ZEBRA

A Short Story

By Anjali HIregange

Dark circles, listlessness and a small knot in my stomach- the only symptoms I noted; or allowed myself to note. I knew it wasn’t a big deal; people had bigger problems to tackle on a daily basis. The bottom line however was- I couldn’t venture out of my comfy nest, I just could not make myself do it!

Mira called and called. Said she was worried sick. Why wasn’t I returning her calls? A very dramatic girl, Mira. I told her to take a chill pill. Besides she had a lot of traumatized patients to care for at the psycho-therapy place she was interning. I wasn’t willing to tell her yet. Mira, I said, just a low phase, I’ll get over it, I just need- ‘Space! Always the space!’ she almost screeched into the earpiece from the other end, triumphant. People like Mira revel in mothering others. I told her to call off her imminent wedding before she tired the unlucky guy out with her heavy-weight nagging. Then I cut the call before another dose of Mira-care (read rant) could be administered.

Granted, I was surly. But all I needed was- yes!!-space and time. Then I could revert back to my sugar and sunshine act. Right now I didn’t have the energy to pretend to be interested in Modi Sarkar or Somalia’s starving thousands. As long as I had a roof over my head, my I-Pod, and my bed I was set. Moan and mope sessions ready to commence. But it wasn’t going as well as expected, even by my standards. Mother’s cautious double knock on the door before she entered to ‘serve’ coffee jangled my nerves. Sister’s heavy metal music crashed its way through two closed doors and solid plaster to become a background drone I was just about resigning myself to. Brother was alright- he was hardly home, except for dinner and sleep. A feeling of being under constant surveillance interrupted a melancholia I intended to enjoy by thoroughly soaking it in. This thought was always rather incongruously accompanied by the image of that notoriously long-nosed queen, Cleopatra, dipping her lithe nudity in an immeasurably deep milk-bath. Indulging in self-pity is a requisite part of emotional recuperation, I reasoned with myself, which is what I am doing.

The Sorrows of Young Werther became my companion, but our relationship was short-lived because Werther commits suicide prematurely and the novel is really only a novella. My long-term companion was, of course, the other person in me, the white of my black chess set, the vociferous moralizer of my thoughts and actions, the point-maker and jouster plaguing me.

White’s appearance was delayed. I was grateful for it, but now that he was here, he informed me that he was to become a permanent fixture. I am going to occupy more space, slow and steady I’ll colour your thoughts and make them mine, he smiled, not unmockingly. Black, the reigning queen, was terribly upset but knew she must reconcile White if I was to remain sane. Black’s regality was a lie anyway and White’s appearance on the scene confirmed it. Black had to shed some of her hauteur, she wasn’t used to sharing, and she loved the compliments which were always in-coming as though in her hands she held a hot-line number. Good times those, I thought ruefully.

Everything was pretty confused and confusing for a while. I was in denial because I was used to Black. White had to settle down, Black had to make way, it was a mish-mash affair. I almost always woke up from the same dream: I am sauntering in a forest, enjoying the lush carpet of fern, the mahogany brown of thick-scarred tree-trunks, the exotically-winged butterflies, the play of sunlight. Suddenly I am grabbed from behind, gagged, and tied like a hunted animal to a stick that two tribal-looking men carry between themselves. Overcome by dread at the thought of becoming these people’s lunch I swoon and lose consciousness. When I wake up I am naked and my body has been painted over in white stripes. The place is swarming with tribal men and women with white stripes like mine, but nobody is paying special attention to me. I observe, startled, that I have become one of them! The mornings after were spent dealing with a bitter crunch in my chest, caused by the dream and its uncanny resemblance to the reality.

Today’s different though. I wake up to find my head and heart in a stable place. It’s finally time. I push my door open and Mother is arranging the breakfast things. Moring Ma, I say brightly. She looks up from her chore, shocked. You look so beautiful, darling! I cringe, but only slightly. It’s okay Ma I know I look hideous, but I don’t feel hideous and that’s what matters. Metallica never sounded more like a foundry in my life but from my sister’s perspective, it’s a whisper out here! I shake my head, laugh, and sigh. Please make me scrambled eggs, I’m starved, I tell Ma. Her face lights up and she rushes off to comply.

They’d taken the mirrors off the walls of my room following the doctor’s advice. Good thinking but now I’m ready to look, really look. I inhale deeply then exhale. Right. I walk into my parents’ room and the sight that greets me in the mirror is far less appalling from the monstrous mutations I’d taken to picturing. Two white patches, one spread across my left temple, the other half-covering my left cheek. One slivery patch upon the throat. My hands are done for though. Lots of little white fellows sprawled there. Probably forever I remind myself, but the thought no longer causes me pain. My clothing obscures the rest. My eyes I note with relief are still big, sparkly and charm-inducing. ‘Leucoderma’ I say to my reflection. I hadn’t dared say the word out loud before. My resume shall read post-graduate English student, female, aged 23, willing and able, don’t mind the spots.

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