SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE BY RHIANNA MEHTA
I had always wondered what this moment would be like, I think everyone has. It's happening now. I'm moving so fast that it is becoming increasingly difficult to breathe, but pure exhilaration and awe has long since replaced any sort of fear or anxiety. Fear. I know now how illogical it can be, but there was a time when it consumed me. I clearly remember the gnashing of yellow pointed teeth. These incisors were designed for the sole purpose of tearing through flesh and bone, and they did exactly that. Searing pain and dark liquid accompanied the new scar that had been etched into my memory. Laughable now. Absolutely laughable. Freedom from fear is easier than most would think. I can taste the irony in every gasp of cool racing air. This has been my dream of late, my goal. I'm close now. So close. "Do you like it?" I recall saying. "I made it for you last weekend. When you were up at your mum's place." "I love it." Christine smiled at me. She was my sweetheart. I really did love her. I think. "You'll be a famous painter and I'll be your wife." That's what I really wanted at one point. Now I had made my decision. This is where I want my life to go. The bright midday sun reassures me, warming my face, quite literally lighting my path. Although it seems to move away, it feels stronger to me every passing second. Elation. I had felt it before. I couldn't contain my excitement at hearing the ceremonial cutting of the rope. The hot air balloon was now free to leave the constraints of earth and enter the expansive skies. I looked at my father, he was clearly proud, his tanned handsome face spread into a gleeful smile. "Daddy!" I called out involuntarily. He was either deafened by the wind or entranced by the scenery but he didn't respond. Did he hear me? The question left my mind once I too began to peer over the edge. So much space between me and the world, a tiny mound covered in cruel, cruel ants. What I saw, as a child, as ants I now recognize as individual people, going about their daily lives, rushing closer to me. I cannot stop the inevitable ponderings. Will it hurt? Will I feel the impact? Too late it's here... "I saw the man fall from the building. Surreal. Slow motion. What was he thinking as he fell? I guess no one will ever know."
I lower the entirety of my person, anatomy and mind, into the cool, crisp white sheets. I allow my frail bones to seep and sink into the folds of the fabric, becoming one with the bed. My head hits the pillow with a "Thud!" and a strong feeling of relief takes over me. As my eyelids begin to flutter and my vision blurs, ribbons of darkness wind and wrap themselves around my shins and tighten, cutting off circulation and leaving my toes numb. Quickly, they tug and pull me down inside a dream world. I unleash my inner being. I have drifted into a meadow. As far the eye can see, long strands of emerald grass dance back and forth in the light gusts of wind. Bursts of colour fill and lace the field; a little pink here, a little yellow over there. I hear a faint laugh in the distance, the giggles quite reminiscent of a young child. I turn round and round, searching and following the voice. My nostrils instantaneously fill with the sweet scent of sugarplums, distracting me momentarily. The laughter grows louder, and so does my curiosity. The long grass reaches longer and longer, cornering and trapping me. I cannot budge, and only a mere, faint muffle fills my eardrums. Shift. Suddenly, I'm in a backyard. I'm shivering on the rotting step of an old wooden porch, legs dangling off the side. My toes tickle against the cool gravel below. The smell of a delectable and mouth-watering pot roast drifts past me. I take a deep breath in, and the air feels fresh. It can't be any later than October. My teeth chatter, and I look around. The yard is bleak and barren, with an overgrown lawn and nothing but a rusting swing set in the corner. All of a sudden, I feel warm. I look down and wrapped around my shoulders is a plaid, scratchy blanket. An elderly woman with a kind yet toothy smile sits next to me. She wraps her shaking hand around mine, rests her weary head against my shoulder and coos nonsensical murmurs into my ear. I'd never had a grandmother before. Shift. I'm walking down a busy street. The city lights from intersections and billboards light up the night sky. I stand still and observe everything, trying to understand where I am. The urban lifestyle is not enjoyable after dark. As people walk past, men and women absentmindedly bump my limbs back and forth, hurrying by in too much of a rush to even notice. Quickly, a pair of arms grabs me and drags my immobile figure into an alley. I'm too shocked to fight, too scared to run. I'm propped up against a wall, and my breathing cuts and stutters when a large fist comes out of the darkness and strikes me straight in the chest. Shift. Just once more, please, shift. Wake me up from the nightmare within a sea of destinations.
They spread out in tendrils in front of me. They formed into determined shapes. Roads of possibilities. Each road winded into fog, their destination unknown. Large trees grew above the path in a lush canopy that blocked out the sky. I stepped toward where my main road forked off. Three distinct paths beckoned me with cobblestone that glistened in the slivers of sunlight that seeped through. I stepped toward the one on my left before feeling a gut-wrenching pull to the one dead center. I shifted to face the center path and stepped forward. Immediately I was repelled as if it was warded against me. I tried the third but found it mush beneath my feet. I jumped back before I was swallowed whole, and found myself safely on the main path once again. All three rejected me. I stood still and unnerved. I checked my watch to see it hadn’t budged. Time stood still with me. I took a deep breath. I wasn’t going to stay frozen for eternity. Life moves on. I closed my eyes, squeezing them so nothing got through. I took a step. The hard ground beneath me pounded and I opened my eyes. I chose the path to the left. As I walked in further, it began to darken, the patches of light becoming rarer with each step. I glanced over at the other two options. They were bathed in happiness and sunlight. I turned and lifted my foot, tempted to step over into the sunlight. “No,” I muttered. I pulled back my foot and continued down my chosen path. “No running away.”
Scars carry with them stories. One would think these stories are violent, filled with the recollected pain of the scarrendering event. I have a scar – one on the upper part of my right arm. It is a tiny scar, a straight, clean line etched into skin, slightly lighter and raised than the rest. This scar was given to me by my first born son. A babe, in arms, testing his first cut tooth, he pierced his mother’s skin, leaving a story behind. The story is of a boy, leaving behind infancy, pushing off from his mother and diving into the world of solid foods, a world filled with tastes and experiences that will bring him, eventually, great joy and profound sadness. The mark he left behind was a kind of farewell. It is also, however, a monument. It reminds me daily that although all children grow up, every individual has come from somewhere and a piece of us always remains there, where we began. Our mothers bear us on their arms. Likewise, that soil in which we were first germinated; it is the scar that we carry as we move beyond, towards our individual destinations. My boy-child’s first mark brings to mind many memories. I reflect upon scars; we carry scars with us not just as tokens, trifles, remains. We rise out of pain and reach past it, towards our destination. Amongst the physical scars that mark me, I bear scars that no one can see. These scars were given more violently, arguably. Violently because the weapons used were not cast in steel or chiseled in stone, the weapons were not borne by enemy hands. Rather, they were weapons wielded by those who stood as mentors and friends. I was under friendly-fire and, ironically, the scars that remain, first came in the midst of laughter. As a child, I had many older cousins who thought it great fun to mock my roly-poly figure. I was young and hadn’t yet grown out of my “baby fat.” At least, that’s what I tell myself today. I’m not sure how much of my recollection is wishful thinking and coloured by a lifetime of self-criticism. Perhaps I should have been less roly and more svelte by the age of 10 or 11. Regardless, I laughed along when they chimed in unison, “Fatty Tammy, Tammy Fatty!” They sang in my mother’s tongue, “Fatty Bam-bole, Seeni Sambole!” I laughed. I veiled my general confusion regarding what a young woman should be or look like with a plastered smile. But this façade truly marked how savvy I actually was. At such a tender age, I knew enough not to question these taunts. I knew enough to quietly accept this criticism and take it to heart. I knew that I was on my way to womanhood. Unless I Iearned from these people, these mentors, how to be, how to look, how to act and how to maneuver my way towards my final destination of adulthood, I would be lost. I gazed for hours in every mirror, trying so desperately to see whether my thighs and belly, backside and arms were as they called them, fat. Squint eyed, up-close, magnified, I peered and pondered. I compared myself to every girl and woman I encountered. I wanted to walk like Reena, dress like Michelle. I wanted to speak like Adelina and dance like Jemille. Through comparison and contrast, I gazed long and hard at the woman in the not-so-proverbial mirror, I invariably came up with the same answer, time and time again – “Tammy, you’re fat.” Perhaps every childhood and adolescence is filled with criticism and self-doubt. The scar that this left behind is borne everyday. It throbs with every chocolate or ice cream I contemplate and refuse. It aches with every mouthful actually consumed. It stings as I pull on jeans and tights, and gaze at what shouldn’t be there. It bleeds, actually bleeds, when I wear a bathing suit. Self-loathing grows deep roots and manifests itself in strange ways. I continue to compare myself, and I invariable come up short. Sometimes I try hard and persevere. Other times, I give up and throw my hands up. I shake my fist at all that I have lost faith in. My scars take many shapes and forms. They have been earned, granted, traded and positioned on me throughout my journey. My fingers trace the outline of my babe’s toothy scar. I wonder what marks will be left on his pristine body. The marks of his humanity will, inevitably, mar his flawless skin. These scars will, however, only render him more beautiful. For we reach the ultimate destination glowing with scars.