One day after another and now we’ve left behind December. I still haven’t flipped the pages of the calendar, but time is a resolute friend on an endless walk. It keeps marching ahead. Despite my protestations it keeps walking, leaving me with no choice but to follow along.
Time’s steps are sure and steady, so unlike my own fumbling gait. I stumble and skid, sometimes saving myself from the embarrassment of a collapse and sometimes falling face first onto the ground. I remind myself to keep my eyes on my own two feet but my vision wanders all the way ahead, to some distant mountain peak still shrouded in clouds of confusion. It’s all too overwhelming, the path long and arduous and my own heart, a web of anxieties. But in moments such as these, I only need to peek over my shoulder and look at my clumsy footsteps scattered across the path, suggesting the walk of a child that has just learnt to stand up on its pudgy feet.
I may have crawled a mile and stumbled for a while, and still, I have come a long way.
The passage of time is a wonderful phenomenon. It sculpts and it moulds, our memories and our stories. Drumming its fingers on the lump of acquired experiences, smoothening the creases of emotions, the touch of time softens the past until it melts a little and fades a little, dissolving into a pool of colours and then solidifying it into an image you faintly recognise.
One such image in my memory is a decade old. Back when I was in third grade, a boy in my class spilt ink all over his white shirt. This wasn’t a quick splatter caused by a shaky elbow and a fragile inkpot. If it had been that, I might as well have forgotten it. But this incident persists in my memory, like a stubborn stain on a favourite dress because of its absolute absurdity. Sitting in class, bored out of his wits, he’d probably started chewing on an ink refill. And of course, it leaked. But he didn’t realise this, neither did the teacher nor did the thirty other bored students seated in that classroom. The ink leaked right out of the thin plastic tube, and a cascade of indigo began trickling from the corners of his mouth, dripping all the way to the edges of his shirt. I still don’t know how he managed to pull that off, part of that memory seems like a fictional recollection. But the look of horror that spread across the teacher’s face as she ordered him to clean up the mess and a similar look of horror on his face which suggested he was oblivious to the blue saga that he has unleashed, are inked in my mind like caricatures from a comic book.
Days after that incident, I carried a certain fear of ink and a certain fear of pens. I was fully convinced that if I touched a pen, it would leak its way into my skin and I’d be left with a cancer of some sort. Now it all seems funny, but back then the fear was real. The world in my head was far more bewildering than the world outside, and it functioned as per its own indigenous rules. One such rule was that if I managed to count up to a hundred before the elevator reached the ground floor, my week would go splendid and I would have nothing to fear. But heaven forbid if I couldn’t complete my counting then disaster was sure to strike.
I can now look back and call my younger self silly. With time, my constellation of superstitions crumbled and I realised that those fears were nothing more than clever tricks that my mind played on itself. It was all perhaps a game, an arcade of lies where I played dutifully until I realised that those rules had no basis, springing out of nowhere yet managing to hold me in their grip.
The games have to end eventually and they did. I missed counting up to a hundred but the next week rolled out just fine. While doodling with an ink pen, I stained my tongue, turning the pink to purple. A part of me shuddered and I ran up to my mother to ask her if this accident would shorten my lifespan. She simply laughed and asked me to wash it off.
What happened next? Nothing much. I grew up and the boy with the stained shirt grew up and the world continued spinning.
I want to tell myself that things are different now, that I no longer believe in these silly thoughts, but has anything really changed? Growing up has only made these fears more serious and solemn sounding. I may no longer worry about spilling ink but I do worry about not being worthy enough. I now stand in the lift without counting to a century, yet I haven’t entirely given up on wondering if my work is good enough. The games now have different names.
But if the fears of my past were silly, so are the ones that seize me now. In moments of absolute faith, I know that they too will fall off. Sooner or later, the games will end, the ink will fade and we will look back only to have a good laugh at our silly little selves.
And it is this understanding that makes all the difference.