This story is by Riana Alkaff and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
With the colorful microphone in my hand, I sang out of tune, “You’ve got me feeling emotions. Deeper than I’ve ever dreamed of!” Looking in the mirror, I could see my face turn red as I ran out of breath trying to reach Mariah’s high pitched voice. I giggled and composed myself once again as I tried to make my facial expressions synchronize with the lyrics of the song. I plumped down on my bed as the song ended thinking how much fun that was. I rolled over to Sony radio on my side, which was attached to the microphone, pressed rewind and listened to the recording I just sang and laughed out. I have been singing for the past half an hour. I decided to dance to Paula Abdul’s Cold Hearted Snake, trying to innovate my own dance moves, twirling around while looking in the mirror.
As I grew tired, I reached for a packet of chips on the side table and slumped crossed leg on the floor, at the foot of my queen sized bed. Facing my grey three door wardrobe, I pulled my radio to me and switched it to radio mode. I welcomed the unpredictability of the radio with its traffic and news updates as I stared out into space, munching on my chips.
There was a pile of cassettes under my side table, Mother had other mixed tapes I would play when I got bored of the other. Speaking of Mother, it must have been four hours since she last came into my room.
I was not in a mood to dance anymore. I dusted the flakes from the chips off my hands and leaned in towards the dressing table mirror next to my side table. Being an inch away from the mirror, I scrutinized my face intensely before I started to make funny faces.
Abruptly, I turned to my wardrobe and took out my inspiring collection of fairy tales. I was reading Rapunzel for the umpteenth time. I pretended that someone would climb up my window and rescue me. I would be taken to a wonderful place, a place where my boredom and worries would be replaced with happiness and love.
However, I was not in a tower but in a room of a flat, eleven stories high. I didn’t have long hair to pull anyone up. He could use the fireman’s ladder if he must. I was not a princess. I was a scrawny girl of ten years old, with curls just past my shoulders. A girl who believed in love and happy endings, who played pretend, sang, danced and read in her room during the school holidays. I dreaded the holidays while my friends were anticipating theirs eagerly. While there is an endless list of activities for my peers, my days were utterly mundane and solitary.
The walls in my room were painted white. There was a picture of a couple of fairies by a pond at moonlight framed next to my wardrobe. My dressing table was next to the window where plenty of natural light streamed in. My bed was covered with a bright yellow floral sheet with several red pillows.
I took my sticker book collection out of my wardrobe and started to flip through the pages. They were filled with random Mickey Mouse and Friends, Transformers, Care Bears and My Little Pony cartoon characters. Some of the stickers were glossy or matte while some were velvety. It was stimulating just to close my eyes and feel them. I had collected those stickers throughout my year in school. I recalled exchanging some with my school mates and the sight of them made me miss them even more.
Mother came into my room, beaming from ear to ear. She had a plate of sandwiches in her hands. My typical meal would be a sandwich of eggs and cheese or instant noodles. “Baby, I got you a bar of Violet Crumble as well.” She smiled as she placed them on my dressing table.” Thanks Ma.” I smiled unwillingly as I looked out to the hall. She had forgotten to close the door but she hadn’t notice, she already began rearranging my cassettes into a neat stack. The reek began to permeate my room.
Mother plumped my pillows and straightened my sheets before sitting on my bed. She quickly returned to the door and closed it once she realized it was ajar. My gaze shifted from the hall to her. She went back to my bed and sat on it, giving it a little tap signalling me to come sit next to her. Her hair too reeked of cigarette smoke. “What are you up to today?” She cheerfully asked me like a kindergarten teacher encouraging her students. I hugged her,” Nothing much, Ma, reading and lying around.” I shrugged. She didn’t wait for me to continue assuming our conversation was over. She stood up, her faced turned serious and she began the same sentences she would say every single time she was about to leave my room, “Do not open the door and leave this room, okay. Do you need anything? Batteries for your radio? Any snacks? Okay, seems like toiletries and snacks are stocked.” She began to smile again as she headed to leave the room and close the door behind her. She was brief every time she came into my room and once again, I was left to my own devices.
This time around, there were about four men and another woman in the hall. The woman looked younger than Mother. Nobody seemed to catch my eye or seemed curious as to what or who was behind that door. They look down, sitting in a circle, towards their fix, consumed and eager. Glazed eyes. Bongs, lighters, packs of cigarettes, needles, syringes and foils were chaotically placed on the floor. It was a buffet of sorts. I could hear Ian Gillan screaming,” Ahhhh ahhhh ahhh, ahhh ahhh ahhh,” at the top of his lungs to Child in Time from the stereo outside. There was a shirtless man sprawled out on the side. The hall was smoky and some of the smoke had entered my room when Mother opened the door. Mother has never explained to me why I could never leave my room. She would just make sure I had everything I need, that I am comfortable in my room. I had no reason to be elsewhere. I knew all along that Mother was doing something wrong. I just don’t know how or when the epiphany came to me.
Well, that is the reality of some people who choose to waste their precious lives. They are unaware of the unhappiness they cause others by their choices. I could never comprehend why they make such decisions with inconsideration to their health, jeopardising the wellbeing of their relationships and their freedom. How blinded they are when there’s so much to live for. Mother underestimates the memory of a child. While I feel content being in the state I am in, I know very well, she was not doing the right thing for me nor for her. She thinks that I am oblivious to my surroundings. Keeping me in the room is her way of protecting me from the truth of this agonising reality.
I put my ear to the door. I could hear men laughing with her. It was hard to decipher what they were saying. I heard someone puking. My face irked as I moved from the door and lied down on my bed. I tried to think of something else to do, to make myself happy and busy. Her face was in my head. She was smiling. Fulfilled from the hit she took. That dragon she chased. Her face changed, she was immensely frustrated and she became the most horrible person in the world. That happens when she could not take a hit for whatever reasons. I shuddered at that thought.
I found myself sitting up. Looking out of the window, I hoped the clouds would soothe my heart and mind. I made images out of the shapes of the clouds I saw. The confines of the room have grown on me. I have learned to be my own best friend and my imagination was my sole entertainer.
It started to get dark, I turned on the tungsten bulb. Bedtime makes me sad. I wish she would lay down beside me but I know she will not be emotionally or mentally there for me. It was hopelessly ironic. I count down the days to when school reopens, enthusiastic for genuine companionship and escape. With the radio volume low, I curled up and came aboard my train of thoughts. Longing for her to come round.
Will Mother ever get clean in her life? I say a prayer to God to give Mother self-realization and give us salvation as I drift off to sleep.