I don’t have friends.
I have companions. I have acquaintances. I talk to people around me, as much as decency dictates I must. I make eye contact when necessary. But I don’t have friends.
I often flip through my pristine address book, staring at the meticulously written names and numbers till my vision blurs them into tiny black maggots wriggling across the page. For all they are worth, they might as well be maggots. Not a single one tethered to a feeling, an emotion, a memory, as I imagine they would be if I had friends. What would ensue, I wonder, if I suddenly dialed one, endured the shrill rings, the harsh click of the receiver, and heard the hazy, confused voice filter through the other end? The notion is laughable.
I have sat, unnoticed and unobtrusive, in a room, observing these foreign ties. A peculiar light glimmers in the eye, when a friend enters the room. An involuntary smile unfolds across the face. The body relaxes, unwinds like a coiled spring. It is a warmth, a security of presence. It is a haven that I have never provided anyone, nor has been provided me.
To me, the world is nothing but eyes. Glassy orbs, reflecting me in cold, hard light. A mirror, never a window. And I say all of this with a twinge of bitterness, as if the world is unfair to me. As of I have made every effort to weave myself into the lives of others.
I am not part of a woven fabric, I am the spool forgotten on the cutting floor. If I am tugged free, no great tapestry will unravel. The world will remain undisturbed, as pristine as the day I entered the world.
It’s easier to think that way. People are nothing more than grains of sand on a beach, and I shall come and go, leaving the landscape pristine and unmarred. It is ideal. Just as people can bestow happiness on one another, they can bring pain, guilt, grief. Why should I leave any scars? What right do I have?
Nobody will ever look up and smile when I enter the room, nor will they yearn for my return when I leave. And upon my nameless tombstone, only wild weeds and thistles will grow.
The hallways were the brightest shade of magenta, sticky and crunchy under my bare feet. They echoed with the sound of her sugary laughter.
"Don’t be afraid." Her hand caught mine. It was warm and soft, in such contrast with my own, clammy, cold, calloused. We walked past bright doorways, lined with twisted peppermint poles. She leaned towards me, giving me the full tour in hushed, conspiratorial whispers. "Guests aren’t allowed", she said, squeezing my hand with barely hidden excitement. I silently wondered why an exception would be made for the likes of me, but outside of these walls, the ground was frozen and icy and I had no interest in returning to face the blizzard.
Silently she pushed open a rich brown door, mahogany, I thought, but the sweet-scented smudges on her fingers said otherwise. She pressed them against my lips. “When is the last you ate chocolate?” Her eyes danced. I couldn’t possibly dredge up a memory, but the taste on my tongue was heady and familiar. The walls were slathered in caramel, painted on in thick and dripping layers. The smell of smoke and sugar whirled around me and through me. This place ousted the memories of weak coal fire and thin ratty sheets from my head, for here I was royal and this castle was mine to consume and enjoy.
"Do you like it?" Once again she took my hand, and this time I clasped it firmly. Her warmth was mine to share now. Glittering icicles of spun sugar clung to the walls of the room; I reached up and snapped off one for myself, relishing the sweet delicate texture under my teeth. She turned and smiled at me. In the flickering flames, her pearly teeth shimmered as if they were confections themselves, and I was overtaken with the urge to taste them, and take them for myself as well. The room spun, but still I could see at the far wall four bed posts.
The sheets were not nearly as soft as her skin, and her mouth was sweeter than I could have imagined. Her lips were cherries and her cheeks gingerbread and her hair was woven silk and chocolate.
I consumed her as we lay and she ran through my veins like sugar and flame. And all around us grew hotter and hotter, till my lungs burned and I grasped at her with need and desperation. Her skin was searing, but I did not let go. I wanted this mark, I wanted this fire.
Around me, the walls dripped, shedding their candy coat to reveal the barren stone walls underneath. And my queen, she melted too, in the sweltering heat. I could only gasp and watch, feeling my skin char and burn. Under the sugar, her teeth were black and rotten, and curved in a smile that once was enchanting. Her twisted fingers ran across my skin, peeling it away from the bone, with the same lust that I felt minutes ago.
"Did you enjoy your stay?" I writhed in agony, poisoned by her, burning alive. How clever, to mask the scent of rotting flesh on her breath with chocolate and caramel. How utterly clever, and how foolish of me to be blind to it. To be lured into this fantasy and expect to escape. To think I was royalty, If only for a moment. Then the dream coiled back around my throat like an adder. A snake glittering like a jewel with sugar on its fangs.
My sweet girl, my loving girl, my innocent girl made of clay.
She is slight in build, her body curling and winding like a growing vine as it digs its roots and finds its strength. She is young, too young for such heavy emotions, too young for the tear tracks etched onto her amber cheeks. Her eyes are brown, dull, blunt, framed by short lashes. The sandy skin of her body is marked, scarred, evidence of all she’s endured. Talons dragged down her back. Pointed fingers. Imprints of hard hands holding her wrists. She is too soft, too soft for the world’s rough treatment.
I fear what lies in store for you with the break of coming day.
Yet when she loves, she loves with a ferocity deeper than love. Her emotion grows swiftly, strongly. She wants and she needs and she holds and she clings, and as she grows closer and closer, the impressions begin to form. This little clay girl molds herself to the ones she loves, like pillars, gritty, stone pillars. And as they scratch at the skin of her hands as she holds them, still she continues. She thinks the pain, the sharp twinges, the dull aches, is necessary for the joy, because she has never known it another way.
I know not if you have always been this way.
If she clung to fire, she would stand and stay even as her eyes drooped and her hair melted and her skin dripped to the ground. And if she loved a statue of ice, she would let the frost creep over her skin in rivulets, till she too stood as still and silent as her companion.
With your soft young heart that you so happily give away.
Finally, she succumbs and departs, limping away, nursing her scabbed skin, her charred fingers, her numb toes. In some quiet garden, she would sit and smell the scent of freshly upturned earth and be at peace, until a rose, lusty and heavy-handed, winks at her in his scarlet glory. He would kiss her bruised hand and touch her face gently with his soft petals. And as they embrace, once more, she would endure the prick of his thorns, and smile.
My sweet girl, my loving girl, my innocent girl made of clay,
I fear what lies in store for you with the break of coming day.
I know not if you have always been this way,
With your soft young heart that you so happily give away.
Her first layer was the coat of armor. For days and days, I hammered away at the burnished steel, till at once, the metal gave way with a sharp crack and fell away off her still frame. Then the thick lambskin cloak, tough vellum, hardy even under the teeth of my blade. Underneath, black lace, with spiders and dragons and snakes woven into the fabric, hissing, spitting, clawing, biting. The fearsome images told a frightful story of nature and wrath, winding along her torso. Then her skin, cold and colorless in death. It melted away like the delicate paper of a moth’s wing, crushed and powdery.
Perhaps I expected to find scrolls, telling her story, carefully recording her words and deeds for generations to pore over. Or instead, gears and springs of shining gold and silver, proving once and for all that her determination and persistence was truly inhuman. Anything, I wanted to find anything. Jewels, winking at me from within the bones. Flowers, vines winding around her ribs and up towards the light of her eyes. Any sign of her singularity, her unique self, her shimmering spirit. I prayed to see the light of the heavens emanating from her soul, wound about her spine, blossoming into her skull. Maybe I even hoped to see hellfire, to see the heat that fueled her rage and strength, drove her screaming into battle, fighting in a shining whirl of blades, ending in bloody victory.
What did my trembling fingers touch instead?
Ash. Just black dust, shifting at the slightest breath of wind, fluttering away in spirals and disappearing into nothing. That’s all I found within this creature of such passion, such victory. The remains of a once-passionate, once-victorious human. Because after all, she was, in the end, just a human. A human who could perish, who could decay, who could be erased. Who could be thrown to the winds and be forgotten in a day, a month, a year.
The wind shifted, and as I watched, she left me on a breeze, headed east for the sea, leaving behind an empty shell and silence. No pounding of armies. No screech of steel against steel. No cries for mercy and death. Silence and an empty shell. And I was empty indeed.
All you can see staring back at you are cold, dead eyes. The lights above you are bright, blinding. The floor rumbles and crumbles away, the small plot of ground upon which you stand becoming a pedestal. The pastel walls peel away to reveal the bare facade of an abandoned theater, unearthly in its former glory. You stand on a cracked stage, the yellowing papers in your hands telling a story much older than you, and much more important.
Your classmates, once fresh, full of sly smiles and sharp tongues, are colorless. As you watch with a growing sickness, their skin dessicates, shrinking over the bone, pulling their faces taut and pinched. With a horrible tearing sound, the leather peels away, revealing the rotting meat underneath. And the metamorphosis is not yet over. Muscles dissolve into ash and swirl away, fading into the dark background. Soon, all the dilapidated seats are occupied by skeletons, uncanny grins, glassy stares.
The words on your paper have begun to move. They wriggle and twitch like maggots. The stagnant space of the room is slowly drowned with the sound of applause. The dead are clapping for your silent speech. The symphony of clicks, bone against bone, rings in your ears.The crescendo eventually reaches such a peak that your screams are lost in the incessant waves.
And when you open your eyes again, the spectacle is gone. The classroom has reformed, and the students resurrected.
But the eyes remain. The cold, dead eyes.
So, let’s talk. Let’s talk about someone the world just loves to talk about. He’s this kid from Canada who likes to sing a bit. And his name is Justin Bieber.
What I’ve noticed is, there’s a hell of a lot of polarity in people’s opinions of him. There’s a section of humanity that seems to be salivating over him 24/7. And there’s the other section which hates him and wishes the earth would open up and eat him alive. Now where exactly is the problem in that?
Let’s go back to the year of 2008, when Bieber was first discovered. Or rather, let’s go back even further, to when he was a kid in the 90’s. He probably grew up listening to the same kind of bands I did, being a ‘94 baby. *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, etc. Boy bands that catered to an audience of preteen to teenage girls. Being someone who loves singing and does it relatively well, he probably dreamed of doing the same thing one day. Fast-forward to 2008, when he is discovered, by luck, on Youtube, as a result of videos his mother had been posting of his singing, and young Justin (13 at the time) must have thought it was a dream come true. And wasn’t it? To sign a record deal with Usher? Start recording music with a big-name record company?
Soon after his first few songs were released, people immediately began bashing him, calling him out on his music, his voice, his look. So let’s touch on all of these. His music doesn’t sound much different from the rest of the pop music that plays incessantly on the radio these days. My thought is, if you don’t like a single song of his, you probably don’t like any of the Top 40 songs that play alongside them. At the time of his first album release, Justin was, say, 14. Sure, his voice was pretty damn high. But I challenge you to find a 13-year-old male singer who doesn’t sound like a prepubescent. Still excusable. And in case it has gone unnoticed, his voice is definitely deeper in his latest songs. Sounds like a tried-and-true case of puberty, kiddos. And then there’s his look: the “Bieber hair”, the ear piercings, tight jeans, “kicks”, studded jackets, etc. It’s an interesting look overall. But rewinding to the 90’s, during the heyday of boy bands, let’s be honest, they wore some pretty ridiculous shit. You remember the ramen hair? Not cute, Justin Timberlake. But no one heaped that much hate on them for following the style of their particular generation. And no one called them out on their masculinity for it.
So that brings me to my next point: it’s become a pretty popular insult to call Justin Bieber a girl, or point out his lack of penis. I’ve already covered the detail of his voice; repeat: it has gotten deeper. But it’s become pretty fashionable to insult men by calling them women. That’s a whole argument altogether, but let’s consider how Justin sees this: he’s a boy who grew up seeing other boys make music for young girls and be praised for it, so he grows up and does the same, and is absolutely thrown under the bus for it. So a lot of it may actually stem from jealousy (understandably so, apparently, Forbes named him the third most powerful celebrity in the world and earned about $55 million dollars in the past year). But he caters to an audience, just like any artist, and that audience pays up.
Essentially, what I’m trying to say is, if you’re going to hate a celebrity, have a valid reason other than jumping on the bandwagon. So you don’t like Justin Bieber’s music? A-OK with me, that’s a matter of personal taste. No one requires you to be a rabid fangirl. I personally don’t like the majority of his songs. But what exactly is your problem with Justin himself? Even if you don’t like his music, respect the artist. And if calling him an artist seems a bit superlative, at the very least, respect the kid. Keep in mind, most of this shit has been flung at a kid who has legally been a minor until about 9 months ago. I have no doubt he’s had to develop some pretty tough skin to get through this business.
Shuddering. Shivering. Cold and broken on the side of the road. Strangers walk past me, their silent feet passing before my face. I dare not look up and see someone that I know and see the shame in their eyes at my crime. My crime. I awoke this morning, unknowing that I would be a criminal today. For stepping onto the wrong bus. For catching the eye of the wrong man. But I struggle understand now, my body aching, how it was my fault.
Flashes of light scream into my eyes. Harsh smells burn my skin like acid. Rough touch is like fire on my face. Days and months and years, I have laid here on this hospital bed, feeling the pain of generations. It unites me with the past. To know that thousands of my sisters have felt the same burns. We are one in our suffering.
Bruises stripe my skin and beads of blood pattern the stark white linen underneath my unmoving body. My eyes are swollen shut, but I can see. I can see the memories and they will never leave me. In all the time I have left, that is what I will see. Locked inside my mind, trapped inside this body bitter with bruises.
But I do not feel just pain. I feel anger. It courses through me, renting my mind apart with the injustice. I will see them hang, whether it is in front of millions or on the feverish stage of my own mind. Because I deserve justice. I will die to be the example to start a revolution, for all the crimes that go unnoticed. I will die for the silent sisters.
RIP - 23-year-old student from Delhi