The Laughing Girl
The Laughing Girl8 mins 98 8 mins 98
The sickly green tentacles twist around Hema’s body and lift her in the air. Her screams slash through the darkness and make the silent night bleed. The tentacles first twist her ankle with a soft crunch that is followed by another scream. Her right ankle finds itself treated similarly. Then her left wrist. Then her right wrist. Then her first knee. Then the other one. One by one, they break every joint so that by the end she resembles nothing more than a broken, crumpled doll. I stand and watch as her screams slowly fade into desperate whimpers. She isn’t asking for mercy any longer. She is asking for death. A tentacle wraps around her neck and she knows what’s coming next. Her eyes bulge as her body begs for oxygen. I watch. I say nothing. I am silent even as her head is ripped from her body and the spurt of blood bathes me crimson.
“So, you had another dream?”
“Would you like to tell me something about it?”
I shake my head.
“Alright. How about you tell me what you had dinner for last night.”
“Palak paneer,” I say softly.
“And? Rice or roti?”
“Roti. I don’t like rice.”
“Let me tell you a secret. Me neither.” Dr. Prakash laughs.
I try to smile back at him and I know immediately that the attempt fails. He was, in many ways, just like the many therapists I have visited before. He always said the right thing. He always smiled like he had been waiting for me to arrive and grace his career. Everything about him was perfect. He spoke with polite interest in my case and never pushed me too much. I was waiting for him to give up on me. All of the others had.
“What else do you like to eat, Mihika?”
“What does that have to do with my dreams?”
“Nothing. I am just curious. You’re not leaving my office for at least an hour so I might as well get to know you a bit better.”
I am surprised. I had given up on adults a long time ago. They were seldom truthful. For a ten-year-old like me, adults were the most puzzling mystery. I never understood what made them the way they were. Why they drank that nasty golden-coloured alcohol or why they cried at night and yet smiled like the sun in the morning after. Nothing about them made sense but somehow Dr. Prakash did. Only in this instance, mind you. I consider his statement and murmur, “Pav Bhaji.”
“Good taste. I like it a lot too. It has a bit of everything, doesn’t it?”
I nod silently. He plows on. “I used to have it every other day when I used to go to college. I have very fond memories of fighting over the last piece of pav with my friends.” He laughs.
“All of us used to only get two back at Aalay. Nobody dared to ask for more.”
I nod again. “The orphanage I came from.”
Realization dawns over him and he smiles. “I see. Do you miss your friends over there?”
“You’re… not gonna make fun of me?” I ask, squinting my eyes at him.
“Why should I?” His voice loses the warmth. He speaks to me with a familiarity I have never experienced. It makes a shiver go down my spine. “I too came from one such place.”
“Your parents fucked up too?” I laugh. He laughs with me.
“Yes. Apparently one of them tried to kill me. Tried to cut my pretty little neck.” He tilts his head and pulls his collar away to saw an ugly scar to me. It resembles a crooked branch. It is evident that its several years old. The scarring over it is thick and dark. I gasp and rise from the couch. “Can I touch it?”
I let my finger trace the scar lightly. As I do, I feel a slight pull on that finger, and memories rise within me which I am certain are not my own. Screaming. Blood. A dull thwack. I am not scared of these things anymore but what does scare me are dense walls of trees that he is running through. He keeps running and running and running. He doesn’t stop. But I do. I withdraw my hand and look at him with wide eyes. His pupils have almost completely spread over his otherwise brown irises. He is smiling though. I smile too. “My parents flung me at a car so that I’d die.”
“Really?” says he, “How painfully unoriginal.”
I laugh and sit on the couch again. I feel much better disposed towards him. “They don’t talk about it though. My new parents.”
“Hmm… They seldom do.”
“It’s frustrating. They introduce me as their daughter but I am not their daughter. Anyone with eyes can say that. I am so beautiful and they are… They are so unremarkable and ordinary.”
He laughs heartily and I am glad that he doesn’t scold me as the other adults do. Or hit me as Hema had. “I agree with you, Mihika. You are exquisite. Beyond… unique.” The last two words are a little more than a rasp. I find myself excited. He is different. He is different than everyone I have met.
“Do you have dreams like mine, Doctor?” I ask and somehow, I am repulsed by how utterly childish I sound. Oh, how I hate being young. Being trapped in this little body.
The Doctor nods. “I used to when I was younger. I don’t anymore.”
“Don’t you miss them?”
“I do,” he confesses. He rises and sits beside me. He takes my tiny hand in his. It is cold and comforting. “I miss being able to see how people die. How the light slowly leaves their eyes. How they crawl to their death and how they still manage to be stupidly surprised when they finally realize that they will no longer be able to lead their absolutely pathetic existence.”
I giggle. “It’s really fun sometimes, isn’t it?”
“It is, darling. It most certainly is.” His voice is like velvet. Smooth and dark and oh so lovely. Why couldn’t he adopt me? “Who appeared in your last dream, Mihika? Let me see if you are as good as I was.”
“Hema Aunty. She was leeched.”
“Leeched?” He frowns and it really doesn’t suit his handsome face. I like the dead smile better. “Lynched?”
I nod. “I dreamt about her being torn to pieces by a green monster.”
“Oh!” He chuckles. “You’re good. You’re really good, my lady.”
I bloom at his praise. His face darkens and I wilt again. “Do you know why this happens?”
“My dreams?” I offer, eager to please him again. Show him that I am smart. That I am just as good as he is if not better.
He nods. “Because there is no one who doesn’t have anybody. Orphans like you and me – orphans who were on the brink of death – orphans who have kissed the end of their lives and come back to thrive are special. And special people,” he rasps, “have special guardians. We have returned from hell, my darling, and we carry a bit of it in us.”
I sigh. “But I only have dreams of who hurt me.”
He nods, “That’s your guardian taking care of you.”
“Guardian? My aunt started crying in front of Hema aunty and complaining about me,” I snort.
“Not your aunt, dear girl. You true guardian. The one who brought you back.”
He had ceased to make sense to me. I stare at him and try to remember. My guardian. My guardian. My guardian. Cold arms wrap around me and whisper words of encouragement. The said words are nothing more than smoke and there is no one in the room but I and the Doctor and yet I know there is another. The arms are invisible but my guardian is very much here. I smile like a flower in the height of spring. Dr. Prakash smiles too.
“Give your thanks, girl.”
I do as he is told. And when I run into the arms of my aunt after the session is over, I know that I am deeply loved.
“She seems to have enjoyed today’s session,” she says with a smile to the Doctor. He smiles back.
“She is a delight. I enjoyed it too. I look forward to her session tomorrow.”
The Doctor is seated on that cosy-looking white couch of his. He is smiling at me. “He is trying to steal me. He is trying to steal me from you. We mustn’t let him. I am yours and you are mine. We must eliminate him.” The cold, smoky whispers ring in my ears again and again. The next moment the doctor is thrashing in the chair. He cannot breathe. I laugh. He asks for mercy. I laugh. He is dying for a breath and guess what? I laugh.
“So, how are you today, Mihika?” He asks me as he sits beside me again. He does it only after Aunty has left. I smile at him and climb into his lap. He is surprised. He smiles. Oh, his lovely smile.
“Feeling affectionate, are we?” He asks as he wraps his arms around me. I nod and wrap my arms around his neck. His scar burns against my arm.
“Any new dreams?”
I nod again.
“Who is it this time?”
I smile as his eyes widen with horror. My small hands go around his neck and I squeeze. He thrashes and tries to throw me off but I am stone. He cannot get rid of me. His scar sears my skin and there is the smell of cooking meat in the air. I am hungry, I think, as he gasps for air. The whites of his eyes are webbed with red lines. I laugh at how funny he looks with them. Finally, he stops moving. “Well done,” the cold whisper in my head says. I get down from his lap and walk away. I dust my hands and face the door.