be tarnished. Sameer behaved like a fool at the command of his mother. Instead of taking her for immediate medical care at some psychiatrist’s chamber in the city, he drove the car at midnight to dump her at her home at a village in Morigaon. He waited indefinitely with a crude nonchalance for an unanticipated future from where there was no escape. He didn’t return to his mother’s house and waited till the morning. The leftover sleeping pills that he fed her to stabilize the worsening condition were of no use. She screamed incessantly and shouted at Sameer in the receding hours of the night. With the break of dawn her eerie sounds within and outside became uncontrollable.
A clueless and uncertain Sameer drove her again back to the city for medical check-up, along with a hoard of her relatives in a train of three cars. After routine tests and brain MRI, her psychotic trauma was confirmed and she was sent back to her parents for complete rest till the next check-up. The medicines worked and the doctor’s initial doubts about Paranoid Schizophrenia were proven wrong. In a couple of days, life came back to normal and the dreaded dilemma of depression gradually declined. Runa joined her work and took charge of her daughter’s care, while Sameer returned to status quo. But the stigma of the momentary schizophrenic reality that she lived for a few nights remained with her for the remaining life.
Dr. Sabreen Ahmed (Ph.D., JNU), Assistant Professor in English, Nowgong College, Nagaon, Assam, India. Email: Sabreen54321@gmail.com
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