The Super Readers Club Shakespeare for Dummie
As the circle of light increases, so does the circumference of darkness around it.”
Everyone begins somewhere, has a point of origin, so to speak. Scientists say we are made of DNA, that we have an informational molecule that encodes our genetic instructions. The truth is that science has only scraped at the surface of what makes us work. We aren’t made of material; that would be too easy. The truth is – and anyone who has survived childhood already knows this – we are made of a moment.
You may spend your life replaying your moment. Or, if you’re like me, you may spend your life trying to put as much distance between it and yourself as you can. The story of your life is a bubble that stretches between the moment that made you and today.
I am unique in that my point of origin is my DNA and mine alone. Doomed by Nature Always, I would say. That doesn’t mean scientists and laboratories can do anything for me. The one thing that can help me right now is a 12-inch silver knife with a serrated blade, and it feels very cold against my thigh. My fingers are tense around the handle and it’s all I can do to keep my teeth from chattering.
If I lift my arm I can touch him. He is that close. He is well within the sweep of my arm. I imagine it in a flash, the sweet trajectory of my swing, before I push the thought away. My nerve-ends are firing blanks for everything they’re worth, and when I force my hand to unclench, pain shoots through my wrist. This is no time for fantasies. I should know better.
There’s only one of us this knife can take, and I’ve already made my choice. I raise it with both hands and then I look him in the eye. I don’t give much thought to philosophy as a general rule (despite being a literature student, with all the assigned reading that entails), yet I can all but feel the strain in that karmic bubble stretching from my moment to this one. Now that would make perfect sense. After all, is this not where my story ends?
They say your life flashes before your eyes when you are about to die. That did not happen to me. All I could see, ridiculous as it sounds, was my seventeen year-old self at Mumbai’s domestic airport. What if I had left the luggage trolley right there, stacked high with the last eleven years of my life, and got myself on another flight? What if I had simply walked down the road past the traffic lights and kept going?
Instead I waited for her to come get me and resisted the urge to wring my hands. Just then a stray gust plastered my t-shirt to my back, I inhaled a whiff of lavender, and there she was: Mary, not who I was expecting at all. I looked over her shoulder and then into her black eyes screwed up against the low rays of the setting sun. She had come alone.
‘Come, come, Alia,’ she said, ‘why you are standing here like that when car is waiting.’ I fumbled for my luggage, but a uniformed man hefted the bags and strode away. I followed him to a double-parked Hummer that seemed invisible to the traffic police milling everywhere in fluorescent vests. The medley of honking stopped the moment I pulled the door shut. In fact, the outside world had turned mute.
‘She wanted to come,’ Mary said a little too loudly. ‘But last minute things are coming up and I say to her, never mind, Mary will go. You don’t have to worry about anything.’
I turned from the press of highway traffic.
‘What last minute things?’
‘Preparations,’ Mary shifted in her seat, ‘generally.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘‘Generally.’ I see.’
I closed my eyes and let my head sink into the upholstery as I bit down the sarcasm. What was the point of taking this out on Mary? I wasn’t at all reassured by the internal musculature of this giant claw, but I had to admit it was the most comfortable ride I’d ever had. Or perhaps it was just the fatigue that hit after a sleepless night and a day of travel. Whichever the case, Mary shook me awake too soon after I had drifted off.
We were at the gates to the villa. My stepfather’s fans surged against the car from all sides trying to peer inside. You would think the high walls and thick gates would be enough of a hint, but oh no, every one of them seemed to think their patience would pay off this one glorious day. I shrank back in my seat grateful for the heavy tinting on the windows. Within minutes we had pulled in front of the building.
The villa, once we were in, was silent. We walked up the stone staircase and into the great hall that did not seem to have shrunken any with my growing taller. Mary did not switch on the lights, but a chandelier blazed toward the end of the room. The marble flooring carried its glow to us as though lit by a subterranean torch. Up the stairs, a left turn down the corridor, and we were in my room at last, my old room. And any anxiety I had at what it might evoke was dispelled. It was entirely made over, from the furniture to the walls.
I stared a little at the walls. They were white. Well, not plain white, but probably egg-shell white or old parchment white or something. If I’d paid any attention at all to the celebrated Mrs Frank’s froufrou art class at school, I might have known the difference. The only thing that mattered, though, was they weren’t – damn it, what was I thinking? I turned away quickly before the thought went scurrying along the wall like little fingers.
‘Home at last.’ I started at the frosted voice. Mary had returned with my mother, and for the heartbeat before she stepped into the room, I wondered if maybe we looked like sisters to Mary. The great beauty that separated us became obvious as she moved under the lights, and I found myself face to face with a reunion fantasy gone sour. I was seven when she sent me away, and with every year spent away from my mother I had altered the fantasy a little, so that, by the time I turned seventeen, I liked to think, I had reached a realistic sense of how it would be. This reception was even cooler than the most cynical parody I’d worked out.
Two polite air kisses—kiss kiss—and she stepped back to examine me.
‘You’ve grown taller.’
‘Yes,’ she said, ignoring my tone. ‘And thinner. Your face looks so different now, of course…’
‘How have you been?’
‘You know, it goes on.’
‘Yeah. Sure does.’ She hadn’t changed—not even one freaking eyelash—in ten years. How was that possible?
‘You must be tired. Why don’t you go wash up? We can talk in the morning. Mary has everything ready for you. I’ll send her back in.’
‘No, wait. I’ll go for just a quick wash. I’ll be out in a minute. Stay. Will you stay?’
She nodded and I darted into the bathroom before she could change her mind. I splashed some water over my face and tried to steady my breathing. I did not know if this emotion was love or hate, but seeing her again had swept away all my defences. After all these years of silence, she had called and I had come. It was as simple as that. When I came back out, she was still there seated in an armchair by the window. I sat across from her, with the villa’s wild roses tumbling out of a vase between us. We could have been posing for a still-life. What would an onlooker make of us? What did I make of us? I shivered.
Something in the air felt different. It had gotten colder. A warm sea breeze gusted through the French windows, but somewhere between passing the curtains and reaching us it stilled and turned bitter.
She stared out the windows into the night.
‘The roses are nice,’ I said. ‘Did Mary gather them from the back garden? All the pyjamas she sent me at school had flowers on them.’
‘Mary,’ she said.
I could see them now, the dark hollows under her eyes. It should have moved me to pity, but instead I felt sticky resentment at the politeness between us, at the strangers she had forced us to become by remaining here with my stepfather. I could not shake it off.
‘Yeah. At first I thought Mary used to get them stitched just for me.’ I chuckled—aiming for irony and missing. ‘Then I realised they all had different labels on them, so that couldn’t be it, could it? There must be a whole industry of floral nightwear out there. Most of the kids brought their own when they returned from vacations or got a bunch if their parents visited.’ I paused letting it sink in. ‘Lucky me, I had Mary, right?’
Her eyes were still turned to the window. She hadn’t blinked or moved in all this time. I was done baiting her. A ribbon of panic uncurled in my gut.
‘Didn’t the school have a uniform?’ She lifted the vase a few inches off the table.
‘Are you okay? Your eyes are red…you look a little…’‘Didn’t the school have a uniform?’ She repeated. ‘Didn’t the school…’
‘Yeah, yes, of course we did, but not at night. We wore pyjamas from home.’
Her other hand began to drum incessantly on the tabletop with long hard fingers. The room seemed to dim, and, fighting the irrational desire to duck under the table, I turned to look outside.
‘What are you staring at like that? What’s out there?’
Her fingers drummed harder in reply.
I could not see a thing beyond the glass. The room looked even dimmer in the reflection, but something darker still, something moth-like, seemed to coalesce over my mother’s armchair. It was indistinct, a dark bleed, a shadow, and yet I could not look away. I knew this stain somewhere in the back of my consciousness, and it knew me. I felt my throat dry out, and I jerked back around, my hand reaching out just as the room brightened with an electrical surge.