The Underground, ep. 5: the Invisible

Our guest writer today, Dr. Rodela Khan. Dhaka, Bangladesh. June 2020.

I Wake up to the ominous sound of my alarm & press snooze. I stare at the ceiling and count the days to Friday, only to realize next Friday is a workday too. My heart flutters, not the good kind, and I become aware of the chest pain that’s been there for the last 3 days. I can hear my heart trying to beat out of my chest. I take a deep breath and promise myself it’s going to be a good day. A minute taken to compose me has ended. My phone screen lights up as I touch it, the only thing responsive to my needs right now- I feel & laugh. I read they have painted the sky red around the neighborhood now. I move the curtains to confirm, yep! Everything looks drenched in blood. I rub my eyes & realize the dim murderous red-lit area around us, the red buildings, cars, trees are fashioned to strike fear in the hearts; to keep the untamed in their dens.

Courtesy: Fine art America

The alarm goes off again making me jump up and out of bed. I religiously follow the routines covering every inch of my skin with 3 layers & pack the 4th layer in a polythene bag; no one notices the brand label of bags, shoes & watches anymore. I stuff, inside my mouth, the food I have no appetite for because the supreme knowers of everything have taught us that the vessel containing our soul needs fuelling so that it doesn’t break or have cracks. I find peace in knowing that they don’t know about my volatile torn up soul, tightly gripping my heart, trying to break open my chest and it has already made cracks on the insides of my chest wall. I pat my hand on my chest reminding myself “I’m the tamed.”

I remember to drink only as little water as sufficient & head out. I pause to put on my white invisibility cloak and suddenly the red atmosphere disappears. It’s all black and white now so I step out. I cross from right under the nose of a man guarding the neighborhood, he doesn’t ask questions, the cloak is working. The woman behind me gets sent back to her house. I travel from red through green to another red zone to my workplace. I smile at my fellow menders; warm hugs and handshake are considered rude gestures now, almost like a death threat. We all put on the 4th layer to cover ourselves, hoping that we are well dehydrated & don’t have to take a leak. We begin repairing vessels one by one. Old & young, all of them come with their broken vessels & I try to mend it to my ability.

Courtesy: Claude Rogers, ‘The Patient Opposite’ 1952

Then suddenly my soul twists and swims into my tear ducts, some parts of it lodged in the grooves of my brain start insulting me incessantly again. They have been doing that for weeks now, at whatever hour pleases them. They remind me of my failures & all the mistakes I have made in this eternity of a life, they ridicule me for my unattractiveness & lack of talent. The more I beg them to stop the louder they get as if for the message to sink in. Yet I plead persistently all the while maintaining my composure and speaking kindly to the broken vessel owners because I’m the mender, not a broken vessel. From inside they have a laugh at me, at how they’ll make me suffer for eternity unless I let them escape. I take a break when the voices of my soul become deafening. Tear flows out of my eyes behind my foggy goggles which helps me hide my red eyes. I thank the mask for covering my red nose. The chest pain eases, the screamings inside my head become whispers. I call upon my creator, recite a verse. I feel the cracks on my chest wall deeper than before but held together tightly by an invisible force. My break ends and I begin mending others again.

Courtesy: New York Times

After work, I reach home, shed all my layers, take a hot shower rubbing the soap vigorously over every inch of my skin till it hurts. I lie awake in bed & wait for the chest pain & the voices to come back because it always does; every 4 to 5 hours. I contemplate talking to someone about it but I’m the mender, how will anyone believe my vessel is breaking from the inside? And even when they do, how will I show them the cracks? A CT scan, an Xray machine, what scanning method can scan a soul? God forbid they find out, the supreme knowers of everything; namely, society will then label me as a shoddy vessel and lock me up in the dark storage room.

I close my eyes dreaming of a day I won’t have to fight against an invisible enemy inside out, the day the world and I are both painted green again.

About Guest

Rodela Khan

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Image Courtesy: Dr Tanya Halldórsdóttir

Content Rights: Notes From The Underground/The Underground Collective

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