Borderline Sanity

          “Why do they hate me?” she looked at him. Her big brown eyes reflected the view out his window. There were tons of people there, staring at her face without smiling. She saw the anger in their eyes and flinched. “What had I ever done?”
          “They don’t hate you, Leksh,” he shook his head with a laugh, “They hate You, in italics and capital letters.”
           “But why?” she stomped her feet. She didn’t understand why people who didn’t even know her would pass verdicts even before seeing her face. She didn’t understand the name-calling, the shudders, the compete isolation she was subjected to. And most of all, she didn’t understand the air around here. The caution, the fear, the shivers in every word- nothing made any sense. This trip was supposed to be a change of atmosphere for her. It was surely a change, but not quite the one she wanted.
           “Because you’re of the privileged middle class,” Philip pulled her collar up teasingly. He found her questions funny. She was funny. A funny little American girl.
           “Privileged middle class?” she never understood sarcasm anyway, especially not here, “isn’t that like an oxymoron?”
           “That’s how it is. Understanding life in itself is an oxymoron. No more questions, honey. Go eat your pie and tuck yourself into bed like the good American girl you are,” Philip shook his head and laughed. This girl would never learn. He softly tapped her head and left the room. He had much to do before everything began. Much to Do.

           Lekshmi too retired from debates and disaster into her own home where she was greeted by an unopened white envelope on the counter. She could see the red ink through the translucent cover and the international stamp across its face. Her scores had arrived. Sighing, she picked it up and dragged herself into her room. “No, not right now. I do not need to read this right now.” Sanity comes with the price of ignorance.
           The fear hadn’t left her. First it was solely them, those people who work around this wretched house. And now, the envelope’s edges too joined in encircling her- the second layer; it was a double trap of sorts.
            Red Scare- she knew the term from US History. Red Scare and McCarthyism-she knew those words too. The voices outside her window were getting louder. Philip had told her to not fear and that nothing would happen. He would take care of her. How lucky are the Juliets in the world! No, the words sounded hollow to her ears, already deafening by the noises outside. In her mind, she could feel the falsity of that optimism; his tone seemed to tease her. A bait, a clever bait. How unlucky was she. Privileged- that one word stood out among all. She was privileged. She knew and did not understood. Saw and did not look. This was normalcy. Her head began to spin. 
            “Burn them! Burn them!” the voices were in her ears. Bacchanalian– she could finally use her vocabulary word in a sentence. The picture of Che Guevera on the wall bothered her. Harshly, she tore it away and shoved it under the bed. The paper man crumpled in her hands. “At least,” she thought, “at least I didn’t burn you.”
            The voices were getting even louder. They were screaming beyond control. She cowered below the windowsill and with shivering hands, opened its wooden edge. Red. On their dark faces, there were stripes of fluorescence. And their eyes were the whitest of all. There was anger in their look and a quest for revenge. “Burn them!” She quickly shut the plank. The walls of the room seemed to collapse on her; the weight of the ceiling was on her shoulders and the edges of her bed encircled her- another layer of traps. With a hand doing an electric dance of its own, she reached for the blade. Night fell and rose. The Sun’s yellow rays glistened on the white walls, a few came to rest on her face and the others danced off the shining cover of the “Red Scare.” As the morning breeze swept into the room, the pages slowly flipped. Philip’s words on the first page was written in bright blue ink- “for the girl who never stops asking.” The white envelope acted as her bookmark and the dancers came to rest as they met its feet. The pool of blood beneath her wrist reflected the light most.



              “It was a case of the nerves,” the spectacled man in a white coat was telling her parents. Her mother’s black kohl ran down to her lips and made designs with the edges of her red lipstick. She wanted to laugh but couldn’t open her mouth. Her father remained his normal self- suited, formal, as though he knew exactly what to do. His trembling hand on her arm gave him away. She closed her eyes. That was all she could move.
               Philip came to visit her at the hospital. She could see the evil smile on his face. “What did I do to you?” she screamed in her head. “What did I do to you?” She could see that the red flowers in his arms were poisoned. Red. “He was sad I couldn’t be burned.” He is going to kill her. 
              “What should we do now, doctor?” her mother’s voice seemed dry and cracked. Gobi desert, desertification, irrigation, agriculture-words popped into her head.
              “Take her to a good psychiatrist. I have a few names to recommend. And I’d suggest taking her back home, to America.” the doctor’s voice filled the room. “Why does he scream so?” Psychiatric evaluation, brain functions, color therapy, Nietzsche.



                 On the couch. It’s rough blue left marks on her legs. She had been meaning to talk. Outside, on matching white chairs connected by metal rods, her parents looked at each other. Their eyes were fighting soundlessly. Why couldn’t you look after her? It was your turn, today. They barely noticed when the new doctor, this time, a lady in pink, walked in with her white stilettos. Their eyes, in unison pairs, moved up to her orange face and yellow-white hair.
                “Do you know what is in that white envelope that was forwarded to your home in India that day?” The parents shook their heads, in unison.
               “Her Indian boyfriend,” the foreigner didn’t understand why the Indian parents drew in their breaths at that word, “presented her with a book called The Red Scare. This was after of course she personally felt the alienation given to her as a foreigner by the natives and questioned him on various proceedings of the Marxists in the area.
               Their processions,” she looked down at her notes,”is that what they’re called- seem to scare her immensely. She was confused and already tensed. But this was all a secondary trigger. The problem is that she talked to neither of you about calming her biggest fear- failure. And the envelope with her standardized testing scores proved the final trigger. She made up her own world, full of people who hated her and thought that she’d be doing herself a favor by killing herself. The envelope was truly her biggest fear. Everything else was a figment of her imagination. By the time, I told her that this was only one test out of many she’ll take and quite insignificant on the long run, it was quite late. There was something else to make this so deep-set in her mind. Something she won’t tell me.. She has gone too far in this imaginary world of cruelty. I think you two hold the baton now. You need to calm her nerves.”
              The parents nodded, in unison. The father took her right hand and the mother took her left. They knew the doctor was wrong. Their daughter knew nothing about politics. Indian parties and their processions would make no difference to her. It was something else.. but now, she’ll be alright. Words played no games until the black Audi slithered into Riverview Drive’s newly-paved driveway.
              “Home,” Lekshmi whispered. The parents’ eyes reached each other. So Much to Do.



               Philip, learning he was partly responsible for his girlfriend’s-the parents’ frown at that word- bout of insanity, pull himself up from bed each day with a sense of guilt. He should have told her that they don’t hate her at all. It was mere curiosity. That was the only thing in their stares- curiosity. Perhaps he wouldn’t have convinced her anyway, he tried to comfort himself. Privileged middle class, Red Scare- the words he played with meant something to her, though what exactly he didn’t know. We laugh about communism and yet, it meant something serious to her. That book was a joke, meant to calm her “Red Scare.” And besides, who was he? Only a poor, random boy halfway across the world, across seven seas as they say. Seven Seas. And yet, Much to Do.



Lekshmi had long straight hair, “the colour of the night sky.” She never let anyone touch it before. But now, she had grabbed a pair of her mother’s sewing scissors and cut off every other end. Alternating strands of beauty. The figure in the mirror frightened her. “They didn’t burn me! They couldn’t poison me! So they cut off my hair!” her screams were unbearable to the newly appointed home-nurse. The parents walked out, in unison. Their eyes still blamed each other. From her place on the floor, she could see the edge of Che Guevera’s red face atop her polished drawer. She too had Much to Do.



               A week later, she was back. Her parents, in unison, had returned her to her grandparents. The old bungalow that normally brighten in the glory of her arrival cried its own tears at her transformation. Her hair was gone and so was her smile. Red scare, it was a step. Back in her room, she stared again at those same white walls; the bed surrounded her yet again and this time, even the aged books on her bookshelf laughed at her. She- She was back. Hated, cursed and ready to be burned. She shut her eyes tightly. She could hear the sounds outside her window. The heavy wood was no barrier for them. They’d be back to kill her with red flags and ink on their skins. 
               “Inquilab Zindabad!” the voices entombed her. Voices from dark faces with fluorescent stripes. Oh God, she’ll be burned tonight. There was no escape. Her windows were shut tight but she could hear them pounding against it. The door was locked from the outside. The ceiling opened itself to pull her in. The walls fell on her. She screamed and screamed. But no one came for her. Because she was hated and they had Much to Do. She too had Things.
              Morning creeped in quietly, as though She knew the sight She was bringing. The tea in her grandmother’s steel cup had steam that danced. Light had flooded the old house. “Today,” the grandmother thought, “today I’ll take her to see the temples. She’d like that. It’ll be a change of atmosphere.” She slowly opened the door to her room. 
               The silver cup made a shattering noise, the brown tea seeped all over the red floor. Scare. The girl did not move. Underneath her bed, Che Guevara’s eyes glistened in the morning light. The blue cyanide bottle was empty. Red. She had saved herself.


8 thoughts on “Borderline Sanity

  1. A beautifully written story perfectly etching out the anguish, loneliness and alienation of not belonging. I liked the narration and certain sentences stand out : ‘The pool of blood beneath her wrist reflected the light most’. ‘With a hand doing an electric dance of its own, she reached for the blade.’ Pure melancholy throughout, very powerful depressing stuff ! I’ll give this a 9.5/10. 🙂
    P.S: Best short story Ive read in a very long time…

    1. Thank you so much! Quite an extensive compliment!=))

      Sorry about the depression. Funny thing is, I’ve been the happiest I’ve been in a long time while writing this!

  2. Hi,
    Me again from a new country!!! May be I lost my sanity… this time I left my mom and went on my own… Ya she’s safe with my dad…

    Saw “Velipadukal” thanks for the twitter post…

    And what happens to the girl??

    1. Oh good luck in the new country. Hope you’re liking it there! =)
      The girl.. was supposed to have committed suicide. (I was kind of hoping you’d get that in the ending=P awhh)

      @Velipadukal- Wasn’t it such a crazy movie? It was so bizarre that I really liked it. I’m planning on writing a review soon. It kind of reminded me of the book, “The Giver”, just because of the alternate society idea. But it was a very different theme.

      1. I got that in the ending line…

        what was haunting her… why she’s that much depressed… Red Scare…(I’m not that much into politics)… all these were storming in my mind…

        As the title says… It took me to the borderline =)

        @Velipadukal- Shows what if belief become blind without hurting any specific religion. I will go through “The Giver” though I’m not a literature obsessed type.

        From “Nevergreen” (thats what I call this desert)…. warm wishes

  3. my heart bled . i cried. is melancholy a derivative of thenga? it abounds in GOD’S country. the air is heavy with it . got to do a case study on HAWAI just to disprove myself.

    1. hmm yea, melancholy, nostalgia, lost loves, old songs, rains, storms, old hallways- Malayalees seem to have them just etched in. We always flee towards those=).. don’t know much about Hawaii, you should try it!

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