I laugh into the earphone mic, “Yeah, yeah, I know!”
My friend on the other end of the call asks, “So, where are you now?”
“Close enough,” I sigh, “What a year this has been, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah!” “Anyway, you drive carefully, call me once you get there!”
I end the call and focus back on the road. On the call, my friend and I were discussing the mass exodus from the city now that certain restrictions have been taken off. Right now, as I speed towards my hometown in my rented car, I am elated. I get to see my family, my little town by the sea. It might not be much to everyone else, but it is everything to me. The roots of my existence, the rain that lets the leaves on my shoulder grow and makes the flowers around my head bloom.
Don’t get it entirely twisted. I like being a city girl too, but if I’m looking at myself as a tree, the fast pace and the pollution gets to me and all my green wilts. The short sojourn back home revives me in a way that nothing else will. My life is alright.
I’m Trisha, and I work at a management consulting firm in a big city. I don’t hate my job, surprisingly—I enjoy it. I have a close-knit circle of friends, and there is a man I have been dating on and off for some time now. We might make it official soon. He is a good man, and I think I will be very happy with him. Everything, for the first time in my life, looks to be going good.
Remember what I say here because these are all nothing but lies.
Here I am, after two hours, back in my hometown. It is a quiet place by the sea, and due to the mountains and lush greenery, it remains comfortably chilly during the night. I am outside, even though I should not be. My parents and my sister are deeply asleep. They were happy to see me after so long. We had a feast, dad opened a bottle of homemade wine, even my mother took a few sips, and then warned us to not have more. They all fell into a deep sleep, so peacefully, but I could not.
Every branch creaking kept me awake. Every call of the nightbird kept my eyes open. There was no peace inside me. I came here for a purpose, after all. No one knows, not my family, not even the wonderful man who is waiting for me.
So I walk with a shawl wrapped tightly around me. I walk down the steep hill that flattens out into flat, open space that ends in a cliff dangling high above the raging waters below. It is a full moon, so the tide is high, and I can hear the swelling waves hit the rocks. The sea breeze whips my hair into a mess and reminds me of how chapped my lips are. I keep walking through. I keep walking towards the small grove right before the spot where the cliff juts out into the sea.
Inside this grove of sparse trees is a house. It is a small house, and now it is falling apart. You see, I own it. I used to live here, a long, long time ago. I come closer and smile when the moonlight dapples over the house. It is now covered with ivy. The plant embraces the bricks like a ferocious lover who will not let their love go so easily into the ground, where they belong. My smile fades—is it a metaphor for the state of my mind? Am I also not willing to let go? Or else why am I here?
Remember the lies I told before? I hate my job. I do it because I have to do it to survive. I don’t have a good boss and I have terrible colleagues. They are jealous of me thriving even in the toxic cesspool they have created. I will be resigning soon. It is a horrible place to work at. I made a mistake when I moved to the city three years ago, craving for a change and distraction, so I chose to cling to the job that offered me a stable salary.
And my friends? They are, at best, acquaintances. I bet half of them do not even notice that I have a different surname than my sister’s. I bet half of them don’t even know when my birthday is or what my favourite colour is. We meet for drinks and dinner every alternative weekend and call it a friendship. They are all married with children so they don’t have time to look closer at this woman they call their “good friend”. One of them introduced me to the man I am sort of dating now.
Now, I didn’t lie about the man being one of those good ones. He is a good man, honestly. He knows I suffer but he does not know from exactly what. He holds my silent pain gently in his palms and does not push for more. I don’t know how to feel about that. How do I let him know I can never be his? That even now, I belong to someone else. His patience hurts me. And the future terrifies me.
I touch the cold, crumbling walls of the house. The gate is locked shut, and I do have the key but I willingly did not bring the key with me. It is somewhere inside the mess of a closet back home. I sit down on the porch and touch an ivy leaf. Have you ever seen an ivy leaf? They are so perfectly symmetrical. Five little points with veins running through them and they are coloured a beautiful shade of green. They say when a plant grows through the brick and mortar, the house can no longer be helped. You would have to raze it down and build anew.
I am the house, and the ivy is you, my dear. You are not here. You and I only got to spend six months in this beautiful little house. You haven’t lived here in four years. I told you again and again that a house by the sea would be difficult to maintain, it could become dangerous too. How was I to know that the sea called to you? That one day, when I would be washing dishes, I would see you from the window above the sink. That on that day, as I would scrub the oil from the pan I fried eggs in for you, I would watch you fling yourself off the cliff.
I close my eyes and lean against the wall. The ivy leaves tickle my cheek, and that is so gentle like a lover’s caress. They say you have to demolish a house on which ivy grows. But am I ready to do so? Nothing else matters besides this one connection I still have with you. I wish you told me all the pain you kept within yourself. Did you think I would run out on you after our marriage if I knew about your illness? I would stay, I would help you. But now, it’s too late.
Suddenly, I hear the sound of footsteps, and I see a light pierce through the darkness. My sister appears on the other end of the light, her face scrunched in concern and her whole body shivering under the cotton nightshirt she wears. “What are you doing here?” she asks.
I smile; oh the trouble of sisters sharing the same room. Nothing is ever hidden from them.
“Nothing, couldn’t sleep.”
“So, you had to come here?” She shakes her head and reaches for my hand. “Come on, it’s so cold!”
I take her hand. She is right—it is too cold. As we begin walking back towards our house, my sister says nothing, just squeezes my hand once. I squeeze back. I only turn my head once and I see that there is a tree growing through the roof. The house will crumble soon. It needs to.
Cover Image from iStock by Getty Images.
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