A Short Story by Aarushi Raina Bhaumik
“The gap between the life you want and the life you are living is called Mindset, focus, and consistency! So, fill the gap and slay, sis!” shouted yet another influential reel she had scrolled past this morning.
“Can we skip to the good part?” crooned another, just as her phone pinged with a familiar tone, notifying that her friend had reacted to the fifth dog video she had forwarded to her list, in the last 15 minutes. She instantly skipped the reel she was watching and clicked on the new notification that had popped on her screen, out of sheer habit.
She felt like the Pavlovian dog trained to salivate at the sound of the bell and chuckled to herself at the irony.
Her friend had, yet again, double-tapped the message with the heart emoticon. So, she played the video again, solely to confirm whether her friend’s reaction was appropriate, just like she’d done with the last four videos – was it heart-worthy or should the reaction have been laughing with tears?
Heart-worthy it was, she concluded, as the dog in the video curled up under a hen’s wing, while it cuddled its chick. With a foolish, lingering smile, she scrolled on to the next video.
This is how her mornings usually went by – laying in bed, her comforter carelessly clutched between her legs, her head rested on an uncomfortable pillow, while another one squished between her arms suffocated, as she scrolled, and scrolled, and scrolled.
Sometimes when she’d get sick of scrolling, her mind would remind her that her dog needed to be taken for a walk, the plants needed to be watered, and the project she had was due for that one client she’d managed to retain.
Out of belligerent frustration, and ingrained self-disdain, she’d say to herself, “Gosh, what’s wrong with you, woman? You have bills to pay, money to earn and a dog to keep alive! Get the hell out of bed!”
So, she’d lock the screen and hit the phone lightly on the bed, close her eyes and try to mentally enlist all the things she had to do within the day.
Every single day, as she’d reach this part of her daily routine, she’d begin to feel a pit in her stomach, and throbbing in her chest. So she’d squish her pillow even harder, and curl face down into the other one under her head, letting out an exasperated, “Ughh!”
She blamed it on the pandemic like she did almost everything, these days.
It had been close to two years since the lines between boardroom and bedroom had blurred for a majority of the world. Within two months of the ‘first wave,’ the tide of the pandemic had swept her into believing that she deserved better than the company and the people she was working with. That meant giving up a cushy paycheck and depending entirely on her non-existent savings, her roommate, who happened to be her ex-boyfriend, and scariest of all, her parents!
It had been half a decade since she had borrowed a single rupee from them. The very idea of asking them to support her shook her to her core because she’d known what would come next; moving in with them.
For years, she had felt like she was gasping for breath, drowning in sludge, every time she had to spend more than a few minutes with her family. The conversations almost always used to wind up into ugly arguments and shouting matches around her weight, her worth, her appearance, her life choices, and all the ways the other parent was to blame for her allegedly repulsive personality.
Then, like a fish that is removed from a toxic lake and rehabilitated within a clean, fresh pond, she had finally managed to somehow move out of her home, and convince her boyfriend of three years, to move in with her.
They had met at work, and just like any other office romance, they had hidden their relationship from most of their colleagues. After a bunch of failed relationships and falling for guys who almost always added to the noxiousness that was her life, she had found him – the epitome of optimism. He was unlike any other guy she had ever been attracted to – he was shorter than the others, around the same height as her, had broad shoulders, and just like she had, you could see that he, too, had recently gained a considerable amount of weight. Yet, his presence had felt like the warmth of a hug from a best friend. He had a pleasant disposition, and once she had convinced him to grow a beard, she had found him even more desirable. He had lost his parents years ago, and that made him exponentially perfect in her eyes. He was the one. She had convinced herself, that he was.
“He’s right for me.” she had said to herself before initiating the first move, “He won’t hurt me. There’s not a single person that doesn’t like him.”
And so, they’d begun dating.
As most relationships do, they had started off strong, too. And just like in most relationships, they began discovering each other’s red flags. Yet, after each fight, and each argument, they’d bury the flags and patch up. After all, he was the one. He was the one who’d help her escape her family – if only she could convince him to let her move in.
But she could see he was used to being alone. He wasn’t okay with the idea of sharing his personal space, and three years into the relationship, he still had blaring commitment issues. Yet, he sympathised with her predicament. He knew what she went through at home; she’d made sure he did.
So, after weeks of her pestering him, and laying out elaborate, logical and practical arguments, he had reluctantly agreed to look for houses to rent, provided they had their own rooms.
She was ecstatic! She didn’t mind the idea of having separate rooms. It wasn’t ideal, but at least he had agreed. It was finally happening; they were moving in together.
Then, to neither of their surprise, within a month of signing the lease and shifting into their spacious eleventh-floor, three-bedroom home, all the problems they had collectively chosen to overlook, began to resurface.
He felt stifled, she felt neglected, and one chilly Sunday morning, after an emotionally charged exchange they had through text messages on their phones, while they sat in two separate rooms of their newly rented home, they broke up.
But the lease was signed, she couldn’t afford the rent all by herself, and her pride, but mostly her self-preservation, kicked in.
Her choices were either living with the guy who was unable to bring himself to love her even after three years of a full-blown relationship or moving back to the house where people who resembled her parents lived, where every aspect of her existence would be scrutinised and shredded in the name of parental love.
With broken pride, she chose him.
One month in, they adopted their pets.
Three months in, the pandemic was declared.
Two months later, she quit her job.
It wasn’t a perfect plan, but she was used to imperfection. She had prided herself in being able to go with the flow. “Everything happens for a reason,” she believed.
The first year of the pandemic she felt freer than she ever had. She had finally left a job that gave her no joy, she had only time and time to work on her health, and even though she had an ex-boyfriend in the next room that didn’t want her, she had two pets in the third room, that definitely did, and so she diverted all her imploding love towards them.
This was her moment to do everything she had been putting off for years.
She’d lose weight and create that revenge body she always dreamed of. She’d start writing about things that truly mattered, and oh, what a joyride that would be! The world was her oyster and she could finally feel her creative juices flowing. Despite all the uncertainty, her brain brimmed with ideas and concepts. So, she channelled them all into a new blog, and uninhibitedly immersed herself within all the streaming platforms she could find, with a genuine intent of creating content.
‘Content’ became her favourite word, and her lousy, yet comfortable mattress became her best friend. They helped her escape the bitterness that existed outside her room, and toxicity that breathed outside her window.
She was loving the pandemic.
The pandemic was her origin story.
From here on out, she, too, would be a viral social media sensation – one of the best content creators of her generation.
Then, after a few inconsistent workouts, several successful banana bread experiments, and a handful of mediocre movie reviews she’d created, she began to feel disinterested.
She didn’t want to write about movies, anymore. She just wanted to watch them. The audiovisual feedback she got from them was all the stimulus she needed to distract herself from reality. After all, what was the point? Life had started to feel directionless, again.
Every time she opened her social media app, she found the media discussing high-profile deaths, locust attacks, killer bees, burning forests, or every evidence of how the world was seemingly at its end.
She watched how prejudice had killed a man in broad daylight and how another had been beaten to death by cops, while someone or the other pleaded for contacts of life-saving drug suppliers and oxygen cylinder distributors, or declared how many people had succumbed to the pandemic, or worst of all – posted about their #pandemicwedding.
Meanwhile, she read of the much less fortunate who were either dying of dehydration or from walking on train tracks all the way to their hometowns and villages trying to cope with or save themselves from the pandemic and unemployment, while she had locked herself up comfortably in her high-rise, having voluntarily quit her job, worrying about whether the vegetables they had purchased were washed properly enough.
She felt ashamed. Her privilege disgusted her, but her survival instinct was at an all-time high, and so she escaped it all.
The world was up in flames, but she was safe; right here on her mattress, under her covers, rewatching the same show she had watched at least a dozen times, trying to quiet her guilt.
Six months into the pandemic though, she moved out of her ‘safe space’ just as their lease was at its end. She had no choice.
She got the dog, he got the cat, and the fish had found its way back to the lake.
It was hard to remain cautiously optimistic.
The term had always amused her; oxymorons and ironies often did. She knew what she could expect; she’d lived this same cycle several times over the last five years, and yet she’d keep going, hoping against hope, for a different outcome. She felt like a fool.
Cautiously optimistic? No, she was a hamster on a wheel.
Desperation had become her. She wanted out; one way or another. She couldn’t deal with the cycle anymore. She was gasping for breath, again, but the wheel showed no signs of stopping. She wanted to end it all.
Then, months into the ‘second wave,’ just as she’d run out of hope, the wheel extraordinarily stopped spinning.
A door opened, and she moved into the childhood home that her family had abandoned – a one-room kitchen apartment, in a semi-dilapidated building, standing shabbily in an old neighbourhood.
She was home.
Far enough for her to find air again, and close enough for her not to feel like the worst daughter.
It wasn’t an easy ask, and the moment that had led up to it was as ugly as ugly can get. But, it was worth it, for she was home!
She felt hope kindle again.
This was the first time she’d lived all by herself! Oh, the possibilities she could envision!
She’d finally start that YouTube page, and upload all her talents for the world to see! She finally had the silence she needed so desperately for her business venture as a content writer to flourish! Oh, and all the time she’d have to get back to reading. This was her turning point. She was on the path to becoming her best self, and she finally had the space to achieve it!
What excited her the most was how she could decorate her home as she wanted, at last! For, how much she’d hated how her parents’ home lacked space. Even with three bedrooms, that house was a mess. Almost thirty years worth of junk, collected between her parents and her, all hoarded into one home. Every turn, every step you’d take, your shins or shoulders would be bruised by an ugly steel cupboard or a bulky wooden bed. But her home, no, her home would have as little furniture as possible and ample room for movement. She’d cook her own meals, clean her own house, and hustle like the ‘boss bitch’ her favourite affirmation pages said she was.
Good heavens! She. Was. Home!
Then, months into her shiny new perspective on life, within her new safe space, she found herself back under the covers, scrolling through her phone, reprimanding herself for being a disappointment; her inner voice sounding eerily like her mom’s. After several silent protests, she finally convinced her body to get out of bed to do all the things she needed to do, as her knees creaked in objection.
She thought of her mental list, again – take the dog for a walk, water the plants, clean the house, take a bath, cook breakfast, write down your thoughts for clarity, read a novel for one hour, get to work and submit the project, cook your lunch, do not order in, again, go for a walk in the evening, come back home and do the night-time skincare routine, and go to bed on time, so that you wake up on time.
And so, breathless under her mask and bodily weight, she took her dog for a walk, came back and watered the plants, and just as she was done, she realised she was starving. So, she decided it made sense to skip cleaning the house and taking a bath, just like she’d done the last few days, and instead, went straight to fixing herself some breakfast.
As she walked across the dirty floor covered with dog hair and dust stains, she made another mental note, “I’ll clean up tomorrow for sure.” Then, just as she reached the kitchen and opened the door to her fridge to see what she could make for breakfast a familiar thought presented itself.
“What if I order in? It’ll save time, and I can simply start working while I wait for the food to get delivered.”
“No. Not again, today,” she protested, “you already did that last night.”
“But, what about, productivity? If you’re worried about your weight gain, you could simply order for something healthy?” she thought, as she headed towards her phone, and opened the ordering app.
“NO! Don’t do this, you have no money to spare!” her better sense exclaimed.
“Fine.” the thought resigned, “But if we have to do something boring like chopping stuff, we need something to do simultaneously.” it bargained.
“Alright. But once we’re done, we’ll start working.” she compromised.
“Good plan,” they both agreed.
And so, as the day progressed, there lay on her cluttered table, at a corner of her now cluttered home, the signs of all the things she’d meant to take up – the mystery novel she’d once decided to purchase with several others just like it, in a fit of fantasy brought on by a book sale, years ago; the face massager that hadn’t been used in weeks after she swore to ‘invest’ more in her skincare, and the empty diary she’d once stolen from her father’s cupboard, with the hope of journaling every day – all of them, left wanting for her attention, just like the rest of her aspirations, as she binged on yet another episode, that day.