This story is by Aneesa Etwaroo and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
After what felt like millions of seconds of deafening silence, I buried my face into the darkness of my damp pillow, wishing that it would all go away. Tightly clutching its edges, my laborious breathing evolved into moans and then painful shrieks. This lasted for some time until I lifted my face from the tear-stained covers that hid dry, swollen eyes. Yet again, screaming all my pain and anger into the pillow was useless.
I’m still here, while the pain in my chest increased and the anger gnawed away at my soul. Staying any longer in this situation was beyond conceivable, but moving ahead was also inconceivable. Slowly and surely, after moments of trouble colliding together for what seemed felt like forever, I left behind the world I knew and found myself sucked into this cruel fate.
I grew up hearing about the dark otherworldly, but I never knew that its darkness could seep into mine. The only elixir to this pain was allowing my transient memories to flood me with a past once filled with sweetness.
My childhood days were teeming with stories of worlds quite unlike the one I inhabited. Words such as majesty and beauty were created to acknowledge the first of the worlds where every being would undoubtedly desire to dwell.
The awe of its natural elements, although magnificent, wasn’t its only distinguishing mark as a paradise. Instead, it was the reigning royals who traversed the land. They said that its king was the only light source whose presence was both terrifying and wonderful as the birth of the morning.
I heard that you could never get too close to his brilliance, nor be too far from his reach. The radiance of his light intertwined with your own life and reverberated a deep rhythmic peace that anchored you as a whole. It was a steady and reassuring oneness that was beyond your control.
Every longing of one’s heart seemed to fall on one note: to be wherever his presence was. His light would become yours, and this truth echoed through your soul. One could never even dare to wish for anything more.
In stark contrast to this utopia was the world created in the absence of his light. It was a world that ebbed and flowed with the natures of darkness. Life in this world got restless with every turn. Time itself trudged with despair and collided with the daily meaningless motions of humans burdened by depthless sentience.
The souls, being trapped in this darkness, could only now fathom that leaving behind a lifeless body to rot in the ground wouldn’t even begin to compare to life here. To live a life with eyes that will never comprehend the light across the other world was to die every day.
And here I am. I tread the world in between. No matter how often these narratives were retold, we children never ceased to be caught up in contrasting emotions. One moment, we were weighed down with despair, and in another, flying on the wings of wonder.
My family members always meticulously recited them, moving from one world to the next, each trying to outdo the other with their own embellished versions. They even ventured to suggest why one may end up in one world versus the other.
We were told that the feelings you harboured before you bid this world goodbye provided you with a glimpse of where you were headed. This sparked many questions from us children. What feelings? Which ones were good and which ones were bad? But the best part was the family commotion it incited. Each person wasn’t just vying for the best storyteller’s honorary title but also the position of sage within our not-so-little family.
However, our grandmother would always swiftly and ritualistically interrupt the rampant imaginations of young minds sucked into these stories. She consistently interjected with her favourite proverb, “Turtle nah want trouble mek he walk wit he house pon he back.” This West Indian creole proverb simply meant “always be prepared for trouble and disappointments.“
Even today, grown as I am, I never fully understood what the old woman meant. Was it her way of informing our tiny minds that breaths and thoughts were wasted on things that didn’t exist? Was that the disappointment? Maybe she believed that sharing this truth with us would serve as a protective shell against earthly life’s grievances.
Whatever it meant, she quickly pulled us all back down to earth, reminding us to embrace our own worlds and fully appreciate what we have now. Her shield against life’s emotional turmoils was to nurture a deep appreciation for every season, no matter how good or bad, which prepared her to face any disappointment. In her own mysterious way, she would calmly and wisely ease the family tension with that singular proverb that all the adult folks believed was a misfit to the unfolding chaotic scenario.
As I grew older, however, my interpretations of her words changed. Perhaps her misfit of a proverb was becoming wisdom for me. I wondered if she were simply preparing her grandchildren to walk the fine lines of life that would provide glimpses into the two contrasting worlds.
Is it possible that the disappointment she alluded to was seeing the traces of darkness in our own world and cowering in fear as we realized that all we had was our own finite knowledge to fight against it? Or perhaps it was seeing the hints of light that called out to our hearts but never being able to experience the fullness of its depth here on earth?
Whatever it was, her words prepared me to see that both worlds could exist in varying degrees in my own space, whether or not I was searching for it. I spent my childhood days wondering what it was like to inhabit each otherworldly, but now I wish I just knew how to occupy mine better. I would have preferred if she showed us how to fight in the tough times instead of making life look easy.
I would have given everything to bring her back so that she could teach me how to breathe when my emotions choked me. I wish I knew how to forgive and whether that was even enough to free me from my anger and despair.
The brunt of the pain inflicted on me would have been less if it came by the hands of an enemy rather than someone whom I trusted and embraced as a child. I wish that I saw her forgive her favourite son, and maybe I would have considered it.
Some argue that fate worse than death is living a life where you think in the afterlife you will see the light, only to end up in the gloomy dark, wishing in the very least to sink into yourself to hide from it all. Others argue it’s traversing this world with a permanent heart’s cry to see the true light you were made for.
But either way, I am not here to argue which fate is better or worse. I just know that if anyone found themselves caught in the same trap as I, they would see how easy it was to prefer every other option over enduring here.
As I drifted back into reality, I was gripped by pangs of pain and fear that ripped through my body again, mulling me apart. The somatic symptoms of my anger and resentment consumed me and worsened with every passing day.
I couldn’t seem to escape the haunting moments that brought my childhood innocence to an end. The memories were hidden deep within the corners of my heart until they resurfaced like wildfire as someone who knew him recounted her own abuse at his hands.
I wish that I had one last chance to tell granny that this was a disappointment I could have never prepared for. In the last few months, it was only memories of her words that breathed life into me, and I held onto them like a drowning man clutching straws.
But, it feels like only a little while before the straws submerge, taking me with it to the ocean depths. I shudder at the thought that if the stories were true, then the hatred and pain that clings to my soul may drag me away from the light I always yearned to see.
If only I knew where I was headed, then I wouldn’t clutch so tightly to my world as I do. So until then, I endure.