"No" she said. And that was it. I knew that her 'No' strictly meant 'No'. Nothing doing. She drove with a straight face, her relentless calm and subtle conviction abating my 0.00001% hope of convincing her to take us back.
With that last try failing, I sighed and leaned back in my seat. It seemed that I really had no choice. We were heading towards Defense Colony, where the AA meeting was being held in a church. I won't be sitting with mom though, there's another group called 'Alateen' which consists of only teenagers who have been subjected to alcohol abuse in their families and/or have had a drinking problem themselves.
I stared outside the car window for the rest of the ride. A sense of nervousness mixed with apprehension and fear was lingering in the pit of my stomach. Denial was definitely a better state to be in. That stupid goddamned workshop ruined it. All was pretty much well before it happened.
The ride lasted only for a few precious moments, and then we were there. I took and deep breath and stepped out. My mom reached out and firmly held my hand, knowing that I was probably turning into a pile of goo inside, but her expression hadn't changed much. She literally pulled me towards the church.
I saw a group of teens sitting on plastic chairs in a circle. They were happily chatting away about something with plastic cups of chai comfortably resting between their palms before the meeting began.
"I'm going upstairs, our meetings are held on the top floor" my mom said, her tone gentler now, "Will you be okay?"
Ofcourse I won't be okay, but I said, "Yeah. Don't worry", and managed to give her a faint smile. She let go of my hand and walked away. I took another deep breath and walked towards the group. They noticed me and one person, who seemed to be the only adult, asked, "Hi, you a new member?"
I quietly cleared my throat and said, "Um, yes"
His face broke into a smile as he said, "Come sit na, meeting shuru hone waali hai. You want some chai?"
I didn't know how to respond to such, shall I say, quick welcome. Everyone was smiling at me. Their smiles seemed welcoming, and the man's words calmed me down a bit. I walked towards a spare chair and sat down, "No thanks. I'm fine"
He clapped his hands together and said, "To meeting start karein?", everyone nodded, and he continued, "Okay. So I'm Amit and I'm going to be chairing this meeting"
"Hi Amit!", everyone said in unison.
"I want to share an incident which is perhaps the most ridiculous stunt I ever pulled in my life. I guess alcoholism drives people nuts after a point of time. Baba, as usual, raat ko late aaye. Family dysfunctional thi, to maa ne dekh kar bhi undekha kar diya ki woh pee kar aaye hain. Mujhe unki taraf itni resentment hoti thi ki kabhi kabhi mujhe unhe maarne ka man karta tha. As usual, we had khana and retired to our beds. Thankful that he didn't hit maa that night, I went to bed. Lekin us din neend nahi aayi, upar se main bada impulsive tha. Gussa control nahi hota tha. A memory of baba beating maa came to mind, and that was it. I decided to leave my house"
I didn't realize when I got so involved in his story that I could visualize all the events in my head. And somehow, my past didn't threaten to plague my mind while he was sharing.
"Raat ke 3 baje mein dilli ki sadkon pe akela ghoom raha tha. Sardi ka mausam tha, lekin mere jaisa sanki insaan karne se pehle nahi, karne ke baad sochta hai. I sat down on a foothpath and watched the cars speed by. Subah ke paanch baje tak wahaan baitha raha, lekin saade paanch baje mujhe laga ki boss, ab thand lag rahi hai aur bhook bhi, chalo ghar waapis chalte hain"
Everyone lightly laughed at that. I couldn't believe with the ease with which this man was sharing his story. No one was teary eyed, or sympathetic. To someone else, this may sound like a very painful memory, but to these people, it was that familiar, mutual feeling of utter helplessness that lead them to do something absolutely ridiculous. All of them had done something like this in their lives, and now that they're sitting here talking about it, they realize how genuinely funny it must have been.
Infact, I could vaguely recall one of my own memories when I tried to empty all my dad's beer bottles into the pot and re-fill them with apple juice. I smiled.
"So I went back, and quietly settled into my bed. My parents didn't even realize that I'd been out half the night", and with that, he completed his sharing and everyone clapped for him. If nothing else, this man had adorned each face with a genuine smile. Including mine.
"Vivek, you've become so grown up! What class are you in?" exclaimed his mami. Vivek gave her a fake smile, Yeah, that tends to happen you know, "11th"
"Arre, beta bada ho gaya" she said with a huge grin plastered on her face as she settled down in the sofa. My mom chipped in and said, "kids grow up very fast nowadays, na?"
"Totally. I mean look Alka's daughter Ritu, she's in BA first year now.....'" and so it went. It didn't take much time for Vivek to notice that he was now completely forgotten, and his presence was no longer required in the room. He quietly slipped out without being noticed as his smaller cousins kept running around the room, which was enough to buy him a moment.
He sighed and shook his head. It was always like this. His relatives would come in pairs, with 2 kids dangling from their arms. The women would sit in the sitting room and gossip, while the men would sit in the garden and talk about cricket or the latest political news. And the kids, well, they roamed around pretty much everywhere. With Vivek being the eldest, and all others being less than 9 yrs old, the bunch was nothing less than a riot.
He was about to enter his room when his dad saw him and called out, "Arre Vivek, zara yahaan aana beta"
What the.., why can't I be in peace just for a while?, He turned around and slowly walked towards the garden, knowing the exact words that would be exchanged in the upcoming conversation.
"Yes dad?" He said in a familiar monotone. Before his dad could speak, his mama, who was also sitting there, spoke up, "Arre bhai, humare saath bhi baith jaya karo. Looks like you've forgotten your mama, kyun?"
I would if I had the choice, "No mama. It's not like that. I just have too much homework today and it's all pending", he said instead.
"How much homework do you get? Aaj kal yeh school wale bhi na, baccho ko maarke chhodenge" he said, contemptuously. Vivek nodded in agreement, hoping that his assent would grant him an exit ticket.
Apparently not. His mama said, "Anyway, we'll let you go in a while. Come have a seat"
Which means half an hour gone waste, Vivek sighed and sat down. He was asked the usual few questions like 'How're your results? What's your rank? What sports do you play? etc etc', and then he was again, forgotten as his mama and dad started talking about some other topic. He listened to their discussion for a while before saying, "Um, I think I should go. Too much homework"
They nodded briefly and went back to their conversation. Vivek got up and walked back to his room, shutting the door behind. He laid down on his bed and stared the ceiling. As long as the door was shut, it would conceal him from all the drama unfolding beyond. He could never become a part of it in spite of having born and brought up in such an atmosphere.
It all radiated a feeling of 'fakeness'. Nothing seemed genuine. Did these relatives really love him? No. Did they really care for him? No. Then why pretend? Just to retain the idea of a 'One big happy family' for a little longer?
He didn't know. And he didn't care. All he knew was that this was not the place he was meant to be in. He was meant to be in a place where he would really feel loved, and genuinely happy.