Dust Me Off
Sometimes, I wonder what it would feel like to just collapse. Maybe in a school hallway, no, a grocery store because that way you won’t recognize the faces as you fall. I realize I will never know if anybody watched my body tip back from my heels like a trust fall into thin air thinking that she deserved better. I’d like to think that the marble floors will be familiar to the stones on my patio and that I will be wearing my ripped jeans with that cute pink top from god knows where. I’d fall straight down just hard enough for people to hear without cracking my skull or anything else important.
Sometimes, I like to practice what that would be like; on the tips of staircases and between bookshelves, I lay back, my chin to the sky to feel the whoosh being forced out of my chest. A girl caught me once, stared at me with an eyebrow up and dirt in her eyes. I didn’t really care. It’s not like I knew her or that she was some boy Ma would want me to impress. I lay with my head hanging off my bed in a way that my shoulders are just inches away from hitting the ground. My hands rise to my mouth asking for a long breath of the cigarette in my hands. I hold it between my thumb and index fingers because I’m still scared of getting burned. As I blow out again, the smoke curls and twists like my hair nipping at the aluminum foil taped to my smoke detector. The pounding in my head is almost lulling as the dark air fills my body, or maybe, it is simply the blood rushing to my head. My eyes wander, almost ominously, around the room questioning why the walls are so bare as if I hadn’t torn down each poster one by one after each new friend came home. The ash makes me forget things.
“Aiza–,” Ma tweets from outside my door. I blow on my cigarette and crush it swiftly into the ashtray under my bed.
“Baba is just about coming back. Greet him, won’t you?”
I flip onto my stomach just as she enters and brush the bedsheets over all my choking hazards while jumping to my feet. I nod once and run out of the room just to make sure she doesn’t come in. The apartment is always slightly too dark because of the landlord and his cheap lightbulbs. The one at the front door only flickers –drives Ma crazy. If you tape the switch just right, though, it stays lit for longer. Just as the top of my head is illuminated by the light, the doorbell rings. It’s always my dad, even though he has a key, I think he likes the attention.
I do not dare look at his face as it is sickly sweet with what some might call love and others call desperation. His eyes are burning tattoos onto my neck before he asks if Mama is home.
I nod and let him in. He drops his bags by the door like a knight getting relieved of his position, and takes his leather Oxfords off before walking in. I linger for a moment to see if I can find any mints in his bags to paint over the shame in my breath. I can’t. He tramps into the kitchen, and the cringe-worthy musk and ginger from his cologne tear through the house. He pecks my mom on the top of her head, brings her a cup of tea, and sits down for dinner. He makes her a cup of tea even if she doesn’t want it. Tonight is biryani night, and we eat until our bellies are silenced by rice and anise. After this, Ba goes into his room, and Ma follows saying something about how she never gets to see him—my cue to float back to my own room. Usually, this is when I start homework or listen to the new indie pop music I get sent from my best friend, Blythe. I wonder whether if I stay still for enough time, will my body stop moving at all? Please.
The ginger and musk assert their presence first, and it suffocates me before I can make a sound. My heart screams that they are unwelcome, catastrophic if they continue, but they always seem to understand the maze under the covers. He doesn’t say anything anymore. His hands are the size of dragonfruits, and they are shaking as they start on my thighs. They are vicious and pernicious drawing circles, all too harshly, on my knees and neck so that only purple bumps, like rashes, remain. One hand has a permanent hold on my mouth, like I’m dumb enough to scream. I wish I were cruel enough to bite.
Don’t you make a sound, baby. I promise you, this is what you want. For Baba, alright?
They crawl disastrous into my hair and my lips as if trying to brush away the tears. Suddenly, the ash in the room cannot disguise the smell of spice and the taste of tragedy. The weight of something so unlawful against my small frame is almost enough to make me pass out. Almost. I wish.
It’s your fault. You’re a fucking mess. I’ll fix you.
I only once wondered why Ma never came. I hope to god it is something in the tea he gives her.
Snap your fingers, then forget.
I wonder if popsicles could talk, what would they say? Do they know that the moment they touch freedom they are doomed to fall apart? Poor orange creamsicle. My hands are sticky and warm as the droplets of sweetness land on my thumbs. I try to lick them up, but my phone rings before I am successful.
“Hey! You up for a dance tonight?”
“What a hello, Blythe, I feel so special.”
“Sorry, but still, dance? Cute new people, and music, and drinks, and of course me.”
“Fine, but only for the music.”
“Great–and just maybe not talk about, you know, just–”
“That you like girls. I mean, it’s not me, but this place, the people there it’s just–”
“When do I ever.”
I mill around for a while after that just to avoid going home. There’s a little heaviness in my stomach from the fact that I know Ma wanted to teach me to embroider tonight, but it is not enough to make me stay. I go back home at 7:30, pick up my signature purple dress and heels, spritz six sprays of my lemon, jasmine perfume, walk past my mother hollering that I’m going somewhere with Blythe, and walk out. I do not kiss her. I do not wait for her protests because, perhaps, I know her hands have never stopped anything.
It smells distinctly of oranges and sweat in the ballroom—like a girls’ locker room and too much deodorant. Blythe takes my hand and leads me to a table with two girls and a guy she knows. Clara is petite and feisty with her eyebrows moving more than her mouth at everything somebody else says. Next to her is Daniel with the chill, I-know-exactly-what-you-are-thinking smirk, but his talk is bland. Nobody cares about the car your great grandfather inherited. I can tell he’s staring at me like I’m some exotic bird, black hair and thick eyelashes. Finally, Bianca. She is wearing a dark green jumpsuit with black heels and has her hair in a tight bun,. She talks with her hands and eyes because somehow they glow simultaneously.
I try not to stare, I swear, but I can’t help but laugh at what she says. I wonder what it would be like to dance with her. Would she catch me before I collapsed? She would. I feel a sharp pain on my side as Blythe shoves an elbow into it.
I promised I would not be that girl. I promised I would not be his fucking mess.
“Hey Daniel, entertain a dance with me?”
I can almost see his ears perk in the certain victory of seducing another girl into the worst three minutes of her life. I watch as Bianca dims just a little. Maybe my mind is playing tricks, but I want to rescind my offer. He takes my hand aggressively, and, for a second, I do not feel how clammy they are. We dance to one of those old slow songs with no rhythm or purpose. His breath smells of tomato sauce and punch, and the wrists of his tux are dripping in sweat. The flashing lights make the room look filled with smoke, and it is sickening. As he spins me into his shoulder, I am careful not to get too close. I can smell the aftershave in his cologne, and am terrified that perhaps under all the sprays of my perfume, he can still smell the musk and ginger under my fingernails. Still, maybe, if I let him in, the aftershave will dominate it all.
We dance like this through the night. Me being careful not to step on his toes. Him holding my waist so tightly that I could have passed out. Blythe is worlds away. Bianca has moved on to laugh about something or the other said by god knows who. I wonder what she smells like. Probably classy like lilies and wine. No. I hold onto Daniel as if he could satisfy my desire to be absconded in constellation kisses. I hold on to him as if he will never let me fall. Because right here, everything is okay.
This piece keeps you guessing every minute, and yet it feels so very, very real at the same time. Even with this tiniest snapshot of Aiza’s life, I feel like I know her already.
Adya Chatterjee is a sophomore at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA. She will be graduating in 2022. She grew up in Singapore where she found a special love for slam poetry. Other than writing poetry, she loves to play basketball, watch an excessive amount of movies, and spend time with dogs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR