It’s 6 am and I don’t want to wake up. I leap out of bed, my body desperate to trick my mind into believing I want to face the day. Rubbing my sleepy eyes I mechanically pack my bag. My chemistry book goes in and my library book comes out. Today is a long day, Tuesdays have no free hours. I have no problem with the length of the day; it’s just that I can’t take their taunting any more. I see them sniggering at me, it hurts to think that people don’t look beyond outward appearances. I had to walk that way to reach school. They knew very well that I heard them insulting me. And yet I had to walk that length pretending I didn’t hear a thing.
I have learnt to watch out for myself. No, I won’t allow people to get close. All of them in their little cliques can entertain each other. I don’t need friends, I have family! And yet I can’t deny how it hurts to be alone at school. All I can think about is what they are thinking about me. I wish they would stop liking behind my back. I wish… how I wish I could be one of them, but I don’t stand a chance.
At school that day we had a counsellor come in and give us a brief talk. Counselling… that is the last thing I need. Another reason for them to laugh at me; a dead giveaway that I am helpless. It breaks the image I have so carefully built up. I, Timothy Kumar, am smart and I don’t need a band of followers to make me feel better. ‘I don’t need anybody, I have family!’ This was my mantra and this kept me sane.
And yet the idea appealed to me… someone whom I could talk to, someone who would keep what I said to themselves. Anne had said that listening to people was her job. She was trained to listen and together we could come up with some way to understand, figure and enhance living life. But what if she thinks I am making it all up. And if I tell her I spend all my time thinking about what others think of me, she will think I am crazy. No, I don’t need anybody, I have family!
This week I made up my mind. I saw how Vidya was brave enough to be one of the first students to go to the counsellor. If she being the topper of the class could go, I could safely do so too!
I entered Anne’s office, my heart in my mouth. What would I tell her, where do I start? But as we started talking, she made things so simple and straight forward. She explained in clear terms that she was not here to judge or advise but to help me. “I don’t know what to say”, I mumbled. “Just start with what brought you here, Timothy. There is no fixed pattern or right way!” she said gently.
And there I poured out my story to this concerned stranger. In bits and pieces, I explained the need I had… the need to maintain a facade that I was normal just like the others. Yes, that made me odd because I feared that everyone would get to know that my father was an alcoholic and couldn’t hold a job. It wasn’t like dad had not tried to give up drinking but he was helpless. It was on my shoulders to keep up this reputation of being self-sufficient and unfazed. It was mum who taught us to dress neatly, our uniforms always pressed, our faces not betraying the struggle within. ‘I don’t need anybody, I have family!’
The counsellor’s words echoed my own, she was like my mirror. In her words I heard myself. It dawned on me that in my pursuit of appearing normal I had made a spectacle of myself. I had been so taken up with keeping my shirt scrupulously clean, no one could dare kick up dust on my shiny black shoes. I was an expert at appearing expressionless, a picture of perfection!
“Timothy, you have been carrying a lot of responsibility. Along with your mum you have tried your best to protect your family’s reputation. Under all those layers, you recognise your dad’s helplessness; you also see how your mum has strived to give you and your sister the skills to appear presentable… to face the world!” said Anne. I choked as I nodded. It had been a burden and it was too heavy to carry. An image of dad, mum and Reena, my little sister came to my mind. I was grateful she didn’t put mum or dad down. They were my family, even if they were not perfectly normal.
“Tim, giving a bit of the real you to others does not mean you hate your family. As a teenager it’s only normal to want friends. Your need to relate to another makes you human.” I smiled through the tears. Yes, I had concentrated so much on doing this balancing act I had denied myself the freedom to be me. No wonder I had that bunch of classmates passing comments at me.
My session with the counsellor ended with my heart beating with hope. Hope that could free myself to embrace life. Tucked under my arm I had a carefully written assignment question my counsellor had given me. It had two tasks to do… one to express to my parents how much they meant to me and the other, reaching out to someone in class that week being myself.
I dashed into Vidya after I said my goodbyes. I gave her the widest smile I had ever given anyone. “Timmy,” she said in disbelief, “you seem mighty happy!’’
“Yes Vidya, I am, I really am!” I called out as I climbed the stairs to my class.