It's been three whole years since I was gone, almost a year since I came back. Bangalore (Bengaluru, gods, I am not sure how to spell it unless I check online, and I cannot be bothered. I like it Anglicised, I've always liked it Anglicised, a little unpatriotic betrayal I cling to, sometimes, because rebellion is fun [!]) is a warm blanket against my skin (on show because my Tesco-bought shirt, lovely as it is, is cut a bit deep for India, I'm going to be assaulted on the street and my mother will say I told you so dammit) as I walk into BKF, now renamed NU.
NU has been given a ruthless makeover, and if I ignore the tidy rows of seats for waiting patients (I don't, I never do, they can't see it but I'm just like them, only it's me, not my kidneys) it's like I'm walking into an office, for a job, maybe, that I'm definitely unqualified for professionally, academically and socially. The receptionist is seated behind thick glass that matches, in spirit if not in colour, the shiny antiseptic grey floors.
Six months, heavy sunlight, sleeping pills, a wedding, a psychiatrist, a therapist, a grandmother and a healthy diet have brought my weight up to forty-six kilograms. In Britain I would still be unable to donate blood (the only reason I would not go back to Britain, rebuild my life there), but here I am just about allowed.
The receptionist (so pretty, so adorably pretty and oh look she's married, that mangal sutra looks shiny new against her smooth skin) smiles at me. "We've closed our blood bank," she says.
What? "What?" I must look as stupid as I sound the crippling humiliation of it! because she smiles at me kindly, repeats, "We've closed our blood bank."
"But why?" Surely a hospital that specialises in organ transplants should have a blood bank readily to hand? The receptionist doesn't know, and why should she.
I walk back out into NU's sketchy garden, walk out onto the street, staring somewhat gormlessly (I can see me, staring gormlessly while ignoring the hopeful auto-rickshaw driver who's waiting for me to ask him to take me somewhere) at the shops opposite. They have nothing I want. The heavy meal I ate two hours earlier sits unhappily in my stomach.
Five, four, three years ago BKF's blood bank, staffed by my dad's colleagues, would fuss over me, make sure I was heavy enough to donate, bleed me, feed me excellent coffee and send me away with a few extra smiles and a certificate that said I was a noble person.
[It's the first time I've had alcohol, and I stumbled slightly into the doorway. A bar of pain latches onto my right shoulder, but it is the pressure between my skin and my stomach that interests me. At the corners of my vision the world is spinning, and I can feel my skull, too tight against my head.
I clutch my shoulder, my wet fingers cold against the heated ache. I squint against the noise everyone is making; my head is beginning to hurt, and I recognize with vague horror that the feeling of my stomach signals nausea.
I stumble through the unfamiliar rooms until I reach the only green door. I rattle the knob with my left hand, my right still holding my shoulder. The shoulder is numb now. I cannot tell if it is the pressure of my hand or the severity of the jarring.
The door bursts open, missing my face by an inch. I blink to ward it away, and Nia is yelling in my face. I smell the wine on her breath.
"My wine smells of pee!" she screams, and pushes past me to run away. I turn to watch her, angling my clumsy body to watch her agile one run into the bedroom next door.
I have released my shoulder. I walk into the loo. It is small, when I look at the pot I see that she has not flushed. I inhale, my chest shuddering as I kick the door and the noise shut behind me: her pee smells of wine.]
If I close my eyes and listen my blood thuds through my temples and my heart pounds behind my breasts. It hurts. It must hurt everyone, since everyone has a heart.
I look at my wrists, I've looked at my wrists, this past week and when I bend my hand backwards the veins and tendons stand out in a crazy synchronicity of fragility and strength that make them the parts of me that they are. The veins stand out blue, green, often both and I wonder what the blood inside looks like.
I wouldn't actually know.
I lie in bed I've lain in bed this past week and in the moments before sleep smothers me takes everything away I've reached my arm out beside me in my vast expanse of bed and imagined. My hand lies palm facing upwards; my wrist looks at ease, arched, crazy synchronicity. What do those veins and tendons look like, underneath my skin? If someone with kind hands took a knife gently but firmly from the base of my hand down to my elbow, would the blood gush out bluegreen, or does my skin lie about dark red, belying passion and life?
These are the ingredients. A kind and gentle pair of hands, firm and unwavering, a Mary Poppins of carpal-dactylic severance. The knife, straight or curved; it must gleam in the light of my blackshaded lamp. My arm, extended to my right; the fingers curved of their own accord in rest. That inner eye, that muted bliss of solitude.
That inner eye. The knife wanders to the base of my palm, it cuts over and into the skin. I feel nothing, because the eye cannot feel skin. The knife presses in, between the ulnar and radial ligaments. I know this because the blood gushes out, the skin peels away, inside is blackness and redblack rivers that pulse
But that isn't how it would be. My hands and forearm and wrist would hurt, I would hurt, there is flesh and bone underneath my skin and the skin would have to be peeled away layer by layer all at once before I could see them, see anything, if I were male I could freeze this all and examine it instead I am virgin, female, me. Blood is not a mysterious beauty but a tangible fluid I need to stay alive. It wouldn't be Mary Poppins, I'd need Hannibal Lector with his hand fetish. He could call me Clarice. And once it was done it would be pain worse than that there would be damage. The wrist is a delicate thing, weak though capable. It will bend three ways for me but not four, not five, not beyond a slow knifeslash. What if the blade slipped, out of clumsiness or malice? What if I lie here bleeding, unable to find the will to call for help? I can see that very clearly, I'm there right now. It is simple to lie down to let the muscles go, to be at ease.
Who would help me, once Mary Lector had me at hir unmercy?
There are knives in my kitchen. They shine in any light.
[I hover over Nia's mother, who is hovering over the doctor, who is pouring the pipe through Nia's throat. The sweat runs down my forehead, my neck, between my breasts, in my armpits. I am on my toes.
Nia convulses, and I shrink back as creamy goo comes out the tube. Nia's mother backs away, her bum warm against my thighs. I move back, wiping my sweaty palms against my jeans. They look dry, but still feel wet. Nia begins to wail, and the air rushes out my mouth.]
Why I Am Still A Virgin:
I'm an old lady, complaining of the draft. And I'm twentytwo twentyfour sixtythree this is the rest of my life. No one will sex me up because I have a headache tonight behind my curtain of Cipralex. If I cut me my blood looks ageless.
[Aged blood looks like fine wine and we drink it, unknowing in full recognition of each other. Later Nia tells us, urbane smiling (she wants to be a Bond villain, I'd rather she face Lee, stroking her cat, I purr), "That's blood." Later, she shall breathe Gods, that was some hymen.]
[There is something in my throat, and I am vomiting through it. It's so much easier than normal vomiting: I do not have to strain as much as when I do not have the something in my throat. I wish it wasn't there, though. I am tired, my limbs numb with sleep. Nia's voice is cursing.] I cannot hear her too well now.
Dr. KS is a brisk man. My mother has never met him, but she tells me, "He's got a reputation for being very arrogant. He never has time for his patients." I sit outside his office with my father, who is worried I will complain to KS about him, worried I will not complain to KS about him, worried I will not tell KS what is wrong, worried KS cannot help me; worried. He wishes I had brought a sweater, but it's only nine in the morning the dark green trees outside will be lit soon enough with bright sunlight (I'm still not used to sunlight, Foreign Shores have taught me that skies give weak lukewarm yellow if I'm lucky, and never throughout a day, much less a week. Here sunlight has a thickness, heat, even underneath the fog I do not recognize until it is gone months from now behind my eyes I bask in it, soak it in my goosepimpled skin). My father beside me radiates heat, love, anxiety, directionless blame.
My dad knows KS, they are doctors together, office-neighbours. My dad tells KS all the things I do wrong, and KS is kind to him. When my dad goes out KS turns to me it is my turn to speak, and I do.
Do I complain? The only one who's hurt me is me.
I've made no sense to myself, an hour later. But KS has been briskly kind, has matter-of-factly given me tissues. Has asked me if I'm suicidal, accepted my own matter-of-fact response: "I think of it the way I think of buying very expensive shoes that I do not want or need." (All the time.) Months from now I will tell him of the knife, how unreal it is, how soothing. He will say, "Don't worry about it, just let it go when it comes."
Sleeping pills and anti-depressants and in time, a referral to a clinical therapist.
Four five six months from now I shall cry, my back unrelenting against the headboard. Sleeping pills and anti-depressants and in time, a therapist: nil; me: one.
[We sit on Nia's redly yellow bed. My legs are crossed; hers are folded under her. She reaches forward, holding my hands strongly in her own. The backs of my hands hurt, her thumbs pressing into them. She pulls my hands to her breasts, to her neck. She folds her chin down over them.
We rock back and forth, and her hot tears fall on my forearms.
"No," she says, and her jaw moves against our linked hands. "No."
My boyfriend has dumped me, her girlfriend has decided she's straight. Sex is stupid.
My hands really hurt now, and I am crying too, my breath lifting my rib cage in difficult sobs. I am not breathing, I feel only tears in my nose.]
Before KS: I've been "home" for a month now, and once I cross this street I will meet Aarthi for lunch.
(What do I tell her? How do I tell her? There are no words for what I have become, shock too deep for anyone, however onanistically wordy, to verbalise, to specify how much I've been reduced. Some months from now I shall still have nothing adequate: "I cannot believe how bad it was, I did not know how bad it was, I didn't feel it, I couldn't think." There are no words, and I am so frightened she will find out even if I do not tell her.)
How do I get over this road anyway? There's not a pedestrian crossing in sight, and the traffic is insane. It's a practical experiment in anarchy, and I can't say I like it much. I've not yet regained that ability (I never will) to let my ears and skin and eyes tell me how far away the trucks and buses and cars and cycles and motorcycles and scooters are all I register is one massed engined animal with no space and no room between for me.
I'm going to die.
Except I don't. An extraordinarily fat lady beside me walks calmly forward. On her safe side, I cross with her. I stop when she stops, move when she moves.
At the far end of the street, the lady gives me one dirty look. She knows what I did, and I know why I shouldn't have done it. (She probably wants to live. She has that brisk look: things to do, children to feed and send off to school, a husband to tidy. And me?)
But we walk away from each other. No blood spilled today. Behind us the traffic careens on.
[Karan is my boyfriend my secret boyfriend I love him he is smart and funny and I'm sixteen and a grownup so he's mine and I don't need to tell anyone about him. He's smart and funny it bears repeating! and he reads a great deal. He wouldn't fit in with my friends anymore than I do myself, so I meet his instead.
"Rohini, Nia; Nia, Rohini," he says.
Nia he's left for last, after the druggie, the nerd, the geek, the jock, the only not rich child, his sister. (They're all lovely people, really.) Nia he's left for last, even though I heard of her first. Until now I thought she was competition. Until now I've been jealous.
This plump, dark, full-breasted pimpled girl stares at me, and I stare at her.
Until now I hadn't had a sister.]
"I hate the sleeping pills," I tell KS. "I can feel them." I show him my shaking hands. "And I'm sort of unbalanced. Physically," as though I'm perfectly all right outside of my body, behind my eyelids in the darkness. "I can't walk straight in high heels " which I wear all the time "and my hands shake."
KS reduces my dosage, and for a week all is hell until I call.
"Okay okay okay okay, stop taking them entirely. Just keep taking the Cipralex."
This is much better. Cipralex is a curtain behind my eyelids, cushioning me against the lassitude within. Cipralex pulls me out of my room in the afternoons, allows me to laugh, shows people I seem happy today.
I can't sleep anymore, but two clean miracles for life seems a bit greedy.
[Scene: Ropes stretch with neither beginning nor end in sight, across the mostly clear blue sky. Some meet, some don't. The ropes are suspended (from nowhere!) at different heights, or depths, or spaces. People walk casually along these ropes, talking across the depths at each other. No one looks down.
At a random intersection, ROH and NIA hang from their respective ropes. Their fingers slip every so often while they talk, at which point they both adjust their holds without fuss. They look at each other, or people along the other ropes.
NIA: They don't walk like they're on ropes.
ROH: I think they've got adapted shoes.
NIA: I'm wearing socks.
ROH: So are they.
NIA: Are you?
Someone walks over Roh's rope, hir footsteps making Roh bounce and fumble her grip. S/He stands at the intersection, looking down at Roh on hir left, Nia on hir right.
SOMEONE: You're pathetic.
ROH: Hey! I read Camus and Rushdie!
SOMEONE: Why are you down there? Walk up here, like a normal person.
NIA: We don't know how.
ROH: It's just a rope. It's not wide enough to walk on.
SOMEONE: What? No, wait, shut up. You're so dramatic. You won't fall unless you actually want to. It's all in your head.
ROH: It's a damn rope!
SOMEONE: It's all in your head. You're just not making the effort. You like being abnormal.
SOMEONE walks away.
ROH: I think he was my dad.
NIA: Looked like my mom.
ROH: Or maybe that girl who thought I had a brave aura.
NIA: I'm going to let go now.
NIA lets go of the rope. ROH watches her fall until she's out of sight.
ROH calls down: I didn't like your boyfriend, and I didn't like your girlfriend before him!
ROH looks down forever, even though there is nothing to see.]
[She is very heavy] even though she's not here anymore.
My hands are empty, and so am I.