“I’m happy. Are you happy?”
Only, she is not. She is happy only when I am unhappy.
Then, she gets to feed off my negativity, the debilitating stress that makes me paranoid, unhinged a little bit, coming apart at the seams somewhat. Where I will wear green nail polish on my fingers and toes but wear a dress in crimson even though it’s not yet Christmas.
She likes that. Then, she gets to say one more nasty thing couched as lightly teasing. “My God. You’ve lived with me all these years and you still have no sense of fashion or colours. You dress like a villager. Tsk. Tsk.”
She will be happy then. Because I will smile absently at this mockery and not have anything to say in return. No quick repartee from me then because it’s silly to defend one’s clothes.
“Are you still harping about that man?” She would ask in concern.
“Well, he finally called me yesterday on his own, you know, so yes, I was just thinking about meeting him again.”
“I don’t know why you put yourself through this. He’s not good for you. I’m sure he has many affairs. I can’t imagine a man like him being remotely interested in someone like you, you know what I mean? Ditch him. You shouldn’t waste time on him.”
He makes me happy, I think. We understand each other, I feel. But what did she mean that he won’t be interested in someone like me? Is that why he calls so rarely? Is it me? Am I too fat? Is it because I’ve tanned a lot? Am I too smart? Are my eyes too small? Is my hair thinning too much? Or is it because I told him not to behave like an ass? Maybe I should curb my tendency to shoot off my mouth. Men don’t like smart, assertive women.
“What do you mean by ‘someone like you’?”
“What? Why do you ask me such dumb questions? Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with you. Really.”
When she sees that I am peeling the skin off my lower lip in slow but ruthless strikes, that’s when she is happy.
I am the cause for her happiness. She should remember the day I was born, because, clearly, I am so important to her well-being. Yet, she will wish me two days in advance.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I thought it was today. But you know I mean well, right?”
No. No. I think. Never wish me earlier than my birthday, it brings bad luck. She knows how irrationally I believe this. So she will make up for it by buying cake and calling people who will also wish me two days before my birthday and give me gifts.
“Isn’t it so sweet of them to buy you the Jeeves Omnibus for your birthday?”
“It is. Only it’s not my birthday.”
“Don’t be so childish. Must everything be drama for you? You are so selfish. You only think of putting yourself first. How can you be so self-involved and care so little for other people? Are you saying all these people who came for this surprise party wish you ill?”
The logic of that takes my breath away. I have nothing to say.
“Stop being so illogical. I never thought you would be superstitious.”
I have an entire speech about why it’s not about that. It’s just that I would like to celebrate my birthday when it actually is my birthday. But I swallow all of it. I’m too exhausted to fight. It always ends in a fight. And she will sulk and brood and then one day deign to share and talk about what a tough time she’s going through in life with her divorce and all its resultant confusion. Then we will cry and hug and patch up. And I am tired of that sort of thing. So I say nothing. I know I look beaten, sad, tired. And that’s also when she is happy.
When I am finally ill with all that stress, she buys me a pink teddy bear, when she knows I hate pink, and insists on accompanying me to the doctor. I have such a bad migraine that I am wearing sunglasses at 7 pm. The doctor prescribes medication.
“You take way too many pills. That’s why you are forever sick. You must stop this. Join yoga. See, how much weight I have lost. I have even given up eating wheat and all dairy products.”
The migraine is a dull throb around my left eye. “Anyway, let’s go have dinner. It’s 8 pm already. We’ll reach home only around 10 in all this traffic. Let’s at least have dinner.” I nod weakly. The idea of facing traffic is terrifying. I like the idea of sitting in some quiet place and eating something hot and bland and comforting. I say as much.
“You are crazy. You have a bloody truck driver’s palette. You don’t experiment. You are so stuck up with even your food choices. How will you ever grow as a person? We are going to that new disco that’s opened. It has amazing pan Asian food.”
I am allergic to soy products, and fish oil will increase my nausea at this time. I hate Japanese food in particular and most South East Asian cuisine. She knows this. She knows I am allergic to soy.
“Please, can we try that another time?” I beg.
“Why the fuck are you so fucking selfish, man! It’s always your choice. Always what you choose to do. Always what you say! I’m done listening to that shit. We are going to this place. It’s next door. And that’s all.”
We go to that place. It’s loud. They are playing techno music of all things. Not even house or trance. But techno. My head explodes. Or implodes. I cannot tell which. She orders a raw papaya salad and sushi. I promptly rush to the loo to throw up. When I get back to our table, she is slowly shaking her head at me. “Must you do such needless drama all the fucking time?”
We don’t talk at all during dinner. I don’t eat a thing. Belatedly I realise that fresh lime soda is not a good thing to drink when one has a migraine. As we are about to leave the restaurant, the bill having been picked up by me, my eyes feel wet and I can barely reply to the ‘thank you, good night’ of the waiter for the lump in my throat.
We still don’t talk. “Do you know how superbly ridiculous you are being right now?” she finally says.
“I am sick. What on earth do you want me to do?”
“See? You always bring your illness into the mix. Even I have health issues. Everyone does. No one acts the way you do and uses it like a card! I’m sick of this behaviour of yours. I hope someday your good sense prevails and you don’t try to create more drama over everything for kicks.”
“What are you talking about? What did I do?”
“You cannot understand other people at all. You never even want to try. We are all very different people, but how does one tell you that! You are so delusional, you won’t even see that. Like this evening. It was such a great evening and you ensured we didn’t have a good time because it wasn’t a restaurant you wanted to go to. Things would have been very different, I’m sure, if we had gone to the one you wanted to go to.”
“Are you serious? I have a fucking migraine and you took me to a discotheque that plays techno.”
“Exactly. See? It’s always about you, isn’t it? Or your failing health. And look at you making drama now, needlessly. What next? I’m sure you will post this on Facebook or on your blog and milk some sympathy from random strangers. That’s all you do anyway.”
That was the last night we had met.
We have met now after over three years. Though, bumped into each other would be mot juste. She will be the last person I ever meet if I knew I was dying tomorrow. I find it strange to think that she was once a sister to me. We had been close. It was a friendship that started out easy and light. By the time it got difficult, it was hard to move on; I was used to having her around. And she was in the middle of a divorce. Somewhere I argued with myself that she was a well-meaning person, that it was only her circumstance that was making her react the way she was. It took me too long to realise how toxic she really was though all the signs were there; her superficial relationships, her bitchiness towards her own siblings, her moods. Even when others warned me, I stuck on. Why did I tolerate her that long? I have no answer.
She mostly looks the same but she has put on weight. It’s not in my nature to remark on that.
It doesn’t stop her, though. “You have lost weight!” she lies loudly. I can see many eyes sizing me up and am embarrassed.
“Hardly, but I am glad you think so.” I try a nonchalant smile but I am trying again to smoothen things, I know. And I am shocked by how easily I’ve slipped into the role of peacemaker, victim, what-have-you again. But how does one deal with toxic people? If ever there was a course on that, I would attend it.
“So, you say you are happy. Are you happy, really? But, yes, people like you with no conscience find it easier to be happy, no?” and she laughs as if she cracked a splendid joke.
This new barb refers to the fact that I willfully, completely cut off from her after the dinner fiasco. Her last What’s App message had referred to my lack of conscience and appreciation for the person she is. How I was the sort of person who would never understand her or the reality of the world we live in.
I smile. I actually feel sorry for her, this woman whom no one likes for long. This woman who can only be happy if people around her are unhappy. My voice when I speak is calm. I know I don’t have to justify myself to her sorts anymore. I don’t need their understanding. And they have no love to give anyone. Not really.
“You know what, I am actually happy. But I see you haven’t changed a bit. Still the same bitchy nonsense. Don’t you ever get tired of this? Don’t answer. That’s rhetoric.”
She is taken aback, I can tell, as I walk away from her.
Written for a writing prompt on WetInk, the BWW online community platform