When the meeting got over, I finally looked up and saw everyone smiling warmly. We got up and held each other's hands firmly, this was a ritual I was aware of. Closing our eyes, we started chanting the customary AA prayer.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
I felt a soft thrust on my hand as everyone shook the held hands and chorused, ‘It works if you work it!’
Later, the senior group came down and almost instantly, the atmosphere transitioned to something very similar to a family re-union. Everyone hugged everyone, and everyone laughed with everyone. Members formed small groups and talked away about something.
I stood in one corner, looking at the scene before my eyes. Had it been a different situation and a different place, I’d have instantly deemed it to be superficial and fake, but not this place. Not a place where people could laugh so easily at their life-changing events, and at the same time, cry at the smallest of things. A smile played on my lips, I knew that this was a good place. I just didn’t know how I was going to survive it.
I noticed my mom standing in a group of four and laughing about something. I raised my hand and waved at her, trying to catch her attention. She finally noticed me and gestured me to come towards her, I slowly shook my head and mouthed, ‘It’s okay’ to her.
Someone behind me tapped on my shoulder. I turned around to see a guy smiling at me, ‘Coffee?’
I looked at him for a moment and said, ‘No thanks’
He nodded, ‘New member?’
‘I’m Yash, you?’
‘Aah, I always loved that name. Extremely symbolic, isn’t it?’, he said, grinning.
I didn’t know how to respond, so I just managed to give him a small smile and said, ‘Um, I guess?’
“Come, I’ll introduce you to my group”, and having said that, he started walking towards a small group sitting in one corner, leaving me behind to follow. I glanced around, feeling absolutely and completely fazed out. Was everyone here so bizarrely welcoming?
Sensing that it would be awkward not to follow when he had assumed that I would, I slowly walked towards them.
“Guys, this is Naina. New member”, said Yash as we joined them. And then hands were shook, introductions were exchanged, and in no time, I was being treated as just an old member as any of them. Many offered to be my sponsors, but I wasn’t ready. Not yet. Any who, we exchanged numbers.
Finally, after the ‘voluntary extended meeting: VEM’, as Yash’s group liked to call it, got over, mom and I walked out of the church and towards our car, waving and saying ‘Byes’ to everyone. As we neared the parking slot, she asked me, “So?”
I looked at her, “So?”
“So, how was it?”, she said expectedly.
I nodded, “Good. Better than last time”
She smiled, “Does that mean you’ll come next week?”
Silence followed the question for a few moments. Did I want to? I had no idea. My conscious wasn’t answering the question. But then I looked at her in the eye and nodded, “I will”
“Nandita, have some breakfast beta”, said her mom gently as she stared at Nandita roughly stuffing her books into her bag.
“Not hungry”, she mumbled, picked up her bad and started to walk towards the door. But her mom stood in her way, her expression mellow and almost apologetic, “Please Nandu, have something. You didn’t have dinner either”
Nandita took a deep breath and said, “Please mom, I’m getting late. I have to go”, and without looking up, she walked past her mother, leaving her mom on the verge of tears.
She rushed out of the gate, thankful that the tears hadn’t spilled in front of her mom. Anger, mixed with sadness overwhelmed her, and before she knew it, she was crying. But she kept walking fast, hoping that the exercise would somehow make the anger go away. Make the hurt go away. Onlookers stared at her tear-stricken as she walked towards her bus stand, but she didn’t care. She could no longer suppress her emotions behind the facade of happiness.
As the bus station faded out of sight, she stared out of the window, thinking about how messy the situation had become. After the confrontation last night, she had shut herself up in her room. Her parents, who were shell shocked at her outburst and particularly at the mention of divorce, didn’t know what to do. It was a slow night. Nandita tried to sleep, but the tears wouldn’t stop.
Now, devoid of all energy, she sighed and closed her eyes. Her head spinned, but she made no effort to open her eyes. Sometimes, being in the dark was better than being in the light.
Nandita walked in, looking as dishevelled and tired as someone who had been to hell and back. She sat down beside me and put her head down on the table. I didn’t ask what was wrong, I knew.
I put a hand on her shoulder, “You didn’t sleep?”
She shook her head without looking up. My heart broke at the sight of her. Someone who was so strong, so tough, someone who faced every problem with a smile, had been reduced to this state. Finding no words, I continued to grip her shoulder tightly, trying to convey my support through that touch.
I took a deep breath and looked up, wondering how pain always lasted longer than happiness. Just then, I noticed a few boys of my class stealing glances at Nandita and smirking at their inside joke. I knew who it was, Varun, the wannabe stud cum ass**** of the class. And his followers.
Rage washed through me. Suppressing my compulsive desire to punch his face, I suddenly got up and yelled across the class, “Hey Varun, what’s so funny? Did you just look at yourself in the mirror or did you and your kids just scare a 1st grader?”
The smirk was wiped off his face as the entire class turned to stare at him. Nandita realized what was going on, and she stood up too, “Naina, just let it go. Forget –”
But Varun cut her off, “Who the hell is talking to you, Ms. freak? Can’t you mind your own f****g business like always?”
“Yeah? Then let me tell you something, dude. You crack another joke at my friend and I’m going to break that conceited nose of yours. And trust me, I don’t care what your mommy says about it. Get it?”, I replied, now feeling the anger pulsing through my body. Nandita was now pulling my arm but I continued to stare at Varun who was too, boiling with rage. Just as he opened his mouth to reply, our class teacher walked in and broke the deathly silence that had lingered in the room before her entrance.
Nandita pulled me down to our seat and said, “What the hell were you thinking?”
“He was laughing at you!”, I replied indignantly.
“He laughs at everyone, Naina. That’s what he’s here for, you shouldn’t bother-”
“Well I’m sorry for caring”, I spat out and turned away. I heard her sigh and drop the subject for the moment.