“I am a tree,” I tell them but they laugh. “But I am, I’m a tree, I’ve roots in this place, sunk deep into the earth.” If you move me, I’ll die.
“Do you realize how insane you sound,” they say. “This is no way to live. Stuck in your room all day long, not eating or drinking or meeting friends.”
“I work,” I tell them, “from home. It’s called telecommuting.”
“We’ve never seen you do anything. You don’t even comb your hair anymore. When was the last time you bathed?”
“Bathed?” I don’t know: yesterday, or a week before yesterday? “Why should that matter though?” And for whom should I clean up?
They crowd about me then, my uncles and aunts, near and distant cousins, and so-called friends — like a pack of hyenas too lazy to hunt for themselves, gleeful at the prospect of feasting off my ready despair.
“Now don’t be a fatalist,” says an aunt I don’t recall having. “Life’s beautiful, full of possibilities,” another cousin adds.
“Promise me,” they whisper in unison — like a haunting operatic chorus that underlines the rehearsed tragedy unfolding on stage — “you’ll go out: at least for a walk, at least to the shop, to get fresh groceries and milk and bread.”
“Hah,” booms a voice theatrical in its carriage. It’s Dad’s. I can tell without even parting the crowd. But they part anyways, unzipping to clear the line of view, as if a forest fire has blazed through them a tract where nothing grows or breathes.
He’s sitting in the club chair — Varun’s favorite — immaculately dressed as ever. Legs crossed; spotless leather boots reflecting the lit ceiling fan and the barred window boxing out the sky from my reach. A pipe smolders in his brown-spotted hand, the veins of which have been in attention mode for most of my lifetime. The smoke breaks against his sharp, navy blue suit, unable to withstand his fierce persona.
“Has he no regard for the dead?” I say to no one in particular.
“Stub that thing or leave my home,” I say to him. “It’s not yours to smoke in.” It’s mine.
He gets off the chair in a single, clean move and walks towards me in his kingly gait — the slow purposeful yet languid walk of a man who knows a carpet of decapitated heads awaits his every step.
He is here to collect me, isn’t he? To get me under his thumb once again and watch me wriggle and squirm as he sets down the rules in his controlled universe. Do as he says, be as he says. Well, this time, I say, no can do dad.
“For god’s sake,” he thunders, “or at least for your mother’s, stop being so dramatic — snap out of it already.”
He leans over; his palms rest on the armrests of my chair. His blood-shot eyes lock me in my place. When he’s angry, his nostrils don’t flare. His forehead splits into two and his upper lip curls ever so slightly that a stranger, an unwitting witness to his wrath, wouldn’t be able to spot it through the facade of whiskers that whiplash across his face.
His eyes water, like they’re watering now, albeit without the said curling of lips or splitting of the forehead. His nostrils seem to twitch though, as if someone, without warning, has powdered her nose in his presence.
“You snap out of it!” I snort into his hairy face.
Even through an intervention – this is what it is, an intervention, an act of showing one the mirror, pointing out the flaws of one’s ways — he has to overbear.
Or is it pity that he feels? For me?
I can see it in his eyes. The dark circles, the scabby lips, the pale lifeless face approaching a yellow tint, so typical of a prisoner banished from the company of sun for an eternity. But how can he expect me to do be any other way? A lifetime is but too insignificant a measure for loss and redemption. And it has only been three months. Three months and two weeks and five hours and six minutes. But who’s counting.
“If you don’t,” he is saying, “I’ll have no choice but to put down your dog.”
Bruno, how could I have forgotten him? Has he eaten, has he slept? Is he alive?
“Bruno,” I say. “Where is he?”
“At home,” he says, “your mother is taking care of him. Now be a good girl,” he whispers in my ears. His whiskers tickle my earlobe, and I have this intense desire to burst into giggles. I would have, if only I was a little girl. If only I was my father’s darling daughter and not a widow mourning a man he disapproved of through the few happy years of her married life.
“Be a good girl and come with me,” he says, straightening. “You can walk the dog, if you like.”
“But I’m a tree, Dad. I’ve roots sunk deep. I’ll die if I move out.” Don’t you understand how it is?
He is considering this, I can tell. I expect him to say, “fine, suit yourself. I’ll drop off the dog at your place. Let him piss on you for a change, not on my sofa or in my boots. You are, after all, his most favorite inanimate thing.”
But instead he takes a deep breath and holds out his spotted hands, strong and steady, like I am a two-year-old who’d follow him anywhere he goes.
“Come home, beta,” he says gently, “you have roots there, too.”