Ayush loved his dad, after his mom died, his dad was his only family. Yes, he had an extended family but he hardly met them. But after his mom’s death, his dad seemed to have slipped into perennial workaholism. He was always late, skipped his meals alot of times, and was slowly edging towards becoming a depressive. Although they had fun despite all these problems, there were times when both of them just couldn’t cope.
Ayush and his dad, neither of them had actually overcome the grief. They had just found a temporary escape. They had both become extremely protective of each other, and panicked when even the slightest of things went wrong. Like now.
Ayush tried his number again. No answer.
“Damn it!”, he spat out. Running a hand through his hair, he opened his drawer and fished out his pack of cigarettes. He had been trying to get rid of his addiction to smoking for a while. But it never really helped, specially in moments like this, when there was no coping mechanism. His hands shivered as he struggled to choose between the temptation and his conscious. After a few minutes, he simply gave up and balanced the cigarette in his mouth. Screw it, he thought and lit it with a matchstick.
The D day is here. We’re finally sitting in the conference room, waiting for the workshop to begin. My palms have been sweaty for the past 4 hours. 3 days of pondering and introspection, and I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to deal with it. I have a notebook and a pen with me, to note down the important things. Although I know I’m not going to jot down anything.
I look around. Nandita is sitting next to me. She doesn’t know what I’m going through at this moment, but I’m still glad to have her here. It’s like having an assurance by your side.
She suddenly looked at me and said, “I need to talk to you”
I shrugged and said, “Shoot”
“Err, not here. It’s um, personal. After the workshop? Chuski treat?”
I smiled and said, “Sure dude”
The workshop coordinator entered, along with some of our teachers, and we all were made to get up. I rolled my eyes as everyone chanted, “Good morning sir”
I could practically imagine our principal holding a gun to our foreheads and threatening us to wish the guy he paid to babble bullshit in front of us. It sort of gives the impression that the school is really concerned about our emotional and mental well-being.
I gulped as I took my seat again. “Alcoholism is slow poison” was written on every banner that hung in the room. The coordinator took his position on the podium and gave us a smile.
“Good morning, everyone. As you all know, we’ve all gathered here to discuss alcoholism amongst teenagers. I’m sure it’s no secret to you that kids of your age are thoughtlessly indulging in alcoholism, absolutely unaware of the consequences. Now, here we’re going to show you all a small presentation depicting the problems that come along with such a disease”, he spoke in fluid English.
The initial few minutes were fine. He mainly talked about how bad it was for teenagers to mindlessly get attracted towards alcoholism as a solution to all their problem. Then he blamed peer pressure for being one of the strongest factors. He talked about how teens end up loosing everything they value just because of this addiction.
I silently kept my head down and focused on drawing pikachu on my notepad. Although I was aware of what he was saying, I tried not to process his words. I tried to detach myself from their meaning so all that was really left was hollow words. The pikachu looked pretty cute. I wish I had yellow colour with me. Instead, I resorted to pencil shading.
“As you can see in this slide, childhood trauma plays an important role in shaping the child’s personality. If a kid has seen alcoholism in his/her family, or has lived with alcoholic parents, then it is sure to leave a deep impact upon the child’s mind. Children are too young and immature to deal with such problems, so they adopt the only coping method – denial, and over the period of time – dissociation..”
The moment he mentioned alcoholic parents, it seemed as though all the tight strings of defense that I had so carefully strung, snapped into two in just a moment. My hands went numb and the incomplete Pikachu became hazy. The coordinator continued, and I wanted him to stop, but he didn’t. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and the temperature seemed to drop by a million degrees.
As I rubbed my forehead with my thumb and forefinger, I felt a hand upon my shoulder. With all the energy I could muster, I turned around and saw that it was Nandita. She had a concerned expression on her face. I quickly mumbled, “I-I think I’m n-not feeling too well, I’ll just be back”
And with that, I got up and ran out of the conference room without waiting for her response. I dashed towards the first place that came to my mind – the washroom. Literally banging the door open, I ran inside and turned on the tap with full force.
I splashed water on my face multiple times to get rid of the nervousness. Taking deep breaths, I turned off the tap and stared at my reflection. I looked as though I had just been to hell and back.
“F**k!”, I swore loudly. A sudden urge to slam my fist into the washroom mirror overcame me, but instead, I kicked into the wall, hard. I did hurt my toe, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. It was a few moments before my breathing returned to normal and my blood stopped flooding my brain. I quietly slid down the washroom door and put my face into my hands.
I just realized that I had ran out of the room without informing my teachers. Now I’m in deep shit. They’re going to give me a good piece of their mind later. I definitely cannot go back now, not until the break happens and all the students come out. I’ll go back with Nandita later.
As I was about to walk out of the washroom, I noticed someone walking across the football ground through the little window in the loo. I thought only the 11th and 12th class was supposed to come today, and they’re already inside. My curiosity got the better of me and I walked out of the loo towards the ground. As I got nearer, I realized that it was Ayush.
He slowly took a long drag at his cigarette as I reached him.
“You smoke?”, I asked, making him jump slightly. He turned around and looked at me, “You?” and then quickly threw the cigarette on the ground and crushed it with his foot.
“You didn’t really have to do that, you know. It’s okay with me. I mean, I won’t tell anyone”, I said, a little amused at his reaction. Frankly, I was a little surprised to know that he smoked, but then, looks can be deceptive. Plus I’m pretty sure half our class either smokes or drinks. I can suddenly picture my classmates inwardly laughing at the coordinator, thinking that they were going to drink that night anyway.
He shrugged and said, “Should have told me before”, and with that he picked out another cigarette from his packet and lit it with a lighter. I gave him a ‘yeah whatever’ look.
“You think authorities won’t get suspicious if they find your cigarette buds lying around on the ground?”, I asked him. We had started walking, without realizing it.
“Well, our football coach smokes. I don’t know if you know it, but I’ve seen him smoking on this ground alot of times. He never gets caught. The cleaners probably brush it away without looking”, he replied.
I nodded. It made sense. We walked in silence for a while before he asked, “Why aern’t you inside?”
“I could ask the same question”
He chuckled and said, “I got bored, so I kind of sneaked out. Will go back after the break”
“Well same here”, I said, “I,um, didn’t find it too interesting”
“Yeah, it’s pretty worthless. Our class will go and drink anyway. We’ve had numerous workshops on smoking too, but frankly, it’s all bullshit. Didn’t stop me”, he said, conviction mixed with distaste evident in his voice.
I nodded, “I know. Just paid drama”, I paused before continuing, “So, can I ask you how you started smoking?”
He just shrugged. I got the message. He didn’t want to talk about it. We resorted to walking in silence instead.