Bewildered, I stared at him. It was an abdominal scan. What does that have to do with... with my cryotary system (where ever that was located)?
His sharp eyes insisted on an answer. I closed my eyes briefly to go back to the time I had last shed tears. I wasn't surprised as the voices in my head starting laughing, intersecting my thought process. What the hell is he making me do?
"5 months" I gave him a ball park.
"5 months, exact?"
"Well, maybe 8. I am not sure."
"You are not sure?"
"Doctor. I know this is a gastrointestinal issue. I have had it since I was a little girl. I have a terrible lifestyle, really. I will take the antacids you suggested and not take more of your valuable time"
He smiled, "You are polite. You have learnt well"
"Learnt well to put up a strong public face. Take my advice, Shonali - let it out. When you are alone, of course. You need not hold that poker-face up always"
I just tossed him a smile and took my leave. On my way to the bus-stop I was staring at my reports trying to figure out if there are some abnormalities indicated. The numbers looked just fine.
I jumped up the bus and took the seat in the rear side of the bus. As my usual ritual goes, I put on my earplugs, leaning towards the window and closed my eyes.
When was the last time I cried?
Is it really that big a deal? I have people all around me putting up a mask. That's as normal as it gets. Isn't it?
A while later the bus jerk stopped as I opened my eyes to watch the two new occupants of the bus walk in. They tapped their cards against the machine and took their seats around me, adjacent to each other. One of them was a girl around my age, looking outside the window, lost in her own world. The other was an European male with a heavy backpack and 'South-east Asia travel map' in his hand. I watched the solo traveler flip through the pages as he kept an eye on the number of stops that went by.
He reminded me of one the exchange students in my school days. That kid was not just smart and talented, he was the most humble people I had met it my life. I remember a certain kind of smartness in his eyes that was indeed very attractive; not in a desirable way but in a way that would make you want to warm up to him. He was my only friend back then.
Ah! There's a good start. Remember the childhood where you had literally no one who wanted to sit with you in class because you were always the "new girl" in the school? Think about that. That should make you tear up. Oh, oh, there comes my laughing inner-voice again!
I think my amusement reflected on my face without my knowledge. The solo traveler turned to face me and responded to my smile with a quick, happy nod.
I am not a cold person. I have had a "fancy" childhood, which according to my therapists I am still recuperating from. I just like to be in denial (that's what they call it). It is simpler that way. Though mind you, if I see the same things that happened to me, happen to anyone else, I would be enraged and would fight their battle as though they were mine. However, when it comes to my own past battles, laughter seemed to be the only natural response.
Listening to music was clearly not helping. I pulled out my earphones intending to stuff them back in my bag, which is when I heard the first sniff.
It came from the lost girl sitting across our solo traveler. He did not seem to be bothered with it. Maybe, she has been crying for a while and he had immunized himself to it. I realized that I was watching her more intently than I should be. She stole a quick side-ward glance at me, teary eyed, and then stiffened herself in an awkward manner.
'Look away, you idiot!' I told myself.
So this is what the doc. wanted me to do? I do NOT want to look like her.
It was funny how one part of me was judging her while the other part of me what sympathizing (empathizing) with her. I used to be a cry-er as a teenager - something no one would believe if they met me now. The name given to me in all my schools was "Shonali Shah, the cry-baby". It ranged from 'cry-baby' to 'delicate darling'. My high-school hockey coach often used the phrase Shona na Rona (Shona Don't Cry). Is it true that what we become as an adult is the reflection of what we get subjected to in our childhood? The Bullied becomes the Bully?
Her crying subsided to heavy sobs as she continued to type frantically on her phone. Maybe she is breaking up with someone. Silly people. Why do they even get into a relationship when they know that nine out of ten end up this way?
Or maybe, she is fighting with her parent. I remembered the last time I was sitting in a bus fuming with anger after having had a fight with my grand father. I had decided to leave home for good. I was eighteen then. It seemed like the right thing to do.
'Ah come on! You'll get over it' I silently communicated the message to her through my eyes. Her eyes were still fixed on to her phone.
If there is one thing I have understood from my personal experiences, it is that you are your own person. If you are expecting someone to pull you out of your crisis situation - you are either too stupid or begging for attention. You can lean on someone's shoulder of course, but never completely surrender your destiny in the hands of a person who is not yourself. As the fundamental lesson taught to me was 'survival of the fittest' - I walked around KNOWING that I am shatter-poof, no matter what the Universe throws at me. It was not arrogance. It was years and years of practice.
Getting vexed with the atmosphere around me I decided to dig in for my earphones again. I had just four more stops to go. I decided to focus my attention on the hockey game I was going to have with my pals that evening.
As I unzipped my bag, I saw the solo traveler reach out for his backpack. He dug his arm into it and pulled out a roll of tissues. Without saying a word, he bent forward and just with his gentle eyes cajoled her to take it.
She nodded. She tried a smile. She took it.
He nodded back. Pulled away his hand. Zipped up his backpack.
In the midst of the unsettling silence, fell my first tear in months.
The lost girl went back to her phone. The solo traveler went back to his travel book.
Isn't it strange? After all, it was the 'Act of Kindness' that made me cry!