Blackness of a Storm
Their text comes in at 4 p.m. just as I am flipping the last page of the book I am reading. Just as the words ‘THE END’ begin to break my heart, because I have been living in the bubble of happiness that is this book for five days now, and I didn’t think, didn’t wish, didn’t want to ever come to the last drop of ink.
“Can I see you over lunch, tomorrow, 11 a.m.?” They ask.
It surprises me that my heart does not begin to race instantly. That my first instinct is not to lie. That my tongue does not lose its taste at the possibility of getting outside my house, and meeting people. That my mind does not conjure up a myriad of excuses: I have a splitting headache-cum-migraine. I have back-to-back scheduled meetings with clients. I am allergic to cold; I cannot leave the house in this weather. Sciatica is killing my back and left leg.
It surprises me that the only thing I write back is, “Sure. See you then.”
I wait for the anxiety to kick in. For my palms to begin sweating. For my mind to overthink everything; that dress is too short and tight. That pair of jeans is too rugged. You do not have the bust to carry that v-neck top. When was the last time you retouched your hair? Your nails are too overgrown.
When night comes and I slip into bed, my fingers wait for my mind to draft the message that my heart knows too well; I am sorry something, an emergency, just happened. I am not willing to talk about it right now, but I hope you understand that I won’t make it tomorrow. We can always reschedule when I get back on my feet.
I wait, and wait, and wait. Sleeps knocks me down and the next thing I know, my phone is buzzing next to me.
“It’s 10 a.m.”, they say, “I thought I’d let you know that I am already here. See you at 11?”
It surprises me that I am still calm as I say ‘yes’. As I dash into the bathroom and stand beneath the shower for fifteen minutes, my mind blank as a canvas. As I oil my body and slip into a pair of no-longer-baggy blue jeans. As I wrap my white top with a bold v-neck around my waist. As I let loose part of my hair, so that the left side of my face is partially covered. As I tie the laces of my black sneakers.
It surprises me that it is already 11 a.m., yet I am just locking the door behind me.
My fingers hover over my keyboard, trying to find the strength to type, “Sorry I am running late. It’s okay if you want to leave.”
I do not text.
It surprises me that I am calm as I watch the minutes tick away while I sit in traffic. I do not, even once, get the urge to disembark and go back home. Or hop on a bodaboda to get to my destination fast. I sit in calmness, and hope that they find the strength to text me saying, “I have been waiting for one hour already; I think it is better if we cancel this.”
They do not text.
I settle in the chair opposite them at 12.30 pm. They are smiling right into my face. They hand me a bunch of the most-beautiful flowers I have ever seen, and my heart almost melts at that instant. My face shows, I believe, my desire to bring the flowers to my nose and smell them. They say, softly, “If I knew this is how genuinely happy flowers make you, I’d have brought a larger bouquet.”
Then, I feel the racing of my heart starting to develop. I feel those things I have been trying to ignore, instead burying my head in books, starting to bubble to the surface. I feel my smile trying to contort into a smirk, and I hope against hope that the loose hair on my face conceals this thing that is threatening to break free from my bones.
“What would you like to eat?” They ask, and I wish they remained silent. That they would pick their ringing phone and talk to someone else, instead of going on and on with the, “I will call them later; this is my time with you.”
Then, as if they notice it for the first time, they ask, “Are you okay? Your mind seems like it’s lost in a faraway place.”
I attempt to shake my head, to imply that I am okay but instead, a sharp pain grips my neck, travelling through my spine so that I am momentarily, just slightly, jerked off from my seat. I know what this is. I have been here before, I know how it almost always ends, and I hate that it is happening right now. But before I can try to mitigate whatever this is, I start to lose breath, my left hand finds its way around my throat, a loud belch leaves my mouth, before my body starts spasming.
I lose count of the minutes that go by while they hold me in my chair, rubbing my back, their phone still ringing on the table. From a distance, I hear the restaurant staff asking whether they need to call a hospital, whether they know someone they can call… whether…whether….and then nothing.
When I come to, I am lying in my bed, face up, a slight platter of rain against my bedroom window.
“You’re awake, finally,” they say, and I realise that I am not alone. There’s a looming headache somewhere in my bones, and my throat is so parched I can almost taste the blood.
“How did you…I…” I begin. But they put their right arm over my left and say, “I know how panic attacks manifest. They get me from time to time.”
Then, the blackness returns.