Guilty Happiness by Pruthviraj Madne

There’s a moment every time, right before he starts climbing, in which his brain lights up with an image of some treacherous rock giving in beneath the weight of his bruised body, followed by his wide-eyed, screaming face moving steadily away from him and towards the seemingly whetted pine trees. In this image, other than the horror that they make evident, his eyes are tiny screens playing back his memories; but he cannot quite see them; until the screens that are his eyes begin to grow in size – the farther apart he moves from himself, the larger these screens get: he can’t not look at them. He doesn’t know how he feels about the images they show….but he’d rather watch himself die.

Then he starts to climb. He realizes this vision of his will never come true. He could fall, but the fall wouldn’t kill him, or maybe it will. Does falling on a winding, descending highway kill you? The fall wouldn’t. But he cannot help imagining that loaded truck whose break fails it in the moment of truth speeding towards his red-striped body (it is striped even before he falls)… But even this isn’t possible today. The highway is as empty as his destination is going to be. Also, he’s a pretty good climber and the rocks here have become his friends. They have become used to carrying him across this twenty-foot strip of mountain onto the flat landing that is his destination. They’ve been doing it for as long as he remembers and they are doing it again today. He comes here sometimes. He doesn’t know why. All he knows is that he has to be here to breathe. He needs to breathe. It isn’t easy to be suffocated all the time. It isn’t easy to have a steaming, sweltering ball of anger inside you which you cannot remove and which is fed by this life that you want to end, but don’t end because you are not a coward, but you secretly are because you cannot do anything about…and then there’s her…even she isn’t strong enough….alone…

He doesn’t want to think about it – not here. This isn’t the time. The mountains and the valley & the sunset is too beautiful to be replaced by these thoughts. And so he does. Sitting cross-legged on the landing – his hiding place, his escape – watches the sun set behind darkened mountains & wonders about all those places that lie beyond them. He thinks about the warmth & the crowds & the tall buildings, but most of all about not being here. He wonders how happy his mother is going to be that day; it would be good to watch her cry tears of happiness for once. She doesn’t ever complain…she says it is okay…she says he’s too young to understand…but he can tell how she yearns to run away, to escape, somehow; maybe, her eyes penetrate these mountains just like his in those moments she stands at the kitchen counter staring out the window into nothingness. He knows this, and not because he knows her like a part of himself, but because nobody would want to be where she is. He wants to help her. It kills him to watch her go through what she does.

But he cannot do anything about…he’s helpless…overpowered…Wouldn’t it be easier to die…if it weren’t for her…
But now his time is up. He needs to rush back home. Climbing down is much easier than climbing up if you’re open to bumping your ass a little on the way down – he is: it doesn’t hurt as much as…
In what seems like a flash he is on the road & running homewards. He doesn’t want to be late. He doesn’t know what will happen if… his legs can feel it, his fear. They push themselves a little harder.He reaches home a few moments later. His heart skips a beat on the steps leading to the porch. They are wet & dripping & smell like fear to him. He ascends the steps to find an empty bottle of cheap local whisky fallen on the ground. He stops. He doesn’t want to go in. But he has to, otherwise…

There is a chill that has been running and re-running down his spine. He doesn’t want to hurt. He reaches for the door with a hesitant hand. The door opens to reveal an unusually silent house. He wonders if this is the silence after a storm or the stillness right before. He walks in. There is a floor-mat in front of the TV with an empty, untouched plate in front of it. From the kitchen comes the lingering smell of chicken curry – his father’s favourite thing to eat after he is done…

He removes the curtain that separates the house from the bedrooms. His chest is littered with cough. He hears the shrill wheezing of his nose. He has to muster every ounce of courage that he’s ever had to take the next step and the next and the next…He hears muffled sobs. He knows who is crying and why. He sprints the rest of the way to his parents’ room. It is dark in here. The muffled sobs sound like they’re coming from nowhere, like they’re in his head, like they’re everywhere…

He flicks on the light-switch.
On the floor is his mother: a bangle-less right wrist, a gash on her forehead where the bangles must have shattered protecting her face, blood-mixed tears running down the right side of her face, an iron-press lying beside her. What used to be his father is lying beside the iron-press, streaks of congealing blood running away from its head; it doesn’t move.
He walks up to his mother, kneels beside her and puts his arms around her. Her sobs intensify at his touch.
He isn’t sure whether he should feel guilty about the smile that comes over his face, but it doesn’t stop him. It is time they got the happiness they deserve, it doesn’t really matter if it’s tainted with guilt.

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