My sword is sharp; my stead is strong and my blows, they keep striking the enemy dead.

These, my dear, get me one day closer to coming home, to your open arms.

As the sun sets, again and again over this blood-soaked battle field, it is the memory of your tinkling anklets, the smell of jasmine that graces your dark hair, and the red of your kumkum that really keeps me alive.

The war torn days, they run into each other, stumbling over thoughts of you.

My men are here today, gone tomorrow. But I bear the weight of their untold stories. The futile prayers to keep them safe, that reach here too late, are louder than the clashing swords.

My love, these words of mine, etched in paper might not reach you soon enough.

Shed a tear for me, darling, cry for me.

For, I am the fool that abandoned the warmth of our hearth to fight a war; its meaning, long lost amongst the severed limbs of its soldiers.

He did not know if it was the click of the latch that jolted him awake. Or if he heard the click because he was already awake. All he knew was that, when the night was at its darkest, the latch on the door to his room had clicked as it opened.
The absolute darkness in the room terrified him. Someone had turned off the light in the hallway that kept his room safe from the night. There were no soft footsteps but he knew that he was not alone in his room.

He did not dare make a sound but he was sure that his heart was pounding loud enough to wake up everyone in the tiny flat. He lay frozen, tangled up in his bed sheet, waiting for whatever was coming to get him. His near blind eyes searched the darkness for any movement. Even the limp curtains, that he was sure covered the windows on the far side of the room, stayed invisible. He shivered as he imagined the cold hand that would reach for him any minute now.

This night reminded him of that dark night, so many years ago, when he had entered his tiny room intent on solving a problem. He had not cared enough to be quiet, that night. Armed with a pillow, he had done what his mother had asked him to do. Leela’s cries had pierced the night, followed by his wife wails. The little house that had been rid of a baby girl’s tears, woke up the neighborhood that night.

Now he lay in his lumpy bed and heard the darkness rustle as it drew closer. He tried, in vain, to get up and out of the bed. His limbs had betrayed him years ago, and his voice had been reduced to a hoarse whisper. He felt a whimper escape him as his fear soiled the bed beneath him.

He whispered a name as the thick fleshy hand, clutching a pillow, headed for his face.

Sajeev stood by his father’s burning pyre, his eyes tearing up from the heat. He remembered the other time that he had squirmed, from the flames being this close. He had been 6 years old, holding his father’s hand. He had stood watching his baby sister’s funeral pyre. Leela had been 2 days old when they had lost her. His father had stood then, where Sajeev stood now, impassively staring at the fire.

His mother had cried for years, after Leela died. She never said a word after the night her screams woke up the neighbors. She remain mute till the day a heart attack finally killed her. Luckily Sajeev, being out of town on business, had missed his mother’s funeral.

Growing up, he had for years, despised that baby girl who had stolen his happy family from him. His father bore his mother’s silence nonchalantly. He had kept up a constant chatter, ignoring her lack of responses and always taking her silence to mean that she agreed with whatever he said.

His father had been bed ridden for many years now. Sajeev had watched in dismay as the strong old man dwindled down to bones and whispers. He was too far gone and his suffering seemed constant. Sajeev’s family, as a result, remained impatiently shackled to their tiny 2 bedroom flat while his father lay wasting away in one of the bedrooms.

He grew tired of watching the fire that was still burning furiously. He turned to leave, reaching for his son’s hand. The boy’s 7 year old hand fit nicely into this thick fleshy one. As he walked away from the fire, he realized that he did not care enough anymore to wonder why his father, as he breathed his last, had whispered Leela’s name.

I packed my bags with trepidation and a few clothes. My mother, more confident of my cooking skills than I had ever given her reason to be, packed yet another sachet of her homemade masala. “Anu, are you sure you don’t want to take a mixie with you when you go?” she asked me again. I assured her that the kitchen appliance was the last thing on my list of worries. I then sent her on a quest to find my long forgotten pair of jeans. I had been in Kerala for over a year, and I could count on one hand the number of times I had decided that the day called for a pair of skin tight jeans. A comfy pair of Patiala bottoms, a loose top and a chiffon dupatta were always the better choice. The pair of jeans were finally unearthed, held at arm’s length to judge if I had had one too many biryanis to actually fit in them and stuffed in the suitcase a tad vehemently.

I was ready. With tickets, passport, worried parents and a heavier than allowed hand luggage, I had all the signs of flying to foreign lands. I had grudgingly left USA, the year before, after having stayed all my visa-allotted 6 years. Lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, had mandated that the likes of me had to be exiled for a year before being allowed back in the country. Now, a year later and armed with a brand new visa, I was headed to the country where, I had been sure, I belonged.

Chicago in February is, there is really no other way to put it, very cold. The sudden chill you feel in your bones is not the realization that your parents are no longer a 4 hour train ride away. It is the kind of deep freeze that you, living most of your life in a country straddling the tropics, couldn’t possibly fathom. The winter and its trials are painful but fleeting. Spring rolls around and you realize you have clean forgotten how deathly cold it had gotten mid-winter. Cold, white and relentless, that’s how Midwest winters often are.

A year had done nothing to the country I remembered. But I wasn’t quite the same person who had left its shores a year ago. I now missed home, terribly. It was an unsettling feeling, with all the subtlety of a tooth ache. I missed the drama that had been in every little corner of my day when I was back home. I missed the people who made me laugh, the people who drove me stark raving mad and even the ones who broke my heart a little at a time. I had forgotten how lonely it was to away.

The bland days, the sterile conversations, the dizzy sense of days running into each other finally drove me back. If I had given it a few more weeks, the sights and sounds of home, branded in my mind, would have dulled. Phone calls and Skype would have rubbed away the smell and the touch of my own. Mindless routine would have stupefied me enough to forget the noise, the crowds and the heat of where I belonged. My happy days would have soon filled with the ache of a long run down a trail, the smell of a just mowed lawn and the clink of a wine glass toasting a day well spent.

I chose not to let that happen. As I packed my bags, with the sachets of homemade masala only half empty, I couldn’t help but smile. I had come a long way, and now home beckoned. Home was where the dust covers my sandals-clad feet at the end of the day. It was where a crispy masala dosa is never too far away and the people who make my world brighter are right by my side.

These, to me, are just not worth trading in.

The handcuffs pinched her wrists when she tried to shift around in the backseat. A giggle now rose up in her throat as she watched the carnage outside. She saw her son’s hockey stick lie on the sidewalk, innocently. Movies had made shattering windshields seem so easy. It had taken her a few tries, but in the end, the glass on the snooty German car had been no match for her fury. The noisy cops did not take kindly to her kicking and screaming as they cuffed her.

"No one steals a parking spot from me, NO ONE!"

He lay on the cooling sand, unmoving. He pretended to be staring at the purple sky, in the grips of some deep thought. His prone form hinted at inebriation, real or imagined one couldn’t be sure. The stars hadn’t shown up at their haunts yet. A few months ago, in the clutches of pointless nostalgia, he had declared that the stars and the night sky of his homeland were decidedly different and infinitely better than the one he was forced to gaze at in the US. But now, watching the tardy stars light up the sky, he wasn’t sure that was entirely true. Even if it were true, he realized that the difference in the skies and the stars seemed terribly inconsequential. He had more immediate, larger worries to consume him.

The throngs of sunset gazers had found something less stunning to occupy their evening and had left the beach in his sole custody. The dispersing crowd had signaled the end of the duty for the overly cautious beach guards. The guards often wielded their whistle mercilessly, blowing it furiously at anyone daring to step out of line of the approved beach behavior. Right now, no one seemed to care that he lay there, lost in thought or maybe on the verge of a nap.

The famous lighthouse on the beach stood ignored like a still-hanging Christmas ornament in January. The red and white of the lighthouse only made it look more forlorn. He lay there and let himself be assaulted by the fumes of expensive fish cooking on the grill in the many restaurants on the shore. The smell of the fish swimming in the ocean, awaiting a similar fate as the one on dry land only added to the hopelessness of his repose.

He was sure his mother would smell the fish and the ocean on him. She had made him promise earlier in the week, to stay away from bodies of water. She had explained that the family astrologer thought that deep and unbridled sorrow awaited him if he did not stay away from large water bodies. He had nodded in uncomprehending silence and did not bother to argue. He was sure that the astrologers mastered the art of being fastidiously obtuse when they learnt how to match horoscopes for weddings.

The photographs his mother sent, starting early last year had often been fuzzy. It needed him to peer and squint at his laptop screen to discern anything more than the general idea of the girls in them. The backgrounds of these fuzzy photographs were comforting in their monotony. A few were easily identifiable tourist locations in the US. But most of them were shot against the backdrops of clapboard apartment complexes and parking lots. The same generic bushes, trees and foreign made cars became the canvas for the pictures of girls with coy smiles.

He had realized early that his mother favored a certain type of girls as her son’s future wife. They were the ones who wore a wraithlike aura like their ill-fitting clothes. Their faces were often fair and blemish free, arms reedy and thin, and their hair never shorter than shoulder length. He often thought about the heavy, short haired, dark skinned women whose fuzzy photographs and backdrops he would never see. His mother, like the mothers of all his friends expected a decision to be made in the time it takes to order at a drive-thru. All his life his mother assured him that she knew better than him, warning him often about the dangers of bad decisions. Alarmingly, at the threshold of the most important decision in his life, she had said “You know best, you decide!” And he had no choice but to decide on one fuzzy photograph.

The likes and dislikes of the chosen girl were just as indistinct to him as her photographs had been. They had had weeks of first awkward then platonic phone conversations. Her hobbies, his ambitions and their future had been clinically discussed. When an appropriate number of phone conversations had been reached, his mother had decided that it was time. Engagement was to happen the week of his return from the US, the wedding a couple of weeks after that. Jet-lagged and bleary eyed, he had been engaged to the girl the day he met her in person. Now, he lay on the beach wondering what the heck was going on.

He was clear headed enough to know that his situation had very little to do with him. He was helplessly bound by the pursuit for acceptance from a moody society. He could not do anything that would jeopardize the society approved, in-ostracized life where happiness was almost an afterthought. His mother needed him to stay the course. Letting her down would seem akin to murder, his overly dramatic mind solemnly whispered. It would be infinitely easier to go along with what his mother decided, he knew.

It wasn’t that he did not want to be married. He had no other girl on his mind either. But he was worried that he would be getting married just because he had nothing better to do. If that was not ridiculous, he did not know what was. But the alternative was to simply float along and try not to make a ripple. Now that seemed unimaginably stifling. He could almost see himself 5 years from now, doing exactly what he was doing right now, but with an EMI for the house, screaming child and an even-tempered wife for company. Was that what he wanted? Did he really want anything else?

This last year, he had watched with dismay the procession of his friends changing their Facebook statuses and profile pictures, each featuring a slice of their marital bliss. He wasn’t entirely sure that kind of happiness existed out of well-choreographed photo shoots. He knew what was coming next. In a couple of years, the smiling husband and wife in those photographs would morph into balding, thickening men accompanied by women who had sacrificed their former stick thin figures for the sake of a beaming child. He would have to grudgingly “like” those pictures on Facebook as well, a price to pay for keeping the friendships alive.

His friends dismissed his trepidations as cold feet and assured him that this was how it happened for them as well. They hardly knew the women they married and now look at them; they announced not noticing his growing alarm. They flaunted their domestic bliss as proof that this was the best decision they ever made. He wasn’t sure that they made any decisions either, but like they said, what did he know.

So he lay there confused and unmoving, seemingly waiting for a divine intervention. He would have appreciated anything that would take the decision out of his hands. The waves now seemed louder than when he had first gotten to the beach. He did not dare to look up at the water but he suspected that the water might be inching closer. Maybe the waves would close in, take him in and make the decision for him. But his brand of cowardice did not condone suicide, he realized.

That’s exactly what he was, he realized. A coward! If he was anything but, he would have dusted himself off and told his mother that this marriage could not happen. He would have acted like the adult that he was and figured out what it is that HE wanted to do. Not what his mother, the society or anyone else wanted him to do. There would be tears and unamendable rifts and he would have hurt people in the process. But at least his life would finally be his own, and all the tears his own making.

He sighed. He could never work himself up into frenzy with thoughts like these, he was sure. They all sounded like way too much work to him. Wouldn’t he rather continue to play the role of the obedient son than rock the boat? He was so comfortable in the way things were. And existential crises were so inconvenient. He wasn’t worried about being called a coward. Being a coward was what awarded an uncomplicated life anyway. There really were no decisions to be made here, was there? Everything that needed to be decided had already been decided by everyone around him. He simply needed to stay alive to see them realized.

He got up off the now cool sand and dusted himself. He had been saved a lifetime of tribulations and needless anguish by lying on the beach unmoving. An examined life was overrated, he thought as he nodded to himself and walked towards his car. He had been drifting placidly for as long as he could remember; wouldn’t it be foolish to change that now? The dark night seemed to sigh in assent as he drove away with the smell of the ocean in his hair. He felt a sense of relief that, the body of water notwithstanding, some great sorrow had been averted just in time.

The rain was unrelenting; the way monsoon often was in Kerala. The rhythm of rain on the rooftops remained a permanent soundtrack to your day for months. You loved the falling sheet of water from the relatively dry balconies, but the whole monsoon experience was quickly sullied by the logistics of getting to class semi dry or learning to skirt the deceptively deep puddles on the side of the road.
The memory of the damp pants, the never dry socks and the urge to hold up your open palm outside the safety of your umbrella, stayed fresh, long after the rains had disappeared.

Rain often snatched the steps of the college amphitheater and foots of trees from being the stage for lovers’ conversations. The stranded pairs had to make do with the stolen words in crowded corridors or with notes passed noiselessly during class.
For some, the falling rain turned into an excuse to share an umbrella. It was under one such shared umbrella that he first hummed that tune to her. She only half listened, concentrating instead on the heat of their touching forearms. This heat would remain with her the rest of the evening and long into the night. She would toss and turn in the night, remembering that fleeting sensation. The tune that he hummed, did not register until after he had left, after walking her to the hostel. That night, as the shared heat lay forgotten, haunting tune kept her awake.

When she met him after class the next morning, she pressed him about the tune under the umbrella. He feigned ignorance. There was no such tune, he told her amusedly. Her persistence combined with the dramatic and impossible threats of never speaking to him again, had him hum that tune for her again. It had no words yet, but words were perfunctory. At that moment in that silent corner of the corridor, in the presence of that magical tune, she fell irrevocably in love with him.

Some of her memories wantonly slipped into oblivion through the leaky walls of the box where they lived, never to be seen again. But other memories, they lay quietly in a quiet corner of that box refusing to leave; sometimes needing only the slightest nudge to bring them back to life. The memory of their walks, sharing an umbrella and so much more, was the kind that had refused to leave the leaky walled box.

She heard that tune once again, years later, on a summer night when her husband sat working on the sofa. She was in the kitchen, minding the stove that held the boiling results of a dinner thoughtlessly put together. The TV, the soundtrack of their marriage, stood forgotten watching the sofa. When she heard the tune play on the tv, she gazed instinctively out the kitchen window, expecting rain to blur the sights outside.

She walked out of the kitchen, remembering first to save the dinner from the flames that were plotting a ruin. The tv continued to sing the tune which brought with it a flood of memories and a hot rush of tears that threatened to spill everything. She sat on the sofa quietly, scheming to protect her unknowing husband from the aftermath of her cowardice.

The lady on the tv gushed about the movie, soon to be at your nearest cinemas, that had the most wonderful songs. The songs she promised, composed by this new music director, added color to the faded and overused stories that passed for screenplays these days. Her inane monologue thankfully changed to yet another verse of that tune.

He had chosen the words to her tune well. The tune sang about love, one that had blossomed when fed by the rains. The singer sang the words with the bewilderment of one who could not believe the beauty of the romance that had chanced on him. The song ended with the joy of reciprocated love and the hope of a life together. There was no mention of what came next.

The song had ended but it continued to ring in her ears, exactly like the first time she had heard it, under that umbrella. The tune that had been a monument to the love she had been sure she could not survive without, mocked her now. That tune had revealed a love that had been all consuming. But it had chosen to hide so many things from her. That tune had failed to prepare her for the harsh reality that followed the beautiful start of love. It chose to stay quiet about the pain of saying goodbye to him when the gates of the college closed behind them one last time. The tune had masked the hurt and disappointment in her father’s eyes when she explained why she could not marry the man he had chosen for her.

She flinched now, remembering the betrayal shining in eyes of the man she wanted to call her own, when she told that her family mattered more than his love and his tunes.

So she became the wife of another man and excelled at it without a complaint. She endured the seasons of the year, slowly erasing the taste of regret that every monsoon brought with it. Every year she pushed yet another memory out of her consciousness and another conversation with him ceased to exist for her. She now made new memories to fill that box with leaky walls. She learnt to live, noiselessly chafing at the chains her life had wrapped around her. But now, this memory that bubbled up to the surface shook her. She remembered the heat of his skin and shivered. Her husband, working and lost to the faceless clients on the other side of the world, knew nothing of her soundless turmoil.

Next morning, the rain was a blessing from the heat. She woke her husband, shocking him with an ask so foreign that he could not deny her. A tune flitted out of a parked car as they walked. She chose not to hear it. She listened instead to the lilt in the voice of her husband as he talked about nothing at all. She listened to the splash of the puddles as they decided to test their depth. She squirrelled away the music of her daughter’s laughter as she ran ahead, holding up her little palm up to the sky.

Today, she would choose to let an old tune and its memory disappear through the leaky walls. Today, she would walk with her family, not caring about a destination; sharing everything and an umbrella making a new memory that would last a lifetime.

I am in a restaurant, with French in its name, accompanied by my hapless parents. I am often faintly irritated by restaurants that serve only wholesome keralite food while calling themselves something completely foolish like “Le Bistro”. But that’s a discussion for another day.

I assure you that I am usually level headed, unless you get to enjoy my company when I am starving. If I am deprived of food, then all bets on good behavior are off. Close friends and family will vouch with worried looks that hunger indeed transforms me into, what seems to them, a twin headed monster with swords for words. My parents, resigned to having a daughter who can be happy only when her tummy is full, suggest I hit the buffet line, like right now!

I don’t see or hear anything until a few minutes have passed and a couple of idlis have found their way down my throat! My parents breathe a sigh of relief, another crisis seems to have been averted just in time.

It’s only then, after my one track mind had been mollified, that I pay attention to the sound flitting through the speakers of the restaurant. I realize that I am listening to Savage Garden wanting to love me truly, madly and more importantly, deeply. I am filled with intense self loathing as the song changes and I catch myself soundlessly and perfectly mouthing the words of another Savage Garden song, puke-inducingly called “I want you”.

It’s an instant flashback to 15 years ago, to that fat emo teenager who spent hours listening to the brand new Australian group who were surely going to change the face of pop music. I even remember shelling out the necessary 150 rupees to buy the Savage Garden cassette tape. When you know that this was a girl who was notorious in school and college for being supremely tight fisted, you begin to understand the import of this decision.

I shudder, thanking the Universe for my seemingly better taste in music these days. I suspect that re-watching High Fidelity last night seems to have made my already healthy contempt for bad music, worse.

I grudgingly realize, silently singing along to Savage Garden, who now wants to crash and burn, that nothing can be done about the bad songs that have already sneaked into my brain, left their mark and have refused to leave.

Some days, an image of a woman in a little black dress and a man with slicked back black hair in a suit, floats into my consciousness. In the dark bar, lit only by muted lamps, Dean Martin sings, as the cello helps. They sit, enjoying their drinks. They seem to be in no hurry to get anywhere, probably because there is nowhere they would rather be. They listen to Martin confirm their suspicions. They hold hands, they have love and so they aren’t “nobody” s anymore.
Its images like these that have caused me to be accused of wandering blissfully with my head in the clouds and of being a hopeless romantic. I believe that those accusations are not completely baseless. When the romantic sensibilities were handed out, I might have gone back for seconds.
I would be lying if I did not say that my wonderfully blasé existence is often perked with the thought of these candy floss-ish images. The unattainability of that romantic perfection is probably what keeps me hooked and drives me away at the same time. No matter how perfect the real life is, it really couldn’t match up to the sun, surf and guitar combination of Jack Johnson songs, could it? I don’t think so!
The people around us are tarnished by real life. The charm of Joe Fox or Kathleen Kelly is missing when you spot scenes from “You’ve Got Mail” happening to you. The carefree repartee is often spoiled by awkward pauses in real life and the unpredictability of a happy ending keeps the movie scenes from playing out the way they should.
When compromise, comfort and dependability rule our 30’s, I can’t help but wonder where the dreams of a drama that belongs in the life of Carrie Bradshaw would fit. Carrie had gushed to my muddled mind of my 20’s that she was looking for ridiculous, inconvenient love. That seemed to have stuck with me, with no sign of letting go. But my real life married friends tell me, with authority, that ridiculous and inconvenient love is just that. It’s not the kind of love that lasts a life time, they warn me. But what do they know; they haven’t seen it all play out in my head.
The complete lack of interest in having a life ruled by kitchen dramas, kids’ class schedules and unbreakable routines sometimes leads me to re-examine the boon of my romantic proclivities. The inevitability of these decidedly humdrum destinations dampens my enthusiasm in any budding real life romances. The images in my mind, free of unmet expectations beckon instead.
The struggle is exhausting, between what will be and what can be. When it gets to be too much, and realization that I may never find what I seek sets in, I don’t waste any time. I promptly lock my door, pull down the shades, light a candle, pour a glass of wine and let The Beatles hold my hand. I chose the image of the perfect love over the blemished real life one, any day.

P.S. References for the uninitiated -
Dean Martin- http://youtu.be/tdGU0NaSZ54
Jack Johnson - http://youtu.be/5U7rDh8x-Lw
You’ve got Mail- conversation awesomeness http://youtu.be/yRPwDJWhqis
An over dramatic Carrie Bradshaw -
http://youtu.be/2mKNOY7GJu4
The Beatles
http://youtu.be/6ghM11Kkjsc

Scene - Someone asked me, “If all your books were taken away from you and locked up for a month, what would you do?” I decided such a dramatic question warranted an equally dramatic answer.

My response!

A childhood memory swells up in me. My grandmother is pointing out how a few sparrows had made themselves home in the quiet corner of the outhouse of our family home. I remember her sing-song tone as I stared at the sparrows mesmerized, opening my mouth distractedly, as she fed me while spinning her yarn. She regaled me with stories of what the sparrows were up to in their little twig filled home.

I slept the nights with my grandmother on soft cotton mattresses those days, with an old sari of hers as a bedspread. She would lay next to me, stroke my hair and whisper stories of far-away kingdoms, till i slept. I don’t remember those wonderful stories, but I remember how I felt when I listened to them. Those magical stories were my first escape from whatever life crises’ over dramatic 5 year olds experience. My grandfather probably noticed the glazed look on my face as I listened to my grandmothers stories and realized what he had there. He handed me my first set of Amar Chitra Kathas and the rest, as they say in that totally clichéd usage, is history.

I discovered nooks and crannies in my childhood home and embarked on the journeys between those pages. I was a terrible playmate, often dropping off in the middle of the game to return to the lands that existed only in the shared imagination of the author of those books and me. It has been a love affair that has changed me in ways that I couldn’t even begin to take stock of.

If I had to live without my books for a month, I would pine like the broken hearted drama queens of the pages I love. I would miss the faraway lands and their stories, I would miss the people who are real to only the few like me who read them.

When I was done mourning, I would find people who shared my heartache and have long conversations about the pages that had changed us. I would write a few not so great stories to escape the locked in existence. I would dance long and often, so that I don’t miss the crinkle of the turning pages as I lay down in bed, waiting for sleep to take me. I would wait out the 30 days of exile, counting down to that wonderful day when the locks would open and I would be free to dream again.

The first time I met her, she was a sweet young thing of 16. She was not, what you would call, breathtakingly beautiful, but she exuded a sense of wounded vulnerability that was perfect for my needs.  Her nose was a little too small and her eyes set a little too wide apart. Her saving grace was her gorgeous straight golden hair that ended half way down her back. It was a bright day full of promises, the first day I met her. She was in the parking lot outside her school, in the car of a boy 2 years older than her. The boy in the car was himself embarking on the journey of a doomed life. His life would soon be peppered with arrests. He would be dead before he was 30 in a knife fight outside a biker bar somewhere in Ohio.

She had taken the joint from the boy and breathed it in deep. She had enjoyed the first strange tingling in her fingers and toes. She had felt a giggle rise up in her throat. She had squelched it with another deep hit. I tried out the space on her back and it seemed comfortable enough. I settled down for the ride of a lifetime. The smoke filled the car as she got the hang of smoking the joint. Her head had grown foggy with pleasure.

The fog of marijuana had cleared and she had reached for the poisons of the stronger kind. She was no longer the hesitantly beautiful child woman. The bags under her eyes and the short unruly mop of hair had aged her beyond her 20 years. Her mother had noticed that her nails had been bitten to the quick but had said nothing. Her father had averted his eyes and had refused to take in her stick thin scarred arms. Her parents’ denial had worked in my favor. We lived blissfully, from score to score. 

 Her back was now my permanent home. The pain of not scoring was easily forgotten every time we felt the golden pleasure of poison through our veins. An inopportune purchase had ended with us in trouble with the law. The handcuffs and the night in the jail had scared her. The judge, a snickering old man on a pedestal, had used a patronizing tone as he warned her against me. A 30 day rehab was ordered to fix her. We had been whisked off to that place where the broken souls were sent to be redeemed.

The rehab had been chaotic to say the least. They were many like me in there, fighting hard to stick with their reluctant rides. She and I had started to fight every day. She had listened closely to the quack that ran the group sessions. The quack had first-hand knowledge of my kind’s tricks and he taught her how to ignore my whispers. He had taught her how to be strong and not to give in to my lies and cajoling. The irony of her parents’ twice a week visit strengthening her resolve seemed to be lost on everyone but me.  I worried that my hold on her was slipping.

Some days, when she was especially vulnerable, I would sweet talk her into reliving the pleasure of the syringe. Those days she would be convinced that what she needed was to bust out of that stupid rehab. But before she could act on it, it would be again time for one of the group sessions. My hold on her had became positively shaky.

Our relationship was never the same again after that stay in the rehab. She listened patiently to my pleas to score some poison, to take one tiny hit, to go on one little ride. But she never gave in to my incessant whispers. She started frequenting church basements for meetings. She talked about me with anonymous strangers; her tone loving sometimes, but other times filled with barely concealed loathing. Lately, when I whispered, she fingered a chip in her purse. She had been awarded that chip for by those anonymous strangers for resisting me for many months. 

She had a family now. Her husband’s voice now seemed louder than my relentless pleadings. Her parents were always around now. They had the persistently nauseating look of things having worked out. The way she hugged them, it seemed like she had forgiven the perceived injustices of her childhood.  

One thing she and I knew for sure, she would never rid of me. I would always ride her back, whispering, pushing and fighting. Never mind the years, the many visits to church basements or quacks telling her differently. Someday, when the time was right, when she was wounded and vulnerable enough, she would listen to me and try that poison again. Till then, she would just have to fight me, one day at a time.