Just Wait and Play the Game
By Anubha Yadav
My mother often tells my father the same line when he is upset. She says it with confidence, like she has to make him believe it. She says, “It will all connect in the end. And you will know why it happened.” My father always slumps on the sofa after hearing it, then he grabs the television remote and he pushes at the small grey buttons with force like he is trying to say something through them. She wants an acknowledgement from him for what she has told him but he continues to stare at the television. The black screen comes to life. Finally she leaves and returns with tea for him. She gives the cup of tea in this way: see-the-dots-are-already-connecting. Here-take-your-cuppa!
That day I returned from school very upset. The teacher had made me sit with Blind Neeraj, the only blind boy in the class. At school, every month we can sit with our friends for one day. I was walking toward my friend, who sat at the back of the last row on the right, but just as I passed Blind Neeraj I heard my teacher say, “Oh, so it is Neeraj. How nice, wonderful. I didn’t know Neeraj had made a friend.” I froze. My body turned reluctantly and I plopped next to Blind Neeraj.
I was unable to breathe.
My friend stared at me, urging me to get up. I could not. I kept sitting beside Blind Neeraj. Blind Neeraj shifted, moved against the wall, as if making space for me. Blind Neeraj was smiling like he had won an award. He said, “Thank you teacher.”
I came home and cried. The good part was that mother said it to me for the first time. She said it like she says it for father. “It will all connect in the end. And you will know why it all happened.” I blinked through my tears and looked for the television remote but could not find it. Then mother gave me milk like it was some special milk today. I saw her smiling as I sipped my milk between sobs. She was staring at the dead television screen and her fingers were in my hair. “I know the dots will connect, just wait and play the game.” I thought I could do that. Sitting with Blind Neeraj was a game.
I noticed Blind Neeraj also blinked like me. We did not speak that first day of sitting together. He told me I smelled of Lifebuoy soap. Blind Neeraj smiled in some strange direction, not at me, a little off. I knew he would not know that I hadn’t smiled back. That is when Blind Neeraj asked me, “Is something wrong?”
Surprised I asked, “How do you know? Can you see a little?”
Blind Neeraj laughed loudly, got up, and left. I walked up to my friend and told him what my mother had said. He said it was all mumbo-jumbo that sad people use to be happy.
Blind Neeraj repeated everything two times and then he smiled once. He would welcome me even before I had said a word. “Come come…sit sit.” I asked him how he knew it was me. He answered in that stupid ghost sound. “I have a third eye, third eye. I am Shiva. Shiva! Ho hoo ha ha.”
I was not amused. I made a face.
He said, “Ok baba, don’t get angry, I was kidding. I see through my ears.” God, I thought, more mumbo-jumbo. I told Blind Neeraj that no one could see through their ears.
Blind Neeraj smiled. I asked him to stop smiling as there was nothing to smile about. He said blind people have smiling faces.
After a week of sitting together, Blind Neeraj offered to teach me how to see with my ears. The teacher was drawing an isosceles triangle. Blind Neeraj elbowed me, “I can teach you how to see with your ears!” I was not sure how seeing with my ears would help me. Blind Neeraj was making notes as he talked to me. I noticed how he wrote in code word. The dots! I thought of mother. The dots! They were joining. The code! I agreed to learn how to see with my ears.
Blind Neeraj informed me he would come to know if I broke the rules of Blind Neeraj School. I told him he should be happy he had a student, his first student. He smiled and asked me to go home and sit on the floor at nine o’clock with all the curtains drawn, windows panes open, and lights switched off. “Sharp at nine,” he repeated. “The room should be very dark. And tell me what happens.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
Blind Neeraj smiled.
I did it sharp at nine. It was difficult to make the room completely dark. I had to cover the curtains with my bed sheets. I walked back after covering the last window and tripped on something. I hit my chin on the edge of the bed. I had to stretch my hands in the darkness to protect myself from running into something again. I could see the darkness; hear my mother grinding something in the mixer, father was watching television again. I crawled and switched the lights on.
The next day Blind Neeraj asked me what had happened. I decided not to tell him any of it.
“Nothing happened,” I said.
“Blind Neeraj School awards you a D grade,” said Blind Neeraj. “You have failed,” he added. I told him he was no one to fail me. Blind Neeraj said it was his game, his school and so he could fail anyone.
“We could try again,” I whispered.
“How did you fall?” He asked.
“I did not,” I lied.
Blind Neeraj said I smelled of something else today, not Lifebuoy soap, but some medicine.
Blind Neeraj ordered me to go home and tie my eyes with a cloth for the whole evening. “Do not remove it whatever happens.” I got home and tied my mother’s black scarf on my eyes. The knot kept slipping. My mother opened it herself once to handover the milk to me. I asked her to re-tie it and place the milk in my hand. Our fingers touched. I heard my mother’s voice – her voice was like my warm milk. Her hands were cold. She wore three rings?
“What’s this?” She asked.
The dots are connecting I told her.
Although I couldn’t see but I knew she was smiling at me. I smiled too and then stopped because I was smiling exactly like Blind Neeraj. Shit! I thought. What if I become Blind Neeraj? I took off the scarf and blinked.
“Is it an assignment?” asked mother.
“No, it’s just a game.”
The next morning at school I told Blind Neeraj that I tied the scarf but I could not see with my ears. “Nothing happened.”
Blind Neeraj said that that was impossible. It never failed.
“You are a lying crook!” he shouted.
I told him he was nothing more than a blind clown!
Blind Neeraj giggled, “You are actually blind but you don’t know.”
I rubbed my eyes and blinked. He saw somehow. Blind Neeraj pointed at me and shouted – “Blind! Blind!” The whole class stared at me. I felt hot and cold at the same time.
After the lunch break, I moved to sit with my friend. Blind Neeraj sat alone again. It was the English lecture. We were reading a story by Khushwant Singh, about a snake that bit a man.
The man believed the snake was lord Shiva. The snake left three dots on his forehead. “Mark of Vishnu,” read the teacher. I thought of the dots! The dots were following me.
I was staring at Blind Neeraj making his dots as the teacher gave notes about Mark of Vishnu. I hated the dots.
“Blind Neeraj called me blind!” I told my friend.
“He was jus’ messin with you,” my friend said. He sounded sure. “We should become friends with this Blind Neeraj.” He added. “Choose one of us!” I said.
As I walked back from the bus stop I closed my eyes and counted till thirty. Of course I could see! I told my mother that Blind Neeraj called me blind. Mother laughed, “He meant it in another way,” she said. She asked me to be nice to the poor blind boy. Mother did not say Blind Neeraj. Blind boy, she had said. It sounded wrong.
Next day I informed my teacher that I didn’t wish to sit with Blind Neeraj. She said I should have said “visually challenged”. So I repeated my request. I did not wish to sit with visually challenged Neeraj. She said I should simply call him Neeraj. I said, I did not wish to sit with him. I could hear Blind Neeraj shout from behind, “Blind boy, blind boy, he is blind…”
I blinked so that the tears do not roll out of my eyes. The teacher asked both of us to meet her in the lunch break. We walked to her room through the long and rowdy corridor. Blind Neeraj walked with his fancy stick, like it was some special sensor. Tak Tak Tak.
I saw how people made way for the stick. Then a boy came running and banged into the stick. I laughed. Our teacher came out from her room and helped Blind Neeraj.
“Can’t you see?” asked the teacher from the rushing boy.
By the time we reached her room the lunch break was over. I had to sit with Blind Neeraj for another week.
Mother said it again, this time more loudly; she placed her words like they were pebbles making a pathway over a flowing stream.
“It will all connect in the end. And you will know why it happened.”
My friend was right. My mother was crazy.
“Mumbo Jumbo! Mumbo Jumbo!” I screamed and ran to my room.
Father informed mother that he had been packed off from his job. After dinner, mother came up to my room and told me I had to go to school in a local bus from the next month. “We have to save for some time.” Blind Neeraj was the only other student who could not afford a proper school bus in my class. I told them that I would kill myself if they did not pay for my school bus. Father told me I was welcome. It’s tough enough already, he said. He said that twice.
For a minute we all sat quietly on my bed. I knew mother wanted to say it. I am sure all of us were thinking of those two lines. The dots. No one said them.
I told Blind Neeraj that I had to take the local city bus as my father had been packed off. “Finally you will see the world,” chuckled Blind Neeraj. I hated Blind Neeraj. He thought he knew more because he was blind.
We walked together to the bus stop. Blind Neeraj informed me of the bus routes and numbers that stopped near my house. He said he would come with me so that it was less scary. I am not scared, I said. Blind Neeraj laughed. The bus stopped. Blind Neeraj waited for me to board. He boarded after me. It was strange, the whole bus. It was full of school students: checked red and white skirts and a white shirt, with black shoes and red socks. Before I realized what was happening, Blind Neeraj whispered in my ear, “Another school round the corner finishes at our time daily.” All these other students were talking – short whimpers and shrieks escaping their mouths now and then. No one turned to look at us. Blind Neeraj walked amidst them saying hello and hi as if he could see them all. I decided to follow Blind Neeraj. I closed my eyes for some reason. I knew Blind Neeraj was there ahead of me. I could hear his stick dotting the bus floor. I wondered if others in the bus could see me now.
Anubha Yadav is a writer, academic, and filmmaker based in New Delhi. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Wasafiri, Indian Literature, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Elsewhere, Jaggery, and others. She was shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. Her short fiction piece has recently won the Dastaan Award, 2014. Her academic research focuses on screenwriting studies and gender and cinema. She is also working on a non-fiction book of interviews on history of women screenwriters in Mumbai cinema. When not in a classroom, she travels with a backpack full of tea leaves.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.