Number Twelve, Grim Old Place

Hello Sir. Welcome to my humble abode. I call this my Alcove of Insanity, but this carefully put together flophouse has been known by other names across time. The first guest I invited here called it my Den of Delirium. The one I locked in for a really long time called it my Cave of Craziness. As you can see, I have a type. I only invite guests who can suitably alliterate my absurdity. Welcome. Make yourself at home. Feet off the table, please.

I beg your pardon, you want to hear about the infamous prisoner? What a harsh term you use. Kind shrinks would call it Stockholm Syndrome. The Hospitality industry labels him a guest. I call it love. You say potato, I say potahto. What’s in a name?

But yes, the one you speak of has remained here for a long time. I can smell him in every nook and cranny of my cranium. You see, once someone makes your head their home, you can never quite forget what they smell like. Does biology have anything to do with it? I suppose the mind can be trained to forget but the body is a brutal betrayer. It remembers. Memories can be pulled out of scars like books from a well stocked library. I have every conceivable encyclopedia written about him in the library I built here, the Library of Lunacy.

I don’t understand why people call this an obsession. Or worse, accuse me of overly romanticizing a bland reality. I swear I’m not lying, I only locked him up in here because he was perfect in every conceivable dimension where love existed. The first time I saw him, it was as they say- something out of a movie. Not in the way you’re thinking, no. The path to love is never so formulaic. It was a movie in the way my eyes first perceived him. Like a director training a film lens, I saw him from a distance. Long shot. But a clear focus on him, just him. Everything else was background noise. Unimportant mise-en-scène. And then, with each step I took towards this object of focus, sharper details began to emerge. His gait. His smile that greeted me from afar. His gaze that fixed me in my spot, so that I was momentarily unable to move. And then as we stood facing each other, I heard a thunder rumble, even though it was a clear, sunny day. I looked into his eyes and I knew. I knew that I had known him already. I knew that he knew the million thoughts racing through my head at that precise moment and I knew that he was able to keep up with every single one of them.

The Door of Delusion was shut. The condominium of pandemonium had been locked for years. But he smiled a slow, languid smile, taking his time to stretch his mouth while he drank in every detail about me. No one had looked at me that way. No one had ever knocked on the door. He did. He politely asked if he could enter. If there was room for a wandering traveler like himself at my Madness Motel. How could I turn such a sweet request down? He strode in before I could even comprehend his presence, his being, how fate could place someone like him in my path – me, a mere mortal, an unworthy creature. Surely there must be a mistake. Are you sure you want to rest here? There are better lodgings down the road. Better reviews, better management. Everything here is just a mess, I’m so sorry. I’m severely understaffed and inexperienced.

It’s lovely, he said. The most charming little inn I’ve ever encountered, he said. He checked in. He never left.

We’re closed for business now, good sir. It’s a lot of work looking after the ghosts of your past. He’s a very demanding guest. Well, he’s more of a tenant now, considering he lives here all the time. As you can see, the place has fallen into disrepair once more. I cannot maintain it, it’s too expensive and I make no profits off his rent.

What went wrong, you ask? I don’t know, sir. It was as though the thunder I heard when we first met was a forewarning to the inevitable storm. I was too caught up in the illusion of the sunny weather, I thought the sonic blast signalling my doom was a mistake.

Anyway, sorry for this digression. It’s important to understand the history of this Hotel. I hope it’s clear now. He’s no prisoner. He’s merely a squatter. I’m not keeping him here against his will, he stays here despite the damages he’s caused me. I’ve lost everything trying to keep this patron happy. Athithi Devo Bhava. I worship my most valued guest at the Temple of Twaddle and Tripe. Would you like to see him?

Here he is, see how the room automatically lights up when he walks in? I don’t know who designed it that way, I really must commend the decorator when I find out who she is. What is it? You can’t see him? Ah, this is advanced technology sir. You see, he is like a mirage. He only appears when you are dying of thirst in an arid desert and are desperately craving respite from the unforgiving heat. You can only see him if you truly believe he exists. So, close your eyes, take a deep breath and believe. Wholeheartedly. Without a shred of doubt – know it, he’s real. He lives here. Inside my House of Hallucinations.

I don’t know why you still can’t see him. I swear he is right in front of me. Look at him, that’s not a face you’d ever forget. No, I’m not making this up for attention. I told you, he only shows himself to those who are willing to believe.

You’re leaving already sir? I’m sorry you couldn’t experience our main attraction. Some other time, perhaps. Visit during Happy Hours. He can be viewed most clearly then. After sundown, he usually retreats into the shadows. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this short tour of Hotel Hysteria. Please come again and give us a good review on Yelp!




I am trapped. My head is filled with echoes of an alien voice, calling out to me in six hundred different directions. My fingers are stiff, my muscles have forgotten their choreographed routine with which I’d rhythmically tap out sentences. How can I ease out the idea that’s congealed in my knuckles? I hold the pen fractions of a lifetime away from paper. I cannot connect the two, I cannot translate the gibberish cacophony in my brain into a coherent tune. I cannot write.

I lay my head to rest on a pillow of procrastination and dream of a tomorrow where I’ve made lists and checked them twice. I pull over my head a blanket of regrets, of promises made to an eight year old friend of mine who lived in my mirror. I wake up long after the morning is over and leave my bed unmade. I have got doing nothing boiled down to a routine. I cannot write.

How can I explain to you that I cannot move because I’m weighed down by several incomplete ideas? I dream of weaving tapestries of rich variety, with intricate details of many adventures with djinns and pirates in the neighborhood where I grew up. I wake up remembering only my fall from the magic carpet. Someone else slammed the brakes but only I slowed down. Now, I cannot write.

My books gather dust, and cobwebs of unfinished poems adorn the corners of my bookshelves. I begin a sentence in a fresh notebook gifted to me by a friend whose nose I hope to describe in all its sensory glory, but my ink has been dry since she set sail to foreign shores. I’m sorry, dearest friend. Of your sniffer and its powers, I cannot write.

I cannot write of him, whose letters I’ve long since burned. I know I can reach out and hold his hand in a land locked away from time, but I have forgotten the correct way to fall down the rabbit hole. I flew second to the right and straight on till morning, but I wound up right where I began. Later, I remember that I outgrew Neverland many moons ago.

I swallow coffee to rekindle the dying fires of my creative motivations. No fuel does the trick. Must I contact higher spirits? Must I breathe in the enchanted fumes of another man’s dried up imagination? My muse is locked in a cage of my own design. I gaze at his tattered frame through the bars. The key was his smile; his laughter freed us from our handcuffs. But he lies comatose in a shadowy corner, where no light can reach him. Or me. We cannot write.

I cannot express how I feel when I hear a blaring alarm jolt me awake into another dimension. I cannot talk of the knot in my stomach, the tangle of thorns I swallowed accidentally-on-purpose. How do I begin when I cannot see where I will end? The words are trapped in my throat and I spit them out in the wrong order. I fight and fight but I cannot write. I have thoughts and ideas and dreams and images in my mind but je ne peux pas écrire!

I look down at my toolbox. I’ve got 26 different devices to mend this problem. I pick all at once. A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy God of inspiration. An existential dread creeps up my skin and tattoos itself onto my fingers. The wounds are raw and I cannot write.

Six hundred and twenty three words to tell you that I have no words to offer. Six hundred and twenty three ways to say that I have absolutely nothing to say.

I cannot write.

The Fault in Our Scars

There is nothing beautiful about her pain. To find something romantic, something out of the ordinary, the least you expect is for that something to be tangible. For it to be visible enough for you to direct your opinion of beauty towards. Her pain was so completely incoherent, it couldn’t even be spelled, couldn’t be articulated, broken down, defined in any way. It was an illogical, entangled jumble at the bottom of her backpack. She plugged it in to her ears and played music. A melody without a sensible rhythm; a wail of agony cloaked in the garb of a tune. There is nothing harmonious about depression.

Her whole life was a long race towards nothing and away from everything. Running away from anger, running away from abuse, running away from shame, running away from anguish, running towards love and running away from love. And despite all that running, she couldn’t find a way to escape from herself.

She is a very rational human being, she insists. She dutifully types in her experience on to a search engine. The internet taught her everything; surely it held answers her tiny, pigeon holed, clearly ill brain couldn’t comprehend.

“Why do I feel worthless?” Enter. “What do you call the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that won’t go away?” Enter.  “Why do I vomit nothing at 3 am?” Enter. “Why does nobody love me?” Enter. “Is it possible to die of a broken heart?” Enter. “Why is everything and everyone I ever encounter so messed up?” Enter. “Who will cry when I die?” Enter. “Symptoms of clinical depression and/or anxiety.” Backspace.

Buzzfeed tells her she’s a type A personality. Bookmark.

She tries to find a cure. In a book. In a teacup. In a park. In  a new city. In a new continent. In her phone. In social media. In a movie. In a person. In three people. In everyone. In everything. In anything. But not herself.

As she idly scrubs a tear soaked shirt in the kitchen sink, she recalls that the first time she heard the term ‘depression’, it was when her mother described her aunt’s emotional breakdown upon losing her husband. She was nine. And for ten more years, she was convinced that the only reason one was allowed to legitimise one’s sadness in this manner was if one lost someone dear to them.

When she turned 19, she realised that death wasn’t the only way to lose someone dear.

When she fell into a swirling vortex of an unending series of destructive and harmful thoughts, someone she loved told her to quit fancying herself an Alice; this was no rabbit hole, this was her being a drama queen. Stop overthinking and over analysing. Count your blessings, name them one by one. You have food on your plate, a whole and unbroken family, a sound education, a decent number of friends and acquaintances.

“I’m tired all the time.” Jeez, stop working so much.
“I am losing weight.” You young girls eat like squirrels just to look hot.
“I throw up everything I eat.” A model’s solution for a model figure, ha?
“I am losing hair.” Try this shampoo, it changed my life!
“My head aches all the time.” You’re probably not sleeping. Or maybe you have sinusitis?
“I sleep all the time or not at all.” You young folks can’t take your eyes off your screens long enough to get some shut-eye. Who are you texting till 2 am?
“Everything hurts.” You are not depressed, maybe you’re PMSing?

The blood between her legs had to be the reason for the pain between her temples. Else, she wasn’t allowed to lay claim on an illness she was too privileged and blessed to experience. Did you know, that for every minute you whine about being low, some kid dies in Africa and some poor lady is raped in India? Sorry, she didn’t know, she apologises profusely for existing.

Her father built her a roof to shelter her from danger. Her mother tucked her in to a warm bed at night to protect her from the demons underneath her bed. They forgot they couldn’t shut the windows of her mind, they failed to slay the demons in her soul.

She lived out a quarter of a lifetime before she fell off the edge of a cliff; before she realised her fall wasn’t from slipping in his eyes but from a cold, calculated push.

She was wrong when she said her pain couldn’t be visualised. Her spread eagle, blood soaked body was a tableau of rich depth. But she was right, there was nothing beautiful about it.

Pain is a bloody corpse, lying dead on a street, full of people that pass by without a glance. Pain is me banging on your door, begging you to pick me, choose me, love me. Pain is throwing up at the stroke of the midnight hour and at the crack of dawn. Pain is bleeding and eating and over working and sleeping and staying awake and cutting and crying and binge drinking till you can’t remember your own name, but clearly seeing your pain float at the bottom of a glass. Pain is the throbbing in your skull, pain is the ache in your arms and stomach and toes. Pain is a ghost ripping your lungs out from your chest.

Pain is you looking me in the eye and telling me that my pain is not real.

Hello, goodbye.

To whom this may not concern,

I am going to stop this game of hide and seek we’ve been playing, topple the 3-D chess set, cut the dangling puppet strings of heart and mind and body. I am retiring from the sport of will he-won’t he-why won’t he? 

In my head, today, I celebrate the anniversary of our entertaining, torturous mind-and-body games. It began with a greeting that was made while my impulsive fingers disobeyed rational orders; my blood was thinned with sinister spirits and my heart and stomach seemed to have gotten entangled when you smiled at me. I broke the rules of this game you’re so adept at by letting you trespass into my temple of obsessions. I’m sorry, you were all I had been dreaming of since I first realised that my golden imagination couldn’t be translated into the language of my mundane world. The faint glow you exuded should have tipped me off. You were always out of place in my mindscape, too removed from a world I struggled to breathe in. I failed to see this then, and I’ve fallen too badly and bruised my knees too much to carry on this charade; to pretend you haven’t hurt me. 

This is the last ode I sing to you. The final time I write to you. The penultimate expression of my pain, the terminal point of the train of thoughts in which you’ve been travelling for over a year now. I have to delete your name from my memory. I must stop letting your soul enter the words that I love to animate. I will no longer let your voice dictate my rhythms. I won’t write of you again. This is the last time I sing your song. 

I wish I could say I wouldn’t miss you. I wish I could forget how your clear eyes reflected all my unspoken desires. I wish I could stop reliving every single moment we’ve shared since that fateful night our planets turned to look at each other. There was an eclipse that night, the pervading darkness should have been a warning of the dangers to come. But you struck a match against my skin, you lit a flame that will continue to burn as long as I am.

I need to say these things today. Say them crudely, let out my raw passions, free my caged emotions. No clever turn of phrase to disguise my true feelings for you. No wordplay to mask my pain. No suprising combination of letters to decode a hidden meaning. There’s nothing barely concealed about this address. You’re in it and on it and it, through and through. 

I fell for the skill with which you spun gold out of straw-like clichés. I loved your smile that held naughty secrets from two decades ago. I wanted to freeze your gaze towards my own: nothing imperfect about that moment when we first locked eyes and my heart disappeared into a void (it has been missing since).

But I can’t go on. There’s nothing whimsical about crying myself to sleep at night. Nothing beautiful about the nightmares that wake me up before the crack of a dawn without you. Nothing magical about suffocating at 2 am while reading words penned by your trembling hands. You’ve rejected my love even in worlds where rainbows outnumber the stars. And so, I choose to burn you out of the one world in which I hold all power. This world: where I use 26 threads to weave 2600 patterns. 

In this messed up world we’ve created, you’re the omniscient one. You know it all, control it all. So you are fully aware of my reasons for penning this. You’ve let me down in a way I didn’t anticipate, despite all the anguish you’ve put me through. You didn’t think me worthy even of a small kindness that would have brightened my day. You know what you’ve done and not done and almost done but not quite; and I can’t make excuses for you any longer. This last straw you pulled cannot be spun into gold.

I know I’ll laugh at this version of myself a year from now. I know a familiar tune may reach my ears and ache my heart in a way only the inflections of your voice can. I know I will move on from this fantasy on to another, more brutal one. Your cruelty will seem like sweet nectar some day because the sting will be long forgotten. Pain will replace pain. My pyromaniac soul will seek another fire to quench my masochistic thirst. 

I’ve enjoyed being tormented by you. Perhaps in another lifetime, I may have the pleasure of having my heart broken by you. Again.

With love and longing,

Yours, never. 

What to expect when you’re not expecting love.

I tried to steel my heart so you wouldn’t steal my heart. I could never get you, so I had to forget you.

I didn’t board your flight of fantasy because my emotional baggage weighed more than fifteen kilos. I looked both ways before crossing the one-way street of unrequited love; and was still run over by a truck of apathy driven by your drunken sweet nothings. Girls like me who aren’t athletic shouldn’t fall for players like you.

I was told courage can be found in liquid form. I was told ecstasy could be swallowed whole. I saw how much easier it was to live in denial than to live in an empty home.

Expert opinion on the matter suggested I cut you out from every avenue of communication; but I couldn’t find any scissors to go through with it. There was no manual on how to forget words whispered one careless night, no laser to erase those memories I tattooed on to the folds of my brain. I asked the pharmacist for paracetamol to relieve me of this delirium you put my body in; maybe overdosing on Tylenol would help get rid of the ache in my chest from having to see you even when you weren’t in front of me.

How many sheep must I count before you stop skipping over and over the fence in my head? Freud held no answers for why I dreamt about you nearly every night till I was awoken by the sweet embrace of a reality in which you weren’t real. When I knocked on your door, it displayed no sign warning me of the dangers that lay within. When you held your hand out for mine to hold, no software warned me that this site was dangerous. I ignored the voice that asked me if I was sure I wished to proceed. I double-clicked yes.

I searched high and low, when I was high and low, for answers to explain why our time together was so, too. No library held an Oxford Encyclopaedia of Delusion, to illustrate why I was unsure if you even happened to me, or if I made you up from the fabric of my dreams, as a companion for my own wretched loneliness.

How can I logically interpret why it was my heart and not hers that you chose to toy with, to toss back and forth first enthusiastically — then abandon in favour of a new plaything? How do I wash off the dust of our shared past from my body? What detergent must I use to rid my clothes of the lingering traces of your existence in my life? Your smell clings to my white t-shirt, fresh like the pain it demands, stubborn like your refusal to acknowledge my presence.

I stood outside your window in the rain, asking you to love me. I held up a boom-box and played all your favourite songs. You didn’t Say Anything.

I have scratched my skin raw trying to get you out from underneath it. I’ve done everything to forget anything. I screamed at the universe, begging for a way to delete you from my life. I attempted to murder your memory.

You only died the day you came alive on paper.

Hermit Heart.

A single blade of grass poking its head out of the barren earth. A desolate leaf falling to the ground.

There are two kinds of loneliness. She had been both, at different times; she had been both at once. A hopeful individuality competed with an ache in her chest she couldn’t shake off no matter how hard she danced. Freedom came with a price tag called companionship and she was swimming in debt.

She had never been part of a ‘we’. There is no ‘me’ in ‘team’ but her upside-down world turned it into an anagram for her; so that she happily ate chicken while riding solo.

There were empty spaces in between her fingers that yearned for foreign skin to fill the gaps. Her books had no roses in between them. She used the ticket stub of the first movie she went to all by herself to mark the pages of her favourite book. She complained about her mundane days to the songbirds. She wrote a letter about her victories and mailed it to the Sun.

The air was cold when she was abandoned on the edge of a cliff by someone she once gave her heart to. She wrapped herself in a blanket of soon to be forgotten memories of October skies and wrote a love poem to the wind. Winter kept her warm.

She met only a few others who threatened to spill their charm into her cupped palms. She drank in just one. His eyes were mossy and she slipped, heels over head. They spoke a language no one else understood, a perfect syzygy. They met in uncharted lands, in between the dust of faraway memories. They froze time with their words and painted the lilies red. A bubbling fountain of joy and whispered promises erupted in their lungs and spread into their stomachs. They waltzed together, bare feet on the grass in the moonlight. But when morning came, he was gone. She watched her heart flutter in the wind — like a crumpled piece of paper on which she once wrote a half-baked rhyme and threw away without a second glance.

Now, she walks alone on foreign shores. She slathers her thirsty skin with a manufactured limerence. She falls in love with two dimensional people who have other names in the three dimensional world. She pines for a boy she once saw at the grocery store. She falls for words that lose all meaning when their speaker swipes left. She shops online for butterflies in her belly. She develops feelings for every moving creature, every static figurine with a human face and the heart of a machine.

Her worst enemy is the girl who greets her in the mirror. She talks about her nemesis to her best friend, who wears her skin and shares her brain. They stay in on weekends and read together. They sleep in on Sundays and watch the same animated movie she has been watching since she was seven.

Time was a slow-action poison; but time healed her incurable cancer. She wanted to be a part of someone but she also wants to be apart from someone.

She loves being alone; but she hates being lonely.

I think, therefore you are.

There were eight hundred and three scenarios I’d imagined, occasions where I’d see you again; watch you running towards me, by my side, past me, around me, through me, behind me. Eight hundred and three. I’d counted patiently, woven each one with rich detail, from how I’d look to how you’d appear, down to the dialogues we’d exchange in each case: replete with witty quips, playful banter, carefully crafted body language, subtle flirtation, overt passive aggression. There were eight hundred and three ways in which we’d meet once again. Because once wasn’t enough.

Fate dropped you into my cupped palms and gave me one chance to look at you, one chance to see your magnetic eyes, behold your body, memorize the lines of your face and the warmth of your November smile. I had just one opportunity to gaze at the way your pupils dilated ever so slightly when it scrutinized my frame. Once, only once did I see your smile directed my way. Just one time I heard you laugh at something my mind created and spelled out for your sole pleasure. That one time on a rainy Friday morning, my heart stopped as the clock froze at 8:03 am — your hands melting into mine, your fingers finding a home between my own soft digits, your name sealing itself on to my tender heart. Once wasn’t enough to hear you croon songs of love, songs of pain, songs for me and songs by you. Merely one time I’d been lucky enough to have you as my own, have you in front of me, have you concentrate all your energies towards me, have you give me all your attention and time and devotion. You were whole only once. One only once. Now you’re split, broken into eight hundred and three fragments.

Eight hundred different ways in which your eyes sparkle and three in which they dull. Eight hundred and three ways in which I hear your unfamiliar voice addressed to my unworthy ears, and just as many ways in which my mind records every word you say for careful scrutiny of meaning in posterity.

My brain is an empty vessel of mediocrity and simple thoughts; you are the only idea it elevates to a realm of imagination that requires an overuse of every one of its nerves. You make me nervous. The signals that originate in the limbic system spread towards my limbs, tingling my toes and fluttering my fingers. My heart thumps a tune that sounds not unlike your voice. Every fiber of my being has known you without ever knowing you.

There are eight hundred and three sides to me you haven’t seen and eight hundred and three ways in which I let you in to my museum of madness. In eight hundred ways I win in this game you started, in two I concede defeat and in my favourite one, the eighth hundred and third one, it’s a tie and everyone wins.

Your face is inches away from mine. There’s an unexpected quake in the distance but Mother Earth smiles. You invite me to swim in your eyes that aren’t pools of blue but hues of a colour you can’t find in rainbows. I drowned in your rainy eyes that clouded all logic from my own. I inhale love and you breathe out smoke. In scenario 632, you’re my swashbuckling romantic protagonist, saving his girl from a deadly fall off an impossibly high ravine. (Don’t worry; I won’t tell anyone that it was you who pushed me).

Eight hundred and three ways in which we’d meet again. How different can each situation be, you ask? The core elements remain the same. Girl meets Boy. Everything is Illuminated. A few wicked games for the audience. Why do they call it a happy ending when there’s nothing happy about you turning around and walking away? I look back eight hundred and three times, and watch you recede as my heart breaks in eight hundred and three pieces.

I Shut My Eyes And The World Drops Dead, but you’re real, I didn’t Make You Up Inside My Head.

The eight hundred and three versions of you make me happy, happier than the one version of you that everyone thinks is true. The eight hundred and third form you take is more me than you. Truth and fantasy collide head on, no casualties save my heart.

Seventeen brave knights tried to win my dark maidenly heart one summer. Each of them wore coats of mundane tints and pigments, trying to shadow your colourful countenance that I’ve painted with eight hundred and three palettes. But I’d always pick you over seventeen boys; I’d ignore seventeen hundred for you every time, in eight hundred and three dream worlds or even in one real one.

They called the moth that loved the flame stupid and self-destructive. But, I understood, because I’m a pyromaniac just like her, burning myself in the blaze of your fiery gaze. Fight or flight? I half run, half soar towards Neverland. My Wendy holds your Peter in one, two, three, through eight hundred and three lifetimes.

Two intersecting lines meet at one and only one point, this is true. But, one multiplied by eight hundred and three equals how much I love you.